March 2021 Favourites

A blossoming tree in a park, with people sitting on benches or walking nearby as they enjoy the sunshine.

Congratulations. If you’re in the UK like me, you’ve made it through a whole year since we first went into lockdown. And for some of you it may be longer depending on where you live. It’s been tough for all of us, including optimistic folk like me. But we can all be proud of making it this far, especially thanks to all our families and friends, health and care staff, key workers, volunteers, scientists, etc, who have done so much for us in that time.

And as the days get brighter, so does the light at the end of the runnel, albeit with some flickering that means we still have to cautiously tread the path ahead. Many countries are still struggling with infections and vaccine rollouts for instance. But here in England at least, schools reopened on March 8th and outdoor meetups and sports were permitted from March 29th, as part of the roadmap for lifting lockdown. Other parts of the UK have been easing restrictions in similar ways at slightly different times. We’re by no means out of the woods yet and have to continue to be very careful indeed, but they’ve been very positive steps in the right direction.

The vaccines are helping significantly too, with over 30 million adults having received at least 1 jab, over 4 million of whom have had both, and my mother and I are patiently waiting to be invited for our second doses. There are a few ill-informed myths about the vaccines and false claims about lockdowns that are misleading some people of course, but the overwhelming majority understand why and how it’s important to protect themselves and others, and they trust the experts that the vaccines are safe.

Of course, being in lockdown means I still haven’t done an awful lot. I have been getting out for more walks recently though, now that the weather’s improving, so I’m very glad about that. And I’ve been enjoying plenty of comedy and music as usual, which is what most of this post and video will be about. Nothing is sponsored or gifted as per usual, and I hope you enjoy!

Disability

Before I get on to the entertainment side of things, I just want to give a big thank you to The Big Hack from Scope for including me in their list of disabled bloggers to follow in 2021! That was a very lovely surprise, and I’m flattered to be included amongst some very esteemed names in the blogosphere. That additional bit of exposure has given me a boost in my followers on Twitter too, taking me up to 996 at the time of writing! So thank you to all my new followers, and welcome to anyone who’s checking out my blog for the first time!

Two of my new followers are new disability podcasts, which I haven’t listened to myself yet, but I thought I’d give them a mention in case you want to check them out. The first is lABLEd, about “disability, illness & difference”, hosted by Alice Evans and Lucy Wood. They provide transcriptions for all episodes as well. And the other is TalkAbility, which looks at campaigns, activists and individual experiences. It’s hosted by Robert, a guide owner, and Kieran, who has Cerebral Palsy.

I’ve also been very kindly mentioned in an excellent, important & thoughtful paper about the pandemic’s impact on accessibility for visually impaired museum visitors. It’s been written by Rafie Cecilia, who I’ve worked with before on her museum research, and she’s an excellent ally to have on our side. So thank you very much to her for taking the time to put that together. I certainly do hope that blind and partially sighted people, and those with other disabilities, are not overlooked in physical or digital spaces as museums reopen.

And on a related note, it’s also worth pointing out that VocalEyes have published their 50th Interval newsletter, highlighting accessible online culture for visually impaired people. It’s really cool that they’ve put in so much time and effort during the pandemic to keep us informed about what’s out there. So do keep an eye on their news page or subscribe to their email newsletter for more of their updates, including my recent guest post about the audio described Mischief Movie Night that I saw in February.

Mischief DVDs

Talking of Mischief, after all the excitement of their Movie Nights, this month they released DVDs of their 2016 & 2017 TV specials Peter Pan Goes Wrong and Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. If you like The Goes Wrong Show, you’ll love these. They’re fantastically farcical, and have big guest stars including David Suchet and Derek Jacobi.

The discs also include extended cast commentaries, which are longer versions of the Peter Pan and Christmas Carol watch-along videos from their Youtube channel, and they give a really interesting insight into how the shows were put together. And online they also played a game of Dickens or Disney to celebrate the DVD releases.

Showstopper! Musicals

Staying on the theme of improvised comedy, I tried a couple of Showstopper! musicals that were streamed online this month. As with the Mischief shows, they take suggestions from the audience for the themes, titles and other details, and then they make up a show on the spot. In this case, one musical was set in a French Resistance escape room that led to the Underworld, and the other was about a village of witches.

And they were very good. It’s really impressive how the actors and musicians are able to make up catchy and fun songs together on the fly, and construct an amusing story throughout. At the start of the second half of each show they also made up a personalised song about an audience member who had won a prize draw that day, which was quite cool.

All that said, however, it was still missing that special something that made it feel like a really engaging show to me. With the actors sitting in separate booths to comply with Covid guidelines, and brought together on screen, it’s a bit like watching a musical via a Zoom call. There’s no physical interaction, dancing, beautiful costumes, right lights, etc, which are among the many things I love about seeing a musical. So a lot of the magic is lost in that regard. Don’t get me wrong, it still works, the acting and the songs certainly can’t be faulted. But it just doesn’t quite feel right either. Whereas the Mischief crew were able to safely interact, dance and use props on stage together, which really helped it to work better for me I think.

Of course, it might also be that the novelty of online theatre is wearing off a little bit after all this time, as we’re all itching to get back to shows in person again. Online theatre is filling the gap very nicely, and will still have a crucial benefit for those who can’t get to the actual venues after they reopen, so I hope it doesn’t disappear. But it can never compare to or replace the unique atmosphere of being there in person.

So I’m very glad I gave it a go and would encourage others to do the same – they have more shows coming up in April, and they are a really talented and fun group. When they go back to the theatre properly, I will certainly be tempted to go and see them. It just didn’t quite hit the mark for me enough for me to watch more of their online shows, band that’s not their fault as they’re doing the best they can within the restrictions.

QI

My other favourite comedy experience this month is something I can’t actually tell you much about. All I can safely say is that I was lucky enough to be in the virtual audience for a recording of an episode of QI from the new S series, having applied for free tickets through the Applause Store. I’m not allowed to say who the guests were, nor can I discuss the topics that were covered, for obvious reasons. I won’t spoil how they warm you up before the recording starts either, but they have an effective and enjoyable way of keeping you occupied before they transfer you to the studio (though you would miss out on a lot of it if you can’t see).

And the show itself was brilliant fun, it was really interesting to see a full-length recording. It lasted about 2½ hours, with just a few short pauses and very few retakes, it flowed really well. After so many series, it’s no surprise that the production is such a well-oiled machine. The friendly, banter-filled atmosphere that comes across on TV is very much present throughout, everyone was clearly enjoying themselves.

It is a bit weird having to laugh, cheer and applaud as loudly as you would in a theatre, which you wouldn’t normally do when sitting on your own at home, but you do get used to it. You’re not visible on screen, and you can’t see the other audience members, but you can hear them laughing in the background, which helps with the atmosphere. And it’s nice to know you’re among 700 households contributing to the laughter that you’ll hear more fully when it’s properly mixed for broadcast. I don’t yet know when the episode will go out, but after it does I’ll say a bit more about it in the relevant Favourites post.

On a related note, some of the researchers from the show – known as the ‘QI Elves’ -run a podcast called No Such Thing As A Fish, where they discuss all sorts of weird and wonderful facts that they’ve found. I haven’t listened to it for ages, I just haven’t found the time, but it is interesting and funny. And this month they live-streamed an epic 20-hour edition of the podcast for Comic Relief, featuring lots of special guests. They’ve been uploading the various different sections to their Youtube channel, so I will check them out soon as they look quite good.

Noel’s House Party

I’ve finally finished watching all the old episodes of Noel’s House Party, the classic Saturday night entertainment show from my youth in the 90s, on Andy Pearman’s channel, using my own playlist I’ve put together. It’s been a wonderful and fascinating nostalgia trip since the beginning of the year, with the wide variety of celebrity guests, Gotcha pranks, audience surprises, gungings, games and so on. And some of it seems completely new to me after all this time. You just don’t get TV like that now. Ant & Dec (who did make guest appearances on the House Party) have taken the baton and run with it very successfully for Saturday Night Takeaway, but it’s never quite been the same, and even that show’s past its prime now really.

Binge watching the House Party like this has also clearly illustrated how the show evolved and eventually declined as it went on. Series 1-4 was by far the best era (and let’s not forget it was basically a continuation of Noel’s Saturday Roadshow, so they already knew what they were doing). Series 5 was also pretty good, even if a few cracks were starting to show by then. And with the benefit of hindsight, that’s where they should have stopped at the latest.

During Series 6-8 there were various overhauls of the format and the set, changes in the production team, ideas forced into the show that Noel had no control over, budget cuts to fund the digital switchover, etc, all of which sent the show on a rapid downhill slope. It even got to the point where Noel put his TV career at risk, quite understandably, by walking out halfway through Series 7 and refusing to film an episode. And he was noticeably relieved when the show’s cancellation was announced near the end of Series 8. There’s an interesting interview he did with Kirsty Young where he’s quite open about the problems. He always gave it his best on the TV, but his frustration is still obvious sometimes, and you can’t blame him.

In all of those later series there are still some very good guests and very funny moments, so they’re still well worth flicking through. But you have to dig through an awful lot of dross to find the good stuff – which you can easily do now when watching the recordings online, but you obviously couldn’t do that live on a Saturday night, and that’s why the ratings fell. They had just run out of good ideas and general enthusiasm for the show, and you can see how they kept changing or dropping features that weren’t working as each series progressed, without anything decent to take their place, so they really struggled to pad things out. Chucking mess over the audience was the usual fallback position (food in Series 6, seagulls in Series 7 and blood in Series 8).

Ultimately, though, the many better memories of the show have survived, and people rightly remember it with great fondness, especially as there’s nothing like it now and there never will be again. It was very much of its time, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to grow up with it. I’ve also started to watch some of the old episodes of Noel’s Saturday Roadshow that Andy has also uploaded, as I’ve never seen those before, so I’ll say more about those next time. But for now, many thanks to Andy for enabling us to visit Crinkley Bottom and the Great House, and relive all those childhood memories once more. I’m sure I’ll go back for another visit at some point in the future.

Other Comedy

Taskmaster has returned for Series 11, and I’m especially delighted that Lee Mack is one of the contestants for this run, he’s already proving to be great. He’s the one I’m by far most familiar with, but the others are all good too, and I think they’ve got a better group here than they did for series 10, with Charlotte Ritchie, Jamali Maddix, Mike Wozniak & Sarah Kendall.

The Vicar Of Dibley: Inside Out was a fun documentary on Gold about the sitcom, featuring writer Richard Curtis and lead actress Dawn French, among others. It was lovely to revisit some classic moments and go behind the scenes. Various members of the cast have sadly passed away now of course, including Emma Chambers, who was fantastic as Alice and died far too young at 53. And the latest is Trevor Peacock, who played Jim Trott. He sadly died a couple of days after the documentary aired, aged 89.

There was also a fun Vicar Of Dibley sketch during the Comic Relief charity telethon, which also included a funny episode of Staged where David Tennant and Michael Sheen were joined by Lenny Henry, Catherine Tate’s Nan meeting Daniel Craig’s James Bond, an amusing fictional trailer for 2020: The MovieTim Vine in a box telling corny jokes at RAF Northolt, Jack Whitehall hosting a celebrity Zoom call, Charlotte Church training a group of comedians learning to sing opera including Alex Brooker and Jennifer Saunders, a lip-synced video to the song All By Myself, a cool performance by the stars of Back To The Future: The Musical, and a show by Rob Brydon looking back at classic musical performances and sketches from previous years, among various other things. So there was a nice variety with something for everyone, and the total at the end of the night was a very respectable £52 million.

The BBC also had a week-long series of 45-minute stand up shows called Funny Festival Live, which was basically Live At The Apollo in a much smaller comedy club, with an in-person audience made up of the production crew and a larger virtual audience online. So a different comedian hosted each time, doing some material of their own and then introducing a few other acts. It featured Jason Manford, Sara Pascoe, Jo Brand, Rosie Jones and Chris Macausland, to name a few, and some lesser known names were given the opportunity for a bit of TV exposure. As always with this kind of show, it was a mixed bag, but it was alright, and a nice bit of light relief.

There was also a series of short Lonely Island sketches by Harry Hill, which were typically surreal for him but weren’t very exciting. And of course I continued enjoying the latest episodes of Would I Lie To You?, QI XL & The Last Leg on TV, and the online game show Who Said That?.

On the radio, meanwhile, my mother and I have been listening to the latest series of Just A Minute with guest hosts. Gyles Brandreth has been the best so far as we expected, we’d be happy if they gave him the job permanently. But we’ve also been listening to some old Just A Minute compilations on Audible as well, listening to an episode each day while having our dinner. First we heard Remembering Nicholas Parsons, taken from the tribute night that was broadcast after he died, which has a documentary about him, his Desert Island Discs appearance, Paul Merton’s favourite episode, and the entire last series that Nicholas recorded. And the other compilation we’ve been listening to is the 40th Anniversary Collection, which is a 4-volume box set of classic episodes from across the decades, with each episode introduced by Nicholas himself. And there are other volumes and compilations beyond that which we’ll listen to as well. It is a great show.

Music

My music updates this month are all Queen and Kerry Ellis related.

  • Queen – The Greatest – This is a new weekly series of official videos celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary, taking a look back at classic songs, concerts and more. They’ve been quite interesting so far. And don’t forget to check out my Queen At 50 series of posts reviewing their albums and other bits and pieces in detail – the second part of my review to A Day At The Races will be coming during April.
  • Freddie Mercury – A Life In Ten Pictures – I’m slightly cheating here, as this was on over Easter weekend at the start of April. But it’s a very interesting new BBC documentary about Freddie’s life.
  • Kerry Ellis – Memory (from Cats) – This is a beautiful charity performance in support of Acting For Others, with updated lyrics to reflect the current situation.
  • Kerry Ellis & Brian May – Panic Attack 2021 – This is a brand new version of the track that was originally featured on their Golden Days album, with fresh production, new lyrics and a new guitar solo. They posted a nice music video, and have launched it with a fun live launch on Instagram and an interview with Steve Wright on BBC Radio 2. They’re not interested in making money from it, as they don’t want to capitalise unfairly on the situation, it’s just a gift from them to lift people’s spirits. But it can be purchased on streaming services, where they can’t upload it for free so they have to charge a minimal price, and they’ve pledged to donate any proceedings to mental health charities.

Conclusion

And that’s it, I hope you enjoyed that little rundown of the month. And I hope you had a lovely Easter too. Mum and I had a nice relaxing weekend with lots of tasty treats – including a big leg of lamb, a topside roast beef joint and a cooked honey roast ham from Greendale Farm, which kept us going through the first week of April, and from Sainsbury’s we got Kit Kat Chunky, Wispa Gold and Lindt Easter Eggs, plus fruity and chocolate caramel varieties of hot cross buns, among other things.

And now that restrictions are being eased further in April, I’ll hopefully be able to get my haircut soon, as will Mum, and I hope to get out for more walks too if the weather allows. And, most importantly, we’re also hoping that Mum will have her second dose of the vaccine during the month.

So, as ever, please continue to look after yourselves and stay safe, and I’ll see you for my next update very soon!

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

3 thoughts on “March 2021 Favourites”

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