Hello again, I hope you all had a good Easter. My mother and I happily over-indulged on hot cross buns, Easter eggs and other unhealthy things as usual, but hopefully I’ve offset that a bit with the long walks I’ve continued doing. And I’m glad to say my mother had her 4th Covid jab over Easter too, without any side effects.
As well as the treats and sweets and my feet on the streets, another big part of April for me was rounding up things from March, as there was a lot to share about my trip to Milton Keynes. In particular, I wrote detailed reviews, including lots of photos, about the museums I visited, the We Will Rock You musical and exploring the theatre district. Meanwhile on Youtube I included a travel vlog in last month’s Favourites video, and shared some footage from Bletchley Park. So do go and check all of that out if you haven’t already.
Apart from that, I didn’t go to any museums or theatres in April, but I’ve got quite a lot in the pipeline on that front, with lots of exhibitions I want to see, and a variety of shows booked for the coming months, among other things. And there’s a potentially big opportunity on the horizon that I can’t talk about just yet, but it might prove to be very interesting. All of which means I have a busy year ahead, and it’s caused me to reassess how I use my time, especially as we’re all emerging from the depths of the pandemic and making a bit of a fresh start.
I’ve therefore decided to cut back on the Favourites videos I do with these posts. They do take a fair amount of time to produce, and I’ve done about 60 of them over the past 4 years, which is pretty good going. I’d rather focus on my writing, and I’ll continue doing these detailed blog posts every month, as I have a lot more time and flexibility to construct, edit, update and correct them, compared to videos. Plus I have a variety of other things that I want to write about in the months ahead. I’ll still do little updates on my Youtube channel every so often though, and I’ll continue to share footage from my outings and travels there (indeed, there’s a very special video coming up shortly). But I just want to keep things a bit simpler on the video front, that’s all.
So with all that said, let’s get on with this month’s roundup. Apart from my walks, there’s also quite a bit to tell you about the various forms of home entertainment I’ve been into, including a special 50th anniversary tribute to one of my favourite radio shows. None of it’s sponsored or gifted as usual, and I hope you enjoy!
I’ve been revisiting a few of the capital’s biggest tourist traps this month, to tick those areas off the walking map I’m gradually filling in, and to get some fresh photos now that I have a better phone. It’s best to look at places like these now, before the masses descend for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and summer holidays, as they’ll get extremely crowded then.
First up, talking of the Queen, was Buckingham Palace, which always looks stunning, as does the Victoria Memorial and Canada Gate in its vicinity, with all of the beautifully ornate ironwork and statues. Trafalgar Square also has several impressive statues of its own, including Nelson’s Column and the ever-changing Fourth Plinth, and is a nice place to explore when there no big events, protests or tourist crowds. And St James’s Park has lots of gorgeous spring flowers in bloom now, with Horse Guards Parade and the National Police Memorial nearby.
And if you’re curious to see how my walking map looks, here’s a section of it from Central London, generated by CityStrides from my Strava activities. This doesn’t show everything, as there are other areas nearby that I’ve nibbled away at a little bit, and I’ve filled in a huge swathe of East London that I can’t show you without revealing where I live. But this illustrates a major section around Victoria and Westminster and the Thames that I’ve been working on.
There will always be a few streets I’ve missed out, such as private roads, streets closed for roadworks, cul-de-sacs that aren’t worth walking down, etc, but they’re a tiny proportion of the overall total. And I’m very pleased at how much I’ve completed already since starting this project during the pandemic. It’s helping me to explore London in more depth too – sure, there will be lots of historic and artistic details that I fail to spot in every street given my dodgy eyesight, but I’ve still seen plenty of things I never knew about before.
Bletchley Park Films & Shows
Following on from my holiday in Milton Keynes, I spent about half of April watching things relating to Bletchley Park and their incredible codebreaking achievements, including fascinating documentaries about Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, the excellent movie The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch, the less interesting Enigma film starring Kate Winslet, the murder mystery mini-series The Bletchley Circle, and some relevant Youtube videos.
You can find my reviews for all of that stuff in the Film & TV section of my post about the museums, as it made sense to keep everything together in one place. So do go and read that in addition to this post.
Other TV Documentaries
- Dinosaurs: The Final Day – This is a great new documentary presented by David Attenborough, using fascinating fossil discoveries to piece together how the dinosaurs were wiped out by a huge asteroid hitting the planet. It’s incredible that there’s so much material buried in the ground still to be discovered, and that we have such sophisticated technology and expertise to gain a really detailed insight into that distant period of time. Impressive CGI is used to illustrate what life was like back then, and to show the catastrophic event as it happened, which makes you feel sorry for all the creatures that perished, especially the baby animals whose life was cut extremely short. It also makes you wonder how life would have evolved if the impact hadn’t happened.
- Secrets Of The Museum – This programme going behind the scenes at the V&A Museum returned for its third series this month. And as usual, much like browsing any museum in person, there were some things I took interest in and focused on more than others. For example, early in the series there was a beautifully lavish waistcoat and a hand-drawn sketch they were preparing to include in their Beatrix Potter exhibition. They also had Tommy Cooper’s trick pot plant that they’re loaning to the Showtown Museum in Blackpool (one of many objects in the V&A’s Tommy Cooper collection), and they spoke to Jimmy Tarbuck about the late comedian and magician. And during the series there were sneak peeks at the preparations for their new buildings in the Olympic Park, which will be very interesting to visit when they open in 2024 & 2025. So they covered a nice variety of things as usual this series, and I’m very much looking forward to returning to the museum again soon, I’ve missed going there during the pandemic.
Legend Of The Sea Devils is the second episode in Jodie Whittaker’s final trilogy as The Doctor. And it saw her face another enemy from her past – The Sea Devils, former residents of Earth who are trying to reclaim the planet for themselves. So the adventure took place both on the sea and beneath it. The Doctor also had an awkward but honest chat with Yaz about their feelings for one another, which has been bubbling away for some time. It wasn’t an exceptional episode particularly, there weren’t any hugely memorable moments, but it was enjoyable enough.
It’s being released on DVD & Blu-ray on 23 May, in a set with the New Year special Eve Of The Daleks. But I always hang back when it comes to buying the specials, in case they get bundled into future series box sets, which they often do (but not always). So I’m going to wait and see if they release a full set for the 2022 trilogy (it would be nice if they did a steelbook for it), after they’ve broadcast the final special later in the year to mark the BBC’s centenary, which looks quite exciting. However, I’ll be doing my best to avoid further trailers, interviews, articles, etc, about it, as I like to try and avoid spoilers where Doctor Who’s concerned.
Apart from the new episodes of Not Going Out, Have I Got News For You and The Big Fat Quiz Of Everything that I’ve enjoyed as usual, the main comedy to mention on TV is, once again, Taskmaster. We’re on Series 13 now, and still this delightfully ridiculous gameshow is on top form. This time around the contestants are Ardal O’Hanlon, Chris Ramsey, Bridget Christie, Judi Love & Sophie Duker. The two guys are of most interest to me as I’m already fans of theirs, but I am aware of all of them. And they’re all proving to be great fun, with good chemistry between them, as they try to complete the ridiculous challenges that Alex sets them.
And now that Covid restrictions have been eased, everyone is sitting close together in the studio once more, they’re allowed to make physical contact with each other again, and they have a full studio audience back. They managed well enough during the pandemic, it was still fun, but it definitely improves the atmosphere to have everything back to normal. And the outtakes are always amusing as well, you can see how much fun they have filming it.
Paul Zerdin is a British ventriloquist comedian who I enjoyed on TV during my youth, as he shot to fame after winning The Big Big Talent Show in 1996. It’s been many years since I last watched him though, as he pretty much disappeared from British TV to focus on his live shows, and he won America’s Got Talent in 2015, though his subsequent residency in Las Vegas didn’t work out too well. However, he’s continued to have a lot of success, including an appearance on Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions and annual roles in pantomimes. And since lockdown ended he’s been back on tour in the UK, which is just about to end in May.
Anyway, I checked him out again during April, as he’s recently uploaded his full shows No Strings and All Mouth to his Youtube channel for free (they’re also available through his online shop). Both shows feature his young boy puppet Sam, the most well-known of his creations, as well as a rude baby and Grandpa Albert, while in All Mouth he introduces us to Douglas the injured urban fox as well. Plus, in both shows, he gets a couple from the audience up on stage, and uses special masks to turn them into dummies he can operate. And occasionally he goes off into the wings so he can operate his puppets and the human face masks by remote control, which is pretty clever.
The shows do include some material that he’s reused from his America’s Got Talent performances, but it’s usually been extended or slightly altered in some way so it still feels fresh. And these performances aren’t for young kids, as he’s a bit ruder than he can be on TV. So I enjoyed watching both shows, they’re very funny. His Youtube channel has lots of other clips well, including the Sponge Weekly series he made during lockdown.
There are some other ventriloquist comedians out there of course, including Nina Conti who I’m already a fan of. So I might look into one or two others at some stage, such as Jeff Dunham – I’ve seen a little bit of his stuff in the distant past that I have no real memory of now, but he has several shows on Netflix and I know he’s very popular. So if I check him or anyone else out and enjoy them, I’ll let you know.
I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue
I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue is a delightfully silly show on BBC Radio 4, one of three Monday night comedy games that Mum and I enjoy listening to regularly on the station (the others being Just A Minute and The Unbelievable Truth, as regular followers will know).
We particularly enjoy Clue, which is celebrating its 50th birthday, because of all the daft games played by the great mix of comedians in each episode, including their new definitions of words for the Uxbridge English Dictionary, their audio version of charades (often with Graeme Garden & Barry Cryer playing their Scottish characters Hamish & Dougal), their attempts to sing songs to the wrong tunes (and some combinations work surprisingly well), their song duets on the swanee whistle and kazoo, their attempts to exchange unconnected words, and of course their attempts to traverse the London Underground and reach Mornington Crescent before the other guests, with all the ever-changing, nonsensical, fictional rules it entails.
It was originally presented by the dearly missed jazz musician Humphrey Lyttelton. After his passing in 2008, the show briefly experimented with a trio of presenters including Stephen Fry and Rob Brydon, but it was Jack Dee who secured the new role as permanent host. Humphrey and Jack make the perfect chairmen because they’re great at expressing their bewilderment, frustration and indifference at how ridiculous it all is, as well as mocking the team members and resident piano player Colin Sell, coming out with lots of dirty double entendres when talking about the scorers Samantha & Sven, telling jokes about the town they’re performing in, reading out the silly letters sent in by a certain Mrs Trellis of North Wales, and generally ad-libbing as well. Occasionally they even get involved in the games, such as Jack Dee challenging the panel to make him laugh, by having him complete phrases with the words “in my pants”.
It’s certainly remarkable how Humphrey or Jack manage to keep a straight face while reading things out. A lot of credit has to go to the brilliant Iain Pattinson there, as he wrote the scripts for the final 16 years of Humphrey’s tenure, and the first 11 years of Jack Dee’s time in the chair. He was a real master of his craft, who sadly died last year. Another credit-worthy long-running member of the team is Jon Naismith, who has been the producer of the show for the past few decades, and is currently the “mystery voice for listeners at home” when we need to know something that the panellists are trying to guess. And on the whole there’s a great team of people who help to put the show together aside from the players themselves.
So ultimately it’s not just “the antidote to panel games”, as the tagline goes, but the perfect escapism from the world in general if you need a laugh. And it was voted the best ever radio comedy by Radio Times readers in 2020. From the moment the crazy theme tune kicks in (The Schickel Shamble by Ron Goodwin from the film Monte Carlo Or Bust), you know you’re about to have a lot of fun.
It’s therefore no surprise that it’s been going for half a century. And the BBC marked the anniversary at Easter with a special edition of Archive On 4, which was good fun to listen to, as it had lots of classic moments from over the years. They also repeated five classic episodes on BBC Radio 4 Extra – but we’ve already got the extensive Treasury Collections (1, 2 & 3) of classic episodes from Audible, so we didn’t need to bother with the radio repeats.
Audible have also released an updated edition of The Clue Bible, an authorised biography by obsessive fan Jem Roberts that delves into the history of the show, now including Jack Dee’s era of hosting it. It’s a very long book though, lasting over 17½ hours, and it’s apparent from the reviews that it goes into an enormous amount of detail about everything that led up to the show’s creation, particularly its predecessor sketch show I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again (which was ok, but Mum and I never got into it), before you arrive at the equally in-depth discussion of Clue itself halfway through the book. So Mum and I aren’t going to bother with that, as it goes into far more detail than we’d be interested in. We’re quite happy listening to the show itself, that’s what really matters.
And it’s not just about listening either. I’ve also marked the anniversary by rewatching the DVD of their live stage show. It was recorded during the second of their live tours, at The Lowry in Salford on 6 April 2008, less than 3 weeks before Humphrey Lyttelton passed away (and he’s still great here). And most of the classic line-up on stage with him have since gone as well. Jeremy Hardy deprived us of his terrifically terrible singing voice in 2019, then Tim Brooke-Taylor died in 2020, and Barry Cryer left us in January this year.
Graeme Garden is the only survivor from the panel, which is significant as he came up with the concept for Clue in the first place. With other projects taking up his time, he was unable to keep writing scripts for I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, and felt it would be easier and more fun to do an unscripted parody game show instead. The panel are also joined on stage by Colin Sell on the piano as usual, but scorer Samantha cannot be there for a variety of innocent yet dirty-sounding personal reasons, that Jon Naismith delivers to Humphrey to read out.
The show is an hour and three quarters in length, and is unwaveringly funny throughout, so goodness only knows how they edited it down for a half hour version broadcast on BBC4 in 2008. The DVD gives you the option to watch it all in one go, or each half separately (as they had an interval). There are also chapter points after every 2 or 3 games, and English subtitles are available.
They play lots of classic games from the series, including One Song To The Tune Of Another, Uxbridge English Dictionary, Pick-Up Song, Sound Charades, Swanee-Kazoo and, of course, Mornington Crescent (with talking sat-navs). And they come up with silly nursery rhymes, proverbs, songs for pensioners, witty rejections to chat-up lines, letters from historical characters, and more. It’s a great mixture, and as a final farewell we’re treated to Humphrey playing We’ll Meet Again on the trumpet.
The DVD also includes a fun 24-minute bonus feature of backstage interviews with the team, mixing serious insightful facts with silly comedic responses, as they talk about the show’s development, recording, games and longevity.
So it’s been lovely to celebrate Clue’s 50th anniversary this month, it’s a milestone this timeless comedy show can be proud of.
You Heard It Here First
You Heard It Here First was a fun pilot episode of a new BBC Radio 4 panel game hosted by blind comedian Chris McCausland, where he immersed the guests into an audio-only world in various rounds, to give them a sense of what it’s like for him. So he asked them to identify adverts from the sound alone, figure out what items were from the visual descriptions his daughter came up with, decipher what a cake-eating celebrity at a noisy party was saying to them, and asked other quick-fire audio questions. It worked pretty well, and it would be nice if it came back for a full series.
Chris is certainly doing very well for himself, and deservedly so. He’s been doing stand-up comedy for a long time, but has really broken through into the mainstream in recent years, and now appears on many TV comedy shows, plus he won a recent edition of Celebrity Mastermind. And he’s one of the various stand-up comedians whose shows I’m attending in person later this year, which I’m looking forward to.
Brian May – Another World
Once again I have good reason to finish on a Queen-related note, as guitarist Brian May has reissued Another World, originally released in 1998. It’s the second part of his Gold Series resurrecting his solo work, which hasn’t been available for some time, and was never officially available online. The album was originally going to be a covers collection of songs by his musical heroes, but it evolved to include original material as well, resulting in a fun variety of tracks. He’s also created some new videos for this reissue.
The album includes the powerful Business, and the catchy On My Way Up, both of which were used as theme tunes for the TV series Frank Stubbs Promotes. And the album’s beautiful title track, Another World, was a theme he wrote for the film Sliding Doors, but they never used it in the end, so he built this album around it instead. The previously unlisted hidden piano track that was tagged on the end of it, Being On My Own, is now a separately listed track in its own right.
There are also some great guests who perform with Brian. Legendary drummer Cozy Powell worked on the album with him, but sadly died before it was completed. The bonus disc on this reissue includes a spoken word track by Brian paying tribute to him, followed by the Rock On Cozy Mix of Business released as a single in his honour, that makes the drum part a bit more prominent, and lets Cozy finish with a flourish at the end. The album also features a young Taylor Hawkins from Foo Fighters (who passed away recently) playing drums on Cyborg, and fellow guitar god Jeff Beck on The Guv’nor (which Brian had written about him).
Among the covers, meanwhile, there’s a lovely rendition of One Rainy Wish by Jimi Hendrix, and a fabulous rocking version of All The Way From Memphis by Mott The Hoople (who had invited Queen to be their support act in the band’s early days, and the track features a sample of Ian Hunter‘s voice lifted from a live recording).
There’s a good selection of bonus material on the second disc too. There are interesting alternate versions of tracks from the first disc, including the Cozy Powell tribute mix mentioned above and other variations of Business, a Spanish version of the title track, and instrumental versions of Cyborg and On My Way Up. There are also great covers of FBI (with Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt from Status Quo), Maybe Baby, Hot Patootie (mentioned in my Rocky Horror soundtracks post last year) & It’s Only Make Believe. Plus there are extended live concert performances from Paris of On My Way Up and Hammer To Fall, the latter performed in a more laid-back style that works well, before he switches to the more traditional hard rock approach. A pretty little ballad called My Boy then concludes the package.
Brian’s also been doing lots of interviews to promote the album, which have been interesting as always, especially My Planet Rocks on Planet Rock (during the full show they played 3 songs from the album, 4 Queen songs, and tracks by The Yardbirds & Little Richard), and We Write The Songs on BBC Radio 2 (where Gary Barlow interviews Brian about his upbringing, inspirations, Red Special guitar, and lots about Queen of course, including Freddie Mercury, Live Aid & The Show Must Go On).
You can also watch him giving interviews during the launch day on his Youtube channel. And talking of Youtube, there’s a fun Smith & Jones sketch that Brian appeared in while promoting the album and tour back in 1998.
So I’m glad the album’s been allowed to see the light of day again, it’s been nice to upgrade from the original CD I still have. Brian’s solo efforts will never beat the best of Queen’s output of course, but it’s held up really well and still holds relevance today, so it’s a worthy addition to the collection. And there’s still more in his Gold Series to come, so it’ll be interesting to see what we get next.
And that’s it, I hope you enjoyed my latest roundup. It was a relatively quiet month in some ways, but things are certainly picking up, now that everything’s reopened and there’s a lot on the horizon. So there’s going to be plenty to tell you about, and I hope you’ve got some interesting things lined up as well. Stay safe, and I’ll see you next time!