Hey there, hope you’re all doing alright, and welcome to my latest roundup. I’ve continued to be happily occupied since my redundancy, so there’s plenty to mention for the last month.
First of all, my big outing was a lovely weekend in Oxford, where I visited the Ashmolean Museum, went on a walking tour of the university and the city, enjoyed a concert by Jools Holland with his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, and had a good laugh seeing Jimmy Carr. So for all the details and lots of photos, check out my extensive blog post about the trip.
I’ve also been getting out and about to see a lot of the festive displays in London. I’ll share the highlights in my Christmas Favourites post in the New Year of course, but I’ve been posting lots of photos on my Instagram page on a daily basis, so be sure to follow me there, and also my Youtube channel where I’ll post some video clips nearer to Christmas.
Apart from all that however, I also spent a day volunteering and meeting friends at a disability exhibition, had a front row seat for another Queen-related concert, bought a special Queen box set, and enjoyed various other things on DVD and TV as well. So let’s crack on with it. None of this stuff is sponsored or gifted as usual, and I hope you enjoy this month’s post and video!
- Sight Village
- Madness: The Get Up!
- Morecambe & Wise: DVD Box Sets
- Jason Manford
- Other Shows
The Sight Village exhibition in London, showcasing a variety of products, technology and support services available for visually impaired people, returned this year for a one-day event. I’ve been there before in 2016, 2017 & 2019, as it’s worth a visit every so often to see what’s going on, and it’s a great opportunity to say hello to various people.
This time I was helping out on the Aniridia Network stand, the first time the charity has had a presence at an exhibition like this. Trustees James Buller and Andy Baghurst were there to do most of the talking and promotion, while I was mainly helping out with photography for social media, but I also chatted to some of the visitors as well. We had a steady stream of people coming to talk to us during the day, either because they had aniridia themselves or knew someone with the condition, or because they were from another sight loss organisation who felt the information might be of use to their members, or simply because they were curious individuals who wanted to find out more about aniridia as they had never heard of it before. So we were kept fairly busy.
I spent all morning helping out at the Aniridia Network stand, before taking a break in the early afternoon to have lunch with a friend and say hello to a few people on other stands in the exhibition. So it was great to meet people from:
- VocalEyes – An arts and culture audio description charity who work closely with museums and theatres. I’ve mentioned them countless times in my posts here, as I’ve been to many shows and exhibition tours they’ve been involved with, I’m on their user panel, and I was on their Sight Village stall back in 2019.
- Look – A support charity for young visually impaired people. I met a few ladies from the organisation at London Zoo last year, and a good friend of mine does some mentoring work with them.
- InFocus Charity – My old school from Exeter, operating under a new name, who support youngsters with visual impairments and other complex needs.
London Vision were also there, alongside Metro Blind Sport, but I didn’t get around to them in the end, which is unfortunate as I’ve since learned there was an old friend on that stand as well. Never mind.
After my little wander around I returned to help James and Andy on the Aniridia Network stand until the exhibition ended. The three of us then went to a nearby food hall called Medz Corner, where several people with aniridia joined us for an evening meetup. It was lovely to chat to them over some good food (the burger and chips I had from Smoky Boys was quite nice).
In particular, I want to give a shoutout to digital artist Sophie, who has aniridia. She shares a lot of her lovely anime-inspired work under the name Osusome on Instagram & Facebook, as well as doing commissions and having an Etsy shop, so do go and check her out. You can see a photo of me chatting to her in the Aniridia Network’s blog post about the day.
This month I’ve been celebrating Queen, my favourite band, in a couple of ways.
The Miracle: Collector’s Edition
For a start, I bought the new Collector’s edition of their 1989 album The Miracle, which came with session recordings, B-sides, instrumentals, interviews, videos, a huge book full of images and liner notes, photo cards, posters and a press pack. So I’ve filmed an unboxing video and written a detailed blog post all about the set, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed going through it.
Symphonic Queen: Live Concert
And then I also went to the Royal Albert Hall this month, where I had been lucky enough to grab a front row seat for their Symphonic Queen concert. So I got to witness the incredible Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing stunning renditions of many of Queen’s biggest hits, conducted by Matthew Freeman, with backing vocalists joining in sometimes as well.
They started with the intro from Bohemian Rhapsody, which led into We Will Rock You, then over the next couple of hours they played classic tunes like Don’t Stop Me Now, Tie Your Mother Down (including a bit of the opening Shepard Tone melody from the album version), I Want It All, I Want To Break Free, Fat Bottomed Girls, Flash (with host Scott Mills doing the narration), Love Of My Life, These Are The Days Of Our Lives, No-One But You, Killer Queen, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Under Pressure, A Kind Of Magic, Another One Bites The Dust, Save Me, The Show Must Go On, Who Wants To Live Forever? and Barcelona (which was a hit for Freddie Mercury with Montserrat Caballé of course). They concluded the first half with Bohemian Rhapsody in full and Somebody To Love, and then they ended the whole concert with We Are The Champions, Hammer To Fall and an encore of We Will Rock You.
It was all really powerful, evocative, toe-tapping, goosebump-inducing stuff, with some nice lighting accompanying it, and the orchestra’s interpretations of the songs were really interesting. You can get a rough idea of what it sounded like by listening to the orchestra’s Symphonic Queen album online, but their arrangements in this concert were different of course, and hearing them live will always beat a studio recording by a long way.
So I’m very glad I went to that, and I will try to go back to the Royal Albert Hall more often, as it is a beautiful place, and there are other shows I would love to see there. It’s huge as well though, and I did get rather lost to begin with, as the signs the staff were pointing me to were really hard to spot. But after eventually finding the toilets and then the stairs down to the arena, a nice steward in the auditorium did help me to find the right seat. So navigating the building was somewhat frustrating, but the show itself was amazing!
Madness: The Get Up!
This month I bought the new CD & DVD release of The Get Up!, a show that Madness streamed online during lockdown. It was written by The Fast Show’s Charlie Higson and recorded at the London Palladium on 14 May 2021, and involves the band members watching themselves in a show that Charlie’s character Victor Marley is hosting.
There are effectively 3 parts to the film:
- A 5-minute introduction where Victor welcomes Suggs to the theatre and helps him to find his bandmates in the stalls, while Lee Thompson gets lost around the back of the venue. This section is cut from the CD, as it’s unnecessary and wouldn’t fit anyway.
- A half hour section about the band’s early days, as they play a few covers and original material in a mock-up of a flat. It includes special guests Roland Gift from the Fine Young Cannibals performing Concrete & Clay, and Paul Weller from The Jam singing The Harder They Come, as they’re invited to audition when Suggs runs off to watch football. There are also interludes during this section where Lee is stuck talking to a barman backstage (also played by Charlie), before he eventually reaches his bandmates in the stalls during the interval.
- A 45-minute Madness concert, mainly consisting of big hits but with a few lesser-known numbers as well (Baby Burglar, If I Go Mad & The Theatre Of The Absurd).
So all in all it’s a fun show with great music. There are chapters on the DVD, but no scene selection menu, and no subtitles either. And the CD is a direct copy of the soundtrack, meaning it contains all the spoken interruptions when the band members are commenting on what they’re watching, particularly in the first half. Which is a shame, as it would have been great to hear clean versions of the performances, but it’s nice to have the audio nonetheless.
Morecambe & Wise: DVD Box Sets
It’s taken nearly the whole year, working through them bit by bit as we watch episodes together whilst having our dinners, but my mother and I have finally finished going through the BBC & ITV DVD box sets for Morecambe & Wise, namely:
- Morecambe & Wise At ITV – Released by Network in late 2021, this features all the surviving episodes from ATV’s Two Of A Kind, the complete Thames TV Morecambe & Wise Show, and a few clips of other guest appearances.
- The Complete BBC Collection Box Set – This was released way back in 2010, but we’d never got around to buying it, so it made sense to get it at the same time as the ITV set while it was going cheap. It contains Series 2-9 & all of the Christmas Specials of their BBC show. Series 5-9 even have audio description and audio navigation for the menus, which is fantastic. But it’s not really complete, as Series 1 is missing (apart from a short extract from Episode 6), along with Series 4 Episode 6.
- The Lost Tapes – Released earlier this year, this set fills in the gaps from the above BBC set, presenting the rediscovered missing episodes as film or audio recordings. And there are several extra features as well.
BBC Collection & The Lost Tapes
The duo were obviously at the peak of their powers in their BBC show, with many big stars and lots of their most memorable classic sketches, all of which helped them to attract huge audiences at the time. So it’s great to see other lesser-known sketches by watching the full set, and it’s interesting to see them finishing a lot of episodes with different songs to Bring Me Sunshine, which everybody associates them with. And even when they do Sunshine, they constantly vary the way they perform it. So there’s more variety than you realise if you’ve only ever seen the Christmas specials. I also like the way that they leave in moments where they ad-lib or fluff their lines, which adds further humour to the proceedings, because their experience as live stage performers enables them to roll with it whatever happens.
The unearthed material on The Lost Tapes is fascinating as well, including:
- Series 1: Episodes 5, 6 & 7 (Film Recordings) – Only 25 minutes of episode 6 is available, but the other 2 are the full half hour. There’s also a 5-minute extra about the rediscovery of Episodes 5 & 7, and a 7-minute audio recording of a scene from Episode 6 that was edited out of repeats for unknown reasons.
- Series 1: Episode 2 (Reconstruction) – The story of this episode’s recovery is astonishing. It was discovered in a Nigerian TV vault in an awful state of decomposition, with all the tape layers fused together, but a professor found a way to X-ray the film in order to extract a lot of image information. So the episode’s been rebuilt using over 1,000 still frames and a very fleeting bit of moving video, synced with the original audio that had been recovered elsewhere. The image quality is therefore extremely variable due to the film damage, but you can still see what’s going on, and it’s amazing to have any visuals at all. The DVD also contains 3 minutes of scenes that were deleted from repeats of the episode, as freeze frames with subtitles as no audio exists. And there’s a 4-minute report from the BBC’s Click technology show about the restoration of the episode.
- Series 1: Episodes 1, 3, 4 & 8 (Audio Recordings) – These were captured by an Australian viewer, and last just 20 minutes as the music acts have been omitted. There’s also a minute of recovered black and white video from the start of episode 4 among the extras, that a viewer happened to capture from a repeat showing on BBC1.
- Series 4: Episode 6 (Film Recording) – This 60-minute has been completely restored in full colour, and was shown on TV last Christmas. It was originally a special episode broadcast on BBC1, for the benefit of those people who couldn’t get BBC2 at the time, before the show later moved to BBC1 from Series 6 onwards.
- A 12-minute radio interview on the BBC Home Service in 1963, a rarity for the duo as they were still working for commercial station ATV at the time.
- 5 minutes of clips from the 1969 documentary series One Pair Of Eyes, where Marty Feldman talks to Eric about his thoughts on comedy, and includes a brief bit of footage from Series 1 Episode 2 (the one that since got reconstructed above).
- A 17-minute uncut audio recording of the classic sketch featuring André Previn (who they call Andrew Preview) from the 1971 Christmas special, including the warm-up guy beforehand and the reaction in the studio afterwards.
- An amusing 2-minute mock interview with Morecambe & Wise from 1974, used as a trailer to promote the show.
Meanwhile, their shows in the ITV box set are also quite entertaining. The set includes:
- Two Of A Kind – All the half-hour episodes from 1962-1966, which have a mixture of sketches and banter, along with performances by musical guests. It’s interesting to see the duo developing their act here, as they grow in confidence and produce better material each series, by learning how to make best use of the TV format compared to their theatre shows. The music acts also evolve, from being predominantly jazz bands to begin with, to the inclusion of more modern acts like The Beatles. The duo didn’t interfere with most of the musical performances in these early days, which they got more into the humorous habit of doing in the BBC series, so we ended up skipping a lot of the music acts as they didn’t interest us.
- Piccadilly Palace – 2 surviving hour-long episodes. This was the final series of Two Of A Kind in the UK, but was broadcast under the alternate name in the USA, and attracted some very big names, so it’s interesting to see it.
- Guest appearances – Clips taken from the 1961 Royal Variety Performance, Val Parnell’s Saturday Spectacular & Jo Stafford Show. They aren’t quite as good as the duo’s main shows, but are still enjoyable rarities, especially with the involvement of other great entertainers like Bruce Forsyth and Bob Monkhouse.
- Thames TV series – The duo returned to ITV in 1978 after their long stint with the BBC, even joking about the move in the first episode, and having other friendly digs at the Beeb later on. The move had mainly come about because being with ITV allowed them to fulfil their ambition of making films, which they couldn’t do with the BBC. Their Thames TV show is naturally similar in style to their BBC series, and even includes rewritten versions of several of their BBC sketches. So it’s fun, but it isn’t quite as good as the BBC show, and they never achieved the same high ratings or critical praise – although they were still pulling in 11 million viewers by the time they finished in 1983, which is very respectable. That was the year before Eric died, and Ernie gave a moving interview just a few hours after the event in 1984 that is worth watching online, as it illustrates just how close they were.
Of course, that’s not the complete set of absolutely everything Morecambe & Wise ever did. For example, their very first series was Running Wild on the BBC in 1954, but it no longer survives and didn’t do well anyway. Their BBC Radio 2 Series from 1975-1978 is available on Audible, and it’s ok but not a patch on their TV shows, as it suffers from the absence of visual gags, including Eric’s mannerisms. And I did buy cheap copies of their movies on DVD to try out, as they’re worth a look out of sheer curiosity, but they’re not very good so I didn’t bother keeping them.
So it’s been great fun going through so many episodes of Morecambe & Wise’s material. We were quite happy to watch them all, which says a lot about the quality, because they were still pretty good even when they weren’t at their best. Their humour was clean, fun and timeless, they had loads of great guest stars, and a lot of their best sketches will continue to live on in people’s memories for a long time. They were indeed two of a kind, who brought us a lot of sunshine with their positive thinking, and will always be very much missed.
Comedian Jason Manford has posted a couple of surprises on Youtube this month that are worth mentioning.
Muddle Class is a one-hour stand-up show filmed at the Stockport Plaza, that was previously broadcast on the BBC during the Covid lockdowns, so it’s great to see it again online.
In the show Jason talks about how working class and middle class worlds collide in all our lives to some extent, hence the title, and how we seem to have 2 conflicting people in our brains that determine how we behave. Along the way he talks about trying to lose weight, measuring himself, inadvertently offending people, political correctness, pirates, doing a speed awareness course, Disney cartoons, parents vs grandparents, and deciding whether to have another child.
He also plays a game with the audience about jobs and tiredness. And he has important final messages about not comparing yourself to others, the importance of talking about your problems, and just because you’re struggling it doesn’t mean you’re failing. So it’s a great show to help people escape from the world and feel uplifted for a while.
At the end of the shows on his current tour, including the gig I saw in Folkestone, Jason has led the audience in a lively singalong rave to tunes that many of us will be familiar with from school assemblies.
And it’s become so popular that he’s now released a medley as a single to raise money for food bank charity The Trussell Trust, including This Little Light Of Mine, He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands, When I Needed A Neighbour, The Lord Of The Dance, and Give Me Oil In My Lamp (Sing Hosanna). There’s also a karaoke version on his Youtube channel for those who want to join in.
The single topped the iTunes chart and since then he’s announced a full album of Assembly Bangers coming out on December 16th. It’s all good fun, and for a great cause that’s more important than ever at the moment, so it should be interesting to check out the album when it’s released.
Doctor Who: Series 13 Specials
I’ve bought the Blu-ray steelbook edition of Jodie Whittaker’s final trilogy of specials that was released this month, and as usual it includes some commentaries and other featurettes. It’s been a great send-off for her, as I discussed when I reviewed The Power Of The Doctor last month. Now we just need to wait a year for the 60th anniversary trilogy with David Tennant making his eagerly anticipated return.
Stand-Up Comedy Reviews
Having seen them live recently, I’ve written extensive review posts for Dara Ó Briain’s DVDs and Jimmy Carr’s DVDs & Netflix specials. Dara’s post also contains reviews of the Mock The Week DVDs, to pay tribute to the show now that it’s come to an end. So do check out those posts if you like either or both of those comedians.
The Horne Section
The latest series of the brilliant and hilarious game show Taskmaster has just come to an end, and there’s another New Year special plus Series 15 to look forward to soon.
But this year assistant Alex Horne has also branched out with his comedy band The Horne Section in a sitcom called The Horne Section TV Show, which is all about Alex’s attempts to create and host his own entertainment programme.
It features a good roster of names, including Georgia Tennant as a Channel 4 commissioner and Desiree Burch as a friend of Alex’s wife, along with guest appearances and cameos by people like Greg Davies, John Oliver, Martin Kemp, Anneka Rice, and so on. Plus we get to enjoy some of the band’s silly music numbers, including a special video for their very funny song about peas (if you think it’s not particularly amusing at first, stick with it until the chorus kicks in).
And yet, despite all that, this new show just hasn’t grabbed me to be honest. It does have a few funny moments here and there, but it just felt a bit too silly in places, and I found myself losing interest in the characters and the story. It was well worth a go though, and some people like it a lot. But I’m quite happy sticking with their albums, their songs are their biggest strength really.
Other Comedy Shows
I’m also still watching The Last Leg on Channel 4 and Family Guy on ITV2 as always of course.
And QI is back too, but I’m waiting for the extended XL episodes as usual, which are thankfully starting soon with the Christmas special. They’re then continuing from the midway point of the series, to match up with the remaining half-hour episodes that are also being shown. So hopefully we’ll get the earlier episodes in extended form after that.
What’s more, we’re also going to get the previously unbroadcast extended version of last year’s QI Christmas special at long last, which I was in the online audience for, so that’ll bring back some good memories!
And that’s it. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading that, in conjunction with my other recent posts as well.
December is proving to be a leisurely festive month, as I’d hoped and expected. Not having to work is giving me a lot of free time to explore the Christmas sights and shops, which is wonderful, as it’s often easier to do so on weekdays when it’s not quite so busy. And as I said earlier, do keep an eye on my Instagram for all the photos I’m sharing, as well as my Youtube channel for a few little clips I’ll be posting soon.
The only disappointing thing is that I won’t be able to visit my ex-colleagues in Devon for their Christmas meal, which is the first time they’ll be getting together since we were ousted from our jobs a few months ago. The date just happens to be in the middle of all the strike action on the railways, so there’s no comfortable way I can get down there easily – though even without that, it looks like the freezing weather’s going to cause problems as well. I’m also due to see a theatre show in London with a couple of friends who are flying over from Guernsey, but the Border Force strikes could hamper that as well, so I’ve got my fingers crossed they’ll make it.
Still, I have other close friends in London I hope to meet up with, lots of places I can visit, and various things I want to watch on TV and online, so I won’t be lonely or bored. And there might be some good news on the job front in the new year, though I won’t tempt fate by saying anything else just yet! In any case, I’ll bring you up to date on things in my next Favourites post as always. And there may be other things I write about on my blog in the meantime, so be sure to follow me here and on social media to be alerted to my new posts.
But for the time being that’s all I have to mention. So all that remains for me to say is I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, in whatever way your personal situation allows during these difficult times, and best wishes for the New Year!
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