diamond geezer

 Sunday, November 30, 2003

The best of November

TV programme of the month: Still Little Britain. Now merely on endless rotation on BBC3, but coming to BBC2 tomorrow night, and fame round the water coolers of the nation by Tuesday morning. All hail David Walliams and Matt Lucas. But beware, you may end up fancying your best mate's granny.

Football result of the month: Inter Milan 1, Arsenal 5. A right thrashing, and in the nick of time.

Book of the month: Urban Survival by Artjaz. The complete guide to being 'street', as we follow 'Woody' (a no-hoper from the sticks) learning all the key lessons of urban living. Characters, fashion, clubbin, wheels, and generally blending in. Witty, with cutting-edge cartoon illustrations. It screams 'Christmas present' to me, for the would-be-geezer in your life. Big up Artjaz.

Album of the month: Pop Art by the Pet Shop Boys. How many more times will these guys reissue their back catalogue and get me to buy it. Lots, I suspect. There was 2001's complete back-catalogue re-issue with extra CDs, there was 1995's collection of B-sides, and 1991's Discography. Like the latter, this is another greatest hits album, except this time there are twice as many hits, divided into a 'Pop' half and an 'Art' half. And an exclusive remix album. Ah yes, I knew there was a cunning reason they got me to buy it.

DVD of the month: Pop Art by the Pet Shop Boys. At this rate it'll be DVD of the year, but only because I haven't bought any others. Me and DVDs, we don't get on. However, 18 years of singles, 41 mostly great videos, and a wry commentary from the oldest 'boys' in pop, I had to make an exception.

NeilGig of the month: Ah, that would be the Audio Bullys at the Astoria - review here. And a strong candidate for December's top gig will be tomorrow night's Buffseeds performance in Whitechapel. A bit of lilting guitar magic, and local this time too. That's a mini Kieran from the Buffseeds, by the way.

Single of the month: The single is dead, remember. Even All New Top Of The Pops can't be bothered to feature them any more. However...

Huge hit single of next month (that I spotted a year ago): Mad World by Gary Jules. Those of us who saw Donnie Darko on the big screen noticed this little cracker well before the current Radio 2 bandwagon started rolling. My quote from last year - "Somebody release it please - it could be huge." Potential Christmas number one, no less. Mad world.

 Saturday, November 29, 2003

29(prime number)/11(prime number)/2003(prime number)

Today's date consists of three prime numbers, and that's something that won't happen again until 2011 (I'm sure you can tell me when). So today it's time for some fascinating facts about prime numbers. Well, some facts about prime numbers anyway.

2) Prime numbers have only two factors, 1 and themselves.
3) Two is the only even prime number, and only one prime number ends in '5'.
5) There's no repeating pattern whatsoever to the sequence of prime numbers.
7) Every even number greater than two can be written as the sum of two primes (that's Goldbach's Conjecture)
11) A quarter of the numbers below one hundred are prime, but less than 6% of the numbers below one million are.
13) Stanley Baldwin was the last UK Prime Minister to have been born in a prime year (1867).
17) The prime years of the 20th century were 1901, 1907, 1913, 1931, 1933, 1949, 1951, 1973, 1979, 1987, 1993, 1997 and 1999.
19) The largest discovered prime number is 213466917-1, a number with just over 4 million digits.
23) Huge prime numbers may sound useless, but they're the key to modern computer cryptography.
29) There are infinitely many prime numbers, we just haven't discovered them all yet.

Want to wreck your Christmas TV viewing now?
Full (and I mean full) details of BBC television (and radio) programmes for the Christmas and New Year fortnight can be found here. (Beware, large pdfs.) (And, presumably, you can preview the next four BBC weeks here any time you like. Excellent!) (By the way, what the hell are the EastEnders youngsters doing up a Scottish mountain on New Year's Day?)

 Friday, November 28, 2003

All New Top Of The Pops (7pm, BBC1, extended relaunch edition, live)

The BBC's pop showcase has been running five weeks short of 40 years, and many would say it's now looking distinctly middle-aged. It's easy to blame the bland state of the singles charts at the moment, but TOTP's not been a talking point in the nation's playgrounds and offices ever since it was moved from Thursdays to Fridays. So, can Andi Peters rescue the show from the broom cupboard, or is this a quick fix of Botox before permanent wrinkliness sets in? Let's see...

The new theme tune turned out to be a revamp of the old nineties intro, complete with pulsating orange skyscrapers. Enter new host Tim Kash grinning like a well-tanned shark, all teeth and Hoxton fin. As for the new logo I wasn't quite sure if it was meant to be a time tunnel or an electric hob, but it sat there annoyingly in the corner of the screen for the whole hour anyway. Mis-teeq kicked off the new show, showcasing not just their latest single (no 13, new entry) but a couple of other tunes in a three minute hit medley. Any switched-on kids will have switched off immediately Elton John started crooning his 1971 ballad Your Song 'live' from Atlanta, followed by the even more middle-of-the-road Will Young. Even Kylie was pretty average (even if her skirt was well above).

All New TOTP features less music and more 'features'. We suffered a mini documentary following The Darkness around Baltimore, a thinly disguised promo for their disturbingly camp Christmas single. The much-vaunted 'interactive element' turned out to be a premium rate phone/text vote (25p a minute), not that it's possible to judge your favourite video from a 7-second clip. Kelly Osbourne got a minute to plug her new single, and Posh Spice got two minutes to save her career. Craig David introduced a Holiday-type segment from South Africa, and before long I was screaming for someone to actually sing something. The new show seems to be more about promoting artists, rather than their music - more who to go out and buy rather than what.

In an apparent tribute to Busby Berkeley, a massive possé of lads in red hoodies jigged around the fountain outside BBC TV Centre. Blazin Squad emerged from the throng and performed a record that's been going down the charts for the last two weeks, while the nodding red gnome army bobbed around to either side. And then Westlife smouldered on stage (well, I'd have liked to see them smouldering) to perform their anodyne cover of a Barry Manilow classic, somehow perched at number one this week. A flare-clad trapeze artist dangled from the ceiling, like a leftover member of Pan's People from the 70s, just to make sure Dad was still awake.

So, not must-see TV, but maybe a temporary shot in the arm for a floundering show all the same. I wonder how the format will survive its future half-hour time slot though, and I'm not impressed enough by next week's line up to care enough to find out. I remember when they couldn't tell you who was on next week, because that depended on who you went out and bought on Saturday. Alas, TOTP is no longer about singles, and I'm no longer engaged.

All Old Top Of The Pops

Thursday 24th November 1983 (presented by Simon Bates and Richard Skinner) (live edition): Paul Young - Love Of The Common People (no 5); Tina Turner - Let's Stay Together (no 16, highest climber, video); The Smiths - This Charming Man (no 30); Thompson Twins - Hold Me Now (no 14, singing live); Marilyn - Calling Your Name (no 9); Simple Minds - Waterfront (no 25, highest new entry); Style Council - A Solid Bond In Your Heart (no 11, video); Billy Joel - Uptown Girl (no 1, video); Eurythmics - Right By Your Side (no 15, playing out). 90% class.

Thursday 25th November 1993 (presented by Mark Franklin): K Klass - Let Me Show You (no 13, new entry); Elton John and Kiki Dee - True Love (no 2, video); The Wonder Stuff - Full Of Life (no 28, new entry); Heart - Will You Be There In The Morning? (no 19, highest climber); Janet Jackson - Again (no 6, video); Breakers: Aphex Twin - On (no 32) & Kate Bush - Moments Of Pleasure (no 26) & Doobie Brothers - Long Train Running (no 10); Belinda Carlisle - Lay Down Your Arms (no 33, new entry); Meatloaf - I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) (no 1, video). 90% forgettable.

The 7am puzzle: What's special about tomorrow's date that's not going to be special again until 2011?
(More on this subject tomorrow)

 Thursday, November 27, 2003


Starting today, diamond geezer is now available in both tabloid and broadsheet editions (well, if the Independent and the Times can do it, so can I). I hope you find the new size more convenient to read on screen, and rest assured there's been absolutely no dumbing down of the content. Oh no.


Queen Liz left the tupperware behind yesterday when she went to open Parliament. War hero Tony Blair smiled as she announced new laws to keep foreigners out (although thankfully Rupert Murdoch is already in). She also told scrounging students that they'd soon be deep in debt to society. Hopefully they'll all quit education and go get themselves a useful job as a palace footman or a topless model instead. God bless you Ma'am. But weddings for poofs? That's pushing a ring too far.

You'll remember that my computer's hard drive died totally and completely on Sunday night. Well, there's good news and there's bad news. The good news is that the hardware has now been repaired and is ready to collect. The bad news is that every single byte of data on the hard drive has been completely and irretrievably lost. Fuck. That's 18 months of email, all my holiday snaps, tons of anorak-level data, my lovingly-assembled internet favourites list, a library of mp3s, a ream of irreplaceable Word documents and a disturbing number of essential passwords. My one consolation is that, because I've been blogging so much of my life recently, a number of important photos are actually still alive out there on the net. But, still, fuck.

An apology: I'd like to apologise for that last uncharacteristic outbreak of profanity. This is due entirely to my fucking awful data back-up skills. It will not happen again.

I stopped by Stratford shopping centre yesterday after work to take a look at the public consultation exhibition for the Crossrail project. I discovered that the plans have changed since August, when I thought Crossrail was going to pass overground within ½km of my house. Oh no. Crossrail is now due to head into a tunnel just before it reaches the Bow flyover and so will be rumbling underground within about 100m of my house. At least they won't be building anything until 2007. I quite fancied taking one of the Crossrail staff home with me, but I made do with a leaflet instead.

In other local news, for those of you who are interested, the nightclub that was once 'The Block' has now been completely renovated and looks ready to reopen. It's been repainted bright pink, and there are six rainbow coloured lamps shining like fairy lights across the front, but there's still no new name. Make of that what you will.

So, our rugby lads are to be afforded a victory parade through the West End on a weekday lunchtime in two weeks time. What an honour that'll be, assuming anyone's still feeling quite so fervently excited by then. I might go down and stand outside Selfridges to eat my sandwiches and watch the gold cup omnibus pass by. Assuming I can get past the security cordons that is. And only because I need to do some urgent Christmas shopping afterwards you understand.

Wasn't Thierry brill on Tuesday? Five one eh? Mesmerising, and far better than either Man U or Chelsea could manage last night. There again, those two teams are through to the knockout stage, whereas the Gunners could still be knocked out beforehand. That's the trouble with football - shouting at your TV screen doesn't make your team play any better. Not all the time anyway.

 Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The Great Storm - Friday 26th November 1703

Remember the Great Storm? I'm not talking about that breezy night in October 1987, nor that Vicar of Dibley episode they seem to repeat every six months, I mean The Great Storm. Exactly 300 years ago tonight, the most damaging storm ever recorded in Britain ripped through an unsuspecting population, killing over 8000 people across southern and eastern England. There were no weather forecasts in those days, no satellites watching developments over the Atlantic, just a ferocious tempest striking suddenly and without warning. No wonder so many lives were lost. In comparison the 1987 'hurricane' killed only 19 people and, as for the Vicar of Dibley, I doubt anybody's died laughing yet.

We know a lot about the 1703 storm because one man went out of his way to record the experiences of ordinary people across the country. That man was Daniel Defoe, later the author of Robinson Crusoe, and a fine reporter/journalist to boot. He tells how windmills across East Anglia spun so fast that friction ignited the timbers and many just burnt to the ground. He also chronicles terrible destruction to property, particularly church steeples, and how 15000 sheep died in floods near Bristol. The greatest number of human casualties were offshore, notably on the Goodwin Sands where four great warships were lost, killing well over a thousand seamen.

The most famous casualty of the 1703 storm was an eccentric merchant called Henry Winstanley. In 1696 he lost two of his ships on the Eddystone Rocks, 14 miles off Plymouth, and pledged to build a lighthouse there to warn other vessels of the treacherous conditions. The Eddystone Lighthouse was an engineering marvel, particularly given that it was so far offshore, and was gradually built and strengthened over a three year period. Winstanley was so proud of his final structure that he boasted he would willingly stay in his lighthouse even during the greatest storm in history. On the morning of 26th November 1703 he sailed out to Eddystone to carry out urgent maintenance before the winter set in. Unfortunately the greatest storm in history set in instead, and by the following morning only a few bent pieces of rusty iron remained. A night to remember then, at least for those who survived.

Mach 0Concorde's last flight ever (ever ever) takes place this morning, as the very first Concorde flies back from Heathrow to its birthplace. Awww. Filton Airport (just outside Bristol) was the site of the very first takeoff, and will be the site of the very last landing. One technological marvel, now to be a museum piece. One dream, grounded. The future ends at 1pm today.

This is where today's picture quiz was going to go. It was a good one, weather-related of course, but the relevant jpg is still sitting on the hard drive of my deceased computer, so no show. My old computer runs so slowly that I doubt I'd now be able to reconstruct all 16 images before the operating system ground to a halt, three or four times at least, so no show. Normal service will be resumed one day, I hope.

 Tuesday, November 25, 2003

A hard lesson

You've hopefully not noticed, but my home computer died on Sunday evening. Completely. One minute I was out of the room cleaning my teeth ready for bed while my PC rebooted, and the next I returned to discover the blue screen of death. Quite literally in this case. I tried turning the computer back on, only to hear the distinct sound of my hard drive clicking away feebly to itself, a final death rattle, terminal self-harm. There was no mistaking the symptoms, I was suffering from broken Windows. No entry, full stop.

I felt almost bereaved. Losing a computer is in many ways like losing a much-loved dog. A faithful pet, sitting there in the corner of the room, good company, playful, reliable, sometimes begging to be taken for some exercise, but always there and ready to fill your time when necessary. You know that one day they'll pass on, but you hope you'll be able to transfer your affection to a new model when the time comes. Course, a computer doesn't need to be taken to the vet to be put down, but equally a dog tends not to destroy all your memories when it dies.

I'm not sure how long I could have survived in PC-less World without suffering traumatic withdrawal symptoms. Thankfully I remembered that I had another computer, an old 20th century model, gathering dust in my spare room. An old slowcoach that I should have chucked away when I upgraded 18 months ago but thankfully, being a bit of a hoarder, I hadn't. It took me a few hours to make sure the old computer was broadband-enabled, and to remember what on earth my ADSL password was, but eventually I scraped back on line. It's like surfing in treacle on my old system, but at least I'm back in the water.

After spending the whole of last week writing about time travel, now I know what it's like to travel back in time. To June last year to be precise, because I've lost access to everything I've saved since. All my photos of San Francisco, my updated Christmas card address list, all my favourite web addresses, a library of mp3s, 500 days-worth of emails, even the picture quiz I was going to use on here tomorrow, the lot. Yup, I'm one of those sad individuals who was always meaning to back up everything on their system but never quite got round to it. I know it would have been easy, I know it wouldn't have used up that many CD-ROMS, but alas I'm an optimist. And optimists are sometimes caught out.

This morning my hard drive is sitting in a spare room somewhere in deepest Essex, awaiting either resuscitation or a death certificate. I hand-delivered it (in the world's oldest suitcase) to a far-flung disc-hospital last night, a sort of mercy dash, ready for urgent transplant surgery. Fingers crossed the prognosis is favourable, because I'd like to regenerate in a 21st century body as soon as possible. In the meantime I've learnt a valuable lesson about planning for the worst, because the worst sometimes happens. So, especially for all those of you who are planning to leap into my comments box and start preaching, here's a big button you can press instead. I hear you, I hear you.

 Monday, November 24, 2003

Audio Bullys - London Astoria (Wednesday 19th November 2003)

As a connoisseur of all things geezer-esque, I snapped up a ticket to last Wednesday's one-off Audio Bullys gig way back in August. Always beats buying one off the touts pacing Charing Cross Road on the night. Ego War is probably still my album of the year, and this concert was timed to coincide with the launch of the boys' new 'Back To Mine' compilation, so it was a must-see event. Course, there were the over-zealous Astoria door staff to get past first, but I could tell that this was a cutting edge gig the minute Janine from EastEnders walked past me in the bar. Class.

Audio Bullys perform what I can best describe as 'sports casual rap', or maybe 'suburban estate dance', whatever. Geezer Tom enters and hangs around behind the giant decks, demonstrating his finest bedroom-remixing skills. Geezer Si wanders on and struts the stage, like he's down the pub in his local manor. Si's in his whitest Reebok Classics, just an ordinary bloke with stage presence who just happens to be able to rap and sing unexpectedly impressively. In tune, in rhythm, in the house.

We were treated to an hour of seamlessly mixed music, no fillers, all floor-fillers. Most of the tracks off Ego War translated perfectly, but the forceful rap and pounding bass often buried the tune in the mix. Only Real Life failed to ignite, but The Things was incandescent - chant along now everyone! The crowd danced and swayed and leapt, even to the new tracks (there'll be no second album syndrome for these two guys). Two giant graffiti boards flanked the stage and a big screen flashed appropriately urban images behind. 100% engaging, 95% style. Cos this was Real Life.

Some stuff I may have missed last week
Bush visits London: I was nearby but Gert was there, with comprehensive on-the-spot reporting.
Rugby World Cup: Odd innit? We win a major global competition for the first time since 1966 and the country only gets semi-excited, whereas we got to the last 32 of the soccer World Cup last year and the nation nearly overflowed with pride. Dare I suggest it's because one's a public school middle class sport and the other one isn't? Or was it those laughable skin-tight rugby jerseys?
Nectar: For those of you following the ongoing story of my Nectar points, you'll be delighted to hear that my latest statement sees me 2km nearer Paris by Eurostar. Nearly as far as Peckham then.

 Sunday, November 23, 2003

Sylvester McCoyThe Seventh Doctor (1987-1989)
Sylvester McCoy

Forced to take early retirement.

Who be 40

Exactly 40 years ago tonight, the BBC launched a new children's programme upon an unsuspecting audience. Almost nobody noticed. The day before, and far far more important on a global scale, President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. The world was still in shock, and the media were still coming to terms with the new demands of instant reactive news gathering. After the football had finished (Sheffield Wednesday thrashed Wolves five nil that afternoon) the BBC inserted an extra news bulletin featuring all the very latest from America. And then at 5:25pm, ten minutes later than scheduled, that now-familiar swirly theme tune was heard for the very first time.

Doctor Who was conceived by the BBC's head of Drama, Sidney Newman. He wanted a family drama that would appeal especially to an early teenage audience, filling that awkward pre-Pop Idol slot (well, Juke Box Jury actually). Well-known film actor William Hartnell was cast in the title role, with the plan that his new science fiction serial would run every week of the year. Carole Ann Ford, as granddaughter Susan, was given a special Vidal Sassoon haircut to make her appear particularly unworldy, or very dated depending on your temporal viewpoint. A pilot episode was made, and later remade, and even then the magic sparkled.

Episode 1 begins in fogbound East London, with Coal Hill School teachers Ian (science) and Barbara (history) concerned for the welfare of one of their brightest students. And rightly so, because when they follow her home they discover that home is a police box in a junkyard, that she lives with her alien grandfather, and that the aforementioned police box is larger on the outside than the inside. Grandfather is determined that it's time for Susan to leave London, locks the Tardis door and whisks her and her teachers off into time and space. First stop the Stone Age, where the Doctor discovers fire by lighting his pipe with a box of Bryant & Mays. An epic journey has begun.

4½ million people watched that first episode, figures somewhat reduced by the Kennedy assassination and a nationwide power cut. The BBC repeated it again the following week, just before episode 2, and this time 6 million viewers tuned in. But it was the Doctor's next adventure, on the 'dead' planet of the Daleks, that rocketed the series to success. Now 10 million viewers were glued to their sofas, either in front or behind, as the Daleks began their conquest of the nation's hearts, if not the galaxy.

Forty years on Doctor Who is still very much alive for a show they killed off 14 years ago, but also still very easily ignored. The BBC have managed not to screen one Doctor Who programme this weekend, bar a brief history-slot on Blue Peter and a weak Weakest Link spoof on Children In Need last Friday. We're promised an anniversary documentary at Christmas, but that'll probably be screened when you're out somewhere being festive. UK Gold have tried rather harder with an entire weekend of old adventures, but that's a fat lot of good for those of us who can't recieve extra-terrestrial transmissions. At least we have the new adventures to look forward to in 2005. I'd almost given up hope of ever seeing any more home-grown science fiction on UK television. It's about time.

 Saturday, November 22, 2003

Colin BakerThe Sixth Doctor (1984-1986)
Colin Baker

Miscast, or misunderstood?

(clickable) TV Times - Saturday 23rd November 1963
12 noon E=mc² (Thinking Relativity Through)
12.30 Parliamo Italiano (lesson 8)
1.00 Grandstand (featuring Boxing, Motoring, Racing from Doncaster, Rugby Union, Sports Results)
5.15 Doctor Who - An adventure in space and time "An Unearthly Child" (the first ever episode)
5.40 The Telegoons
5.55 News and Weather
6.05 Juke Box Jury (including Sid James and Cilla Black)
6.35 Dixon of Dock Green
7.20 Wells Fargo
8.10 The Saturday Film: "Santa Fe Passage" (starring John Wayne)
9.35 Comedy Playhouse: "The Chars" (with Ethel and Doris Waters)
10.05 News and Sport
10.20 That Was The Week That Was
11.10 Weather and Closedown
1.15 News
1.20 Saturday Sportstime (including Racing from Windsor, Tenpin Bowling, Rugby League, Professional Wrestling from Halifax, Soccer results)
5.15 Emerald Soup (children's science fiction drama serial - episode 3)
5.43 Weather and News
5.50 Thank Your Lucky Stars (including Cliff Richard)
6.35 Comedy Bandbox
7.15 The Sentimental Agent (starring Carlos Thompson)
8.10 The Larkins
8.50 News
8.55 The Avengers (starring Patrick McNee and Honor Blackman)
9.55 Espionage
10.50 Ben Casey
11.50 News and Epilogue

 Friday, November 21, 2003

Peter DavisonThe Fifth Doctor (1981-1984)
Peter Davison

Battled all creatures, great and small.

An A-Z of Who (u-z)

U is for UNIT: When danger threatens, it's good to know that crack security guards are out there to protect the nation's finest from the forces of evil. And no, I don't mean President Bush's armed entourage, I mean those jolly decent army chaps from the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. UNIT was a worldwide organisation set up to track and defeat extraterrestrial threats, although their interview criteria can't have been that stringent if they gave even dippy Jo Grant a job. It's also a complete mystery how UNIT ever got funding from the Government, given that ours barely supports even a rogue-asteroid-spotting centre these days, but we thank the (time)Lord that they were there.

V is for Verity: Doctor Who's first producer was Verity Lambert, kicking off an illustrious career stretching 40 years. She remains the only female ever to have produced the show (something not even John Nathan-Turner managed). It was Verity who came up with the concept of the Tardis, and Verity who gave the job of writing the show's now-legendary theme tune to Australian Ron Grainer (oooo-eeeee-oooow). She left the show during its third year, moving on to produce a string of other TV hits including Adam Adamant, Budgie, The Naked Civil Servant, Minder, (whisper it) Eldorado, and Jonathan Creek. Verity was awarded the OBE in last year's New Year Honours for services to film and production. Who'd not be here today without her.

W is for Wales: The Doctor has had a mixed relationship with the principality of Wales over the years. One of his finest adventures involved a Welsh valley full of giant maggots, but equally one of his most embarrassing adventures featured a bus full of space tourists invading a 1950s Welsh holiday camp. Now it's BBC Wales who have been given the long-awaited chance to revive Doctor Who, relaunching in 2005 with new adventures written by Russell T Davies. I wonder if we'll be seeing Ninth Doctor Aled Jones emerging from the Tardis to battle against some bug-eyed sheep-rustling harpists, look you.

X is for Xterminate: World domination, absolute power and obsessive megalomania - there's been a lot of it about. Many of the Doctor's enemies have been cold, emotionless killing machines, set on destroying any puny human who should get in their way no matter what the consequences. You could never reason with a Dalek, nor hold a rational argument with a Cyberman, and trying to make a Sontaran see sense was always doomed to failure. Shoot now, ask questions later. But don't worry kids, obviously there are no real characters in the modern world with such a rigid view of good and evil backed up by force, so don't have nightmares out there. Good always wins, on the telly at least...

YZ is for Wise Head: The Doctor has managed to survive for 40 years, one third of which he's not even been on the telly, but how? I'd suggest it's because of his winning character. Eight wise men, all rolled into one. An interfering busybody with a heart of gold. A strangely-dressed knowall with your best interests at heart. An eccentric bloke with as much wisdom as intelligence. A man who could take you anywhere, and frequently did, but would always get you home safely, eventually. We've been his companion through time and space for four decades now. Carry on Doctor.

 Thursday, November 20, 2003

Tom BakerThe Fourth Doctor (1974-1981)
Tom Baker

The quintessential longest-serving Doctor.

An A-Z of Who (p-t)

P is for Products: A forty-year old TV show generates a lot of spin-off merchandise, and no doubt car boot sales across Britain are full of the stuff. Plastic Dalek suits, annual annuals, unthrilling jigsaws, lots of old Target paperbacks, a number one record and even some Weetabix action figure cards (I own a set of them, despite hating the cereal). I also own a number of the Doctor Who Radio Times covers, which I see on eBay are worth rather more than I paid for them, so I'll be filing away the 40th anniversary copy I bought yesterday very carefully. Oh, and there's a 'Who Shop', just up the road from me in East Ham, so if you ever have a burning desire for a commemorative Dalek plate or a ceramic Cyberman cookie jar, you know where to come. Or not.

Q is for Quarry: Filming to a strict budget can be difficult so, when faced with yet another script demanding an alien location, the BBC would usually decamp to a desolate quarry in Dorset and pretend that they were in fact light years away. Where would science fiction filming be without quarries? I guess pretending that all alien planets look like deciduous forests or bleak moorland instead, those being the other two favourite stock locations. The genius of Doctor Who scriptwriters led them to set one particular story (Sarah-Jane Smith's last) in a real quarry, thereby confusing all the viewers who naturally assumed that the Tardis had landed on yet another featureless alien world again.

R is for Regeneration: If one thing has helped Doctor Who to live long and prosper, it's the concept of regeneration. The show could have spluttered to a grinding halt in 1966 when William Hartnell asked to leave, but the production team dared to film him magically turning into Patrick Troughton after a particularly tiring battle with the Cybermen, and so the series was saved. It sure beats Bobby Ewing emerging from the world's longest shower, for continuity purposes at least. Patrick became Jon as a Time Lord punishment, Jon became Tom after overdosing on radioactive spiders, Tom became Peter after falling off a radio telescope, Peter became Colin after running out of emergency antidote and Colin became Sylvester very very suddenly because Michael Grade hated him. And then Sylvester became Paul because he made the enormous mistake of going to America...

S is for San Francisco: After a seven year gap, Doctor Who was reborn as an American TV movie in 1996. The film had everything - money, expensive sets, regeneration, a new Doctor, two new assistants, the Doctor's first ever love interest, a foreign location, the end of the world (again), even a new Master. Everything that is except a decent plot. By the time Paul McGann emerged from a hospital morgue there was only an hour of the film left, most of which time he spent trying to remember Who the hell he was, pursuing a shapely surgeon, or just riding around on a motorbike without a helmet. Virtually all of the action took place after dark so the San Francisco location was completely wasted and, well, the whole thing just lacked drama. And monsters. They never made a second movie.

T is for TARDIS: Another flash of brilliance from the original Who design team - a state-of-the-art spacecraft that's bigger (and cheaper) on the outside than the inside. The TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) malfunctioned in episode 1 and has been stuck looking like an old 1960s police box ever since. The Doctor's Type 40 suffered from erratic steering (usually within the first two minutes of each story) and in 1981 managed to end up on the Barnet by-pass next to London's last remaining police box.

 Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Jon PertweeThe Third Doctor (1970-1974)
Jon Pertwee

Brought colour to the series.

An A-Z of Who (k-o)

K is for K9: One of the Doctor's best-loved companions was a small robot dog with a sophisticated sensory device disguised as a long pointy nose. Imagine a Sinclair ZX81 on wheels, maybe a ZX81/C5 hybrid. Poor old K9 couldn't climb stairs, rather like a Dalek, so if there was ever a story set in a swamp or a liftless building he had to stay in the Tardis for the duration. K9 accompanied the Doctor for four years, alongside a Leela and a couple of Romanas, until he left to star in his own spin-off TV show with the lovely Sarah-Jane Smith. Alas, the opening credits to K9 and Company were utterly cringeworthy and the devil-worship-in-an-English-village plotline not much better, so the series was put down, along with the dog.

L is for London Locations: Ever wanted to know where those on-location Doctor Who episodes were filmed? Here's a site that can tell you. See the Cybermen walk down those famous steps below St Paul's Cathedral. Step back into Victorian Docklands, home to the Talons of Weng Chiang. Beware, because there are Daleks everywhere, be it at Butler's Wharf, 76 Totters Lane or the cemetery where my great grandfather is buried. Ponder how on earth they managed to climb the Albert Memorial. And revisit the last ever Doctor Who story, inappropriately called 'Survival', set in the urban jungle of Perivale. Dangerous place, London.

M is for Master: Ahh, the evil arch-enemy of the Doctor, probably ever since they were at school together on Gallifrey flicking pellets at one other. The Master first appeared alongside Jon Pertwee in 1971 in that infamous killer shop-dummies story which I think is the very first episode I can ever remember. He was played by East End actor Roger Delgado, the very personification of calculated nastiness, until his untimely death in a car crash two years later. Another Londoner, Anthony Ainley, brought the Master back to life in 1981, cunningly anagrammatically disguised as Consul Tremas. Altogether the Master has appeared in 20 Doctor Who stories (that's more than the Daleks) plus the TV movie (where the Daleks would probably have been a better bet).

N is for No more: In the end, the Doctor's greatest enemy turned out not to be the Daleks nor the Cybermen nor the Master, but BBC1 controller Michael Grade. He put the show on ice for an extended break in 1985, then literally put Colin Baker on trial to see if ratings improved. They didn't. Nowadays ratings of 4 or 5 million look fairly reasonable, but at the time they just weren't enough. Scheduling the show against Coronation Street didn't help matters and eventually in 1989, after 26 seasons, Michael brought the final curtain down on the TV series. The Who-niverse has reappeared occasionally since, for that TV movie for example, some stories for radio, and for 'Dimensions in Time', a desperately misguided Children In Need '3-D special' where various Doctors wandered round Albert Square meeting the cast of EastEnders past present and future. Bang out of order.

O is for Other Doctors: There may have been only eight proper Doctor Whos, but a surprising number of other people have played the role in a semi-official capacity. Peter Cushing reprised William Hartnell's role in 1966 in a couple of classic and oft-repeated Dalek films, and Richard Hurndall played the late Mr Hartnell in the Five Doctors 20th anniversary special. And then there was the 1999 Comic Relief special, 'The Curse of Fatal Death', in which the Doctor was played (rather well) by Rowan Atkinson and also, in the space of a couple of minutes, by Richard E Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley. A female Doctor? Absolutely fabulous.

 Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Patrick TroughtonThe Second Doctor (1966-1969)
Patrick Troughton

Wiped from the archives, mostly.

An A-Z of Who (f-j)

F is for Fans: Can there be any other TV show with as many devoted, nay obsessed, fans as Doctor Who. Anyone aged between 25 and 50 will probably remember growing up with 'their' Doctor, but many it seems never quite shake off that initial interest. There are fan clubs, conventions where middle-aged blokes dress up as their favourite monsters, a regular series of novels and audio stories and now, in the internet age, more websites than you can shake a sonic screwdriver at. The show may have been cancelled 14 years ago but Doctor Who still tops polls of the nation's favourite sci-fi show. Anyone would think the BBC would bring it back...

G is for Gallifrey: Gallifrey is the home planet of the Time Lords, a race of beings with absolutely no fashion sense. It's an ancient world with ancient inhabitants, many over 800 years old (although Barbara Cartland never knowingly lived here) and everybody has two hearts (see, she'd never have fitted in). Every now and again the Doctor returns to Gallifrey to wreak havoc, or to save the universe, or to meet Lynda Bellingham (the Oxo Mum) for a good roasting.

H is for Hiding behind the sofa: The Doctor has always faced the very scariest monsters that the BBC props department could throw at him. Men in oversize furry costumes or ill-fitting silver boilersuits, small plastic things with teeth, giant gelatinous blobs or hermaphrodite wobbly diplomats with one eye. These are the creatures that kept us cowering behind the furniture in our childhood, but which in the adult light of day appear rather less scary. The only frightening thing on TV nowadays involving a sofa is Linda Barker's series of adverts for DFS. I wonder if modern children have nightmares involving giant pairs of scissors... snip snip!

I is for Interactive: The advent of broadband has given birth to a new set of Doctor Who adventures, this time animated online on the BBC website. They've pitted Colin Baker (and Lee and Herring) against the Cybermen and they've brought to life a classic Douglas Adams-penned story that was cancelled back in 1980 due to strike action. This month there's a brand new webcast story - Scream of the Shalka - featuring Richard E Grant as the Doctor battling subterranean forces in darkest Lancashire. They're releasing one new 20 minute episode every Thursday, the first was last week and, what do you know, it's actually rather good. Recommended.

J is for Jellybaby: Ah, those little quirks that made every Doctor different. Patrick Troughton was renowned for whipping out his recorder, while Jon Pertwee had a penchant for fast cars and gadgets. Tom Baker would always offer any oncoming foe a jellybaby, or try to trip them up with his giant scarf. Peter Davison had a sprig of celery on his lapel and a cricket ball in his pocket, while Sylvester McCoy went nowhere without his trademark brolly. Obviously they were all insane, but we loved them for it.

 Monday, November 17, 2003

William HartnellThe First Doctor (1963-1966)
William Hartnell

Anyone remember him?

An A-Z of Who (a-e)

A is for Assistants: The good Doctor has had many assistants over the years, mostly nubile young women with the ability to scream loudly. There's been his granddaughter, a Blue Peter presenter, Joe Sugden, Rosa Di Marco, my best mate's cousin and even Violet-Elizabeth Bott. Assistants need to have everything explained to them slowly in words of one syllable, which helps all of us watching at home work to follow the more twisted technical details of the plot. They also have a tendency to wander off and get lost halfway through episode one and get captured by some hairy-chested local, who later turns out to be really friendly and saves the day in episode four.

B is for Brigadier: Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart first appeared alongside the second Doctor as a mere colonel, battling abominable snowmen in the London Underground. He later took charge of UNIT (see Friday), and accompanied the third Doctor on most of his most of his adventures exiled on Earth during the early 1970s. It's odd, but I don't remember any killer daffodils, evil shop-window dummies, giant maggots or hungry dinosaurs blighting my suburban life while I was growing up, but apparently the Brig saw them all off. Actor Nicholas Courtenay rose no higher than private during his real-life army career, but is the only person to have appeared on screen alongside all seven Doctors.

C is for Cliffhanger: Every Doctor Who episode always ends with a thrilling and gripping cliffhanger. Either the Doctor or his assistant (or both) are suddenly thrust into some hideous death-related situation - a furry hand suddenly appears, a firing squad takes aim or even, on one notable occasion in 1987, the Doctor ends up literally hanging from a cliff. Cue scream, cue pained close-up, cue theme tune. How will they ever escape? But of course they always do, often in a really unsatisfactory way involving a sonic screwdriver, a feeble distraction or a hidden trap door. Maybe the best cliffhanger in the history of Doctor Who was the sudden appearance of a sink plunger back in December 1963. Whatever could it be making young Barbara scream so loud...?

D is for Dalek: Easily the scariest and best of all the Dr Who monsters, these evil pepperpots spread across the universe from home planet Skaro bringing terror, death and domination to all. Just so long as there weren't any stairs in the way. The Daleks were the creation of either Davros or Terry Nation, depending on whether you live in the real world or not. They first appeared in the second ever Doctor Who story, helping the fledgling series to make a big impact on the teatime audience, and they've never gone away since. First-class monsters, only finally licked when the Royal Mail stuck them on some commemorative stamps a few years ago.

E is for Earth: There are millions of planets in the Universe, and yet the Doctor seems to spend most of his time on just one. He's been on hand to repel countless alien invasions, numerous human attempts to destroy the planet and the odd ripple effect threatening the existence of the entire universe. Lucky us. Most of these potential catastrophes have happened in the UK, which takes up less than ¼% of the land mass of this small blue-green planet, so goodness knows why our house insurance isn't higher.

Who Week: Next Sunday sees the 40th anniversary of the very first episode of Doctor Who. It's the BBC's top science fiction serial, the show that almost never started but now somehow never dies. So, for the next seven days, diamond geezer is going retrospective with a whole week of Who. There'll be a detailed A-Z, a daily Doctor, a look back at what was on the telly that debut Saturday night back in November 1963, and probably some other stuff too. There'll also be absolutely tons of blue weblinks to explore, so please don't forget to click around. This upcoming Who-fest means I won't be blogging about the Audio Bullys gig I'm going to on Wednesday (not yet anyway), neither will I be mentioning the Bush state visit (although the assassination of another president will loom large), but I'm sure you'll survive. You can read the whole of Who Week right now by inventing time travel and jumping a week into the future, or else just sit back, grab a jellybaby and wait for the first thrilling episode. Cue swirly music...

 Sunday, November 16, 2003

Famous places within 15 minutes walk of my house
Number 2012 - The Olympic Stadium ii

your stadium here

An Olympic Stadium is a large circular-ish object, requiring space for a 400 metre running track, seating for the nations of the world and sufficient space round the edge for the selling of hotdogs and novelty fluorescent headgear. So, where to put it? It appears that the authorities have merely worked out how large a circle they need, found a map of the local area and hunted down the one location where that circle would fit without overlapping one of the many river channels round here. And the location they've found is a godforsaken industrial estate halfway up a boy-racer lane just north of Pudding Mill Lane DLR station. Middle of nowhere. This is Marshgate Lane, a 100% non-residential slice of East London, one solitary road cutting across the flood plain of the River Lea. If anywhere in London deserves to be regenerated, it's this unloved heap of warehouses, incinerators and industrial units. Up to 350 companies will be forced to relocate if the Olympics come to Stratford, but an Olympic flame would suit the area far better than the present smell of burning waste, fats and cooking oils.

meddlingI got myself a decent map and walked up Marshgate Lane to find the exact location of the centre of the stadium for myself. It's just past Knobs Hill Road, right opposite Parkes Galvanizing Ltd, where a couple of small roads run off the lane onto the Marshgate Trading Estate. Here you'll find a company that hires skips, a giant nondescript warehouse, the odd big family business, a company that prepares caviar and smoked salmon and, right in the middle, a Mercedes Service Centre. This is where the javelins will land, where 3000 perfectly-choreographed local schoolchildren will tapdance through the opening ceremony and where all the medals will be presented. I was disturbed to see three Mercedes flags flying over the exact spot - it looks like the Germans have staked their claim for the top of the medal table already.

polystyrene bowlThis weekend, as a genuine local resident, I've also attended one of the public consultation events for the Olympic masterplan. The Lower Lea Valley regeneration team have been setting up their display boards in a variety of community-type institutions, asking people what they think about the plans and the legacy to be left behind for the local area. It turned out that most of the display is available on the internet anyway, but there were some nice extras including some fantastically detailed maps of the minutiae of regeneration and a 3D model to bring the plans to life (pictured left). The organising staff seemed keen to welcome us all, but even keener to get at least one person present to fill in one of their less-than-thrilling questionnaires. I would have spoken to somebody official about the plans, except that one of them was being persistently harangued by a pessimist explaining how the Dome was a white elephant and the whole bid thing would undoubtedly be a financial disaster, while most of the rest of the staff were too busy trying to set up a Powerpoint presentation. At least it was encouraging to see my community's future being taken seriously for once. Whether the Olympics arrive here in 2012 or not, local regeneration is on track.

 Saturday, November 15, 2003

Weather fivecast

Isn't it amazing how far into the future they can predict the weather these days? I don't mean 100 years into the future when the whole globe warms up (or is it cools down?), I mean next week. They never used to be able to do that. In fact go back a couple of decades and you were lucky if they got even tomorrow's weather half right. You'd go out in your shirt sleeves and it would chuck it down with rain, or you'd take your umbrella to work only to lose it on a park bench in the ensuing heatwave. But nowadays they have super Cray computers running atmospheric models millions of times a second, meaning meteorolgists can give us an in-depth analysis of sun, cloud, wind, rain and temperature next Saturday well before we get there. Or can they?

I've been keeping track of a couple of five-day weather forecasts for London over the last five days, jotting down what they said today's weather would be like. I've been to the BBC website's 5-day weather forecast, and also reading the 5-day cartoon strip on page 54 of the Evening Standard every day. Just what were they predicting about Saturday's weather earlier in the week? (Oh, and for my American readers, those are temperatures in degrees Celsius, we're not expecting snowdrifts)

The BBC has been fairly optimistic all week that it's going to be dry today, maybe with a bit of sun, but not especially warm. The Evening Standard, on the other hand, has been predicting precipitation (either showers or drizzle) instead, albeit with slightly higher temperatures. Two very contrasting forecasts, and they can't both be right. At least the Standard has been consistent all week, even if that's consistently downbeat, whereas the BBC has changed its mind a lot more about cloud cover and temperature. I notice that both media ended the week on Friday with a forecast virtually identical to the one they gave on Monday, so maybe all those fluctuations were unnecessary anyway.

Update: Saturday dawned crisp and bright, with light wisps of cloud scattered across a blue sky. Not too cold, not too windy, no sign of rain, sort of nice really. And so it stayed throughout the day, a bit more cloud every now and then, and even overcast at times, but mostly fine and sunnyish. So the BBC win the prize for predicting the type of weather, even though they never once quite came up with 'sunny intervals'. As for the temperature, congratulations to the Evening Standard who were spot on with 12°C, and had been pretty much throughout the week. But they were very wrong about the showery drizzle, which never manifested. Overall then, sort of close-ish (particularly BBCi), but neither forecast was reallly convincing. It appears that the best way to forecast the weather is still to wait until the day itself and look out of the window. Computers, even bloody enormous computers, don't seem to be able to beat that yet.

 Friday, November 14, 2003

The Prince of Wales
A gushing 55th birthday tribute

Oh Charles, upon whose royal head
A life of service doth bear down,
At thy feet all good men kneel,
Low stoops the brow that wears the crown.

    Come thou Prince and celebrate,
    The horn proclaims thy noble birth,
    The rod of office fills thine hand,
    Until joy spills across the earth.

But lo, thy manservant springs forth,
Wounding thy stiff upper lip,
Leaking issues best left hid,
See the old queen's standing slip.

    Hard comes the day thou must stand down,
    All dreams of kingship tossed aside,
    Blow the job and hand it on,
    And let thy Willie restore pride.

 Thursday, November 13, 2003

Famous places within 15 minutes walk of my house
Number 2012 - The Olympic Stadium i

olympicsideOK, so this may look like the same old photograph of the run-down Big Breakfast house that I've shown you before, and indeed it is, but what's new is that London's Olympic Stadium is now planned to be built less than a javelin's throw away on the other side of that row of trees. It's all bloody exciting, for us locals at least. This redevelopment depends on London actually being selected by the IOC as the winning host city for the 2012 Games, of course, but detailed new proposals announced this week bring that dream a little closer to reality. And much closer to my house.

Plans for London's Olympic bid have been a little sketchy up until now, with plans for a stadium sort of near Hackney Wick, upriver from Stratford-ish, in that run-down bit of East London probably. This week the plans are revealed in their full geographical splendour, and the proposed site for the stadium shifts half a mile south from (just) Hackney into (nearly) Bow, much nearer to major transport links. The new site is currently bleak industrial land, surrounded on three sides by the Bow Back Rivers, which apparently makes the area pretty secure from international terrorist attack. You can view a fine and detailed map showing the Olympic regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley here, whether you're an international terrorist or not.

warming upTo your right is another photograph showing the heart of the proposed Olympic zone. This is the Greenway, a footpath slicing through East London atop the legendary Northern Outfall Sewer. Today a tree-lined haven for local wildlife, tomorrow the focal point of global consciousness (maybe - terms and conditions apply). Just to the right of the photo will be the warm-up tracks where the world's finest athletes will prepare for their few seconds in the spotlight. And just to the left, opening ceremonies, Olympic flames, 100m finals, track and field, drug scandals, medal ceremonies, marathon finishes and 100% total history. Bloody hard to picture it all at the moment, though.

The eighty-thousand-seater stadium will be at the heart of a compact area full of top Olympic facilities. Three indoor sports arenas will replace the Hackney Greyhound Stadium, and there'll also be a new all-weather tennis complex, hockey complex and velodrome. A huge aquatic centre (complete with Olympic-sized swimming pool, naturally) will be constructed close to Stratford town centre - this no matter whether the Olympic bid is successful or not. And the athletes' village will be built just to the north of the new Stratford International Eurostar station, leaving a legacy of 17000 homes for local residents after the Games have gone. Let's hope they're sports fans, otherwise all these fantastic state-of-the-art facilities will go stale pretty fast afterwards.

press centreThis miserable bunch of warehouses close to the Bow Flyover is scheduled to become home to the entire world's media throughout that extra-special Olympic fortnight. There'll be a huge International Broadcast Centre located here plus an only-slightly-less-huge Press Centre, both less than 5 minutes walk from my house. To think, I might catch Sue Barker nibbling a McChicken sandwich in the drive-thru by the roundabout, or bump into the Bolivian equivalent of Gary Lineker buying deodorant in the nearby 24 hour Tesco. I'll have the perfect Grandstand view.

To find out more about all these proposals, complete with more pretty maps, take a look at the official website for London's 2012 bid, or click through the masterplan for the regeneration of the Lower Lea valley. Alas, all of these fine five-ringed dreams remain at the planning stage at the moment, and many of the proposals may never come to pass. But there seems to be an unstoppable political will to make sure that something happens round here in East London, even if the Olympics don't. So, I'd like to thank all of you out there in the rest of the country for your imminent generosity in pouring millions of pounds of taxpayers money into my community. We'll put on a good show for you, honest. Just give us a sporting chance.

 Wednesday, November 12, 2003

ID cards - your questions answered

What information will be kept on my ID card?
Nothing more than your name, address, gender and actual date of birth. Only Joan Collins need be worried.

No, really, what information will be kept on my ID card?
Well, all of the above. And, erm, OK... your employment status, a copy of your fingerprints, your police record, a electronic scan of your iris, a full but unverifiable credit check, who you voted for in the last five elections, health records, your favourite football team, religious background, speeding fines, a strand of your DNA, any overdue library books and that dark secret you've been harbouring about Britney Spears.

How much will my ID card cost?
There will be two different price structures. UK residents with blameless lives will be asked to pay €120 for the benefit of proving their innocence. Illegal immigrants, lawless benefit fraudsters and international terrorists will be able to buy a cheap but convincing forgery from that bloke in the lock-up behind the Chinese restaurant instead.

Why can't I just use my passport as ID?
That photo in your passport looks nothing like you.

Will carrying my ID card be compulsory?
No, don't be silly. That would be an invasion of your civil rights. If you should accidentally find yourself without your card whilst popping out to the cornershop, expect nothing worse than a night in a police cell and a €500 fine.

Where will I have to show my ID card?
Use of your card will be mandatory before the use of any NHS services, so always keep it handy in case you want to request urgent treatment for a heart attack or serious traffic injury. Those with private healthcare can of course continue to flash their credit card instead.

How will ID cards help to fight terrorism?
If you should ever be involved in a major terrorist incident, take your ID card and press it hard against the infidel's windpipe, resulting in respiratory trauma, unconsciousness and hopefully death.

Why aren't ID cards being introduced until 2013?
This is because half the cabinet still think they're a stupid idea and maybe they'll go away. '2013' is in fact a Government keyword which means 'never, but it sounds like we're doing something'. See also 'Crossrail'.

What if I refuse to buy an ID card?
Don't worry, we're arranging to have all this biometric data installed on the SIM card in your mobile phone instead, but without telling you. That way we can guarantee you'll always carry it with you everywhere you go, and we can track your movements to the nearest 10 metres too.

What is in Room 101?
The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world. The worst thing in the world varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. In your case, the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.

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big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards