Saturday, 23 December 2017

December 23rd: A Magical Television Tour

And so here we are. December 23rd and another day closer to the big ’un and unless you’re one of those unbearable people with self-control, you should have demolished most of your advent calendar by now all the time constantly eyeing up that double size "Day 24" section every time the hunger pangs happen. You might even have received your very own Christmas hamper like the ones Gloria Hunniford is always trying trick old people into buying even though there’s a very real chance they might cark it before New Year.

In town, there’s a genuine sense of thrill (or mild panic for us still behind on our present purchasing) with brass bands and carol singers appearing on the high street whilst department stores run eye-wateringly priced Grottos where your child might be in store for a special present from Santa (although more realistically it’ll be a promotional Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer Frisbee that’s been in the stockroom since 2008.) For the grown ups, your pasty and coffee places of choice are fully into their extended period of chucking anything even vaguely associated with the season into their “limited edition” recipes, from gingerbread to elf hair.

Despite all the stress, people are nicer, families come together and, above all there’s something worth watching on the box at long last. Daytime telly has scrapped the soaps and replaced them with the cream of films you got out of the video shop in the 90s. No The Karate Kid for you my friend! Its The Karate Kid: Part II all the way! And also: my condolences on having to watch The Karate Kid: Part II.

So pull out your third best box of chocolates and lets see what TV magic appeared on the hallowed December 23rds of yore...

Sunday, 23rd December, 1973

1.40pm: Farming Diary (ITV)

“So You Think You Know About Farming? This annual event has the reputation of being the most difficult in the young farmer’s calendar.”

Every time the kids complain there’s nothing on, I’m often reminded by the grey Sundays of my youth with Brian Walden interviewing stuffy old men very slowly and endless refresher courses in whatever language was offering the cheapest package holidays at the time. And then there were the farming reports which I’m sure were very helpful if you were in the industry but the equivalent of watching slurry dry when you’re in single figures. As such this “Christmas quiz for young farmers in the East of England” must have been like an entertainment explosion in the otherwise staid world of cows and some more cows. Sadly the contents of this were not recorded and painstakingly converted to YouTube for me to check so I’ll have to defer to the TV Times for more information: “Ten contestants, one from each area Federation, battle with each other for Farming Diary’s coveted award the Silver Bull which will be presented by this year’s Miss Anglia.” 

I think my penis just exploded.

Thursday, 23rd December, 1976

5.40pm: When Santa Rode the Prairie (BBC Two)

“A Festive Western by William Rushton. New Mexico, Christmas Eve 1876 and not a snowflake in sight. Tilly and Charlie Flagstaff have to spend Christmas at the Last Chance Hotel with their aunts, Santa Claus and an assortment of goodies and baddies.”

The joy of doing a book like this is finding out about truly unusual sounding little one-off programmes like this nestling cheerily in the pre-Christmas teatime telly schedules featuring people I really like. Rushton himself plays Santa in this 50 minute fantasy tale featuring songs by him and Roy Civil with a supporting cast that includes future Tomorrow Person Nigel Rhodes, Sue Nicholls and Victor Spinetti. Roy Civil is now a music teacher in the Northampton region.

Sunday, 23rd December, 1979

9.40am: The Sunday Gang (BBC One)

“A look at Christmas. J.D. tells how it all began, with a report from Nazareth and Bethlehem. with Alison Christie-Murray, John Dryden, Jill Shakespeare & Glen Stuart. Special guest: Dana.”

Whilst most true Sunday Gang aficionados would agree that this was past the show’s prime (i.e Tina Heath had left for Blue Peter) but this light religious singin’ and a comedyin’ variety programme was a staple in the late 70s and often watched by kids just because there simply wasn’t anything else to do. The hosts were, as my friend author Tim Worthington put it, “a clean-cut do-good assortment of wannabe Youth Group Leaders, operating out of a clubhouse kitted out with a “computer” sporting a tape spool-hewn face with added piano keyboard, and a screeching puppet mouse called Mackintosh that called everyone ’sassenachs’.” Its this mouse that Dana spends most of her time “interacting” with during this special episode from the National Children’s Home in Frodsham, Cheshire. There’s room for some extremely boring film though however with “JD” making a trip to Tel Aviv because Christmas...and that. Plus lots and lots of unbearably over-enthusiastic singing and OVER EMOTING THE WORDS. Now bugger off kids, its time for Nai Zindagi Naya Jeevan...

Tuesday, 23rd December, 1980

9.00pm: Elvis – He Touched Their Lives (ITV)

“350 members of the British Elvis Presley Fan Club go each August to Memphis and pay homage. David Frost is among them.”

He touched what? Dirty sod! This documentary saw David Frost follow various fans around the haunts of Elvis’ life including his old school, the Sun Studios, where he made his first acclaimed recordings, a hospital he stayed in and, of course, his grave. It comes across like a slightly more showbiz take on Louis Theroux’s documentaries, never mocking its subjects but occasionally allowing them to hang themselves with their own obsessional or self-important words. There’s also a wry look at the selling of Elvis’s death and the near-religious fervour already surrounding his celebrity – although perhaps most shocking of all is the sight of the always on-duty Frost in a casual short-sleeved polo shirt.

Friday, 23rd December, 1983

10.25pm: An Audience with Kenneth Williams (Channel 4)

“A celebrity audience enjoys a virtuoso performance from one of Britain’s favourite comic actors.”

Kenneth Williams was only the third person to be awarded one of LWT's entertainment specials under the title An Audience With title (after Dame Edna Everage in 1980 and Dudley Moore in 1981). There was so much more to Williams than the Carry On films; he was a renowned storyteller, and one early theatre revue show – 1960's One Over The Eight – featured material by Harold Pinter and a very young Peter Cook whose classic routines “Interesting Facts” and “One Leg Too Few” (“I’ve got nothing against your right leg. The trouble is – neither have you.”) The late-evening showing of An Audience With didn’t bother Williams who wrote in his diary:“Heigh ho! I don’t care. The fewer viewers the better cos then I can use the material again!”

As well as many more on ITV, four more Audiences With would premiere specifically on Channel 4: Joan Rivers (17th March, 1984), a second one for Dame Edna Everage (31st December, 1984), Billy Connolly (26th October 1985) and Jackie Mason (27th December 1990). The reason for this, invariably, was because of worries over the strong material, particularly in the case of Connolly whose rude set also slipped in a few F words, toxic to television in those days.

Tuesday, 23rd December, 1986

9.00pm: Moonlighting (BBC Two)

“What does Christmas mean to the people at Blue Moon? For Maddie, it’s a time of warmth and giving – but not to Addison! For David, it’s an opportunity to initiate ’Santa’s Hotline’ and get that little extra in his stocking...” 

Its fair to say that quirky comic detective series Moonlighting was something of a revolution when it first hit America's ABC network in March 1985. It boasted witty scripts, a perfectionist creator – Glenn Gordon Caron – who aimed to make a mini-movie each week and an amazing cast headed by the fast-talking Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis, rebooting and starting their careers respectively. Here in the UK, its feature-length pilot appeared in May 1986 on BBC One with the series itself continuing three days later on BBC Two. To catch up with America and the already huge demand, they ran the first and second seasons almost in full back-to-back by the time the third came around in the US.

Held back for obvious reasons though was 'Twas the Episode Before Christmas which finds Willis’s character David convinced he’s trapped in a festive allegory; Biblical tinged events like characters called Joseph and Mary looking for a baby and a visit from three (i.e. men with the same surname) Kings. The episode’s odd conclusion comes when the cast suddenly work out they’re in a Christmas episode: it begins to snow inside the office and carollers start to sing. On leaving the office they walk onto the set where to discover the musical accompaniment is from the crew of  Moonlighting before breaking the fourth wall to wish everyone at home Merry Christmas. Okay, it sounds awful but I promise its quite sweet. Now, Christmas Eve in Nakatomi Plaza on the other hand...

Wednesday, 23rd December, 1987

9.30pm: The Home-Made Xmas Video (BBC Two)

“A Video de Dad. It’s full of lots of things about Christmas. What we did, where we went, what we ate, how much we all drunk and everything. It’s a great stuff! (The turkey, I mean.) But seriously...” 

No Christmas period for me is properly started until I’ve seen this spin-off from a running sketch in Mel Smith and Griff Rhys-Jones's Alas Smith and Jones which took an affectionate but honest look at British working class families via the new-fangled home camcorder. There’s well meaning but quick to temper Dad (Jones), happy but put upon Mum (Diane Langton), kids Shirley and Peter (Jenny Jay and Nigel Harman) and their fun, illiterate and frequently drunk friend Len (Smith) who almost anticipates the character of Homer Simpson. Sequences involving simple acts like putting a wreath on the door, badly stealing a tree and visiting sick relatives are made into painfully funny sequences that are never played cheaply for cringe laughs. Likewise the family are rough but never sneered at by Griff and Robin Driscoll’s script which makes them fully rounded likeable characters and could easily have been spun off into a full series.

Mel and Griff's BBC Two swansong Alas Sage And Onion misses this book due to airing on 21st December 1988 which also happened to be the same night as the crash of Pan Am flight 103 onto the Scottish town of Lockerbie. The news broke just before that special went to air and viewers may not have been ready to be greeted straight after by a Beverley Sisters parody and a shot of the pair supposedly hanging from tinsel nooses.

Friday, 23rd December, 1988 

9.30pm: Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (BBC One)

“Christmas Eve, 1850. Ebenezer Blackadder is a decent, kind, generous human being. As far as his loathsome ancestors are concerned, he is a wrong ’un. So, as soon as he is snuggled up in bed they decide to pay him a visit. A seasonal tale of almost unbearable cuteness.” 

Reworking the character of Blackadder, established as a vicious scheming bastard over three prior series, Blackadder’s Christmas Carol is a superb reverse retreading of the Dickens tale as a sketch show for various incarnations of the Adder dynasty.  Viewers of more recent repeats, however, have been denied one of the funniest lines from the original broadcast. Blackadder and Baldrick are discussing the workhouse’s production of the Nativity being hindered the high infant mortality rate and so a dog named Spot is instead made the saviour of all humanity (“I’m not convinced that Christianity would have established its firm grip over the hearts and minds of all mankind if all Jesus had ever said was ’woof’...”) A despairing Blackadder asks if the children were upset but quite the contrary: “...They loved it. They want us to do another one at Easter. They want to see us nail up the dog.” A line that would be in incredibly bad taste were it not for the fact I always end up laughing so much. Indeed, some viewers complained, meaning the line was cut.

(“The Black Hole of Calcutta is currently appearing in Baldrick’s trousers.”)

If you want to see much much more than this, then order "Ben Baker's Festive Double Issue". Available from this link here from £12.99! And Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 30 November 2017

New Book! Ben Baker's Festive Double Issue! OUT NOW!

Christmas invariably means excess – be it through food, drink or television. Whether it's Morecambe and Wise recreating Singin' In The Rain, the Trotters dressed as the Dynamic Duo or EastEnders running over a baby for light relief, TV is our very pal throughout the entire turkey and tinsel period. This book pays tribute as forty years of festive programmes are viewed and reviewed in over 250 mini-essays by Ben Baker.

Alongside the classics there's the likes of Kid Creole’s strange post-watershed musical about racism, Roland Rat going to Switzerland, Skeletor learning the true meaning of Christmas, Doctor Who's original spin-off, The Bee Gees teaming up with Frankie Howerd for a medieval comedy and Feargal Sharkey having a nightmare on a Concorde whilst the Krankies watch on in helpless bemusement high above the Telecom Tower. Plus much much more. But for real. Not just like when people ay that in adverts when there's actually about three more things. This is packed with Christmas memories both obvious and obscure and I know its going to set off some "OH YEAH!" glands in a lot of people's brains.

Its been my big project for the last few months and I'm incredibly proud of my work. So it'd be lovely to get it into as many hands as possible so click below to buy a copy! Because as the mighty Noddy Holder from Not Slade 2 informs us every December time in his loudest voice, “THE GRIIIIIMMMMLLLLLEEEEYYYYSSSS IS ONNNNNN!” Also: Christmas

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Getting The Red Pen Out Early

Here's a taster of something coming very soon...

When Roy Wood first press-ganged those poor schoolchildren into singing I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday its a fair bet he wasn't thinking about December 29th - “when you're still eating turkey / and there's frig all on the bo-o-o-o-x”. 

If Christmas Day is reserved for the very latest and best Disney and Pixar films, today is the day where Boring Adaptation Of Book No Kid Has Read For Sixty Years – The Animated Movie, 'Shrenk' – The Eastern European Copyright Free Ogre and Ice Age Goes To The Building Society To Take Out An Investment Loan live. Or worse – something in boring old regular hand drawn 2D! Bleh, did Walt Disney die then get immediately frozen in carbonite for nothing? (A: No. this is an urban myth.)

Reading back, I know I'm down on this post-Christmas Day period but that's mostly because my body almost always seems to take the opportunity at this part of the year to wave a white flag, declare itself on strike and fill me with flu, sickness and anything else that's going free. Lets be honest – Christmas is about being social and the problem with being social is that it involves other people. And other people are filthy disease-ridden bastards, especially your family. Why was your nephew scratching so much at the dinner table? Did Uncle Jeff always have that cough? And what was that thing where the xenomorph burst out of your sister's chest and ran off down the road? She always has to show off.

Besides its long past time your relations should have buggered off to their own curled turkey sandwiches meaning you can sit in the comfy chair Aunt Carol (the one who always smells of egg) stole the very first second you moved to go to the bathroom and wouldn't give up since. In fact, now you think about it, you never ever saw her once get up and go to the toilet herself... unless...

...maybe you will just sit on the sofa instead.

And anyway there might be an episode of Midsomer Death Crimes or Poirot In The Case Of The One That Was Much More Racist In The Original Book you haven’t seen on ITV3 and there's always Pointless. Beautiful, beautiful Pointless. There! So if you're still healthy and can feel both your legs, let the bells ring out for Easter. Or Summer. Or Brian Harvey's birthday. Anything that isn't bloody bleedin' Christmas.

Pass the Dettol...

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Denominators Will Cost You - A Guest Simpsons Quiz

As a bit of extra-curricular fun because I've been writing so many quizzes myself recently, I asked a few of my friends if they'd write me a TV quiz in return as a bit of fun and to remind people my new book of quizzes and trivia "Remotely Interesting" is available to buy right now. Those last four words were a link incidentally and you should deffo follow it. Smiley face. Suggestive wink. Full trouser drop.

First to take me up on the offer is the wonderful Garreth F Hirons of this blog's least updated linked site (check the sidebar) Atomic Sourpuss who has gone all out Simpsons-style with his questions. Ive hidden the answers beneath those Teletext quality "REVEAL" buttons. See if you can beat me!

Lets start up those heavenly voices above a small town in Springfield...

1. Let's start at the start.  In "Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire", Bart visits a tattoo artist.  That character has not reappeared since, but is the brother of another recurring Springfield resident - name this more well-known sibling.

Wow. A stumper off the top of my head. So I googled for a (non text) picture and based on the character design it has to Marvin Monroe but I couldn't have told you straight off. Seems more a Herman profession, doesnt it? 

2. "That cannon of yours is against regulations! In this department, we go by the book."  Said to whom, who will have quite the problem avenging his partner's death with this pea-shooter?

McBaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin. "Bye Book"

3. Season Eight, Episode Thirteen featured the appearance of the family's short-lived nanny, Shary Bobbins.  Name the episode.

Oh god, its a parody of Supercalifragiwossname with "annoyed grunt" replacing "D'oh" in the middle, isnt it? But without looking it up, I couldnt give the exact spelling. You could say I did a half assed job.

LATER REMEMBERANCE: Its "Simpsoncalifragiwossname" with the D'oh in, isnt it?  

4. I was going to do a question about Snake's full name here, but apparently there's several different versions thereof.  But I'm a lazy, lazy man, so to partially use my previous research: can you name Snake's son?

I always know him as Snake Jailbird! As for his son...nope. Not a clue. 

5. "You Only Move Twice" is the best episode of The Simpsons.  Who voices Hank Scorpio in that episode?

Ooft, its up there but "Krusty Gets Kancelled" just sneaks ahead for me due to Eastern Europe's favorite cat and mouse team. The answer is  A. Brooks anyway. Albert to his pals. 

6. Because I can't go ten minutes without a wrestling reference, what is the name of the (fictional) wrestler who is quoted as living near Mr Burns?  He is heard ululating as Bret "Hitman" Hart considers moving into Monty's mansion in "The Old Man And The Lisa".

I used my old man stink to determine it was no other than the Shrieking Sheik!!!! Have you read Bret Hart's autobiography? It may be the most depressing thing I've ever read. And I've read [JOKE ABOUT GRAHAM LINEHAN AFTER 2007]!!!!

7. Name the alleged war criminal who has a cameo as himself in the episode "The Regina Monologues".

Good old Rev. Tony Blair. He used to be in a band you know!!!!

8 and 9. Mr Sparkle is a joint venture of which two companies?

Argh. A fishworks and a "Heavy Manufacturing Concern" but names are eluding me! Dammit Fishbulb! 

10. What is the real deal with Mr. Burns' assistant Smithers? You know what I'm talking about.

I take it back, this might very well be my favourite episode! The answer is: he's Mr. Burns' assistant. He's in his early 40s, unmarried and resides in Springfield. 

11 - 15. And for up to five bonus points, who are the mediocre presidents?  Clue: you won't find their faces on dollars or on cents...

There's Taylor! There's Tyler! There's Fillmore! And there's Hayes! There's William Henry Harrison. (He died in thirty days!)

Yeah, I might have listened to "Go Simpsonic with the Simpsons" a few thousand times too many....

Blimey, I feel he was generous there but I wont argue. If you'd to write a future telly quiz for me, please get in touch through the usual channels. And so concludes our tale. I'm Leonard Nimoy. Goodnight and keep watching the skis...

The Simpsons are going to Delaware!

Thursday, 3 August 2017

You Are The Generation That Bought Mr Blobby On Cassingle And You Get What You Deserve

My new TV quiz book is out now!

If you know me, this is already pretty self-evident thanks to my healthy but insistent plugging on Facebook, Twitter and that ad I employed Chairface Chippendale to laser onto the moon. But if you're still unsure about buying it, let me try and gently persuade you a little further.

1. Its a TV quiz book

Yeah, so there's a few of those about. Walk in any branch of "The Works" (other middling Queen albums are available) and you'll find the likes of "Bill Beaumont's Big Book Of Bovril Advert Trivia", "The Pubbingest Quiz Quiz Book For Pubs Ever (TV)" and "The Pointless Book Of Bad Observational Comedy In Lieu Of Any Bleedin' Questions". But invariably they're always the same dull book, researched in about 1987, repackaged endlessly on ever cheaper paper with front covers that look a bit like some beer. Because YOU LIKE THAT.

I think my TV quiz book is unique because of my sense of humour which I've tried to pepper throughout the book, be it the daft titles like "Points of Groo", "Play That Funky Music Del Boy", "Bully's Special Piss" or "David Brent: Life In The Bin"; or questions such as "True or False: Actor Don Hastings soiled himself during a live episode of "As The World Turns" after badly misjudging a fart." to which the answer is much more interesting than you'd expect.

2. There are over 50 all new quizzes written by me. 

Where you'll find the answers to questions like:

- Was there a Spectrum game where Benny Hill went round taking bras off washing lines?
- Can you name the Canadian comic actor who took the lead role in short-lived animated series "Gravedale High"?
- Which TV series was advertised on the Radio Times with the punning headline "Cheque Mates"?
- What BBC sketch show was nearly called "Peter Sellers Is Dead"?
- Squeeze were the first guests on which series later famous for appearances by Eric Clapton, Mariah Carey and Nirvana?
- What connects Postman Pat and US sitcom Community?
- Which member of The Monkees appeared on the same episode of "The Ed Sullivan Show" on which The Beatles made their debut?
- Did religious programming host Jess Yates invent Doctor Who villains the Macra

And hundreds more!

3. Its not available in the shops. 

Remotely Interesting is being ordered to demand by me from a website called Lulu. Its not cheap but its the best way I've found to get the job done. It also means that if you're looking for a unique gift for the telly addict in your life, my book (and its reasonably priced predecessors) is the perfect choice as they're not likely to have bought it themselves or received it from anyone else. And lets be honest, buying gifts is a pain in the arse, so let me help you!

4. There's something for all the family. 

Yes, even Uncle Ken and his "ruptures". When I was a kid I loved watching Telly Addicts with Noel Tidybeard and we even got the 'Family' variant spin-off board game of it some time in the early 90s. Both were fascinating but utterly frustrating to me as a kid. I loved the old clips but how the hell am I meant to know what an Onedin Line is? Who cares about Compact? Why should I go Howard's Way? With this in mind, Ive tried to make sure there are questions for everyone in the book - from the smarty pants small-screen spod to the casual couch tripper, ages 8 to Subtitles 888.

5. Its a great way to support me.

If you've been a regular reader of this blog, my Twitter or listened to my far too numerous podcasts in the past and you liked them, buying a book is a good way to say thank you and give me a few quid so I can continue. I'm trying to make a living out of writing currently so any support that way would be extremely beneficial. And to make spending your money even more fun, there's even a Collector's Edition version of the book with bonus questions, badges, music, games and silliness for a small amount more.  And if you're feeling particularly generous, an "Extreme Altruism" stream for deranged millionaires everywhere!

So, why not buy a book from this link here?

I hope people haven't felt too dogged by my advertising of the book but I'm very proud of it and know people will love it if they give it a nose. To encourage you ever further, I've set up a separate Tumblr to which I'm posting my favourite TV related oddities from my files every day. You can find that by clicking THIS CAPS LOCK MONSTROSITY HERE.

Help support local idiocy, buy a book today!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Why Be Remotely Interested?

I'm sure by now you know via my extensive billboard campaign and that stunt where Kate Thornton and five orphans attempted to cross Niagra Falls in a suit made out of discarded quiz books (we shall miss them greatly) but I *do* have a new quiz book available for pre-order.

But why should you be interested? I get that there are a lot of similar books out on the market, many available in The Works with titles like "The Thousandest Most Pub Quiz Pints Questions Ever In The World Volume 96" and "Ian Botham's Big BovrilTM Book Of Trivia About The Sport Games". Well as this paragraph shows, I have a very...unique sense of humour and that permeates throughout the entirety of the fifty plus quizzes featured.

Thats not to say the questions are false...except for the ones in the true or false games, of which there are four special rounds devoted to "Probably Definitely True Facts About"... Doctor Who, soap operas, The Simpsons and season finales. Here are eight statements, which of them are true?

A. Cletus (aka "the slack jawed yokel") has children called Incest, Q*Bert and Stabbed In Jail. 
B. In Russia, Homer Simpson is known as Mr American and his stupidity is used as an example of the West's weaknesses. 

A. Actor Don Hastings soiled himself during a live episode of "As The World Turns" after badly misjudging a fart.
B. The cast of Eastenders once released a cockney knees-up party album. 

A. The sound The TARDIS makes on take off is a warped recording of a seagull being frightened.
B. The Doctor is actually a trained medical doctor.

A. Upon reaching its final episode in 1983, “M*A*S*H” had been running longer than the actual Korean War itself.
B. The finale of “Lost” ended in a satisfying way that tied up every single loose end from the series.

There are also fictional tweets by Donald Trump on a number of TV shows, past and present. Can you work out what the Wotsit-mawed lunatic is allegedly burbling about here?

And there's letters from similarly vexed humans to the television listings magazines - what shows are being discussed here?

There's also rounds about robots, catchphrases, The Beatles on TV, theme tunes, live programmes, Netflix and the online revolution, game shows, spin-offs, remakes, famous mothers, kids shows, booze, radio transfers, foreigners, Great Telly Years (1969, 1990, 1982 and 1977) and a bunch of Christmas stuff for good measure! The suggested age range is anything from 18 to 65, and probably beyond! Its accessible but challenging where it needs to be with lots of speciality rounds for all the family. 

The whole book took me about three months to research and write along with using my limited design skills to put together and edit. The title was Tanya Jones' suggestion though. (Go visit her blog Gypsy Creams about archaic magazine clippings right now!) I wrote every word, bar the excellent foreword by one of my best friends the writer, researcher and 'TV Clangers Man' Tim Worthington. So if you think all that effort was worth checking out or have a friend who loves telly and would welcome a unique, not in the shops, limited-edition pocked sized gift, then click the below link to read more and pre-order. 

I'm very proud of this book, as I am with my previous two quiz collections (which are still available on Lulu Press) and I hope people will buy it and enjoy it. Or at least buy it. Thats definitely the important part. And if you're still not sure yet, check out this 30+ page preview PDF I put together here. There's also a bonus package I'm putting together for fans with badges, a board game variant, downloads and my back catalogue. 

Thank you and happy quizzing! 

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Play The Hits (Foo Action)

I don’t know! You wait all year for the jingle jangle of tiny farmers boots and the cry of "WHY IS THIS A THING I DONT LIKE WHEN IT SHOULD BE SOMETHING I DO!" in the Twitter Fields and suddenly - bam! - Glastonbury is all over for another year. While 2016 was definitely a mixed bag on the main stage which seemed to please nobody (except for Chic obvs), I'm a huge fan of the BBC's coverage which usually had at least four stages on camera at all times with more online and on radio.

And in a direct reaction to that coverage, the Top 40 immediately after is heavily influenced by who played. Not the singles charts obviously, which are now solely based on a hairdressing salon in Widnes' Spotify account, but the album sales where the midweek chart presently shows Friday headliners Radiohead at the top with their reissue of Not-As-Good-As-The-Bends-Or-Kid-A 90's fave "Ok Computer", Ed Sheeran at 3 (although much like Queen in "Good Omens" I think all albums slowly morph to become copies of "Divide" at the moment) plus huge jumps for The Bee Gees, Oasis and Foo Fighters, whose 2009 "Greatest Hits" set has spent 223 weeks in the British charts. And dont it make my blue eyes red...

Y'see, I was a big Foo Fighters fan back in the day, specifically the nineties, where their first three records - "Foo Fighters", "The Colour And The Shape" and "There Is Nothing Left To Lose" - were very important to my teenaged constantly-priapic bum-fluff life. They combined straight forward pop rock with elements of metal, lots of harmonies and incredibly catchy choruses. And of that influential exciting period of time the aforementioned "Greatest Hits" contains just five tracks from everything released before 2002. Geh. Admittedly this was a record company decision and Grohl was quoted as saying...

"These 16 songs are what we're calling our "Greatest Hits." Not to be confused with "Our Best Songs" or "Our Favorite Songs," it is a collection of the songs that have defined our band's identity to most people over the years. Personally, I don't think we've written our greatest songs yet."

...which is probably why the inevitable new tracks are not that memorable, spearheaded by the Nickelback-ish power ballad "Wheels" and the slightly more lively "Word Forward", both of which were clearly out-takes from the previous album and definitely dont really come under the heading of "Greatest Hits", which outlines the eternal problem at the heart of almost any best of compilation put out by a still-active group. Do you keep it as just hits which works better as an introduction to new fans but offers no reason for existing fans to buy it? Or, like most compilations after 1985, shove a few new songs on and hope it shifts a few more units, even if it means a slightly more uneven listen?

Of course its rare but occasionally a band record a new song for a compilation and becomes as beloved as the rest of the tracks. Need some examples? Here's twelve...

REM - "Bad Day" 

A bouncy but equally fed up "Its The End Of The World..." esque track "Bad Day" was actually recorded before that when a version - then called "PSA" - had been originally demoed in 1986 during the "Life's Rich Pageant" sessions before being updated to further reflect the increased bombast of post 9/11 news outlets to include on "In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003", a compilation of the band's Warner Bros singles. Its such a good track I'm almost willing to look past the fact they left off "Pop Song '89" and "Tongue" although I suspect only I care about that.

Madonna - "Rescue Me"

Whilst most of the attention was on "Justify My Love" the first single (co-written by Lenny "Kravitz" Crabsticks) from the still monolithic "Immaculate Collection" with its half-whispered underpant-ruining sultry breathlessness and memorably filthy black and white video, I always preferred the follow-up "Rescue Me", a pounding house number that once again showed how well Madonna understood what was going on in nightclubs at the time. Not that I did as I was 10 when it came out but you get the idea.

Shed Seven - "Disco Down"

Yeah alright Ian Momus, not the hippest or even hardiest of the British Indie Pop boom but I've long had a soft spot for this lot who quietly recorded some great records which were collected onto 1999's "Going For Gold" compilation with new tracks the gorgeous string-led ballad "High Hopes" and 70s funk throwback "Disco Down" which is now probably their best known song thanks to their biggest fan (although you rarely hear him mention them now or wouldn’t if I actually bothered listening in) Chris Moyles hammering it on drive-time Radio 1. "She Left Me On Friday" is still fucking terrible though.

Saint Etienne - "He's On The Phone"

A remix of an English language version of a 1984 French song by an artist with a very similar name (Etienne Daho)? Straight to the top of the charts with you! (No. 11)

Madness - "(Waiting For) The Ghost Train"

By 1986, the wheels had truly come off Madness' pop locomotive with several of the band gone and recent singles releases barely scraping the top 40. The music was still great though and so the band decided to go out with a final best of ("Utter Madness") and single, bringing back ex-member Mike Barson as a last hurrah. Whilst containing the pop sound associated with Madness, there's an eeriness that moves beyond just the title as fun-house keyboard and crashing metal drums mix with stomping feet and heavy vocal percussion. Underneath all that are oblique lyrics written by Suggs about Apartheid (the video makes the subject much clearer with the band wearing newspaper suits featuring the prominent headline "SOWETO BLOODBATH".) Also of note was the B-side of the 12" single was "Seven Year Scratch", a noble attempt to make an early megamix featuring many of the band's singles that unfortunately sounds more like someone drunkenly crashing into the turntable at random points than a cohesive mix.

Kylie Minogue - "I Believe In You"

The 2001 album "Fever" saw the Pint-Sized Antipodean PopstarTM at her very peak of both success and output with her career back on top thanks to fantastic singles like "Love At First Sight", "In Your Eyes" and, of course, the worldwide smash "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" which even gave Kyles her first US hit since 1988. Sadly the follow up album was a bit rubbish so before the brakes were launched again, 2004's "Ultimate Kylie" was rushed out for Christmas headed by this gorgeous piece of simple catchy disco pop, co-written by that year's chart golden boys Jake Shears and Babydaddy from Scissor Sisters. The entire package is a smart well thought out compilation that manages to mix every era very well and required reading for all new artists wishing to become Classic Pop Classics.

Blur - "Music Is My Radar"

Because its extremely awkward, sounds like its got a child playing an out of tune melodica over the top, was recorded by four men who couldn't stand the sight of each other and still got in the top ten. FUN FACT! The same year Oasis released "Go Let It Out" and "Who Feels Love?" so y'know...yeah.

Paul Simon - "Slip Slidin' Away"

One of two new songs on Simon's first solo best of "Greatest Hits Etc.", the gentle but beautiful "Slip Slidin' Away" only got to No.36 in the UK and would be his last single to reach the Top 40 here until "You Can Call Me Five Fabulous Weeks Of The Chevy Chase Show" in 1986.

Depeche Mode - "Shake The Disease"

A natural progression from recent singles "Master and Servant" and "Blasphemous Rumours" with the slightly bleaker, more industrial sound the band would ebb into throughout the 80s (before deciding they wanted to be fucking U2 in the 90s), "Shake the Disease" features one of the band's strongest choruses but remains shaky and urgent, pleading "understand me". Its almost like they were fans of drugs or something!!!!

George Michael - "Outside"

Few celebrity deaths punched me in the soul quite as much as George Michael on Christmas Day last year. It was fair enough that he hadn’t been troubling the charts much recently but his back catalogue was always still on the radio and we'd just got round to Wham! being regulars on the BBC Four repeats of Top Of The Pops. Indeed, its seeing his journey on those old TOTPs from fresh faced white 'rapper' pretending to be a street tough to bona-fide pop megastar that reminded you how good he was and no more so when he turned his 1998 arrest for suggesting an undercover cop touch him on the wilbus into one of the biggest hits of his career, the painfully groovy faux-disco bop of "Outside" which kicked off his first solo best of "Ladies and Gentlemen".  A huge loss we're going to feel for decades to come.

David Bowie - "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)"

A big old sax-filled jazzy wonder falling down some stone stairs, like the theme tune to a zany detective film starring Dave Bowie Band in pursuit of a villain that turns out to be an elaborate velveteen hat. Its confusing, not especially melodic and until you get under its skin a little bit frightening. But more importantly it screamed that Bowie was back and he was going to go out of this world in his own mad, fantastic way.

Kate Bush - "Experiment IV"

Assuming we look straight past the wholly unnecessary re-recording of the vocal to "Wuthering Heights", this is the only new track on the huge selling "The Whole Story". Far from one of the most memorable or even successful, the whole venture is worth it for the stunning horror-tinged video, starring baby-faced Dawn French and Hugh Laurie alongside the less toddler-tinged fizzogs of Peter Vaughan and Richard Vernon.

Wot? No "Once Upon A Long Ago"? Or shit remix of the first single? "Re-Recording'88 '94 2000 EXTREME"? With all that said, the two biggest selling albums ever in the UK were greatest hits sets by Queen and ABBA, neither of which contained a single new track so who bloody knows who's right? Music's bollocksed anyway and all media is dead so lets get a kebab and set fire to Our Price! Goodnight!

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Of Pranks, Pop Punk and Old Peking

Its that ham again! Yes, I had so much fun with my appearance on my friend Tim Worthington's podcast "Looks Unfamiliar" a few months ago that we did it again.

As Tim puts it: "Looks Unfamiliar is a podcast in which writer and occasional broadcaster Tim Worthington talks to a guest about some of the things that they remember that nobody else ever does. Joining Tim for a second time is writer, broadcaster and quizmaster Ben Baker, who shares his not-widely-shared memories of Children's ITV magazine show Toksvig, the Whizzkids' Guide book series, sophisticated yet not exactly enlightened board game Mysteries Of Old Peking short-lived pop-punk sensations Mo-Ho-Bish-O-Pi, drug-fuelled post-Tarantino shock-comedy Go, and the entirely sensible hobby of making your own TV listings magazines. Along the way we'll be taking some advice from a Charcoal Jeremy Beadle, finding out why Ben had to hide his secret drawings of the Yorkshire TV logo, why Sandi Toksvig was at risk of exploding at any moment, and revealing which Shane Meadows film is not as good as a hat."


I think this one is a lot more fun than the first with a lengthy attempt to untangle old television stations, work out just how racist a board game can be, wonder why the early noughties were such a joyless time for alternative music, celebrating the fantastic work of Jeremy Beadle in a genuine and unironic way, make our own listings magazines and suspect nobody remembers the follow up to "Swingers" at all.

Hear the first episode here!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Territorial Listens - The Other History Of Pop

This week in June 1970 "The Long and Winding Road" became The Beatles' final number one in America.

The song, about a road which is long and also has some winds in it, was a top ten hit around the world in countries like Australia, Switzerland, Belgium and of course, the United Kingdo..h wait, no. It says here it didn't actually come out as a single in the UK. Whilst The Fabulous Four Men's previous single "Let It Be" HAD got an official British release, reaching number 2 in March 1970 and kept off the top by Lee bloody Marvin's "Wand'rin' Star" of all things, it wasn't seen as the done thing to keep releasing songs from an already available LP. And even "Let It Be" had been rejiggered for the LP (which McCartney would later unjigger back again for the "...Naked" release decades later.)

Whilst now we're used to the charts as effectively a hollow corpse being violated by streaming services on loop with everything to hand the second its released, I lived through a (very expensive) era where owning music was physical and subject to really strange laws and record company regulations. On top of the multi-part singles that had to be a certain length or face banishment from the chart, your favourite bands would often try break other countries with completely different songs.

Back in 1995 I had only really just became a weekly music buyer and would head down to Our Price every Monday morning for the latest singles before they charted and the price bumped up instantly by two pound as if that was in any way acceptable. My big love was the burgeoning Britpop scene, not quite the sad bloated ham it would become, in an exciting time for a kid to get into alternative music. So imagine my teenaged face when I got to the record shop that September and saw a brand new Oasis single that I didn’t even know was coming out and it was...FIVE QUID? Do I look like I'm made of the cocaines money, Leon Gallaghers?!?

This was my first encounter with an import single. In this instance,"Morning Glory" had been released in Australia and to radio in the US instead of failed Blur-usurper "Roll With It" which as we all know in hindsight is fucking terrible. It even had the same B-sides as that single. The following year MTV (it used to play music videos etc) would constantly air the clips for both that and "Champagne Supernova" - another release for America that didn't come out here - just to taunt the British record purchaser.

Here's some other alternate country releases that tormented fans...

The Jam - "Thats Entertainment" (1980)

The grandaddy of the modern alternative import release. Whilst available on the band's fifth album "Sound Affects", Paul Weller and The Pals Two decided to follow The Beatle model and try not release songs already released on long players. Equally copied off Them Mop Top Types was the riff from "Taxman" which was used throughout the only officially released single "Start!", their second number one. They did however decide to put out "That’s Entertainment" in other places who they quite frankly didn’t give as much of a shit about. Fans were keen though and sent it to number 21 on import sales alone - and thats when people actually bought records! They later beat this with the No.8 placing of the Dutch "Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero?" Although Morrissey didn't specially ruin that one with Vic Reeves on backing vocals, did he?

Pink Floyd -"Flaming" / "The Gnome" (1967)

One of the main tracks that wrong idiots point at when they want to go "ahhh Syd Barrett was RUBBO!" and pretend early Pink Floyd was merely quaint nonsense, as if bellowing about walls is much better, the heavily Tolkien-inspired tale of "a gnome named Grimble Gromble" is actually quite a fun, pleasant listen after nine and a half minutes of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink epic "Interstellar Overdrive" on the second side of the wonderful "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn". As a single it perhaps feels a little exposed as back up to the gorgeous if fairly aimless "Flaming" - a song which pretty much invented the 1990 indie sound two decades early - released only in the US in an alternative mix to that found on the album. Neither that or its UK counterpart "Apples and Oranges" were a hit. Should've done more songs about walls, lads.

Madness – “Mrs Hutchinson” (1982)

As the official band time-line for December 8th 1981 states: “Madness perform Mrs Hutchinson on the Top Pop TV show as for some reason the Dutch record company preferred to release it as a single instead of It Must Be Love.” A baffling decision in light of the Labi Siffre cover becoming synonymous with the group and the new double A-side ultimately peaked at a disappointing 43. The song itself, found on the band's third album "7" and written by keyboardist Mike Barson, is great fun and would have been a great single although the lyrics about a dying old lady being lied to by her doctors may have been a deciding factor after the controversy over that record's "Cardiac Arrest" which recieved a daytime radio ban.

The band also received a similar switcheroo in the UK when Stiff Records boss Dave Robinson replaced “Victoria Gardens” – the original second UK single from 1984’s “Keep Moving” with “One Better Day” despite the fact the former had already been remixed for release. The single was never released, eventually appearing on essential singles box set “The Business” in 1999 and “One Better Day” became the band’s final Stiff single release. Huh huh. I said "Stiff release".

Supergrass - "Cheapskate" (1997)

I recall seeing the video for this on The Chart Show and getting very excited as its possibly my favourite track on Supergrass' second record "In It For The Money", a perfect collection of 60s and 70s influenced pop with this track in particular apparently in homage to Kool and The Gang. This would be the band's only dent in the American singles charts when it reached a whopping 35 on the US Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart.

Prince - "Paisley Park" (1985)

As the follow up to the bajillion-selling "Purple Rain" album, nobody really talks much about Prince (and The Revolution)'s 1985 album "Around The World In A Day" despite it being full of really great sixties-tinged pop songs such as "Pop Life" and "Raspberry Beret". Less played than either of those despite being both great and the highest charting single from that record (No. 18 in May 1985) "Paisley Park" would become better known as the name of Prince's studio and home.

Pulp – “Like A Friend” (1998)

This American promo from early 1998 recorded for Gwyneth Paltrow knocker-squinter “Great Expectations” sadly didn’t do much for Pulp’s US careers, despite receiving a full video. Frustratingly kept off the UK version of “This Is Hardcore” (And yet you had time for "Seductive Barry", Jarvis?) it'd eventually appearing in longer form on the B-side of the band’s “A Little Soul” that June. The band also released that brilliant but unforgiving album's ridiculously non-commercial opening track “The Fear” as an American radio single because death of Britpop and all that shit. Remember them this way...

(Warning: slight Venture Bros spoilers if you havent seen season 4 yet. And if you haven't seen it, why not? Its magnificent!)

Culture Club - "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" (1983)

One of those you'd assume was released due to the ubiquity of the band's d├ębut album "Kissing to Be Clever" but only came out "over there", reaching the top ten in America and Canada whilst in Australia it hit number one thanks to being a double A-side with "Karma Chameleon". I reet like the 'orns on it myself.

The Smiths – “The Headmaster Ritual” (1985)

The Smiths never had much luck with UK singles releases. Partly this was down to being on the indie label Rough Trade although it was as much to do with noted pop arsehole Morrissey’s continually fickle nature. All this meant the band amazingly never managed a UK Top 10 single until the re-issue of “This Charming Man” in 1992 (and then that was on Warner who had picked up the back catalogue that year). This odd A-side choice – merely the opening track from “Meat Is Murder” here replaced the admittedly fairly grim “That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore” in the Netherlands and as a radio promo in the US. A 1988 French CD single import in the UK can cost up to £65. Its no "That's Entertainment" though, is it?

If you enjoyed this article, please do share it on Twitter (I'm on there as @ThatBenBaker), Facebook (I have a fan page here: come say hi!) or shout it into the street (your street, not mine). Now I'm off to listen to my favourite chart hits - “Glass Wadger”, "I'm In Love With A Matching Tea Towel and Oven Glove Combination", “Stick It In Us Ian”, “La La La La (Grab Knicker Grandma)” – what do you mean you don't remember them? They were all the rage in the Benelux regions...

Monday, 12 June 2017


Telly addict? Box clever? Then you need Remotely Interesting, my new quiz book featuring over 50 all-new quizzes all about television. There's something for everyone from ALF to Z CarsBrian Cox to Brian GriffinGood Morning Britain to Newsnight, taking in the full TV experience from the opening theme tune to closing credits.

This is the third of my "Your Starter For Ben" quiz range and people who liked the my other work will hopefully recognise and appreciate the comic tone running throughout particularly with longer form pieces such as a round about TV shows with video game spin offs or several encounters with Donald Trump's Twitter feed spouting off on any programme he's not currently in. Its a creative, funny book unlike any on the market today. I've spent a long time researching, writing and editing this book to make sure it has appeal to both telly obsessives and casual viewers who fancy something to liven up that boring, ill-advised family holiday to Penge.

Here's a few of the highlights:

- Look back at the best days of your life now long gone with "Great Telly Years" rounds on 1977, 1981, 1990 and 1969;

- There's Probably Definitely True Facts About... The Simpsons, Doctor Who, soap operas and series finales;

- Guess the subjects of invariably mad real letters to the Radio and TV Times;

- Donald Trump's Presidential Tweets on programmes past and present;

- Remembering when stars switched channels in When They Went To Thames At The End;

- Were these TV spin-off video games real? Hit start;

- Go beat with the many TV appearances of The Fab Four Beatles Band;

- 'Netflix and keeping our hands where I can see them' with the non-TV TV revolution;

- Preparing for the end of the world with post-apocalypse programming;

- Can you guess the show from the Eight Word TV Tango?;

- A foreword by TV Clangers Expert Tim Worthington;

AND MUCH MORE on the likes of robots, catchphrases, theme tunes, live TV, game show rounds, spin-offs, telly books, memorable bosses, foreign types, breakfast programmes, American remakes, TV mothers, kids shows, booze and a bunch of Christmas stuff for good measure at the back!

Here's a few preview pages...


Want more? Ok, well to entice you further, here's an absolutely free 30+ page preview of the book:

For more information, chat to me on Twitter @ThatBenBaker or via my regularly updated Facebook news page here: (You could give it a like too!)

If you've enjoyed any of the nonsense I do, both past and present, don't sit back and hope somebody else will support this please. This is a good way to help ensure more of it happens whilst getting an excited, unique item not available anywhere else and all for less than . Pre-orders are now open and will be sent out from late July.

Thank you and happy dynamic quizzing!

 "its that taub again"