How We Used To Blog: Saint Etienne And Watch With Mother At The Queen Elizabeth Hall

Tim Worthington's Newsround is actually my sixth blog, or seventh if you count the collaborative trivia site TATP (which is now available in handy book form from here). As the whole point has always been about learning and improving, these earlier attempts have all long since been taken offline, with the better posts either reused on here (such as the series of album reviews from The Memorex Years), or else recycled in various books. As for the others, sometimes they just aren't worth dwelling on. Or worse still are That Thing About Puppets. But just occasionally, there's a good idea worth revisiting. Such as the story of how I found myself writing a programme for the benefit of an unlikely venue full of punters clamouring to see a dusty old BBC children's show...

Back in 2007, the ever-fabulous pop band Saint Etienne were artists in residence at The Queen Elizabeth Hall, and one of the events they staged was based around the BBC's long-forgotten Watch With Mother series Joe. Having seen and enjoyed a number of pieces I had written about Joe and various other similar shows of its era, they invited me to put together a short booklet of viewing notes to accompany the evening's entertainment. Needless to say, given that it involved working with one of my favourite bands and was taking place in the same venue where Pink Floyd held their infamous 'Games For May' (which you can read more about here), I jumped at the chance.

Anyway, here's how I wrote about it on the blog that I had at the time:

“Turntable Cafe is a monthly event held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall by current artists-in-residence Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne in association with the fashion label Agnes B. Previous Turntable Cafes have been based around such esoteric subjects as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Joe Meek, and this one concentrated on the BBC's long-running Watch With Mother slot, and in particular a long-forgotten and frequently overlooked show named Joe. Having provided some text for the accompanying booklet, I was lucky enough to be invited to attend (and big thanks are due here to Andrew Hinton, who asked me if I'd be interested in contributing in the first place) what turned out to be a very enjoyable evening.

First up was a screening of two episodes of Joe, and one apiece of Fingerbobs and Bod. Although both shows have been available on DVD for several years now, it was still quite a 'new' experience to see them played in front of a large audience, and to hear the genuine howls of laughter at the trademark surreally comic touches of producer Michael Cole. The two episodes of Joe hailed from the original black and white version of the show, which has not been seen since 1970, and - despite the unintentionally uncomfortable nature of some of the 'ethnic' accents - made for quite fascinating viewing, not least on account of the arresting children's-storybook-illustrations-meet-gritty-urban-realism visual style, and the unexpectedly groovy jazz score (which, it was later revealed, was played in live while the episodes were being recorded).

This was followed by a lively panel discussion featuring Joan Hickson (the artist who created Joe), Alison Prince (writer of Joe and also later Trumpton), Alan Rogers (animator of Bod), and Emily Firmin, daughter of prolific animator Peter Firmin and better known to most viewers as the little girl of the same name in the sepia photographs that bookended each episode of Bagpuss). Hickson and Prince proved a fantastically entertaining double act, reminiscing with the right balance between wit and vitriol about the BBC's strange decision-making process and the complaints that their show generated, while Rogers raised some interesting points about the changing nature of animation techniques and the philosophical influences that informed Bod. Emily didn't really get to say very much, sadly, although she did chime in with some interesting backup details to issues raised by the other panelists, as well as sharing some childhood memories of seeing her father and Oliver Postgate at work on their numerous shows, and revealing that she herself now works as an artist.

Finally, the evening was rounded off by a DJ set from Martin Green, the junk-shop scouring genius behind such compilations as The Sound Gallery, Bistro Erotica Italia, Cool Yule, Resurrection: The Bible Of Amplified Heavenly Grooves, and the fantastic The Sound Spectrum, who played a combination of musical items from such shows as Mary Mungo & Midge, Joe, Play Away, Chigley and many more besides.

The brilliant thing about this kind of event is that even if you're the person who wrote the accompanying 'sleevenote' blurb, you can still find out something new about the subject, and in this case it was the fact that there was apparently a Music From Joe EP released by Decca in 1966, which contained six cuts from Laurie Steele's superb score such as Joe And The Jukebox and Joe So Sad. So if any kind person reading could possibly oblige with some sort of a copy...”

I did soon manage to find a copy of Music From Joe, which was rather fortunate as around the same time I was also trying to use the blog to smoke out copies of the LP based on Alan Bennett's On The Margin (which was immediately reissued on CD), obscure VHS-only release Alexei Sayle's Pirate Video (which was immediately leaked on a torrent site), and long-lost Bob Dylan-starring BBC play Madhouse On Castle Street (pffffffffhtht). Nowadays, of course, you don't often have to make any similar appeals for rare material as most of it's out there somewhere. Though if anyone has access to any episodes of Bizzy Lizzy or Rubovia...

Anyway, if you're wondering about the full programme from the Turntable Cafe event, you can now find a PDF of it here. If you want to read more about Saint Etienne, then you might be interested in my book Higher Than The Sun. If you want to read more about Joe... well, more about that soon. And if you're wondering about all those old blog posts, mind your own business. Nosey swine.