Stop Getting 'Clown' Wrong!

Early in 1967, BBC Engineer George Hersee unwittingly created a modern design icon. Back in the days when anyone who owned a television would have owned an analogue set that relied on a cathode ray tube, and would only have been able to choose from a handful of channels that conveniently shut down both overnight and for the majority of the daytime anyway, the Test Cards that showed up for half an hour or so at the start and close of broadcasting hours were not only a common sight but also served a crucial technical purpose. Carefully designed with appropriate geometrically precise uses of shapes and shades, not only did they give the ‘backroom boys’ at the television stations themselves an opportunity to check that everything was working correctly ahead of the actual programmes going out, they also allowed the owners of television shops to ensure that their display models were giving the best possible output, and served a similar purpose for television engineers called out to attend to sets that had gone ‘on the blink’.

With colour test transmissions due to begin imminently, Hersee – a BBC engineer since the late forties – had been charged with producing a new card that could be used for testing colour equipment. His innovation was to fill the central circle with a colourful photographic image in lieu of yet more gradations; after considering and rejecting prototypes using a fashion model, on the grounds that the Test Card was expected to have a long shelf life in the way that fashions do not, he opted instead for a photograph of his eight year old daughter Carole, dressed in a red top and hairband and a tartan skirt, and locked in the middle of a game of noughts and crosses on a blackboard against her home-made toy clown Bubbles. Not only did Test Card F become convenient and universally-deployed visual shorthand both for technical issues and for ‘television’ in general, it also struck terror into several generations of uncomprehending youngsters unnerved by the fixed grins of the unmoving duo - who, as everyone knew, might suddenly move at any minute - while jaunty non-copyright big band music played underneath.

Needless to say, Test Card F also became a widely-adopted and much-loved target for parody. And almost every single one of those parodies fell down on one small but crucial detail - none of them could ever quite get the Clown right. Take, for example, the noughts and crosses enthusiasts' appearance in legendary BBC time travel drama Life On Mars, spooking the adult Sam Tyler with memories of their spooking the young Sam Tyler whilst viewers laboured under the misapprehension that there might actually be a proper ending to all of this after all. As you can see, Bubbles had clearly spent the intervening years taking full advantage of every fast food restaurant offer shoved through his door, having already inexplicably expanded by one foot in size.

Well, you could be forgiven for thinking, that's quite a recent example, and maybe they were largely working from memory. After all, it isn't even on that much these days, is it? True, but if anything, contemporaneous parodies of Test Card F were even further wide of the 'nought'. For example...

1989, and Spitting Image decides for no readily obvious reason to run a sketch about 'Clown' going on strike because he is a football hooligan and being replaced by Nicholas Witchell or something. Quite how this gave a show renowned for its cruelly latex lampooningly accurate attention to facial and physical detail license to depict him as having a huge spherical head and disproportionately frame-hogging body will have to remain a mystery. Still, in fairness, this was around the time that Spitting Image was getting a bit experimental and trying their hand at other animation styles and indeed featuring human actors, the very first of whom was one Nick Hancock. Who at that point was arguably best known for this bit of prop-based mayhem...

Hancock And Mullarkey's celebrated 'TV Themes' routine saw them rapidly change into costumes and throw around props while a medley of small-screen signature tunes played behind them, from cardboard flames with dancing on a chair to sausage-on-a-fork-and-shooting-up shenanigans. It was an extremely funny piece that never failed to have studio audiences in worryingly excessive hysterics, and right in the middle they threw in a quick Test Card F gag, which scored high marks by featuring a suitably schmaltzy reading of All My Loving. Examine it too closely, though, and you can't help but notice that Nick Hancock has simply reached for the nearest 'clown' wig and is shamelessly relying on a quick spot of cognitive association from the LWT-bound shriekers. Nice how accurately Neil Mullarkey has captured the 'Girl's tie as well. But what if Ben Kingsley, Test Card F Parody Union is behind door?

The normally devastatingly spot-on children's sketch show that was more adult than most adult sketch shows End Of Part One lowers its batting average here a bit by not even bothering to mock up a vague approximation of Bubbles, opting instead for a nondescript doll attached to some balloons that must have made it pretty hard to get a game of noughts and crosses underway. No wonder Fred Harris looks alarmed.

And finally for now, here's an early nineties advert for Granada Television Rentals, which not only gets the launch date of Test Card F wildly wrong but also goes to the vast and thoroughly salary-justifying expense of replacing the clown with a teddy bear. Because they are exactly the same thing, aren't they? Anyway, we're now returning you to the proper Test Card and some music, but if you know of any other examples boasting similarly high levels of devotion to accuracy, do get in touch. You may even want to tell me on Twitter that The Boosh dressed up as 'Girl' and 'Clown' once. I was not aware of that!!4

If you've enjoyed this article, you can find more about Test Card F, Radio Times and other items of old-skool BBC iconography - not all of it entirely respectful - in my book The Camberwick Green Procrastination Society, available in paperback here, from the Kindle Store here, or as a full-colour eBook here.

Looks Unfamiliar #7: Ben Baker - Just A Bit Massively Stereotypical

Looks Unfamiliar 7 - Ben Baker

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.


Looks Unfamiliar is hosted by Podnose.

If you've enjoyed hearing Ben talking about the Whizzkids' Guide books, you might also enjoy this edition of Looks Unfamiliar with Darrell Maclaine talking about FunFax.

Support Looks Unfamiliar by buying one of Tim's books! Fun At One - The Story Of Comedy At BBC Radio 1 is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here. And there's several other books to choose from here...

BEEB's Greatest Hits

Launched by BBC Records And Tapes in 1974, the Beeb imprint was intended as a more focused and coherent outlet for some of the more commercially viable material from BBC shows, particularly session tracks from Radio 1 and Radio 2 broadcasts. It was hoped that the sub-label would be able to make better use of the talents of the more able and chart-savvy in-house composers and technical staff, but unfortunately, while this did result in some strong releases, they found themselves hampered by the parent label’s lack of experience and apparently interest in properly promoting their output. The singles released by Beeb enjoyed much greater success in Europe, where they were licensed to proper record labels and a series of successful ‘hits’ compilations followed, but none of them ever even came close to charting in the UK. While perhaps not as esoteric or evocative a collection of releases as the RESL series, the Beeb singles often had even more unusual and interesting stories behind them, and here are a couple of the most unusual and interesting.

BEEB001 Roll Over Beethoven/Say Mama/Be Bop A Lula - Gene Vincent (September 1974)

The Beeb series of singles began with this offering from veteran rock’n’roller Gene Vincent; in 1971, Vincent had been in the UK to promote his latest album The Day The World Turned Blue, and was determined to pursue his chances of a comeback with an energy quite at odds with his failing health. One of his final recordings was a strong session of rock’n’roll standards for Radio 1’s Johnny Walker Show – recorded only days before his death – from which this release was eventually drawn in response to public demand.

BEEB009 Duck'n'Roll/Sammy's Cha Cha - Sammy Duck (July 1975)

This unusual novelty single, featuring a pair of rock’n’roll numbers performed in an actionable approximation of Donald Duck’s voice, had been a sizeable hit in Europe earlier in 1975. Following airplay on a number of radio shows, notably Radio 1’s Junior Choice, it was licensed for UK release by Beeb, but perhaps deservedly failed to chart.

BEEB010 On The Move/Easy To Love You - The Dooleys (September 1975)

Broadcast on BBC1 on Sunday afternoons between 1975 and 1976 in a bid to promote adult literacy, the award-winning On The Move was a series of short comedy vignettes written by Barry Took and featuring Bob Hoskins as a delivery driver who had difficulty with reading and writing. Composed by prolific session musician Alan Hawkshaw, the catchy upbeat theme song was performed by The Dooleys, an unusually credible family rock band who, though virtually forgotten now, were top ten regulars in the late seventies. Despite its obscure origins, this remains one of the best loved BBC themes of all time, and in retrospect it is staggering that this was not a big a hit as the rest of The Dooleys’ output. On The Move was later included on REB236 Angels And 15 Other Original BBC-TV Themes.

BEEB019 Come Together/Dear Prudence – Graffiti (December 1976)

Graffiti were essentially a vehicle for up and coming singer-songwriter Phil Bates, and these two highly individual takes on Beatles numbers were released by Beeb in anticipation of a mooted BBC2 series in which the manufactured band would take part in a mixture of comedy, music and documentary segments, effectively a reworking of The Monkees for progressive rock fans. However, presumably due in no small part to this single’s lack of success, and more than likely to the emergence of several similar shows on the BBC, the planned series was ultimately shelved before production commenced.

BEEB021 Ten Years After/All Time Needletime Loser - Radio Active (September 1977)

Written and recorded by a band of BBC studio staff – including Radio 1 producers Malcolm Brown on guitar, BBC Records And Tapes' Mike Harding on keyboards, Paddy Kingsland of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop on bass, and Radio 1’s assistant controller Bryant Marriott on drums – this quirky pop-rock number was put together as a celebration of ten years of Radio 1 and released to tie in with the anniversary. Although the nominal a-side would ultimately attract little attention, the b-side proved far more popular; thrown together quickly and intended as a parody of punk rock, it amusingly ended up appealing to genuine fans of the movement, including John Peel who gave it a considerable amount of airtime on his Radio 1 show. Needless to say this single is now in high demand amongst those who grew up listening to Peel’s show.

BEEB026 New Wave Band/Theme From The Film Of The Same Name - Jock Swon And The Metres (November 1978)

In the Autumn of 1978, the BBC changed the frequencies of its four national radio stations in order to give them a greater national reach; while the more highbrow end of the audience were advised of this by a startling chorale from The King’s Singers (released by EMI as Some Enchanted Wavelengths), Radio 1 sought to announce the change with a topically punningly-entitled number pseudonymously provided by Glam Rock rock’n’roll revivalists Showaddywaddy with the ‘assistance’ of some of the station’s wackier DJs. It is not unreasonable to suggest that it might have left some listeners wanting to get the wrong frequency on purpose.

BEEB027 Blake's 7 Disco/Disco Jimmy – Federation (March 1979)

Terry Nation's much-loved 'space opera' has latterly acquired an unfair reputation as a poor relation of Doctor Who, although admittedly it was hardly helped by ridiculous ventures such as this; a weak attempt at producing a danceable version of the theme music in an equally weak attempt to cash in on the chart success of Mankind’s disco version of the Doctor Who theme. The unrelated b-side defies description. A measure of its ‘quality’ is that despite not being easy to find, the single is hardly sought after even by Blake’s 7’s intensely devoted fans.

Top of The Box - The Story Behind Every BBC Records And Tapes Single, which covers all of the Beeb releases and more, is available in paperback here, or from the Kindle Store here.


Higher Than The Sun, a book telling the story of four albums by Saint Etienne, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and Teenage Fanclub that were released within days of each other late in 1991, was a deliberate attempt to do something a bit different. I was a bit bored of being limited to primarily Archive TV-related material, and was also a tad unhappy with some of the less ideologically pleasant ‘better in the old days’ following that I’d picked up as a result of concentrating on those areas, and so I decided to literally indulge one of my other great loves – ‘indie’ music from the days before Britpop came along and changed everything.

For the benefit of those that aren’t familiar with any of this – which I’m guessing will be more than a few of you – these four albums (all of which, not even remotely coincidentally, were released by Creation Records – well, you’ll have to read the book to find out how that applies to Saint Etienne) were remarkable and musically groundbreaking achievements, especially for bands working with a low budget and continually embarking on gruelling tours of dingy venues in the hope of breaking even. What’s more, they represented what was arguably the last occasion on which ‘indie’ music attempted to crash the mainstream entirely on its own terms, rather than playing by everyone else’s rules. And, more to the point, they had a surprisingly intertwined history stretching all the way back to the NME’s legendary ‘C86’ cassette, and in some cases even further than that. It’s all a lot more interesting than it sounds, honest.

As I say on the back cover, it’s a story that starts with a compilation tape, ends with a jawdropping act of career suicide, and in the middle someone gets chased by a cow. I knew this was going to be a much less strong seller than the other books from the outset, but that wasn’t really the point. I enjoyed every second of researching and writing it, and it gave me a renewed enthusiasm and overall I would say it’s the book that I’m most proud of. Also, it gave me a foot in the door with an entirely different kind of audience, and I cannot tell you how pleased I was to get the thumbs-up from music fans well used to rolling their eyes at badly researched and contextually baffling ‘histories’ of the bands and scenes they are devoted to. Hopefully, though, you might want to give it a try now too. In all honesty it’s really not that far removed from my more familiar work, both in terms of subject matter and approach. If you need any further convincing, here’s an abridged extract looking at how Primal Scream came to record their landmark single Loaded, which had started off as an entirely different song that had almost single-handedly put a stop to their career, until help came from an unlikely source…

Over the next couple of years, many below-par bands would laughably attempt jump on the ‘Madchester’ bandwagon by effectively doing little more than buying a drum machine and playing their existing songs over the top, but for the earliest and best outfits to explore this new possibility, the influence was more pervasive and fundamental, allowing their exposure to dance music to deconstruct and rebuild everything about their attitude to making music from songwriting to arrangement. The most hotly tipped by some distance, The Stone Roses saw parallels in modern electronic sounds with their love of The Byrds, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, producing mesmerising, transcendental guitar pop with a danceable swagger that sat somewhere between House Music and Motown; even on their more laid-back and psychedelic moments, notably the hypnotic Waterfall, there was a sense that they were emulating the insistent sequencer-driven nature of dance music rather than traditional guitar pop structures. Inspiral Carpets welded thumping, shuffling beats to a Sixties-influenced organ sound consciously modelled on Acid House sequencer patterns, while Happy Mondays – who, to an extent, looked towards early seventies funk rather than sixties influences – were characterised by the arresting beat poetry lyrics of Shaun Ryder, and the crucial hands-on support of a rising breed of ‘superstar’ DJ.

Coming from entirely the opposite direction, 808 State and A Guy Called Gerald were straightforward dance music artists who had started to incorporate more traditional rock instrumentation into their music, effectively meeting their contemporaries in the middle; indeed, some of Inspiral Carpets’ early material was produced by 808 State. In the wake of this first wave of acts came the no less intriguing likes of The Charlatans, Candy Flip, Northside and New FADS. More to the point, influenced whether directly or through association by the communal nature of raves and the chilled-out euphoria induced by its chosen intoxicant, the music and the lyrical themes were becoming more upbeat and positive, and were more likely to be about environmental issues, panoramic landscapes or cult films than any of the more traditional obsessions of ‘indie’. By the summer, a huge amount of media attention was being focused on ‘Madchester’, and many of the acts were starting to nudge ever closer to the top forty. Creation Records, at that point, had no comparable artists on their roster.

When Primal Scream’s comeback single Ivy Ivy Ivy appeared in August 1989, however, it became obvious that they were still looking towards Manchester, California rather than Manchester, England, and its bluesy riffing, pounding piano and flighty harmonies found few takers. Although reviewers seemed to initially be well disposed towards the selftitled parent album Primal Scream, which would follow in September, even by the time that it was released it had already been overshadowed by developments elsewhere and found itself struggling for exposure; ultimately the album would not only fail to chart, but even fall some considerable distance short of debut album Sonic Flower Groove’s less than staggering sales figures. As the end of the eighties loomed, it was The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets who found themselves grabbing all of the attention and broaching the top twenty – famously causing the first two of the above to appear on the same edition of Top Of The Pops as each other – and they would be followed there in early in 1990 by the likes of Candy Flip and The Charlatans.

Any initial thoughts at Creation and indeed elsewhere that Primal Scream had made a great album soon gave way to concerns that they had made one that was desperately out of step with the times. Music press interest was minimal, to the extent that Creation press officer Jeff Barrett recalls the band suggesting in desperation that they should do some interviews with technical guitar magazines as an attempt to at least get some exposure. Creation rapidly lost interest in the album when it became depressingly obvious that it was unlikely to take off, and – more worryingly – the band’s previously considerable fanbase appeared to be following suit. What should have been a triumphant Christmas show at London’s Subterranean turned into a disaster when only a handful of people turned up, with even some of the band’s closest friends making excuses and staying away. One of the few who did make the effort was Lawrence from their labelmates Felt, who was moved to conclude that the eighties idea of ‘indie’ was over; he would see in the New Year by heading for America and planning a serious rethink of his career. Though by all accounts the band played a remarkable set that night, the members of Primal Scream were doubtless experiencing similar thoughts, left with several months of promotional work left to do on an album that they now really wanted to just put behind them. The last track on the first side of Primal Scream, I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have, seemed to have suddenly taken on a new and ironic meaning. Yet as the nineties dawned, it would be that song, and a key figure in the scene that they had found themselves excluded from, that would change everything for Primal Scream.

Although there is always a tendency to greet a new decade with what can sometimes be misplaced optimism, in January 1990 it seemed that Creation had finally found the band that would make the label, and indie music in general, into a commercial force to be reckoned with. Presciently described in the first issue of NME of the nineties as ‘the band who’ll shake up the independents’, Oxford-based Ride combined a keen desire for stardom with a love of feedback, close harmony and chiming melodies. Fronted by the photogenic Mark Gardener, Ride were both musically adventurous and a formidable live act. Having been obsessive fans of Felt, The Jesus And Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine during their schooldays, they were also very much in favour of being seen as a ‘Creation Band’, and eagerly signed to the label on a far longer term basis than any other act had previously. This fairly audacious move was to pay off handsomely; in January their debut release the Ride EP, hinged around infectious lead track Chelsea Girl and the sweeping drawn-out Drive Blind, garnered a good deal of critical praise and became the first Creation single ever to enter the top seventy five of the singles chart. April’s Play EP and its radio-friendly lead track Like A Daydream then took them into the top forty, but it was with the release of the Fall EP in September – and in particular lead track Taste, which combined powerful dance beats, cavernous vocals and a ‘wall of noise’ arrangement with a catchy singalong melody – that they really demonstrated their full potential. In October, their rapturously reviewed debut album Nowhere would only narrowly miss the top ten.

Along with the likes of Chapterhouse, Moose, Lush and fellow Creation signings Slowdive, Ride were part of a wave of My Bloody Valentine-influenced bands primarily from the South of England, whom the music press had rather dismissively tagged together as ‘Shoegazers’, in reference to their alleged habit of spending more time looking at their numerous guitar effects pedals than at the audience. Though few would have conceded it at the time, the ‘Shoegazing’ sound actually had a good deal in common with that associated with Madchester, and correspondingly there was a significant amount of crossover between their respective fanbases. This was certainly good news for the supposed Shoegazers, as 1990 saw many of their Northern counterparts on the verge of becoming phenomenally successful. The Stone Roses would only narrowly miss out on topping the charts with One Love[1], and staged a series of landmark live events – most famously the Spike Island concert held on an actual island in the River Mersey – that were virtually minifestivals in their own right. Happy Mondays meanwhile enjoyed ever stronger chart showings, particularly following the release of their third album Pills’n’Thrills’n’Bellyaches in November, and despite their occasionally somewhat haphazard approach to promotion they were even starting to make inroads into the American market. The Charlatans – whose early releases had served notice that there was much more musical substance to them than the initial accusations of bandwagon-jumping had suggested – scored a series of sizeable radio-friendly hits, while the more personable Inspiral Carpets were not only rarely out of the charts but rarely off children’s television; indeed, one of the strangest offshoots of the whole Madchester phenomenon was that the BBC launched an unusually fashion-conscious Saturday Morning children’s show named The 8:15 From Manchester, produced at their Manchester studios and intended to capitalise on the popularity of the scene. Its catchy theme music was a rewrite of the band’s recent single Find Out Why.

As the year progressed, all manner of geographically and musically associated acts from Candy Flip to Northside would find themselves the subject of unanticipated chart success and media attention, something that was often evidenced by certain bands’ uncomfortable and recalcitrant nature in interviews, while countless others desperately tried to readjust their sound accordingly in the hope of sharing in indie music’s sudden commercial viability. Even Primal Scream’s old rivals The Soupdragons managed to get in on the act with a wah-wah drenched gospel-influenced cover of the obscure Rolling Stones album track I’m Free, which brought them a top ten placing and earned them the disdain of the music press for some years to come. Meanwhile, in London, a young four-piece band who seemed to combine the best qualities of both Madchester and Shoegazing and boasted a highly photogenic frontman and an immensely talented guitarist alongside impressive songwriting skills were being hurried into the studio by EMI’s alternative subsidiary Food; at the insistence of the label, they had recently changed their name to Blur.

Primal Scream’s most recent album had hardly exactly found favour with followers of either vogueish indie-dance genre, but almost by chance it caught the ear of one of the DJs who had helped to shape the indie-dance sound in the first place. Andrew Weatherall had initially sought a career as a writer rather than a musician; with his associate Terry Farley, he had started a fanzine called Boy’s Own, an ebullient and ramshackle affair that sought to draw a connecting line between their shared passions for football, fashion and music. At that point, their favoured listening matter was ‘Rare Groove’, the obscure rediscovered seventies deep funk tracks that had become a short-lived phenomenon in London clubs[2], but this would change in a dramatic and career-defining fashion when their work on the fanzine brought them into the orbit of the pioneers of a new and radical dance music scene. Having – more by accident than design – chimed with the widespread obsessions of the emergent movement, Boy’s Own had become favoured reading matter amongst the early ‘Balearic Beat’ crowd that converged on Danny Rampling’s club Shoom, intended to cater for dancers who had discovered the laid-back House Music-spinoff sound whilst on hedonistic holidays to Ibiza. As an avid reader of Boys Own, Rampling had sensed that Weatherall and Farley would enjoy the sounds he was playing and invited them along to Shoom; the effect that exposure to this new and fairly radical strain of dance music and clubbing culture would have on them was both immediate and revolutionary.

Virtually overnight, Weatherall and Farley had become devoted converts to the emergent scene, putting their previous experience as DJs to good use and securing a residency at Shoom, as well as Paul Oakenfold’s Phuture and Spectrum club nights, and Nicky Holloway’s Trip. The latter is widely considered to have been the first to use a musical label that was quickly becoming associated with the scene – ‘Acid House’, in reference to a particularly harsh and repetitive yet anthemic variant of the sound – and many credit the eclectic and adventurous Weatherall and Farley, who would think nothing of mixing musically suitable tracks by artists as diverse as abrasive prog rockers Van Der Graaf Generator, indie janglers The Woodentops and MOR rocker Chris Rea into their sets if they suited the beat and tempo, as the true pioneers of not just Acid House itself but also both the modern dance music mix style and the ‘superstar DJ’ culture in general. The pair also soon established their own record label, named Boy’s Own in tribute to the fanzine which had by now undergone a radical change in approach, and their eclectic tastes had stood them in good stead when they were commissioned late in 1989 to work with Oakenfold on a series of remixes of Happy Mondays’ breakthrough top twenty hit Hallelujah. This latter experiment would subsequently prove to be the catalyst for another collaboration that would dramatically change the fortunes of everybody involved.

The popularity of Boy’s Own had also led to Weatherall developing a sideline as a music journalist, and it was in this capacity that the NME sent him to a Primal Scream concert late in 1989; this was largely at the instigation of live editor and longtime fan of Primal Scream Helen Mead, who had astutely realised that what the floundering band really needed at that point was support from someone outside of their core audience. Though largely unimpressed with their set as a whole, feeling that the songs were not really strong enough and that the more upbeat numbers simply didn’t work in live performance[3], he had nonetheless been somewhat taken with the mid-paced ballad I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have, going on to mention it favourably in his review and subsequently working it into his DJ sets. The band had been introduced to Weatherall after the show and had got on well with him, despite his mixed feelings about their musical approach, to the extent that he was booked as the warm-up DJ for the ill-fated Christmas show at The Vortex. Already the two unlikely allies were finding something approaching a common ground, and with a planned single release of I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have in the offing, guitarist Andrew Innes began to formulate an idea for a way out of their apparent creative and commercial dead-end.

As Creation had already recorded a recent Primal Scream concert in New York to plunder for forthcoming b-sides, there was room within the single’s allocated budget to allow for a dance remix; this was not really an option that Creation had ever pursued before with any other acts, but recent developments in the music scene had left them with little choice but to at least experiment with the concept. Innes, however, felt there was little point in simply adding new drums to an existing track when they could theoretically make a dance record of their own, and duly approached Weatherall with the idea of rebuilding I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have from the ground up as a new track in its own right; or as Innes put it to him, ‘just destroy it’. Excited by the suggestion, Weatherall had enthusiastically agreed, and over the course of a handful of sessions, the new track began to take shape. Far from being simply being engaged as a producer, Weatherall was treated in the sessions as essentially an auxiliary member of the band with ideas and contributions of his own; lead vocalist Bobby Gillespie would later remark that using a dance music artist in this manner was something that he saw as being very much in the spirit of punk rock.

Weatherall was given access to the original multitrack master tape of I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have, and elected to break the song down into its individual instrumental components; a short brass flourish from near the end of the track became a huge fanfare that drove its new incarnation[4], and the band were called on to re-record some instrumental segments to go with it. Adding samples of a drum break borrowed from the typically unlikely source of a 12” mix of What I Am by American folk-rocker Edie Brickell[5], the chorus from seventies funk act (and Rare Groove scene favourites) The Emotions’ I Don’t Want To Lose Your Love, and Gillespie singing a couple of lines from thirties guitarist Robert Johnson’s Terraplane Blues to compensate for his unease about the removal of his vocals, the new track was virtually complete when Weatherall decided that what it really needed was an arresting spoken word intro. Inspiration came in the form of a rebellious speech by Peter Fonda in the controversial 1966 biker movie The Wild Angels[6], which chimed neatly with the growing feelings of anger at the government’s plans to crack down on rave culture. It was this defiant, confrontational burst of speech that gave the new track – the word ‘remix’ was no longer really applicable – its name; Loaded.

Sensing that they had produced something truly exceptional, Weatherall arranged for Terry Farley to produce another alternative version of Loaded, this time introducing more elements from I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have itself including several of the actual verses; this was an astute move that would widen the track’s appeal considerably, based on their observation of trends within the dance music scene that suggested that DJs enjoyed having a ‘different’ version to experiment with, and indeed that fans enjoyed collecting multiple remixes. In addition to this, and at his own instigation, Weatherall himself came up with a 7” edit of Loaded that cut the running time from seven minutes to just short of four without losing any of the impact, and was intentionally crafted to suit the demands of daytime radio; accompanied by a video that cunningly combined trippy tinted slow-motion visuals of the band with The Wild Angels-inspired footage of them on motorbikes, this was perhaps the most carefully mainstream-targeted single that the label had released to date. Although many at Creation were initially unsure about the project – and indeed, only a couple of months earlier, Gillespie had made a point of stating in interviews that he felt that he could never produce anything resembling a ‘dance’ record – virtually everyone who heard the advance tapes of Loaded was immediately bowled over by it, with the result that a last minute decision was made to promote the edit to the a-side of the forthcoming single[7]. Test pressings had drawn encouraging feedback from club DJs, with one crowd reacting with sufficient enthusiasm to provoke an excited Weatherall to telephone Gillespie at 4am to tell him about it. Back at Creation, recently appointed press officer Laurence Verfaillie had set aside an afternoon for phoning music magazines to draw their attention to Loaded, only to find that virtually every office that she called already had the track playing in the background.

However, even despite these positive signs, few were prepared for just how decisively the single would break through to a wider audience. On its release in February 1990, Loaded was unexpectedly playlisted by Radio 1, and as a consequence it slowly started to climb up the top forty, eventually peaking at number sixteen in March and earning the band a well-remembered appearance on Top Of The Pops. That Loaded was so well received is in retrospect hardly surprising; it stands apart from pretty much anything else that was happening in dance music around that point, audibly positioned somewhere DJ culture and ‘real’ music, and it was clear that whether by accident or design, Primal Scream had stumbled across an exciting and truly original direction. How far they would be able to pursue this direction, though, was a different matter; as if to underline the difficulty that they would find in distancing themselves from their musical past and long-established image, the cover art featured Robert Young in a pose very much recalling the previous album’s imagery, while the primary b-side of the single was a live cover of MC5’s Ramblin’ Rose.

[1] Many of their earlier singles were also reissued during 1990, becoming substantial hits in the process.
[2] ‘Rare Groove’, largely based around forgotten funk/soul records by the likes of The Jackson Sisters and James Brown associates Sweet Charles, Lyn Collins and Maceo Parker, went hand in hand with the early UK house and hip-hop scene, which would look very much towards the early seventies for cultural reference points; the influence of Rare Groove can be clearly detected in early singles by the likes of Bomb The Bass, S’Express and The Funky Worm. 
[3] Their live set still included a number of songs from Sonic Flower Groove at this point, purely in the hope of at least retaining their existing fanbase, and it’s possible that Weatherall may actually have been reacting to these rather than to anything from the second album. 
[4] This was a gambit that Weatherall would use in several other remixes around this time, notably his reworking of James’ 1990 single Come Home.
[5] What I Am had been a minor hit in the UK early in 1989.
[6] Widely described as ‘banned’, The Wild Angels had in fact had a UK cinema certificate – albeit in slightly cut form – since the late sixties. However there had been some debate over its proposed home video release in the late eighties.

[7] This decision was in fact made so late in the day that there wasn’t time to recall the first batch of pressings of the single, with the result that early copies on some formats featured Loaded as the third track despite being listed first on the sleeve.

If you want to read more about how I came to write Higher Than The Sun, then you might enjoy this interview I did with Creation Records.

This is an abridged excerpt from Higher Than The Sun, the story of Screamadelica, Foxbase Alpha, Loveless and Bandwagonesque (and much more besides), which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

The TV That Time Forgot: Rubovia

While Camberwick Green and Trumpton are widely-quoted cornerstones of any self-respecting conversation about old children's television, it's difficult enough to find anyone who remembers Chigley with a sufficient degree of certainty to be able to say which characters were in which. When it comes to Rubovia, you might as well not bother even asking them. In fact, it's not unusual to find yourself being accused of just having made it up.

It wasn’t made up, though, and in fact this wasn’t actually the first that viewers had seen of the magical medieval kingdom. In the late fifties and early sixties, Rubovia was a regular fixture at Saturday teatimes on the BBC, as a series of comic plays presented by the BBC Puppet Theatre. Rubovia creator Gordon Murray then moved into both independent production and stop-motion animation, and spent the rest of the decade working on the three shows set in the fictional yet very believable county of ‘Trumptonshire’. The BBC would continue repeating Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley well into the eighties; Murray was keen to continue making new shows, however, and after a couple of false starts he was commissioned by the BBC in 1975 to produce a remake of Rubovia in his distinctive and now familiar animation style.

King Rufus XIV and Queen Caroline were the reigning monarchs of this decidedly offbeat kingdom, aided and abetted by the put-upon Lord Chamberlain, Farmer Bottle, Rubina the cat, Caroline’s pampered pet dragon Pongo, MacGregor the Chinese Native American 'businessman', card game-loving neighbouring monarch King Boris of Borsovia, and court magician - in addition to practically every other job title he could affix his name to - Albert Weatherspoon, whose utter ineptitude with all things sorcery-related was invariably the cause of whatever odd happenings with exploding wine and levitating noblemen were perplexing everyone that week. Brian Cant, who had narrated the earlier 'Trumptonshire' shows, was not available to resume his duties for Rubovia; the character voices were handled instead by Roy Skelton - who had contributed to the earlier Rubovia plays - with narration provided by Gordon Murray himself, and music from Murray’s longtime associate Freddie Phillips. 

Although Rubovia was exactly the sort of wacky surrealist stop-motion quasi-sitcom that all of this suggests, the BBC - for reasons best known to themselves - decided to air it in the lunchtime Watch With Mother timeslot aimed at pre-school viewers. Gordon Murray, who had intended it for the afternoon children’s schedules and a slightly older audience, was surprised at this and felt it was too sophisticated and dialogue-heavy for the Watch With Mother audience; the fact that it never really caught on and disappeared after only a couple of repeat runs would seem to suggest he was correct. Murray's subsequent shows, the equally if not even more humorous Skip & Fuffy and The Gublins, would find a far more suitable home as inserts in Noel Edmonds’ Multicoloured Swap Shop.

Surprisingly, despite its latterday obscurity, there was a large amount of Rubovia merchandise available at the time - including books, a record, jigsaws, a board game, a plasticine modelling set, and a strip in Pippin In Playland comic that ran into the early eighties - but even that wasn’t quite enough to prevent it from becoming the ‘forgotten’ fourth show, and little more than a troubling hazy memory for people who can’t quite work out how a dragon would have fitted in to Trumpton.

If you've enjoyed this, you might also like this feature on The Herbs.

This is an abridged excerpt from 'The TV That Time Forgot', a longer piece about many more obscure and forgotten TV shows in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Twelve Radio Programmes That Need To Be Given A Proper Release

Amazingly, there are still some well-known - or at least well-regarded - radio programmes that are not available to buy either on CD or as downloads. Here are twelve that I think deserve a wider audience...

The Psychedelic Spy (BBC Radio 4, 1990)

Writer Andrew Rissik was responsible for this witty, action-packed pastiche of every last military-jacketed secret agent from lurid late sixties pulp paperbacks and equally lurid mind-hurting lava lamp-drenched late sixties post-Bond cinematic knock-offs, following reluctant globetrotting spy Billy Hindle as he wrestles with the end of the sixties - Rissik deliberately set it in 1968 as "by then the whole thing had turned sour" - and the constant demands of his superiors to take on 'just one last job'. The impressive cast includes such pop art-hued espionage drama veterans as James Aubrey, Joanna Lumley, Gerald Harper and Ed Bishop. The Psychedelic Spy occasionally shows up on Radio 4 Extra, but really is crying out for a proper release in suitable pastiche packaging.

Black Cinderella Two Goes East, Or Confessions Of A Glass Slipper Tryer-Onner (BBC Radio 2, 1978)

A decidedly non-family friendly pantomime as the comedy stars of the sixties - Peter Cook, John Cleese, David Hatch, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Jo Kendall - join forces with their late seventies counterparts Douglas Adams, John Lloyd, Clive Anderson and Rory McGrath for a half-satirical half-silly sendup of standard issue oh-no-he-isn't clich├ęs with a side order of sarcastic comment about rampant strike-mania. Also making slightly more incongruous appearances are wartime radio laughtermaker Richard Murdoch, Ragtime presenter Maggie Henderson, and self-mocking real-life Lib Dem MP - for about another five minutes - John Pardoe. The overall effect is essentially an I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again sketch run nightmarishly beyond control, which is every bit as fantastic as that sounds. Black Cinderella Two Goes East is widely circulated amongst collectors, but otherwise is a noticeable omission from the available works of certain performers whose every last other recorded moment has been repackaged again and again and again.

The Chris Morris Music Show (BBC Radio 1, 1994)

Still seeing himself as very much a pop radio DJ rather than a television comedian, Chris Morris followed the success of The Day Today with a high-profile, much-coveted and long-promised slot on Radio 1. What followed can best be described as barely controlled mayhem, with a suspension partway through the run and the show pulled off air shortly before broadcast on more than one occasion; and yet every single second of it was achingly, genuinely side-splittingly funny. And of course you can find the full story of that in my book Fun At One - The Story Of Comedy At BBC Radio 1. From caustic tearing apart of the mechanics of journalism and surreally humiliating celebrity interviews to simply making fun of records he actually liked, Chris Morris hit Radio 1 like nothing before and arguably nothing after it. Inevitably his reign of terror (or, as he preferred, 'playing records and shouting') didn't last very long - as much because of fresh television offers as any nervousness over the content - but it disappeared as quietly as it arrived loudly; a sole promised BBC Radio Collection compilation, Newshound From Hell, ran into clearance problems and was never released. Possibly the single most important and influential radio comedy show of the nineties, and you can't buy a single second of it.

Lee & Herring (BBC Radio 1, 1994-95)

While not quite as problematic as their old comedy cohort Chris Morris, Stewart Lee and Richard Herring also enjoyed a significantly longer stint as 'proper' Radio 1 DJs, their popularity underlined by their briefly joining the roster of Top Of The Pops presenters. In addition to playing weird and wonderful records that may well have never been heard on any other radio show ever, they also spent their time trying out new comic ideas and encouraging the audience to indulge in situationist pranks such as paying to advertise their show in newsagents' windows; indeed, many of their most famous characters and routines including the lists of ridiculous pun sitcom titles, Ian News, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Harris and The Fake Rod Hull made their first appearances here. Yet despite the rabidly obsessive nature of their still considerable fanbase, little of the Radio 1 shows has been heard from that day to this. A couple of sketches escaped as extras on the Fist Of Fun DVDs, but apart from that, nothing. There's a couple of good compilations in them at least. And I said good compilations, not those rubbish ones Radio 1 did after they left. Incidentally, those compilations are covered along with the actual proper shows in Fun At One...

Room 101 (BBC Radio 5, 1992-94)

Room 101 was much better in the early Nick Hancock-presented days, but even better still in its original Nick Hancock-presented radio incarnation. With no audience and on the whole a more interesting selection of guests, they had to rely more on actual reasons and often hilarious anecdotage to get their choices in - and Hancock in turn had to argue harder to keep them out - and it was a far more esoteric and cerebral show than you might understandably expect. A handful of editions were repeated on Radio 1 and later on Radio 4 Extra, but most remain unheard from that day to this; the impressive roster of guests included Paul Merton, Jo Brand, Danny Baker, David Baddiel, Steve Punt, John Walters, Frank Skinner, Trevor And Simon and Donna McPhail. Clip clearance and the sheer number of choices that would prove 'problematic' post-Yewtree probably mean that compilations are the best we'll get, but if you've never heard of O! Punchinello, 'This Train Has Failed' or Golfiana, or indeed heard Danny Baker explaining why he hates Pete Sinfield of King Crimson's solo album so much, you'll probably agree that we need some.

Orbiter X (BBC Light Programme, 1959)

You can read a lot more about this fantastic Cold War-allegorising tale of space station subterfuge here; what's surprising is that despite the enduring popularity of the long-running Journey Into Space, the BBC have never really done very much with the various serials that followed in its wake, such as Orbiter X, Orbit One Zero, The Lost Planet and Nicholas Quinn - Anonymous. They have all spent far too long gathering cosmic dust and it would be nice to see them given the exposure and recognition they deserve. Preferably with booklets featuring rare photos and archive material.

Patterson (BBC Radio 3, 1981)

Radio 3 went through a very odd phase of trying to score a hit highbrow sitcom in the eighties, including such angular and intellectual takes on the genre as Such Rotten Luck and Blood And Bruises; the closest they came to scoring an actual success with audiences and critics alike was with the genuinely brilliant Patterson. Written by Malcolm Bradbury and Christopher Bigsby - not exactly your average sitcom scriptwriter pairing - the series was a loose thematic follow-on from the former's celebrated novel The History Man, and followed hapless University lecturer Andrew Patterson through a chain of absurdist happenings on campus; as you are probably imagining, it does bear some strong - though apparently genuinely coincidental - similarities to A Very Peculiar Practice. Repeated once by Radio 2 in a new Radio 2-friendly re-edit, it still inspires a significant online following, which makes its failure to resurface all the more like Prof. Misty has been put in charge of remembering it.

The Mary Whitehouse Experience (BBC Radio 1, 1989-90)

Staggeringly, apart from The Mary Whitehouse Experience Encyclopedia and a couple of bits on individual live videos (oh, and Minutes Of The Parish Council Meeting, if you insist), nothing from any incarnation of The Mary Whitehouse Experience has ever been made commercially available. This is astonishing when you consider both how popular and influential it was; rumours have long flown around that this was in fact down to one of the team blocking it, but while I was researching Fun At One all four confirmed to me that this wasn't the case (as, for that matter, did Mark Thomas, Jo Brand and one of Skint Video) so we can discount that right now. A couple of people associated with the show indicated that the issue had been raised with BBC Worldwide who felt that it was 'too topical', which if true indicates that nobody working there had ever actually heard any of it. Newman, Baddiel, Punt and Dennis are all still hugely successful - more so than ever in some cases - and enough time has elapsed for the original long-sleeve-t-shirt-sporting listeners to become genuinely nostalgic for it, so why isn't any of it available to buy? Conclusion: Ken Dodd Is Innocent.

Collins And Maconie's Hit Parade (BBC Radio 1, 1994-97)

Andrew Collins and Stuart Maconie - and resident weekly 'guest' David Quantick - were Radio 1's in-house acerbic music critics with a proper music show during some very interesting times for pop music, which amongst many highlights saw them delivering arguably the definitive take on the Blur/Oasis chart battle, and reacting live to Jarvis Cocker's stage invasion at the Brit Awards. There were plenty of discussions worth revisiting, numerous 'guset critics' who have gone on to enjoy greater prominence, and the weekly 'Quantick's World' rants, which as good as deserve an entire release on their own; not that Morrissey or Paul Weller would be too happy about that, mind. There are tons of contributions to other shows worth considering too, including their 'Eyewitness Reports' for The Evening Session, and the absurd bit of 'walking across the BBC' business they did when guest-hosting the following show. All of which, incidentally, is covered in a certain book...

The Graveyard Shift (BBC Radio 1, 1993-97)

If one show exemplified Radio 1's superb and much-needed early nineties reinvention, it was the late-night shenanigans of Mark Radcliffe, Marc Riley and their various friends, wellwishers and hangers-on. Promising "poetry, comedy, live music and a boy called Lard", it delivered all of this and more, day in day out, with the playlist of promising indie singles - effectively an unofficial testing ground for what might work on daytime radio, and a few major mid-nineties hits got their first play here - interspersed with lengthy and freewheeling chats on any given subject from whether Lady Chatterley's Lover needed 'spicing up' to an argument over what prog rock track was used as the theme music for Weekend World, with interjections from comedians and critics, notably Andrew Collins' diary readings, Stuart Maconie's 'veritable smorgasbord', Mark Kermode's Cult Film Corner and John Shuttleworth's rambling updates on his promising musical career. Oh and not forgetting 'Slippers, Please!'. Just imagine if there was a book covering all of this. A CD compilation of some of the regular sketches was released at the time, but we really could do with something more representative of the shu-, which after all was always full of loads of quality items. And him, Boy Lard.

Kremmen Of The Star Corps (Capital Radio, 1976-80)

One of the few commercial radio shows that would ever warrant a commercial release, Kenny Everett recorded dozens upon dozens of episodes of tongue-in-cheek cliffhanging sci-fi serial adventures of Captain Elvis Brandenburg Kremmen for Capital Radio during the seventies, some of which were later adapted for the animated version in his ITV sketch show. In fact, Captain Kremmen was just one of several ideas Everett developed for a London-only audience that ended up attracting national attention, which just serves to underline what a true one-off genius he was. One full story was released as the The Greatest Adventure Yet From Captain Kremmen LP in 1979, and a couple of others escaped on Capital promo singles and prize giveaways, but surprisingly nobody seems to have thought of stringing the rest of them together in box set form yet. The Thargoids have probably drained the idea from our collective intelligence.

Rawlinson End (BBC Radio 1, 1971-91)

English as tuppence, changing and changeless as canal water, nestling in green nowhere, Viv Stanshall's tales of life - or at least what passed for it - in and around Rawlinson End were one of the most popular features of John Peel's show, and used to provoke a flood of calls and letters asking if they were available to buy. And yet, one single album of rearranged and rerecorded early episodes aside, they never have been. The original unexpurgated exploits of Sir Henry, Aunt Florrie and unwilling company should be held up as a triumph of the language to rank with Dickens, Wodehouse and Adams, but instead they are just sort of sat on a shelf somewhere like disregarded souvenirs from military service in some far flung corner of the Empire. Perfectly in keeping with Rawlinson End itself, maybe, but an entirely ridiculous situation. Mrs. E, we do know what we want and we want it now! And if you want to know more? Now read on, dot dot dot dot dot...

And while we're all waiting, you can read more about Rawlinson End, Kenny Everett, Lee And Herring, Chris Morris, The Graveyard Shift and Collins And Maconie in Fun At One - The Story Of Comedy At BBC Radio 1, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

A Ghost Story For Christmas (For Children)

Ghost In The Water (BBC1, 1980).

Between 1971 and 1978, it was something of a tradition for BBC1 to scare festive viewers out of their wits with A Ghost Story For Christmas. Inspired by Jonathan Miller's superlative 1968 adaptation of Whistle And I'll Come To You, these were chillingly atmospheric and painstakingly realised short films, primarily directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark and mostly drawn from the works of writer M.R. James. They continue to be held in high regard and their influence has been obvious everywhere from Doctor Who to The League Of Gentlemen. And they were very definitely not intended for younger viewers, or for those of a nervous disposition.

What is less well remembered, however, is that in the early eighties, the Children's Department had a go at producing their own Ghost Stories For Christmas, which in all honesty were only slightly less disturbing than their adult counterparts. Masterminded by producer Anna Home, who was responsible for a number of well-regarded science fiction and fantasy serials for children's television in the late seventies and early eighties, the putative strand ultimately only ran to two one-off specials; although it seems to have been restructuring of their output, rather than any concerns about their suitability, that led to this short duration.

On 23rd December 1980 - six days after the final episode of an adaptation of L.T. Meade's A Little Silver Trumpet - BBC1 broadcast The Bells Of Astercote. Based on Penelope Lively's 1970 children's novel Astercote, this concerned a village that, according to legend, had lost its entire population to the plague. This becomes something of a pressing concern to the modern day residents of nearby Charlton Underwood when a man claiming to be six hundred years old and the guardian of The Chalice Of Astercote turns up displaying some disconcertingly familiar symptoms. Needless to say, the village is gripped by paranoia and apocalyptic visions, and it is only when some sceptical local bikers elect to involve themselves that the bizarre truth finally comes out. Directed by Home's regular collaborator Marilyn Fox, The Bells Of Astercote was broadcast from 16:40pm and was very nearly the last children's programme shown that day; doubtless a fair few viewers were relieved to see Paddington straight afterwards.

Ghost In The Water (BBC1, 1980).
Ghost In The Water (BBC1, 1980).
Ghost In The Water (BBC1, 1980).

There was no repeat of the experiment in 1981 - the equivalent slot in the schedule was filled instead by a repeat of Rentasanta, which you can read more about here - but New Year's Eve 1982 brought an adaptation of Edward Chitham’s 1973 novel Ghost In The Water. The 'ghost' in question is that of Abigail Parkes, a young Black Country girl who had drowned in the late nineteenth century; although officially recorded as a suicide, Abigail was in fact trying to retrieve a ring given to her by her true love, who had died in a mining accident. A series of coded messages point two youngsters studying local history towards the truth, though whether they have simply discovered this or have been guided towards it by Abigail's restless spirit is another question, and one that needless to say comes to dominate the story. Not exactly traditional New Year's entertainment, Ghost In The Water - transmitted in more or less the exact same timeslot as The Bells Of Astercote - was produced by Paul Stone and directed by Renny Rye; two years later, the same pair were responsible for BBC1's acclaimed adaptation of John Masefield's The Box Of Delights.

Sadly, although The Bells Of Astercote was repeated over Easter 1982 and Ghost In The Water in March 1983, neither have ever been commercially released; collectors might however wish to keep an eye out for the tie-in reprint of the original novel of Ghost In The Water, and for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop album The Soundhouse, which included Roger Limb's soundtrack for the play. Both however are strong efforts that deserve to be more widely seen, so perhaps it might be worth repeating them instead of the next inevitable attempt at reviving A Ghost Story For Christmas.

Ghost In The Water (BBC1, 1980).

If you're interested in spooky BBC children's dramas with a Radiophonic Workshop soundtrack, you might also enjoy this piece on the music from The Changes.

Well At Least It's Free by Tim Worthington
This is adapted from Winter's Tales, a longer piece looking at all of the BBC's supernatural/sci-fi children's serials of the seventies and eighties, in my book Well At Least It's Free. You can get Well At Least It's Free in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.