Monday, 13 December 2010



According to a few old jottings recently uncovered by some bloke called Julian Assange, some bloke called Prince Andrew believes that the UK has the best geography teachers in the world.  I don't know if this is the case or not; could be that the shy and retiring royal is merely being characteristically modest about his much-lauded ability to locate his mouth geographically with his foot on a daily basis, but I do know that whilst Nice is part of the French mainland, when you've lived in the place for a while you realise in many respects the city is actually on another planet.

Take style, for example.  I'm talking clothes.  It's a grave mistake to expect the fashionable good taste you see on the streets of Paris emulated here.   Middle-aged Nicoise women especially give lie to the supposition that there's a French 'chic' gene; let's just say when they dress up - now, how can I put this delicately? - they do 'Ageing 1980s Prostitute' rather well.  (Knew I'd find a way!) 

And so it comes as a bit of a surprise that the music piped out in many public places comes from none other than TSF Jazz - supposedly cent per cent jazz, but which is actually around soixante dix-neuf per cent jazz. (Not such a catchy strap line, for some reason.  How fortunate they don't work out percentages in the same way as me!)   These venues include the kind of shops you find in the UK frequented by little old ladies with pink hair and purple cardigans (or purple hair and pink cardigans - British women love experimenting with the latest trends), where it is traditional to have to endure the kind of local radio station that only little old ladies with pink hair and purple cardigans (or purple hair and pink cardigans) listen to (and thanks for your requests, here's Roger again to talk about his lifetime collection of pasta art and used teabags).

'Cos jazz is quite sophisticated, really.  (Although according to my friend, Hugo, it's 'music for w*nkers'.  Funny, didn't quite picture old Brian, with his moustache, cravat and Brylcremed pate, tapping his spats to Thelonious Monk).  

Once a week I take an hour-long bus journey into the hills above Antibes and Cannes.  Sophia Antipolis is the Riviera's equivalent to Silicon Valley in California; it's a sprawling development across acres of gorgeous countryside, surrounded, at this time of year, by stunning snow-capped mountains.  Invariably, different bus drivers have the radio tuned to the jazz station for the journey.  Thus assorted IT workers, scientists and teachers travel the distance tapping their trainers to the music they habitually hear in assorted shops in the town and surrounding villages.

But they're French.  English speakers have something else entirely to represent their tastes: Riviera Radio.

The Full English Breakfast Show is what RR offers to its listeners to ease them into the day.  It is presented (and I use the term loosely) by Rob and Pete.  One of them is English, the other, Australian.  Which is which, I'm not sure.  They're interchangeable to me.  Neither of them can string one word together. There are frequent long silences.  One of them once poured such scorn on the day's weather forecast supplied by the company contracted to provide such a service to the station, he spent the next week making apologies so embarrassingly fawning, they were obviously emanating from his lips whilst he was lying naked on the floor with the MD's foot on his head. This pair make Alan Partridge appear highly intelligent. And they reportedly hate each other. They're a bit like Sooty and Sweep, but without the superior linguistic ability. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Sooty and Sweep, take a butcher's at this:-

I know a bit about radio.  I used to make comedy programmes for the BBC. I wrote, directed and produced, and edited my shows on quarter inch tape with a razor blade on an old machine in my office to tight broadcast deadlines. I worked with the nation's top comedians and most revered members of the acting fraternity.  So how it was I came to be sitting opposite a complete prat day after day in a studio in central London, co-presenting a live phone-in show for a networked independent station, still has me scratching my head.

It was me and Norbert Nobrane.  (Not his real name, his real name's Gordon Astley.  Oh dear.  Did I write that out loud?  Silly me.  Oh well). For my British readers, Gordon's career includes hosting the final series of Tiswas, and being a panellist on Cheggars Plays Pop. For my non-British readers, be thankful your memory of bygone media has not been sullied by these cult* shows.  

* Oops, typo!

Gordon Astley had a personal sting, which was a bouncy piece of music underscoring the line:  

Gastley [read 'ghastly'] Gastley, why did they name me Gastley?

Clever, eh?

He took an instant - and instantly noticeable - dislike to me.  He wasted no time in trying to put me down on air, and was personally rude about me into the bargain.  So one time after he'd yet again treated the world to the false modesty of Gastley, Gastley, why did they name me Gastley? I looked at him across the table and said into the mic:  'How long have you got?'

There then followed a 2 minute silence.  And from then on, it was war.

Gordon couldn't perform without his 'comfort blanket' of assorted objects, which he ritually placed onto the table around the mic stand. One such item was an old table top shop bell, which he liked to 'DING!' every time I came out with a witticism.  To pay him back, one day I smuggled into the studio without his noticing one of those streamer things you blow into to make a high-pitched screeching sound (not unlike Sweep's dulcet tones) which unfurls at the same time.  And after the next inevitable 'DING!' I suddenly reached for my instrument of torture and blew it loudly at him.  He was a little startled, I have to say. And possibly, I hazard, more than a tad irritated. The words 'dishing', 'out', 'but', 'can't' and 'take' come to mind. 

The Producer of the show, Robin, despaired of Mr Astley.  Whereas I turned up at the offices two hours before the show, as required, to go through the newspapers and discuss what were to be the day's topics, Gordon would shimmy in three minutes before we went on air and make straight for the studio. Robin would run after him, having just enough time to impart the information that the subjects to be covered were the ethics of female circumcision and East Timor's struggle for independence against Indonesia, while Gordon waved him away, intoning a breezy yes, yes whilst setting his toys out in front of him, before switching on the mic and starting with Welcome ladies and gentlemen...and the main topic today is 'funny names'.  Do you know anyone with a funny name?  Call in and tell us about it.

(Cue Producer banging his head against the plate glass window helpfully placed between studio and cubicle.  Obviously what it's there for).

And so it was that one person called in to tell us he'd once known a person called Willie Smallcock.  This amused Gordon greatly.  Willie Smallcock?!  he repeated through almost uncontrollable chuckles.  If my name was Willie Smallcock I'd change it immediately! he said.

Yes, I pitched in.  You'd change it to Willie Bigcock.

Gordon refused to talk to me for the next 15 minutes.  Live on air.   (This is the case, Gordon, should you be looking in.  I have it on tape. Wonder if it's worth anything on eBay?  Unless you'd like to make me an offer, of course...)

The audience, naturally, loved our disfunctional on-air relationship. But sadly (?  Hmm) we were just filling in for the regular presenters, and so this double-act (or rather, an act of two singles) was merely for a limited period.  The idea was then for me to contribute political comedy to the live breakfast show, which was about to be revamped, but - as is the nature of the industry - the owner of the station suddenly announced he was changing its remit, and it became a sports broadcaster.   No news-based breakfast show was thus required.

Gordon popped up on a local BBC radio station after that, before suddenly disappearing in highly mysterious circumstances in February 2009, to the consternation of his listener. (But what are mums for, eh?) The BBC stays schtum on what happened.  If I could direct you to where you can hear him now, I would.  (If I didn't like you, of course).  But I can't.

However, here's a lovely picture.

So, then, whilst it's often advisable to keep your eyes closed when out in the streets of Nice, lest they be offended by assorted sartorial crimes too hideous to contemplate, keeping your ears open is a bonus.  

Top international jazz versus Rob and Pete or Gordon Astley.  It's one thing to be an English speaker, quite another to be an English listener.  


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Please be nice, but not funnier than me. Thanks.