Sunday, 7 November 2010

Ricky Gervais, Jarvis Cocker, Ed Byrne and Peter Kay

The 2010 Student Radio Awards take place this week. I am usually involved as a judge, and this year I had the privilege of arguing over who should win the non-news speech category. I was also asked to contribute my memories of the first two* awards ceremonies.

Although some of the key moments of the first (in 1996) spring readily to mind, I had to ask where the 1997 awards were held. At this point they probably should have taken me off the project.

They didn't, so I made an appeal on Facebook and Twitter to see if anyone else could remember anything about either awards.

Despite several people coming forward, which at least established the 1997 awards' location (Oxford), it seems there is a general air of folk amnesia surrounding what happened. This, I think, suggests both were a spectacular success.

If you were at either event (or the third in '98 at Brick Lane), please add your comments below. This is a slightly re-written version of what I submitted to the 2010 awards organisers:

"Details of the first two Sudent Radio Awards are largely lost in the mists of time, with most of the participants now dead, or having faded into insignificance.

This was in the days before your social medias, your so-called Facebooks and fancy Twitterspaces. Hard though it may be to imagine, mobile phones were the size and weight of gold ingots, with about the same functionality.

There were no digital cameras (thankfully), and because the water in the last century wasn't safe to drink, most students survived on a form of methanol suspended in food colouring, known as Mad Dog 20/20.

As a result almost no records of these events taking place actually exist, and the ones that do are a little hazy. But ULU 96 and Oxford Brookes 97 did definitely happen, much to the surprise of almost everyone involved.

This much I know. In November 1995 I was elected Chair of the SRA. In December 1995 I wrote (when people conducted business by sending letters in the post to each other) to Matthew Bannister, the then Controller of Radio 1, suggesting the SRA and Radio 1 set up a student radio awards.

He wrote back, on a letter (I know!), two weeks later, saying it was a jolly good idea and that we ought to come down to Radio 1 to discuss it.

For a student with far-off dreams of working in the radio industry this was like receiving an invitation to the Emerald City.

Armed with the Secretary of the SRA and a nice man called Dan McEvoy (now a high up at 5live) who independently had the same idea as me, we converged on an office somewhere in Yalding House (or was it Egton? It was probably the now-demolished Egton).

There we were welcomed by the poshest woman I have ever met. In a faintly disinterested manner, she told us Matthew Bannister was sorry he couldn't come to our meeting, but he really wanted the awards to happen and so they would.

We went away and did everything we could to make sure student stations entered the competition and came to the event. Radio 1 put a genuinely fantastic team (not including the posh lady, who I never saw again) on the case, who provided patient, friendly and expert guidance whilst making sure the very first Radio 1 Student Radio Awards was worthy of the name.

The first ceremony took place at the University of London Union in November 1996. The Evening Session's Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq hosted. The gig afterwards featured the bands Shoot, The Longpigs and Space.

The compere at the gig was a chubby, cheerful northern fella called Peter Kay, who had recorded childrens' TV theme tunes onto a dictaphone, and spent most of his act playing them out through the PA and saying "Remember that?".

Jarvis Cocker, one of the most famous people in the country, was on the guest list that night. I remember seeing his name and asking the Radio 1 press person "Why is Jarvis Cocker on the guest list?".

She said "Dunno, we thought he might like to come, we invited him, and he said yes..."

Never going to happen, I thought. A few hours later I was standing at the bar and Jarvis Cocker walked past. "Jarvis Cocker!" I blurted, in amazement.

"Hello." he said politely, and walked on. The man who wrote Common People and who, the previous year, had headlined Glastonbury with Pulp, had just popped his head round the door at an event I helped set up.

Mind you the Ents Manager at ULU...

Me: "Is the ents manager alright with us coming here and taking over most of his union for a private function on a Friday night?"
Radio 1 person: "yeah he's fine. He's a really nice bloke actually..."
.... was Ricky Gervais, who was 8 years away from being in the same room as Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson, clutching a Golden Globe for The Office.

It was a good night.

The second Radio 1 Student Radio awards was the centrepiece of the 1997 Student Radio Association autumn conference, held at Oxford Brookes University. Word had spread through the student radio community (using some sort of rudimentary semaphore) about the success of the inaugural event and loads of students from all over the country piled into Oxford.

All the talk was of Oxygen 107.9, the student radio station which had broken out of closed-loop AM broadcasting and FM RSLs to win a permanent FM licence. We all know how that turned out. Oh well.

The star turn at the awards was Ed Byrne, a hilarious young comedian who went on to become the voice of Mowbli in the Carphone Warehouse adverts, and despite never having to work again, is a now an older, but still hilarious, award-winning comedian.

Ed was effectively hired to give us all a laugh before the awards started, but when Dave Pearce dropped out of presenting duties due to illness, Ed was forced to announce himself as the host, a job he did with considerable aplomb, given it had been sprung on him at the last moment.

There are rumours that Oxford Brookes marked the first sit-down dinner at a student radio awards, but I don't remember it like that. At ULU the refreshments were basically crisps, nuts and beer. I seem to remember us being seated theatre-style for Oxford Brookes.

Having trawled around for peoples' memories, that recollection appears to be in dispute.

As I say, it's all a little hazy now."

I'd like to wish all the students who have been nominated for awards this year the very best of luck. The standard in the category I judged was particularly high, and there is some genuine talent there, which I hope the industry will be in good enough shape to pick up before long.


*The Radio 1/student radio awards relationship had actually existed well before the "first" ones in 1996. I didn't know this when I first approached Radio 1, and neither did the people at Radio 1. At that time there was something of a scorched earth policy towards Radio 1's previous regime and everything it represented.

The previous existence of an older awards scheme became apparent when we were working on the new ones. The discovery that Radio 1, in its incredibly naff phase, had held a relationship with the Student Radio Association's predecessor NASB (National Association of Student Broadcasters) filled me with terror. If Radio 1 discovered the previous regime had also thought holding a student radio awards was a good idea, they might feel it was tainted by association and drop the new one like a shot.

Nonetheless I felt I had to bring it to Radio 1's attention. After all, knowing the awards had existed previously hardly meant we could launch the new awards as the first.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: "Er... I've discovered that Radio 1 used to have a student radio awards scheme which it ran with our predecessor organisation."
Radio 1 person: "And...?"
Me: "Well that means this isn't the first Radio 1 student radio awards, like we've been calling them."
Radio 1: "Oh, I don't think we need to worry about it now."
Me: "Er... okay."

And so the new awards were born. The first between Radio 1 and the SRA, and the ones that have grown into the extraordinary talent-sourcing behemoth they are today.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Have a Lovely Day

I'm not a very good shopper. The only "retail experience" I enjoy is at the supermarket. It's a once-weekly opportunity to indulge in some anticipative bonding with my digestive tract. The rest is just stress.

Today I was sent to Walton town centre with instructions to retrieve a pair of Mrs Wallis' boots, which were being re-heeled at Timpsons. On the way I was distracted by an ancient Top of The Pops trivia quiz game, sitting in the window of our local Sam Beare charity shop.

Everyone has their weakness. Mine is a limitless capacity for consuming pop trivia. Who doesn't want to know which member of Duran Duran was made ill by drinking water infected with elephant wee, why Trevor Horn never got to produce U2, what The Smiths' manager said as he watched Morissey record the lyric to How Soon Is Now and how the drum sound was created by accident on Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight?*

So I was in the Sam Beare shop like a shot. I grabbed the box and took it to the till, with the exact money counted into my immaculately moisturised palm.

At the till, the nice foreign (South American? Mediterranean?) lady set me on my way by saying "have a lovely day".

Have a lovely day?

A lovely day?

I am on my own, in a charity shop, in Walton on Thames. How lovely can it get?

Deploying the sharpness of mind for which I am justly revered, I replied "and you" as I left.

I think I did so mainly out of cultural embarrassment. After all, "have a lovely day" might be a perfectly normal thing to say in a shop in her country (wherever it is). And, to be fair, she was really nice, so if she was prepared to wish me a lovely day, I was happy to wish the same for her.

I did make several other instant assumptions, mainly that as a volunteer in a charity shop she was doing something she actually wanted to do, and therefore was well on her way to having a lovely day anyway. I would never wish someone a lovely day when there was a good chance they were nowhere near getting one.

Now, Timpsons pride themselves on customer service. Everytime I go into Timpsons I am struck by how ebullient and knowledgeable they are about heels and batteries and keys. It takes a lot to care about that sort of thing. It also takes a lot to care about how your customer feels about their interaction with that sort of thing. I generally think heels and batteries and keys are mainly annoying, so gearing myself up to deal with someone who straddles the world of heels, batteries and keys like a knowledgeable Colussus takes some effort.

Having retrieved Mrs Wallis' boots and paid for them, I still wasn't prepared for the Timpsons man to suggest, as I left his shop, that I might like to "have a lovely day", exactly echoing the phrase I had just heard in the Sam Beare shop.

The Timpsons man was not foreign. He was an honest-to-goodnes, salt-of-the-earth heel-repairer, key-etcher and battery retailer. And now he was staking an interest in the rest of my day. It threw me a bit.

It didn't feel right to suggest to a man I just met that he too should have a lovely day, so deploying the sharpness of mind for which I am justly revered, I replied "Cheers" as I left.

Was this churlish? Was I wrong not to wish him a lovely day too? Maybe he was having a lovely day at work, surrounded by keys and batteries and heels.

Or maybe, once he had taken off his maroon apron at 5.30pm that evening, he would be off to a wedding in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace, where he would enjoy the company and bonhomie of old friends, on a special occasion, in a magical setting. That would be lovely.

By saying "Cheers" was I reinforcing the inherent client/supplier relationship in every retail transaction? The idea that because I have money and you want to take it from me, you have to be obsequieous and I can act like an arse? You state, on the record, that you want me to have a lovely day and I am so self-obssessed, so uninterested in your poxy little life that the most I can bring myself to utter is an expression of thanks for a superfluous entreaty?

Well, really....

Also (and I have no idea why) I felt uncomfortable about wishing another man a lovely day. It just felt wrong.

"Have a lovely day."
"You too, boss."
"A day filled with love."
"For both of us."
"Kiss me, Timpson."

I wandered into The Works, attracted by the usual collection of books reduced from RRPs of £18 or £19 to £1.99. My kind of bookstore.

I picked up a book on grammar which I had once flicked through in a different shop, thought was brilliant, then refused to buy because of the cover price. Now it was going for a fiver, so I had it. I took it to the till. I paid my money. I took the receipt. The store assistant, as we parted, said "enjoy the rest of your day".

Oh, ffs.

Enjoy the rest of your day?

There is an unwitting hint of the directive in that sentence, which isn't entirely welcome. And once more I am left speculating as to why someone selling me a bargain-bin book in a discount store would choose to chuck coins in the fountain of my immediate future.

Once is fine. Twice is odd. Three times is unnerving. Did I miss the memo which introduced a new paradigm of retailer/consumer interaction expectation? Is this unique to Walton? Why would three complete strangers gun for me and my prospects in such gushing terms for no apparent reason? Do they know something?

I tweeted about this experience earlier today, and a dear friend suggested the people I encountered in Walton High Street were merely being friendly and polite. This is fair enough.

However, I like to consider myself friendly and polite (esp when dealing with strangers), but I have never briefly met someone and then speculated that they might have a lovely day.

 Especially without any inkling as to what the rest of the day might hold in store for them. Why would you?

*Answers on a postcard.