Sunday, May 21, 2006

Jolly Hols

TV Review
by John Stafford

I really thought there was nowhere else for reality TV to go, but “Five!” (it really does have an exclamation mark!) found somewhere even lower than its ever-subsiding predecessors. Whoever thought there was a TV series in the idea of bringing Enid Blyton’s Famous Five to a reunion on Kirrin Island? That may sound a rhetorical question, but Radio Times has the answer – Joe Hope, that’s who, known to media insiders as Hopeless Joe. Conceived, narrated, produced and dumbed down to within a centimetre of its life.

Julian’s over sixty now; Dick, Anne and Georgina can’t be far off. Oh, George, she still likes to be called George. That's only a famous four, not five, but you’ve forgotten, as I had, that Timmy was a dog, not a child, and therefore has been long buried on Kirrin Island. Yes we did see his grave, and yes, everyone wept. They’ve replaced him with a glove puppet – so much easier to control, and cheaper. Did you think they were all made up characters? Well so did I, and I’ve read all the books. But here we have them. Bulging, blustering, balding Dick. Simpering George, who can’t keep her hands off presenter Cat Deeley. Anne seems to be using the opportunity to launch a late blooming musical career – it’s a pity she still performs Joni Mitchell songs. Only Julian is at all impressive: his suave charm and Savile Row suit might not match the concept, but it should get him a deal on an auction-your-granny show.

The challenges were mundane for this sort of programme. They moved a gipsy caravan from in front of the cave entrance before they could sleep there. They captured a pirate gang armed only with piano wire. Eating chocolate biscuits and drinking ginger beer may not seem as disgusting as the stereotypical live spiders, but these people should be on a good-for-your-heart diet at their age.

There was no opportunity here for the participants to talk privately to camera. For that you need to press red on the remote control, and mine has disappeared down the side of the sofa. But I was getting suspicious as time went on that Dick hadn’t even read the books, let alone been in them. The gaff was blown in the judging, when celebrities Pete Waterman, Jilly Cooper and Ian Duncan Smith were joined by Enid Blyton herself, played as you might imagine, by June Whitfield. Yes like all reality TV, it’s faked. I still couldn’t resist spending 60p to text my vote for Julian to get extra lashings of lemonade next hols. Golly!

Reality Check: there is no such programme as Jolly Hols, and no such producer as Joe Hope. They are figments of my imagination. Cat Deeley, Pete Waterman, Jilly Cooper and Ian Duncan Smith are real people but they are not associated with this programme, because it doesn't exist. June Whitfield is a real person, though she is in so many programmes that I suspect there may be more than one of her. The Famous Five are the figments of Enid Blyton's imagination. If you have never heard of her or them, how come you have read this piece to the end?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Feckenham.

Feckenham, by John Noake.
from Noake's Guide to Worcestershire published in 1868
IN a rich valley, a few miles south of Redditch, among gardens and orchards, where formerly dense forests existed, and many a poor Saxon was gibbeted for infractions of the despotic laws of the chase, now resides a population chiefly bent upon supplying her Majesty's subjects with pins, needles, and fish-hooks. The manufacturers of these articles are Messrs. J. English and Co., W. W. Gould, J. Smith, G. Townsend, &c. Feckenham has an acreage of 6,560, and a population of 3,217. There were 136 families (about 600 souls) in the time of Elizabeth. An air of antiquity pervades the village, and there were formerly some very ancient inns here. The Old Black Boy Inn has been kept by the family of the Gardeners for nearly a century and half, and the sign, which was of copper, stood the whole of that time, until taken down in 1854. In the neighbourhood, too, are some ancient moated houses: Shurnock Court, occupied by Mr. R. Merrill; Astwood Court, once the seat of the Culpepers, now held by Mr. T. Pearce; and Norgrove Court, by Mr. Cheshire, bailiff to R. Hemming, Esq., of Bentley Manor. These, as well as the old legends which attach to one or two of them, are well worth investigation; and the antiquity hunter must not forget that an ancient and interesting road called the Ridgeway runs on the border of the parish, between the counties of Worcester and Warwick, from whence very fine views may be obtained. Moreover, the odd names which obtain here are indicative of historical interest, local peculiarities, and legendary lore; to wit: Fearful Coppice, Windmill Peril, Blaze Butts, Big and Little Fire Field, Camp Field, Castle Hill,Wargrave,Warridge, Warralls, Merry-come-Sorrow, Tricks's Hole, Old Yarn Hill, Monksbury, Puck Close, Borrow Hill, Holborn Hill, Kit's Iron, Horcuts, Salt Meadow, &c.
There is no longer copyright in John Noake's work, and no copyright is claimed for this transcript by John Stafford. Click on the link in the book title for a complete set of pages in facsimile and transcript

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Backpacking, travelling, (traveling even)


This is a blatant advert for a website where I have photos published, under the name of Tom Hunt for some reason known only to the editor, Chris Stafford, who is related to me, being my son. So nepotism, corruption, breach of copyright and assuming a false identity notwithstanding, here's the plug. For touring Europe as a backpacker, student, walker, rail train, bus, coach ot air traveller, you need to look at Round Europe. It's irreverent, true (I went to John O'Groats with the editor so I know) and lots of fun. If you wouldn't dream of going to a hostel, preferring the sort of place where I imagine John Newton, of Newton's Notes in the Country Gentleman magazine (if he is real), would deign to rest his weary bones, then you should read this ... now I've forgotten the beginning of this sentence.