Courtesy of PBS, Are You Being Served? made its way over to our side of the Pond a long time ago. For those not familiar with the show, the BBC sitcom is all about the adventures of the staff of the Grace Brothers department store in London. It may be arguably the sitcom that is the most highly concentrated with innuendos and double entendres in the history of British television. (I am willing to hear nominees for other shows. The Boffin volunteers ‘Allo, ‘Allo and Hi-De-Hi.) If you love that sort of comedy, seek this series out.
In order to lighten things up and get some perspective today, I think we need to honor one of the characters of this show, Mrs. Slocombe. Mrs. Slocombe lived with her cat, Tiddles, but she never referred to Tiddles as her cat. Tiddles was her “pussy,” and she never realized how she sounded when she talked about him as demonstrated in the 3 minute video below.
So I say we should all grab a pussy and treat it with love and care the same way Mrs. Slocombe did with hers. Or grab a puppy or another furry friend. In other words, if you can, consider going to your nearest animal shelter and adopting a new fluffy member of the family. We adopted Lola at Kay’s Animal Shelter in Arlington Heights, IL and were very happy with our experience. And if you can’t have a pet, you can also donate your time, supplies, or money to your favorite animal charity.
Feel free to share the links to your favorite animal charities in the comments below.
As a side note, when I came up with the idea for this blog post, I wondered what happened to Mr. Slocombe. We were in bed, and I was about to drift off to sleep when this thought popped into my head. Not knowing was going to bother me, so I made The Boffin stop his game on his tablet to look this tidbit of information up. He has learned over the years to give in to these ridiculous requests or else he would not get any sleep either. (Yes, I feel sorry for the man too.) Anyway, it turns out that Mr. Slocombe stepped out to Sainbury’s to get some slightly salted butter, never returned, and became a successful land developer.
Audio media is still a critical part of British culture, and being an island nation, the BBC provides a valuable service by broadcasting the weather report at sea. Produced by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Shipping Forecast has become a staple on the British communication since the telegraph days.
But that does not mean I understood a word of it when I heard it on Radio 4. Stephen Fry created an accurate representation of what most outsiders hear when encountering this mystical broadcast.
Was this part of the citizenship test? Was this code left over from the war, and the powers that be just kept it around for tradition’s sake? Was this an elaborate game of Mornington Crescent that the U.K. was in on just to baffle foreigners?
But I developed a certain affection for the Shipping Forecast even though I had no clue about it. It was very hypnotic and soothing. It started with its theme “Sailing By” by The Perry-Gardner Orchestra, and the mood is set. Then you had the reader say these cryptic words with a rhythm that was almost nautical and definitely soporific. Insomnia was never an issue after the Shipping Forecast.
I ended up looking it up in a book in the Newmarket library because I was too embarrassed to ask anyone. I shouldn’t have been. After all, how is an American supposed to know how to decode the Shipping Forecast?
I am going to try to give a general summary of how it works. When broken down, it isn’t that bad. As you can see by the Stephen Fry graphic above, the water regions are divided and named. There are also inshore waters that are named and coastal weather stations that are numbered, and they are mentioned in the broadcast too.
Then the readers give the wind direction (south, southeast, etc.) and whether it is veering (changing clockwise) or backing (changing counterclockwise). You will hear a number from zero to 12 in there. That’s from the Beaufort scale and that measures wind speed with zero being calm to 12 being hurricane force. The announcers usually give the weather forecast and then the visibility (good, moderate, poor, fog). Under winter conditions, they will also grade the icing (light, moderate, severe). Oh, one more thing, they also keep track of pressure areas in millibars, so you will hear things like “Low Humber, 960, deepening rapidly.”
Back in 1993, the BBC aired the Shipping Forecast on TV and radio, and somebody was kind enough to post it on YouTube. For some, this could be meditative. For others, this could be pencil-in-the-throat boredom. If you are awake after this video, you are one very strong soul.
If you grew up in England in the 60s and 70s, you had the opportunity to have been exposed to the most mind blowing children’s TV series ever, The Magic Roundabout. In the five minutes it was on in the evening, you found yourself completely detached from reality as if you had been smoking something you shouldn’t have. From the outside, it looked innocuous, with simple characters moving around a scenery of paper trees and flowers. The closest you came to being drunk before the age of 10, it should have come with a PG-13 certificate. When the BBC tried to move it from the 5:55pm slot just before the evening news, there was a huge backlash from the parents. This wasn’t just a kids show; this was CRT crack. The source of addiction wasn’t that it was a perfectly crafted masterpiece; it was because it didn’t make any sense whatsoever.
Akin to the story of champagne, the show was originally French (a stop-frame animation piece called Le Manège Enchanté), but it turned into something amazing when they gave it to the British. The source of the secondary fermentation was that the British public’s grasp of the French language in the 1960s usually extended to shouting a lot. So while the French animation studio provided the films, dubbing was necessary in order to have it viewed by more than a few people in Footlights. However, the films did not come with the scripts, as they apparently would have cost extra. So instead of translating the video, they just threw out the audio track and started from scratch. Eric Thompson (Emma Thompson’s dad) was charged with writing a whole new series of scripts which, whether deliberate or the result of some heavy drinking down the pub, bore little, if any, resemblance to the originals.
The French cartoon was already a little off kilter thanks to the creativity of Ivor and Josiane Wood and Serge Danot. Thompson’s script’s technically fit the visuals, in the same way that chicken fried steak is technically breakfast, if eaten before 10am. Names changed; plot lines changed; and some decidedly questionable language was included. Regardless, whether he was partaking in the sixties one puff at a time, the results were outstanding.
In addition to traditionally inanimate objects like cannons, lamp posts, oil lamps and a whole plethora of bric-a-brac taking on personalities, there were some key characters who would be in each episode.
The main one is Dougal, a terrier dog who fortunately lost his outrageous British accent from the original version but retained his love of sugar lumps. Generally grumpy, he is typically the center of the chaos which is going on around him. Always wanting to get ahead, win, or be seen as important, the stories typically end up with his plans going haywire and him stomping off or sedating himself with sugar. Walking the fine line between cardiac arrest and diabetes, he was a role model for us all.
Other characters include Zebedee (Boing!) who is obviously a jack-in-the-box, without the box. If you could get over his prehensile mustache, ability to accelerate at several hundred G and achieve orbit, and intense interest in the only human girl in this microverse, you could start to question what his purpose was in the show. In fact, I am fairly sure that this was the model for Sportacus in Lazy Town. However, I am glad that the latter did not go around saying “Time for bed!”
There was a pink cow called Ermintrude, who sounded like an extreme form of Hyacinth Bucket and expected the whole world to revolve around her. Given her grip on reality, either she had escaped from an insane asylum, or, as soon as her relatives turned up, she was going to be introduced to some very nice men who would take care of her. Given most British children had at least one relative who fitted the bill, our laughter gave us an opportunity to purge some tension.
We also met a snail called Bryan who was almost always cheery, optimistic and generally clueless. The fact that he was pink, had a shell that looked like it was glued on, and wore a scarf and straw-hat brings up the question whether the idea came from a schoolboy’s prank. Basically, he looked like a dressed up penis. Bryan was always my favorite character, todger excluded.
Joining the crowd was a rabbit called Dylan (actually named after Bob Dylan) who was either high or asleep, sometimes both. As with most stoned lagomorphs, he tended to hang around in trees and say ‘Man’ a lot. As accents go, his was almost as far as you could get from Elvis and still be able to connect it to the source. Given his narcolepsy, his role seemed to be more one of scenery than story development (if there was a story).
As if they weren’t enough, tack on a train, who is never seen carrying anyone or anything in her carriages. A complainer at heart, she seemed to have no practical purpose, operated on her own timetable, and became unable to move as a result of the smallest impediment. As characters go, she was perfect British Rail.
There were also two main humans. The first was a young girl called Florence (the aforementioned focal point of Zebedee’s hormones). Her main tasks seem to be taking a passing interest in what was going on, commenting about her hair or apparel, asking Zebedee questions, and doing her best to maintaining some level of sanity. Given that her surroundings generally consisted of cows driving buses, dogs making films, obnoxious trains, walking violins, and talking snails, she too was probably destined for the looney bin.
Finally, there was Mr. Rusty who operated the roundabout. Not sure how they ended up in this world, but, given his confused and detached nature, I wouldn’t be surprised, if we were just watching Mr. Rusty’s hallucinations after having made himself an omelet with some mushrooms he found out while walking.
Unfortunately, due to the committees and focus groups which help chose today’s line-up, we will probably never see anything like The Magic Roundabout again on mainstream TV. It took a well animated show and that needed that extra something special. It was born out of a period where costs were lower; there was less choice (only 3 TV stations, kiddies); and there was a time slot which needed filling. It was the chicken and waffles of the BBC. Something that shouldn’t have worked, but someone gave it a go.
It turns out I am behind the times, but yet I am not.
I posted the other day about The Great British Bake Off being back like the show was a novelty in the United States. It turns out The 5th series of The Great British Bake Off was aired in the States on PBS back in December as The Great British Baking Show. It was such a success that PBS will be showing Series 4 in September, so nobody tell anyone about Howard’s disaster, OK?
Has it really been 34 years since this match between John McEnroe and Tom Gullickson? Even at 8-years-old, he was the badass American with his flyaway hair who took on the Establishment. I certainly was in his corner. What kid wouldn’t understand the value of a temper tantrum?
And to think the nation has welcomed Mr. McEnroe back with onto the BBC broadcasting team. I am sure it appreciates his vast knowledge and boisterous personality this time around because the BBC keeps asking him back. I know I am lapping it up thanks to a PC hooked up to the TV. Proxy servers are a beautiful thing.
Suggestion to Auntie Beeb, get Patrick over. The brotherly banter is worth watching.
June is almost ending and that can mean one thing on the English calendar.
The start of its 2 weeks of summer.
Well, that, and the beginning of Wimbledon on Sunday, June 29th.
And I love me some Wimbledon.
I didn’t really grow up in a tennis family, but we always had NBC’s Breakfast at Wimbledon on TV. When I was a kid, this was the era of John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert (Lloyd), and a whole host of other exciting players that I could happily rattle off ad nauseum. I am not going to say it was a halcyon time because each sports era has its own greatness, but I can’t complain about what I had.
The coverage on NBC was fun because it was headed up by Dick Enberg and Bud Collins. Enberg, one the most genial and elite play-by-play men in the business, is still working as one of the San Diego Padres’ broadcasters, even though he more than deserves retirement. Collins, the tennis expert, was…well.. quite the color commentator. At least, his pants are colorful. He used to talk about his fictitious “Uncle Studley” all the time and this gadabout called Fingers Fortescue. You wondered what he was smoking, but he also knew and still knows his tennis. They made quite a team and brought a liveliness that contrasted with the formality that the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club maintained and still maintains.
Stemming from watching such quality tennis, Older Brother #1 and I created our own tournament…Bimbledon. It involved tennis rackets, a volleyball net, and a shuttlecock. This was pure power badminton. It seemed the goal was to make the other sibling run around like an idiot, and if said sibling managed to fall backwards into a bush or into the swing set, all the better. Trying to injure my brother was a great way to spend a summer afternoon.
The Boffin had a different experience. Of course, he grew up watching Wimbledon, but the fortunate lad has actually been there. Lucky. He used to live very close to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club when he lived in Collier’s Wood. And he was able to get in to see some fine tennis and soak up the atmosphere, even though he wasn’t and still isn’t a toff (member of the upper class).
One advantage of England in the summertime is that the days are longer. Remember, it is at the same latitude as Newfoundland, so the sun does not set until about 10pm. That means you can get reduced priced tickets after 5pm. Considering that there are usually rain delays or extended matches that need to be squeezed in, there is usually some sort of tennis going on well into the evening that the general public can still enjoy. Imagine catching a bit of Wimbledon live after work is over. Nice.
The Boffin also got to take advantage of a People’s Sunday. Traditionally, there is no play on the middle Sunday of the tournament, but rain forced play on Sunday during the years 1991, 1997, and 2004. Reduced priced tickets were offered to the public on a first-come, first-served basis at the gate, and the Boffin and his late wife took full advantage, including watching a Michael Chang match on Centre Court. The Boffin holds so many fond memories of just being able to pop in and soak it all up.
Now when talking about Wimbledon, we have to talk about Andy Murray. Andy Murray became the hero of the U.K. when he won Olympic gold in the 2012 London games and followed it up in 2013 by taking the men’s singles championship. Apparently, according to the media, no Briton had ever taken the Wimbledon championship since Fred Perry did it in 1936, and Virginia Wade’s victory in 1977 didn’t count because she didn’t have a penis. You would think the British sports press would be satisfied now that Murray crossed that “t” and dotted that “i”. Of course, not.
Now, I am sure the average British person would just be happy if Murray just played out his career in whatever capacity he can. He has nothing to prove to anyone else anymore. However, since the sports press has to justify its existence, it has to fill up its pages with bogus ways of putting more pressure on Murray to win Wimbledon again. You read articles like this and that. Even the BBC is getting in on the act with this video. England still expects, Mr. Murray, even though you are Scottish.
Whatever happens, I am going to enjoy it because it is Wimbledon, and the sports press can’t do anything to take that pleasure away from me. And I’m pulling for Serena. I’ll also root for Andy, but I just want him to do the best he can. No pressure. I just wish my brother lived close by for a rematch.