Friday, 8 April 2016

"Three At Once" - Out Now!

"Three At Once", my new book is out now on Amazon Books and on Kindle.

"Three At Once" is an anecdote-laden handbook about the first two decades of raising Triplets, written by someone who's actually done it - and enjoyed every minute.  Me.

Even if you are not in the fortunate position of having three children of your own age to play with, you'll find "Three At Once" to be a fun-filled yet moving read - for anyone.

It's packed with useful information on everything fathers of three need to know - from conception to car seats, possetting to pushchairs, intensive care to secondary school - and it's stuffed with anecdotes as well.  (Possetting?  Oh, you'll learn all about possetting...).  

Learn to pay yourself a fiver whenever anyone says "Wow! You've got your hands full!"; become the leader of the best gang in town; develop deft skills and talents that will make you the admiration of every other father you meet...

However, because only one parent in 6400 actually has triplets, the book is a rollicking revelation for everyone else.  Eight tons of nappy?  Five months without sleep?  Prams the size of a small aircraft carrier?  What would you do if you suddenly discovered you were having "Three At Once"?

Find out!

You can buy the paperback here:

and download the Kindle version here:
You can also use this link to get a free preview of the first chapter.


And 'Anthony Devereaux'?   It's me.  I changed all the names to protect the innocent.  Or guilty.  

It depends on how you look at things...

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Why TV Promos Need Moderating

Ofcom yesterday published its assessment of two TV trails or promos that appeared on Comedy Central a while ago.   Even though the promos aired at 10.00 p.m., an hour after the watershed, Ofcom thought they were inappropriately vulgar - for any audience.

As a Promo Producer for Bravo, I often worked with what could be considered contentious material. Our promos for such material had to fit within one of two designations: 'SAT' and 'SWC'.

'SAT' stood for "Schedule Any Time", which mean that the material, approach and style of the promo was light enough to not cause any concerns for any part of an audience that might be expected to see it. The promo could therefore be slotted into the transmission schedule at any time the channel was on air.

'SWC' was the acronym for "Schedule With Care" and, as such, was self-explanatory.  Usually it indicated the promo would only be transmitted during post-watershed hours - which in the UK are between 9.00 pm. and 5.30 a.m. on free-to-air channels.  (On premium and pay-to-view channels the timings are slightly different: 8.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m.).  However, isolated instances could arise whereby the scheduling of a particular item not restricted to post-watershed hours would still require deliberation or sensitivity.  One such instance was when one of our promos for a thriller about a hijack situation on a North Sea oil-rig had to be hastily re-edited because a real, live catastrophe was actually taking place simultaneously on an oil rig in the North Sea.

Ofcom only gets called in if offence is taken, and offence in promos usually relates to a viewer being unhappy about what he or she has been shown.  This is because viewers elect to watch programmes: it's for them to find the 'off' button if they don't like something.  They don't, however, elect to watch promos and they have little control of being exposed to them - which is why Ofcom can be expected to moderate promos on their behalf, albeit usually after offence has been taken.

It works like this.  Once you are happily esconced in a programme, you'll understand the context and parameters within which it operates.  If outrage is promised - and you're looking forward to seeing some - then when it happens, you'll find it totally acceptable. 

But promos aren't something you can settle down into.  You don't know when to expect them: they are discontinuous, full of surprise and content not seen before. They are a stand-alone advertisement for a programme you haven't yet watched - nor possibly will want to.

Promos usually appear at a programme junctions or in commercial breaks, when the viewer is more distractable and less committed to watching that particular moment of television*.  To grasp the viewer's attention, promos have to be different - sensational, even. 

Promos will be watched by all sorts of people - including many who won't be interested in the programme's content or subject matter - and a few who might even find it offensive. They are designed to attract viewers to a programme, even if the viewer gives up once they start watching.  They are not designed to repel them.

Comedy Central overstepped the mark on his occasion because they didn't bear this in mind.  On the viewer's behalf, Ofcom stepped in and reprimanded the channel accordingly.

Promos are happenstance.  Viewers don't make an appointment to see them - and they can't necessarily avoid them, either.

The Amy Schumer clip was extremely crude but in context it was also outrageously funny.  However, like the viewers who complained to Ofcom, I'd be incredibly offended if it was shown to me when I wasn't expecting it.

*As a footnote, the BBC runs no commercial advertisements but runs many promos at programme junctions, cross-promoting its own services.  Initially the BBC saw on-screen promos as being an effective means of extending programme blocks to fill a half- or one-hour slot: much of the external programming it inherits are also  made for other TV markets, and as such would be short in order to accommodate paid advertising.  These days, this is less of a problem as the BBC makes its own programmes for sale to commercial broadcasters as, as such, therefore incorporates 'break opportunities' into the programme format.  As its programmes are shorter, it can use the airtime this frees up to promote its own services.  For example, the on-screen advertising for Radios 1 & 2 on BBC networks is currently estimated at a market equivalent of £80M per annum. 

Monday, 23 November 2015

I Shall Not Be Re-joining The BBC Club....

I was interested to learn of the recent offer to BBC Alumni of (re-)joining the BBC Club.  However, I won’t be applying because I found the place to be a hotbed of physical danger, crass mismanagement, insult and crime.

When I worked at Alexandra Palace back in the mid-70s, I was a constant habitué of the club there and, one lunchtime, ended up in A&E  with a broken nose as a result.  “Sporting injury!" claimed my colleagues as they propelled me into the Whittington Hospital, blood streaming down my face. Horrified emergency staff appraised the situation: “Gosh!  Rugby? Boxing? Ice Hockey?”

“Er, no”, I replied nasally, “Snooker”.

The club at AP had an excellent snooker room and during a game with a fellow member of the Graphic Design team, I questioned the viability of a shot he was proposing to take. It required a lot of edge and a bit of bottom to get the cue ball to glance one of the colours and send it sideways into the pocket.  “It’ll never work” I thought, as I moved to stand behind him and peer along the length of the cue to see precisely where he was going to hit the white, “although, it migh-“.

At that moment, (as should really have been expected), he pulled back on the cue to take the shot.  About eighteen inches.  So all I saw was the rapidly approaching back end of the cue travelling towards me at a rate of knots before everything went black as it smashed squarely into my nose.  Symmetrically, fortunately, because it broke my nose straight on.  You’d hardly know from looking - if I hadn’t been perfectly positioned behind the shot, my nose would now be all over the place. 

Ever since, of course, I can’t stand behind anyone playing snooker without a horrific welling of the sinuses, in anticipation of the great pain this noble recreation can bring.  Even mention of the game brings on a bout of neuralgia.

So for this reason, I won’t be applying to re-join.  That, and guilt; for when I was social secretary of the BBC Railway Society, I sent everyone to the wrong signal box one day, which didn’t go down well with BR management.  They didn’t need a great horde of grumpy anoraks cluttering up the end of platform 8 at Kings Cross.

And then there was insulting the bloke standing next to me in the club at TC one day when he asked my what I thought of the pint of Ruddles County I had just bought. “Not much,” I said, “Tastes like dishwater”.  “Oh”, replied John Ruddles, chairman of the brewery, “Thanks very much…’.

And I still feel unsettled about the time while watching the Test Match on the TV in the club at AP, two blokes in brown coats wandered in and said “Sorry everyone - we’ve got to take this television away”.  They turned the set off, unplugged all the wires, lifted the mighty beast and, leaving us sitting around disgruntled and wondering what else we could do now there was no cricket to watch, carted the TV through the club, out of the doors, through reception and into a van parked outside.  They drove off and neither they, the van nor the television set were ever seen again.

No, life is menacing enough these days without rejoining the BBC Club…

Monday, 22 June 2015

Just So Far...

Ventimiglia, a couple of days ago.

As usual, outside the big frontier railway station, the locals sit chatting over their espressos in the pavement cafés.  Inside, and as usual, across the concourse to the solitary ticket booth, straggles a meandering queue of tourists.

Although it depends what you classify as a tourist.

For, this year, the area around this border station in Italy is much more crowded. It has many new occupants and not just the ranks of regional carabinieri, armed, talking to each other animatedly and directing wayward jaywalkers just for something to do. Rather, most of the new occupants are a quiet swarm of bedraggled souls camped as well as they can on the flower verges and the roundabout.

These are the boat migrants from north Africa, the people who paid extortionate prices for desperate journeys across the Mediterranean to a strange and different continent to leave their difficult pasts behind.  They have made their way up through Italy and now they sit, waiting at the border into France.  And no-one is letting them go any further.

Other than a half hour wait at the ticket office, western tourists have no problem boarding the regular trains that start in Ventimiglia and head west across the frontier to Monte Carlo, Nice and beyond. But the boat people can't.  Even if they were able to stray onto the platforms and climb on board a train into France, at the first stop, Menton Garavan, every train endures a prolonged delay as the French Gendamerie Nationale makes a slow and deliberate inspection of each carriage. The migrants and asylum seekers aren't allowed into France.

Meanwhile, down on what used to be where Italy's SS10 joined up with the French N7 at the frontier, the crowds are even bigger.  Colourful clothes, flags and banners flap in the warm sunlight as photographers, television crews and would-be immigrants jostle for the shots. Local commerce is thwarted by inaccessibity that the crowds have brought. The road is jammed and any trans-border crossing is slow and very deliberate. You need the paperwork to cross. And the Africans haven't got any.  They hardly have anything.

But it's back in the marble brutalism of Ventimiglia railway station where the situation reveals its true hopelessness. A major corridor has been allocated as a dormitory, and bodies lie on the floor, resting, sleeping and waiting.  But waiting for what?  The hours pass, the people sit.  There is nothing to do. Physically, it is not squalid, but the dilemma is.  Desperation is palpable. And there’s no indication that frustration - or worse - won’t be imminent.

It appears that no-one is moving out of Ventimiglia soon.


copy/photos © Chris Wood-W3KTS June 2015

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

York to Knaresborough: Marketing A Branch Line

With renewed interest in revitalising the services on the Knaresborough to York railway line in North Yorkshire currently in the air, I present the following ruminations on how the service might be promoted...

‘Ouse-Nidd Express’
I don’t think so.  The name will not catch on…
But ‘market’ it, let people know!
“It’s central Yorkshire’s way to go”!

“Trans-Vale Executive - every day
with Business Class from Stray to Stray’!

‘Ouse-Nidd’?  ‘Nidd-Ouse’?
(The men peruse…)
It’s got to have a ‘hook’,
A selling aspect, profile plus,
It’s there if we just look.

Okay, airlines might not lose out
And freight, that’s not its line
But competition must be more
Than just ‘A59’.

Well, other aspects - something else?
Vacation angle, p’raps…
And heritage means revenue -
West Highland, Settle - Carlisle too;
Just look at tourist maps.

“Gothic splendour to the East -
A verdant gorge for eyes to feast
On to the West, then Yorkshire Dales
Rising up…”

Beyond these rails…

Because this is here.  They're miles away

Far beyond the green and grey
Of fields.  That’s all.  Of pigs and cows
Who hear the train, look up and browse,
Like central Ireland, a Polish spring.
It’s the grass round here that’s interesting.

‘Knaresborough - York’:
What can it mean?
What lurks unheard of in between?
Awesome vistas? Mountain ranges?
Orange-groved old-English granges?

None of this.  No ‘selling’ factors.
Pig Sheds.
Broken tractors.

No litany of exotic venues, this
No over-familiar names.
But quirky charm you cannot miss
A place of farms, not fame.


It doesn’t even go from A to B but rather K to Y
In ‘ordinary’ railway style.
Lacklustre.  Plain.  Awry.
Does it encapsulate a time
When society really cared?
Or is it just a weary branch line that stayed because it’s there?

No portentous statement of an era
Bringing far-off places nearer
Just stations from which you… start.

Where semaphore and crossing gate
Bear testament to endless wait
For 150s that squeak and grate.

Which way does it come? Will it be late?
An emptiness that makes you dizzy.
Can this line be ever busy?

Yet, once aboard, in cosy heat
On blue veloured and comfy seat -
Was that a bridge?
I mustn’t blink -
That might have been some points I think.

And fishplates clack on single track
Where rusty ballast brown and old
Spills down the bank to rabbit holes
Punctuating telegraph poles…

But level, flat?
I’ll grant you that.

Tedious - but it has connections.
‘Glamour’s just a change away’.

People forget that railways are
A means to reach an end.
So forget ‘romantic’, forget the twee;
It’s a railway line for you and me
To travel when we want to be
Elsewhere.  At ease.  Without a care.

A simple route.  To take us there.

The country should be criss-crossed
With routes as plain as this.
And if we had them, then we’d use them
And we’d give the car a miss.
Different people every journey.
An opportunity to learn,
You do the crossword, read a book,
Give the River Nidd a look.
The sights to see, the smells, the sound -
Become aware of the world around.

Therefore this rural ramble becomes a journey of the mind.
That is what you’ll find.

So there.

Now recount on what we’ve said:
The way our verbal journey lead
Subjectively from A to Z,
And how many things we’ve found to talk
About the Knaresborough line to York

Which, as a line, it works just fine
Connecting Y to K.
A simple link,
Offering time to think.

I hope it stays that way.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Llívia - Border Incidents at a Spanish Exclave

With a border dispute in Gibraltar making news at the moment, many people are citing the examples of Ceuta and Melilla, Spain’s own possessions in overseas territories (exclaves), as a good reason why Madrid’s kettle should stop calling the UK's pot black.  Perhaps rightly so.  But, in addition to Ceuta and Melilla which nestle on the north African coast of Morocco, there exists a little-known third Spanish exclave which, like Gibraltar, is located on the European mainland. However (and unlike Gibraltar) there don't appear to be any problems for those wishing to drive into it.

Situated two miles over Spain’s northern border, and surrounded by the Pyrénées-Orientales départment of southern France, is the small and attractive Spanish town of Llívia.  Like Ceuta and Melilla, Llívia is a throwback to Spain’s past but rather than being a vestige of colonialism, its present isolation is the simple result of border changes several centuries ago.  In 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenees ceded a number of Spanish villages in the area to France although not Llívia, which, as a city, was to remain Spanish.  It had been the ancient capital of Cerdanya and was perceived as too important to give away.  Today it is a quiet tourist centre - location of ‘Europe’s oldest pharmacy’ - with a population of around 1500.

The principle complaints arising in Gibraltar arise from the Spanish insistence on delaying (and possibly eliciting a fee from) cross-border traffic. Such traffic travelling through France between mainland Spain and Llívia moves effortlessly on a quiet highway but this hasn’t always been the case.

Look on any Spanish map and it is the N-154 that links Llívia to Spain.  Look on any French map and the N-154 becomes the D68 for 2 km through France.  For many years, this road, on which foreign vehicles were prohibited until 1995, formed a crossroads at its junction with the Avenue Emmanuel Brousse - the deceptively unassuming name given to France’s main N20, the European trunk route E9, in that particular area.  And it was here that belligerence (from both countries) raised its ugly head.

For the Spanish, the concept of having to yield to foreigners on what they considered a direct link between their own cities was out of the question.  For the French, the N20 linked Paris to the Pyrénées and was a prime artery on its national road network. 

Unsurprisingly both countries claimed right of way at this junction and it became the site of ‘la guerre des stops’.  Priority became a matter of national pride. For years any ‘stop’ signs erected by one country were quickly taken down by the other and, unsurprisingly, the junction was the scene of many horrific accidents until the Spanish built a flyover - El Pont de Llívia - in 1983.  (To add a certain frisson to negotiating the dangerous intersection, a level crossing with a 3rd rail electrified narrow gauge railway - ‘Le Train Jaune’ - was also incorporated into the site). 

Closer to the exclave of Llívia, a less expensive compromise was reached when a roundabout (described, for some reason, as ‘lovely’ in local tourist literature) was constructed at the junction of the link road and the D30, the only other French road it crosses, which serves nearby villages.  Even here, however, jingoism had its way.  Despite having four roads feeding off it, the roundabout featured an astonishing number of no-left- and no-right-turn signs festooned along each of its approaches, which prohibited all traffic from going anywhere other than straight across. Other than giving way to the left, the two nations could cross each other’s path in relatively calm oblivion.

And it is this very European D68/D30 solution by which the Gibraltar problem can be solved.  We might ask our old allies the French to tax the Spanish as they pass through their sovereign territory (the French could keep the income as ‘foreign aid’) but that would be unnecessarily confrontational. No, visitors to the rock should do what the Spanish and their neighbours do at Llívia - and which motorists across Europe do elsewhere to this very day.

Ignore the stop signs.

Friday, 15 February 2013

A Film Review

There will be those of you who recall my old pal Vernon Thornycroft.  Still floundering in the depths of pedagogy, he got in touch the other day to send me an interesting article from his archives.  It relates to a film made by his amanuensis (and my friend) Simon Broad, which I recently had the chance to see and enjoy.  I understand the BFI is considering a limited-edition release: I hope it goes ahead - the film is worth £29.99 of anybody's money.

The review was written by the internationally-renowned film academic Raymond Dogdirt and appeared in a 1974 edition of the well-respected film magazine "Screen & Sound".

I thought you might like to read it.

A STAGGERING OPUS - “Let The Dog See The Rabbit”

“Peter’s our biggest headache - professionally speaking...”

This tour de force from emerging writer and director Simon Broad presumes from its audience a uneasy conversance with its complex plot. Yet it can. This is familiar ground - and it is to the ground, downwards, that we look as the story begins on the footways, steps, the very earth from which our spirits emanate: the symbolism of the extractor fan - from where does it extract? A sequence of textured down shots as a young man - Noël - searches for an entrance - but an entrance to where? The doorway - when he eventually finds it - will be a portal to what? A fulfilled promise? An encounter? Imprisonment? Or worse?

And why does Noël search for “Richard Hart” when it is Peter we need to discover?
Broad’s portrayal of torpor as his protagonists fabricate their irksome relationships is overwhelming. This our territory, but with them in charge.  It has never been so eerily uncomfortable.

London. And as a grey embankment drifts drearily away to Tomila’s Reverie, parallel themes emerges. Conspiratorial voices, dull administrators in lifeless offices, ponderous telephone calls, a Whitehall even Deighton would reject as moribund. The players take their time. It is the only weapon they have.

But Peter.  Where is he?  Where is this man with “lots of faces, for different occasions - self-centred to a frightening degree”?

Broad’s use of Rundgren’s ‘Initiation’ throughout the film is ironically apposite - for few here are being initiated. Collusion is rife: in their enclosed world they investigate potentially boundless realms, yet this is a film about entrapment and captivity. Any one is restrained by another. All are imprisoned within their own tortuous machinations. Even we, as audience, yearn for release. Yet we reject it.

Is that Peter? 

Is that him struggling silently through a post-coital cigarette with Roland? It could be. Sarah loves him. They all love him. Despite Peter's “naïve romanticism”, his “pseudo intellectual ramblings” and "brandishing a flowery pen”, they love him.  Why shouldn’t they?  Isn’t Peter the escape they - we - you - I - all covet? Where is he, anyway?

As an essay in entrapment, ‘Let The Dog See The Rabbit’ is faultless. Even a frenetic walk through the racing traffic of Aldgate or cruising past hydrofoils on the Thames leads no-one to escape. We are all ensnared in the same melancholy intrigue.

So is this “about peace and self-development alone"? Is it a world where "one makes one’s own rules”?  If so, how can it be? 

And where is Peter?

Broad’s captivating use of 1⁄2” monochrome videotape perfectly enregisters the gloomy environs of his libretto. Ugly camera angles, awkward pans and anomolous pacing position this film at the forefront of a British ‘nouvelle vague’ (and I put the accent on ‘vague’). The flow has started, it has yet to reach its crest. What will the denouement be? What will our denouement be? 

And what happened to Peter?

This magnificent work deserves your fullest attention.  It is a masterpiece.  Bravo, M. Broad!  

(It certainly beats all that bollocks I foist onto my General Studies students at St Martin's every Tuesday night...).

Raymond Dogdirt - Screen & Sound.    May 1974.