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Andrew Collins, Stuart Maconie and David Quantick reunited in 2001 for a comedy lecture - Lloyd Cole Knew My Father - about the follies of rock journalism, appearing for nine days at the Edinburgh Festival. As a prelude to an extensive Quantick retrospective Bent Halo and The Mumbler trace the long history leading up to the show and offer up some more of that good ol' edit spotting.

In the early part of 1997 BBC Radio One experienced the start of yet another major shake-up in channel identity. Prior to this Matthew Bannister had managed the station with a drive towards minority shows in the evenings - regular comedy slots, documentaries and magazine formats. Whether the drastic fall in ratings was directly related to this is unknown, but these shows (amongst them Soundbite & The Chris Morris Music Show) displayed a care for specialist programming that has now been eliminated in favour of homogenous youth programming. Back in the mid-Nineties the station was overrun with a new generation of Radio One voices who provided a great deal of fresh, interesting shows. Whereas Mark Radcliffe, Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley are now the main guard, artists such as Lee & Herring, Simon Munnery and, more to the point, Andrew Collins and Stuart Maconie were phased out entirely.

"It was all Fields Of The Nephilim round here when we were lads."

Collins and Maconie had distinguished themselves as accomplished journalists prior to their arrival on Radio One in 1993. Since the late-Eighties both had worked on New Musical Express as feature writers, as well as contributing material to the Thrills section, which had begun as a somewhat disparate midpoint between the paper's news and feature material. It had been a meeting-place for brief profiles of emerging bands, arts previews, book reviews, a quotations column called 'Bigmouth Strikes Again', and the occasional opinion piece. The latter would find the paper's more irreverent writers dissecting pop culture's more absurd fads and fashions - the sort of place where David Quantick would describe The Firm's number one novelty hit 'Star Trekkin' as "a set of choruses which make Kenneth McKellar look like Schoolly D", and "a flurry of verseless verbiage and electro hoedown".*

*[source: 'Dreckk!', p6, NME, 04/07/87)

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The general tone of Thrills was to grow less obviously journalistic with the arrival of Collins and Maconie, who joined the likes of Quantick and Steven Wells, both heavily involved in the necessary process of making jokes about Gary Numan. Rather than crediting a particular piece to an individual writer, the new incarnation of Thrills chose the Private Eye approach of keeping the contributors anonymous although, following a time when the section was variously edited by (amongst others) James Brown, Stuart Bailie and Quantick, Maconie finally became its regular editor from 1989 onwards. While Thrills has survived the NME's countless relaunches in recent years, its latter-day incarnations (now edited by David Stubbs with contributor Andy Dawson) have been thin gruel indeed, especially when compared to the glory days of 1988-92. During this peak period, the Thrills approach was a meeting between the exacting and the spontaneous, highlighting a team effort that was effortlessly intimate with a history of pop culture as well as music. With its truncated title of 'Bigmouth', the quotations column remained, and there was a questionnaire called 'Material World' in which public figures were asked questions like "What are you reading?", "How far would you go for publicity?", and least orthodox of all, "Fave small thing". But with new artists profiled in a separate section ('On', edited for a time by Steve Lamacq), Thrills was now predominantly a haven for parody and good-natured ridicule, as in pastiches of celebrity columns, a regular section called 'Seminal Moments In Rock' which examined such triumphant events as "Cher Doesn't Have Any Cosmetic Surgery: Part 17" [p7, NME, 13/07/91] , and, best of all, transcripts of material that, while implying they were designed for broadcast rather than printed entertainment, worked best on the page. One such example sniggered at the earnest TV documentary series on Irish music, Bringing It All Back Home:
MAKING IT ALL UP AS WE GO ALONG:
The Story Of How Irish People Invented Music

INTERVIEWER
Pete Seeger - lead singer of the New Seegers - tell us how Irish people invented music.

PETE
Well, you only have to listen to an old Negro spiritual like 'Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho', transpose the melody one octave, sing it in a funny voice and - hey presto! If it isn't exactly the same as the old Kerry folk tune 'Paddy McGinty's Goat', then I don't know what is!

(Cut to Everly Brothers not fighting)

INTERVIEWER
Don and Phil Everly - innovators of rock 'n' roll - you used to sit at your daddy's knee and listen to his old songs.

PHIL
Sure did! 'My Ole Kentucky Home', 'Your Cheatin' Heart', all the greats!

INTERVIEWER
Did you ever realise the great link between those songs that spanned the wide green Atlantic Ocean, carried upon oral tradition and the songs of washerwomen, across time and space, and into the hearts and minds of the nascent American nation?

PHIL
No.

(Cut to old woman in Appalachian Mountains)

OLD WOMAN
We used to sing the traditional tunes of the mountain folk, never dreaming they had in fact been written by The Hothouse Flowers.

(Old woman sings 'Don't Go')

(Cut to pub in Ireland full of cameramen drinking Guinness)

INTERVIEWER
Here in the Gaeltacht, the old traditions of Irish music are kept alive by this tiny community...

OLD IRISHMAN
Aye. Once a month we all gather and sing songs of old. And tonight is a very special night here in Croggan.

INTERVIEWER
Because you're celebrating the old Lays in Finn MaCool?

OLD MAN
No. Because we've got the karaoke machine in.

(Old man sings 'I Should Be So Lucky'.)

INTERVIEWER
Bono Vox of U2 is one of the foremost singers of his generation. Here he and his Welsh mate The Edge perform a specially written song for us.

BONO
I never really heard any Irish music 'til we went to America and I listened to people like The Waterboys. That was when I realised that I was working in the grand old tradition.

(U2 perform obvious rip-off of Simple Minds' 'Belfast Child')

INTERVIEWER
And so we see how the warf and weft of the music of the world is intertwined with Irish music. From The Dubliners to The Chieftains, from Slowdive to The Manic Street Preachers, all music has its home in the Emerald Isle. Probably.

VOICEOVER
Next week, Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney talk about their dads at excessive length.

[Source: p6, NME, 13/07/91]

The irreverent style of the above had also rapidly spread to the rest of the NME; under the editorships of Alan Lewis (1987-1990) and Danny Kelly (1990-92), the paper developed an overall ideology dismissively described as "people sitting around in smoking jackets making jokes about pop music"* by Steve Sutherland, the subsequent editor whose unwelcome arrival at the paper caused an exodus of sorts. Whereas freelancers at the NME unsurprisingly come and go - it was once described by Quantick as "a Cambridge for losers"** - there has always been the element of an old guard, and perhaps even a reluctance to move on all that quickly. Steven Wells and Dele Fadele are still present after nearly two decades of contributions, yet the survival rate is usually far less. Collins hypothesises that there is a burn-out after approximately five years, that there are a finite number of ways with which to say "sonic cathedrals", yet contributors such as David Quantick (1983-1995) and Paul Morley (1977-83) never reflected this, or at the very least performed a sterling job at covering it up.

* [source: quoted by Andrew Collins, 'NME Disappears Up Its Own P.R.', 03/04/01]
** [source: SOTCAA interview, 19/01/01]

With the arrival of ex-Melody Maker deputy editor Sutherland (often seen as the instigator of the unwanted NME / Maker 'feud') a significant amount of bad feeling was in the air at IPC's King's Reach Tower, home to both papers. Steve Lamacq and Mary Anne Hobbs resigned on the day of his appointment, following a selection process where every existing NME writer who actively cared for the achievements under Kelly had applied for the post purely for reasons of continuity, but had each been rebuked after a solitary interview. Andrew Collins:

"I resigned later that day, only to be talked back into working under Sutho for a few weeks, which I did - hated it, hated him, hated the atmosphere, and I eventually left. Stuart followed a month or two later once Lamacq and I were installed at Select and could offer him a lifeline. James Brown stayed at IPC - they gave him carte blanche to start his own magazine [Loaded, May 1994] - the rest is history."

[source: 'NME Disappears Up Its Own P.R.', 18/04/01]

Launched in June 1990 as a 'quality music monthly', Select underwent a radical facelift in the summer of 1991 to become a younger, more irreverent incarnation of the comparatively staid Q magazine, and to distinguish itself from the rather characterless IPC rival VOX, established in September 1990.

When Andrew Collins joined as its features editor in early 1993, Select was covering dance culture, comedy and media as well as rock, with reliably entertaining writers like Maconie, Miranda Sawyer, Graham Linehan, David Cavanagh, and editor Andrew Harrison. Correctly realising that the outpourings of grunge icons made for largely tiresome reading, Select concentrated instead on the absurdity of pop culture, with a 'Pools Panel of Pop' chart, intelligent, witty overviews of dance culture, comedy and media. Unforgettable feature material included 'Comedy Babylon' (an eye-opening Collins piece on the rather corporate state of the British comedy industry), pastiches of the fondly-remembered 1970s card game Top Trumps, using ragga and Radio One DJs as its subjects rather than goalkeepers or tanks, and Maconie's seminal and prescient celebration of British culture in the spring of 1993, published a full year before the appearance of 'Supersonic', 'Parklife' and 'His N Hers'. Unlike most of the superficial articles that, post-Oasis, were to joylessly flood mass-market publications, Maconie's account was exuberant in intent, as well as a thinly veiled up-yours to the dour US rock of Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains. He was careful to recall the superior punk rock bands (Wire, Buzzcocks), as well as feting the likes of Blur, who were largely ignored by the weeklies at this point. The piece, which was highlighted by a cover shot of Suede's Brett Anderson and an unapologetic appearance of a Union Jack, upset Chumbawamba, but was one of the very few pieces of its kind to avoid the empty, laddish stupidity of much of what followed. And when both Maconie and Collins edged over to Q from 1994 (the latter becoming its editor in 1995-97), there were clear signs that covers of Eric Clapton and Phil Collins were being superseded by ones on Blur, Oasis and Pulp. (Although this subsequently led to obsessions with the hoary Ocean Colour Scene and Stereophonics.) Collins and Maconie consolidated their positions as aware music critics with unusually broad tastes - Maconie also occasionally contributed to the Classical Music page and remained Internet editor until Danny Eccleston's November 2001 relaunch, while Collins wrote excellent pieces for the TV and Games sections.

Alongside these developments in the music press, Collins & Maconie introduced an ampersand between their names and began to develop a broadening of their work beyond the printed page. Their first work in broadcasting is widely recognised as their contributions to Sleeping With The NME, a day-in-the-life style documentary presented by Mark Thomas for Radio Five in the Autumn of 1991, documenting the week in May 1991 when Steve Lamacq confronted Richey James of The Manic Street Preachers after a performance and provoked his '4 Real' arm-etching. Producer John Yorke spotted something in Andrew and Stuart's commentaries that suggested a distinctive partnership could be forged. This was borne out in 1992 with their contributions to Richard Coles' The Mix, a satirical, studio-bound magazine format produced during Radio Five's initial youth-friendly phase. Such was the free spirit of the fledgling station that new talent was encouraged with a near-cavalier attitude towards programme commissions, hence Collins & Maconie's first original series, the six-part Fantastic Voyage which quickly followed (Radio Five, 17/05/93-21/06/93, Mondays, 9.30pm). Opting for a peculiar format, the series took the flexible route of a comedy drama/sketch show situated within a different celebrity each week, hence the Isaac Asimov referencing title. Andrew explains:

"It was a spoof of youth TV shows, in which two ex-hospital radio DJs called Andrew and Stuart haplessly presented the worst amalgam of Network 7 and every bad ITV Saturday morning show and the original Fantastic Voyage. We were shrunk to microscopic size and injected into a celeb at the beginning (our first 'host body' was Richard Whiteley - I seem to remember we also presented it from within Bruce Willis). We also had pop star guests - real ones, whom Stuart and I talked into appearing through our NME/Select standing - Suede, The Wonder Stuff, Blur, Lush, Frank & Walters and Billy Bragg, all playing acoustically (except, for a joke, Billy, who pretended he would only play with a full orchestra and stormed out!)."

[Source: private correspondence, 24/09/01]

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Fantastic Voyage

Again produced by latter-day EastEnders big-cheese John Yorke, and recorded in a single week, the additional talents of Alan Francis (Alistair McGowan's Big Impression, The Alan Davies Show), stand-up Geoff Boyz and Debra Stephenson (Bad Girls, Playing The Field) featured. All sound effects came, appropriately, from their own bodies. Whilst the format and content were new to radio - although admittedly not that dissimilar to Inside Victor Lewis-Smith (BBC2 1993) - it never passed a single series, instead paving the way for Andrew and Stuart's work with Mark Goodier on Radio One's Evening Session, immediately before the baton was passed to Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley in September 1993. Brief pre-recorded vignettes were regularly placed during the weeknight shows and echoed an approach familiar to listeners of The Mix - contributions that had alerted Evening Session producer Jeff Smith in the first instance. These would appear in an adapted form on the Radio One show, concurrently lasting into the successive Radio Five series Fabulous! in Spring 1993, a show initially presented by Mark Lamarr and then by Johnny Vaughan (C&M's segments at this point became known as 'The Hipster's Guide'). Umbrella titles like 'On The Case' and 'Thought for the Day' betrayed a fixation with the conventions of the Radio Four essayists, bouncing between overtones of Shaw Taylor's style and their NME spikiness. This example, from January 1994, is typical of their work for Evening Session :

MACONIE
Today, we're On The Case of -

COLLINS
This Is Your Life.

MACONIE
This. Is. Your. Life - once a giant of British light entertainment, bestriding the schedules like a colossus. Once, This Is Your Life was as much a part of the British Wednesday evening as Coronation Street, Sports Night With Coleman and lamb tikka bhuna with pilau rice.

COLLINS
But now, this once mighty half-hour human interest show is the snivelling cur of broadcasting - kicked around and bullied by Strike It Lucky, Newsnight and The Clangers, having the hair at the side of its ear tweaked by Win, Lose Or Draw and Roseanne.

MACONIE
Once upon a time that handsomely bound big red book was as significant a document as the Magna Carta, a symbol of Britain's light entertainment dominance over other, inferior nations.

COLLINS
So what has happened? Last week, This Is Your Life's subject was David Hasselhoff. That's right. David Hasselhoff.

MACONIE
Can it have come to this? Let's look at the This Is Your Life role call down the ages. "Tonight, Bertrand Russell, this is your life. You have combined a career as a maths don with that of eminent philosopher and founder of the CND movement."

COLLINS
Sir Walter Raleigh. He discovered great continents. He was a scientist. He invented smoking and the potato.

MACONIE
David Hasselhoff. He was in Knight Rider… then he was in Baywatch.

COLLINS
One of the guests on the show was Kit the car from Knight Rider. What has Michael Aspel - a fine broadcaster and a basically decent man - done to deserve this - a career reduced to talking to toy cars and third division American actors?

MACONIE
At least now the BBC has bought it, things might improve. Come on Mr Yentob, get rid of the totally predictable surprise ending.

COLLINS
You thought your blind and amnesiac grandmother was in Alice Springs, but no - here she is!

MACONIE
Get rid of David Hasselhoff and let's have some interesting British entertainers on like Terry Christian, Pat Sharp, Shane Richie - men of culture and breeding with wide-ranging interests and political views. Let's make This Is Your Life great again.

COLLINS
Because we're On Your Case!

"The Algonquin Round Table…"

When Goodier gave way to the Lamacq/Whiley axis in September 1993, Collins & Maconie moved on with him, initially via his brief tenure on the Breakfast Show (Radio One, Sep 1993 - Jan 1994), and then to his Drivetime slot (Jan 1994 - 1997?). This connection with Goodier was to lead to a format, developed by his production company Wise Buddah that would finally establish them as hosts in their own right, with Collins & Maconie's Hit Parade (Radio One, 19/05/94-18/06/97). The show's pilot, recorded in the early part of 1994, was even produced by Mark Goodier himself, underlining his belief in them before becoming its resident executive producer until 1996.

In recent years, Wise Buddah has succeeded in dominating the Radio One schedule with dance-orientated programming (notably Seb Fontaine's evening show), as well as expanding into music publishing (their biggest success to date being with Atomic Kitten) and managing a stable of well-known media names like Lamacq, Dave Pearce, Emma B and Pete Tong. The latter joined the company's board of managers following a merger with his own company West End in September 2001.

Wise Buddah's recent profile has therefore become rather more corporate and commercially driven than even Goodier, as its founder, may have desired ("...The music business is more cynical now and everybody knows what they have to do to deliver whatever their target is...."*), but like Radio One, the nature of the company's work has changed considerably over the past seven years. Occupying the Sunday night documentary slots for much of the late-Nineties, and latterly plenty of documentary work for Lamacq Live (Mondays, Radio One) and Radio Two, their early programming was perhaps best recognised as part of the strong, analytical music magazines that ran parallel to Hit Parade. Commanding a 9pm-10pm slot on fluctuating weekday evenings, this singles review show presented itself as "a Roundtable for the Nineties", but in Goodier's words, without "empty-headed pop stars professing an opinion on a Kim Wilde record"*.

*[Source: SOTCAA interview, 19/10/01]

Perhaps a few words about Roundtable are appropriate here. In its original incarnation on Radio One (1975-93), usually in the early evening Friday slot, its supposed irreverence had an air of The Weekend Starts Here about it. But, essentially, Roundtable (later renamed Singled Out) was a pretty conservative affair - occasional panellists (predictable scourge of parents at that, such as Billy Idol, Malcolm McLaren) would hijack the show, hosts like Mike Smith and Mike Read would idiotically try to sound shocked so that it made interesting radio, and most other guests and DJs would toe a "Not my cup of tea" line. (Although who could forget Dave Lee Travis's summing up of REM's 'Losing My Religion' in March 1991, which amounted to "Their career's over"?)

From the word go, Hit Parade was unafraid to be rather more forthcoming than Roundtable with its opinions on new releases - it had the advantage of a later timeslot, and consequently a much younger audience, usually sandwiched between the Evening Session and Mark Radcliffe. It also straddled the two points that Bannister-era "1FM" had made its own: comedy and feature journalism. The Radio One comedy output had frequently ridiculed pop music since The Mary Whitehouse Experience era, through the Fist Of Fun days of lampooning Jamiroquai's Jay Kay and Ice-T, and Alan Parker Urban Warrior's parodies of po-faced punk rock pundits, to Chris Morris's healthy raspberry-blowing at records he actually liked. Meanwhile, the frequently superb documentary strands, which on Bannister's arrival had moved from Saturday afternoons to a high profile post-Top 40 slot on Sunday evenings, and full series such as Soundbite with former NME and then-current Q editor Danny Kelly, necessarily took a jeweller's eye-piece to the worlds of pop and rock. Unafraid to be entertaining, such programmes also managed to eschew a dumb flippancy which is, sadly, all too common on today's Radio One. With many of these programmes' participants having been Sixties children, and therefore reaching adolescence during the punk era or even that of early alternative comedy, they were used to a pop culture era turning around and giggling at its predecessor. Bannister was instrumental in this respect, by unwittingly dropping the average broadcaster's age by ten years or more, but also instigating, as Mark Goodier put it, an increase in "the intellectual application of the content of the programmes"*. While this meant that presenters were still highly excited about current musical trends despite approaching or passing the age of thirty, most of them were old enough to have experienced a variety of fads and trends (prog-rock, punk, New Romantics, acid house) and could be accordingly sceptical about the upcoming Britpop movement.

*[Source: SOTCAA interview, 19/10/01]

Collins and Maconie (aged 28 and 33 respectively in 1993), were, in many ways, ideal candidates for exposure on the new-look Radio One, and Hit Parade - produced by Emma Line and John Sugar in turn - was to epitomise the Bannister edicts of encyclopaedic knowledge, a hunger for new bands and an awareness of the heritage of British pop culture. As well as reclaiming the 'Material World' format from Thrills as 'Any Old Questions', and subjecting each week's pundits to the informal quiz 'Have We Got Music News For You', Hit Parade's most refreshing component (especially given that Radio One was previously hardly renowned for its self-aware sense of humour) was an all-embracing ability to laugh at it all and themselves. But the duo's first notable foray into television on Channel 4's Naked City (23/07/93 - 29/06/94) was not considered a success, despite coinciding with Hit Parade's first series.

The latest in a long line of late night Summer replacements for irksome Friday night mainstay The Word (1990-95), Naked City was made by Rapido TV, of course now known primarily for Eurotrash but originally responsible for the innovative Rapido (BBC2, c.1988-92).

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Uncharacteristically Naked City did not seek the European blend of those two series, or overtly titillate. The format of its first series, on the other hand, was unusual (and would have been a far more appropriate context for Andrew and Stuart's funny and perceptive items), presented as it was from Caitlin Moran's flat, which she would bike into during the opening credits. Interviews and features were performed haphazardly in this studio setting, invariably on rugged sofas mere inches from burning incense (a stretch there, but humour us) - whilst cutaway pre-recorded items included extended features on artists (eg. U2 in the second edition) and on-the-street reports by Johnny Vaughan, who occupied much the same position as Iain Lee did during the first leg of The 11 O'Clock Show.

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Series two (27/04/94-29/06/94), which saw it move to Wednesday nights, not only introduced Collins and Maconie to viewers, but also gave way to a total facelift, with David Quantick as principal script writer. Apparently adopting a dressed-down version of The Tube's studio, Vaughan became the suited central figure of the fifty-minute shows, with Caitlin reduced to five-minute ruminations on pop if she was lucky. In fact it was a complete reversal of the dynamics and suffered terribly - the series' initial charm became too cocky and the clear desire for studio performances - one would guess at the behest of C4 bosses - made it a far more flippant and significantly less erudite magazine show.

Collins & Maconie's presence on radio at this point was by no means cemented, and at the time many argued that they seemed ill prepared for television. This is a significant fallacy. The material they delivered on the show was neither different nor less polished than preceding radio work - in fact, it was a direct transfer of Fabulous!'s 'The Hipster's Guide' - and automatically faced the exact same constraints of time and economy that they were perfectly adept to. Nor was it a great surprise that they came to be on the show, having worked with presenters Vaughan and Moran in the recent past. The crucial problem was that their routines involved a large, disinterested studio audience who were more concerned with Pulp or Oasis being next on the bill rather than two whey-faced television newcomers. The material was often very strong (a dissection of MTV Unplugged being particularly memorable) but they seemed utterly out of place in a show that was suffering from an identity crisis anyway.

Collins & Maconie's Hit Parade was unsettled to far less of a degree during its first series (19/05/94 - 01/09/94; Thu, 9pm), yet one element of the show's format was needed before their period of great success: the weekly monologue, introduced in the inaugural edition of series two (24/04/95-25/09/95; Mon, 9pm). The story of its genesis was recounted by Mark Goodier:

"From my recollection - and I tend to empty the recycle bin in my head, so I'm not ever really precise about dates - but my recollection is that David Quantick was a guest on a show, a critic guest - one of the four - and I remember we all thought he was so fantastic, and I said 'we've gotta do this, let's do something called Quantick's World.' Well, he became the fifth man in every show."

[Source: SOTCAA interview, 19/10/01]

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Mark Goodier introduces The Ramones with the same enthusiasm he would Charles & Eddie

David Quantick first appeared in the NME back in April 1983, amidst post-punk writers such as Dannys Baker & Kelly, Paul Morley, Ian Penman and Julie Burchill. Lasting some twelve years at the paper, he marked his territory as a freelance writer of great capability, who was in love with pop and could boil down any new fad or band to its essence with often alarming and savage foresight. His comic potential was best seen in the Thrills columns 'c.r.e.e.p.show', illustrated by Chris Long, and 'Culture Vulture', which was co-written with Steven Wells (ne 'Swells') - a commission that brought the duo to the attention of BBC Radio producer Armando Iannucci.

The Mary Whitehouse Experience complete, Iannucci was much in demand and received free reign to devise a new format in 1991, resulting in Radio Four's On The Hour. Quantick and Swells enjoyed small commissions for each edition (and a fair old chunk of the untransmitted pilot), leading to further work by David on shows such as The Day Today (BBC2 1993 (pilot), 19/01/94-23/02/94 (series); with Swells), Saturday Zoo (C4 16/01/93-10/04/93; with Kevin Day) and Spitting Image (Central/ITV sporadic dates from 1986; occasionally with Philip Pope). His television work has since expanded to the point where he is now a vital but rarely visible presence in contemporary comedy.

"He was the best", remarked Andrew Collins of Quantick's newly appointed status on Hit Parade. "We just trusted him to come up with something that would make us all die of sniggering in the studio. I believe it was Mark Goodier's original idea to "leave the mikes up" when Quantick did his thing, so you could all hear us laughing." [Source: private correspondence, 16/04/01] This level of trust had already been forged back at the NME offices, making him a perfectly natural and reliable addition to the show's format. It was also an instrumental step for Quantick as national broadcaster.

Over the course of three years some seventy monologues were delivered within this caustic deviation from the reviews element. Quantick was skilled at boiling down the disparate nature of the many slights that would be provoked during studio discussions and chose instead to centre on particular themes in turn.

Born in Wortley, South Yorkshire in 1961, and raised in the Devonshire town of Budleigh Salterton, Quantick had grown up as a fan of the more cerebral and innovative bands to have emerged from punk rock (Buzzcocks, Magazine, Wire), whilst also professing a love of reggae and a soft spot for country. Primarily, though, he was an ardent follower of pop in all its many unpretentious guises, and his scepticism for the Britpop boom was ideally suited to Hit Parade's mid-evening slot, with an NME-heavy listenership. It has been conveniently forgotten that the years 1994-96, while widely revered as Britpop's glory years, were also populated by European pop-dance, the zenith and personal turbulence of Take That's career, the meteoric rise of the Spice Girls, and a bewildering but intoxicating array of dance genres before such scenes became depressingly elitist and exclusive. Essentially, Quantick was a fan of chart music, and would say so too - welcoming the War Child compilation Help! (September 1995), he commented, "Where else could you hear so many chart-topping bands? Apart, obviously, from the charts and Radio 1 and Top Of The Pops and 'Now That's What I Call Music' and My House". [Source: 'Charity', 18/09/95]

Like all great music writers (so in other words, unlike Steve Sutherland), Quantick was aware that fury could be manufactured by any old hack seeking some kind of notoriety, but few could be angry with such verbal dexterity, imagination and hilarity. 'Quantick's World' gave him the opportunity to hurl brickbats at a variety of self-important targets, from humourless windbags long past their peak (Morrissey and Paul Weller were comically regular victims) to clueless chancers like Ocean Colour Scene ("Reef for the housebound"*) and Menswear's Johnny Dean ("A sort of equivalent of if you wanted your mum to get you Brett Anderson, but she went to the covered market in town and got you a cheap Hong Kong one, whose hair came off when you washed it..."**). And equally fit for piss-taking were public figures like Michael Jackson ("a cross between God and Andi Peters"***), Jarvis Cocker ("Singing Spoon"***) and Damon Albarn ("the Radio Four bin man"***).

* [Source: 'Image Changes', 02/03/97]
** [Source: 'Sex', 08/08/96]
***[Source: 'Stardom', 01/08/96]

Although many of his put-downs related to the looks or the presentation of a particular artist, they could be perfectly justified as a great deal of Britpop was less about the music itself and more about the self-congratulatory mood of a nation who may not have been good enough to be in the 1994 World Cup in the USA, but could at least make records that sounded a bit like Madness crossed with The Kinks, an achievement undoubtedly beyond the limited capabilities of Stone Temple Pilots. Quantick, as ever, deflated the scene's pomposity with admirable brevity ("feeble, Action Man punkers...."*), and rarely passed up the opportunity to berate Elastica for their casual plagiarism, or Space for their infantile lyrics. Frequently original and playful in his insights, what was extraordinary was that, in 1995-96 at least, his was practically a lone voice. A sense of humour in the Britpop camp was essential, just so long as you weren't laughing at the actual standard of Britpop itself.

* [Source: 'Originality', 1995]

Subjects for Quantick's well-aimed ire ranged from the obligatory (Glastonbury, The Brits, image changes) to the generic (indie-dance, rock videos) to the spectacularly abusive ('Gits In Rock', 'Why Do Pop Stars Become Crap Pop Stars?'), but at all times he possessed a masterly outlook in smirking and snarling at a bunch of rock stars that, to put it bluntly, didn't know they were born. Contemptuous of petulant public figures grazed and bruised by negative press, Quantick made a highly individual comparison:

"They all think they're tough rebel men like Billy The Kid, but you never got Billy The Kid cursing everybody, going 'Oh no, The Arkansas Hillybilly Gazette says my cowboying is pathetic'."

[Source: 'Winger', 15/05/95]

As for the much-ballyhooed rivalry between Blur and Oasis, he reduced it to an absurdly petty metaphor that was decidedly appropriate in the circumstances:

"Should Noel Gallagher go to the library to take out the new Catherine Cookson in large-print, he will find that Damon Albarn has not only already borrowed it, but also written 'She marries the baker at the end - and you look like a monkey' on the fly-leaf."

[Source: 'Rivalry', 1995]

Not that 'Quantick's World' was exclusively content to draw on the current brand of chart acts for analysis; as the influences of past masters started to re-enter the parlance of Britpop bands, Quantick was ready to pounce. Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd "wrote twenty songs all called 'Baby Hippo You're My Friend'".* Burt Bacharach, doubtless only faintly aware of Oasis in the first place, supposedly burbled in confusion "'Noel Gallagher? Does he have that 'House Party' on your BCB Television?"**, while a scathing gobbet on Scott Walker ran:

"He goes away for ten years because his last album, Turnip Pie Central, died in the gutter. He loses his famous deep voice, which was only good for scary pirate laughter anyway, and he comes back with a record called Insert More Coins or something, where a lot of baffled and overpaid musicians tune up for an hour or so, and Scott reads out some place names in the North Of England. You wouldn't get that in real life. If Scott Walker was a bin man and he tried that on, he'd end up feet first in a burst black bag."

[Source: 'Should We Look Up To Pop Stars?', 19/06/95]

* [Source: 'Cult Acts', 05/06/95]
** [Source: 'Easy Listening', 18/01/96]

Occasionally, he also took a sideswipe at the music press's cynically sudden approval of current trends: "'Please buy our ailing magazine, we promise never again to feature Dead Can Dance'"*. And the British mid-90s disease of irony, still prevalent several years on, wasn't spared from Quantick's sarcasm. A visit to the Phoenix Festival, trapped on a bus with some bores rambling on about vintage children's television, was reduced to hopelessly vague soundbites ("they knew the names of one or two cars in Wacky Races....") and mediocre observational comedy ("Once people discussed topics of vital national importance. Now we talk about how Daleks can't get upstairs"**).

* [Source: 'Originality', 1995] ** [Source: 'Phoenix', 25/07/96]

Finally, though, Quantick's first love of pop was his foremost target for unleashing entertaining vitriol. Whether it was nicknaming Michael Eavis as "Upside-Downo Face"*, shrinking the glamorisation of death in rock to "a nice frame around the Athena poster, rock star wise"** or simply musing that "Pop stars know as much as we do - except for Whigfield, who knows everything"***, he knew exactly how to rile those who took rock music way too seriously, while retaining his affection for all things pop.

* [Source: 'Glastonbury', 26/06/95]
** [Source: 'Dead Pop Stars', 22/05/95]
*** [Source: 'Should We Look Up To Pop Stars?', 19/06/95]

Hit Parade was occasionally disrupted by last-minute cancellations from guest critics, resulting in several occasions of Quantick dominating a show by transferring to the critic's chair. There he would pick apart other opinions with relish and enormous versatility. (Shows such as The Brit Awards and Mercury Music Prize coverage, or the New Year's Eve specials, would allow for this same level of exposure within the format, but by their very nature they were exceptions to the rule.) One such occasion gave him the chance to voice concern over the Blur/Oasis hysteria during the edition that aired on Monday 14th August 1995 - the day of release for the two seven-inches of loggerheaded averageness.

After a considered response to 'Roll With It' by John Harris, Quantick shifted the discussion entirely by opening with "It's all a bit of arse, really". Criticising the overblown treatment of that song and Blur's 'Country House', he expanded on this despairing comment by arguing that the Beatles/Stones simile prevalent in the music press of the time was not convincingly reflected by the music:

"The Blur record at best is like mid-period Wings in quality, and the Oasis record at possible best is better than 'Je Suis Un Rock Star' or a Mick Jagger solo record. They're okay records, they're good records I grant you, but it's not like a great moment in world history. They're not even as good as a Smiths record. They're both quite nice."

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Blur performing 'Country House' on TOTP, August 1995

Maconie, who tended to respond to most of Quantick's misgivings with tolerant amusement, was compelled to retaliate on this occasion:

"No, I think they're both top notch records! People are saying that the Oasis record is clichéd and run-of-the-mill, but I think that it's in a deceptive way one of the cleverest things they've done because there are a lot of intricate things going on in the background."

However, Quantick's response was to secure the last word on the matter:

"Not to be entirely derisive, but it's clever and arty in the way some bricklayers making a birdhouse out of bricks is clever and arty. It's well constructed but not compared to a great well constructed record. I mean, you should know with your prog rock collection."

As a music critic, Maconie was largely prepared to admit that he could change his view about a particular record. Refreshingly damning a pre-release play of Pulp's 'Common People' with the faint praise of "it's alright.... it'll sell", by the end of that year he red-voicedly believed that he had been wrong. Maybe he had been won round by the almost unanimously glittering notices for the single. Perhaps it had been (as they say) a grower, but whatever the reason for changing his mind, he made no attempt to hide his original opinion. However, in the case of the Blur/Oasis singles, there was to be a little more revisionism at work; his otherwise exceptional 1999 Blur biography, 3862 Days: The Official History suggested that he was now not so much in the sceptical Quantick camp, but in an even more hostile and disdainful one:

"It's a great irony that the ultimate slug-out between Britpop's two definitive bands should have been fought between two of their worst songs. In the canon of either band, 'Country House' and 'Roll With It' do not rank highly. 'Roll With It' is, simply, a carthorse dragging behind it a cargo of awful formulaic 'boogie' best suited to a Status Quo B-side circa 1978. 'Country House' is vastly better but still no great shakes. Its best feature, the muted "Blow me out, I am so sad" refrain, is buried beneath The Kick Horns' turgid oompahing and the clod-hopping time signature. Graham and Alex have a go with some sprightly embellishments, but the result is one of Blur's weakest moments - though this is still a bone of contention in the camp." (p 207)

Safely written a few years after the event, Maconie's new-found stance on Blur and Oasis's most high-profile singles releases was particularly telling when set against the almost laughably unquestioning reception given to Oasis's doleful third album. Two months after the cancellation of Hit Parade, whose panel would surely have kicked the review copy round the studio for an hour, Be Here Now was released in August 1997 against precious little competition. Making its predecessor sound positively animated it received the sort of five-star fawnings that suggested reviewers were writing their copy with the barrel of a Creation gun pointed squarely at their heads. Whether it was to secure interviews with Liam and Noel, or merely to maintain a circulation that was threatening to plummet at the first sign of Britpop's demise, this sort of yes-press was unwelcome, yet has become a general trademark of music magazines ever since, with the Strokes and Starsailor only the most recently-feted mediocrities. Not that it has halted the decline of the music press in any case - Select and Melody Maker both disappeared at the end of 2000, and the NME itself is in a shockingly arrogant, yet muddled state. There is no Hit Parade equivalent anywhere in the context of any media, although Channel 4 continue to give 'last chance' series to Jo Whiley, another mysteriously ubiquitous media figure. In the right hands, her self-titled chat show (1998-present) could have been some kind of continuation of Hit Parade's ability to combine humour with incisive debate. Of course, with Whiley's innate tendency to reduce anything to dull trivia, and with panels of musicians rather than witty pundits - one is reminded of Quantick's view of musicians being unable to say anything of interest "without screwing up their faces and crying"* - it revisited every tediously pointless argument and proceeded not to argue about it. Most who ever saw it can only remember Keith Allen shouting...as usual.

* [Source: 'Should We Look Up To Pop Stars?', 19/06/95]

So the cheerfully inquisitive Hit Parade had arrived at exactly the right point in many ways. As Quantick put it, this period in music was typified by being "very young, British and Union Jack. And it was Andrew and Stuart, who were really funny British men and every week there were millions of new bands." Britpop, as it was rather swiftly named, unquestionably helped record sales, dragging British rock music out of a quagmire and into the sun. It also brought NME back from oblivion, a state it has unwittingly sauntered back to ever since. Yet there was a downside, as Quantick observed in January 2001:

"Most people think of Britpop and they think of Blur and Oasis, whereas I just think of Menswear and Sleeper, because I'd grown up during the New Wave thing and I used to get so angry being a kid and never hearing any records I liked on daytime Radio One. But hearing this watered down, crap version of it everywhere - y'know, people like Simon Mayo saying "great new single there from so-and-so" and you're thinking, 'if you had been Dave Lee Travis you would have buried that record'."

[source: SOTCAA interview, 19/01/01]

This is by no means a retrospective assertion, as his comments on the edition of Hit Parade detailed above clearly illustrate. At the time this was refreshing, if only as a means of cutting through the tedious job-protecting fence-sitting that most journalists and broadcasters opted for, happy to watch from the wings as the first commonly embraced period in British pop since Acid House - saying rather too much about British pop in the process - was trumped up as a nightmare vision of 1965 dressed in Ben Sherman. Certainly it was significant enough for the entire country to drop their Family Cat LPs and spend lots of money on actually quite good records by Blur and Oasis, or even more money on bands that sounded a bit like The Family Cat, only from Camden - a borough of London so rank that it is now the black hole of indie music - but as a 'movement' Britpop was ultimately a New Wave burlesque. Quantick succeeded in pre-empting the embarrassed indifference by the media towards this whole furore some six months later.

The very title Hit Parade summed up the Collins, Maconie & Quantick ethos - populist and utterly contemporary in its vision, yet angling one ear towards the heritage of pop history. Quantick might have responded to the Utah Saints' under whelming 1995 comeback 'Ohio' with a terse "I thought it was crap", but not before effortlessly identifying three component samples - Ohio Players' 'Fire', 'That's The Way I Like It' by KC & The Sunshine Band and Jocelyn Brown's 'Somebody Else's Guy' - and suggesting the creation of a Radio Four panel game based on such sample spotting (14/08/95). Similarly, prog rock, Patrick Hernandez and The Chameleons would be remembered with varying degrees of exuberance, whilst a new Ramones track ('Cretin Family') was introduced with the sort of delighted abandon that outweighed any reaction to Blur or Oasis activity at the time. The fact that it was placed in the closing minutes of that week's edition suggested this was intended as a climactic moment.

This kind of appreciation of pop as a broad church - an arena where Whigfield's 'Saturday Night' was considered the epitome of pop by Maconie - or where Menswear could find an unexpected supporter in Collins (if no-one else on the show) - confirmed Hit Parade as a forum for genuinely democratic debate with few fixed points of view. Some guest panellists' lack of insight could be embarrassingly exposed. Mary Anne Hobbs, then mercifully confined to local radio on GLR in London, now held high as one of Radio One's current leading lights, gushed and giggled with little point while making curious and sometimes plainly incorrect generalisations. TLC, according to Hobbs, represented "boys' music", Paul Weller "the last idol we have", while she appeared genuinely gobsmacked by the 'revelation' that ELO's Jeff Lynne produced The Beatles' 'Free As A Bird', a fact well known by recent recruits to the kindergarten. [Source: New Year Special, 31/12/95] Why she now has a twice-weekly Radio One show while the likes of superior, fellow panellists Miranda Sawyer and Caitlin Moran lie in the backwaters of (respectively) Newsnight Review and The Times is mystifying, especially when you hear Sawyer snorting at a Sheryl Crow misprint ("Cow"), or Moran using the name of Culture Club's guitarist as a cry of sheer enjoyment ("Royhay!"). Maybe it was Hobbs' empty enthusiasm, unhindered by a single shred of reason or knowledge that grated, but then again, increasingly, such hedonistic/careless on-air wittering seems to be a path Radio One treads to this day.

Hit Parade was not in isolation as a high profile and reliably reflective commentator on this period in British music, however. The show's neighbours in the schedules for the best part of four years were Lamacq & Whiley's earnest and frankly bandwagon-jumping Evening Session (??/09/93-present; Mon-Thu, 7-9pm) and peak-period Mark Radcliffe (25/10/93-13/02/97; Mon-Thu, 10pm-midnight). The latter show is arguably the most exceptional product of the Bannister era, following on from earlier award-winning Radcliffe vehicles such as Hit The North (Radio Five, 28/08/90-??/10/93, Tue then Wed, 10.10pm-midnight), Cult Radio (Radio Five, 29/12/92-??/??/93, Tue, 8-8.30pm), The Guest List (Radio One, 1993-95, Thu, 9-10pm), and the justly acclaimed records slot Out On Blue Six (Radio One, ??/04/91-21/06/93, Mon, 9-10pm). Utilizing a new and old music policy, nightly studio guests, book readings, sketches and live bands, Mark Radcliffe (often subtitled 'The Graveyard Shift') was very much a child of its time, still bonded to the modes of public service youth broadcasting inherent in old-style Radio Five, yet utterly human and instinctive. It deserves a full SOTCAA feature all to itself and in the fullness of time it may well receive one. Presented with off-and-on producer Marc Riley - nicknamed 'Lard' - it is quite rightly considered a classic, and pretty much pisses from a giant tower on their current afternoon show.

Collins & Maconie and Quantick all featured as guests, the first two on what soon reached a fortnightly basis, with Maconie as infrequent guest presenter, while David Quantick's contributions were few and far between (08/05/96; 22/10/96). The role call of memorable studio players is vast, and it is perhaps best documented at Neil Johan's excellent www.markradcliffe.co.uk - a site that also carries an extensive 'sessionography' of live bands. Suffice to say that The Graveyard Shift developed as a breeding ground for young live broadcasters with the benefit of a ready-made and, let's not be coy, fanatical audience. Radio voices back then, such as Mark Kermode (hot foot from Danny Baker's Morning Edition) and Will Self, are now ever-present on radio and television. Others - one thinks of James Brown, Jim White, Kim Newman - are simply major players in their respective fields of cultural commentary. Collins & Maconie can certainly lay claim to either of these brackets.

Free from the constraints of the four-minute discussions for each record aired on Hit Parade, studio chat on The Graveyard Shift would often sprawl out across records to the point where the listener felt that much of the conversation was lost beneath Baby Bird b-sides. This created the feel of a pub conversation amongst good friends - dialogue buried amidst the hum of the jukebox and other noisy diversions. Going one step further than Collins & Maconie's own series, the breadth of Mark Radcliffe's format allowed enough space for the Bannister edicts of comedy and journalism to ferment, fully coalesce and then drift off into fantastical deviations.

Very much kindred spirits, Andrew Collins (with childhood diary readings) and Stuart Maconie (with his Veritable Smorgasbord in tow) never felt more at home. Even a cursory listen to Andrew's table-pounding laughter during Lard's 'Tony McCarroll's Drum Masterclass' (17/12/96), guest host John Peel's admonishing of Stuart for referring to The Fall as obscure ("not in the world I'm proud to inhabit!" - 16/10/96), "snow balls at the window" (??/01/96), Andrew's 'Happening Hamlets' (??/12/96) or Stuart's battles to complete a sentence whilst sat next to a plainly drunk Martin Rowson (05/11/96), and it is enough to be transported back to the mid-Nineties where a thoughtful and free-spirited Radio One still existed.

Well-regarded within the programme itself, Maconie was trusted to round off proceedings for the slot's final week (10-13/02/97) with an emotionally charged Thursday show incorporating Andrew Collins, Mark Kermode and a live session from The Divine Comedy. This particular edition was in fact broadcast back-to-back with the final weekday edition of Hit Parade - a three-hour sequence that pretty much epitomises what we would strongly argue to be Radio One's golden era. Before it disappeared altogether from the airwaves, Hit Parade was then demoted to an all-too brief run on Sunday afternoons, dubbed by a regretful Mark Goodier as the place where "they always put the fillery programmes"*. A daytime slot, he added, was an unsuitable one for a programme that demanded a level of focus and concentration from the music station's audience. "The Sunday slot was an omen", says Collins. "We knew the slot was going.";** Wise Buddah's attempts to tout Radio Two with a revamped Hit Parade have so far been fruitless, but with Collins, Maconie and Quantick all featuring on the network in recent times (detailed below), here's hoping that the possibility of their return to a regular slot as a team may become a reality very soon.

* [Source: SOTCAA interview, 19/10/01]
** [Source: private correspondence, 16/04/01]

"We sit here before you now, looking for all the world like The Gay Genesis..."

An attempt to account for every Collins & Maconie project over the past decade within a reasonable word-count would tax the greatest of writers. There were always other projects on the go. Quantick reached similar levels too: "There was a brilliant period with Hit Parade and Loose Ends... I did a show a night once, which was fun... and I think I managed to get on Radio Two. I didn't do Radio Three - would never do that - but I think I managed to get across the whole network. That was good. I loved doing Hit Parade." [source: SOTCAA interview, 19/01/01] When Hit Parade ended, this productivity continued unabated.

Such multi-tasking has characterised the careers of all three and what follows is but an abridged history. The full story can be discovered via their CVs at Amanda Howard Associates, the agency where Kate Haldane gradually brought them together as a 'package'.

David Quantick often appeared on Maconie's satirical revue The Treatment (Radio Five, 1994-2001), a show that recently met the axe after several years of monologue-driven commentary, and which was originally presented by Simon Hoggart. Its strengths were once again a coming together of familiar writers - Steve Punt, Mark Steel and Steven Wells amongst them. The Treatment was a neglected but worthwhile show, if you could get past the reception difficulties and its possession of an unlikely crowd-pleaser in football fan Derek 'Robbo' Robson (a.k.a. actor Niall Ashdown), who bizarrely took on hosting duties when Maconie was unavailable. (Andrew Collins was virtually forbidden from appearing on this show, as the producers saw it necessary "that the Collins & Maconie double act should be played down, in order to establish Stuart as a performer" [Source: private correspondence, 30/10/01])

Other shows came and went. Odd-job work for Cross Questioned (awful quiz, Radio Four, 09/07/96-13/08/96), Elvis To Oasis (Radio Four, 30/04/97) and The Sunday Show (BBC2 1997, third series only) - via high-profile documentaries on The Monkees and Everything But The Girl (both Radio One, 1996) - supplemented Quantick's regular haunts at Front Row (Radio Four, 1998 - present), Loose Ends (Radio Four, 1995-96) and The Treatment. During the time of Hit Parade he came into contact with music journalist and comic writer Jane Bussmann in workshops for the failed Carlton pilot Now, What? (Carlton/ITV 14/08/95). Together they have forged a strong and distinctive double act, spreading their work across countless series since 1996 (The Fast Show, Smack The Pony, Brass Eye, Jam, The Now Show), whilst their most personal projects - untransmitted pilots apart - have been the delightful sketch show Bussmann and Quantick Kingsize (Radio Four, 23/04/98-21/05/98, Thursdays, 11pm) and the on-line sitcom The Junkies (2000), now resting on NotBBC/cookdandbombd soil whilst negotiations continue for a full-blooded TV version. A full analysis of these two projects will form part of an exhaustive David Quantick retrospective, destined to appear on SOTCAA in Spring 2002.

Andrew Collins' career has always lent heavily towards the printed press. Editor of Q and Empire during the mid-Nineties he remained in professional contact with Maconie and Quantick via the aforementioned music magazine, forging a successful permutation before it went off the rails around the time of a major facelift in 1998. His principal area in more recent years has been film, gravitating to presenter of Back Row, a film magazine on Radio Four (Sat, 5.30pm). He was inaugurated as film editor of Radio Times in 2001 and continues to write scripts for EastEnders (BBC1 1985-Armageddon) and The Sunday Format (Radio Four, 02/08/96-present) alongside articles for The Observer.

Maconie, meanwhile, ventured alone on Midweek (Radio Four), No Job Too Small (Radio Four) and his short lived The Album Show for Radio One (13/10/96-??/??/97), taking time out to write an outstanding Blur biography (3862 Days: An Official History, Virgin 1999) and a more recent assessment of James (Folklore - The Official History, Virgin 2001), adding weight to an already industrious career. He is, of the three, the most commonly recognised radio voice, having worked heavily in the medium for the past decade.

For a man strongly suited to the practices of Radio Four, his presence on television has been notoriously unimpressive. Ill advised vox-pop ubiquity has rather buggered up that avenue for the foreseeable future, and it is imagined by these humble writers that there may come a day where he not only stops scoring points in insipid clip shows (as he has indicated) but stops writing them as well. In a subverted parallel of Danny Baker's career, Maconie's obvious talents as a critic have been utterly squandered in a series of worryingly successful, flatly conceived and fundamentally cynical TV shows, divorced entirely from his radio output. Collins commented in an interview for Edinburgh Evening News that "he'll come to regret them, they'll haunt him wherever he goes" (20/08/01). Andrew and David have both charted the same waters, but neither has been quite so over-exposed. If its since reached the peculiar point at which the denizens of Doctor Who Magazine are now in the habit of Maconie-bashing, then something has gone seriously wrong. This all begs the question of why does such an affable, immediate presenter have to resort to reductive bollocks like I Love The Seventies or Channel Four's 100 Greatest… in order to eke out a living? Perhaps it's simply a reflection of the lack of options open to budding TV broadcasters? The amount of fully functional but ultimately rejected pilots he has worked on could well point to this.

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Man at C&A...

"To quote the late great Roy Walker of Catchphrase - 'say what you see'"

The chief concern for anyone interested in the aims of this article, however, would be the joint projects between Hit Parade's demise in 1997 and the here and now, specifically a little seen programme for ITV that centred on Andrew Collins' other specialist subject. Collins & Maconie's Movie Club (Watchmaker/Anglia for ITV 07/01/97-??/??/98, Tue, 12.30am), trailed by Andrew in the late weeks of the Mark Radcliffe show, offered itself up as a dream ticket for those in mourning over the impending demise of The Graveyard Shift. 'Mourning' was not quite the spelling, broadcast as it was in the early hours of a weeknight and repeated at an even more ungodly hour, back-to-back with Channel X's Funny Business on a Sunday morning. On this basis, Stuart was moved to introduce one edition with "Welcome to the most sought after slot on British television"*. An inconvenient slot certainly, but VCRs had been invented by this point so no one could grumble a great deal.

* [Source: show five, 04/02/97]

Again it was a confident, fluid and highly engaging format, continuing a working relationship that was, by then, fully assured. The structure of the show was pretty straightforward but distinctive enough to stand out amongst other genre shows. Presented from two cinema seats at Riverside Studios, Andrew and Stuart only had the projection light for company. All was well on the journey. The theme tune - Johnny Scott's 'Mr Big Cha Cha' - fan-fared four film reviews per twenty-five minute show, each receiving a thoughtful critical drubbing and the concluding, overdubbed film clip of a monochrome character either yelling with delight (Yay), stricken with terror (Nay) or in deep thought (Undecided).

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In amongst these were diversionary items such as 'Hollywood Hotline', "our weekly link-up to the stars", where Andrew would struggle to hear the voice of a household name - Sylvester Stallone, Woody Allen, Mike Leigh - calling in from the States, only to offend them deeply with a grave faux pas and discover that the line has gone dead. A moment of awkwardness sustained, and then another film review. Series One's 'Seminal Moments In Movie History' (an obvious sequel to the musical incarnation for NME's Thrills section) also allowed for more direct comedy material, with bargain bucket recreations of classic scenes from cinema. (The sub-Two Ronnies 'Crikey! Movie News' alternated with this). Movie Club's second half would open with the Intermission Girl (essentially a filmed caption card), followed through with a third film - this time reviewed by a member of the public - and the somewhat inevitable video round-up, here dubbed 'Something For The Weekend'. The show would then conclude with a fourth new release and a sharp exit.

Produced by Andy Rowe in a form relatively analogous to its indirect successor on Channel Four, namely Vidz, Collins & Maconie's Movie Club survived a remarkable three series in a notoriously bad slot. ITV have rarely succeeded at intelligent late-night magazine programming, opting instead for cheap imports or co-productions such as The New Music (early 90s); and one need only look at The Base (2000) - presented by the execrable Emma B - to gauge how much Carlton have floundered at ghettoising the difficult audience that a late-night mainstream station can invite.

On these grounds, it is intriguing to figure out why Movie Club died out. Whilst not gathering a huge cult following, it was nonetheless a student favourite at the time and unusually dealt with world cinema, vintage reissues and Hollywood pictures without prejudice. Cult shows late at night are usually a winner - look at The James Whale Show, or Prisoner Cell Block H. What separates Movie Club from programmes of this nature - a loud-mouth, shock-jock emulator; a cheap but gutsy Australian soap - is that they never venture too far from the remit of easy viewing for easy ratings. It was not in the nature of Collins & Maconie to follow this path in 1997, choosing instead to offer up a thinking compendium of new cinema.

Reviewing Michaelangelo Antonioni's Beyond The Clouds in the opening show, it wasn't the obscurity of the film in itself that they took issue to, but the results of such an obfuscating work. The amount of distancing inherent in the story, not to say the removed quality of a 'foreign film' - often jokingly criticised by Collins elsewhere with the remark "I don't go to the cinema to read" - led to a difficult viewing for the presenters. All these elements may be fine within themselves, and they recognise that, but are keener to point out that after one too many interior monologues from John Malkovich they were tempted "to cuff him smartly around the ear". A distanced and un-involving film with a high coitus factor, they gave it the sitting-on-the-fence mark of the ponderous, cogitating child.

What this points to is a temptation not to go over the heads of the average viewer, but to assume some foreknowledge of cinema's diversity. Collins & Maconie would have found a more prosaic format - one reliant on Hollywood films, a la Movies, Games & Videos (ITV early-90s dreck) - a horrid experience, so instead took the minority audience to be an allowance for a certain amount of minority interest in their selections.

Added to this was the typically bashful wit served up in the scripts. Reviewing Barbra Streisand's The Mirror Has Two Faces a mocking Maconie was keen to point out that, "Mirrors don't have two faces. Some shaving mirrors have two faces - that's because one will powerfully magnify your face. So, a less snappy title but a more accurate one for this film would have been Some Shaving Mirrors Have Two Faces. It's a lie as it stands - that rankles with us."* Elsewhere there were the trademark one liners: Keith Gordon's adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night, for example, was fantastically trailed with the pun "Nick Nolte - not just there for the Nazi things in life."** This was all in perfect symmetry to their earlier work - combining informed analysis with round-the-block logic, and a humorous attention to detail, ensuring that even if the subject was dull or difficult, their commentary would not be.

   * [Source: show one, 07/01/97]
** [Source: show nine, 01/03/97]

The sketches allowed for greater flights of fancy, such as the following adaptation of Marlon Brando's immortal scene from The Wild One for 'Seminal Moments In Movie History' (show four, 28/01/97), with wavering voices ago-go:

.

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MACONIE
This week it's the famous bar scene from Marlon Brando's biker classic The Wild One and for the purposes of this reconstruction the gang and the hapless bartender, Pops, will be played by these popular if slightly inflexible plastic figurines.

(cutaway to stationary 'biker' figurine next to a motorcycle; jazz music plays in)

COLLINS
The guys have just arrived in town.

MACONIE
Annoyingly, one of them has a harmonica (performs a shrill blast)

movieclub02.jpg - 12743 Bytes

COLLINS
(wobbling figurine) "Hey Pops, give me one of those crazy beers, will you. (needlessly loud harmonica blast) "That was real cool, Dad."

MACONIE
(old man voice) "Thanks, Daddyo - Pop me, Dad."

COLLINS
(out of character, pointing) Hang on, is that his dad or is he his dad?

MACONIE
No, no, no, no, no, no. It's just fifties lingo. (holding figure) "I popped you Daddy, Pops! Thumb me will you, Daddyo."

COLLINS
"Now, give me some skin and ooze it out - just nice and ooze it out - do you pick up on this jive?"

MACONIE
(more harmonica blasts) "This crazy music, here man - do you dig, the re-bop?

COLLINS
Look, this cannot be the real script…

MACONIE
(reassuring him) Trust me, trust me, the really famous bit is coming up

MACONIE
(high pitched girl voice, holding female figurine in white dress) "Hey, somebody tell me what that means - B R M C - what does it mean?"

COLLINS
(American voice)"Black Rebels' Motorsickle Club" (confused, pointing at figures) Now hang on, is that Marlon Brando or is this Marlon Brando?

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MACONIE
No, no, no - nearest you. (high-pitched again) "Is that you - Black Rebels' Motorsickle Club? Say Johnny, what are you rebelling against?" (nudging COLLINS) Say it!

COLLINS
Oh, a whole variety of stuff.

MACONIE
Say it properly! That's not the right line. This is the line that made Marlon Brando famous! (high-pitched) "Say Johnny, what are you rebelling against?"

COLLINS
(now Marlon Brando)"What have you got?"

MACONIE
(relieved) Oh, at last!

(mimes lengthy harmonica solo to an astonished COLLINS)

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This mix of comedy and criticism was successful in that it remained accessible and accrued a reasonable audience, benefiting from regular plugs in the TV/Film section of Q magazine. Unlike Mariella Frostrup's The Little Picture Show, Movie Club did not progress to an earlier, post-News At Ten scheduling but languished in its designated spot for the full eighteen-month duration. Still, three series. That's more than Naked City managed.

"Paging Mr No-One, paging Mr No-One…"

Some three years passed before the next recognisable Collins & Maconie project appeared, although the Movie Club connection with Watchmaker led to their brief writing partnership with the company's founder Clive James, resulting in James's millennial review show Night Of A Thousand Years (Watchmaker/ITV, December 1999). Collins also teamed up with Simon Blackwell to write the MTV Europe Awards Show in both 1999 and 2000. Otherwise, unsuccessful pilots and commissions came and went, including an intriguing six-part comedy drama in the telefantasy mould, bearing the title Peter No-One. A futuristic work, it was an ambitious Collins project, and its gestation can be cast as far back as the late-Eighties when he devised this long dreamt of magnum opus:

"It was a novel (aborted) then a radio script years later when Stuart and I started doing radio, then, when I met Mal Young (then boss at Brookside) for a Q feature, he encouraged me to work it up into a TV treatment for Mersey TV. I did. He helped me develop it, then moved to Pearson TV in London and took it with him. Nothing happened. He then moved to become Head of Drama Series at BBC (where he still is) and finally paid me some development money to work episode one up into a script. I did. (A big job as each episode was fifty-minutes long). It was rejected by Jane Root at BBC2, and, with the wind taken out of my sails (plus, many of the things I had 'predicted' in my future world were coming true, so it lost its satirical edge), I shelved it."

[source: private correspondence, 26/09/01]

Pitched in June 1998, it told the tale of Peter Noone, a highly successful writer of thrillers with ambitions towards political allegories, believing that "he is subverting the masses through his work. He isn't. They just like the sex, death and spying." Feeding into this complex is his self-hatred and dismay with a world that has become religiously tidy, placid with political apathy and self-indulgent. Jobs are not 'seeked' by the unemployed anymore and "daytime TV has flourished. Marriage has become a sacred institution once again (to qualify for a license, you must enter a 24-hour Mr & Mrs-style game show on TV) and being single is all the rage."

The media is dominated by a cult of celebrity that is manufactured by boom-period PR executives. One such televisual icon is Dawn Lovelace who represents the "death of the human spirit" for Noone. Her background and screen life is revealed to the viewer as a fiction, invented entirely as a means of building an audience. She is impregnated twice for the purposes of long-term ratings and is purported to have been "orphaned after a theme park accident and raised by TV chefs. She was in fact sold to a drama school by revolutionary parents, as was her brother, whom she has never met, but she knows exists."

Noone grows to hate Lovelace as her star ascends. Initially an anchorwoman for a show presented by the nation's first gay daytime TV couple, the first episode ('Safe') sees the start of her own programme, It's A Lovelace Day!, again a live daytime show, presented this time with fictional husband Alan. The episode also depicts the defection of a Tory minister in Newcorn East, Noone's home. Lovelace is invited by Labour spin-doctors to stand in the ensuing by-election for the party to guarantee a landslide rather than a predicted marginal win. She succeeds with flying colours and soon becomes focussed on the post of Prime Minister, her aides capitalising on Lovelace's widespread popularity amongst a star-hungry nation. Throughout the remaining episodes Noone's continued attempts to discredit and assassinate Dawn taper with her own difficulties about living a lie that involves the support of nuclear power, and so becomes anxious to address her own complicity.

In some respects its precedent was 1990 (18/09/77-10/04/78), one of BBC2's rare forays into an ongoing drama series, which also told of a perverted near-future. That series starred Edward Woodward, fresh from his time in Callan, and in itself followed a similar path - instead of operating within the secret service, Woodward worked outside of the anaesthetising government and sought to attack its structure and figureheads, who would invariably retaliate with persecution and personal vendettas. The purpose of the series was to reflect how a utopia of sorts could provoke insurrection from a disenfranchised under-class, hell-bent on attacking those in power so as to revive a more 'human' society. In Peter No-One this is repeated to a great extent by the motivation of its central character.

The episode breakdown can also be read as a distant echo of Troy Kennedy Martin's Edge Of Darkness (BBC2 1985) or Ben Elton's Stark (BBC2 1993), not in specific content but in terms of its themes and dramatic tone. It was certainly an attractive proposition and, as has been argued here, familiar territory for BBC2, but ultimately Peter No-One is unlikely to appear in the form of a drama serial.

The past few years are littered with examples of Collins' ambition to move into fictional writing for television. Aside from his more traditional work on Back Row, or his Billy Bragg biography published in 1998, early script-writing commissions for Family Affairs (Channel 5) and EastEnders have engaged much of Collins' attention since the demise of Movie Club. In fact, by the early part of 2001 it would not be wrong-footed of us to say that Messrs Collins, Maconie and Quantick were well established and perhaps even comfortable in the national media. None seemed short of work and that which occupied their time was often reflective of their idiosyncratic styles and enthusiasms. Such comfort often encourages one of two things - a Smiths-like distancing of one another for what seems like infinity, or a desire to reconvene like The Who. This analogy only works in the context of the air guitars present during their 2001 collaboration, Lloyd Cole Knew My Father.

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That fucking flyer

"Johnny Hates Jazz? Mmmm - me too!"

LCKMF, as we'll refer to it out of sheer convenience, was a new venture in two notable respects - it bore the tag 'Collins, Maconie & Quantick' for the first time, and it was purpose built for the stage. Crucially, it was also a retrospective work - a confessional - detailing their careers as rock journalists, written at a suitably safe distance from the period of time when the NME was their day job.

The image of rock 'n' roll journalists remains one of soaking their leather jackets with the dregs of Jack Daniels, pointing admiringly at something they hope to be heroin, carrying a clutch of Rolling Stones LPs (though, sadly, they tend to include 'Emotional Rescue' and 'Dirty Work') and using the word 'motherfucker' in the manner and with the frequency that others might say 'good evening'. Next to this, LCKMF is a consciously tamer, and consequently more enlightening take on the world of rock journalism - an affectionate sixty-minute compilation of anecdotes, sketches, one-liners and non-sequiteurs, culled from the collective memories of Collins, Maconie and Quantick.

Specifically, LCKMF centres on their four years (and in Quantick's case, a staggering twelve years) at the NME. It is not, it's fair to say, a document of rampant drug abuse, promiscuous sexual activity or the wanton vandalism of penthouse suites in Akron, Ohio. It is the story of critics missing a gig not by 'being out of it', but simply by getting the date wrong. It describes the horror of mistaking a support band for the headlining group. It details the events of an oafish old-school Reading Festival ("Dante's Thames Valley Inferno") from a writer's angle; able to stand it no longer, he experiences its finale via a Radio One simulcast in a homeward car. And it demonstrates, in a comprehensive eighteen-point plan, how not to interview the "extremely cool, but...incredibly rude" Lou Reed.

Of course, heaping abuse on to pop stars in the name of comedy is second nature in 2001, but it is usually less about the actual music than the sexual misadventures or undecided orientation of particular pop stars, their drug scandals, or, in the case of The Rolling Stones, Status Quo and Geri Halliwell, just being old. Any or all of these options is manna from heaven for any writer with a sitcom in development but who, for the time being, has to write quickies for Have I Got News For You or Never Mind The Buzzcocks. LCKMF does contain sideswipes at the expense of Sting, Mick Hucknall and Phil Collins, as well as Lou Reed, but the primary target of its humour is pop criticism and journalism itself.

From their small-scale beginnings writing reviews of yachting thrillers co-starring Meg Tilly ("very much the crap Tilly sister") or scribbling lengthy complaints to the letters page pointing out that "Bob Seger is not enough!", Collins, Maconie and Quantick both commemorate and lampoon their gradual rise through the ranks of the NME - a fascinating, mundane and sometimes plainly ridiculous journey, and at one point some kind of indie/dance Armed Forces alternative ("Join the navy and see the world, join the NME and see World Of Twist"). We are guided through an itinerary of compiling the hugely popular but "always wrong" gig guide, typing up a letters page crammed with missives from lonely hearts ("PS I have enclosed some little silver stars"), cheery Europeans ("Hello I am boy 14, also Swedish...I like very much Blur, Pulp, Stone Roses and Barclay James Harvest") and mad people ("I AM THE PERSPEX GOD OF VALHALLA..."), before graduating to the LP reviews section, for which the NME marking scheme is comprehensively revealed from nought all the way up to eleven ("Nine: It's R.E.M.").

At the heart of the experience gained by all three participants is an evocation of childlike and innocent ambition, a boys' club of unadulterated awe, whether it is addressing the subconscious thrill of writing their first review ("Wow, a free record, they sent me a free record!") or receiving the elusive golden ticket that is the Access All Areas pass. The very word "backstage" is delivered by Maconie in a whisper of wonder, only to be disappointed with the actual reality of "a plate that once contained some Doritos" and "a really pale girl with a poster". Along the way, the curious beliefs of the roadie are summarised ("Bending down makes you invisible") and the meaning of the euphemism "living life to the full" is finally unveiled ("i.e. on drugs"). It is the revelation that, far from being the oft-portrayed corrupt den of iniquity, the truth about the rock 'n' roll lifestyle from a hack's viewpoint is rather less glamorous, and even decidedly unpleasant ("...There are only two jobs where you're likely to get sent shit through the post. One is working in a Shit Analysis Laboratory..."). A sentence "I once spent four days in a van in the South Of France with Napalm Death", rather than being the opening of a debauched anecdote, turns out to be the anecdote, and funnier for it too.

The show concludes with a tribute to "the mavericks, the fools, the permanently thirsty", as the 'Collins Maconie & Quantick Hall Of Fame' welcomes the subjects from extraordinary rock 'n' roll moments which, appropriately, all have hilariously anti-climactic punchlines. In the initial London preview at least, these comprised: 'Ozzy Osbourne Visits The Alamo', 'Chuck Berry Prepares', 'Arthur Conley Gets Homesick', 'Led Zeppelin Visit Gracelands', 'Viv Stanshall And Keith Moon Go Shopping', 'Mark E. Smith And A Dictaphone', and the unexpectedly incomplete 'In A Wardrobe With Rod Stewart'.

As has been established, this was the first three-way vehicle for the team, although it could be argued strongly that the Hit Parade, particularly in its various special editions, edged towards a gang show. Take for example the epic three-hour 'Hogmanay' edition transmitted on the afternoon of 31st December 1995, with Quantick in the role of a grumpy butler who expresses severe disappointment at his exclusion from the Paul Weller discussion, and on meeting Stuart's supposed Scottish uncle 'Kenneth Maconie' - who prepares to lead uproarious Scottish interpretations of 'Common People', Supergrass's 'Alright' and 'Country House' - is heard to interject (possibly out of character) with the words "Who is this fool?"*. Invited to contribute observations at every turn, he is routinely admonished by the hosts for being the surliest employee they have ever encountered. Even within this novel format, or indeed their awards show presentations, such sparring between the three regulars was clearly the sign of a burgeoning comic team that, if not cemented, had at least switched the mixer on.

* The "fool" was actually Bill Padley, long-time employee of Wise Buddah and a "musical wizard" according to Collins. He not only composed the Hit Parade theme tune, but also co-wrote Atomic Kitten's number one single 'Whole Again' (2001), with Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.

Four years later, in Lloyd Cole Knew My Father, the formula for CMQ's on-stage relationship was more or less unchanged, although elemental mutations within the show were widespread. Originally envisaged as a lecture presentation, this idea was abandoned the day before the London preview when a mutual friend, James Puddephat, attended rehearsals and re-blocked the show pretty much from scratch, abandoning stage props along the way. Andrew Collins: "He simplified it, made us sit down, transformed what was a slipshod mess into a tight, structured show. We were originally going to stand behind lecterns/music stands; James suggested sitting down, making it more of a fireside chat with the audience." [Source: private correspondence, 30/10/01]

The above rundown of incidents in the preview show changed too, with many sections abridged, revised or abandoned entirely for Edinburgh. Not that there was anything especially wrong with that first night - it was amongst their finest work in fact - but the pressing matter of a sixty-minute limit became an issue when the preview clocked in at seventy. Also, settling into the new format was a further concern and during the four weeks leading up to their nine-day residency at the Pleasance Cavern (19/08/01 - 27/08/01), commitment to this time limit as well as close script analysis led to a number of interesting changes.

Promotion within the month-long period of Edinburgh preparation involved Collins & Quantick joining Peter Allen (himself sitting in for Nicky Campbell) for a lengthy slot on Radio Five (10/08/01), as well as a deathly appearance by the similarly one-man-short Maconie & Quantick on an edition of Loose Ends (Radio Four, 04/08/01). Collins was annoyed by his own absence, which caused the selected passage for performance ('The Guest List') to become a heavily re-assigned double act routine, working entirely against the dynamics of the script. With Back Row transmitted immediately before Loose Ends Collins was placed under lock and chain, due to the Radio Four commissioning editor's peculiar concern that it may work against him if his serious film programme was to air back-to-back with his comedy work. Whatever the dispute, the recording went ahead without him at 10am, for broadcast at 6.15pm.

SOTCAA was not at the recording, but on the basis of earlier outings to Loose Ends we're pretty confident that the place was effectively deserted bar random pensioners who were at best treading water with the references to Kingmaker and laminated guest passes. The atmosphere on the recording was thus non-existent - host Ned Sherrin mucks up the intro, not only mispronouncing David's surname as "Quantock" (despite several years' acquaintance) but also tickling up the item with all the subtlety of bowel cancer. None of which bodes well for an item that seems riddled with last-minute nerves, having to revise the balance between the original bantering duo and Quantick's fatigued interjections at the very last minute. In the original performance this passage finishes with the double pay-off to the mediaeval sketch, of Collins's "mind-fuck!" and Quantick's "Isn't it funny how I'm the only one with a Devonshire accent and I'm not in that sketch?" With both of these absent and Maconie actually having to signal to the audience that they have finished, in order to facilitate a hollow applause, little can be said in favour of this restructuring and it is truly unfortunate that such a calamity surfaced on national radio.

LCKMF, by this extension, fluctuates significantly from performance to performance. In some respects this is not in the least bit surprising - it's a live comedy show which accommodates audience responses and allows for the unique meanderings that can be a product of that, or the performers' own distractions. What figures most however from those first ten shows is the habit of rewriting parts of the script when they begin to bore the performer - ironically, like Lou Reed would do - resulting in a mixed bag on each occasion.

The first major wave of changes, naturally enough, occurred during the five-week period between the London preview and the Fringe debut (Pleasance Cavern, Sun, 19/08/01). A number of factors came into play here - the trio actively listened to the comments of the preview audience and adapted to many of them, whilst certain changes were deemed necessary to either achieve a more logical flow or to be more concise.

A good example of the latter is the shifting around of dialogue during the 'Roadies' section. After Quantick's observation that due to their sound check habits of '1-2-1-2', "Kraftwerk are often mistaken for their own roadies", Collins originally steered this observation towards road crew lingo with Stuart and David providing a quick succession of comic translations. In the opening night at Edinburgh, however, a sensible change had been made. Inserted between these two points was Andrew's transposed line "Roadies are like Germans in that they have their own language", which makes far more sense as a joke - and is clearly more fluid within the whole - than when it was placed immediately after Quantick's tales of on-the-road debauchery in Warrington. Such a script change is presumably deducted from close attention in rehearsals and is thus quite prosaic for edit analysis. The more intriguing changes are those influenced by questions of economy and audience advice.

Some allowances should first be made for that second performance. It was strangely unsteady on its feet following the remarkably assured London preview: Maconie lost the rhythm in many of his lines, the ending was badly mistimed and, most significantly, six pages of the script were skipped by mistake. These factors amassed into a false start that would be ironed out as the week progressed. Interviewed two hours afterwards, during Nicholas Parsons' Happy Hour (Pleasance Over The Road 1, 19/08/01), the host suggested it was a very slick show. Maconie: "SLICK? Well, you must have seen some jazzed shows in your time…"

As the interview progressed it became clear that Andrew was to blame and close attention to the recording confirms this. In reality, Quantick's Bob Seger anecdote should be immediately followed by Collins' career interview sketch, but in error a huge leap is made, dashing past said sketch, the setting up of Maconie with a mocking I Love The Eighties remark (which is very effective in breaking the ice), his Bluebells anecdote and Quantick's explanation of how they all met in the late-Eighties.

In fairness, this mistake is easy to understand. Quantick makes two references to Bob Seger which specifically bookend the omitted section. Despite rendering later portions of the show mildly confusing (ie. references to police and The Bluebells were intended as recurring 'plants') the performers never took it to heart and seemed to draw strength from this shaky opening.

Interestingly, the most significant omissions were two-fold. The first was a straightforward removal of all references to the recently defunct Melody Maker, partly because they didn't really serve much purpose in the original performance. Maconie had stressed in his introduction to the Soho preview that "I do apologise if there's anyone in who has ever worked for Melody Maker" - on the face of it a sweetly intended indication of what was to come. "We cut the MM references cos they were too nasty", explains Quantick. "We could have [left them in] if they hadn't gone belly-up, but it was rubbing salt in the wound, I suppose."* This revision relates only to a series of jokes during the section on writing features for the music press, courtesy of Andrew Collins: "I know old men with thrombosis who have better circulation than the Melody Maker!", provoking the others into cruel, childish laughter, with an air of "the old ones are the best" about it. However, the fact that the lecture within LCKMF was about music journalists in general deemed these feud-aping references somewhat unnecessary.

* [source: private correspondence, 23/10/01]

The other courteous omission related to the obscenities in the original performance, which are altogether more contestable. During their Happy Hour appearance the following transpired:

COLLINS
You know, we took all the swearwords out of the show. We previewed it in London and it had quite a lot of 'fuck's and two 'cunt's and we took them all out.

MACONIE
Yeah, because we thought cutting edge comedy had to be rude but people hated it.

COLLINS
People do not like swearing.

QUANTICK
So we took out all the swear words and we gave them to Jerry Sadowitz.

(laughter)

PARSONS
Yes. Either you've got to go for it full throttle or else you don't do it at all.

QUANTICK
Absolutely.

PARSONS
And there are some young comedians who think that if you punctuate it with a lot of obscenities it's going to be better.

COLLINS
They're so wrong.

PARSONS
But there are some who can use language as great punctuation and you're not offended because it's so much a part of their personality and style, like Jerry Sadowitz who you mentioned.

COLLINS
And we have no personality or style…

MACONIE
…so we rely heavily on obscenity.

(laughter)

The debate on profanities is a long and tediously overwritten one, but we would argue that in the case of LCKMF such toning down was almost entirely unwarranted. As Parsons argued, "there are some who can use language as great punctuation and you're not offended", and we would back this up by applying it directly to Collins, Maconie and Quantick. In fact, what Parsons failed to note in this otherwise light-hearted chat show appearance was that swear words can be enormously effective and inoffensive simply by appearing naturally within a sketch or monologue, regardless of the performer or context. Substituting it with an unnatural phrase, which is clearly there for that reason alone, only serves to work against it.

For the record, there are cases within LCKMF where it did seem needless in that first ever try-out. Obscenity serves no purpose whatsoever when Maconie remarks "No it's fucking not, it's just quite a funny story about Herman's Hermits, Dave", principally because there is no real reason for him to be annoyed and instead manufactures tension for the sake of it. But then again, it hardly juts out in the show as a whole.

The concern was never with milder words either - The Levellers' "unilateral shit", "so I look like a twat" or the "Fields Of Shite" album review - which if anything were more excessive at Edinburgh (except for "unilateral shit" which was dropped for economy). No, the actual editing is overplayed somewhat during Happy Hour, with only four notable cuts.

1) The Herman's Hermits 'fuck', as mentioned above.

2) During the demonstration of how journalists develop egos at gigs, Quantick approaches Collins who is scribbling notes onto a fag packet and squeaks in a tiny voice, "Excuse me, do you work for the NME?" The original reply is "No, fuck off!", but was changed in Edinburgh to "No, beat it, daddyo". Which is hardly authentic or funny.

3) During the tour bus demonstration, Andrew impersonates the driver who is constantly whinging about how hoary old rockers of yesteryear "are much better than this bunch of cunts". This happened twice in the preview show and was revised as "bunch of student tossers" for subsequent shows. The difference is academic, and "Kid A? Kid Arse more like" makes up for it, but this still strikes us as needlessly censorious, rather than the original version being needlessly rude.

4) The sketch about the photographer Derek Ridgers at the airport loses "fuck it, go on then" at the end, which we would argue is well glossed over by a fair amount of rewrites for this section anyway. Quantick's "You will live off the syndication rights the rest of your rich bastard life" effectively substitutes it.

For all the arguing against it during the Parsons show, the trio did not "take all the swear words out of our show", so this seemed like a strange point to stress. Collins' "mind fuck" (cut during the Loose Ends appearance for obvious reasons) remained and was still a great anachronistic joke, but it was pretty much in isolation aside from the prevalent 'shit's, as it were. This self-editing calls to mind the much referenced conversations that Johnny Speight had with his BBC superiors over the content of the various Alf Garnett series he wrote for the station, bargaining ten mild obscenities as compensation for the removal of one potential offender. All of which is very odd, but nonetheless their own decision.

The original concern with revising the show for Edinburgh was the overrun, which exceeded their allotted sixty-minute slot by ten minutes. The writers chose wisely, selecting some enjoyable but inessential passages for the chop and tweaking others.

Five short sequences were dropped outright. The first of these was an endearing item about Iggy Pop, delivered with increasing bewilderment. Immediately following on from the Aerosmith sketch and false tales of Altamont, we are asked to question how much effort a music journalist ought to put into his work when some bands hardly bother.

MACONIE
Life on the road, then, is tough.

COLLINS
Yes - take Iggy Pop. Now, Iggy Pop was supporting The Rolling Stones in 1981. He played a gig at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan. He went down very badly with The Rolling Stones' fans. In fact, they threw so much stuff at him on stage he left after two and a half songs. Now, thanks to the accuracy of the journalist reviewing that gig, we know actually what was thrown on to the stage and we have a checklist here, and this is absolutely true...

QUANTICK
It obviously wasn't one of us reviewing the gig, then.

COLLINS
It was an American. (reads) Thirty-four hubcaps.

MACONIE
Sixty-two pairs of pants.

QUANTICK
Thirty-six pocket combs.

COLLINS
Twenty-one 'aluminum' folding chairs.

MACONIE
(confused) Two-hundred-and-fifty hot dogs.

QUANTICK
Two dummy grenades.

COLLINS
One rainbow-coloured afro wig, as popularised by Jonathan King.

MACONIE
One bowling ball.

QUANTICK
And thirty-seven dollars and eighteen cents in loose change.

MACONIE
(reflecting) And I bet he kept it all, the oddly skinned bastard!

QUANTICK
Except the pants.

COLLINS
Yeah, he missed a trick there because he could have kept them as rags and used them to clean the car.

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Next on the block was Andrew's Bangles write-up from 1990, introduced originally in order to demonstrate how album reviews can treat the artefact like it is the most important thing in the world. During the preview Quantick had a little difficulty finding the page quickly in a bastardised copy of the NME, but that is unlikely to have contributed to its removal, more the expendable over-qualifying of a basic point. Nonetheless it was a lovely sequence - full of bitching, ridiculous comparisons and, in its execution, an embarrassing and childish expose of Collins rather than a volunteered confession.
QUANTICK
Here's an example. (clutching paper) This review is taken from the NME of the 2nd June 1990. It is a review of The Bangles' 'Greatest Hits' and it's reviewed by, oh…. Andrew Collins. (reading it out like a sarcastic schoolboy) "Any band that agrees to name itself The Bangles have obviously lost the plot well before it even started. The Bangles is a very poor name. And if the notion of a cute but tough, all-girl guitar band hadn't been so attractive to a male-run record biz in the mid-1980s…

MACONIE/QUANTICK
Yeah, respect!

QUANTICK
…then they might never have progressed further than this disastrous decision. The Bangles have become famous for not having any boys in, and as for this 'Greatest Hits' collection, only half of the blisteringly dull tracks…"

MACONIE
(sober) Let me just stop you there, Dave. I've actually done a little research into what was happening in that week, in June 1990. Forty thousand people had died in an earthquake in Iran. Communism was collapsing all over Europe. Miners and mechanical diggers were beating up protesters in Bucharest as Romania struggled to come to terms with its fledgling democracy. (grins) Now back to Andrew's Bangles review!

QUANTICK
(shouting) "'MANIC MONDAY' IS A LISTLESS PUNT DOWN COCA-COLA RIVER AND 'GOING DOWN TO LIVERPOOL' IS AS CONVINCING AS, WOOH!, THE MAN FROM DEL MONTE SINGING ABOUT NEW ORLEANS! (slightly calmer) The Bangles' 'Grating Hits' is a fitting testament to the band's unwavering lack of anything good. ONE out of ten."

COLLINS
(meekly) "Grating", do you see? "Grating."


A third significant loss was an illustration on the life of the tour manager, "who will die arguing over billing with Steeleye Span", itself a lovely image suggesting that the old folkies are immortal. This brief passage follows on directly from the guide to a tour bus video collection ("kiss Prudence"), segueing that and the Derek Ridgers sketch mentioned earlier. It's a brief but worthy exchange, painting a modernised image of Ian Faith sat at a laptop ("They had laptops before laptops were invented… but no-one knows what they are writing").

Other cuts were very minor. The Melody Maker dig ("They've never had an original feature in their lives!") is cut for reasons of pace as much as anything else, whilst the last notable absence is the "which list?" list (they love lists in this show) that appears during their guide to 'The Guest List' ("…shopping list, Schindler's list?"). The latter was actually retained for the Loose Ends appearance, suggesting that this heavily revised section was trimmed for Edinburgh at quite a late point.

What becomes obvious when watching several different performances of LCKMF is that the lists throughout the show are placed deliberately for flights of fancy should the individual performer want to grasp them. To this end, when monitoring script changes it is hard to decide whether an inconsistently delivered section is spur-of-the-moment or inherently flexible. It's at this point where the scripted nature of it as a performance piece (seemingly based only on keywords at certain points) can move into stand-up.

A prime example of the above is the 'How Not To Interview Lou Reed' segment, which lands squarely in the heavily rewritten final ten minutes. LCKMF's true showpiece has largely stayed the same throughout performances, but the sheer length of this particular list (running to "an 18-or-so point plan") and the immediate audience recognition of its subject led to a trouble-free reception night after night. (In fact it is arguable that you don't need to know all that much about contemporary music to appreciate LCKMF's humour in general.)

Without wanting to spoil a great deal of the sketch, or lose ticket sales for the ICA shows in December by telling the punchlines badly, it is fair to say that the humour rests entirely on the idea of inappropriate behaviour, rather than presenting cut-and-dried faux pas. As opposed to the skin-loosening tale of Paolo Hewitt wandering into Stevie Wonder's room at the Hilton, enjoying the scenery through the window and remarking that it's "a terrific view you've got here, Mr Wonder", LCKMF side-steps such re-enactments having covered journalistic suffering well enough at earlier points in the show. In fact, there is a certain glee on Quantick's face as he tells a wigged Collins (in the vaguest approximation of Lou Reed) that "you haven't had a hit for years". Having preceded this with his own song, 'Rock Lady' (a one-note strum of delicious rock triteness introduced by the third night of Edinburgh), only serves to make this jibe seem more concerted and, under the guise of a cautionary tale, slightly vengeful too.

In many ways the final ten minutes of the show are the most joyous. The structure breaks down to a certain extent and sketches roam a little wider than they might have done at an earlier stage, as the fully fleshed out 'Viv Stanshall and Keith Moon Go Shopping' anecdote demonstrates in post-Soho performances. In relation to script editing, this final section is the least pruned, albeit with many of the 'Hall Of Fame' anecdotes switched around or replaced, although this in itself demonstrates the flexibility of their self-imposed 'lists' approach.

Five years ago, Lloyd Cole Knew My Father would have been natural material for a Radio One series. Now, if the BBC bosses are to be believed, listeners to such a station would snooze through the nods to Mike Leigh, Rene Magritte, Dorothy Parker and Sir Peter Hall, so any pre-1995 rock 'n' roll references would surely produce a strong draught above their perpetually partying heads. But while the show has a built-in air of finality and retrospection, it would be truly thrilling if the reason for the self-censorship of the most profane material was the prospect of a transfer of the format to, say, Radio Two. Imagine a weekly, post-Jonathan Ross Saturday slot for the trio, maybe even a Hit Parade for the 21st century, complete with journalistic recountings and sketches inspired by the absurd world of pop. Mark Goodier has let slip that there have been frequent efforts to bring the team together on Radio Two but no format, not even a mooted transfer of Hit Parade in 1997, have made it to air.

To varying degrees, Collins, Maconie and Quantick's CVs can already boast work for Radio Two. Maconie is the most established, partly as a presenter of the sort of rock documentaries (Pet Shop Boys, Stevie Wonder, REM) that were once welcomed with open arms at pre-Parfitt Radio One, but also as host of the eclectic hour-long Saturday night music show The Critical List (14/04/01 - present; Sat, 9pm), and the well regarded Real Wild Child. His recent deputising for Richard Allinson lasted three weeks (17/09/01-04/10/01; Mon-Thu,10.30pm-midnight) and proved to be a half-way house between the Graveyard Shift of old and the far more staid house style of the second channel. It was fun, basically.

If Quantick's half-hour series on Thursday evenings, The Sweet Smell Of Excess (Wise Buddah/Radio Two, 04/10/01 - 8/11/01; 9pm), has seemed a little disappointing, it may be that his verbal flights of fancy have had to take second place to the interview footage of indulgent, hedonistic rock stars like Lemmy and Elton John, and Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson. Not that this has prevented him from delivering some typically droll self-penned linking material, like coining the phrase "lower-body chaphood" as a description for Jimi Hendrix's genitals, or overturning the lovable moptops' pioneering achievements with the weekly catchphrase "Like everything, it was The Beatles' fault".

While Collins has been less exposed on Radio Two so far, he (like the others) has ably demonstrated his appreciation of intelligent music-based debate for two runs of Mark Radcliffe's highly entertaining Radio Two series Hope I Die Before I Get Old (Smooth Operations, 1999-2000), in which the merits and gaffes of a deceased pop icon (Lennon, Hendrix, Jim Morrison) were light-heartedly but incisively dissected by music journalists and industry figures.

Most recently, Radcliffe's six-part series Heroes Or Zeroes (Smooth Operations/Radio Two, 04/10/01 - 08/11/01; Thu, 10pm) has expanded the format for figures who are very much alive: Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Madonna, David Bowie and Bob Dylan. Happily, all three Hit Parade / LCKMF alumni have featured heavily in the series, alongside TOTP2 producer Mark Hagen, biographer Harry Shapiro, the musician and academic C.P. Lee (formerly of post-punk collective Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias), The Family Cat's Steve Jelbert, and the journalist and columnist Karen Krizanovich amongst others.

Although the programmes have purported to present both sides of an argument, they have mainly served to giggle at an artist's legacy, and combine the undeniable analysis and knowledge of participants with the glorious irreverence of the pub conversation. Radcliffe, supposedly a referee for proceedings, takes great delight in cutting the subjects down to size even before the debate has begun. And one of the programmes' biggest attractions, especially in the context of niche music press titles and broadcasting outlets where even constructive criticism of an artist is considered saying the unsayable, both series represent an arena which permits Maconie to describe the music of Eric Clapton as "basically B.B. King relocated to Balham", and Quantick to compare the bluster of Bruce Springsteen to "a great big frothy egg-nog".

As much as the sparring has suffered from recording the debaters separately rather than allowing them to improvise an argument directly across a table, both Hope I Die Before I Get Old and Heroes Or Zeroes showcase thoughtful and highly-skilled arguments while also accommodating the occasional gratuitous insult. What's more, the next time anyone shoves Maconie's name into an arbitrary list of clip-show wankers, it is well worth pondering on the likelihood of (say) Wayne Hemingway or Mel & Sue trying to argue the toss for whether guitarists like Robert Fripp or Johnny Marr are infinitely more creative than old 'Slowhand' himself. The fact that such a programme exists on Radio Two should be enough cause for celebration, and makes us hopeful that a hypothetical series based on Lloyd Cole Knew My Father could rescue a knowledge of rock and pop heritage from cheap clip-show hell, and be both authoritative and hilarious....

31st October 2001


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