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Posts Tagged ‘BBC’

Have You Ever Heard Virginia Woolf Speak?

May 21, 2013 | by

What follows is the only known surviving recording of Virginia Woolf, part of a BBC radio broadcast from 1937. The talk is titled “Craftsmanship.”

 

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Keep Me in the Loop, You Dead Mechanism

December 21, 2012 | by

What’s Christmas without some ancient demons embedded in the chimney? On the evening of December 25, 1972, BBC viewers celebrated the birth of Christ by being scared to death. They learned that their homes could be resonating with discarnate traumas absorbed over centuries, that the limestone walls have been listening, recording, and screaming—and that the ghost of Christmas past had been using their minds as its personal VCR. Scripted by Nigel Kneale, The Stone Tape is about a British electronics company who’s in a race to beat Japan to a super washing machine and a groundbreaking recording medium based on the “magnetic susceptibility” of certain minerals and their capacity to retain terrible memories. Holed up in a Victorian mansion, the team of bickering scientists working for Ryan Electronics would discover that haunting was a new form of playback. Merry Christmas.

Kneale had grown up on the Isle of Man, home to a mongoose named Gef who could prove his own existence in six different languages, including Russian and Arabic. Kneale’s imagination flourished in television, a medium with a reputation for killing souls. His teleplays seemed intent on trying to out-weird each other: a taxidermist gets stuffed by a pond of vengeful toads; a man is choked to death by his own bike wreckage; a porn cinema is haunted by dolphins. He also gave us titles like “Vegetable Village,” “Clog-Dance for a Dead Farce,” and “The Big Big Giggle.” One of my favorite Kneale shows involves a frumpy supermarket cashier who enlists the store mascot—a woodchuck called Briteway Billy—to wage telekinetic war against her tyrant boss, pummeling him to death with nonperishable canned goods. How many soup cans can a supermarket woodchuck ghost hurl?

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Peel Sessions

June 27, 2012 | by

I’m the one who comes on Radio 1 late at nights and plays records made by sulky Belgian art students dying of tuberculosis.

This was how John Peel introduced himself to a family audience, on one of his occasional forays into British television. He can’t always have been graying, or bearded, or balding, but this is how most people continue to visualize him. He seemed, to those of us who listened to him, to have been born avuncular. For nearly four decades, until his death in 2004, Peel shared his musical enthusiasms with the ever-changing audience of his late-night show on BBC Radio 1 and made his personal collection into a truly representative historical document, like a latter-day Alan Lomax. Except that in this case, the field came to him: homemade cassette recordings sent from across Britain, and beyond, to Peel's door. This didn’t mean that no hard work was involved. Peel listened to them all, working through an avalanche of audio slush, with a heroic commitment to the aesthetically new.

Now, though not for long, we can experience the chaotic variety of Peel’s taste. Over the course of the next four months, the first hundred records for each letter of Peel’s alphabetized and rigorously ordered collection of 26,000 are to be presented online, replete with their owner’s personally devised catalogue number and, occasionally, remarks. The John Peel Archive has been supported by the Arts Council and curated with the assistance of Sheila Ravenscroft, Peel’s wife. For each letter, Ravenscroft has selected an artist of special significance to Peel, such as Dick Dale or Fairport Convention, and hosted a short corresponding film. There are links to Spotify as well as to short films, video footage, and audio files from the famous sessions recorded for his show, including an early performance by David Bowie.

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On the Shelf

September 14, 2011 | by

Portrait of Roald Dahl, 1954, by Carl Van Vechten.

A cultural news roundup.

  • William Sleator, a well-loved author of young-adult science fiction and fantasy, has died at sixty-six.
  • “Of course, buzzwords come and go. But it’s striking that 9/11 and its aftereffects have left almost no traces in the language of everyday life.
  • Walk a mile in J. K. Rowling’s boots.
  • “Rowling, who famously guards her privacy, is one of a number of prominent public figures expected to give evidence to Lord Justice Leveson’s judicial inquiry into phone hacking and media ethics and practices.”
  • In response to the BBC’s plans to cut short fiction, prominent authors embark on a tweetathon.
  • Not to be confused with the ambitious Sixty-Six Books Twitter project.
  • Chinua Achebe vs. 50 Cent.
  • A single Salinger sentence sells for $50,000.
  • The Amazon digital-book library marches on.
  • Happy ninety-fifth birthday, Roald Dahl.
  • A birthday appeal to save the late author’s writing hut is controversial.
  • The college experience, sans tuition.
  • Remembering comics author Del Connell.
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    Gormenghastly

    September 8, 2011 | by

    Mervyn Peake in Germany, 1945.

    I first encountered Mervyn Peake, as most readers do, through his baroque Gormenghast trilogy. At the time, I was stuck in the purgatorial antechamber between adolescence and maturity, reluctant to abandon certain habits of mind but keen to develop the imaginative sophistication that I thought might come in handy in college. So the BBC’s television dramatization of what they promised would be a darker alternative to Tolkien had its appeal. As it turned out, the BBC only adapted the first two Gormenghast novels, and then only cartoonishly. But my curiosity was sufficiently stirred to seek out the trilogy.

    Just over a decade later, the centenary of Peake’s birth presents us with the occasion to appreciate his abundant gifts as an illustrator (of, among other thing, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), novelist, poet, and writer of literary nonsense. On both sides of the Atlantic, there have been new illustrated editions of the Gormenghast novels and a new epilogue, Titus Awakes, has surfaced, written by Peake’s widow, Maeve Gilmore. In Britain, the celebrations have been understandably more elaborate. The British Library has mounted an exhibition to celebrate their recent acquisition of Peake’s archive, while the radio dramatist Brian Sibley has adapted the trilogy, with its new conclusion, for BBC Radio 4. Toward the end of July, I visited the exhibition and attended a panel discussion featuring a host of speakers, including Peake’s sons, Fabian and Sebastian. Read More »

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    Eating and Acting

    May 17, 2011 | by

    Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan from The Trip.

    The British actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon met for dinner recently at an Italian restaurant in New York. As a plate of cheese and meat was passed around the table, Brydon, who was wearing a pink shirt, grabbed his midsection and sighed. “I’ve gained so much weight, and I haven’t been able to shift it,” he said. “It makes me so mad.” The men were in town because their new film, The Trip, was playing at the Tribeca Film Festival. In The Trip, Coogan and Brydon play slightly fictionalized versions of themselves and drive around England’s Lake District reviewing restaurants for The Observer. (The film originally aired as a six-part series on the BBC.) During filming, the men ate each meal three times, to allow for different camera setups. “Steve was smart,” Brydon said. “He just pushed the food around his plate. But I ate everything. Eating makes you a better actor because it distracts part of your brain. It’s like driving—if you’re eating or driving, you’re doing something real, so the acting seems more real, too.” (Much of The Trip takes place on the road, but Coogan did all the driving.)

    The salad arrived. Brydon said that Michael Winterbottom, the film’s director, decided to make The Trip after noticing how many movies about food were playing at film festivals. Winterbottom chose the itinerary for the trip. (At dinner, a publicist suggested that the director needed a vacation after his previous movie, the ultra-violent The Killer Inside Me.) Brydon and Coogan worked with Winterbottom on Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, playing similarly exaggerated versions of their public personas: Coogan, the hedonistic, self-destructive comedian unable to shed his most famous role, the blissfully boorish Alan Partridge; Brydon, the contented family man whose fame as radio host and comedian is slowly eclipsing Coogan’s. In The Trip, Coogan spends evenings smoking pot, sleeping with comely hotel staff, and staring discontentedly in the mirror, while Brydon calls his wife for cozy long-distance tuck-ins (“speaking of boiled eggs, I’m not wearing my pajama bottoms”).

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