Sunday, 17 April 2016

London Eurovision

I had a lengthy lie-in this morning, and spent a rather charming half an hour or so, still tucked up, looking at emails and Facebook posts. My mate Siobhan had posted a picture of me at an awards ceremony exactly eight years ago. I was curly-haired, handsome and youthful. We were at the Sonys. Coventry Market: The Musical had been nominated for an award which we didn't win, but Siobhan and I had a ball, got tipsy and danced the night away.

I'd spent the whole of that day in an edit suite cutting together a film interview with Arnold Wesker. The editor I'd been paired up with plainly didn't understand why she was there. "I'm a journalist," she kept saying, dripping with arrogance, "not an editor, and this is arts, not news." I think she was angry because she'd been left looking after the bags during the film shoot and felt she was a bit above all of that!

I left her to it in the edit suite to attend the awards. The film was looking great when I left and all that remained for her to do was to add a few credits. She posted the film online that night. I looked at it excitedly when I got back from the awards, but something awful had happened, and all the lovely cutaway shots we'd spent ages adding had vanished, replaced by hideously amateur-looking footage of the cameraman running down the road to catch up with me and Arnold as we walked and talked. There was a two-minute repeat in the middle of the film, and all the music I'd added had been lost. Plainly there'd been some kind of catastrophic technological crash and the editor had decided it was more than her job's worth to stay in the edit suite late into the evening to tidy things up before posting the film on the BBC's website. It was only an arts film after all, and not for telly.

As soon as I saw the film I sent her a text saying, "I think there's been a technical fuck up with the film. We have to take it down and figure out what's gone wrong. No one should see it looking messy like this."

The following morning I arrived at BBC London and was immediately hauled over the coals by one of the big cheeses there, "I understand you sent a text message, out of office hours, to a BBC staff member which included a profanity..." The editor had plainly realised she'd made a terrible botch of the film and decided to create a smoke screen, using the text message I'd sent to get me into trouble instead of her. It's amazing the lengths people will go to to avoid accepting responsibility. I learned a great deal that day about the way that institutions often value etiquette over output, how a freelance staff member's word will never be taken over someone on the regular books, and how a certain type of cynical, over-protected, unionised BBC employee could use the system to get away with blue murder.

It took me a week (and an official complaint from Sir Arnold himself) before the powers that be looked at the catastrophic video that had been posted. They were horrified. The editor was immediately asked to tidy the film up, but as a parting gesture, she removed all traces of the music we'd put in the film, all of which, she knew, had deep significance for both me and Arnold, coming from projects we'd worked on together. To make matters even worse, she then lost all the rushes for the films, thereby meaning the interview, which was deeply moving and all about Wesker's childhood in the East End, could never be reproduced, re-edited, or seen by a wider audience. When Arnold contacted the BBC to get the film footage a couple of years later, it was with great regret that they had to acknowledge it had gone!

Every time I see that cow of a woman doing one of her "proper journalistic" pieces to camera on the news, I think of what she did to that film and hope she feels a glimmer of guilt. I'm sure, when Arnold died, she probably didn't even remember who he was...

This evening we came to London Eurovision at Cafe de Paris, one of a series of events in European capitals which promote this year's slew of Eurovision entries, giving the singers an opportunity to practice singing the songs live and build a rapport with potential fans.

It's a lovely event. The French entrant won my heart. It's a catchy song and the singer, a typically French polyglot, is very charming and ludicrously handsome. I haven't supported France in Eurovision since 1989. They usually enter a bundle of bland bullshit which is way too cool for school.

The show was presented by Nikki French and Paddy O'Connell. French came 7th representing the UK in the year 2000 and has since become a huge ambassador for the competition and the unofficial figurehead of the Eurovision fan club. Her love for all things Eurovision never comes across as opportunistic or tragic. She loves it and understands who its die-hard fans are. I like her enormously. As do the fans.


Our companions for the evening were Brother Edward and Sascha and their "Eurovision wives," Fiona and Sylvia, who accompany Ed and Sasch to every contest, are enormous fun and do their best to keep their boys out of trouble. We had VIP tickets, which was a proper treat because it meant we didn't have to stand in a mosh pit surrounded by excited queens jumping up and down and waving Polish flags. Fiona and Sylvia, as women, are a very rare species at Eurovision events. There might have been 500 people in the audience tonight and maybe only 30 of them were women, which Sascha thought was quite a high percentage. Sylvia had been to a Eurovision event the day before which had been attended by 97 men and three women. The only straight men in the building were either performers or Cafe de Paris staff. There is a Eurovision gene in all gay men.


I always find entering Cafe de Paris a somewhat eerie experience. The stories of the bombs which obliterated the place in March 1941 are incredibly distressing. 34 were killed including many of the band who were playing at the time. Dancers died, still in hold. The legendary British wartime spirit was apparently hugely prevalent that night, typified by one of the injured, who, as he was stretchered away from the rubble shouted "at least I didn't have to pay for dinner!" He was cheered by onlookers.

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