I was listening to some episodes of the old Chris Morris radio show On The Hour yesterday and today — the tapes were a very welcome present once upon a time from comrade and weblog reader Richard — and I’m delighted to report they remain extremely funny indeed. One might have thought that this kind of satire would become very stale very fast, since the programme is a parody of BBC news radio shows, with many of the jokes driven by references to contemporary politics. But ten years later On The Hour is extraordinarily fresh, and has borne the test of time far better than – for example – the near-contemporary political monologues of Ben Elton or the jokes of Spitting Image.
On The Hour also was very much a document of the Major years in British politics, and as Tony Blair tries to continue to push the Major agenda that little bit further with every passing year, the political arguments and attitudes which the show relentlessly mocks are still very much those of our ruling elite. But there is also an element of exceedingly good fortune: history has this well-documented tendency to repeat itself, of course, and America has, now as then, a President Bush with a whiney voice and a tendency to say silly things. In addition, several of the segments seem curiously prescient: one report concerns the British tourist who finds himself briefly in charge of the Argentinian government after its sudden collapse, and who has to be guided over the phone through some tricky negotiations with international financial agencies.
But what is most remarkable of all, I think, is the fact that ten years later, the BBC radio shows which On The Hour parodies still sound exactly the same as they did back then. Chris Morris and his fellow presenters caught the mannerisms, the emphases, the little abuses of the language which BBC presenters tended to perpetrate back then absolutely perfectly, and they still do. On the Today programme in its current incarnation, to take a trivial example, it’s impossible to listen to the regular business correspondent or any of the sports reporters without Alan Partridge coming to mind — especially when they conduct their own mini cross-examinations of people in the news.
And the immediacy with which the jokes in On The Hour hit home suggests that — all the widespread guff about the internet, Cool Britannia, etc., notwithstanding — there was actually very little or no fundamental cultural change in the decade since those shows were recorded, which is a very interesting thought.
Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union, today called on all newspapers, radio stations and other media outlets to boycott the name ‘Consignia’ and call it “by its real name” the Post Office. “I’m sure the public will welcome the media ignoring this name which has been foisted on us all by slick media men, big corporations and corporate spin-doctors,” Billy said. “It is time to reclaim our Post Office.”
Billy says the campaign will not only prove popular with the public but will save gallons of ink and avoid hundreds of sore throats every day! Why? “Because every time reporters writes the word ‘Consignia’, they have to add the explanation ‘We really mean the Post Office’. Every time broadcasters mentions the name ‘Consignia’, they have to add “That is, the silly new name the Post Office calls itself.” … The union wants the public to write to newspapers or ring radio or television stations who use the name ‘Consignia’.
Billy says that there is a serious political side to the campaign. “Consignia means a profit-centred declining competition-ridden low-wage outfit in constant crisis. “The Post Office means service to the public; decent wages and conditions to which people aspire rather than reluctantly accept; and a seamless integrated postal service for all…
OK. No more mentions of Consignia in this weblog again.
From today’s Times:
PO chief wants hated name to be consigned to history,
by Christine Buckley, Industrial Editor
The public hate it, the staff hate it and now the man in charge admits he hates it: Allan Leighton, the chairman of Consignia, wants to get rid of the Post Office’s controversial new name.
In an interview with The Times, the interim chairman said that staff, whose morale is low because of impending job losses and a pay dispute, felt that ditching ï¿½Consigniaï¿½ would be like pulling down the Berlin Wall. ï¿½It is the thing that is mentioned every time I talk to anyone,ï¿½ he said. ï¿½There is a lot of history here that neednï¿½t have been changed.ï¿½
The Post Office renamed itself Consignia last year when it became a plc. The exercise, which cost ï¿½1 million, was intended to establish a new international identity for the organisation that includes the Post Office Counters network, Royal Mail and Parcelforce.
But the name, which means nothing in any language, has met universal condemnation and requires continual laborious explanation. Even the companyï¿½s letterheads describe it as ï¿½Consignia ï¿½ The new name for the Post Office Groupï¿½.
This was always the kind of rebranding exercise which only very highly paid consultants could ever have thought was a good idea.
From Private Eye:
Candidates must answer 7 of the following 4 questions. Write on all three sides of the paper. You have 2 1/2 seconds.
1. Explain the difference between the following parts of the human body:
a) The arse
b) The elbow
4. If you were unable to answer question one, would you like a job at Edexcel?
Pleasingly, the people at Edexcel have learned how to talk in meaningless managementspeak. Its Chief Executive John Kerr commented in the wake of one of the more recent cock-ups that “It is important to re-iterate that this error will not disadvantage students’ progression opportunities”. That’s good to know: there I was worrying that it might affect their results.
I’ve just read the very sad news that, as of twelve and a quarter hours ago, the Met Office got rid of Finisterre. There’s a useful page of links over at the Guardian‘s website about this change — apparently now we are supposed to call it FitzRoy.
Non-UK readers of the weblog will not have the slightest idea what this is about, but BBC Radio Four (the worthy, news-heavy, not-terribly-exciting British equivalent of NPR which the educated middle classes listen to fairly religiously) carries the Shipping Forecast a few times a day. The Shipping Forecast gives detailed weather reports for the various chunks of sea off the coast of Britain and Ireland, which, although of no direct relevance to those of us in landlocked university towns, provides a fixed reference point for, a set of shared understandings in, a calming influence on our busy, fragmented, postmodern lives. “Finisterre” was one of the bits of the sea, off the North-Western corner of Spain, and apparently as part of some international coordination exercise, we’ve agreed to get rid of the name, one of the most evocative names in the litany of the Forecast.
Here’s the press release from the Met Office, issued on 31 January:
At noon on Monday 4 February 2002, listeners to the Shipping Forecast broadcast by the BBC will have a new name to conjure with. The area Finisterre is to be re-named FitzRoy after Admiral Robert FitzRoy, who was the first ever professional weatherman and founded the Met Office in 1853.The change has become necessary following an international agreement that Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco will use a co-ordinated set of sea areas in forecasts for shipping. In the discussions, Spain requested that the area that they have called Finisterre be retained in the co-ordinated set of areas.
The area Finisterre used by the Met Office is a considerably larger area than that defined by the Spanish Meteorological Service (Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia), and, as the area is not strictly in the United Kingdom’s area of responsibility for the issue of forecasts and warnings, a new name was required.
Some 53 years have passed since the name Finisterre was first heard on the shipping forecasts; the familiar rhythmic pattern will no longer be Portland, Plymouth, Biscay, Finisterre, Sole, Lundy, Fasnetï¿½ as FitzRoy replaces Finisterre.
“The Met Office operates on an international scale; by working with the meteorological services in other countries we are making it easier for listeners to interpret shipping forecasts,” explained Martin Stubbs, specialist consultant in marine matters at the Met Office.
“The last major changes in sea area names was in 1984 when the countries bordering the North Sea agreed a co-ordinated set of areas. These changes demonstrate the effectiveness of the World Meteorological Organization in bringing countries together and ensuring the best possible services for the mariner,” added Mr Stubbs
The Shipping Forecast is a British institution broadcast by the BBC four times a day and also disseminated via HM Coastguard Stations and other marine communication services attracting many thousands of listeners.
FitzRoy is set to become a household name both in and outside the sailing fraternity.
This is no good. How will future generations make sense of the splendid poetry of Carol Ann Duffy?
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.
Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer —
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.
No-one will be writing poems about bloody FitzRoy in years to come, I can tell you. Please send your protests and reminiscences to the weblog.
Katherine wrote [7.2.2002]: In my A-level Italian oral, I was asked what my favourite radio programme was (this now seems to me to be a suspiciously Radio 4 type question, indeed) and I got into all sorts of difficulties trying to explain the shipping forecast. I now explain to my own language students that it is important to lie in such situations.
Jess wrote [8.2.2002]: As a lover of the shipping forecast for nineteen years, I join you in mourning the passing of Finisterre. The forecast won’t be quite the same without it — though Admiral Fitzroy deserves a sea area named after him if anyone does. (I still regard North Utsire and South Utsire as upstart interlopers…)
I asked Jess to elaborate on this last, slightly worrying thought, and got this reply [8.2.2002]: North Utsire and South Utsire were born on 1 August 1984, at the instigation of the Scandinavian countries. Previously the adjacent sea areas (eg Viking) extended right up to the coast. The list of the coastal stations has changed beyond recognition since I began listening in ’82 – remember Sumburgh, Bell Rock, Goeree Light Tower Automatic Weather Station…?