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Wrestling In Honey, Maradona's Backside, and other wonders from the World of Sport and beyond….
This collection of pieces stems from a conversation I overheard in a publisher's office. An autobiography of an entertainer not quite celebrated enough to be considered in the pantheon of show biz, nor obscure enough to be a cult figure, was being discussed.
'Look, I'll be honest,' said the publisher, words that very rarely precede 'That's a million dollar idea you've got right there. I see it as a book, a Netflix series, a Hollywood movie, a radio show, a podcast, a Sunday newspaper serialisation, a takeaway Chinese meal.'
No, what followed was more like, 'There'll be a specialist audience but nobody's going to make any money out of it, but if you're just looking for some kind of legacy project, I'd be happy to have a look at it.'
Hmmm, a legacy project, put me down for one of those.
In fact, my sudden enthusiasm for legacy was such that I suggested we gazump any Z-list entertainers looking in that direction and call this compendium The Legacy Project, maybe filching a few sales from the airport novel market, from weary travellers seduced by the title into expecting something Dan Brown-ish or Forsyth-esque (that's Frederick, not Bruce), eagerly pulling this volume from the shelf thinking, 'What is this mysterious Legacy Project? Is it maybe a shadowy underground movement of holocaust denying fanatics with a mission to restore the reputation of the Third Reich?'
I was quite happy to foster that kind of misunderstanding for barefaced commercial reasons. Indeed, I was a little miffed when my suggestion of a big red swastika in relief on the front cover, dripping blood, was rejected on grounds of taste.
That, by the way, may be the last encounter with good taste you enjoy in this collection of pieces, many of which were written for The Guardian in the 2000s, shortly before Culture Wars were declared, or at least before everybody started lobbing poison gas canisters into each other's trenches.
Frankly, as I undertook the selection process, I was shocked how many off-colour jokes and questionable asides about Clare Balding's hairstyle were permitted - in The Guardian, for goodness sake - back then.
Alongside the Guardian Screen Break columns there are also pieces from the Independent, the Racing Post, the rugby league magazine Forty20, online articles, and some unpublished stuff.
So this legacy project is, if nothing else, a means of recycling some of the more viable words, giving them a second life.
I mean, there is a point of view that eschews the idea of legacy, and it's one I have sympathy with. When I see a footballer pointing to the heavens after knocking in a last-minute equaliser at the Bridge, dedicating it to his recently deceased granddad, I'm inclined to respond with, 'Your grandpappy doesn't care, you doughnut, he's dead. He's not filling in his coupon.'
That certainly summed up my view before the summer of 2013 when I almost died.
I had what we doctors call a big fuck-off abdominal tumour, about which you may read more presently. Suffice to say, it burst and I was immediately admitted to the life and death ward at St James's Hospital, Leeds.
Managing my legacy was the last thing on my mind, at least until I came off life support a week later, and found others doing it for me.
At the time, alongside a weekly column about sport on TV for the Racing Post, I was presenting the lunchtime show on BBC Radio Leeds, whose management, bless them, were very concerned about me and, knowing I had a bit of a hospital stay ahead of me, arranged for my stand-in to present 'A Show to Cheer Martin Up.'
It was a kind gesture, and well meant, but the thought did occur that they were broadcasting my obituary without bothering to wait till I was dead. And of course they got it all wrong. I know it's curmudgeonly to complain, but they played my 'favourite' tunes which weren't really my favourites, and clips of me interviewing various local worthies rather than the stuff I was really proud of, which was basically me fooling around to no particular effect, and certainly not in any way fulfilling the terms of the BBC Charter.
Incidentally, on the subject of local worthies, I can only thank my obituarists that they didn't include the programme I presented at Christmas 2011, paying tribute to much loved family entertainer, philanthropist, friend of Prime Ministers and the Royal Family, and celebrated son of Leeds Jimmy Savile. It was a hagiography, nothing less, and it was not a commission I sought, not because I had any idea of the horrors that were about to be revealed but simply because I thought he was a bit shit.
He never made me laugh, and on his disc jockey shows he gave no indication he had any interest in or knowledge of popular music. I couldn't see the point of him. But I went ahead and fronted the tribute.
In my defence, though, because I was a Radio Four listener and occasional contributor I was aware of a programme Savile had done in 1991 called In The Psychiatrist's Chair, a kind of inquisition by therapist Dr Anthony Clare, which hinted at a darker side to Savile..
I got hold of a CD of the programme and included a clip in my tribute. Clips from the programme are everywhere now - You Tube and so on - but I believe I was the first to dig it out. (What's the point of a legacy project if you can't correct the balance sheet a little).
Mind you, at Christmas 2011, amid the welter of praise the BBC was showering on the beloved entertainer, there wasn't really any appetite for balance. In Leeds, of course, he was one of our own, as away fans at Elland Road never tire of reminding the locals, but that hadn't caught on yet.
On the day of Savile's funeral, conducted by the Bishop of Leeds, all normal programming was halted on Radio Leeds. The funeral service was broadcast live, commentated upon with due solemnity by Guardian writer Martin Wainwright. It truly was a 24-hour grovel-fest, which I'm guessing doesn't figure too prominently in Martin's cv.
As we now know, Savile's legacy turned out not to be hospital wings and Jim'll Fix It badges, but a change in the culture of the BBC, which may incidentally and ironically have led to my departure from the Corporation.
Two incidents come to mind. I was interviewing Robin Colvill, a member of the comedy troupe The Grumbleweeds, the main part of whose act was a wickedly accurate impersonation of the formerly much-loved etc. etc, but now discredited family entertainer - look it up on YouTube, it's hilarious - a bit of business he could no longer do for reasons of taste, leaving him with a much reduced repertoire.
"So in many ways you're the final victim," I said, which was not the sort of attitude the BBC was looking for to make up for all the years they ignored the bastard's appalling behaviour (that's Savile, not lovely Robin Colvill).
At dead of night you could find executives striding round the ramparts of Broadcasting House in the style of Lady Macbeth, endlessly, pointlessly, and tragically washing their hands to get rid of the stain of Savile,
The main strategy seemed to be to pretend Savile had never existed which helped no-one,
especially not the poor bastard who had to edit the vintage editions of Top Of The Pops.
But that clearly wasn't all that was going on. In 2016 I paid tribute to the recently departed Beatles record producer George Martin, referencing his earlier work with Bernard Cribbins, Peter Sellers, and other old school comics. I played, Goodness Gracious Me, a hit single for Sellers and George Martin.
Despite my protestations that this was illustrative material, the station manager accused me of playing a racist song (Sellers' Indian accent), and shortly afterwards my contract was not renewed, just like the old bugger down at Radio Devon who got the push for playing a 1930s version of The Sun Has Got Its Hat On, which includes a racial epithet. I bet he got the same number of listeners' complaints as I did, which if you take an average of the two of us would work out at precisely nought.
But I shall not be railing against the BBC in this book - there are two TV stations and several newspapers that will do that for you all day long - there is no agenda to these extracts of mine. If I have any political attitude at all, it's kind of like my football, hanging around on the left wing, not achieving very much.
Mostly, though, this collection takes as its overarching philosophy advice given to me by my smarter brother when he was at the Independent and I wrote some pieces for him. "Get a joke in the intro, and then run like fuck for the end" were his wise words.
Don't worry about me, by the way. When the BBC decided there was no place any more for slightly irreverent middle aged white males, I got a job with Ken Bates's Leeds-based radio station - political correctness never seemed to be something that troubled Ken too much - and was later picked up by TalkSport, not for their highest profile gig it's true, but if you happen to be awake at 3 o'clock in the morning on a Friday or Saturday night, or are in Ho Chi Minh City (a couple of our listeners are), you may have heard me being irreverent. And old and male and white.
I also carried on reviewing sport on TV on the Hawksbee and Jacobs show on TalkSport on a Friday afternoon. As I suggested earlier, writing about this stuff was never a plan. I was doing capsule reviews of film and TV for a different newspaper, and my editor got a job as number three on the Guardian sports desk.
Is there any point to it all? Absolutely not. Articles about TV broadcasts from ten or 15 years ago? They're about as relevant as the old newspapers you find lining that chest of drawers you're painting. But you'll read them too, of course you will. And in my pieces, you'll find at least one or two half-decent jokes, promise.
There are some blog pieces as well, and some unpublished stuff which could be loosely categorized as 'memoir.' Feel free to skip over those pieces as they're about my life, and therefore not that funny.
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