Tag Archives: BBC

BBC. Fifteen amazing years. Done. Thank you.

So there we are. It’s done.

My TV/movie review slot on BBC Radio Five Live is no more.

Part of it is down to me – after 41 years of constant writing and broadcasting for radio and TV since the age of 15, I’m slowly tiring of doing this kind of presentation. The light and fluffy nonsense kind.

That said, light and fluffy has served me well. I’ve done everything I ever dreamed of doing, and way more. Written for The Two Ronnies, featured on a TV game show, hosted my own American TV travel series, which is still being shown and will probably continue running long after I’m dead; lived in, and reported from, a number of countries, been on countless adventures and assignments, interviewed thousands of interesting and not so interesting people, written nine books….and on and on. By anyone’s standards, it’s been astonishing.

But now it’s time to move on to more serious things. Things that matter and which affect people and how they see the world. A new life beckons, I must go.

Me, in the early days of the broadcast

After a decade and a half on the BBC’s Up All Night, and what has been truly the most wonderful fun with Rhod and a consistently great team, I’m done and ready to move on. The past five years were especially tough as I realized I was slowly outgrowing what I was doing. Each broadcast became a strain to do; to get enthusiastic about, to stay focused on, etc. I started saying dumb and irrelevant things just to keep my brain alive, and that’s not the way to engage in any kind of broadcasting. If you’re not loving it, leave, and let someone else take up the reins.

What a gift it’s been, though. I couldn’t have wished for better. I’m so grateful. We did some fab, entertaining stuff for the longest time, often against horrendous technical odds. But I have to face it – I’m finished. Each week my mojo was slipping a little more until I was no longer looking forward to doing the broadcast the way I once had. And the BBC people picked up on that. They felt the magic had gone too.

So how do I know it’s time to go? What were the subtle signs?

Here’s how it went. This was the paper-trail that led me to this conclusion:

  • First, the BBC fired me in 2010. One of the producers went nuts in the studio. She’d had her handbag stolen and was incredibly fragile that night, apparently. For fifteen minutes she yelled at me on the phone non-stop. It was quite bizarre. She even tried to have my pay docked secretly as a punishment. The BBC apologized for her spiteful behavior and paid up later on. Also, they reinstated me the following week. So no harm done.
  • Then, in 2011, a fresh assistant editor arrived on the scene. Part of a new breed. My theory has always been that the BBC orders these guys in bulk from a warehouse. Tags ’em, numbers ’em, implants ’em with a special political correctness chip, programs ’em, boots ’em up, and just lets ’em loose, whether they know what they’re doing or not. Somehow, impossibly, unstoppably, they then rise and rise within the Corporation. It’s a marvel to behold. Anyway, back to the point: we got this new editor. A nice enough person actually. Young. Pretty competent, no doubt. Alas, within months, he’d fired me too, only to relent somewhat and rehire me later. As Rhod told me at the time, with a weary sigh and shake of the head, “He doesn’t know what he wants, he just knows what he doesn’t want, and he doesn’t want you.” Anyway, who cares? No hard feelings. The guy was just carrying out orders, I’m sure.
  • Now, in 2012, yet another new assistant editor has taken over in his place, and…. you can probably guess the rest.

I don’t know about you, but I see a pattern building up. Only this time, even if they offered to rehire me, I’d refuse. I’d have to. Out of sheer self-respect. Someone has to draw a line in the sand. The annual firing ritual was becoming a joke.

Of course, from the BBC’s side, the axing of my Slot was a bureaucratic decision, rather than an artistic one done with the audience in mind. We know this because vociferous protests and petitions from so many faithful listeners were powerless to stop it.

[UPDATE: December 19th 2012: the guy at the top of Radio Five Live has been cantilevered from his position, and into another one. Deary me. It’s beginning to sound a lot like karma.]

The previous assistant editor called one day, very annoyed by the audience uprising and blaming me for taking it seriously. “We have a huge listenership, Cash,” he said. “Four hundred people writing in to support you is not a lot of people.”

Really?  Are you sure?

Have you ever known four hundred people voluntarily do anything in the middle of the night, much less send in petitions and write to the controller of the network? It’s almost unheard of, and I was totally blown away by the reaction. Secretly, I think the BBC was too, but management stuck with the decision anyway. Many listeners are still boycotting Up All Night as a result.

[UPDATE: Almost eighteen months on, I still receive messages and tweets almost every day, saying how much the audience misses the Slot. Crazy, really.]

Essentially I was silenced. The Slot was sacrificed on the altar of political correctness and removed from the air, albeit in a low-key, long-haul way, so that I could no longer offer my true opinion on things that the BBC felt was unsuitable for its audience’s ears. This happens on every network, by the way; they’re not alone. It’s a sign of the corporate times. Fear governs editorial decisions in Britain nowadays, I’ve learned to my cost, and this excessive editorial control is leading to the sad passing of yet another tenet of life we broadcasters used to take for granted – free speech.

Example: for years I would play clips of TV shows during my Slot to illustrate the points I was making. One night I ran a brief snippet from one of the most brilliant sitcoms on American television, 30 Rock. A snippet that aired during primetime here, when kids are watching, so it’s deemed completely inoffensive. In it, Alec Baldwin called someone “a douchebag.”

Well, next day, all bloomin’ heck broke loose within the BBC. Seems a few listeners had complained about the word douchebag. Listeners who were, in fact, douchebags themselves, I’m sure. In my experience, any person who has the time to complain to a broadcasting organization is lonely, bored with their life, jealous, or not getting enough of the right kind of sex. Instead, they fixate on minor stuff, and they channel their unspent energy into making total nuisances of themselves. If they were happy, they wouldn’t bother. What better thing to do, if you’re a miserable loser, than make other people miserable too?

One particular douchebag I came across a while ago had collected transcripts of every conversation Rhod and I had had on the air for ten years. Not because he’s a fan, but, incomprehensibly, because he devotes his life to monitoring the BBC for bias and wants to prove that my TV review slot is politically motivated, so that he can complain about it. Seriously. Can you imagine a more soul-crushing, deadbeat kind of existence than that?

You just want to take someone like him to one side and explain, “Do you know how precious life is? How short it is? How many of those precious days you have left before, pouff, you’re gone? Why not use your life like it means something? Why waste even a second on petty sniping and nitpicking? Live, my friend. Go out there and be constructive with your time instead of complaining. Inspire others. Encourage, build, enhance. Just do something.”

But do you think he’d listen? Not bloody likely.

In the 30 Rock example, rather than just ignoring the complainants, which is the correct way of dealing with them, the BBC office went crazy. The next morning, I received a slew of emails and phone calls from panicking producers and assistants in London telling me that I was banned from playing clips in future – not just clips like that, but all clips – unless they had been screened and okayed by editors in the UK the day before the Slot went out. A ridiculous overreaction. And impossible. I was in L.A., using a borrowed studio – the editing and sending over of material a day prior to the broadcast was simply not feasible. So that was the end of it – I was forced to do a TV review slot featuring no clips at all of the TV shows I was discussing. That’s how bonkers things have become at the BBC.

But I digress.

My own reason for leaving the Slot did not coincide with their reason for axing it. These were two separate things. In the end, however, the result was the same, and it’s a good thing. 15 amazing years. Done.

To dwell on the cancellation scenario is pointless and only makes me sound bitter, which I’m not. Baffled and disappointed on some level, yes, but I feel we should rejoice, not carp, about this change. Delight ourselves with how excellent it was to have that lone voice of comic spontaneity, clear and uncensored, on the radio each week for all that time. An era of vocal highwire-walking may have come and gone, and at some level we mourn its demise, but it sure was great at the time, right?

I’ve said enough. But if you want more, then I’m reposting below a blog entry I wrote last year after news of the second axing broke. This gives the bigger picture and ties everything up nicely.

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This post was written in October 2011 and published in December.

Making magic: how to do a TV review when you don’t own a TV

What’s fascinating to me is that the slot wasn’t even supposed to be a slot at all. It began as little more than a serendipitous coming together of a lost journalist and a struggling network with time to fill and nothing to fill it with. That was in 1997.

I’d been in Hollywood a matter of weeks and things weren’t going well. Thoroughly depressed, I was facing the serious possibility of having to return home soon if my life didn’t shape up. Then, one day, everything changed. A close friend of mine, who happened to be working on a relatively new BBC radio nocturnal magazine show called Up All Night, catering mainly to truck drivers and milkmen, rang me in some panic and said, “Our U.S. TV critic has vanished, or possibly died. Anyway, he’s not answering his phone. Would you be a poppet and review some television for us for a couple of weeks while we find a replacement? We’ll pay.”

Pay? Great heavens!

Unfortunately, I didn’t own a TV at the time, which would make reviewing shows difficult, I told them, though not impossible. Friends had televisions; I could muscle in on those. So…

“Yes,” I gushed. “I’d love to do it.”

In Hollywood, you always say yes, whatever the question. It’s one of the rules.

For the next month, as producers in London trawled the States for someone, anyone, who knew slightly more about American television than I did – there were roughly 380 million candidates at the time – I filled the gap. And for another month after that as well. And another. After which I guess they gave up trawling, because a year later I was still doing it, even though I still didn’t own a TV. Someone else in the house had one; I wasn’t flying completely blind. But I could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be regarded as a professional TV critic. Additionally, before each broadcast I’d pop down to Ralph’s, our local supermarket, and hover around the checkout reading TV magazines and tabloids, researching something to talk about.

It was all very laissez-faire. Nobody appeared to care that I knew nothing, as long as it was entertaining. The slot was a three-minute filler, that’s all, which is an eye-blink in radio terms, so patches of ignorance could easily be masked by a guy being funny, talking very fast, and giggling more than is right. Plus, it was done on the phone, lessening its integrity still further.

Problem was, I didn’t have a phone either! I shared a party line. This in itself presented countless problems.

Quite often, I would be sitting in my scruffy, mouse-infested apartment to the rear of the otherwise very beautiful Samuel Goldwyn Mansion right in the middle of Hollywood, jabbering live on-air to the BBC, giving my honest opinion about some show I’d not seen, when someone elsewhere in the house would come on the line and start talking over me. Or they’d suddenly dial a number and my voice would be drowned out by peeping noises. Or they’d go, “Hello? Hello? Who’s this?” The slot never went off without a hitch. It was always acutely awkward and nerve-wracking. But at the same time it was real! Real and spontaneous and entertaining and unpredictable – qualities that were valued back then; not stiff, over-prepared, and read word-for-word from a script, the way all other TV reviews were (and are). That’s what made it so refreshing and so un-BBC-like. Structure’s not my strong point, as you know – for instance, look at the way I’m rambling here – so I must applaud the producers of Up All Night for sticking with me, and it, for as long as they did.

Once, I remember, we’d just gone live; I was chatting happily to the presenter in London, when a well-hung naked black man climbed in through my window and ran across the room and out the door. He was being chased by another man, this one clothed and armed with a pitchfork, who also climbed in through the window and ran out the door. It was very dramatic, and, I should add, entirely representative of the madness that went on daily in that mansion. I’m surprised none of us got killed. Anyway, in that moment of crisis, as I expostulated, “Oh my god, there’s a big black man running across my room!”, history was made. I switched from talking about TV – which, let’s face it, I knew nothing about anyway – to discussing who the black guy was and why he was naked, which I knew A LOT about.

And that’s how it got started. The chatting, the cheekiness, the crazy Hollywood reporting about my life. For the first time, it gave people in Britain a chance to experience the real L.A., and what it’s like to live in this weird, mad place, from the inside – something they couldn’t find anywhere else on the radio. In time, it became known as ‘My Lovely Slot.’

Listeners, of course, adore stuff like this. And very soon what began as a brief fling turned into an ongoing affair. Within a couple of years I’d been upgraded from a three-minute filler on the phone to a five-minute filler on the phone, then ten minutes, then fifteen, until eventually I was given an entire half-hour every week to do my comedy thing, despite the usual complaints and protests. There’s always a small portion of your audience that, feeling helpless and unheard, takes their self-loathing out on other people, and usually – because they’re an easy target – media people, by endlessly writing in to whine about something you’ve said. When you’re in broadcasting, you accept that.

However, some of the protests originated within the show itself. That was the shocker.

They came from the creator and presenter of Up All Night, Rhod Sharp, who, according to one of the producers, took a rebellious stand in the beginning against their new  ‘TV critic’  getting any more air-time – “But why?” he groaned. “He’s not a real journalist!” – and even campaigned for the slot to be cut back. One of the producers told me this before I went on-air one night. The reasoning, though, was flawed. Of course I’m not a real journalist. That’s the whole point of the slot. Even so, a more persuasive argument would have been: “But why? He doesn’t own a television.” Now, that might have worked.

But Rhod’s a sweetie-pie. Eventually he mellowed, as we know, and nowadays we’re practically in love.

The spirits speak

With the passing of the years, the half hour became a little more professional, I must say.

I quit giggling as much, for example. Then, in year two, I actually went crazy and bought a TV, so that I could start getting my information first-hand, which was a vast improvement. I invested in a phone, that’s another thing. And later I even managed to wangle a real, and quite fabulous, studio in downtown L.A. to broadcast from. During those early bleak days, this little slot of mine, as silly and insignificant as it seemed, was my life-saver. Without it I could not have made it in L.A. The pay was risibly small, but it was enough. Enough to get me from week to week, if I didn’t eat much and walked everywhere instead of taking the bus.

The whole traveling-to-America thing had been a monstrous gamble anyway. I arrived here on spec with almost no money to my name and unable to earn any because I didn’t have a green card, so I was forced to rely totally on the kindness of strangers. And since strangers in L.A. are not exactly renowned for their kindness, that meant I was in survival mode every single day. Now, though, it’s been fourteen years and I’m no longer in survival mode, am I? I’m living quite the life. Things turned around in the end. I wrote books, had my own TV travel show, and got a regular gig on NPR over here.  So for the last half-decade or so, the slot has been done for pleasure only. Mine, if nobody else’s.

Rhod called me at home in October, the day after the axe fell. “Don’t be downcast,” he said, sounding just like he does on the radio. “There’ll be other opportunities.”

And yes, there probably will. But I don’t think he quite gets where I’m coming from on this. The ending of the BBC slot is not a bad thing. It’s a ‘thing’, that’s all. I tend not to fight change, I embrace it readily, and even a little starry-eyed at times, on the assumption that when one situation falls away, it’s only to make room for something bigger and better. It’s always been that way for me. And in this case that’s definitely going to be what happens.

How do I know? A psychic told me.

(Don’t you dare roll your eyes!!)

Back in September, I had one of my regular readings with a quite brilliant channeler guy in Oregon, and for the first time I heard myself ask, “When will my BBC slot end?” Don’t know why I was prompted to raise the issue, but I did. And he laughed, saying, cryptically, “Well, it won’t be less than a month, but it will be over by the end of the year. Just accept it.”

Oh my lordy! That soon?

He seemed very sure.  “You want me to go without a fight? Seriously?”

“Yup.”

So when the day came and I heard the actual words: “It’s over”, it should have been no surprise. Yet I admit I was caught off-guard. I didn’t yelp or squeal or do anything girly, but I think I may have emitted a gasp.

“It  probably should have happened after ten years, not fourteen years,” I told the assistant editor. Which is true. I remember joking on-air with Rhod only a month before. I said they’d have to take me away in a body bag before I’d ever give up my Slot. But I’d already talked with the psychic by then. I knew I was done for.

[UPDATE: when I chatted with the psychic again in the spring and told him I was doing monthly film reviews now, he sighed heavily and said, “Oh god, you shouldn’t have done that. It will be like a long slow fade to black, and it will end mid-year.” Bang on yet again!]

Winding things up, the BBC way

The young BBC man who called was extraordinarily polite and cordial, and probably nervous, wondering if I’d go bananas when I heard I’d been dropped. After all, he was most likely still studying for his GCSEs when I started this thing. To avert a crisis, he apologized sincerely for putting me out to pasture in this way, congratulating and thanking me as he did so for my long, devoted service, inadvertently making me feel gloriously cherished, brutally discarded, and very, very old, all at the same time.

I could have announced, I suppose, that it was my decision to leave, for the sake of my pride. But why?

Because if we’re heading down that road, why not go the whole way and issue one of those robotic statements that are euphemisms for ‘He’s been fired”, and which bruised artists routinely use to shield their pride?

“Cash is leaving to spend more time with his family.” (Which, since I don’t have a family, would make it an even bigger lie), or: “Cash is leaving to work on other projects.” (Okay. But strictly speaking is retirement another project?) Or even: “We’re taking the show in a new direction. We’re hoping to use someone who won’t cause as many listeners to complain.” (Er….oh…well, that might be nearer the mark, I suppose. Yes, use that.)

Anyway, that’s it – the bulk of it. We’re all squared away. Everyone’s happy. There’s no going back now.

[EDIT POINT: Both guys who authorized my firing – the editor of the show and also the head of the network have since been shunted sideways and replaced. Remarkable.]

Okay, I’ll take any questions.

Yes, you over there in bold, carrying the big Q.

Q. Will you miss doing your slot?       For a while, sure. It was engraved into my calendar all those years, week in week out – how could I not?

Q. Is your ego fragile right now?      It’s been a couple of months since I found out, so no, I’m over it.

Q. Does this make you feel old and over the hill?    Not as much as it used to when Rhod would go on vacation for a couple of weeks and be replaced by what sounded like bubbly children’s TV presenters.

These, I assumed, were considered the BBC’s best hope for the future. One or two were great – Giles Dilnot being one; now THAT guy has a career ahead of him – but the majority were mediocre, I thought. Humorless, awkward, and often floundering in the face of unscripted spontaneity, in ways that would have been inconceivable a few years ago, when you needed to have talent and years of broadcast experience to get on national radio, not merely a degree in media studies and lashings of youthful enthusiasm.

It struck me many times as I was doing the slot that, if this was how far down the bar had been lowered in terms of presenter acceptability, then inevitably the BBC would soon be wielding the axe on its more seasoned professionals. It’d have to, if only as a way to make the newcomers seem less like struggling amateurs.

Q. Will the audience miss you?      Hm, not sure about that. Some, maybe. But I know how I am with people who disappear from my life. I move on very quickly.

Q. Would you stay if the BBC insisted?      They’re not going to insist.

Q. This whole cancellation lark sounds very fishy. Why would the BBC axe something that is incredibly popular with listeners? Is there something you’re not telling us?   Ah, well…

How hate, not love, sometimes prevails

If anyone asks, the only reason I continued doing my slot for as long as I did was because, each time I so much as hinted that I might stop, I’d be deluged the next day with emails, tweets, and Facebook messages begging me to keep going. “You’re the highlight of my week,” some milkman in Cheshire would say, or a matron stuck on overnights in Essex, or a cab driver trekking around rain-soaked Liverpool in the dead of winter. “Your slot brightens my life. Please don’t go.”

Ah, but I must, you see. The other day, I said there more reasons why I’m leaving. The first was by far the most significant: it’s time to go. It just is. And here’s another. Reason #2 was:

The corporation’s new “Delivering Quality First” initiative.

In much the same way that the Bush Administration’s topsy-turvy “No Child Left Behind” policy led to almost every child getting left behind, and now nobody in America under 25 can spell, add up, speak in full sentences, or find their home town on a map, the BBC is delivering quality first at its news and talk flagship Radio Five Live by seemingly eviscerating it; cutting £5 million per annum, I’m told, from a network whose budgets are already pinched like an Irish pie-crust, inevitably forcing editors over the next couple of years to sweep aside anything that isn’t cheap or nailed down.

I regret to say that this includes me. I’m not nailed down; I have to leave. It’s progress.

A compromise idea was tabled: how about I give up my slot but continue to contribute to Up All Night the way I do to any other radio or TV network – casually, informally, and as needed? To me that feels like a horrible demotion. Agreeing to it would mean I was just so desperate to stay on the radio that I’d do anything.

But then fate stepped in anyway. A couple of days later, I received my very first piece of direct hate mail, at which point everything changed.

Haters are very vocal. 10,000 listeners may love what you do, but of course they won’t write to the BBC and say so. I myself adored the sitcom Better Off Ted, and was mortified when ABC axed it last year. Did I write in and tell them that? Nope. I’m too lazy.

Haters and whiners, on the other hand, are not lazy. Also, they seem to have a lot more time on their hands than the rest of us. They’re always writing in. Years ago, before emails and texts, they had to send letters, which were easily misplaced or ignored. Now, though, they have the immediacy of the Internet, and they use it to the fullest extent – especially, it seems, when it comes to my little slot. And so the final reason for my leaving is this:

Reason 3: there have been complaints. 

Uh-oh.

Face it, whatever you say on the radio is going to offend someone. If I suggest that the latest series of Doctor Who is shallow drivel, which it is, dozens of easily-pleased people with no taste will write in, saying I’m wrong and it was the best ever.

For every stand you take, there’s someone out there poised to take the opposite side. And that’s fine. It’s democracy in action. The more the merrier. As long as – and this is the important part – as long as producers, editors, and network controllers don’t yield to pressure and let a tiny minority dictate program policy, or, worse still, let them silence voices they don’t happen to agree with. Because then the tail’s wagging the dog and you’ve strayed into very dangerous territory indeed.

Years ago, when broadcasters received hatemail, it was seen as a good, even important, thing. A strong listener response  meant you’d pushed buttons and stirred up passions to the point where they’d been compelled to get off their indolent arses and physicalize their anger. And what’s art, really, if not an attempt to arouse passions in people?

But you can see the dangers, right? For creativity to flourish, artists need to be protected. They need editors and managers with a backbone, who believe that every kind of voice should be heard, not just the ones that try to please all the listeners all the time. Managers who place self-expression first and their own promotion prospects second. Managers who understand the value of originality and defend it, if only as a way to resist the relentless, slow, downward drag into mediocrity that haters represent. Managers with real balls, in other words. They do exist, both inside the BBC and out, and I’ve worked for a couple in my time, but I need hardly tell you – in a world of shaved budgets and increasingly homogenized blandness, they are rare.

Times are tough. Backbone is scarce. You can’t buy it in packs of six, not like in the old days. To stand your ground and support something of value when you’re under fire and anxious to keep your job – that’s a lot to expect. If the choice is to either fall on their sword in the name of integrity, or to take the easy way out by buckling to the irate demands of a few loony listeners (and maybe a couple of complainers within the BBC too, naming no names), my guess is that most producers and editors will buckle. I probably would too.

One piece of hatemail helped clinch the deal

But none of that is important. For me, there was one specific piece of hatemail that made all the difference. The exact-same day, unbelievably, that the BBC man called, I received my first-ever angry tweet about the slot. Came from a new follower in Essex. It was uncanny how it happened. A bizarre coincidence.

“I’m following you,” he announced, “so I can tell you that you make me cringe every time I hear you on the radio. You’re a buffoon.” This was quickly followed by a second tweet. He’d thought of something else: “Oh, by the way, just how affected can an accent be? Answers on a postcard…”

Nothing to be concerned about, you might think. Just a guy I don’t know venting his feelings about an affected buffoon he doesn’t know, and with every right to say what he said. But that’s not the point. I don’t believe in coincidences. Nothing happens by accident.

This listener wasn’t aware of it, but he’d sent his tweet at a watershed moment. On any other day his intentionally cruel words might not have mattered. But somehow, that one insignificant little nugget of malice felt to me like a sign. A sign of changing tides. Same way the BBC is changing. We’re told it’s about to start delivering quality first. Well, good. About time. And I’m sure savage budget cuts, a reduced talent pool, and overall limited resources will help bring that goal nicely to fruition. However, the very nature of the terminology tells you that there’s no room for me in that scenario.

After fifteen years of the best fun I could possibly have had in broadcasting, I’m feeling cornered. There’s no air in here any more. Broadcasters find themselves hemmed in by watchdogs, whiners, and waves of insidious, way-over-the-top political correctness, the fascist kind imposed by the fanatical minority, that crushes the human spirit and ruins everything for everyone else. It’s like waking up in the night to find your longterm lover trying to suffocate you with a pillow.

So we’re drawing things to a close.

No doubt all those people, like the hater guy in Essex, who loathed the slot – and there are many others, including a couple of the lesser-talented stand-in hosts –  will be rejoicing, popping corks, and organizing singalongs and pageants of their own at this news. And so they should. They won. Their efforts paid off. Let’s not shy away from the truth, nor take even an ounce of their victory away from them. Whatever jubilation they feel today was earned through rugged persistence over many months and years, even if their triumph is, when viewed in a fuller perspective, tiny, since it was only a matter of time before I left anyway. A month, three months, six months down the line – at some point relatively soon the slot would have drawn to a close. It had to. Which brings us full circle, back to the main reason, which is:

Quite simply: I’m done. The affair is over.

To conclude, then, because I really am rambling now…

My friend, the one who started it all off by calling me in a panic in 1997, was quick to reply when I told him what had happened. “Given that it was initially a temporary thing,” he said, “fifteen years is not bad.”

He’s right, it’s not bad. Actually, it’s better than not bad, it’s brilliant! And it extends to a time way before 1997, because I’m not just ending my BBC slot, I’m ending all my media involvement – TV, radio, the works.

I climbed aboard the broadcasting carousel at the age of 15, doing pieces for BBC Radio Manchester. At 16, a short animated film I made was shown on BBC1. Also at 16, I began contributing material to BBC  comedy programs, first for radio, then later – at 17 – for TV, with The Two Ronnies and Talking Telephone Numbers.  And it’s been going on ever since, alternating between radio and TV, both in the UK and more recently in America. That’s some carousel, my friends. It’s been terrific in every conceivable way, I couldn’t have wished for more. But now it’s time to climb off.

The wind-down began last year when I left Marketplace, the U.S. public radio show I’d been contributing to for more than a decade, and quit being a reporter. Already I’m no longer up to date on world happenings, because I don’t watch the news any more. To me, it’s a bunch of contentious white noise – complete strangers telling me in the gravest tones what I should be worried or frightened about. Well, I can do without that, thank you.

Better still, in January, with no slot to research, I plan to get rid of my TV altogether. This prospect makes me very happy indeed. No more surfing endless channels of nothingness looking for topics to discuss. No more setting TiVo for programs I would never record otherwise. No more having to magic an opinion out of thin air about some vacuous fly-by-night celebrity or a mindlessly indulgent and derivative sitcom that’s going to be cancelled in a month’s time anyway.

Above all, I can quit judging things. Things, shows, ideas, ratings.  That’s the best development of all. I was not put on this earth to be a critic of other people’s work, or to poke fun at their efforts, even though it’s what I’ve done for twenty years. My remit has a broader reach than that. There are the handwriting analysis skils I have, for instance, which are mind-blowing. Also, my new mystery novel has just been published: Force of Habit – Sister Madeleine Investigates. That’s waaaaaay more representative of the kind of artist I am, I think. I was born to create, not to tear down.

Which is why, hanging up the phone on the assistant editor on the day of the axing in October 2011, I found I had a peculiar fizzing sensation in my crotch, as if someone had poured champagne into my pants. This only happens on two occasions: a) when someone really has poured champagne into my pants; and  b) when massive life changes are afoot.

And that’s where I’m at as I write this. I’m embarking on a massive life change, switching from being a media guy, which I’ve been since I was a kid, to being a very happy and non-involved civilian. My career has been living proof that you can have anything you want, anything at all, if you’ll just dream big and be persistent. In my teens, I had a bunch of what seemed like impossible dreams, and every last one of them came true. I’ve been living in a bubble ever since, letting my childhood dreams play out. Now, though, I’m done. Today I have a whole raft of new dreams. Grown-up dreams that don’t involve broadcasting, and which will take the rest of my days to fulfill.

For some reason – don’t ask me why – I have a peculiar feeling that my life is just beginning.

So that’s it really. It’s been great. Thanks to Rhod, all the BBC studio managers, producers, and editors I had dealings with, most of whom were fantastic and exemplary pros, and of course the fans – all 15 of you – not only in the UK (13)  but worldwide (2), who tuned in each week, and who sent me such wonderfully supportive messages. To quote Gabriel García Márquez: “No llores porque ya se terminó… sonríe, porque sucedió.”

In English: don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

Two final things:

1) Late breaking news: here are a couple of blog posts some lovely listeners wrote about the ending of the slot. One from Hugh McCallion and another from Stephen Duncan. Am I touched? Oh, for sure.

2) After so many fans of the slot wrote to him, the controller of Five Live, Adrian Van Klaveren, started sending out a robo-tweet: “Sometimes you have to make changes to keep progs fresh and try out new ideas/voices but we hope Cash will still appear on UAN…”. (It’s Twitter, so he probably ran out of characters, and meant to continue: “…doing something dull and safe that will upset fewer people.”)

Okay, time’s up. Gotta go before this gets maudlin. Or worse, bitter.

Missing you already.

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Farewell, BBC, I shall miss thee.

For all those people looking for the blog entry about my run-in with a BBC producer on March 17th 2010…

I have been asked – very nicely – to remove it, in deference to the sensibilities of that particular producer and also to our other ones too. And this I do willingly. The storm has passed, all is well, and given that our production staff were very forgiving this evening when I appeared for twenty minutes on-air high as a kite on Testo-Max masculinity pills I’d bought off the Internet – grrrrrr – and which continue to make me butcher by the second, but which I will never take again before I broadcast, then I at least owe them a small favor in return.

So let’s all take a deep breath, release the BBC conflict into history where it belongs, and move on.

I thank you.

TV Swami – he v. happy right now.

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Boring gets a makeover.

leviI know this is beginning to seem like an unhealthy obsession on my part, but hunky man-boob Levi Johnston has been posing for the latest issue of Vanity Fair, and the magazine very kindly made a video about the photoshoot.

It’s remarkable really. Here’s a guy who, by conventional big city standards, seems to have limited intelligence, verbal skills, sense of humor, personality, and talent, yet women, gay guys, and the media have this crazy-mad rising infatuation with him. I mean, he’s dastardly cute ‘n’ all, and cuteness plays well anywhere. But that’s it – beautiful but dull: the total package.

Probably the first male equivalent we’ve had in a long while to those dumb blondes with massive breasts that heterosexual men seem to find endlessly engaging, while the rest of us look on mystified.

Anyway, I’m sure you understand that watching this video could take up most of my morning, if not the whole day, as I have to scrutinize it frame by stupid man-boy frame. For that reason there will be no coherent words written by me today. At least not until I’ve sobered up from my beauty stupor and the hangover that generally follows it. 

For anyone who’s equally obsessed, here’s the link. Enjoy.

Before I go, though, two quick extras. I mentioned yesterday that my BBC thing would be broadcast twenty minutes earlier than usual last night due to an ongoing tennis match that they couldn’t interrupt. (Tennis on radio – what could be more riveting?). In fact, what happened was that my Slot was cancelled altogether. Yup, ‘fraid so. I waited at the studio for two hours until the sound of men slamming balls over a net became so monotonous and so annoying than I had to leave. Therefore the broadcast never happened. Sorry.

Second thing: I have a video on Vimeo.com. Fast and Very Loose, it’s called.

For the past couple of months, a steady dribble of people have drifted over there to take a look at it. Somewhere between four and twelve a day. Not many, but just enough. Then yesterday, for reasons that baffle me, a whopping 544 people viewed it. And at the time of writing today, the number’s already up to 132. What happened all of a sudden? Why the interest in my sitting on the toilet and throwing up? I’m totally intrigued yet, as I say, baffled.

www.cashpeters.com.

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How Betty White put me back on the road to wellness.

I probably should have quit when doctors started complaining. Back in January, as many of you are aware – God knows, I never stopped talking about it – I fasted for two weeks, surviving only on a daily diet of cayenne pepper, lemonade, salt water, maple syrup, laxative tea, and more determination than I thought any human being had, much less me. It was quite an achievement and I was very proud of myself, bordering on smug for a while.

But then, when I happened – in my euphoria – to mention on my BBC thing, that I wasn’t eating, it drew a flood of complaints. A flood.

“How dare your correspondent suggest,” insane medical people wrote to the show’s producers, “that he can live on salt water. If you drink salt water, your brain grows bigger than your skull and you die.”  

master cleanserTo which my general response was: “You morons. I’m not living on salt water, I’m using a tablespoon of it in water each morning to flush out my system. It’s called The Master Cleanser, dummies. It’s been around for fifty years.”

But  because everyone takes the opinion of the medical establishment as law, the topic was considered dangerous and I was banned from mentioning my fast ever again on the show, lest I set a bad example to any corpulent, sick, uneducated, self-destroying listeners by being a model of health – because that would never do.

Well, anyway, what many people didn’t know at the time was that I was filming the whole two-week drama for a little film. That ridiculous spat with doctors – which made me more dead set against their extreme and ridiculous practices than ever – even made it to the final cut. And the best news is, you can now watch it too.

The movie, which is called Fast and Very Loose, has been showing around various film festivals recently. But that’s done, and today I can announce with some pride that it’s available for general viewing on Vimeo.

If you’re interested – and really, how can you resist seeing me suffer? – you can watch it here.  

Odd that this should happen this week actually, because it coincides with a radical lifestyle choice I’ve just made. After much discussing and dithering, I’ve decided that, as from July 5th, I am going totally raw. Raw, I tell you! For the next 100 days, I will eat nothing but raw foods – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and so on. (Actually, there isn’t much “and so on”; I think that’s pretty much all I’m allowed to eat). And I will film this experience too. That will be my next little movie experiment.

The final straw, the one that made me resolute about changing my diet, was an extravagant event I attended Saturday night in Los Angeles, called The Beastly Ball. My partner and I go every year as a guest of actress and icon bettyBetty White, who’s considered some kind of higher being in zoo circles for her concern and love of animals.

The event takes place at the zoo itself and is attended by a bunch of dignitaries – the mayor, a senator, etc – and celebrities (if you can count local TV weathermen as celebrities). Ticket prices run at around $1000 a head. Yet, despite the cost, thousands showed up to support the zoo, though mainly, I suspect, to get at the free food and drink, which this year was divine.

It’s the free food that makes this my favorite event EVER. You’re supposed entranceto be walking around, ogling all the animals, but honestly, who wants to see a chimp doing backflips when there’s free lasagna around the next corner?

Every so often, as you walk around, you come across a booth. There were 25 of them this year. And in each booth a top L.A. restaurant is offering a sampling of its food. It’s all steaming vats and sizzling pans and bustling activity. Like an upmarket soup kitchen crossed with an easter egg hunt. Very nice.

But the pressure is on, of course. Because basically, it means you have to find the booths and eat 25 little meals – everything from hotdogs to green corn tamales to chicken pot pies – in about an hour. Something I’m up for and prepare for, and eagerly anticipate.

Only this year, for the very first time, I noticed something bad happening. I had an adverse reaction.

The whole event culminates in an auction. You sit around at tables, eating and eating and eating, while one of the TV weathermen bounces about a stage eliciting bids for several top of the line items, some of them quite inspired. For $4000, for instance, you could buy yourself a walk-on part in an episode of 24 – “with a character who’s not just anybody, he’s got a name, so he’ll go down in the mythology of the show!’   

“Oooh,” I squealed, “I want to be Butch McGibbon, faded prize-fighter with secret ties to Hamas and a simmering hatred of Jack Bauer.” 

Unfortunately, since I wasn’t willing to pay $4000 for a walk-on in anything, let alone a show I don’t watch, I was outbid instantly by a man at the next table, so it’s him you’ll be seeing get beaten up and tortured in a future episode, not me.

There was also a speaking role in Family Guy on offer, which I thought was cool, as well as a personal tour of the reptile house by Slash, the rock guitarist person.

And while all this was going on, even more restaurants were serving up food around us, including my very favorite: potato martinis. Oh my God, I love these so much, and ate tw0 of them. It’s a martini glass filled with mashed potato, then drizzled with all manner of toppings, from chili to sauteed mushrooms. 

That done, I followed it with my favorite dessert, a little squishy chocolate square that I look forward to all year. Oh, and on the way back from the dessert table, I spotted chefs cooking mini-quesadillas, and who can say no to mini-quesadillas? Not I. So I nabbed three of those too.

And that’s when I hit the wall. Suddenly, I was smacked in the face by reality. That I can’t eat this much. Nobody can. Not without bursting. That my system was overloaded. That a bloated riptide of nausea and disgust was rising up inside of me in reaction to these obscene levels of overindulgence and overconsumption.

My problem is: when I see free food, I have to eat it. And when I eat it, I do so like a starving orphan, as if I’m never going to be eating ever again, so I’d better stock up now. And it’s this ridiculous instinct that was my downfall on Saturday night. By the end, I was feeling really sick. As if I’d gone ten rounds with Butch McGibbon, faded prizefighter.

Worse, the next morning, I was still bloated and ill. So I ate nothing all day. And yesterday, Monday, was pretty much the same. In all, my body took a full 48 hours to readjust, and to simply expel all the crap I’d loaded into it on Saturday night. I was utterly disgusted with myself. Disgusted and ashamed.

And that’s when I made up my mind.

From July 5th – it would be a mistake to do it on July 4th – I am taking on the 100-day raw food challenge. For the next three months, and then some,  raw foodnothing will pass my lips that is cooked. Because cooked food is dead food. Apparently, anything heated to over 120 degrees or so loses all its nutrients. Sadly, that includes cake – the food of life.  

But it’s worth it. Raw food, apparently, if you eat it c0rrectly, brings your whole being into alignment. It enables your body to cleanse and lose excess weight; it affects you spiritually by raising your consciousness, allowing ideas to flow into and through you more easily; and it leaves you feeling balanced, alive, and energized – the exact opposite, in fact, to how I felt Saturday night.

I mentioned my new plan to friends and, naturally, everyone’s horrified. “So does that mean you’ll be eating raw meat, then?” someone asked.

Raw meat? Are you crazy? (Sometimes I don’t think my friends are very bright.)

No, only vegetables, fruits, seeds, sprouts, and nuts. The real food of life. For one hundred days. No coffee or tea. No milk, no sodas, no cookies, no cakes, no bread, no chips, no….well, you name it. Whatever it is, chances are I can’t eat it.

So I guess I should thank dear Betty White. Her largesse this year is double-edged. She not only bought me a ticket to the Beastly Ball, my favorite event ever, but she also unwittingly drove me into an entirely new lifestyle, one that will set me on the right road to future health, while also, incidentally, annoying my friends and loved ones intensely with the extent of its selfishness. 

It should be an interesting summer.

TV Swami, he say YES to raw food.

www.cashpeters.com.

Read the disclaimer yet? You should, you know. It’s at the top of the page.   

NOTE: I received this comment for one reader called Zac who asked me if I’d include certain extra information. My own message is always: don’t take anything from anyone as gospel. Always check for yourself before doing anything. I’m not a doctor, and we’re all different.

Here’s what he said:

 “Cash, can you somehow slip in one caveat that people experiencing any immune system impacting diseases or procedures (HIV, Lupus, Chemo Therapy, and/or Transplants) should check with their doctor prior to starting a diet based on Raw foods? The nutrients you speak of often consist of biotic agents, “flora”, that are either good [probiotics] or if neutral or bad are eliminated by a health immune system. People without a health immune system can see an overgrowth of these flora, and such an overgrown of even the good can have serious impacts. I wish you the best of luck with the whole experience!”

 

naked bookDon’t forget, two signed copies of Naked in Dangerous Places are up for auction on Ebay, with a special bonus chapter thrown in. They’re here. And here

ffAnd Mommy’s Little Freedom Fighter, which also comes with a signed book, is here.

 

  

 

 

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Dead dogs and Englishmen

Well, that didn’t go well, did it? Last night’s BBC thing, I mean.

If you were listening, you’ll know that a relatively light-hearted chit-chat about the quirkery of American television devolved within no time at all into a quagmire of dead dogs, multiple rapists, broken legs on Dancing with the Stars, and Rachel Bilson’s marriage (which, by the way, I put on the same level, interest-wise, as the previous three.)

As a result, I fear my stint on Up All Night may be over. Or, if not over, then drawing to a premature end. One of those premature ends that, quite honestly, is probably long overdue.

After all, it’s been eleven years. In fact, the eleventh anniversary was this very week, though I forgot to mention that in my haste to talk about not one, but seventeen dogs being burned alive in a propane explosion.

Doing TV reviews was not a job I applied for, by the way. I got it by nepotism. A friend of mine used to host the show in the mid-90s and he called me up one day with sad news: the previous guy had died. Or absconded. Or simply not shown up for work and proved himself unreliable. “Will you fill in this week for three minutes? You can do it on the phone.” He made it sound easy, which to me is important, so I said yes, despite the fact that I didn’t watch any television and had to get all my information from magazines in our local supermarket. And when the guy failed to show up the following Monday (the Slot used to be on Mondays) I filled in then, too. And it just grew from there, as these things tend to if you let them. Eleven years later, it’s now half an hour long and broadcast from a real studio in downtown Los Angeles with music and sound-bites and everything. Only one thing hasn’t changed: I still don’t watch television. Well, who has the time?

However, last night’s outing may be, if not the last, then the red flag that signals the beginning of the end. There’s nothing funny about rape or dogs being burned alive. Nothing at all. It just came out that way.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had problems either. Back in January, when I embarked on the Master Cleanser and fasted on maple syrup and fresh lemons for two weeks (the movie of this debacle is on my Facebook page, if you’re interested!), I dared go on the BBC and gush about the benefits of fasting, and the following day almost drowned beneath a tsunami of complaints, one or two of them from doctors who claimed it was irresponsible of me to talk about such ridiculous and dangerous things on air, and thoroughly irresponsible of the BBC to broadcast that kind of holistic drivel. The same doctors who will be dying of blocked arteries, distended colons, and damaged livers years from now, I predict. Though of course you can’t tell them that. Bloody know-it-alls.

Quite frankly, I thought my number was up then. But we soldiered on. Last night, though, was another low, and honestly I’m worried.

My Slot could so easily go the way of the rest of the economy. Cutbacks, downsizing. “Sorry, but we’re taking the show in a new direction, one that involves accuracy and sticking to the topic and not distressing listeners.” At which point that will be it. I’ll be no different to a laid-off mill worker in Ohio or a kennel owner in Pennsylvania whose business  just burned down in a propane explosion.

Not that I need to worry. I’m plenty busy. New book coming out in April, another book just completed, a TV travel show to shoot in May, plus all the American radio stuff I do. Still, after eleven whole years of showing up for something week after week –  I mean, man, that’s like an addiction. It locks you into a groove you can’t easily snap out of, even though I know the day must come at some point.  

One of the reviewers of my new book Naked in Dangerous Places wrote, “Cash Peters is our generation’s Alistair Cook…”  Seriously? Didn’t he report from America for the BBC for 48 years or something preposterous like that and die at the microphone during a propane delivery?  I’m hazy on the exact details.

Last night, I came home after the show with a heavy heart. You can tell how affected I was: I remained completely unconcerned for the safety of the blind contestant on American Idol. Walk too far in the wrong direction, drop into the orchestra pit – I didn’t care.  (He’s going to be voted off soon anyway; he’s outclassed by almost every one of  his sighted rivals) And I wasn’t even as downright appalled as I should have been by a trailer for the upcoming Osbournes Reloaded, a variety show that promises to be a trashy, calamitous disaster, hosted by Ozzy and Sharon, and which seems to involve Sharon being strident and irritating for an hour and Ozzy shaking and being incoherent. What’s reloaded about that? That’s exactly how I remember them from last time.

No, last night, not even the sparkly baubles on American TV could make me feel superior and better about myself. I turned it off, dimmer and even more depressed.

Now at last I know how the Up All Night audience feels after my Slot.  

NOTE: Inside Out, the short movie I made about the Master Cleanser is available to watch on my Facebook page, and only on my Facebook page.

The BBC Slot is available to hear again on http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00j2dr7/Up_All_Night_11_03_2009/. Have painkillers ready.

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American, idle. An addict reaches out.

I’m furious at myself for getting hooked again.

After Season 7 of American Idol I was an emotional husk – ask my friends, they’ll tell you – having invested waaaaay too much time and energy in performers who, a few weeks later – actually, minutes in some cases – and removed from the ethereal glow of the spotlight, seemed pretty rubbish. Aside from the occasional Jennifer Hudson or Kelly Clarkson, the only time we hear about these guys again is a couple of years later when their house is being repossessed or they’re dropped suddenly by their management company and are releasing songs through a MySpace page.

So last year, especially when the right David didn’t win, I quit cold turkey. That was it. Finished. No more American Idol for Sir.  It was like a New Year’s resolution, only in May.

But oh, how soon we forget.

January. More out of curiosity than anything else. Just to check out the level of talent on offer. And also because I report on these things for the BBC – I mean, I have to stay in touch. I stopped by one of the Hollywood shows. A casual glance one evening when nothing else was on TV. And goddamnit, I got hooked all over again! 

You have no idea how angry I am at myself right now.

Tonight it’s the wild card round. They’re about to give three more people I won’t remember in a year’s time the chance to be forgotten by millions of others as well, by joining the twelve-step program that the show becomes from now until the finale, when the dozen will be whittled down to one, the wrong contestant will be crowned the winner, and we can all thankfully resume our normal lives once again.

The favorites are already obvious. There’s…

The guy with the Danny Wallace glasses who lost his wife and is never done milking it, hoping, I guess, to secure the granny vote, but alienating everyone else. Unfortunately, he blows you away when he sings, so he’s staying; 

The tall guy with the ridiculous black manga hairstyle and the screeching voice that will cause your  fillings to drop out. Very talented, but he’s way too theatrical and screechy, and dental work is costly; 

Lil Rounds. Slick, talented, and will probably win, mainly because her name is so catchy, though I doubt she’s distinctive enough to succeed big-time in the real world later on. In the cold light of day, even the most gifted performer on American Idol can seem like a washed-up hooker singing karaoke between tricks. But the judges are swooning. So, of the girls, Lil’s in with the best chance. And if her career takes off too afterwards, wonderful;

The blind guy. He’s absolutely hopeless in dance routines and has to be led everywhere by his brother. Good voice, though, and excellent when you direct him to where the piano is and place  his hands on the keys – it’s just that he’s excruciating to watch. I find myself on edge the whole time, yelling, “Don’t leave your stool!” One week he’s going to drop off the stage, and I don’t want to see that. He’ll get the pity vote for being a tryer, but I so hope he doesn’t win;   

And my favorite right now, Jorge – pronounced Horhay – from Puerto Rico, who has a lazy eyelid that’s going to require surgery at some point, and who sobs in Spanish every time something good happens. But he has a lovely voice, he’s tricky when he dances, and he keeps smiling at me – at me, mind, not you – every time he’s on screen. I love this guy and I’m going to vote for him ’til my fingers bleed.

One note to God, if he’s listening: during tonight’s wild card vote, please remove Tatiana del Toro and send her packing. She’s the coquettish little drama queen they’re setting up to be this season’s Sanjaya. She has a hideous tittery laugh, a tendency to sob more than Horhay does (and that’s a lot of sobbing), and is far more interested, it seems, in how she looks on the studio monitors than how she sounds in my ears. If this little screamer makes it to the top twelve this year…..God, I know you move in mysterious ways, but that would be almost too strange and you need to rethink it.

In fact, if Tatiana’s not booted off tonight, I almost think it could be the last straw. The one shock event I need to snap me out of my American Idol addiction once and for all. I am not watching this show if she’s in it. That’s it. Finished. No more American Idol for Sir

Well, y’know – until next week.

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