(published 17th December 2018)
“I don’t care who’s requested it. You’re not playing a song called, “Conceived in Sin, Born in Pain…” err…”
I try to be helpful: “It’s “Conceived in Sin, Born in Pain, a Life of Toil, and Inevitable Death”, boss.”
“Right. You’re NOT playing, on the public airwaves, a song called “Conceived in Sin, Born in Pain, a Life of Toil, and Inevitable Death”, by a group called Dog’s Breath and the Puppypoopers.”
“It’s not too bad, boss. Just your standard Heavy Metal…”
I was losing the argument. It was our weekly production meeting for Holiday Island Discs (named thus for copyright reasons) at Radio Sherwood, ‘the premier East Midlands commercial radio station.’ Anselm Petty, the producer, ran the meetings like King Herod running a crèche. A bit painful for me, as the whole format of the programme had been my idea.
Two years ago, I’d pitched a programme idea based on the self-evident truth that the only good reason why you’d ever want to be famous would be to get on Desert Island Discs (me – I not only constantly revise my choice of eight discs, I also work on and amend my gently humorous, self-deprecating introductions to each of my choices). My idea was that each week, we’d play a series of records selected by one of the patients at the local Macmillan Hospice: their chance to grab some limelight before they left the stage, and to look back on their lives and give thanks. I’d pre-record and edit my interviews with those patients who were well enough to speak at length. With other patients, I’d introduce the records myself, basing the introductions on interviews with the patient and the relatives. We always ended the programme with an appeal for funds for the hospice and, as a result, we’d raised forty eight thousand pounds in the last year.
When I’d first made the programme pitch, Deidre of the Sorrows (aka the station manager) said she was willing to trial it for three months, but she was damned if she’d allow anymore plays on the station of Sinatra’s ‘My Way.’ So Anselm, the producer, was given a veto over the patients’ choices.
In my expert opinion, old Betty Boulton’s choices were just right for the programme (her picks even over-lapped with a couple of mine – “The Laughing Policeman” and The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun”). They ranged perfectly over time and genres, and her introductions to each choice were delightful. The trouble lay with disc number seven, the demo disk made by her goth grandson and his mates. Anselm was appalled. It was true that some of the lyrics were rather colourful (though I had admire the rhyming of ‘anarchic’ and ‘free market’), but I reasoned that the section of the radio audience that might otherwise have taken offence wouldn’t actually be able to make out the lyrics over the cacophony of the backing.
I reasoned in vain, and ended up heading back to the hospice to ask Betty to choose a different seventh disc. Her son, Andy the digger driver (whom I’d met last time), was also visiting.
Betty favoured me with a big smile when I walked in: “Hello, dear, back again? I hope they’re going to bring you a cup of tea. You’ll find some fig rolls in that bedside cabinet – I remember you said they were your favourite. Are you here about something to do with the radio programme?”
“I’m afraid I am, Betty. Err… there’s a bit of a problem about Dog’s Breath’s demo. Um. We were wondering if you’d like to choose a replacement?”
Betty is the sweetest old soul you could wish to meet. But, to my surprise (and supported by Andy), she dug her heels in: “Oh I’m sorry, dear, but I couldn’t do that. You see, I’ve already told Dog’s Breath and the rest of the boys that their record would be played on the radio. I couldn’t let them down – they’d be so disappointed. And they’re such nice boys.” It seemed that the only reason she’d wanted to appear on the programme was to plug the Dog’s Breath record. And, if Dog’s Breath was going to be censored, she would be withdrawing in protest.
Andy backed her up: “Dead right, Mum. Radio Sherwood’s Holiday Island Discs could be The Big Breakthrough for Dog’s Breath. And what could be more appropriate for a programme from the hospice than a song about inevitable death?”
Neither Betty nor I could quite follow Andy that far, but he was too fired up to notice: “Who’s doing this censoring anyway? Surely, it’s your show?” (this last was addressed to me).
“It’s not really my show, Andy. I just present it. It’s the producer, Anselm Petty, who has the final say about the content.”
“Humpff! I know that creep. He’s moved in down Mickleover Lane. He’s just paid for half an acre of brick paving, where old Mrs Epps used to have her rose garden.”
Betty looked horrified: “No! Really! Jean Epps would be terribly upset. She looked after those roses like they were her children…” And so the conversation moved on.
I left soon after that, but I hung around in the hospice car park til Andy came out. I had a proposition for him. As I explained, his eyes first glinted and then he laughed out loud. “I’ll do it”, he said.
When I got back to the station, I went into Anselm’s office with the suggestion that we could perhaps still run the programme with seven discs instead of eight. I didn’t think Betty would agree to that, and in all probability, neither would Anselm. But my premise was that we should consider the possibility, because the other seven were absolutely perfect…
Number one, of course, was “The Laughing Policeman”, fondly remembered by Betty from the old Light Programme and “Uncle Mac’s Children’s Favourites.” Did Uncle Mac really say, live on the air: “That should keep the little bastards quiet for a couple of minutes, I’m off for a cup of tea”?
Number two was Eddie Cochrane’s “Summertime Blues”. The perfect pop song – Eddie, Eddie, you died too soon.
Number three was “The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals. When Bob Dylan heard it, he switched to electric guitar. ’Nuff said.
Number four, The Watersons’ “The Derby Ram”. A bit dreary, but never neglect the local angle, as in “Derby man drowned at sea: Titanic sinks.”
Number five, Beethoven’s Pastoral. Keep the middle-brows happy – it’s only for ninety seconds.
Number six, The Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man”. Betty must’ve been a cool chick in the Seventies. And, a nice controversial touch here, she chose the live version with Dickie Betts on lead guitar, instead of the studio version with Duane Allman (obit.).
Number seven, pass…
Number eight, for a real Church ending, a spot of Thomas Tallis’s choral masterpiece, “Spemin Alium”. Important to end on an uplifting note.
Just as Anselm was growling, “Why, why, WHY are you wasting my time with this?” his mobile rang. Surprised, he picked it up. It was his partner, Gary. Gary was yelling so loud, I could hear every word. Apparently, some mad bastard with a JCB was outside their house threatening to dig up their new brick paving and drop it all through the picture window, unless Anselm agreed to reinstate Dog’s Breath and the Puppypoopers.
I judged it better to withdraw.
Michael Bloor is a retired sociologist living in Dunblane, Scotland, who has discovered the exhilarations of short fiction. Recent publications include The Drabble, The Cabinet of Heed, Ink Sweat & Tears, Occulum, The Copperfield Review, Scribble, Dodging the Rain, Everyday Fiction, The Fiction Pool, Firewords, and Spelk.