Thursday 24 September 2009


After the rip snorting hog whimpering "success" of last week’s Children in Need singathon at the legendary Abbey Road studios with an all star cast, plus me and my banana shoes proving unable to sing and clap at the same time, it was on with my musical career this week.

I have been pondering this lack of coordination over the past few days and feel that it is not too shaming an admission. After all B.B King says he is unable to sing and play guitar at the same time. I have sat in the audience on several occasions over the years and have been thoroughly entertained seeing him just, er, not do that!

There are probably lots of other examples of musicians, sportsmen and artists unable to multitask.

Trouble is I am unable to think of any other ones just at the moment. I can make some up if you like:

Hmmm: Premier league footballers unable to run and spit at the same time?

Minor Royals unable to be Royal and hold down a worthwhile job?

Politicians incapable of appearing in or on any media outlet and tell the unvarnished truth?

Texans find it difficult to walk and talk at the same time? "Ah said 'howdy neighbour' and my legs jes kinda collapsed" said Barton K Finkelhiemer III from a sitting position outside his home in Dallas.

So the big news this week music fans was that I was back in the studio once more laying down a track for my "hit" album. Well in truth the TOGS have kindly invited me to contribute another hot ditty for this year’s "Bandaged" album which is going to be a 2 CD set, I have been informed.

A list of tunes for tiny tots was sent and after some consideration I plumped for "The Runaway Train".

The question: Was it going to be more difficult than last year’s "triumph" when I murdered "My Bruvver"?

As last time, a backing track and the lyrics were provided and I spent some minutes purple faced with embarrassment in the rented flat of a morning rehearsing and hoping that my singing would be inaudible to my neighbours.

No one has been giving me funny looks as I emerged from the lift at 01.45am each morning so I may have gotten away with it.


Sorry about that. An Americanism just crept into that last sentence causing my legs to collapse from under me for some reason.

The big day came and not Abbey Road this time nor any of the famous and iconic studios around the globe.

I quite fancy the idea of laying down some tracks at Tuff Gong with Bob Marley in Jamaica – or Hitsville in Detroit or even Chateau d’Herouville in France. Instead the rather mundane surroundings of the Radio 2 building not far from Broadcasting House beckoned.

Phil Hughes who is a senior executive, CIN go-between and all round fixer was the engineer on the session. Now there is a man who can multitask!

He balanced the mic, played the backing track and the runaway train came down the track and I crooned and I crooned.

I have known Phil for such a long time now that I know as far as my singing efforts and my radio presenting efforts are concerned he is beyond shock.

He can also keep a diplomatically straight face - something teachers and parents presumably must master as their little charges attempt their first faltering attempts at musicianship and comedy.

Now a seasoned pro having done two songs for Children in Need I know what side of the recording spectrum I am on.

Forget spending a year in the studio putting down tracks and blowing the advance from the record company. I am more the early days of recording type.

In the studio, two run throughs and cut the third straight onto the disc. I could have been a rock n roller or in a 60's beat group (No offence to Phil but George Martin could have produced). Or maybe I could have been a 30's blues man recording 6 sides in an afternoon in a hotel room in Knoxville. So speedy were we this time.

However despite the rather retro feel to the recording there is one thing for which I am eternally grateful: The "acetate" is then sent off to another studio where it is "auto tuned" and generally fiddled with in a 21st century stylee by the record’s overall producer so that when it eventually reaches this year’s album it won't sound like the thin reedy out of tune and out of time voice on the original.

Apparently this happens quite a lot. Without naming names it is all down to multi tasking. It is very difficult to sing, dance and look good in the video all at the same time.

Another thing I love about being a "musician" (see how I am getting ideas already) is the rock and roll lifestyle.....

Thursday 17 September 2009


It is that time of the year once again. Coming round with ever-increasing frequency along with the Queen’s birthdays.

(I reckon with two a year she must be clocking in at about 160 something by now. Why have we not seen her getting yet another telegram from herself and blowing out some candles on the TV news? She must easily be the world’s oldest person by now.)

Maybe I am missing something here. Still, won't be the first time that has happened.

Yes time for the annual Children in Need song fest, with a new album "Bandaged" being recorded. Shortly after writing this I am off into the studio to attempt my offering this year. Hot on the heels of the success that was "My Bruvver", I shall be slaughtering "The Runaway Train" - as if the children hadn't suffered enough!

However, Hellen Bach and Norman who are just two of Terry Wogan’s TOG army invited me to take part in the recording of this year’s anthem at Abbey Road studios in London.

I have been boasting to the Beatle fans that I have been recording at Abbey Road with MY band that this year featured among others Ex Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, Pink Floyd Drummer Nick Mason, Ade Edmondson, Pixie Lott, Paloma Faith, Cara Dillon and the fabulous Claire Teal who you can see to great effect later this year when we are both part of the Radio 2 team for an edition of "Eggheads". (She demonstrated far greater intelligence than the rest of us old duffers despite having megabrains like Paul Gambaccini as the team captain.) There were a whole lot of other great musicians there as well as the London Gospel Choir and an orchestra of schoolchildren. As you know I have deep reservations about young people and musical instruments. It may be over 40 years ago but I can still remember the horror that was kindergarten band lessons. Mrs Hillbron would patiently explain what the notes on the blackboard were for and tell us that we were to blow, shake, clack and rattle when and only when she pointed at us. "one two three..." and all us kids just shook, blew, clacked and rattled indiscriminately.

Then of course there are recorders and violins which should not be allowed within a hundred miles of anyone under the age of 20. Although there are of course notable exceptions such as Nigel Kennedy, who if you compare the little chap on the archive footage from his time at the Yehudi Menuhin school and the virtuoso that he is now is perhaps a salutary lesson to us all : Playing a musical instrument turns you into a "Mockney". His accent changed dramatically - maybe something to do with having a bit of wood shoved under your chin for 13 hours a day for 30 years. I am not sure.

"Laydeez and gentleman will you please welcome Mr Eric Clapton: "Lawks lovaduck!"

Mr B.B King! "Lucille and I'll go to the foot of our stairs."

And who is this mystery axeman? "Hi I'm Brian May from Pearly Queen and here's a track from our new album : “Boiled beef and carrots"

Arriving at the studios, I always marvel at the graffiti on the gateposts, pledging undying allegiance to the Fab Four and others. I am hoping someone has daubed "Pudsey you rawk" on there since my trip.

There are always tourists having their photograph taken on the zebra crossing outside. However, often they are standing on the wrong one as there are two fairly close to one another.

Once in the studios it was quite a wait until the recording started so time to get to know my fellow "singers" - as you may notice from the film when the song comes out if I have not ended up on the cutting room floor like I did as "Mad Patient" in one of the first episodes of "Doctors" a few years back Grrrrr. I am down at the ‘nonsingers and not very well known yet singers’ end of the line. Despite rocking back and forth on my banana shoes which also added extra height I was on the front row with the small people like Sarah Greene and Emma Pay, who gave me a copy of her cd which I played on the show as part of Lester’s Library. She is teeny tiny and a musician, singer songwriter and corporate lawyer. This means I think that she can and probably will have to sue herself at some point in the future as her career takes off.

There were also people I vaguely recognised from the teevee and a lot who I didn't. However this is not me being snooty. I was standing next to a very attractive actress from a soap - no idea who but then again she only had eyes for Lee Mead who was in the singers’ section. Behind me was Joe Pasquale yet with a voice as distinctive as his, heard not a peep.

We did several takes until the producer Adey - who looked the spit of Ade Edmonson so I found this a mite confusing - pronounced himself satisfied. The hardest part I found was that lacking coordination and not having "soul hips" as Emma Payn told me, I was unable to sing and clap in time. I felt like the monster in the film "Young Frankenstein" where he is called upon to show he is normal and not dangerous by singing and dancing with Gene Wilder in a tuxedo performing "Putting on the Ritz".

Pudsey turned up to wave along. I have met the famous bear on several occasions over the years and I swear this time he has had a little "surgery". If you were lucky enough to get to the gig in Hyde Park the other weekend where Barry Manilow among others performed for us, you may have noticed that Baz appears to have had some work done. I am not going to do any hooter related gags. Although as a member of the Manilow fan club (do they still sign all their correspondence "Manilove"?) once told me : "He has not got a big nose, he has a small face". The picture of Baz on song on our website gave him the skin tone and appearance of one of the Muppet Babies.

I am honoured to be an ambassador for the Hospital Radio Association so last Friday it was a flying visit to the Conquest Hospital in Hastings (This being my adopted home town, everything has to have a Harold/William/1066 spin to it.)

The volunteers had been busy doing their programmes and comforting patients with requests as well as raising the necessary funds. My job was to pick the raffle winners. Still it was a chance to meet with some nice people and I got a free cup of tea.

Also I pointed out to them that perhaps it would be a good idea to carry my show between 3 and 6 in the morning instead of their own pre-recorded voice tracked show. I like a captive audience! They promised to mention it at their next AGM. Fingers crossed.

Thursday 10 September 2009


Having visited the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon the other week (see previous blogs), I had only scratched the surface so it seemed a good idea to go back and finish the job. Also it would rack up a few walking miles into the bargain.

However a late start and new shoes slowed progress. I have been suckered into buying a pair of shoes which health nuts swear by. They are supposed to ape the gait of Masai Warriors. If you have ever seen pictures of Masai Warriors they are tall slim and graceful. They exude an aura of calm dignity.

So how different to this "warrior" who managed to find a pair on special offer and had to hold onto the shop assistant as he tried them on in case he fell over. The idea is that they are supposed to exercise a lot of forgotten muscles without you realising. The reality is that you are constantly moving slightly in order to maintain your balance. I remembered the sensation vaguely from a pair of stilts that I had as a child that my Dad had made. The simple description of this footwear is "banana shoes".

So off I set "sproing sproing sproing" to the tube station. Gingerly down the escalator "sproing sproing ker-sproing".

Queensbury tube. Up the escalator and out into the street "sproing sproing wobble sproing". It was only a couple of miles max to the museum and as it was about 6 back to the flat. I knew that I needed to leave about two hours for the return. However unfortunately this only left about 40 minutes in the exhibition.

There was a whole lot more packed into the hall than I realised and so a third visit is going to be necessary. I need to be more organised.

With these banana shoes progress isn't as fast. Maybe this is why the noble Masai excude that air of calm. They are going nowhere in a hurry but realise it. The museum was interesting and in the bomber section there was an elderly man explaining the finer points of one of the planes to passers by. Turns out he had flown them during the war. No time to engage him in conversation. I had warrior walking to do…"sproing sproing sproingety sproing" I am going to have go back a third time.

On the long march back, my mind buzzing with aeroplanes, I happened to look up at a block of flats not far from Brent Cross on the North Circular road and spotted this plaque : Amy Johnson. Aviators everywhere! Although I gather she should be referred to as an "aviatrix".

If you are not familiar with her work: She set numerous long distance flight records then unfortunately drowned in the Thames Estuary whilst on a ferrying flight for the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1941. Worthy of a blue plaque I think.

All this exercise fitted neatly together with a selection of bizarre threads on the show on Friday when the news reported that 60cm thighs were healthy. At first as usual we got the wrong end of the stick confusing circumference with diameter.

60cms is the width of the average washing machine. That is big leggy!

We were also musing on irrational fears and Simon "Iron man" Tester - my producer who is getting into cycling in a big way after trying rugby and failing…(and only as a spectator) - had noticed that in the gloom of the night-time office there lurked in the corner the rather sinister sight of Arnold Schwarzenegger in cardboard cut out form.

For some strange reason he found this rather unnerving. Dumbly putting two and two together we wondered as do you how big Arnie's thighs were. So we hauled him up to the studio then discovered that we had no tape measure. The BBC can boast so many studios around the world. TV and radio channels the envy of the world. Online services that rivals loathe and yet we can't manage a tape measure!

You noted that one sheet of A4 paper was nearly 28cms to a couple of those round the leg should give us an idea. Arnie was a bit more difficult as he was cardboard and like Stanley…flat! Also we weren't entirely sure if the Terminator replica was life size or not. Although we were impressed with his flat stomach. He must have been using one of those "ab masters" that are advertised on daytime TV.

In order to make him look a little more friendly and less forbidding it was decided a smiley face was what was needed.

You also pointed out that to create a level playing field and make us feel better about our body image, if you took a photo of a gorgeous person and turned their mouth upside down it made them look hideous which was a great comfort. You also pointed out - and like all good science - the control was that the cast of Eastenders looked like that anyway so no amount of cut and paste with their mugs made a ha'pporth of difference.

Obviously the big news of the week was the bombshell that hit when Terry announced his retirement from the breakfast show and the news that Chris would be taking over in the New Year.

I have had the privilege of knowing Terry ever since he returned in the early 90's when his TV chat show ended. He has never been anything other than positive, kind & courteous to me and complimentary about the show. I have been in this industry for more than 30 years now and I have met a lot of people and some of them have been vile. Terry is a gem who will be sadly missed. However (and I have no vested interest here as one thing was certain when Terry decided to retire - it would not be me taking over!).

I know Chris vaguely, we are colleagues not mates and never see each other outside work. Yet he has always been positive, kind, courteous and complimentary about the show.

I am looking forward to hearing how his new programme sounds and am not prejudging it like many people on internet message boards.

Chris must have developed a rhino hide by now. I know it would get me down if I was in his shoes. Looking at some of the posts describing him for example in one instance as "scum", I wonder what goes through someone's mind as they sit at their keyboard berserkly tapping out this poison. He is a DJ and TV presenter, not a paedophile for goodness sake!

Friday 4 September 2009


Currently running a week behind real time so these are the ‘highlights’ of last week:

I had read in my local paper, the ‘Hastings Observer’ - (Best ever headline when reporting on an inquiry into a crane dropping a small bulldozer onto an unoccupied shed with no casualties apart from some splintered wood - "CARNAGE!"), a few weeks back that someone was going to be standing on the plinth in Trafalgar Square. All part of the Anthony Gormley thing of 100 days of one person per hour standing up there being artistic. I interviewed him about it when I sat in for Claudia Winkleman a few months back. Not sure who or what the local person was about, but when I arrived she was nearly at the end of her hour and was holding up a piece of paper with the words: “I have had a really good time", or something similar complete with a smiley face. When I have seen plinth people in the past, I’ve noticed that they seem to have run out of material pretty quickly, as an hour is a very long time to be standing up there surrounded by gawpers like me. I whipped out my camera to take a pic and… erm, this is all I got.

So apologies unnamed woman, I’m sure you did my adopted hometown proud. I will have to be careful with this or I’m going to end up being jailed. A girl I know was out with another woman friend once and noticed that a bloke was trying to take a picture up her skirt whilst she was checking out the magazines in a newsagent. Needless to say the bloke fled in terror when they brought their considerable and justified fury to bear.

After I’d finished taking embarrassing snaps of strangers, I decided to have a walk along the Thames. I love walking alongside water as there’s so much to see and also it’s generally flat. No waterfalls on this stretch of the river. I was on the South bank and walked into a swanky mall and suddenly my blood ran cold for there it was…..the machine that blighted my life! I’ve never been much of a rebel and have always obeyed signs that say ‘Keep of the Grass’ or ‘No Fishing’.

A few years ago I was out with a friend and we were walking along the river and came to this same mall called ‘Hays Galleria’. In it there’s a rather fine moving sculpture called ‘The Navigators’ by David Kemp.

The oars move and water pours out turning the paddle wheels and various other bits of it whirl round. It makes an excellent centrepiece and focal point for all the people eating and generally milling around and shopping. It also has a big red button on it marked ‘In emergency’. I was pointing this out to my friend and for some dumb reason had forgotten, or misjudged, the length of my arm with my outstretched finger. The upshot of this was that I pressed the button and the whole thing ground to a noisy halt. The Galleria fell silent and several hundred pairs of eyes swivelled in my direction. The button had a lock on it so it needed a security man with a special key for it to be reactivated. My impotent tugging at it had no impact other than to focus people’s attention on the perpetrator….me! There was only one thing for it and that was to slink away trying, (and failing), to look nonchalant. I gather that whistling is one way to affect nonchalance.... I can't.

This act has haunted me for years and it spawned a thread on the show at the time entitled ‘don't touch the button’. It would appear I wasn't alone in this as others have had similar experiences. No wonder we live in ‘Broken Britain’. People can't go around pressing buttons that don't belong to them whenever they feel like it; it’s the top of a particularly thin and slippery wedge!!

Meanwhile back in the present (well last week anyhow), further up the South Bank there was a commotion and a lot of people wandering around looking like they were attending a wedding. They were I suppose, but it was for a film. Straining to see if it was yet another London based Rom Com I was unable to spot Renee Zellwegger, Colin Firth nor fop-fringed Hugh Grant.

Also absent were Simon Pegg, Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry. However judging by the director’s accent as he yelled at the cast through the megaphone, and also members of the crew, it may have been a Bollywood movie in progress. Since I’ve been living in the capital I’ve stumbled on four or five different film sets. One was a costume drama being made outside a pub in Maida Vale. Another time early one morning, another Bollywood crew were filming a sports car going up and down St Johns Wood High Street. On another two occasions Regents Park was the location and a square in Soho.

I like to think that if they will all come out at the same time, and are all going to feature at Cannes, the critics will note me in the background on all of them. A bit like ‘Where's Wally?’

Still continuing with the walking and the diet and it seems to be delivering the desired result, so Blubberwatch has now resulted in me weighing less than before my first America Adventure in 2007. There’s still a way to go though, so let us hope it continues. The downside is I am ‘between’ trousers. The fat pair is now ‘baggy’ and I need a belt to hold them up. The other pair is still rather tight causing a marked ‘Clarkson overhang’.

Many of you have remarked on the new feature we have on the website - our Cartoon Gallery. Clive Goddard is a professional artist whose work has been seen in among other things, The Times, The Spectator and Private Eye. He’s also the illustrator of children's books in the "Horrible" and "Awesome". Clive has kindly agreed to provide a cartoon about the show every month. The first one is up and depicts ‘Buffoon Town’. The next one I have seen and it features me among others. Hopefully by the time it’s published on the web I will look nothing like it