Thursday 19 May 2011


Normally one day drifts gently into another. However, over the last few weeks things have been far busier for some reason. Not sure why this is and it does make me understand how the elderly can find that one activity per day is more than enough.

A typical day for me would be up at 1am, scratch myself. Clean teeth. Pull on clothes. Amble in to do the show. Play tunes. Fool about. Back to bed. More scratching.

Up about 10.30. Scratch (ooh that's good). Few phone calls. Listen to some CDs for Lester's Library (this can be done whilst scratching. Who says guys can't multi-task?)
Go for a walk. Maybe drift around some record shops.

Catch up on some TV that I have recorded including the excellent music documentaries on BBC4, as well as my current US favourites, Chuck and V; they are glossy escapism. For some reason, with British drama I am aware of the acting far more as the actors only seem to have two speeds:-

1) To show anger: High pitched shrieking

2) To demonstrate emotion, threats, passion, urgency and in fact anything other than anger: whispery husking. This is particularly noticeable when I play promotional trailers on the show for BBC TV shows:-

"Uh-oh, there they go acting again!"

With hindsight, point 1 above - to show anger - can also be demonstrated via point 2 - whispery husking - as well. So actors with only the one speed rather than the two can get work in soaps quite easily.

This is not an exact science, I will admit, but it is just a feeling I get from five minutes of Doctors.

(Yes I know I am still smarting from them cutting out my cameo in that show as "Mad Patient" about ten years ago. I mean really I was brilliant. I twitched. I foamed. My eyes bulged. I sweated. It was an Oscar-winning performance which never made the screen. Grrrr!)

So upon consulting the "Lifetime at a glance" diary which, until recently, just had "my funeral" as the only entry (although not on any particular date but a tad closer than it was last year) I not only realised that three months had passed, but thirty years had passed also in the blink of any eye.

I had been invited to a staff reunion; it is 40 years since BBC Radio Humberside opened. This party was for those who had worked there during the first ten years. One of my first jobs with the BBC was as a "Station Assistant" which was a terrific job to have; you did everything from operating the rather antique equipment that was in use back then to doing interviews researching and producing material, as well as presenting stuff. Janice Long started out the same way and at the same time at Radio Merseyside. I had a locum job so was based in Birmingham but sent to stations that needed extra help due to staff absence, special events etc..

One of my first postings was to Hull. I had to look it up on the map. Back then the only reason to go there was to get the ferry to Holland. Within a couple of days of my arriving I was presenting the farming programme snappily entitled, Farm. I had the most terrific time careering round the fleshpots of the city and seeking out wonderful pubs like The Polar Bear and The Zoological, as well as taking a leak under King Billy's statue and marvelling at the glass cisterns in the legendary public convenience.

Thirty years later I was on the train wondering what had happened to my old stamping ground. I have been there a couple of times since for flying visits but not really had a chance to wander around.

On my first visit the Humber Bridge was still under construction and so the only quick way across was by the ferry from Barton. This was also the railway station so you had to drive along the platform to get on the boat. In those days the boozers all shut during the afternoon. However, due to some local legal loophole there was a bar on the ferry. So at chucking out time the local drunks bought a ticket and gravitated to the ferry where they sat all afternoon going back and forth until the pubs in town reopened about 5pm.

I remember once travelling across the water with a friend who tottered up to a bunch of very tough looking blokes surrounded by empties and asked:

"Is this the Captain’s table?"

Like so many of our cities, Hull has changed immeasurably (probably for the better) as industry has declined or changed. Time was you could smell the fish being landed at the docks. Now they are no more and the warehouses have been turned into swanky apartments and there are yachts moored in the basin.

Hotels have sprung up all over the place and ring roads cut swathes through the city. If you live there I expect you welcomed this urban regeneration. As I walked up Jameson Street past the old abandoned BBC studios above the now closed Post Office, I shed a silent tear for those wonderful days thirty years ago when you could pop across the road to the tiniest pub long-gone called The Bass House, and have a drink with the workers from the Hull Daily Mail and watch the documentary, Strangeways, on the TV high-up on a shelf in the corner. One night a burly bloke put his pint down pointed at the box and exclaimed…

"Look, it’s Chalky. He's still in!"

After and before we weaved our way home we would drop by the best takeaway in the entire world which delighted in the name, Mmmmm Yankeeburger. It had relishes like I had never seen.

I was living in a grim bedsit in the Avenues area the day the news of John Lennon's murder came on the radio. Everyone on the station did their tribute and played Beatles songs as well as his solo work. One guy (not me, honest!) was a mite confused and played a song by Wings.

So back to the present. Having been dropped off at a rather impressive budget hotel in the eastern part of the city and having to let a group of blokes dressed as Vikings get in the lift first, I found my room. The do was being held in a hotel out by the bridge. As I got in the cab, the driver asked me if it was my first time in the city and admonished, "Be careful when you come back tonight. This is a dodgy area, lot of drug addicts and drunks around here." So despite the gentrification the same old social problems remain.

Arrived a few minutes early and went and looked at the bridge which is rather fine, although I still think it lags behind the Golden Gate for a “Wow” factor. Sent a pic to the Dark Lady; at this point she is busy packing for our trip to San Francisco next month and got a text back; "Golden Gate?"

I hope she didn't think I had fled to the US on the pretext of a trip to Hull.

Now you must understand that it is thirty years since I had seen most of the people at this do.

I of course, as you can imagine, had not changed one iota in that period. I am the same fresh-faced trim youth, although now without the dodgy moustache but a dodgy beard instead.

Once inside I checked over the assembled company: Most were recognisable, a few weren't and, alas, a few were not there due to the grim reaper exacting his terrible price.

There were displays of old publicity photographs and lots of press cuttings and also some archive recordings of those early days. On a couple of them was an absurdly young buck with a dodgy moustache. Blimey! I had changed slightly after all. Perhaps the most worrying thing was I recognised the shirt I was wearing: "Ah yes, I bought that at the Oxford Street branch of Mr Byrite whilst on my BBC training course in 1978!”

We had a fantastic evening and we were asked to tell tales of our time there. So I was able to trot out the oft told story of the “Listeners Trip” to Amsterdam. Judging by the nodding heads everyone knew it, but I soldiered on anyway.

The radio station decided to do a trip to Holland for the weekend and duly hired coaches and hotels and reserved cabins and reclining seats on the ferry. It was a big success and sold out very quickly.

Due to the nature of its programming the station was a huge hit with the elderly. So we duly assembled at the docks to find that one of the passengers hadn't thought to get a passport. She turned up with her only means of identification: a Hull Corporation Transport bus pass!

What was to be done? Well back then we lived in a more innocent age so it was deemed OK and off we went.

On the way back tragedy struck. Whilst straining at the stool one of the passengers carked it with a massive coronary.

What was to be done? Well fortunately the ferry company was geared up for such an eventuality and a cardboard coffin was produced and the unfortunate bloke’s family were informed by radio telephone so they would be waiting dockside upon our return.

As the bearers slowly and with great dignity walked down the gangplank with their precious cargo, they espied a gaggle of hard-faced folk waiting.

"Are you relatives of the deceased"?


After telling the tale to the assembled company, a former colleague approached me and added a postscript to that story. He had just been ordained and after all the stress and strain of becoming a man of the cloth was hoping to have a quiet enjoyable time on the trip and perhaps a chance to save a few souls who were heading speedily to the red light district.

He was roped in to give the last rites so had to leave his beer in the bar and breathe a few boozy prayers over the deceased. Along with a nurse also on the trip they laid out the body but found themselves on the horns of a dilemma. Were they going to put the guy’s false teeth back in? Or leave him, er, au naturel? They opted for the latter.

An hour or so later by now back in the bar he was accosted by the nurse who had had second thoughts. Apparently there has to be two persons present if anything is going to be done to a corpse. So it was back down to the cabin and, some wrestling later, and the guy was resting in peace with his choppers in their rightful place.

It was a fun evening and carried on until the early hours so age hasn't withered us too much, I am delighted to say.

On the train back to London the following morning, we got as far as Selby and stopped due to points failure. After a while we headed backwards and were diverted. A while later we stopped again and once again headed backwards. I never thought it was possible to get lost on a train but obviously it is. I have been on a bus where the driver asked the passengers which direction he should take. Never on a train though. Seemingly hours later I peered out of the window and spotted Ely Cathedral!

Perhaps the driver was a young version of me who, thirty years ago, had to look Hull up on the map. He hadn't looked London up on his map.

Reminds me about the guy who has to deliver a load of wood to London. He sets off from his rural town and after about an hour stops and asks: "Is this London?”

"No mate, that away"

He carries on for another hour and tries again

"Nah mate, keep going south," comes the reply to his question.

This happens a few more times until he realises he is entering a built-up area so stops and asks a passer by:

"Is this London?"

"Yes," says the stranger.

"I've brought yer wood"!

Thang you laydeez and gennlemen I'm here all week!

Don't forget to make a song request for the Listener's Library,visit here, I look forward to hearing your suggestions. And don't forget to add me to Twitter @alexthedarklord (click here to do so) and also use the same login to hear the latest Audioboo (click here). 

AND you can now read all about Nocturnia, our magical and mystical country, created by you and animated by Clive Goddard, see it here

Tuesday 10 May 2011


Due to illness in the family, which has rather put plans on hold, things have been pretty quiet in the DL/DL household over the last few weeks. However, due to excellent nursing care and the best surgeons, the patient on the Dark Lady's side of the family is now making excellent progress, despite having a spectacular scar running the full length of his sternum so he is now eligible for membership of the "Zipper Club". This is open to people who have had heart surgery. He is a bit weak after his bypass and feels as if he has been run over by a train but is making excellent progress.

This enabled us to tiptoe out to a couple of gigs. Well, I made it to kd Lang at the BBC the other night while the poor DL was at home being nurse and cab driver. kd Lang was a revelation. I have liked her stuff without being an uber fan, but when Jo Whiley introduced her by saying that Michael Bublé considered her the best female vocalist ever, it smacked a little of showbiz hyperbole. However, he was right. She was amazing with the most incredible vocal control.

If she makes an appearance anywhere near you grab a ticket and go. You won't be disappointed. I was sitting with the fab Clare Teal - no slouch in the vocal stakes herself - who was enraptured.

Meant to ask her if singers are born singers or can be trained. Quite fancy bounding onto a stage somewhere where people are expecting "that DJ bloke" to make a short but cheerful speech and then draw the raffle.

"Laydeez and Gennleman, it’s really great to be here with you tonight. Can I just say I regard Cleckheaton as my second home. Before I do the Tombola I'd like to sing you a little song. Music Maestro please. (warbles) I left my heart iiiiiiiiinnnnn San Franciiiiiiiisssccoooooo"

With the initial medical emergency over and the patient reunited with family and home the DL managed to get an evening to herself, so we headed off to the Royal Academy of Music (which is behind the Albert Hall in London) to catch up with a singer we both love but have never seen live. This was going to be a special night as - leaving all his own instruments at home - Paul Carrack had hired a band to back him. What a band: The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Despite shaking off the last vestiges of the cold that everyone has had, he was in great voice and ran through a whole selection of songs that he liked such as “Moon River”, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”, “All the Way”, “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”, plus a few of his own repertoire including “How Long” and “The Living Years”.

We and the rest of the audience were enraptured. In my minds eye I was with him on stage:-

"I'd like to pause here and invite one of my favourite singers to the stage, ladies and gentleman, your friend and mine…Alex Lester!!! "

(Cue massive applause whistling hooting and stamping).

"Why thank you, Paul, wonder if you'd care to duet with me on a little number I am probably best known for...Maestro....

"I left my haaaartt iiiinnnnn Saaan Fraanceeesssscoo" etc.

When the gig finished and we were filing out we bumped into producer Dr Strangelove who was equally enthusiastic. We hope the concert was recorded for an album, if so it would be a worthy addition to anyone’s collection.

Contrary to popular myth, Strangeo and I don't live together a la Morecombe and Wise, bedding down in stripey pyjamas with me smoking the pipe in case anyone thought I was gay.

We both had forgotten the other was going to the gig. Had we remembered we probably would have met up for a drink beforehand. As it was, DL and I skittered off home so I could get a couple of hours sleep before the show. Strangelove - who sleeps nearly all day and stays up all night - headed off to the bar!

You may remember from a previous blog that I had surprised the Dark Lady by booking her a long weekend in Venice for Valentine’s Day. We had an amazing time save for one thing: the hotel was not all it was cracked up to be. Upon our return I resolved to pop into the travel agent and make a mild complaint that the details were rather misleading.

The blurb we had been supplied with showed a grand hotel with the first two paragraphs extolling its virtues. Only upon reading the third paragraph did it mention the word "annex". In other words, we were in a separate building a few doors down.

As if that wasn't enough we were given the last room high in the eaves of the annex with non functioning air conditioning. Two beds pushed together in a rather uneven fashion. The only other rooms on this top floor being a staff changing room and a storeroom. The room had no number. We were informed it was 420 but the key fob said 400. We thought this was a last resort room that was only used in emergencies.

We asked about the air con and were told it was "finished for the winter".

We requested a different room and were told the hotel was "full for the carnival"

The travel agent was very helpful and concerned and we supplied photographs to back up our testimony. All we wanted was for the details in the brochure to be amended so they were not as misleading. After all, you would not advertise a Rolls Royce and then expect people to be happy when you supplied them with a Ford Ka!

The travel company offered us a 25% refund immediately as a goodwill gesture. In truth it was not about the money, it was about misleading innocent tourists like ourselves.

The hotel responded by saying that it was all perfectly straightforward. We should have looked at their website where there was more information, that we never asked for a change of room and the air conditioning did work...well, there was heating which was the same thing!

At this point the Dark Lady and I looked at each other and the red mist descended.

We explained to the travel agent that this meant war and supplied further photographs and details to back up our complaint.

Back came the Hotel. What did the bloke on reception we had complained to look like? Had we talked to them we would have had everything rectified no problem. Air conditioning and heating in their book was one and the same thing. The room was in regular use and not one used in emergencies when the rest of the hotel was full and what was wrong with using a picture of a nice grander hotel rather than the rather down at heel looking annex?

Another sterner reply was sent and suddenly out of the blue the travel agent called and told us we had been offered a full refund.

Blimey! I don't think this has ever happened to me before.

Bearing in mind the Brit stiff upper lip and general dislike of fuss this was quite a result.

If Joseph and Mary had been British, Jesus would have been born on the pavement between their suitcases as they would have been too embarrassed to kick up a fuss about the lack of accommodation of any sort.

We genuinely had wanted them to explain to the travel company that the details were misleading and it sort of snowballed.

Now with this triumph under my belt, I wonder who or what I should turn my attention to next?

I could - with this new found confidence - muscle in anywhere and take over the show.

"Sorry, Simon, I think you are wrong on this one. Every single person on this show is terrible and should be voted off immediately. I'll show you real British Talent...maestro.

I layuft my haaaarttt iun Saaan Francciisscoooo"