It’s 8:35 on a Sunday evening and I am ironing. Only television can make this experience tolerable. But what shall I watch? I flick idly through the channels, until I come to the most spectacularly incongruous and unexpected sight; Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass!
Somewhat unbelievably, whoever it is programming BBC4 spotted a 25 minute gap in the schedule on a Sunday night in August in 2011and decided that the most obvious thing to fill this with would be archive BBC footage of Herb Alpert and co from the 1960s apparently miming to a selection of their light jazz hits on a set made to look like a beach scene but is quite clearly actually a draughty warehouse on an industrial estate in Slough.
So – is it any good? Well, most of Herb’s fellow band members look like accountants, used car salesmen or unholy mustachioed cross-breeds of both. Large parts of the set look prone to collapse at any moment. Festooned around it are glamour girls quite possibly plucked from the typing pool to gamely bop along. Herb himself seems to alternate between knowing hipster cool and huge embarrassment at the fact that his jazz legend dreams seem to have dissolved into delivering horrendously bad scripted puns about Mexicans whilst miming along to pre-recorded bilge like Spanish Flea.
To answer the question – yes, it is BRILLIANT. The bad bits are hugely entertaining and a welcome antidote to the po-faced, tedious “all about the music, man” attitude that seems to have a hold on modern music problems. Jools Holland, I am looking straight at you. And speaking of Jools Holland, Herb Alpert’s “presenting” makes Jools look like Melvyn Bragg in comparison. But the music, unexpected, is superb. There is little in the way of razzle-dazzle, besides the set. The band simply plays nice tunes in smart suits and Herb tells us a little about each song in between. There are no winks to camera by clueless shrieking presenters in Motorhead t-shirts that have probably been bought from Top Shop half an hour ago (Fearne Cotton, come on down!), no vox pops with witless audience members bussed in and pumped up with Red Bull, Smirnoff Ice and god only knows what else. It is Proper Music on a Proper Television Programme. I know I have essentially become my dad here but I remain unbowed – how sad it is that all of these things have become a novelty in music programming? A programme where one is simply allowed to enjoy the music?
Plus, there’s a wider point to be made here. This is on BBC4. Where else is this being broadcast? I accept the point that there are channels like Sky Arts but I don’t want to watch only what is “cool” or “worthy” and I don’t want to have to pay some communications-tampering Australian in order to do it. I want to watch it on my television, like I just have done. I want the opportunity just to stumble on these things without planning first, to get the singular pleasure of really enjoying something you would probably never have planned to watch in a million years – which I just have done. The BBC has tons of this archive footage. I don’t want to go to an archive or even go online to view it – it should be enjoyed on television, as it was originally designed to be.
The BBC has seemingly cottoned on to this. BBC4’s music programming is unrivalled. Its Jazz, Prog, Folk Britannia series have been rapturously received. Its Friday evening schedules are filled with amazing music documentaries and concerts that have been gathering dust for years.
So WHY are the BBC thinking of scrapping BBC4? I know there has been a fierce online debate about whether it’s acceptable to want to save one channel whilst scrapping another and I know I have moaned about BBC3 before. But unlike other aspects of the BBC’s output, BBC4’s use of the BBC’s mind-boggling array of archive footage, its fascinating documentaries about airports and Nordic crime writing and children through history, simply aren’t catered for elsewhere. The BBC’s role as a public broadcaster is to do just that – to give the public things that can’t be found elsewhere in the commercial world.
I’m aware that this has essentially been a Party Political Broadcast for the BBC4 Party and feel free to ignore me if you disagree. But if , like me, you’ve found a load of stuff on BBC4 that is unexpected, brainy and odd but still accessible, enjoyable and brilliant and the thought of losing it makes you want to give up your licence altogether and hide under your bed (actually I can’t because there are drawers in the bottom of it but that’s not the point) then you could do worse than to join the campaign here. It’s run by the same people behind Save BBC6 Music –which resulted in a doubling of the channel’s listenership and rightfully saved its future. Fingers crossed lightning strikes twice.
Posted by a kitsch-loving, oddly impassioned Velocity Girl.