Hello, happy new year and welcome to the first Vintage Media Millennial Blog of 2022. It has been a long while since I did one of these, and for that, I apologise! 2021 was a year of firsts for me. It saw me get to grips with being a father, learn new skills and develop new coping mechanisms for life. While it sounds heavy, I genuinely had a great time finding my way over the previous twelve months. A new year is upon us, and it felt like the perfect time to commit to a regular blog. I have become comfortable with podcast and video creation, but I always feel this side of things is lacking. My plan is to try and produce one new post each month, with a look back over the previous one. I am unsure how long I can keep this up, but I’ll certainly try!
Celebrating my Birthday!
As 2021’s final month began, I celebrated my thirty-second birthday. It was a quiet day spent with my wife, child and a few members of my family. It was a vastly different story from the previous year, which I am sure many can identify with. I rarely get gifts on my birthday these days, as is the custom when over a certain age.
However, I was delighted to receive two Jack Benny related publications to celebrate the occasion. Readers will be aware of my passion for the work of the legendary comedian. I can’t wait to get stuck into the books on Jack by Irving Fein (1976) and Mary Livingstone (1978). They will sit nicely alongside my other books on Jack I have been collecting over the last five years too! I also added to my music collection, thanks to money received for my birthday. It is rare for me to buy physical media these days. I usually opt to only purchase things that are special to me or part of an existing collection.
Buying Vinyl…But Gently
To complement a recent purchase of a pair of speakers, I bought a couple of vinyl records to spin. Regular readers will know I collect the British rock group Status Quo on the format. I felt perhaps it was the moment to add to another part of my collection. I had considered the excellent new comeback album by ABBA, Voyage, but the format was a little pricey for me. Instead, I took to eBay to scour the vast amount of listings available. It was then that I stumbled upon a vinyl copy of one of my favourite albums of all time; How Do You Like It by Gerry and the Pacemakers.
I had been familiar with the British invasion movement but had never really taken the time to dig deeper; This changed in 2009. Thanks to a new app called Spotify, I was exposed to a huge selection of Pop from the early 1960s. I heard the likes of Gerry, The Searchers, Herman’s Hermits, Freddie And The Dreamers, The Hollies and (obviously) The Beatles. It may surprise some, but I found myself visiting Marsden’s work more often than others. The songs featured on the first two LPs were familiar covers that had an edge I believe is often overlooked.
In my opinion, the big hits for the band (How Do You Do It, I Like It and You’ll Never Walk Alone etc) have a polished but quaint aura to them. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of these recordings, they are among Marsden’s most memorable work, but they don’t tell the whole story. Their performances of A Shot Of Rhythm and Blues, The Wrong Yoyo, Don’t You Ever and Slow Down have fun energy that outdoes the 1960s production. The only track from this album that I feel doesn’t fit is their version of the musical favourite Summertime; The relaxed vibe clashing with the energetic musicianship of the rest of the album. After a long time of loving the album, I was thrilled to get it on vinyl.
Another vinyl album I invested in was Val Doonican’s 1967 UK chart-topper Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently. I began collecting Val’s records a few years ago when I purchased his debut from a charity shop! I love that album so much, I have lost count of the times I’ve spun it. Much like The Pacemakers, I appreciate the way the Irish crooner put his own stamp on the songs he sang; Injecting them with bags of personality and charm. I have amassed a large collection of his original albums but had always managed to miss out on Rocks. Many of them, unfortunately, don’t see a CD release. Having now listened to the collection of songs, I found it somewhat disappointing; The slow and gentle easy listening side of Val’s repertoire isn’t always to my taste. I do like his interpretations of If I Were A Carpenter and Yesterday though.
Getting Into The Festive Spirit!
In previous years, I made an effort to avoid getting into the festive spirit until after my birthday. This time, I pretty much just jumped in on the first of December. It used to bother me when I’d go out for dinner and find the restaurant playing non-stop festive music. Now, I just embrace it! The latter part of the year often has a warm nostalgic feeling that encourages me to ruminate positively about the past and the people in it.
Those nice memories of Christmas past are brought to life each year by the music I hear. My Christmas soundtrack usually consists of the usual fare by Slade, Wizzard and Bing Crosby et al, mixed with vintage Country versions of festive favourites from Bear Family Records’ Christmas on the Range compilation. Driving to visit family while hearing the likes of Gene Autry, Kitty Wells, Bob Willis and more belt out a sleighful of familiar tunes was an absolute delight.
I consumed a wide range of festive-themed films and television during the month, thanks to my subscription to Disney Plus, my annual foray into Netflix and the choice offered on the main terrestrial channels. Most of them, though, were fairly modern productions but with classic plots. One of the oldest movies I saw was 1986’s The Christmas Star, a made for television film starring the late great Ed Asner. The story had been done many times, the vibe reminiscent of a classic Hallmark movie, but I couldn’t help but feel cosy and satisfied by the conclusion; Asner putting in a solid performance. While films played a big part in shaping the month, television really struck a chord this year as I revisited old favourites, and discovered new ones.
Classic TV Makes An Impression.
At one point in the UK during the 1970s, Two big shows would air around Christmas time and gain huge record-breaking audiences. One of these was The Morecambe and Wise Show, the other was The Mike Yarwood Show. The cheeky comedy double act has been a mainstay on Christmas television as far back as I can remember, with their festive specials being repeated each year. Legendary impressionist Yarwood, however, has become rather forgotten by broadcasters…until this year. Freeview channel That’s TV Gold have been digging into the Thames archives over the last few months to broadcast rarely repeated classics like All In Good Faith, The Kenny Everett Video Show, Benny Hill and 1980s editions of The Mike Yarwood Christmas Specials. As someone born after he left the air, the opportunity to see a once incredibly popular performer do his stuff was too good to miss.
I grew up in the era of Alistair McGowan, Jon Culshaw and Rory Bremner, the idea of an impressionist is not a new one to me; Yarwood appears to be a class of his own. I’ve heard stories about how great voice actors, such as Mel Blanc, become their characters both vocally AND physically. When Yarwood did any of his impressions, from Wilson, Parkinson and Monkhouse to Prince Charles, Sinatra and Bygraves, his facial and body mannerisms match the characters incredibly! Yarwood was the complete package.
After the third episode had finished airing just after Christmas of this year, I began wondering why I had never seen him before. I came to the conclusion it was the same reason as to why Big Impression and Dead Ringers rarely get a repeat; Impressions don’t age well. It is fair to say that if I was not so clued up on entertainment of the past, Mike Yarwood’s take on popular figures of the 60s, 70s and 80s would fly right over my head.
Eric & Ernie’s Christmas Airings
Speaking of Morecambe and Wise, I caught two episodes of the classic show on Christmas day. The first one, broadcast on BBC2, was the 1971 Christmas special; featuring the great Andre Previn sketch. It has been said a thousand times, but Eric’s timing on “I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”, is sheer perfection. Strangely enough, my wife and I were always going to watch this episode on Christmas day in 2021. Since 2019, we have been watching the Christmas specials fifty years after their first airing, even making an effort to start the show at the original broadcast time. You would not believe how magical it feels to experience something in this way, it really is like a form of time travel.
The second outing of Eric and Ernie was a lost episode from October 1970, that had been found in an attic by Morecambe’s son Gary. Clips from this episode were broadcast on ITV earlier in the year, but I’m glad the BBC decided to show it fully restored to colour and unedited. It is fair to say the sketches were hit and miss, but the pen of Eddie Braben was just getting started on its wondrous journey with the double act. A sketch of particular note was the curtain bit that saw Eric laying on the floor reciting another routine…hilarious. The performance by Paul Anka, singing his own song My Way, was also a highlight, and I really wasn’t expecting to say that. Overall, I thought it was a pretty solid show that I am pleased is now back in the archives.
Thank You For Being A Friend Betty
And finally…I was devastated to hear the news of American Actress and Comedian Betty White, who died on New Year’s Eve at the age of 99. Staring at my phone for a few minutes, I tried to process the sad news. She was only a few weeks away from her centenary. I have been a great admirer of Betty’s work, which spans many decades. Whether it was her performances on Life With Elizabeth, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, Hot In Cleveland or countless guest appearances, she never failed to raise a smile. For me, a definite jewel in her legacy are her appearances on the game show Password, alongside her husband Allen Ludden; The chemistry between them was very special. I feel grateful that future generations will be able to consume a large amount of Betty’s work, and appreciate her contribution to popular culture.
I never knew her personally, but I feel like I’ve lost a dear friend. I’m sure many others feel the same. RIP Betty White.
Thank you for reading this edition of The Vintage Media Millenial blog. Contact me: Jamie@OldTimeReview.co.uk