Archive for bing crosby

Sound and Television

Posted in American TV Shows, Americans watching British TV, Behind-The-Scenes, TV Acting, TV channels, TV History, TV News, Unsung Heroes with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2016 by Tom Steward

David Bowie was – among other divinities – a consummate self-promoter and it’s for this reason alone I feel justified in exploiting a niche in the market of Bowie obituaries; his appearances on television. Looking back at what Bowie has done on and for TV, it’s all too clear that his genius – like Elvis before and Madonna after him – was in breaking down barriers of genre and generation. His TV – see one thrive:


Top of the Pops (1972)

Though in retrospect Bowie only ever flirted with LGBT imagery and shed his public bisexuality as quickly as he did all his other personas – including the one at the root of his sexual ambiguity, Ziggy Stardust – his performance of ‘Starman’ on British chart countdown Top of the Pops in 1972 was a watershed in the visibility of gender and sexual fluidity in the mainstream culture of Britain. Bowie’s androgynous dress and appearance was one thing, his suggestive embrace of guitarist and collaborator Mick Ronson entirely another. Viewers may have been reading between the lines, since Bowie had recently come out as gay (or possibly bisexual) in rock magazine Melody Maker. That this risqué – and risky – display had such an impact is due as much to the three-channel limit of TV viewing in the UK in the early seventies which meant it was seen by most of the country’s television audience as it is to the content of the performance. But that doesn’t diminish the power it had on those who were awakened and liberated by Bowie’s gesture, including future British pop legends Boy George and Ian McCulloch, nor does it make this surreptitious statement of social change less significant.


David Bowie and Bing Crosby (1977)

Despite being constantly innovative and revolutionary in his music, Bowie was never one to shun tradition, as evidenced by his affection and appreciation for the cabaret singers and crooners who were the pop sensations of their eras. Bowie seemed to have a particular fondness for American pop music, and became a fully-fledged part of it in the seventies and eighties when – inexplicably – he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the  most legitimate funk and soul artists in the USA. If you take all that into consideration, the awkward chemistry and textbook-illustration culture clash of David Bowie singing with Bing Crosby on his Christmas show in 1977 disappears into thin air. If the lacklustre banter about the irrelevance of a  generation gap in musical tastes doesn’t convince you of their parity – and it won’t – then the complimentary idiosyncrasies in their duet medley of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ and ‘Peace on Earth’ makes a compelling case for their historically inextricable legacies as pop stars.


The Snowman (1982)

As a recent orchestral performance of the British animated feature based on Raymond Briggs’ beloved children’s book I witnessed reminded me, the live-action introduction featuring David Bowie as an adult version of the main character remembering his childhood experiences is more often omitted from showings than it is included. It’s not really surprising as the appearance of a clean-cut, bleach-blond Bowie is the only aspect of this timeless film that dates it as a product of the early eighties. But this appearance unlocks a history of extraneous and bizarre movie cameos that is as much part of Bowie’s place in pop culture as his music. The Snowman is aired every Christmas Eve on British TV station Channel 4 and I suspect that in future years the melancholy of this beautiful film about loss and transience will have as much to do with Bowie as it does the Boy.


Extras (2006)

Speaking of extraneous and bizarre cameos…Though celebrity appearances like Bowie’s would eventually spell the end of Ricky Gervais’s credibility as comic actor and writer, his industry-set sitcom Extras created a self-contained world in which celebrity sightings were eminently plausible. The irony of Bowie’s appearance in the second episode of the sitcom’s final season is that a music star of his ilk is the last celebrity sitcom actor Andy Milman is likely to run into. It’s not much of a leap to suggest that this might be a sly reference to Bowie turning up in projects he didn’t need to be in. It’s one of the few occasions that Gervais had the humility to credit someone else with his success. Gervais’s self-effacing ode ‘Little Fat Man’ is styled so perfectly for Bowie, it acknowledges the extent to which Gervais’s physical and vocal mannerisms which have won him international adoration – especially as David Brent – are informed by the late performer.



Christmas TV: The low-low-lows

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Americans watching British TV, BiogTV, Reviews, TV Culture, TV History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2012 by Tom Steward

Christmas is a time for being trapped at home. Naturally, the choice medium of the housebound-the television-comes into play to provide mental escape from physical confines, as a side dish to gluttony, and because, like Eat-Me Dates, it is there and demands to be consumed. Demographically-desperate TV channels are sure to know about this literally captive audience and yet it often seems schedulers pay less attention to the festive period than they do their nightscreens (even the test card changes its kid and midget clown during puberty and pantomime season). It’s a response to the crisis in broadcast television reminiscent of the Fiscal Cliff; ignoring opportunities to prevent impending austerity until the situation gets so desperate that either television ceases airing at Christmas or the stations compromise and show a torn-out magazine photograph of Bing Crosby for two weeks. So how has TV cancelled Christmas? Here’s some of the low-low-lows:

1. Shows about old comedy

When G was here last Christmas every comedy programme we saw was a) a documentary b) about comedy from at least twenty years ago and c) featured men dressing up as women. If funds were directed towards making memorable new seasonal comedy instead of commissioning tribute shows that are the television equivalent of trapped wind, then perhaps we’ll have something other than nostalgia to be nostalgic for in twenty Christmases time. In an episode of King of the Hill, Peggy tries to explain the sophistication of British comedy to Bobby, whose response is ‘Why’s that man wearing a dress?’. G may well have asked the same question. It is not one I can answer, having been born in the 1980s.

2. Channel 5’s Scrooge

Scrooge in the form of a colouring book.

After showing every single made-for-TV movie version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol during the Christmas holidays, including one starring Kelsey Grammer that looks like a Frasier dream sequence, the UK’s leading Hitler documentarians Channel 5 try to redeem themselves every Christmas Eve by showing the 1951 Alastair Sim original. However, to add insult to injury, they choose every year to show a colourised Turnervision version of the film where the colour schemes have been taken from a box of Quality Street. The haunting black-and-white of the film is lost to garishly misjudged colours that would seem gaudy in Yellow Submarine. It’s been so many years now it can’t be an oversight, just a slight tantamount to putting lipstick on Dickens’ corpse.

3. Christmas line-ups

Christmas is a ritual of ruttish repetition and the line-up of programmes on TV tends to follow suit. Now I’m not saying we should have Adam Curtis documentaries about caged turkey farming in the middle of Christmas day but since we know the kinds of programmes that are going to turn up each year, why not re-jig them a little for the sake of novelty? They’ll doubtless be a seasonal special of an obsolete sitcom, a premiere of a film that has been watched in every conceivable medium (including cave art), and a freak edition of a programme re-formatted to include singing. Can’t we have once have a different set of names to make the purchase of a Christmas Radio Times worthwhile?

4. Christmas advertising

‘You may leave the kitchen to present the turkey but return immediately or I’ll lamp you’

If you’re boxed in for Christmas, chances are you’ll have to witness some hefty seasonal TV advertising. These are all-or-nothing flagship campaigns for British stores, brimming with celebrity, extraneous art direction and turkey ham-fisted attempts at cinematic grandeur. Or at least they were. The theme this year has been budget-consciousness, with high-end supermarket Waitrose giving us a bare set and donating filming money to charity and middle-range shop Asda giving us snapshots of everyday family life at Christmas. Except Waitrose’s spread-the-wealth ethos says nothing about reducing advertising costs to make food more affordable and Asda’s vision of family life is so horribly sexist it could be storyboarded from a Victorian manual for women. Extravagant or sincere, TV advertising still loses the public.

5. No Christmas Ghost Stories

Midnight Mass will never be the same again!

Britain has a long, weird and slightly sadistic tradition of using Christmas TV to scare the shit out of people. Throughout the 1970s BBC’s Ghost Stories for Christmas with its adaptations of classic supernatural yarns delivered with brutal realism chilled the nation to the bone and some later homages to these ho-ho-horror stories, such as The League of Gentleman Christmas Special showed that at Christmas we need to be afraid, no matter what Bob Geldof and Midge Ure might say. But alas, and thanks in part to a frankly rubbish revival of Ghost Stories that looked like it was filmed on a special camera left over from the CSI set, they are deceased and haunt us from a DVD afterlife.



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