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Porting ‘Premier Manager 64′

‘Premier Manager 64′ was the first, and only, football management game on the Nintendo 64.

Porting football management games to consoles can be tricky.

After all, it is a mammoth task to squeeze as many statistics and leagues as possible in one Sony PlayStation disc.

And, over the years, the genre has technologically progressed.

For example, Codemasters, the makers of ‘LMA Manager 2006’, launched a downloadable patch in early 2006 that updated squads and statistics in line with the latest transfer window. The aforementioned PlayStation 2 game was the first of its kind to offer this feature.

But imagine trying to fit the latest leagues, players and options in just one cartridge.

Gremlin Interactive attempted this in 1999, when they released ‘Premier Manager 64’ for the Nintendo 64, and they came mighty close to making it work.

Enter the PlayStation

‘Premier Manager 64′ is a fine game but, due to its wayward difficulty level, it can be a little too easy on occasions.

For starters, and perhaps most importantly, the gameplay is more than adequate.

While its Career mode, where you can manage one of ten Division Three teams, is not as addictive as Sports Interactive’s ‘Football Manager’ series, it is a game that merits repeated plays.

And taking an underdog to the Super League – essentially, the UEFA Champions League – is very rewarding.

The game’s difficulty level, however, is arbitrary, meaning that winning the Premier League with Charlton Athletic is just as likely as being involved in a relegation scrap with Tottenham Hotspur.

But the flaws of ‘Premier Manager 64’ are all too evident when it is compared to its PlayStation counterpart, ‘Premier Manager Ninety Nine’.

A number of the latter’s features – including profile pictures of footballers, two Italian leagues (Serie A and Serie B), and the ability to change the screen position – were excluded from the Nintendo 64 version.

The TV-style match highlights were kept, though, but many of its selling points were sacrificed. Replays, goal details (such as speed and distance) and name bars were all ditched and, unlike the PlayStation version, Barry Davies’ commentary lacked variation.

The highlights on both versions were graphically undeveloped by 1999’s standards, but the Nintendo 64 version looked a bit like a low-budget conversion.

To a certain extent, this is understandable. The capacity of the ‘Premier Manager 64’ cartridge is 128 Megabits – twice the size of the typical Nintendo 64 cartridge and equal to 16 Megabytes.

In contrast, a bog-standard PlayStation CD comfortably contains over 600 Megabytes. This meant that the Nintendo 64 was not suited to stand-alone features and options, such as pre-rendered music and film, hence why so many various presentational enhancements had to be scrapped from ‘Premier Manager 64’.

Konami’s ‘Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon’ was another example of this problem, as it needed a 16 Megabyte cartridge just to fit two short, but delightfully eccentric, songs. This led to a £60 price tag and disappointing sales.

64-bit graphical enhancements

The Nintendo 64, however, was still a powerful machine, and capable of other pre-rendered elements that were not imaginable on the PlayStation and Sega Saturn.

And, thanks to its Reality Immersion system, it had the main components of a £10,000 Silicon Graphics machine.

According to N64 Magazine, this meant that – in games such as ‘Super Mario 64’ and ‘Pilotwings 64’ – it was possible to create massive 3D worlds “just by specifying a few polygon co-ordinates”.

Games could also be anti-aliased – which meant that jagged lines were minimised – while frame rates were maintained without resorting to fog.

The console’s other advantages, such as texture mapping and detailing, led to the critical acclaim of Major A’s ‘International Superstar Soccer 64’.

It was the Konami subsidiary’s first attempt at using motion capture and programming with polygons, and the game ran around 100 times faster than its Super NES counterparts.

Yasuo Okuda, who directed and co-programmed the game, told N64 Magazine that although the game could be converted to the PlayStation or Saturn, “we’d [Major A] have to delete quite a bit from it because of memory size restrictions”.

Katsuya Nagae, who was in charge of Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka’s research and development department, also added:

“The N64 is definitely the best machine to write a soccer game for, because it uses cartridges rather than CDs. Other machines have a limited memory to store information read from the CD, but the N64 can get information from the cart at any time. The PlayStation, on the other hand, has to load everything in and store it in its memory.”

This meant that ‘International Superstar Soccer 64’ was able to master the Nintendo 64 in the same way as Nintendo’s two launch games – by using its 3D powers to produce real-time graphics.

But ‘Premier Manager 64’ was graphically basic, meaning that the concept of creating 3D worlds was irrelevant for such a statistically and text-heavy game.

Even though its processing time – which was regarded, for example, as the main fault of ‘LMA Manager 2003’ on the PlayStation 2 – was much faster than many 128-bit console football management games, Gremlin’s mastery of the Nintendo 64 was always going to be lower than Major A’s capabilities.

16-bit depth

‘Premier Manager’ for the Sega Mega Drive was released in 1995 and, even in 2013, it still looks impressive.

But what remains puzzling is the fact that the Sega Mega Drive version of ‘Premier Manager’ – released in 1995, with only 32 Megabits – has more detailed options than the Nintendo 64 AND PlayStation versions.

In ‘Premier Manager 64’ and ‘Premier Manager Ninety Nine’, for example, players could only choose between three sponsors.

In the Mega Drive version, however, players could decorate their ground with a variety of, mainly Sega-themed, advertising hoardings.

Floodlights, scoreboards, covered areas, under soil heating, car parks and a supporters’ club could also be developed, as could the stadium’s capacity and safety rating.

The 32 and 64-bit versions, though, only had two options: improving stadium facilities and increasing its capacity.

The Mega Drive version also allowed players to buy players via a transfer auction – which made for a refreshing change – with options to develop a youth team, and appoint coaches and physios.

Overdrafts could be extended, details about referees were provided, and a fictional fax machine displayed the latest results and transfers.

But none of these features were available on the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation versions, while the original console version of ‘Premier Manager’ offered a wider range of tactical options.

It’s still enjoyable

Unlike other versions of the game, ‘Premier Manager 64′ suffers from a limited range of features.

Although the limited number of features and options are frustrating, ‘Premier Manager 64’ remains one of the best football management games on a home console.

‘Premier Manager Ninety Nine’ on the PlayStation, for example, has a couple of minor bugs, and ‘Premier Manager’ on the Mega Drive has a learning curve that is too steep for novice gamers and thus lacks immediacy.

And, even in the 128-bit era, simplistic options were still a niggling issue. For example, Ben Richardson’s review of ‘LMA Manager 2006’ in PlayStation 2 Official Magazine-UK included the following passage:

“Selecting tactics is pretty painless as well, although a main ‘summary’ page would have been a nice addition, as the constant switching between windows can cause confusion as you try to figure out what you’ve actually changed. Mid-match options are a little restrictive, too. You can assign only four tactics to trigger during a game, and you’re unable to use them together – for instance, like setting up Counter Attack and Wing Play at the same time, which makes complete sense to us.”

‘Premier Manager 64’ has all the makings of a brilliant game: it is easy to play and navigate, while having enough challenge to ensure that it has an excellent lifespan.

Despite its noticeable problems, it’s still an enjoyable game. But it will leave the more cynical player feeling short changed.

If only Gremlin could have produced a console-based game that had the accessibility of ‘Premier Manager 64’ and the depth of earlier versions. It certainly would have made for a different conclusion.

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This feature was self-published in October 2013.

Non-web sources

Anon (1997) So Tell Me This… N64 Magazine, April 1997, p.97.

Anon (1997) Lifting The Lid: Inside The Nintendo 64. N64 Magazine, April 1997, p.104-111.

Anon (2002) LMA Manager 2003. PSM2, December 2002, p.91.

Davies, J. (1997) Meeting The Major A Team. N64 Magazine, April 1997, p.82-83.

Green, M. (1999) Wish You Were Here: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon. N64 Magazine, August 1999, p.138.

Hartup, A. (2006) Download Manager. PlayStation 2 Official Magazine-UK, March 2006, p.26.

Merrett, S. (1999) Premier Passions. Arcade, March 1999, p.112.

Richardson, B. (2005) LMA Manager 2006. PlayStation 2 Official Magazine-UK, December 2005, p.108.

Weaver, T. (1999) Premier Manager 64. N64 Magazine, August 1999, p.70-74.

Ten of the most successful video game-related singles

‘SuperMarioLand’ was a Number 8 hit for Ambassadors of Funk featuring MC Mario in 1992.

You might think that singles based on video games are likely to become one-hit wonders, but that is not entirely true.

In fact, a number of these records were released by some unlikely names with good track records.

And some musicians have a close relationship with video games. For example, in 1992, the Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield told the New Musical Express:

“Spiderman [for the Sega Mega Drive] is the perfect metaphor for my life, much more than any records of the past five years.”

Plenty of video game singles have also charted in Europe. Rayman Contre Les Lapins Encore and Crétins’ 2007 single, ‘Making Fun (Of Everyday Life)’, attained a chart peak of Number 49 in France and spent 16 weeks in the Top 100.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All’ by 50 Grind and Pokémon All Stars, and Pokémon’s ‘Pokédance (Remix)’ and ‘Un Monde Pokémon’ were also French Top 50 hits in 2000 and 2001.

Pokédance (Remix)’ was particularly successful, peaking at Number 21, while ‘Pokémon Welt’ by Noel Pix reached the Top 50 in Austria and Switzerland.

There were ten other singles, though, that charted in the UK Singles Chart.

1. ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’ by Yellow Magic Orchestra (1980)

The majority of video game-related songs from the late 1970s and 1980s were included on albums, such as ‘Space Invader’ by The Pretenders (although it was also the b-side to ‘Brass In Pocket’ in Canada, Japan and the USA) and ‘Ivan Meets GI Joe’ by The Clash.

One notable exception, however, was Yellow Magic Orchestra’s ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’, which sampled arcade sounds.

David Toop’s book, ‘Exotica: Fabricated Soundscapes In A Real World’, said that it “factored the technological ‘folk art’ of arcade game soundtracks into the history of electronic music”.

But, given their long association with video games, this wasn’t much of a surprise.

Principal member Ryuichi Sakamoto, for example, composed the start-up sound for the Sega Dreamcast, and their 1979 track, ‘Rydeen’, was sampled in four games: ‘Super Locomotive’, ‘Trooper Truck’, ‘Ocean Loader’ and ‘Stryker’s Run’.

Although the Japanese group’s export sales were limited, ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’ became their only hit in the UK Singles Chart when it peaked at Number 17 in July 1980.

The single – which was originally released as an album track in 1978 – also had good chart longevity, as it spent 11 weeks in the Top 75. Furthermore, eight of those weeks were spent in the Top 40.

2. ‘Pac-Man’ by Powerpill (1992)

A number of dance singles were based on retro children’s television programmes in the early 1990s – such as Smart E’s ‘Sesame’s Treet’, Urban Hype’s ‘A Trip To Trumpton’ and Shaft’s ‘Roobarb And Custard’ – and many of them became Top 10 hits.

Unsurprisingly, due to the success of the Sega Mega Drive and Super NES, dance records were also based on video games.

But the big surprise is that Richard D. James, better known as Aphex Twin, was the man behind Powerpill’s ‘Pac-Man’.

James was no stranger to the UK Singles Chart as ‘Digeridoo’ became his first hit single when it reached Number 55 in May 1992.

Four weeks later, ‘Pac-Man’ went one better with a chart peak of Number 43.

In fact, it was James’ highest chart placing until ‘On’ made a Top 40 breakthrough in November 1993.

3. ‘Pacman’ by Ed Rush & Optical (2002)

Ed Rush & Optical have released five albums, but ‘Pacman’ remains their only single to have charted in the UK.

It reached the dizzy heights of Number 61 in May 2002.

Unlike Powerpill’s happy hardcore style, this is a much more sinister version that only sporadically samples Namco’s classic game.

4. ‘Tetris’ by Doctor Spin (1992)

The Really Useful Group are associated with the likes of Jason Donovan’s ‘Any Dream Will Do’ and Marti Webb’s ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’, but it was also responsible for Doctor Spin’s ‘Tetris’.

The single – which was released by Polydor and Carpet Records in September 1992 – was co-arranged and executive produced by Baron Andrew Lloyd Webber, and peaked at Number 6 within its first month in the charts.

It is a mildly catchy slice of Eurodance, and the involvement of Lloyd Webber remains strangely appealing, but its real success was down to some strategic market positioning.

For example, in the early 1990s, the core age groups in the UK singles market were nine to 12-year-olds and young teenagers, while nearly 40% of all UK Top 75 hits were dance singles in the first quarter of 1992.

While the ninth edition of The Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles claimed that video games were outselling singles by a 5:3 ratio, Virgin Games’ General Manager, Nick Garnell, stated that British children bought music AND video games. He also said that game centres were a “parallel development to music stores for Virgin”.

When you consider the popularity of video games and singles among children – and the fact that the Eurodance stylings of ‘Tetris’ would be more accessible to a pop audience than Powerpill’s ‘Pac-Man’ – it is easy to see why it was such a big hit.

Inevitably, more recent versions of the game’s soundtrack by the likes of DJ Joystick and Doctor P have failed to replicate Doctor Spin’s success.

5. ‘Playing With The Boy’ by Technician II (1992)

Inane is the best word to describe Technician II’s ‘Playing With The Boy’, which was used in a series of Nintendo Game Boy adverts in 1992.

The sound effects are plonky at best, and its breakbeat style sounds contrived, but it defied the odds by making a minor dent in the UK Singles Chart.

It spent one week at Number 70 in November 1992, which was more than it deserved.

Technician II member Ben Keen attained modest solo chart success as BK, though, with six Top 75 entries between 2000 and 2003.

High Score Warrior’s ‘Will You Ever Reach The End?’, meanwhile, was given a European release in 1993, after being used in a Super NES advert.

Although it was a more tuneful effort, it never charted.

6. ‘SuperMarioLand’ by Ambassadors of Funk featuring MC Mario (1992)

Ambassadors of Funk weren’t the first act to release a Mario-related single, as Turntable Hype’s ‘The Mario Brothers’ was released in 1991, but it was the first to reach the UK Singles Chart.

And, just like Doctor Spin, they had a big hit on their hands, as ‘SuperMarioLand’ reached Number 8 in November 1992. In fact, it entered the Top 10 just as ‘Tetris’ fell out of it.

The charming thing about ‘SuperMarioLand’ is that it was faithful to the game.

The song referenced Princess Daisy – who, rather than Princess Peach, was the hostage in Nintendo’s ‘Super Mario Land’ – and killer bees, who also featured in the game.

It was clear that it was a song made by video game fans for video games fans.

And the video’s setting was Chessington World of Adventures. Which is awesome.

An album, ‘Super Mario Compact Disc’, failed to chart in the UK, but Simon Harris and rapper Einstein were not one-hit wonders.

They had previously collaborated when their single, ‘Another Monsterjam’, reached Number 65 in November 1989.

Einstein featured in two other singles: ‘Turn It Up’ by Technotronic [featuring Melissa and Einstein] and Snap!’s ‘The Power ’96’. Both of them charted at Number 42 in December 1990 and August 1996, respectively.

Harris, meanwhile, released four further records between 1988 and 1990, which included two Top 40 singles: ‘Bass (How Low Can You Go)’ and ‘Here Comes That Sound’.

He also founded the Music of Life label, whose rooster of hip-hop starlets included chart acts MC Duke and She Rockers.

7. ‘Street Fighter II’ by The World Warrior (1994)

Believe it or not, ‘SuperMarioLand’ was not the only video game-related collaboration between Harris and Einstein.

They teamed up again in April 1994 to release their take on the ‘Street Fighter’ franchise.

Once again, it was faithful to the series, but the cheese of ‘SuperMarioLand’ was replaced with a dollop of slickness.

Harris and Einstein’s attention to detail remains admirable, and it’s hard not to get affectionate about it.

‘Street Fighter II’ struggled to break into the charts, unfortunately, and could only manage a chart peak of Number 70.

Additionally, another beat-em-up spawned a single in the form of The Immortals’ ‘Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)’ in 1993.

It failed to chart in the UK but, nonetheless, they released ‘Mortal Kombat: The Album’ a year later.

8. ‘Lemmings’ by SFX (1993)

Can you imagine recording a song about the video game, ‘Lemmings’?

I thought not and, despite their enthusiasm and energy, SFX didn’t quite make the grade with this single.

This was a shame, as it was co-written and produced by Ian Richardson and Nick Coler.

Both of them were secondary members of The KLF, and Coler was also a member of Xenomania.

It might have worked if it had been an instrumental but, seeing that ‘Lemmings 2: The Tribes’ always had a wafer-thin storyline, lyrics were always going to be an implausible addition. Even if the Lemming puppets in the video are adorable.

The public’s reaction was very predictable, though, as it failed to peak beyond Number 51 in May 1993.

As far as British strategy simulators go, though, it fared better than DuBerry featuring Elaine Vassel’s ‘Mega-Lo-Mania (Goin’ All The Way)’, which flopped.

Steve DuBerry, the song’s writer and producer, was also a member of Definitive Two.

They were best known for releasing ‘I’m Stronger Now’, which was used as the theme music to Channel 4’s ‘Gazzetta Football Italia’.

9. ‘Supersonic’ by H.W.A. featuring Sonic The Hedgehog (1992)

This single, rather disappointingly, didn’t feature Sonic The Hedgehog, but H.W.A. were another act with chart pedigree.

Jeremy Healy – a former member of Haysi Fantayzee, who attained four Top 75 singles in the early 1980 – co-produced the track.

And, after teaming up with Amos in the mid-1990s, Healy achieved two further Top 30 hits with ‘Stamp!’ and ‘Argentina’.

However, the techno production and vocoder samples of ‘Supersonic’ were rather uninspired. Unlike ‘SuperMarioLand’, the love of video games was not apparent and it sounded soulless.

In fairness, though, all of Sega’s proceeds from the single were donated to the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre.

The track, despite its failings, still performed fairly well in the UK Singles Chart, as it reached Number 33 in December 1992 and spent an impressive five weeks in the Top 40.

Interestingly, a number of Sonic The Hedgehog singles were released in Germany, Austria and Switzerland during the 1990s such as ‘Super Sonic Dance Attack’ by Inter Galactica Dance Club, ‘The Better One Wins’ by T.I.C. featuring Michelangelo and ‘King Of The Ring’ by Sonic.

10. ‘Wonderman’ by Right Said Fred (1994)

Right Said Fred’s ‘Wonderman’ is unusual in that it wasn’t originally influenced by a video game. Hence why Hydrocity Zone was inexplicably portrayed as an abandoned warehouse in the video.

Prior to its release in March 1994, it had already been included on their second album, ‘Sex And Travel’, in November 1993.

‘Wonderman’, however, was rearranged so that it could promote the release of ‘Sonic The Hedgehog 3’ on the Sega Mega Drive.

For instance, “[h]e’s number one, he’s double cream/[h]e’s the naked truth in magazines” was rewritten as “[h]e’s number one, he’s el supremo/[a]ttitude and power sneakers”.

Although ‘Wonderman’ was featured in a television advert for the game, it stuttered at Number 55 in the UK Singles Chart.

However, it was a faint improvement on their previous single, ‘Hands Up (4 Lovers)’, which flopped at Number 60 in December 1993.

Along with various clips from ‘Sonic The Hedgehog 3’, Steven O’Donnell, best known for starring in ‘Bottom’ and several Sega adverts from the early 1990s, also appeared in the video.

Amusingly, his ‘Bottom’ co-star, Rik Mayall, fronted a number of Nintendo adverts during the same period. It’s a small world, isn’t it?

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This feature was self-published in July 2013.

Non-web sources

Clarke, D. (ed) (1998) The Penguin Encyclopaedia Of Popular Music. 2nd edition. London: Penguin Books.

Cole, M. (ed) (1992) Kids Stuff. Music Week (Record Mirror Dance Update), Saturday July 18 1992, p.2.

Collins, Andrew et al (1992) Complete Console. New Musical Express, Saturday February 1 1992, p.20-21, 41.

Gambaccini, Paul et al (1993) The Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles. 9th edition. Middlesex: Guinness Publishing.

Gambaccini, Paul et al (1996) The Guinness Book Of Top 40 Charts. 2nd edition. Middlesex: Guinness Publishing.

Jones, A. (1992) Singles Saviour. Music Week (NMS 92 Supplement), Saturday June 20 1992, p.7-8.

Larkin, C. (ed) (1998) The Virgin Encyclopaedia Of Dance Music. London: Virgin Books.

Roberts, D. (ed) (2004) The Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles & Albums. 17th edition. London: Guinness World Records.

Toop, D. (1999) Exotica: Fabricated Soundscapes In A Real World. London: Serpent’s Tail.

Has ‘The Football League Show’ improved?

‘The Football League Show’ is presented by Manish Bhasin. Image courtesy of Eamon Curry via Flickr.

I don’t like to use the word infamous lightly, but it is a word that I would use to describe BBC One’s ‘The Football League Show’.

The programme was launched in 2009 – after the BBC obtained the rights to show live Championship matches and highlights from the Football League – and the remit was very much focused on offering something new.

Unlike ITV’s Football League highlights package, which included ‘Football League Extra’ and ‘The Championship’, it was presented in a studio rather than an empty ground.

It certainly wasn’t seen as a low-key affair; the package was a big thing for the BBC and the programme’s producer, IGM Sports Media.

The early days

Even the opening titles were different. Again, unlike ITV’s offerings, there weren’t any shots of crests and managers in 2009. There were fans wearing their replica shirt over a Hi-Viz jacket, and doing cartwheels outside a train station. It was meant to be real football for real fans.

The opening minutes of the very first edition were bold, too. Take, for example, presenter Manish Bhasin’s introduction on 8 August 2009.

He proclaimed:

“Yes, good evening and a warm welcome to the brand new ‘Football League Show’ as we aim to bring you every goal across all three divisions. By the way, there’s only 95 just to squeeze in tonight. Over the next 40 weeks, we’d also love to hear from you. Have you got the right manager in charge? Have you got the right players in the team, perhaps? What about your result this afternoon? Here’s Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes as to how you can get in touch.”

And the second edition was no better, with Bhasin saying:

“The best opening day attendance figures for nearly 50 years show exactly what the Football League means to its fans. And, if that first week threw up some extraordinary results, then let me tell you, today was no less dramatic.”

The attitude taken by the programme – and Bhasin – was overzealous and condensing. They felt that the Football League was exciting; so exciting that it should be alike forcing half a dozen chicken balti pies down your throat at once.

Other elements of the programme were just as preachy. Steve Claridge was recruited to act as the programme’s pundit. During the first edition, Bhasin described him as “a man who knows the Football League inside out”.

But, at best, he has been unbearable to watch during its tenure. Clichés were often, and incoherently, bandied around with a swagger of arrogance. For a show that is broadcasting beyond midnight on a Saturday, it was the wrong tone.

There was also an ‘interactivity’ element, where Greenwood-Hughes read out texts and e-mails from viewers.

As a troubled indictor of this segment’s quality, the first five messages were about Newcastle United: four of them stated that Alan Shearer should become their manager, and one was about Tim Krul being stung by a wasp. A further two messages, during the first edition, supported Shearer.

Greenwood-Hughes also patronisingly said “well done” to a Peterborough United fan, who thought that their defeat at Derby County was a “starting block for a good season”.

During the first series, there was a slight obsession with Newcastle; on most occasions, their matches were shown first.

Within just a few minutes of the first edition, Bhasin said:

“Well, you [Claridge] mentioned the big teams, no doubt the big talking point of the Championship is Newcastle. Who’ll buy them? Who’ll be their manager? And can they bounce back at the first time of asking? Well, we got some sort of pointer to that last question, at least, when they travelled to West Brom, a game you might have seen a little earlier on BBC One.”

And then there was Mark Clemmit, a man who was equally enthusiastic talking about Torquay’s “postcard image” or about “Cardiff City’s swanky, new, £15 million stadium”.

That’s perfectly fine, but there was no light and shade to his presentation – the joviality felt like a façade, at the very least.

He presented two items: a feature about a team in the Football League – particularly if they had changed stadiums or managers – and ‘Potted History’, a collection of ‘wacky’ facts about another team.

These two segments rarely lasted more than a few minutes, but listening to Clemmit often felt like being forced to down a couple of pints after vomiting on the balti pies.

However, the amount of actual football shown was proportionally low. Over 22 minutes of the 75-minute time slot was spent on Championship football, and just under half of that was used for two games: Newcastle United v West Bromwich Albion and Derby County v Peterborough United.

Over 11 minutes was dedicated to League 1 highlights, while nearly nine minutes was used for League 2 football.

The format factory

In a way, you could say that ‘The Football League Show’ was an experiment during its earliest editions. Before 2009, there were two other similar experiments that flopped: ITV’s ‘The Premiership’ and the launch of Channel 5.

The former, which started in 2001, had a number of new features including a teatime screening, Townsend’s Tactics Truck and Terry Venables’ ProZone analysis. All three of those items were scrapped within a matter of weeks.

Channel 5’s launch in 1997 was also troubled. Its flagship programme, ‘Family Affairs’, wasn’t originally a soap about a community, it was pitched as a soap about just one family.

Its early schedules were also “stripped”, a tactic that was normally reserved for digital television. In fact, it often felt like a satellite channel.

Furthermore, two of its main sport presenters were Dominik Diamond, best known for presenting Channel 4’s ‘GamesMaster’, and Gail McKenna, a former Page Three model and future ‘How 2’ presenter.

The channel quickly obtained broadcasting rights for the Poland versus England international, but it was transmitted from a London sports café with stars from ‘Family Affairs’ and ‘Gladiators’. Claridge was also given his own role, in the form of providing betting news and analysis.

Channel 5’s reputation for its sports coverage never recovered from this moment – even if they managed to take an interest in the UEFA Intertoto Cup, Eredivisie and Primeira Liga.

The problem with these two examples, and ‘The Football League Show’, is there was an eagerness to please that went too far. They tried to add too many new gimmicks at once, while failing to get the basics right.

A slow improvement

But changes have been made to ‘The Football League Show’. The show is now pre-recorded, which led to the interactive element and Greenwood-Hughes being dropped in 2011.

Clemmit remained, despite the quiet axing of his ‘Potted History’ segment, although the insufferable enthusiasm remains.

Claridge’s role has also been reduced, being partially replaced by Leroy Rosenior. His gentle tone is suited to the programme’s late transmission time, and he also comes across as intelligent and well informed on occasions.

Bhasin’s interest in the Football League seems more genuine in 2013 than in 2009, and the programme’s overzealous attitude has been toned down.

For example, Bhasin introduced an edition, on 23 February 2013, by saying:

“Good evening, and we’ve become increasingly used to managerial chopping and changing in the nPower Football League. But this week, though, it seems to have stepped up a gear. Out went Paolo Di Canio and Dean Holdsworth, while in came Paul Ince, Simon Grayson and Andy Scott. Not to mention Alan Knill, now covering for Martin Ling over at Torquay. And they’ve all, of course, got to hit the ground running with points becoming more precious by the week. A warm welcome tonight to Steve, as we reflect on a busy day across all three divisions.”

This change in tone is seen in the new titles sequence, which was introduced in 2012. The focus is on the past – with images of Brian Clough and Glenn Hoddle – to remind viewers that football existed before 1992.

It isn’t ideal, but it is a sight more preferable than a John Westwood-esque figure dancing around in a circle.

Also, in 2013, ‘The Football League Show’ is now broadcasting more football than in 2009.

For example, on 23 February 2013, nearly 28 minutes were dedicated to Championship matches and nearly 15 minutes were spent on League 1. Furthermore, there was over ten minutes of League 2 football.

By comparing the editions on 8 August 2009 and 23 February 2013, the amount of actual highlights being broadcasted has increased by 20.32%. It must also be mentioned that both shows were 75-minutes long.

The programme’s quality has slowly improved to an acceptable level and, for the most part, it is now perfectly watchable.

The future?

But there are still doubts of whether the programme requires a punditry element, particularly when Claridge is at the helm.

A back-to-basics format is recommended, where just the goals are shown, à la ITV’s ‘Football League Extra’.

If its length remains at 75 minutes, then more action can be shown – particularly as its coverage of League 2 feels rushed – but the producers would be wise to reduce the running time by 15 minutes or even half an hour.

It may look like a step backwards, but it would get the most out of a format that is difficult to produce with such short lead times.

‘The Football League Show’ may have its critics, and there is still room for improvement, but it has changed since 2009. And it is all the better for it.

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This feature was self-published in April 2013.

Finland: the connection between pension systems and national culture

Finland’s economy has struggled to recover from its 2008/2009 recession. Image courtesy of Chrisser via Flickr.

Finland’s economy is stuttering.

After all, it fell into a recession in December 2012.

Also, during 2012, the Finnish economy shrunk for three successive quarters with an overall contraction of 0.2% for the full financial year.

Its economy is very export-dependent, and the recession can be attributed to a slump in demand among its trading partners in Europe.

But while Finland’s budget deficit is small, its ageing population and early retirement schemes are straining the government’s fiscal policy.

A shortage of workers, for example, could contribute to a fall in government revenue, with a subsequent rise in both pension claimants and government expenditure.

The consequence of this would be further economic fluctuations and an increasing budget deficit.

Previous pension reforms

There were major pension reforms in 2005, which led to the introduction of a flexible pension scheme.

The qualifying age for a pension was increased from 60 to 62 years, and it also became possible for workers to receive a pension between the ages of 63 and 68.

And some further progress has been made. For example, the average pension age in 2011 increased from 59.6 to 60.5 years.

However, it is expected that the working age population will suffer a decrease of 150,000 by 2025 with an average retirement age of 61.

The government had aimed to adopt the Swedish model of retirement by 2011, through raising its effective age to 65, but this fell through as employers and trade unions could not come to an agreement.

Amendments, however, have been made, as the rules regarding the Farmers’ Early Retirement Scheme were tightened. Now, the only way that farmers can receive early retirement aid at 59-years-old is to sell their entire farm to a younger successor.

Despite these developments, though, a YLE news agency survey stated that only 16% of Finns supported the idea of increasing its retirement age.

The survey also highlighted the political and demographic divides that surround this issue.

Geert Hofstede’s culture

Although Geert Hofstede’s study, of how national culture affects workplace values, has been accused of being overly singular and simplistic, it can explain some of the hostility towards further reforms.

Between 1967 and 1973, Hofstede compared four dimensions of culture – power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism and masculinity – across 40 countries, by collecting data on employee attitudes and attributes for over 100,000 individuals, while working as a psychologist for IBM.

He later added a fifth dimension, long-term orientation, after surveying Chinese managers and employees.

Short-term orientated

Finland scored 41 out of 100 in the latter dimension, which means that Finland’s culture is more short-term orientated.

Countries that scored low in this dimension, such as Finland, respect their traditions greatly, and can lack the ability to adapt these traditions to changing circumstances.

With little tenacity in obtaining long-term results, Finland’s workplace culture reflects the insignificant support for increasing the statutory age of retirement.

This is also backed up by Finland’s medium to high levels of uncertainty avoidance, after scoring 59 in Hofstede’s study.

This generally means that codes of behaviour and beliefs will be inflexible, in addition to resisting risks and unusual ideas.

Finland’s age of retirement is traditionally low – for example, in April 2001, those who were born before 1944 could still receive an early retirement pension at 58-years-old – so any calls to increase the effective retirement age further could be seen as unorthodox.

Highly individualistic

Additionally – with scores of 33 and 63, respectively – Finland’s power distance is low with relatively high levels of individualism.

The Finnish style of working can, therefore, be characterised by independence and decentralised power. And, if there is a hierarchy, it is used for convenience only.

Employees from highly individualistic cultures also tend to just take care of themselves and their immediate families, rather than others.

Furthermore, Finland’s low masculinity score of 26 suggests that negotiation and compromise would normally resolve conflicts, and there is a strong focus on well being and equality.

This can provide an explanation as to why Finland’s current pension system does not prevent work force mobility, and also includes joint decision-making between employees and employers.

No wonder 70% of Finnish employers and 86% of employees feel that the current retirement schemes are sensible.

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This opinion piece was self-published in March 2013.

Non-web sources

Chrystal, K. Alec and Lipsey, Richard G. (1997) Economics for Business and Management. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hill, C. W. L. (2007) International Business: Competing in the Global Marketplace. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hofstede, G. (1991) Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. London: McGraw-Hill.

McSweeney, B. (2002) Hofstede’s model of national cultural differences and their consequences: A triumph of faith – a failure of analysis. Human Resources, 55(1), p.89-118.

Revisiting 90 Minutes’ Nightmare League

The weekly football magazine, 90 Minutes, was published during the 1990s.

During the 1990s, 90 Minutes ran an annual Nightmare League.

Think of it as an alternative to Fantasy Football.

Readers of the defunct magazine – instead of choosing the best players in the Premier League – picked who they thought were the worst players, and competed in regional and occupational leagues.

Premier League footballers were ranked on various statistics.

For example, they would be awarded three points for every goal that they scored and four points for every clean sheet kept by a defender or goalkeeper.

However, if they scored an own goal or received a red card, they would be deducted five points. Meanwhile, yellow cards would be rewarded with minus three points.

Also, whenever a defender or goalkeeper conceded a goal, they would score a single minus point.

And, for every time a midfielder or striker played a minimum of 45 minutes without scoring, they would be deducted one point.

Therefore, the worst players would attain a significant minus score at the end of the season and the readers, who had the lowest marks, would win their regional or occupational league.

And, while the magazine published a “worst players of ’95/96” list, they never picked a Nightmare League XI.

This was surprising, considering that they published “The Chaos Theory XI”, “Hoddle’s First 11 – the players that could figure in the new England manager’s plans” and the “Nightmare Team of the tournament [Euro 96]” during the summer of 1996.

However, after scouring through old editions of 90 Minutes, here are their worst players from the 1995/1996 Premier League season.

GK: Keith Branagan

Club: Bolton Wanderers
Nightmare League points total: minus 40

Surprisingly, goalkeepers were a rarity in the Nightmare League.

For instance, only three other goalkeepers scored less than minus ten points: Sheffield Wednesday’s Kevin Pressman with minus 22 points, Leeds United’s John Lukic with minus 15 points and Nottingham Forest’s Mark Crossley with minus 11 points.

But, after conceding 59 goals in 31 games, Keith Branagan was easily the worst goalkeeper in this league and joint 20th worst player overall.

LB: Alan Kimble

Club: Wimbledon
Nightmare League points total: minus 43

Although Wimbledon finished 14th in the 1995/1996 Premier League, they had defensive problems following Warren Barton’s move to Newcastle United.

The Dons conceded 70 league goals and only Bolton Wanderers had an inferior defensive record.

Therefore, it should not surprise you that Alan Kimble is in this XI – after scoring minus 43 points and grabbing a joint 14th placed spot overall.

His form was so bad, Kimble’s only realistic contender was Sheffield Wednesday’s right-footed left back Ian Nolan with minus 37 points.

CB: Jimmy Phillips

Club: Bolton Wanderers
Nightmare League points total: minus 58

The Nightmare League was full of centre backs and the worst of them was Jimmy Phillips.

The second-worst player in this league was one of just six players to score minus 50 points or less.

No one can argue about the fact that he was one of the main reasons why Bolton struggled so much in their first Premier League campaign.

CB: Paul Williams

Club: Coventry City
Nightmare League points total: minus 49

Paul Williams’ first season in the Premier League, after his move from Derby County, won’t be remembered for the right reasons, and the Sky Blues conceded 60 league goals during the 1995/1996 season.

Bolton’s Chris Fairclough was only two points ahead and, if he had played more than 24 games, Wimbledon’s Alan Reeves could have nicked this spot after scoring minus 42 points.

Queens Park Rangers’ Steve Yates, meanwhile, also came close with minus 46 points.

RB: Kenny Cunningham

Club: Wimbledon
Nightmare League points total: minus 78

Kenny Cunningham may have gained some plaudits over the years but, according to the Nightmare League, he was the worst player by far, after being minus 20 points behind Jimmy Phillips.

Interestingly, two other right backs were in the top six worst players: QPR’s David Bardsley and Sheffield Wednesday’s Peter Atherton, who both scored minus 50 points.

LM: Alan Thompson

Club: Bolton Wanderers
Nightmare League points total: minus 39

Alan Thompson may have played for England in 2004, but he was this league’s worst left-footed winger. This was after being placed 23rd in the league with minus 39 points.

However, this does not come as a surprise because, after scoring Bolton’s first league goal of the season against Wimbledon on 19 August 1995, he failed to score in his other 25 appearances.

And, as competition for this position was so scarce, Thompson’s closest rival was Newcastle’s David Ginola with minus 31 points.

CM: Garry Flitcroft

Club: Manchester City
Nightmare League points total: minus 54

Another relegated club means the inclusion of another footballer in the Nightmare League.

This time it’s Garry Flitcroft, the worst midfielder and third-worst player in this league.

90 Minutes couldn’t even spell his name correctly in the final listings.

CM: Barry Horne

Club: Everton
Nightmare League points total: minus 47

This was actually a tie, as two other central midfielders had accrued the same amount of points.

But, as Barry Horne had played less Premier League football in the 1995/1996 season than Coventry City’s Kevin Richardson and Middlesbrough’s Jamie Pollock, Everton’s lowest ranked player gets the final central midfield spot.

Horne was the joint eight-worst player in this league – but the aforementioned trio faced tough competition from Chelsea’s Dennis Wise (minus 45 points), Everton’s Joe Parkinson (minus 43 points), Aston Villa’s Andy Townsend (minus 42 points) and Manchester United’s Nicky Butt (minus 41 points).

RM: Steve Lomas

Club: Manchester City
Nightmare League points total: minus 50

There was a real lack of right-sided midfielders in this league; therefore, Steve Lomas is the midfielder that best fits this slot.

Lomas was the joint fourth-worst player in this league and, along with Flitcroft, Manchester City had the two lowest ranked midfielders.

The only right-footed winger that came close was Coventry’s Paul Telfer, who was placed 24th and scored minus 39 points.

FW: Mark Hughes

Club: Chelsea
Nightmare League points total: minus 40

With the potential to score lots of goals, it was difficult to score lowly in the Nightmare League. Even Forest’s Andrea Silenzi scored minus six points.

However, due to his 11 yellow cards and one red card, Mark Hughes is the second-worst striker in this league.

During a difficult first season at Chelsea, the Welsh forward only scored eight league goals in 30 games and, if he hadn’t scored four goals in his final four games of the season, a joint 20th placed finish could have been beyond him.

FW: Trevor Sinclair

Club: Queens Park Rangers
Nightmare League points total: minus 43

Some people could suggest that Southampton’s Matthew Le Tissier should be in this XI, after scoring minus 38 points.

But, during the 1995/1996 season, he often played in midfield, as Gordon Watson and Neil Shipperley were Dave Merrington’s preferred strike partners in a 4-4-2 formation.

What’s even more surprising, though, is that Trevor Sinclair bags this final spot after a joint 14th placed finish.

Although he has played on both sides of the wing, Sinclair was regularly utilised as a striker during the 1995/1996 season.

90 Minutes, meanwhile, claimed in July 1996 that “he insists on playing down the middle of the park”, making it more likely that some saw him as a forward in the mid-1990s.

Despite being named in five consecutive England squads, during the build up to Euro 96, Sinclair only scored two league goals and failed to score in his final 26 games of the season.

The only real pretenders to the strikers’ throne were Bolton’s John McGinlay and Wimbledon’s Dean Holdsworth, who both scored minus 20 points.

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This feature was self-published in January 2013.

Non-web sources

Anon (1996) 90 Minutes’ New, Improved Nightmare League. The Story So Far… 90 Minutes, Saturday May 11 1996, p.24-26.

Anon (1996) Euromania! 90 Minutes, Saturday July 6 1996, p.17-24.

Anon (1996) Nightmare League. 90 Minutes, Saturday May 25 1996, p.40-41.

George, Iestyn and Palmer, Kevin (1996) Hod Only Knows. 90 Minutes, Saturday May 11 1996, p.32-33.

Hamilton, G. (1997) The Official F.A. Premier League Football Guide. Great Britain: Carlton Books.

Kelly, J. (1996) Official Fans’ Guide: F.A. Premier League 1996-97. Great Britain: Carlton Books.

Newsham, G. (1996) That Sinclair Feeling. 90 Minutes, Saturday June 15 1996, p.6-7.

O’Hare, M. (1996) Maths Of The Day. 90 Minutes, Saturday June 22 1996, p.32-33.

Palmer, K. (1996) Hods and Sods. 90 Minutes, Saturday July 13 1996, p.12-14.

Williams, M. (ed) (1996) The Ultimate Football Guide 1997. Coventry: Sky Blue Publications.

Ten of the biggest Christmas single flops by television stars

Basil Brush has appeared on children’s television since the 1960s. Image courtesy of John W. Schulze via Flickr.

If you’re a television personality, having a hit Christmas single is harder than it looks.

For instance, UK Top 10 singles such as ‘I’m Walking Backwards For Christmas’ by The Goons, ‘Your Christmas Wish’ by The Smurfs and ‘I Believe in Christmas’ by the Tweenies are exceptions to the rule.

Also, because several of these singles have flopped, even minor Top 40 hits such as Mr Blobby’s ‘Christmas In Blobbyland’ and The Goodies’ ‘Make A Daft Noise For Christmas’ can be considered as success stories.

And this is without considering the numerous tie-in singles that were released during the Christmas period. For example, ‘Supermarket Sweep (Will You Dance With Me?)’, by The Bar-Codes featuring Alison Brown and M.C. Dale [Winton], reached Number 72 in December 1994.

There are too many celebrity-related Christmas singles to mention – including ‘I Dream Of Christmas’ by Anita Dobson, ‘The Christmas Singles’ by Spitting Image, ‘Light Up The World For Christmas’ by The Lampies and ‘Help Yourself/Bigamy At Christmas’ by Tony Ferrino – but here are ten of the more interesting flops.

‘White Christmas’ by Freddie Starr (1975)

Surprisingly, Freddie Starr has released a number of serious-minded singles and albums. This stemmed from his collaborations with the Midnighters and Joe Meek in the 1960s, and his Top 10 single ‘It’s You’ in 1974.

Also, between 1974 and 1990, he released four easy listening LPs, which mostly contained cover versions.

The comedian’s version of ‘White Christmas’, however, took a ‘comedic’ turn, as it involved Starr impersonating Elvis Presley and Adolf Hitler throughout the song.

Considering that it was Starr’s second and last UK Top 75 single – peaking at Number 41 in December 1975 and having a month-long stay in the charts – it can be seen as a minor success for Starr.

Additionally, Jim Davidson’s version of the same song reached Number 52 in December 1980.

‘Home For Christmas Day’ by The Red Car and The Blue Car (1991)

For those who aren’t in the know, “The Red Car and The Blue Car” was a Milky Way television advert from the late 1980s.

‘Home For Christmas Day’ reworked the advert’s 40-second jingle and, unsurprisingly, turning it into a three-minute pop song was too much of a stretch for it to work.

After entering the UK Singles Chart at Number 73 in December 1991, it eventually rose to Number 44; making it one of the more successful Christmas single flops.

‘Boom Boom/Christmas Slide’ by Basil Brush featuring India Beau (2003)

In December 2003, Basil Brush teamed up with his ‘The Basil Brush Show’ co-star India Beau to release a double A-side single.

And it’s particularly telling that Right Records, rather than BBC Worldwide (who released singles by the Teletubbies and Tweenies, among others), released this single.

In a non-shocker, ‘Christmas Slide’ is soulless pap and only the most easily pleased group of tiddlers will enjoy it.

No wonder it faltered at Number 44 in the UK Singles Chart.

‘Rockin’ Good Christmas’ by Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown (1996)

There are three things about Roy Chubby Brown’s Christmas single that shouldn’t surprise you: a) it features lots of swearing, b) it peaked at Number 51 in the UK Singles Chart and c) it’s a beggared song, aimed at fans of tasteless vulgarity.

‘Another Blooming Christmas’ by Mel Smith (1991)

Mel Smith’s ‘Another Blooming Christmas’ – which was taken from the animated short, ‘Father Christmas’ – should have replicated the Top 10 success of ‘Walking In The Air’ during the 1991 Christmas period.

However, there was one problem. The single was released before Channel 4’s original transmission of the cartoon on 24 December 1991, and it made its last appearance in the UK Singles Chart just five days later.

Had it been released a year or two later, it would have been a sure-fire Top 30 hit, at the very least, and Epic Records must have been disappointed with its Number 59 peak.

‘Old Fashioned Christmas’ by Anne Charleston and Ian Smith (1989)

Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan were all the rage in 1989, so it surprised no one when other Australian soap stars jumped on the bandwagon.

Craig McLachlan and Home & Away’s Dannii Minogue reached the UK Top 10 in the early 1990s, but Madge and Harold Bishop’s short-lived music career raised more than a few eyebrows.

The duo, Anne Charleston and Ian Smith, went on the promotional chase in December 1989, as they appeared on 22 television shows to promote the single including kids’ programmes ‘Going Live!’ and ‘Wac 90’.

However, they couldn’t muster up a hit single – it entered the charts at Number 89 and, although it climbed to Number 77, a week later, it soon sunk without a trace.

Still, at least it didn’t flop as much as Mark Stevens’ non-hit wonder ‘This Is The Way To Heaven’ in 1991.

‘Christmas Wrapping’ by Tony Robinson and The Angel Voices (1990)

Tony Robinson’s venture into novelty rap records was perhaps overlooked and unappreciated in December 1990, as it stumbled into the UK Singles Chart at Number 78.

Also, the fact that it was released by independent label Nico Polo wouldn’t have helped matters at all.

It’s a genuinely amusing song, though, and the dance-cum-choir mix is a nice touch.

And it wasn’t even a cover of The Waitresses’ ‘Christmas Wrapping’, as Robinson co-wrote the song.

Furthermore, and very interestingly, the ‘Blackadder’ actor seemingly performed the song under the guise of his Sheriff of Nottingham character.

‘Christmas Wrapping’ may have performed far better if it had been an official ‘Maid Marian and her Merry Men’ tie-in single.

‘Give Us A Kiss For Christmas’ by Pinky and Perky (1990)

Here’s a surprising fact: until May 1993, Pinky and Perky had never entered the UK Top 75.

And that wasn’t going to change with their cover of Lionel Bart’s ‘Give Us A Kiss For Christmas’.

Especially when their version – which failed to peak beyond Number 79 in early December 1990 – was originally recorded in 1962.

Old-hat doesn’t even come into it.

‘Cashing In On Christmas’ by Bad News (1987)

Before 1987, comedy fans knew all about spoof rock band Bad News. After all, Channel 4 had aired a ‘Comic Strip… Presents’ episode, entitled ‘Bad News Tour’, in 1983.

Over four years later, Bad News – also known as comedians Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer, Rik Mayall and Peter Richardson – teamed up with Queen guitarist Brian May (as a producer) to release a self-titled LP.

Also, two singles were released from the album: a cover of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Cashing In On Christmas’.

Both the LP and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ reached the Top 70, but ‘Cashing In On Christmas’ sounded tepid and the joke was perhaps becoming a parody of itself.

Despite the 7” single featuring a range of free gifts – including a signed Christmas card, press release, foldout poster and fake £10 note – ‘Cashing In On Christmas’ peaked at Number 81 in November 1987.

‘Songs For Christmas’ (EP) by Minipops (1986)

Although the ‘Minipops’ television series on Channel 4 lasted for only six weeks in 1983, it was successful enough to spawn a bunch of singles and albums during the 1980s.

One of them, the ‘Songs for Christmas’ EP, was in aid of the Leukaemia Research Fund’s Silver Jubilee Appeal.

In May 1986, the TV Times launched a competition for under 18s to write a “Song For Christmas”.

The entries were whittled down to four shortlisted songs, which were performed by the Minipops on TV-am’s ‘Wide Awake Club’.

The programme’s viewers selected ‘Adventures of Santa’ as the winner, but the other three songs (‘Christmas Scenes’, ‘Ring A Bell For Christmas’ and ‘Rock Baby Jesus’) were also featured on the EP.

Although it sold poorly – it peaked at Number 88 in December 1986 – two further ‘Songs For Christmas’ EPs reached Number 39 in 1987 and Number 97 in 1988.

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This feature was self-published in December 2012.

Non-web sources

Roberts, D. (ed) (2004) The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles & Albums. 17th edition. London: Guinness World Records.

The 12 most awkward music interviews on children’s television

Radio DJ Toby Anstis is best known for presenting children’s television programmes such as ‘The O-Zone’ and ‘Fan TC’. Image courtesy of James Gridland via Flickr.

You could curse YouTube sometimes.

Andy Crane discussing Spot the Dog with Pop Will Eat Itself, Noel Edmonds asking XTC’s Andy Partridge to “be quiet”, Captain Sensible falling from tables, Gilbert the Alien telling Aswad’s Brinsley Forde to “skin up” and Neil Buchanan visiting the set of Gazza’s ‘Fog On The Tyne (Revisited)’ video.

It all happened on children’s television – and none of them are currently on YouTube.

Heck, the full Matt Bianco and Five Star interviews, from ‘Saturday Superstore’ and ‘Going Live!’ respectively, aren’t even on the Internet. [EDIT: The Five Star interview is now on YouTube.]

And, to make matters worse, Zig & Zag’s interviews with Terry Hall and the Beastie Boys are excluded because ‘The Big Breakfast’ wasn’t a children’s show.

But fear not, the following 12 interviews are very awkward.

This is mainly down to the interviewers’ incompetence, but also due to baffling location spots and various interviewees looking hopelessly out of place.

And you know that they’re bad when you can’t include Noel Gallagher proclaiming that ‘Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants’ is the best Oasis album since ‘Definitely Maybe’.

12. Living in a Box are asked political questions by kids with regional accents (‘It’s Wicked!’, 1987)

Candid is not a word to describe Living in a Box.

Refusing to answer a question about the general election is one thing, but staying tight-lipped about whether one member had a Number 1 in Spain is quite remarkable.

And, to add to the tension, there are some catty remarks about regional accents and Sheffield, while one child mistakes Richard Darbyshire for an imaginary band member called Stephen.

However, when answers are provided, it’s clear to see the group’s aura of unease. For instance, they said that Bucks Fizz was an early influence, JUST BECAUSE CHERYL BAKER WAS DOING A COOKERY SLOT ON THE SHOW, and also admitted that the band’s name and début single was based on one half-witted anecdote.

Alan Partridge would’ve been proud of those answers.

For more awkward interviews on ‘It’s Wicked’, your best bet is to watch Carolyn Marshall’s tactless chat with seminal kids’ presenter Brian Cant.

11. Violet Berlin discusses video game soundtracks with Alien Sex Fiend (‘Bad Influence!’, 1994)

First of all, here’s the good news: deathrock duo Alien Sex Fiend co-composed the soundtrack for space simulator ‘Inferno’ in 1994. It was awesome.

And the inevitable bad news was that Violet Berlin interviewed Mrs Fiend on technology magazine ‘Bad Influence!’.

The signs were bad, even before the interview started, as their band name was censored as ASF, and Andy Crane made the obligatory “legendary” reference.

And, after the interview, they played out the show on Yorkshire Television’s car park, while being drowned out by a firework display.

As for the interview itself: Mrs Fiend looks like that she wants to do a runner, while Berlin gets excited over what she calls “chase noise”.

Still, it’s not all bad. You get to see Mrs Fiend using an Amiga.

And, after all, Crane could’ve conducted the interview.

NB: The interview was conducted between 1:33 and 3:40.

10. Toby Anstis meets Radiohead (‘The O-Zone’, 1995)

The mid-1990s was a period when Andi Peters edited a certain music show and Gary Barlow produced its theme tune.

That sort of thing will never happen again, mainly because Peters decided to base his editorial début on ‘Top of the Pops’ around a Victoria Beckham exclusive.

But Toby Anstis’ interview with Radiohead will stay long in the memory.

Anstis, in an attempt to hide his lack of knowledge about independent music, focused on the aftermath of ‘Creep’ as he mentioned the song title THREE times in less than 90 seconds, and referred to other terms like “one-hit wonders” and “one-song band“.

His voiceover, however, was even more awkward and it included the following passage:

“The striking video to the new single, ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, looks like it was made for the American market. It features the tortured lead vocals of Thom Yorke, who is desperate to rid Radiohead of the ‘Creep’ label.”

Yorke did well to gaze into the distance with a vacant expression.

And, for more surreal music interviews with Anstis, he once played crazy golf with The Bee Gees.

9. Tony Gregory and Jane Wiedlin discuss animal ethics (‘Motormouth’, 1988)

The website Sat Kids described Tony Gregory, the original voice of ‘Big Brother’, as a man “who couldn’t maintain a look of interest while interviewing”. Which says it all.

Here, he mistakes a rabbit for “furry clothing”, and then patronisingly asks animal rights activist and former Go-Go guitarist Jane Wiedlin why people shouldn’t wear fur.

You have to give Gregory some credit, mind.

For instance, his chat with Martika wasn’t half as bad as Terry Christian’s interview with her.

Just be thankful that his interviews with Bananarama and Kakko are no longer online, though. Be very thankful.

8. Michaela Strachan admits that she struggles to pronounce the Inspiral Carpets’ band name (‘Wac 90’, 1989)

This interview featured the following: a bunch of kids wearing Inspiral Carpets T-shirts, Tom Hingley wanting a breakfast cereal to be named after him, the group answering questions from a set of playing cards and Clint Boon being forced to talk to his mother on a dinosaur telephone.

I think that fulfils the awkward criteria quite nicely.

Goodness knows why Tommy Boyd didn’t conduct this interview. It would have been so much better with him at the helm.

NB: The interview was conducted between 4:19 and 6:26.

7. Philippa Forrester and Carter USM visit a dinosaur museum (‘The O-Zone’, 1993)

Another O-Zone interview means more filler questions about irrelevant topics.

This time, Philippa Forrester focuses on ‘Jurassic Park’, because Carter USM’s latest album at the time was called ‘Post Historic Monsters’, and Fruitbat’s rugby tackle on Phillip Schofield at the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party.

Fruitbat and Jim Bob were unsurprisingly subdued – to the extent that a caption proclaimed:

“Carter found it difficult to talk about their new single – so we asked an easier question…”

And that question was about haircuts.

Honestly, showing random shots of the museum in question would have been more productive.

6. Andi Peters tries to punch himself in the face while interviewing Pulp (‘Live & Kicking’, 1995)

It’s never going to end well when Andi Peters doesn’t know who Russell Senior is. He makes that mistake twice.

He also tries to crack jokes with Jarvis Cocker – again, he does it more than once.

It culminates with Peters trying to punch himself in the face.

And, if you thought that things couldn’t be any more awkward, you’d be wrong.

During a “Robert’s Records” sketch with Trevor & Simon, Gary Glitter spontaneously busts some moves.

At least Candida Doyle seems to be enjoying herself – there’s some very faint praise for you.

NB: The interview was conducted between 3:16 and 5:23.

5. Pat Sharp mistakes The Beautiful South for The Housemartins (‘What’s Up Doc?’, 1994)

“What’s Up Doc? continues with Jacqui, Paul and Dave from The Housemartins, and the rest of the gang, who used to be The Housemartins, shall I say, but are now The Beautiful South. That was my first line. ‘Cos that’s true, innit?”

I don’t think anything else needs to be said about this interview. Instead, let’s focus on Pat Sharp’s other memorable chats.

For instance: he washed cars with Gary Numan, discussed “eye-to-eye rings” with Actifed and interviewed BMX star Mat Hoffman while in drag.

4. Andi Peters’ Hot Seat interview with NKOTB (‘Live & Kicking’, 1994)

All I will say is this: anything that makes Andi Peters uncomfortable is good. God bless the New Kids on the Block and their crazy antics.

Meanwhile, other interviews by Peters that failed to make the final cut included: chatting to The Human League about whippets and flat caps, asking Shed Seven whether Henry Kelly influenced their Top 10 single ‘Going For Gold’, talking about stalkers with Jas Mann and playing in a ball pool with Fuzzbox.

3. Ross King, Charlotte Hindle, Dianne Oxberry, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer bop to the beat of ‘Born Free’ (‘The 8.15 From Manchester’, 1991)

I was tempted to include Ross King messing around with They Might Be Giants’ mobile phone in this list, but you can’t beat Vic Reeves rigorously stroking plush toys and King’s hair.

On the plus side, “the man with the stick’s first helmet from 1943” is one of the all-time great prizes on Saturday morning television.

2. Jenny Powell, the advisor from ‘Theme Park World’, Nicky Wire and Richey Edwards chat about make-up (‘Gimme 5’, 1993)

Despite Lewis MacLeod’s best efforts with his ‘Scooby Doo’ plugs and multi-coloured shorts, Jenny Powell emerges victorious with her observational skills:

“Can I just get one thing right? I think you’re sort of like: metal rock, not pop, punk kind of thing. I mean what are your roots, your musical roots? [...] It makes a change having some English rock ‘n’ roll, really, in this day and age.”

For more ‘Gimme 5’ goodness, check out MacLeod chatting to Oui 3 about “quite serious subjects in your [Oui 3's] lyrics” – as well as Powell and Nobby the Sheep being “deep and meaningful” with wannabe shoegazers Bedazzled.

1. Gary Crowley tries to impersonate Danny Dyer in front of Devo (‘Fun Factory’, 1980)

This interview was always going to be bad from the very start. For instance, the blurb on the YouTube video states:

“The group had a huge bust up with show producers and another group on the show, The Regents – a 1 hit wonder – which may explained [sic] the strained mood through the interview.”

Gary Crowley, however, does his best to make matters even worse.

He asks Devo about their musical influences on FOUR separate occasions without realising that their answer, “T.V. and bad life”, suited their kitsch style and deadpan humour.

In particular, one question – “What about music, though? What was you listening to when you was about 17 and all that? You know, when you were in your teenage years and before you become [sic] old men. What was you listening to when you was about 17?” – makes Dexter Fletcher’s presenting stint on ‘GamesMaster’ look like Jeremy Paxman.

If Crowley can become a successful music broadcaster, anyone can.

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This feature was self-published in July 2012.

Non-web sources

Anon (1990) Zapper’s Guide. Look-in, Saturday October 27 1990, p.28-29.