Sunday, 27 July 2014

The UK's smallest television station, ever

If you had to pitch a business in one of these five locations...
  • Greenwich, London
  • Bristol, Avon
  • Swindon, Wiltshire
  • Sheffield, South Yorkshire
  • Wellingborough, Northamptonshire'd probably go for one of the first four, as the chances are, you'll have heard of those places. Wellingborough is a small market town in the east midlands which isn't exactly on anyone's radar. Yet, unbelievably, it achieved parity with those much more famous locations back in the early 1970s due to a television experiment.

Yesterday, I blogged about the current batch of 'local TV' channels that have arrived in various bits of the country on Freeview's channel 8 slot. Yet I completely missed the opportunity to talk about my hometown's role in the first ever local TV schemes rolled out in Britain.

In the 1970s, when television was heavily regulated, Christopher Chataway, the Conservative Minister of Posts and Telecommunications was lobbied so that localised television could become a reality. This meant officially allowing broadcasts from outside the established BBC and ITV systems. It wasn't a 'broadcast' in the strictest sense, in that these stations would have to be run via cable.

These days, when we think of cable television, Virgin Media is the blanket brand name that's cornered that market. It seems odd to think there was ever a need for cable television in the 1970s, but for some residents, television aerials gave them sub-standard reception and in some cases, they weren't even allowed to have such things mounted on their roof.

For these reasons, cable television has actually been fairly well established since the 1950s, relaying the established TV channels to viewers, and usually throwing in radio and a few additional ITV regions as a bonus. In fact, British company Rediffusion was launched in 1928 to 'rebroadcast' radio and early television feeds. Subsequently they would go onto to help form ITV by establishing their first London weekday franchise in 1955.

Growing up in Wellingborough in the 1980s, I had known of a few households that had taken cable TV, which brought them the pre-Sky delights of The Children's Channel and SelecTV, alongside the usual four channel line-up. I never got to see this first hand myself, but rumour had it that you could also have ITV's midlands and London offerings (Central, Thames/LWT) in addition to the 'default' Anglia region. I was in a cash-strapped household and just being able to pick up Central was a welcome bonus.

By the early 1990s, the town's cable supplier offering this (Mobile Radio), had changed to selling a diet of Sky One, Sky News and Eurosport alongside the four terrestrial channels, as long as you paid £5 a month.

Getting back to the main topic, the Conservative government had granted licenses for five local community stations in the early 1970s, planned to run until 1976. The first to launch was Greenwich Cablevision in July 1972, run by the south London district's cable business with an eye on increasing cable subscriptions in the area. This was already a captive audience due to a hill blocking off conventional broadcasts from the Crystal Palace transmitter. Half the finances for this were put up by Canadian businesses.

Second to launch was the 'Bristol Channel', on 17 May 1973. It was run by the city's cable supplier, Rediffusion, who at that point was a 49% stakeholder in Thames Television.

Sheffield Cablevision saw the light of day in August that year, backed by British Relay Wireless, swiftly followed by Swindon Viewpoint the following month, which was financed by EMI for their Radio Rentals cable network they had established in Wiltshire's pseudo-city.

What strikes me about Wellingborough's foray into this early broadcasting experiment is that the town certainly doesn't strike you as a media-savvy environment. It's an average-sized market town, dwarfed by at least two or three other places in the county. It would be understandable if its bigger brother, Northampton, had gone in for this venture, or at least Corby or Kettering. I don't mean to bash my hometown, but it's a fairly underwhelming place, like most middling towns across the east midlands. It's on the same level as Loughborough, Worksop, Rugby or Chesterfield.

Bear in mind that even the well-established ITV system had seen some desperate situations. Wales-based broadcaster WWN hit financial troubles just over a year into their contract, despite having been given a lot of programmes by Granada and ATV for free. WWN had to be purchased outright by neighbouring region TWW.

Also, Border Television coasted along with bankruptcy almost staring them in the face during the 1980s. It's not surprising when you look at their broadcast area, the sparsely-populated regions of Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway, The Isle Of Man and various other parts of the England/Scotland divide.

In any case, 24 March 1974 is when Wellingborough Cablevision got piped into various homes across the town and was made available by Mobile Radio in Midland Road, who were also purveyors of televisions, radios, hi-fi systems and various white goods.

Mobile Radio was based here, in what is now a solicitor's office.
While the other stations were backed by big pockets, and in some cases having help from established players in broadcasting, Wellingborough Cablevision was owned by the curiously-named Wellingborough Traders Television Relay. In other words, local businesses.

At this point, I should concede that I've never seen a single frame of this station, due to not having been born at the time of its launch, and only being about six months old when it came off air. However, I'm just so intrigued at my humble hometown having its own television station, no matter how ill-fated it could have been, that I just had to write this article. Oh, and Wikipedia is pretty sparse on the subject.

The station was black-and-white only, and the 'studio' was situated in what is now Silk nightclub, just a few hundred yards up from Mobile Radio's HQ. It's believed the cable network was VHF-only, so up-converters were provided to subscribers so signals could be seen on the newer UHF televisions.

Silk nightclub. Believed to be one-time home of the UK's tiniest television station. Last time I was in here, I met the Happy Monday's Bez, smashed off his tits.
From online reading about some older residents' experiences, it's not quite clear exactly what was broadcast on this fledgling station, but it gained the affectionate nickname 'WellyTelly'. A friend talks of how he appeared live on the station, singing as part of a children's choir. The station had visited schools in the area, presumably using the idea that local newspapers have, attracting the eyeballs of parents who want to see their little cherubs gain a bit of fame.

I'm told the studio "backed onto Glenbank" (the dead-end terraced road behind Silk), which means this slightly unglamorous sight would have greeted visitors. Not exactly Shepherd's Bush or the ITV Tower.
Warwick Primary School in the town's Kingsway area had their 1974 Christmas concert televised to cable viewers, and Weavers School (based close to the Queensway estate) were keen to show off their new gym.

Local woman Teresa Webb was a presenter, and interviewed a few star names, such as veteran crooner Frankie Vaughan and Canadian singer/actor Edmund Hockridge. I can't be certain, but with no theatre in the town at that time, it's possible these people would have been performing at The Fir Tree nightclub, which had been a magnet for a fair few household names.

The set-up of the station didn't please everyone. "We were promised a peppercorn rent for allowing the cable on our house," said local resident Edward Chambers. "We never got a penny."

Broadcasting to an area an eighth of the size of Leicester was never going to be a long-lasting situation. Despite the five cable community experiments being allowed to continue beyond the initial 1976 expiry date, Wellingborough CableVision closed on 24 March 1975, exactly a year after it had launched. It was the second to do so, with the Bristol Channel having beamed its last output ten days earlier. Sheffield and Greenwich stations would also turn into a white dot the following year.

The present day Mobile Radio shop, which will be closing next month.
Swindon Viewpoint managed to survive for many years. In 1980, EMI pulled the plug on funding and staffing, but left the equipment with the station after local protests. This channel continued to run on and off throughout the 1980s and up until the mid 1990s. Nowadays it runs online.

What of Wellingborough's legacy though? Absolutely no trace of recordings online, not even an idea of the schedules. Yet actual physical traces are still around, according to local resident Martin Percy...

"If you know what you are looking for around Wellingborough, you can still see cables running along the walls of houses, just below the gutters, and a few booster amplifiers for the old 'piped TV' system. There are even traces of the old Broadcast Relay radio service, installed in the 30s, which relayed one or two radio stations around the older parts of town, recipients having a speaker, and a selector switch....I can remember a great aunt and uncle in Albert Road listening to The Archers on the Home Service, later BBC Radio 4, on theirs, up until about 1970."

Plus, it seems one engineer from those days has gone on to greater things by taking up a role at Virgin Media's R&D department.

I'm quite keen to discover more about this short-lived broadcasting experiment. Little is written about Wellingborough's efforts, somewhat understandably, so I'll be making enquiries. I'll have to be quick. Mobile Radio itself closes down in August.

The tale of local media doesn't end for me with Wellingborough CableVision. There was another local cable service, on a county-wide level, which launched in the 1990s, but that's a subject for a later blog...

Saturday, 26 July 2014

When television on your doorstep is just wrong

The first eight years of my life were spent in the era of three channel TV, with BBC 1 offering shiny-floored glitz-and-glamour, BBC 2 seemingly offering a non-stop child-unfriendly diet of highbrow documentaries and ITV being the plethora of the great, the good, the awful and the downright odd.

For most of its life, ITV was a patchwork quilt of stations dotted up and down the country, each of them seemingly having their own speciality. Fast-forward to the present day and modern ITV is pretty much styled on those women's magazines you see at the supermarket checkout, with lurid headlines announcing how an evil rapist uncle ripped someone's life apart, why one woman's husband likes bathing in yak's urine and look, Kim Kardashian has cellulite on her thighs, doesn't that make you feel better?

It's easy to mock ITV, but in the digital era, they now sit alongside tens of other channels fighting for your eyeballs. You can't exactly blame them for seeking the lowest common denominator, although there has been some pretty unforgiveable cases of not just scraping the barrel, but removing the barrel and digging up what's beneath it. It's baffling as to why, in the 21st century, we have the council-estate bear-baiting contest that is The Jeremy Kyle Show; why the mentally ill are invited on to be mocked on The X Factor and how can anyone laugh at the catchphrase farm emanating from that post-millennial Bobby Davro, Keith Lemon?

One thing I'm conscious of, is that as I approach middle age, I don't want to turn into the finger-wagging dullard who sneers at the younger generations, spewing out sentences that begin "Back in my day...". It's become quite a challenge, as the mere existence of Nicki Minaj and Ed Sheeran has made me envy the deaf.

Back in my d... Um, when I was growing up, TV was a great companion for me. My first memories were of getting up really early on a Saturday morning and sitting through the test cards and start-up sequences, having our colour television all to myself.

The BBC would usually be the first to open its doors, giving us Battle Of The Planets followed by their main attraction. Swap Shop would launch a full hour ahead of Tiswas, yet the Noel-Edmonds-helmed compendium of phone-in chat and proto-Freecycle trading was such dreadful tedium that I nearly always opted for ITV despite the first sightings of Chris Tarrant being an eon away.

Now, Tiswas was one of the many gems that was generated by the ITV system of old. Fifteen different companies covered the nation, along with the Channel Islands, each with a region to themselves, yet expected to pitch in to the 'network' as a whole. You didn't always get what your regional neighbours were watching. It paid to keep an eye on the TV Times magazine...

This was multi-channel before the term was even coined. And living in Northamptonshire meant that although Anglia was our main provider of ITV, we could also opt for a version of ITV from the midlands, albeit on a slightly weaker signal. Most folk in Wellingborough stuck with Anglia for the solid picture quality, although the midlands broadcasts were very much watchable, with just the merest hint of haze.

The offerings from the midlands company (ATV until 1982, then Central onwards) were a lot sharper than Anglia. Switch on Central News, and you'd hear of a nightclub stabbing in Leicester. Go for Anglia, and it's a cat stuck up a tree in Cambridge.

It was more than just news. Everyone's heard of the output made by ATV and Central, which was eye-catching and beautifully anarchic. From the aforementioned Tiswas, over to Revolver; The Muppet Show; Spitting Image; Hardwicke House; Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and Sapphire And Steel, the Birmingham-based guys ran riot over the schedules. Of course, there was the more family-friendly stuff which also hit the ratings, like The Upper Hand; New Faces (a watchable Britain's Got Talent); Bullseye and Celebrity Squares.

What's Anglia notable for? Survival; Sale Of The Century and Tales Of The Unexpected. The first of those is undoubtedly a remarkable venture in television broadcasting, but for my tastes, Survival is in the box marked 'Worthy but dull'. Long after they had made a few runs on the network, Anglia would fill a few slots in their own region with scratchy repeats of the exotic-animal-spotting documentary.

It's not too difficult to see that the ITV network of old was dominated by a few big players, with the far-flung less-populated regions barely getting a look-in. There certainly was a 'Big Five'. Being based in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds meant that Thames, LWT, ATV/Central, Granada and Yorkshire could dominate the prime-time schedules with their own big-name productions. The others in the system were forever to be 625-lined Cinderellas, putting in their bit with children's telly and daytime efforts, with only the odd sniff at a post-7pm networked slot.

Central had a very slick presentation about it, making it compelling viewing even when your favourite programmes weren't on. By contrast, Anglia resembled a museum of the air, with silver-haired presenters stuck in front of a locked camera, reading out the schedules with some curtains as the background.

As a Tiswas fan, it's hard to forgive Anglia for dropping the show and taking Southern's Saturday Banana not once, but twice. I remember enduring this tame Saturday morning offering and wishing for Tiswas to return to our screens. I didn't quite grasp how to tune into ATV, where I'd have found Chris Tarrant and the Phantom Flan Flinger all present and correct.

Of course, later on as I discovered all about the different regions, I used it to my advantage. Popping over to my grandfather's house in Surrey was a great opportunity to watch The Smurfs on LWT. It also made me wonder what the hell Fangface was, having glanced an eye at Yorkshire's 'regional variations'. It hit Central, and my curiousity turned to disappointment. Ditto Sport Billy.

These days, none of this matters, as both regions are 99% identical, with only the 6pm regional news and a few sub-five-minute bulletins being the only difference. Every ITV offering from Berwick-upon-Tweed down to Penzance is pretty much the same. When Margaret Thatcher allowed the stations to take over each other from the 1990s onwards, ITV went from being weird and wonderful to being sterile and safe.

So we had Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, trying to undo the damage by allowing Freeview's channel 8 slot to be used by local TV stations. A few of these have launched, with Norwich's Mustard TV and Grimsby's Estuary TV taking the 'local happenings' approach. It's sensible stuff, not unlike the regional TV of old, yet on a lower budget. Despite the smaller audiences and narrow finances, both these stations do well with smart graphics and unrelenting enthusiasm. However, it's London Live that grabs the headlines, and all for the wrong reasons.

Being a station owned by the Evening Standard and Independent Newspapers, it's keen to make a big splash and to be known by every Londoner. While there is fresh local content in abundance, the directors decided to fill up a lot of the schedule with programmes acquired from the BBC, ITV and Channel Four. So you get Smack The Pony; Peep Show; Bugs and London's Burning, with the home-grown live stuff emanating from a small studio in the HQ of the newspaper-producing parent company.

Thanks to the satellite broadcasts, I'm able to watch the channel, despite being 70 miles away from the capital. It's not a pleasant experience. Obviously, being so far out of its catchment area, it's not really for me anyway, but I really do think that if I was living in London, I'd not give this channel a second glance.

The biggest mistake the channel has made is to aim itself purely at 18-25 year olds. To look at the presenters and studio is like looking into the window of Toni & Guy. It's running an MTV ethos and unsurprisingly, the original content has gained viewing figures as low as zero. Okay, so I'm citing some pessimistic ratings, but the average audience for their early evening show is around 4,000. When your broadcast area has at least a population of 10 million, that's a stunning failure.

The commissioning choices have reflected the desire to be a London-only BBC Three clone. On opening night, Londoners were subjected to some 'street footballers' and a Jamie-Oliver-wannabe chef who goes out checking 'street food'. It's all urban chic, segued with rapid camera whips and coming across like the station Nathan Barley and his media chums always wanted to make.

It should come as no surprise that the station is facing failure. The regional ITV programmes of old were watched by your mum and dad, and that's what London Live should have aimed for. There's no point targeting the current generation of youth, as local television is by far one of the naffest things from their perspective. It's dull, it's televisual Horlicks, it's 100% Alan Partridge. I very much doubt teenagers and twenty-somethings give two shits about what's on Freeview channel 8. They're off out clubbing and meeting their mates. At that age, so was I.

To grab the eyes of the young, you'd have to be like E4 or ITV2, be bold with expensive imports like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. And that's obviously not what the local TV initiative was meant for.

There's no harm in going for the middle-aged viewer sitting at home trying to wind down after a day's work. Outside the M25, that's what the new local stations are doing. I'm baffled as to why channel proprietors Evgeny and Alexander Lebedev decided Hoxtonite hipsters would ever switch on to London Live.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Lee James Turnock doesn't like me very much

Underground cartoonist Lee James Turnock hasn't taken to some of my criticism of him.

He says he will no longer publish my comments where I link to some things "written several years ago".

That's a shame. For a man who keeps whining on about how he's been "bullied off" a comedy forum, I thought it would be great to show the other side him, just for the sake of balance.

So, he won't be endorsing my posting of this report of him in The Sunday Times two years ago...

Another prolific DSMO contributor is Lee James Turnock, 38, from Northampton, who was banned from the forum last year but had previously been the third most prolific commentator, using the pseudonym Jimmy Vespa. In one comment "Vespa" proposed reopening a Nazi concentration camp for celebrities to allow the singers Christina Aguilera, Geri Halliwell and Lily Allen to be beaten "with bike chains, bricks, hammers and mallets".

Turnock last week insisted that his "trolling days are over", adding: "Sometimes when you are in an internet forum with like-minded people it is easy to fall into the mindset that this is normal and you are not hurting anyone.

"I thought that it was getting too extreme by the end. The comments were not meant to be taken seriously and if I have hurt anyone I want to apologise."

Monday, 4 July 2011

The best psychology lesson I've ever had

Ever had someone trying to wind you up? There's way of dealing with it. Most of you already know how to correctly react. I only learnt in my early 20s. I share this story, as I still come across folk who fly off the handle whenever they're goaded.

Back in the era of grunge, indie and Britpop™ when I frequented a local nightclub for its alternative nights, I pretty much resembled Neil from The Young Ones. This wasn't an issue for the crowd I hung around with, who were pretty much mandated to wear Kurt Cobain tribute shirts and mosh/dance/rave about to the sounds of Rage Against The Machine/Kinks/Chemical Brothers.

You could paint your face fluorescent green and wander in there wearing a fishnet smock, just as long as you weren't a 'townie'. Townies, a tracksuit-clad fag-end-sucking bumfluff-moustache-sporting social group, were pretty much our social nemeses. I suppose these days, the terminology used for such folk would be "chavs", a term I'm not proud to cite here, as it tends to make people (wrongly) think I'm anti-working class. But, hey, we hated townies and townies hated us.

Goodness knows what label we actually were. We didn't quite have a label as such, and have never really craved such a thing. In any case, we were a diaspora of eclectic social circles. Some of us were fairly gothic/industrial, others were hardcore metallers. The BritPop crew - who would happily wave their forearms with their elbow seemingly attached their hips when dancing to Shed Seven or Longpigs - were fairly adept at doing their own thing, to the point where they formed their own club nights at other venues. (At its peak, they had separate themed nights that could cater for genres such as film/TV themes and retro-hammond-organ funk.)

Oh, and I must give an honourable mention to a contingent of villagers would always bop around to rap-metal, with dreadlocks proudly on display. Bless you, Irchy Boys.

With cheap beer and a playlist that ranged from Megadeth to Elastica, the Alternative Night on Wednesdays at the long-gone Network in Wellingborough town centre, attracted all sorts. I particularly remember on my first night there, a savage looking bullet-belted metaller with the phrase 'I EAT CHRISTIANS FOR BREAKFAST' scrawled in Tipp-Ex over a ripped black t-shirt.

In the eyes of the townies, we were "grebos", "grungers" or "moshers". All of us. Even the quirky suited-to-the-nines Mod chap who would would calmly trot along to the Small Faces.

Yes, some of us, in our Nirvana smiley face t-shirts, German Army jackets, striped tights and Doc Martens, did conform to the stereotype.

We viewed the townies as trouble-makers. This is actually a fairly irrational condemnation, as I've been friends with such people, and really have no justification for smearing them all like that, although we did use the term specifically for the ones who did go out of their way to cause a bit of aggravation.

So, with the pubs shutting at half eleven and low price beer on offer, Network would occasionally attract the type of people who certainly didn't want to come along for Ned's Atomic Dustbin or Kingmaker. (Can't say I'd blame them for the latter.)

I spent much of the 1990s walking round with long hair, and came into two types of grief. Trying to dry it on a winter's morning (I remember it froze one day when walking to work) and of course, townies. I was a "fucking hippy", "poof", "headbanger" and sometimes all three, despite the presence of a Prodigy t-shirt, and, on the odd occasion, a girl who fell for my charms.

Looking like that, you had to develop a thick skin, and also to beware of provocation. On a number of occasions, a dozen or so future-Jeremy-Kyle-Show-loyalty-card-holders would pop in, get beered up, and try and start fights with the clientele. In particular, Karl was a target of their jibes. He was a tall thin guy who would regularly be plastered in eyeliner of all colours, with an outrageous flamboyant hairstyle that leave your retinas working overtime.

One 'grebo-bating' incident sticks out in my mind for the way it was dealt with. Gary, a guy who had recently been hanging out with us, had fairly long blonde hair, and was sitting in a quiet corner of the club. To be fair, Gary wasn't exactly a textbook definition of a Kerrang reader. Other than his long locks, nothing distinguished him from being particularly "alternative". In fact, he had confided in me that he loved R&B. Most of the time he was after a rather sexy black-bobbed girl who would writhe around to Nine Inch Nails and Sheep On Drugs, decked out in the kind of plastic skirts you'd see in sex shops. He feigned an interest in industrial music whenever he was chatting to her, and didn't really succeed.

Back to the story and three knuckle-dragging reprobates, all decked out in JJB Sports' finest, were trying to goad him. I remember Gary just calmly rolling up a cigarette while these yobs mocked his hair, loudly vocalising their false assumptions on his sexuality.

Gary just looked up slowly and... blew them a kiss, smiling as he did so.

All hell broke loose, with the goader-in-chief picking up an ashtray hurling it at Gary, which was the cue for nightclub security to rugby tackle them to the ground and escort them out of the premises, as we all pointed and laughed.

I'm no stranger to being insulted, and with the rise of social media, there's all kind of opportunities to do such things to me. What Gary did there, was a valuble lesson to me, as I felt, that had I been in his position, I'd have probably ended up having a war of words, or more likely, cowering away in the corner hoping they'd go away.

There's plenty of examples in my past where I've reacted badly to someone provoking me. I cringe at these memories.

Looking back on what Gary did was awesome. Not getting angry at the situation - which is what the instigators wanted. Bonus points for handing out a reaction they weren't expecting, and the star prize for getting them dropped in the shit.

There will always be comments designed to make me spew out anger, and that's exactly what the author intends. Question the motives of anyone aiming something unpleasant at you, otherwise you'll end up swallowing their bait. They'll be chomping on the popcorn as you dance to their tune.

So, with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and whatever flavour-of-the-month website comes next, look out for the Annoyance Seed planted in front of you. I know this is screamingly obviously to the bulk of my friends, but you'd be surprised at the sheer gullibility of people out there who let themselves get wound up by digital goading.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

My MP3 complaint to Tesco Entertainment

Dear Technology People Still Stuck In The 1990s,

I've shopped at to get an MP3 for the first time. It's an experience I'd compare to touching an electric fence - you're curious but you'd never try it again.

What I have seen tonight has been astonishingly shocking. I've bought MP3s from many websites, and always found the process quite easy. This evening my jaw dropped lower than the dignity of an ITV2 reality television star, because your download process has to be the most backward and needlessly complex system I've seen. I've worked in computing for 20 years, I've issued guidelines on usability and have designed ecommerce systems from the groun up, and frankly, whoever designed your diabolical user-torturing system shouldn't be trusted with an abacus.

I understand the need to record an email address, password, credit card details and billing address. I don't understand why you enforce us to install a separate program to download the MP3s. One that insists on us using Windows, so it's a good job I wasn't using my iMac or a Linux partition at the time. It also wants Microsoft's laughably-bad Silverlight platform on our PCs, along with .NET framework 3.5. What's wrong with simply delivering the MP3 through my web browser? That's what it is made for, and other MP3 vendors do exactly that.

The amount of mouse-clicks I've had to do to get my download would instigate RSI in a caffeine-swilling woodpecker. The time taken to obtain this 8.57 MB file - despite being on a ~5Mbps broadband connection - is needlessly long thanks to your ridiculous end-user software demands. Quite frankly, I reckon I'd have done a direct download of the file off a 33.6kps dial-up modem in half the time.

Is there any need for a company in the 21st Century to act with such disrespect for tech-savvy customers? I battled my way through this because I'm fairly proficient with computers, but I fear the average customer would simply give up. You're not exactly going to keep Steve Jobs awake at night with your clumsy cumbersome MP3 store.

I have seen another Internet service doggedly insist on its users having separate programs and a razor-thin choice of operating systems. It was AOL, and that was in 1996. These days they exist as a punchline to a joke.

Sort yourselves out.

Peter Thomas.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

50 Things More Gothic And Respectable Than Twilight

  1. Rentaghost
  2. A child shining a torch upwards onto their face
  3. Derek Acorah
  4. The Trap Door
  5. Long-forgotten ITV Saturday morning show Ghost Train
  6. An actual ghost train
  7. A lolly stick with "What do ghosts eat for dinner? Spookhetti!" printed on it.
  8. A werewolf glove from a joke shop
  9. The Groovy Ghoulies
  10. Shakespear's Sister
  11. A pair of novelty plastic Halloween fangs from ASDA, 9p
  12. The Amityville Horror and the seven diabolical sequels that followed
  13. The Demon Headmaster
  14. Babylon Zoo
  15. Count Duckula
  16. Secretly keeping your hand hidden behind a door or desk and then making it 'strangle' you as if it's someone else's hand
  17. The Monster Mash
  18. Covering yourself in toilet roll as a cheap mummy costume for Halloween
  19. A rubber bat on a piece of elastic
  20. The Sarah-Jane Adventures
  21. In comic strips, where the main character has an angel and an devil version of himself that give good/evil advice
  22. Plan 9 From Outer Space
  23. That ancient trick where you make your thumb appear detached from your hand
  24. The skeleton baddies in arcade game Golden Axe
  25. Ghostbusters 2
  26. In The Night Garden
  27. The joke "Why didn't the skeleton attend the ball? Because he had nobody to go with"
  28. Evil Michael Knight
  29. Cyndi Lauper
  30. The flaming skulls in Sega arcade game Wonder Boy
  31. Keith Harris & Orville's Messy Monsters game
  32. Any October 31st editions of Whizzer and Chips
  33. Alan Partridge's 'abstract zombie'
  34. The Munsters
  35. Meat Loaf
  36. Caspar the Friendly Ghost
  37. That one from Bananarama dressed as a devil in their video for Venus
  38. The drama segment 'Dark Towers' from BBC Schools programme Look & Read
  39. Dr and the Medics
  40. Shiver and Shake comic
  41. Carry On Screaming
  42. Spray-on cobwebs
  43. Any bored 6 year old girl dressed as a witch for a carnival
  44. TNA wrestler Daffney
  45. Grotbags the witch from Emu's World
  46. Red-and-black striped tights
  47. A badly-rendered drawing of an Iron Maiden album cover on a school exercise book, made by that greasy-haired kid who smells of marzipan
  48. Those novelty eyes-on-springs glasses
  49. Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde
  50. Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Wellingborough MP Peter Bone can't handle web critics

Enjoying your internet connection? Like browsing the web? You've been let down.

"You can be punished for the actions of a friend or even a neighbour who has used your Internet connection." - OpenRightsGroup on the Digital Economy Bill.

"Essentially translating as “We can, via the secretary of state for business, take down any website we don’t like simply by citing a connection to some form of copyright infringement” - Jamie Thompson on the Digital Economy Bill.

The UK is ready to get China-style censorship of the internet, with the forthcoming Digital Economy Act that was voted in against the tens of thousands of wishes expressed by ordinary computer users. A despicable collection of MPs voted in favour of online censorship.

Politicians are a breed of people who have a lowly reputation, wedged somewhere between a orphanage arsonist and a commercial radio DJ. With the shameless expenses scandal, and a national economy so broken not even Cash Converters would accept it, there appears to be no hope for MPs trying to prove they share the same DNA as us.

It's no wonder that over half the population would rather vote on Big Brother or whatever Simon-Cowell-fronted sneer-fest is running at the moment. If you're in the company of friends and mention that you take an interest in politics, you may as well have sprayed concentrated halitosis in their faces.

There's simply no interest in Parliament these days, and I think the MPs rather like that. With the heavily articulate wordings of proposed laws, the endless exchange of statistics and monotone speeches, it's no surprise Joe Sixpack doesn't tune in.

Besides, when have you had a politician actually LISTEN to you? They don't do that, do they?

Recently, the Digital Economy Bill was proposed by the Labour government to impose censorship on UK internet services, all in the name of "reducing piracy". Unsurprisingly, it didn't take long to realise that the bill had been lobbied for by the BPI - the UK's record industry. In fact, large portions of this censorship law had been written by the BPI.

We know the record industry is angered at the millions of MP3s available illegally on the internet, and have pushed an anti-piracy agenda so heavily that they ignore the bigger picture - why piracy occurs in the first place.

Digital files are easy to copy and distribute, they cost almost next-to-nothing, they don't take up physical space and are theoretically infinite in supply. Compared to the physical product (such as a CD or vinyl record), there's a lot of convenience.

Yet the record industries still persist in selling their downloads at equivalent prices to the CD. They get a bigger margin, refusing to pass on any of the cost savings to the consumer.

Let's not forget the record industry tried to ban MP3 players back in 1999, so I don't have sympathy for the wailing dinosaurs. Imagine if they got their way! We know they spent most of the noughties coming up with rival formats, all of them were cumbersome and highly restrictive. No wonder they failed!

However, one small victory for the record industry is that Peter Mandelson recently holidayed with record boss David Geffen. And just by pure "coincidence", Mandelson later decided to put forward a law forcing all UK ISPs to regulate what you look at online, in the interests of copyright.

Those of you who've read this blog will know how I exposed Lily Allen for her copyright-infringement, along with Lily's response to me falling flat on its face.

Well, last week I discovered that Peter Mandelson has followed in Lily's footsteps as a copyright hypocrite. Again, I reported the story to, who are always keen to showcase the "do as I say, not as I do" arrogance of politicians and musicians who insist copyright should be stronger, despite masses of economic studies showing that lighter copyright laws benefit both publishers, creators and consumers alike.

My local MP is Peter Bone from the Conservative Party. In the run up to the Digital Economy Bill being debated (and I use that term loosely), various online compaigns were set up encouraging us to contact our local MP.

Thanks to the wonderful website, it's easy to write a letter to Peter Bone. As my friends know, I'm not exactly a fan of the Conservatives, but I did vote Tory in protest at Labour's support of the ongoing illegal and unethical wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There you have it, I'm admitting to having voted Tory. (Well, in the ward I lived in at the time, it was just Labour vs Conservative, no other options.)

I confess to having not known much about Peter before. I do recall my friend Kat Fiction a few years back, stating her shock at how the Tories prepared an election leaflet for Mr Bone, using the fact he resembled then-England-manager Sven Goran-Eriksson as a positive campaign point.

Oh hang on, there is something quite disturbing about Peter Bone. He opposed the minimum wage, and continues to oppose it. Such was his conviction that Peter Bone paid just 87p-an-hour to one of his workers back in 1995. "The minimum wage would condemn hundreds of thousands to the dole queue", he was quoted as saying.

However, when it comes to Peter Bone employing his wife, he thinks she deserves £40,000 a year.

So, should I have anything to do with this hypocritical charlatan? Something else stirred the memory banks. Drinking buddy Richard Lockwood wrote to to ask why the MP supported the laughable bunkum known as 'homeopathy', which would clearly be a waste of NHS money. The reply he got back from Peter Bone was, er, minimal to say the least.

Still, I felt so strongly about the Digital Economy Bill (and still do), that I decided to write to Peter Bone and see where it would take me. It wouldn't matter if I didn't like the man, what would matter is him speaking against it. After all, a lot of businesses in Wellingborough do depend on an open web to do commerce. I'm affected by any such changes, being a local web-designer, web-programmer and SEO consultant.

A look at Peter Bone's voting record shows some signs of a soul. He wanted an investigation into the Iraq war, voted against the government's draconian 'anti-terror' laws and is heavily against ID cards. Pretty commendable, I have to say.

However, with his stance against gay equal rights, he shows himself up as an embarrassing social dinosaur, no better than the US politicians who denied civil rights for black people. The Conservatives try to position themselves as a modern party, but the homophobia isn't far away.

Still, I announced my intention to write to Peter Bone, urging him to vote against the Digital Economy Bill, and a few of my friends followed my lead. I even got a reply:

One of my key roles as your representative in Parliament is to listen to my constituents and campaign on your behalf - in fact, this is the whole philosophy behind my "Listening to Wellingborough and Rushden" campaign.

You have raised an important issue and I have accordingly forwarded it onto the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport so that the government can fully take your opinions into account. I have also requested a response from the Department and I will, of course, forward on to you any that I may receive.

Sounding very nice indeed. Unfortunately, Peter Bone could not be bothered to turn up to the second reading of the bill. Actually, to be fair, 95% of MPs - our so-called 'public servants' - also could not be bothered to attend this essentially important debate.

And thus, we entered the next step as the technically-illiterate MPs present outnumbered those who actually understood the importance of a free internet for the UK's economy.

Yeah, cheers Peter Bone. Well done for your apathy. Well done for ignoring such an important issue. Obviously sitting in a £15k-a-year rented flat paid for by us taxpayers was a much better option?

I wrote back, airing my disappointments on his lack of action, and my intentions to blog about his failure to represent his constituents' views. His response:

Thank you for your e-mail. You will know that I have one of the best voting
records of any Conservative Member of Parliament and my attendance in the
House of Commons is second to none. You will also know that I fully support
the Conservative Party on the Digital Economy Bill. I am sure you will also
appreciate that sometimes Members of Parliament have to be in their
constituency and not in the Palace of Westminster. Unfortunately, Members
of Parliament are not able to be in two places at once.

With regards to your attack on me for being anti-gay-rights, you are
entitled to your opinion, but it is not correct. You may be interested to
hear that I was recently voted by Liberal Democratic Voice to be one of the
62 most Liberal non-Lib Dem MPs.

The "you are entitled to your opinion" statement is such a poor cop-out. A terrible cliche that is a verbal white flag. It signifies the fear of his old-fashioned views being held up to rationality.

In a similar fashion, he states that he supports the Bill (Conservatives back it) yet will not even dare discuss why he supports it.

I'd like to put it to this pauper-wage-loving technically-illiterate gay-despising taxpayer-money-wasting waste-of-space that he dare not enter into any debate, because he knows he will lose. He's backing whatever the Conservative Party say, because that's his easy career - claiming huge expenses from hard working people, denying them rights, imposing censorship and wishing he could cut their wages to a fraction of what they are.

Naturally, I won't be voting for this knowledge-lacking tosswit, and since his views have been spread via Facebook, other locals agree...

"I'm not voting for that useless twat, who didn't have the honesty to admit, on his first reply that he had no intention of voting against the bill."

"it is HIS JOB to be entitled to MY opinion. So the oily, lazy waste of space can drop dead."

"I've emailed him 6 times. Had 3 responses, two of which were pretty much stock letters and the third was a little more detailed, but boiled down to "I'll be talking to the secretary of state about it". My question was explicitly about his behaviour, nothing to do with the government or anyone else.

Now, my understanding is that an MP is supposed to represent their constituents. Ignoring them is not representation.... See more

I want him gone, unless he learns to
1) Read
2) Turn up on debates that matter instead of the pointless ones that just bump up his numbers"

"make all the candidates in a constituency work as a waiter in a 'Frankie n Bennys' for a month....whoever gets the most tips in that time obviously has the right work ethic and becomes the MP.....shimples!!"

"if they could be in two places at once they'd be claiming expenses for both"

To conclude, I've just realised why Peter Bone is in favour of a law that censors the web.