Regular readers will be aware that Basingstoke (civic motto “We’re walkin’ on sunshine”) won the coveted prize of “Hampshire’s Cultural Glory 2008” last year and this is my report from our front line in the war on barbarism.
First the bad news, our headline production of Berloz’s epic opera The Trojans was stillborn after an unfortunate accident during a rehearsal of the torchlit entrance of the Wooden Horse. Basingstoke Chief Executive, Paul Poltroon, said, when interviewed in front of the smouldering remains of the Brimshott Rd Scout Hut, “I don’t think Hector Berlioz would have done it differently and besides this is why we have insurance”.
As expected the ‘A Hundred years of the Sooty Show’ exhibition has attracted world wide interest with visitors coming from as far afield as Chile, Taiwan and a jumbo jet load from the ‘Izzy Wizzy Let’s Get Bizzy Society’ of San Diego. The 10m high Sooty and Sweep inflatables that flanked the entrance to the exhibition have been retrieved from the field in Belgium whence they were blown in a May storm. More worrying has been the claim by a Professor Doppelganger that the show’s centrepiece, the original Sooty glove puppet made by Harry Corbett’s grandfather (see my blog of 9th March), is a fake. The Gulbenkian Glove Puppet Museum of Bratislava, the owners of this cultural treasure, were outraged but strangely reticent when DNA tests were suggested to prove that the artefact was indeed made from a wolf’s bladder and two acorns. The whole affair will be in the courts for some time yet and in any case the publicity has probably increased attendance.
The surprise package in this cultural fiesta has been Null Point!, the story of the Eurovision Song Contest from earliest times. What is ingenious about this ground breaking show, which might have been just a dull compilation of Euro winners in sub-standard performance, is that it almost entirely ignores the songs and concentrates on the presenters and the scoring. On Eurovision night anyone who values their mental health will do almost anything to avoid hearing the ghastly songs but will return from the pub or their ‘Conversational Portuguese’ classes in time for the epic ritual that is Euro scoring. The show is performed in its entirety by a pair of Finnish impressionists/quick change artists who rattle through the years of Euro drivel at breakneck speed. Their impression of UK presenter Katie Boyle (1960/63/68), who single-handedly managed things with an aplomb that latter day Estonian and Serb duos can only dream of, is absolutely bang on. They switch costumes and languages with equal ease, they deliver the wooden ‘spontaneous’ by-play between hosts that obviously loathe each other with great relish. Above all the joy is in the detail. In much the same way that we all remember where we were and who we were with when Michael Portillo got dumped by the voters of Enfield in the 1997 General Election, we all remember Jahn Teigen getting Null Point in Paris in 1978. But do you remember presenter Dottir Lundqvist (Gothenburg 1985) getting caught short just before the final scores were announced and having to run off stage to pee in a fire bucket, or the now forgotten lady who inadvertently exposed a large and enchanting breast while giving the votes of the Belgian jury in 1974. This show is a wild wild ride and has got rave reviews across the board. “ …very much of the zeitgeist……Terry Wogan and Ulricka Johnson with an existential twist” (Time Out). “It’s Gardener’s Question Time on acid!” (Rose Growers Monthly)
The 2007 UK entrants Scooch were invited to be the cabaret at the First Night party but were intercepted by the police at junction 6 of the M3 and turned back to London in the interests of ‘public order’.
The Literary Lunches at the War Memorial Park Roundabout Harvester got off to a shaky start when Eric Haynes (publisher of the legendary maintenance manuals) had to cancel after a breakdown on the M3 but Dermot O’Dainty certainly got the ball rolling re-enacting early moments from his career with a Mrs Baldock of Sherborne St John under the luncheon table.
There is much more to come in this cultural beano. Next month we have “Celebrity White Water Rafting” on the Basingstoke Canal. Can’t wait!