Thursday, January 26, 2006

Early starts

I had another very early morning yesterday with a car picking me up at 6.15 in order to get out to Elstree to appear on Channel 4's Morning Glory, the breakfast show hosted by the unstoppable Dermot O'Leary who is currently hosting two different live TV shows back to back each morning with his usual slick and cheery aplomb. They start Morning Glory with a guest going through the day's papers - a feature that they really ought to call Morning Glory's What's The Story? It was fun anyway.

It'll be early mornings and "so what have you seen in the paper, Dave?" all next week too as I return to a week of The Wright Stuff. Then there are two weeks in February in which I'll be standing in as the host of Tom Robinson's Evening Sequence all of which led me to send an e-mail to my mailing list late last night.

I try not to overuse the mailing list because I don't want people to think that I'm hassling them or that I expect everyone to be interested in the minute details of what I'm up to. Occasionally I get e-mails from people complaining that I did something but didn't tell them about it asking me what's the point of a mailing list if you don't send us an e-mail. I think there's a balance to be struck. If I sent out an e-mail for every single broadcast event in my schedule as and when they were added to my diary I'd have sent out five or six so far this month and several thousand people would be thinking I was inordinately proud of sitting next to Dermot O'Leary in the mornings. I mean, I like him, but I can't see that alerting 9500 people to a 4 minute appearance at breakfast is really worthwhile.

However if you've signed up to a mailing list for someone who does what I do for a living then 5 days of The Wright Stuff and 8 days of evening radio seems to justify one e-mail... and so I wrote it and hit the send button and then held my breath. There's a bad side to a mailing list of this size. I don't have 9500 e-mail addresses stored in my computer's address book - that would be crazy - I use a paid-for service from a company called People add their own addresses and have to confirm their subscription by replying to an e-mail. That way I can guarantee that I'm not sending e-mails to anyone who didn't choose to receive them and that means that I can't be accused of sending spam.

When there are 9500 subscribers there are inevitably some addresses that cause problems. Obviously someone who signed up to my mailing list in 2002, say, wasn't thinking it was a particularly momentous thing to do. When they moved to a new job, or left their university, or changed their cable TV supplier or just went travelling and decided that they couldn't be bothered with that hotmail account any longer there was no way they were going to think, oo, I'd better unsubscribe that e-mail address from Mr. Gorman's mailing list... after all, there's no point him receiving an error message the next time he vainly tries to inform me that he's on breakfast telly was there?

About 2% of the addresses that receive the e-mails bounce back error messages - so that's nearly 200 e-mails informing me that individual addresses no longer exist. Every time I send an e-mail this happens and every time I then have to spend several hours going through the list deleting the addresses that are no longer relevant. It's like having an office job. Ugh. If I don't delete the addresses then next time I'll receive 400 error messages and so on. Then there are the 100 or so auto-replies that thank me for my e-mail, inform me that so-and-so is out of the office but will be back in on Thursday and will reply to my e-mail as soon as they get back. I hope they don't all reply when they get back. And why are so many people away until Thursday?

More problematic still are the error messages from accounts that have decided my e-mails are actually spam. A computer somewhere has decided that I am sending out spam and has blocked it from arriving at the inbox of the recipient. They might never know about it. Maybe they're wondering why I never send them any e-mails? If there's no way of alerting those people or their mail provider I delete those addresses from the list too... after all there's no point me sending out e-mails that won't be received. It seems a shame seeing as they asked to receive them.

Today I discovered a new layer of difficulty has been added to the mailing list. Several people have added anti-spam measures to their accounts that ask the sender of an e-mail to confirm their existence. They send an e-mail back to the sender asking them to confirm their details and then, once the service in convinced you are a real person and not a computer sending out adverts for porn or mortgages or luxury watches or whatever then your e-mail gets through. I can see why people do this - I get around 800 spam e-mails a day and would dearly love to remove them. At the same time, I've just spent an hour clicking buttons that direct me to websites where I am asked to pass a test just so that an e-mail can be sent to someone who asked me to send it to them in the first place.

The most frustrating of these are those that arrive asking me questions that I don't know the answers to. One has come from It directs me to a website that then asks me for the full name of the intended recipient. I have no idea what the full name of the recipient is. I've never met them. I've looked for the address on my mailing list and it doesn't exist. There's a similar address connected to a account but there's no name attached to it. This means that my e-mail isn't sent directly to that address... which means that one of the 9500 e-mail addresses on my list is set up to automatically forward all e-mails to this address and I have no way of knowing with any certainty which one it is.

So I can't delete the address from the mailing list and nor can I do anything to convince their anti-spam service that I'm not sending spam. This could go on for ever. There's no way of breaking the loop. Every e-mail I send to my mailing list will be intercepted by the bluebottle anti-spam service who will e-mail me asking me questions I don't know the answer to. There's no way of me removing them from the list because I don't know who they are and I can't satisfy the anti-spam criteria ... because I don't know who they are. E-mails will bounce around in the ether for the rest of time without any of them getting to the person who asked for them in the first place.

I know it's not the biggest problem in the world. I know there are people who have far more unpleasant jobs to do today. Mind you, I suppose they get paid to do their unpleasant jobs and no one is paying me to spend hours administrating a mailing list. In fact, I pay for the mailing list to exist myself ... out of the goodness of my own heart. And the money I earn from doing my job. Some of which comes from selling tickets or books. Some of which have been bought by people on my mailing list. Mustn't grumble.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


I was sitting flicking channels earlier when a programme came on called The World According To Google. I found myself thinking that I didn't want to watch it because, as interesting as I think the company is, I think I've probably crammed a lifetime's worth of Google related thinking into the last three years as it is. So I carried on flicking.

Nothing was keeping my attention so eventually I clicked back to the Google show where I was surprised to see a small extract from my DVD... including some very out of context stuff taken from the pre-show sequence. That's odd, I thought, I don't remember anyone asking if they could use that. I was sitting there wondering how and why someone would take this without my permission when suddenly my own very tired and drawn face popped on the screen giving a short interview about Google too.

So I guess that they did have my permission and more. Only I have no memory of doing the interview. I don't know when or where it was. When the credits rolled it became clear that the episode was called The World According To Google but that it was really an episode of The Money Programme. Maybe I'm deliberately shutting things out. Maybe now that the Googlewhack Adventure is no more I am wiping the peripheral information from my memory. It was very odd.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Head talk

I've never enjoyed talking head style TV. I don't mean as a viewer, every now and then a list is interesting enough for me but as a participant it isn't really my thing. I've never done one of those I love 1970-something programmes because I don't remember all that much about any given year and the things I do remember aren't the things they want their talking heads to be talking about.

Unfortunately these shows aren't constructed around the things the contributors recall... instead they've already compiled their clips and written their script and they know what they want you to remember. If you haven't remembered it that's okay so long as you can pretend to remember it in a pithy fashion. Which I can't.

I did take part in one about favourite comedians as I thought that was something I knew about but was a little dismayed when it turned out they didn't want me to talk about my favourite comedians at all and instead had a list of names they wanted comments on... including many people that I really can't raise an opinion about.

Yesterday I recorded something for The Culture Show about my favourite piece of British Design. This seemed like a different proposition because... well, because it was The Culture Show for a start but also because they went about it in a different way. I chose to talk about the world wide web (yes it is design and yes it is British!) but while I was there I also recorded a small bit about cat's eyes (the road safety things not the eyes of cats which were nobody's invention... unless you believe in God but even then, I don't think he's exactly British) and the classic Penguin book cover.

I'm not very good at being concise which is a problem for these kind of shows. It's all about the soundbite. I won't be surprised if when the show comes on I'm not on screen and they've quickly managed to find someone to espouse the virtues of the web in under 10 seconds in my stead.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Banter was hugely enjoyable last night. A lot of panel shows have a tendency to get unpleasantly competitive with everyone desperate to speak but this was really generous in spirit - no doubt in part because of the generous spirit of the panellists - but also I think because the structure of the show means that everyone has their turn anyway.

It's a series of rounds in which you discuss your Top Threes in different categories... so last night we discussed, amongst other things, our favourite monarchs, our favourite fictional robots and our favourite soap villains. You're told the categories in advance so you can prepare for them properly but the funniest and most satisfying things spring not from the prepared material but from the conversation. Or banter.

It was a long recording and a lot of stuff was said that won't have a chance of making it into the show (which is intended, I think, for the 6.30 slot on R4) but of course the live audience enjoys being privy to it all the more when that happens.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

We meet again Mr Collins

In spite of knowing almost none of the answers I really enjoyed All The Way From Memphis last night. It was very jolly company and the questions are very cleverly constructed by Jim Walton who also hosts the show. The show ends with a quickfire-fingers-on-buzzers round and Andrew Collins is just too quick with his fire. In both shows I knew maybe 25% of the answers in that round but it seemed almost impossible to get in first. When I did finally manage to buzz in and score a point it even raised a friendly cheer from the audience. (I say 'friendly', I mean 'patronising.') Mind you, I'm pretty sure that the others hadn't buzzed in not because they didn't know the answer but because they were too cool to reveal they're knowledge of The Wurzels back-catalogue. By then I had no such pride.

My Andrew Collins themed weekend continues tomorrow when we'll be recording an episode of Banter also for Radio 4.

Friday, January 13, 2006


In the East End of London there are some letters that only come out at night. They're painted on the shutters of some of the businesses in the area. I've been aware of them for a while and not really thought much about them. I'm not a big fan of graffiti in general but these seem quite inoffensive. They do no harm to anyone and if anything the shopfronts in question look more attractive with a big bold letter painted on them than without.

A couple of days ago I took a few pictures of a few clustered around the junction with Bethnal Green Road and Brick Lane. I ended up with ten letters snapped and I posted the pictures on and wondered aloud - well, in text - whether there was a whole alphabet out there.

Of course, the minute I'd wondered whether or not there was an alphabet out there I knew that I would be going out again to hunt them down. With the help of some comments left on the pictures and with two more jaunts around the East End I managed to collect the set. Here they are.

I'm sure there was something more constructive I could have been doing with my time. Like some of that work that's piling up.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


BBLB was as enjoyable as normal - Dermot O'Leary really does make it a very easy and enjoyable show to guest on. Mind you, so does the fact that this year's Celebrity Big Brother is, in spite of any misgivings I may have about it, completely absorbing. It's a guilty pleasure.

Monday, January 9, 2006

Oh I forgot to add that on Tuesday I'll be a guest on Celebrity Big Brother's Little Breakfast. Most people will, I imagine, be on their way to work that early in the morning and those who don't have work to go to will most likely still be asleep but if you're early to rise and unemployed I suppose you might catch it.

Sunday, January 8, 2006


My plans to keep my diary relatively free don't seem to be going too well. Having thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the revival of What's My Line and The Name's The Same for BBC4 back in August last year I'm really happy to be working with the same team on something in a similar vein... this time the show being re-examined is Top Of The Form. I'll let you know more about what I'm doing for it when there's more to be said.

On Janaury 13th I'll be taking part in two episodes of the Radio 4 music quiz; All The Way From Memphis. You can get tickets to be in the audience here.

Friday, January 6, 2006

Happy New Year

Happy new year everyone.

It seems I was wrong to sum up my travels for 2005 when I did as I ended up taking a trip to Stockholm to bring in the new year with some good friends. So obviously, my 2005 glasses had a final outing (see picture). But they are out of date now and I will never wear them again. Still, I think I got more use out of them than anyone else, having worn them on New Year's Day 2005 and New Year's Eve 2005 and on many occasions in between. Well done me.

(I have some more attractive pictures from the trip here.)

As the new year brings a new news page I hope you'll forgive me for repeating a bit of information from my final entries to last year's page... it is stuff that's still relevant and I don't expect everyone to go chasing links around the place unnecessarily.

As I was away from home for most of the last four months and the US tour was quite intense I'm determined not to race back into things and overload my schedule. So I'm trying to be a bit picky about agreeing to any work commitments so it's just going to be a mix of old favourites I enjoy doing or new things that I'm confident will be more fun than anything else.

A good example of the latter is a new Radio 4 show; Banter. It's hosted by Andrew Collins and features Richard Herring as a regular panellist all of which leads me to believe it should be fun. It involves a studio audience so if you're interested in being there (it's in London) on January 15th, take a lookee in here.

From January 30th to February 3rd I'll be having a few early mornings and returning to Channel 5's The Wright Stuff. They also have a studio audience so if early morning topical discussion floats your boat you can call 020 7284 7710/7715.

Monday, January 2, 2006

A book I like...

This is a true story. Which makes it all the more frightening. When the US military decides to do some 'blue-sky thinking' to see if some of the Californian hippie ideals can be used in warfare you get a comedy of errors. When the impact of these ideas is felt by people (as opposed to just goats) it gets much more scary. Some of the reviews of this have shown gleeful amazement at the ability of a humourist to uncover so much which strikes me as terribly patronising to a man with Jon Ronson's track record. He's a fine journalist who has a very funny lightness of touch. But not only does he know when to tiptoe around a subject he also knows when not to. Brilliant.

The Men Who Stare At Goats

See all the books I've recommended so far here.