Archive: obituary

I was sad yesterday to learn of the death of Robert Sandall. While he is most celebrated as a music journalist, I was more aware of him as a radio presenter.

In 2001, when I was discovering my interest in experimental music, I was advised by someone on a messageboard to listen to the Radio 3 programme Mixing It, which Robert Sandall co-presented with Mark Russell. As the title of the programme suggests, it was a genuinely eclectic affair. It showcased all manner of new (and sometimes old) music without discrimination. That’s not to say they weren’t critical — the programme’s catchphrase became “where’s the skill in that?”

I was hooked to the programme during my teenage years. When it was broadcast late on Sunday nights, it helped take my mind off the fact that I had school in the morning. When it moved to Friday nights, I was unusual among my peers. While most were developing their social lives, I was listening to Radio 3. Robert Sandall was my John Peel.

Nothing has shaped my taste in music more than Mixing It. The programme demonstrated how to approach all types of music with a genuinely open mind, no matter how outlandish or unpromising the premise of the piece may seem. The message was: you never know, you might like it — and if you didn’t like it, at least it was interesting to listen to.

In 2007, Mixing It was axed by Radio 3 having been broadcast since 1990. The word I read time and again about this decision is ‘criminal’. Mixing It was a genuinely unique programme. It was just the sort of thing you think the BBC ought to excel at. But it was disposed of — with little in the way of justification — leaving the programme’s fans angry.

Soon after Radio 3 stopped broadcasting the programme, it was resurrected as Where’s the Skill in That? on Resonance. Sadly these broadcasts were more sporadic, and I missed many of these editions as a result.

Since Mixing It ended, I have not seen the point of listening to much in the way of music radio programmes. Nothing offers the combination of eclecticism, inquisitiveness and humour that Mixing It brought. I am sad that Mixing It is not on the airwaves today, and I am sorry that we won’t hear Robert Sandall broadcast again.

I was sad to read that Frank Sidebottom — or Chris Sievey, his real name — died today. I have vague memories of him being on television when I was very young, and it was a joy to rediscover him when he made his comeback four or five years ago.

He never returned to the heights of his late 1980s zenith, so I have had to make do with YouTube for my fix of Frank Sidebottom. Although I did buy and enjoy ‘ABC&D’, his best of CD.

I had seen that he was diagnosed with cancer recently, and clearly he was in a very bad way. But it didn’t stop him performing and just last week he released a World Cup song, ‘Three Shirts on my Line‘ (“35 years of dirt, just washed out by me mum”).

His former keyboardist, Jon Ronson, wrote a great article about Frank Sidebottom’s career a few years ago. Fascinating reading, and quite sad too.

I only learnt today that he worked for a few years on Pingu. Via the Cook’d and Bomb’d forum comes this video of an episode of Pingu that he wrote.


(If you look carefully in the credits, you’ll see that he is even credited as Frank Sidebottom, not Chris Sievey.)

A Twitter campaign to get Frank Sidebottom to number 1 is gathering steam — @MakeFrank1. I think it would be very apt. Because going by the reaction from people today, while Frank Sidebottom disappeared from view somewhat in recent years, it’s clear that many people loved him.

Read on to view a selection of my favourite Frank Sidebottom videos.

Click for more »

I am not qualified to talk about Chris Lightfoot. I have never come close to even meeting him, and I only know of him through his blog and his work on certain mySociety projects and the like. But the news of his unexpected death has made me quite sad.

As MatGB notes, if you have never heard of Chris Lightfoot, you will probably at least have used a website that he helped build. For instance, the Downing Street e-petitions website which has been making the news recently. Or WriteToThem. Or PledgeBank.

Whenever I read anything that Chris Lightfoot wrote, he always came across as incredibly clever. I didn’t always agree with him. For instance, I didn’t take his rants about Chip and Pin seriously, particularly as he acknowledged that Chip and Pin is more secure than old fashioned signatures.

However, I recognise now that he was right to be wary. We have seen the banks use it more as a mechanism for shifting the burden of fraud onto the consumer more than anything else. (Not to mention stories like this.)

I usually feel equipped to fight my corner and defend whatever I have written on this blog. The very few times that Chris Lightfoot left a comment (on my old site; his comments were on the Haloscan system, so will have disappeared into the internet black hole) were the exception. He changed my mind.

His blog was always well worth a read. I would almost always learn something from his posts which were frequently backed by a mind-boggling graph. He might not have updated his “real” blog for a long time, but I always kept my eye on his linklog. Many posts on his linklog were decent enough blog posts in their own right. There were plenty of very interesting links posted there. He was still updating it quite recently.

I also enjoyed his novel take on those online political surveys. Having two axes instead of one is kind of old news. But what he plotted on the actual axes caused people to do a double-take. But he did it on the basis of actual data. It made sense and allows us to understand the political landscape a little bit better. I was looking forward to any political surveys he might have done in the future.

From the various tributes that have been written over the past day or two by those who knew him considerably better than I did, it is clear that Chris Lightfoot was entirely selfless and helpful. He was also innovative and very clever as well as highly principled and passionate in the causes he believed in. Most importantly, he believed in the right causes.

I can’t help but wonder if the world without Chris Lightfoot is a slightly more dangerous place.

NO2ID - Stop ID cards and the database state

Update: Forgot to mention also that yesterday the first campaign leaflet for the Scottish elections plopped on the doormat yesterday. Every time I come across a piece of election literature I think of Chris Lightfoot’s brilliant blog post on how he decided who to vote for:

read each manifesto until you encounter something really offensive or stupid, then stop and reject that party.

When I heard that Magnus Magnusson had died I was in the kitchen. I switched on the radio. It was Radio Five Live and they were discussing how much better Magnus Magnusson was at hosting Mastermind than Rubbish John Humphrys. (I didn’t realise at first why they were discussing this; I worked it out later.)

It’s all true. This actually struck me recently when I caught a glimpse of a Celebrity Mastermind Christmas special. I’ve not watched much of Mastermind since it came back in its Rubbish John Humphrys incarnation. But I remember Mr Magnusson’s Mastermind well. I was young; how could I forget? It had possibly the scariest title sequence ever, on a par with ITV Schools.

The other thing that struck me about the programme back then was how seriously Magnus Magnusson clearly took the whole thing. I could tell that he had thought long and hard about how he should present Mastermind.

The thing that amazed me most was how quickly he would start his first question immediately after saying, “And your time starts… now.” The pause between the words ‘starts’ and ‘now’ was long. Mr Magnusson had to take a deep breath because the first question came so soon that ‘now’ sounded like the first word of the question, welded on at the start.

And it wasn’t just the first question. Magnus Magnusson would also very definitely say “correct” if the contestant got the answer right. But he said it so quickly that it was more like “c’rect”. And it was straight onto the next question without any pauses.

If you listen to Rubbish John Humphrys do it, it is almost as though he has taken a swig of water between saying “and your time starts now” and the first question. And he doesn’t say “correct” every time a contestant gets an answer right. Rubbish!

Magnus Magnusson is better-known, though, for his catchphrase, “I’ve started so I’ll finish.” (Cheap jokes all round now that he’s dead.) He achieved a tricky balancing act. He had a catchphrase that was so well-loved that it was a household name (if a catchphrase can be a household name).

But it wasn’t a cheap catchphrase like, say, a Bruce Forsyth catchphrase. It was on a serious programme, so it couldn’t be. But being serious doesn’t make your catchphrase any good. Even Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge only has a hectoring “come on!” But Mr Magnusson said his catchphrase with authority and integrity.

He only ever said it when he needed to; if there was some ambiguity as to whether the *b-bee-bee-bee-bee-beep* had interrputed the question mid-flow. If he had said half of the question, it was obvious that he had started the question, so there was no need for him to say, “I’ve started so I’ll finish.” The phrase would be used if he had only completed, say, the first syllable of the question.

On the edition of Celebrity Mastermind that I saw, Rubbish John Humphrys did the complete opposite! He said, “I started so I’ll finish” when he had already completed half of the question. And then didn’t say it when he had completed only one word. Rubbish!

But John Humphrys got something right, in his tribute to Magnus Magnusson:

“You can’t waltz into the programme as the new boy, like I was, and after a few years say ‘oh it’s my programme’. The fact is it will always be Magnus Magnusson’s Mastermind.”

Veteran newsreader Peter Jennings dies. Obituary.

In recent days it has been reported that Mo Mowlam is critically ill.

It had occurred to me that there have been very few major politicians whose achievements I can remember to have died. The only one I could think of was Donald Dewar.

This evening Robin Cook has died. I think for a lot of people my age who were against the war in Iraq, Robin Cook’s resignation speech in the House of Commons just before the war began will have been one of the greatest political moments that they have seen so far. The anti-war movement was massive, and Cook became a sort of unofficial figurehead of it. He was far more reasonable, and likeable, than George Galloway. Clare Short, meanwhile, was seen as spineless, in contrast to what was perceived to be the much more principled stance of Cook. Robin Cook was a genuinely powerful voice from the backbenches.

Since then, whatever else you may say about him, I have had a lot of respect for Robin Cook, and I find it a great shame that he has died.

Obituary: Richard Whiteley.