“WELCOME TO MY WORLD - THE JIM REEVES STORY” - A BONFIRE NIGHT DAMP SQUIB?
In March of this year I contacted Bob Shennan, Head of BBC Radio 2, to inquire as to the truth of a rumour I had heard of a forthcoming radio programme on Jim Reeves being produced for next year, the 50th anniversary of Jim Reeves death. I received a reply informing me that the BBC had in fact already commissioned a programme “for next year.” He was going to keep me updated of their plans nearer transmission date.
Imagine my surprise when I was contacted a mere 4 days before the programme by a friend to tell me there was a Jim Reeves broadcast going out on Radio 2 on bonfire night, Tuesday, 5th November 2013. I am convinced that this was the very programme the BBC were planning to put out next year. But why was it transmitted 9 months before the event?
A week on, now that the initial excitement, furore & congratulatory backslapping has had chance to die down after the BBC Radio 2 broadcast “Welcome to my world - the Jim Reeves Story” on Tuesday, 5th November 2013, I have decided to offer up some personal thoughts on the programme. I have not heard nor read any news, reviews or comments, so I have absolutely no knowledge or influences of what people are saying. I have no interest in other Jim Reeves websites. They have their agendas & opinions - I have mine. I do not castigate other fans because they might disagree with me. They have the right to think & say what they feel is right & proper. Every Reeves fan that I’ve ever met over the years is different, and nearly all have their own plans & schemes. There are no Gods in the fan scene; never have been, never will be, no matter what high profiles & self importance they award themselves.
No doubt Jim Reeves fans around the world, listening at the time & later, will have hung on every word & song, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, with the sincere belief that anything broadcast on Jim Reeves is better than nothing at all. National radio here in the UK has long since kicked the music of Jim Reeves into touch. As I listened to it live on the television set in superb sound quality, I can’t have been too unhappy at missing an important football match on the other channel. At first hearing, it seemed ok. No time at 11pm and suppertime to start shoving the brain into critical mode and dissecting content. I wanted to be able to sleep soundly. A full post mortem would be carried out in the morning.
Oh what a difference a day makes. On Wednesday, listening to the programme again on the BBC iPlayer, and to be able to stop & start the programme as I please, looking closely at the nitty-gritty of its content, its shortcomings soon became evident. It is now government policy that BBC television & radio, farm out a certain percentage of their programme output to the private sector, that is to independent production companies who tender for the job. The Reeves programme was made by a company established in 2005 called Made in Manchester. Thus far they have made in excess of 80 programmes for broadcasters in Britain & around the world. Their forte has been successful comedy documentaries for BBC Radio 2 & art documentaries for BBC Radio 4. The Reeves programme is only their second music documentary and is their first foray into country music. It was written & produced by Phil Collinge, one of their senior producers. Phil, by trade is a scriptwriter for stand up comedians, and has written numerous scripts for radio & TV programmes.
Credit should be given where credit is due, but after Stateside murmurings & closer examination of content & music sourcing, I came to the conclusion that more than one person was involved in the planning & scripting of the programme. The spectre of an author at work permeated the whole thing. The subtle use of plugs for a book & namedropping throughout, showed a shrewd & unscrupulous marketing genius. And I, in my sheer ignorance & innocence, thought the BBC didn’t allow advertising. Thankfully, at least there was nothing untoward in the dialogue. Temper tantrums were not listed in “The sordid index of shame.”
The programme’s participants & contributors marked a distinct shift from previous years tribute programmes. Gone were the old UK Reeves brigade of diehards, with a fresh bunch of authorities roped in, and it was good to see the new Stateside co-stars setting aside their alleged antagonism with interesting storytelling & dialogue. The author has of course a book of stories to draw from, and John Rex Reeves capably related the family connection with personal recollections of his uncle. But as for the 3 supporting stars, some were previously unknown to me, though Google did reveal their significance. Dr. C.P. Lee, an academic, born 1950, is a musician, author, broadcaster & lecturer from Manchester. Sid Griffin, born 1955 is an American singer/songwriter, musician, bandleader & author who lives in London. He has been in the music business over 30 years, but his pedigree will be unknown to most Jim Reeves fans. He published his first book “Gram Parsons - a Musical Biography” in 1985 & was co-author of BBC TV’s documentary “Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel.” The third supporting star was singer Al Grant. Sounding in his speech uncannily like Daniel O’Donnell, I always though he was your archetype Country & Irish singer. Wrong. He has an excellent voice & has been singing & performing a long time, and is Scottish, serving his musical apprenticeship in the pubs & clubs there & in the NE of England. Jim Reeves was always his favourite singer & Al began to gain notoriety when he started to emulate his hero. He is up there as one of the best tribute acts, touring the British Isles & Ireland. I have his 2003 Rosette cd “I love you because, ” a superb album. He has released an excellent 2cd & dvd set “The Jim Reeves Story” which includes 40 of Jim’s timeless classics, among his half a dozen or so cd releases. In the BBC programme Al wasn’t allowed any plugs or promotion, but came across as genuine & sincere, with all his comment concerning Jim’s massive popularity in the Emerald Isle.
Other contributions came from spoken recordings by both Jim & Mary with one from Irish singer Larry Cunningham. Amazingly, I remembered the Liverpudlian fan who spoke, David Markham, who was a keen member of our fan club all those years ago. Just who the two ladies were in the interview on the street is anyone’s guess.
NOW TO A CRITICISM WHICH IN MY OPINION RUINED THE WHOLE SHOW.
If the new conceptual, twenty first century plan for future music in
documentaries and radio programmes, is to dissect every single piece of music
with chat, comment, talkovers & voiceovers, then I feel whoever invented this
form of broadcasting, has completely lost the plot and should be shot. Would you
believe there wasn’t one complete song or segment of a song that didn’t suffer
this mutilation? The only two items left untouched & unblemished were 25 secs.
of “Old Pard” & 20 secs. of a soundtrack promo of the film “Kimberley Jim.” I
realise time was tight & contributors had too much talking to do, but surely, we
the listeners & fans deserved to have enjoyed a few songs in their entirety? Two
& even three interruptions per song were the norm, and would you believe, I
counted 8 (yes, eight) interjections during “Memories are made of this.”
I am not criticising the choice of music content in the programme, even the Voicemaster material; oh how I wish we could have enjoyed it! I have listened intently to the programme 4 times now and my views on it haven’t changed.
You could never call “Welcome to my world - the Jim Reeves Story” a music programme. This programme would have been better suited to Radio 4. It certainly fit the bill as “speech based” and as a part of the BBC Radio & BBC Audio music department, Radio 4 has already featured documentaries related to various forms of both classical & pop music.
But before I finish, I must give my final word to the legendary Sir Terry Wogan. This knight of the realm is an illustrious broadcasting icon who seems to have graced our radio waves forever. The man is a giant & a genius. His faultless presenting of the show never faltered. Always good for a laugh, on this occasion there was no wit, no comedy, no Irish blarney, but always just a quiet & wonderful way of convincing us that he too was a great fan of Gentleman Jim. In my book he made the programme.