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Cream over Britain

The Secret Diary of Alison Graham: part two

TV Cream continues its exclusive serialisation of the memoirs of the Radio Times TV editor.


2nd July
I don’t believe it. No, Victor Meldrew’s not been to see me! Rather I have just read in my column that Catherine Tate is leaving Doctor Who! Am I bovvered? You bet that I am! Why wasn’t I told? “Maybe she got tired of always doing the real work but being treated as the number two,” David said sullenly. I didn’t know what he meant.

10th July
There is a new detective programme called George Gently about a detective called George who solves crime gently. It got me thinking what I would call a detective programme in which I was playing the main character and where the title would have to say who I am and what I was like. “How about Hopeless Case?” said Gill, misunderstanding the point completely. “I am not talking about the challenging kinds of work I would take on,” I replied, “I am talking about me – my name.” “I’ve got it,” piped up David. “Alison Graham: A Criminal Employment.”  Everyone laughed, which I thought a little inappropriate: it was a good suggestion for a very serious subject.

16th July
I must say I am enjoying this new adventure show on the BBC. It is called Bonekickers and it is about archaeologists who fight crime. I think the BBC is onto a winner here. It’s so camp it’s classic!

17th July
I rang Mark to tell him how much I am enjoying Bonekickers. “Shitkickers, more like,” he replied. I was shocked into a momentary silence. I admonished him for his bad language and had to remind him he is a BBC employee. “I’m a freelancer, Alison,” Mark responded, “which means I get to think for myself.” “Oh, I could never do that,” I answered. “Precisely,” he replied, and hung up.

18th July
Gill wanted to see me before I left for Santa Barbara. Over a working lunch at the Jade Dragon, she told me she is planning “major changes” at RT in the autumn! I can hardly wait. “I love surprises,” I told her. “Great – perhaps you’ll start delivering your columns on time,” she replied. It is wonderful that someone at the top of her game has still got a sense of humour.

5th August
There is a rumpus about the number of BBC personnel who have flown out to China as part of the coverage of the Olympics. I agree. It is shocking the amount of staff who are out of the country on what seems to me to be a two-week jolly. I said as much to Gill on my first day back in the office after my fortnight’s working holiday in Santa Barbara. She gave me a watery smile.

9th August
I have seen a few episodes of a new programme called Who Do You Think You Are? where celebrities, each of whom had a relative in a concentration camp during the Second World War, talk about their memories and cry on camera. It has aroused my interest in my own history, and I am determined to find out what my illustrious forefathers got up to.

14th August
My quest to find out Who Do I Think I Am (as I am referring to it) has come to nothing. When I rang up the National Archives they claimed not to know who I was, even when I repeated my name twice. So that is the end of that. “Who knows,” I said to David while munching on a croissant, “one of my ancestors might have been a top journalist whose name was respected across the country.” “That’d be a first for your family, then,” he muttered, strangely.

18th August
There is a war between the USSR and the American state of Georgia. I decided to scrap my column – I was planning on talking about why there aren’t enough shows with happy endings on television anymore – and write about the hostilities. Maybe I will be the new Kate Adie!

19th August
My new column, Why There Aren’t Enough Wars With Happy Endings Anymore, was vetoed by Gill. I sulked in my office for the rest of the day, before putting on my favourite CD – Hello I Must Be Going by Phil Collins – which made me feel better. The first track, I Don’t Care Anymore, certainly hit the spot!

26th August
I have fetched up in Edinburgh for something called the Edinburgh TV Festival. Lots of famous stars are here, including my friend Mark and my other friend Ricky. “I’m so looking forward to seeing Andy Millman back on our screens this autumn,” I told Ricky while he signed my DVD copy of The Extras. “You’re inviting the whole country round to your living room to watch this, then?” he replied quizzically, before asking me to make way for the 5,000 people waiting in the queue behind me.

27th August
I can’t believe I’ve never been to the Edinburgh Television Festival before: so much gossip and so many exclusives for my column! Apparently my new favourite programme, Celeb Air (so trashy it’s terrific!), will be coming back at Christmas bigger and better than ever! Who knows – yours truly might get an invitation!

28th August
Mark tells me Celeb Air has been cancelled because ITV think it is rubbish. I never liked it anyway, and I would certainly have never wanted to appear on such a pathetic show.  

2nd September
I was writing my latest column, why there are too many shows with happy endings on television, when the phone rang. It was somebody called Charlie Brooker, who apparently writes for The Guardian and has a show on BBC4. I told him I hadn’t heard of him, because I don’t trust The Guardian and never watch BBC4 because it is too elitist. He asked whether he could quote me on that. I said that was fine, and then rang off. Most peculiar!

5th September
I am in the doghouse! Gill has been contacted by that journalist Brooker, who told her what I said about The Guardian and BBC4. I said I could not remember speaking to him. “I do not have Perfect Recall, like Terry Wogan,” I added, which was a joke about a show that is currently on Channel 4. Gill did not seem to find this funny. “Well, we all know what they say about new tricks,” she replied. “Yes: that it is one of the BBC’s most-loved programmes,” I said. I think Gill needs to consider retirement. She has been at Radio Times for a long time and maybe this place needs a bit of a shake-up!

6th September
Terrible news! Gill has decided that Radio Times needs a bit of a shake-up, starting with the TV editorial department. I rang Mark immediately, in order to get hold of some exclusives with which I could impress Gill. He told me Tucker Jenkins was coming back to Grange Hill. Perfect! I’m sure this kind of tip-off will persuade Gill of the importance of my department and warn her off making any sudden changes!

7th September
I am not speaking to Mark. He was right about Tucker coming back to Grange Hill, but neglected to mention this was only for the very last episode of the show ever! “Yet another TV institution bites the dust,” I said to Gill. “What, have you already seen my plans for a personnel shake-up?” she replied.

16th September
I have fetched up in Canberra, Australia where I am taking a refreshing autumn break. And yes – I’ve found time to watch a bit of TV! They have lots of shows from the UK, even Neighbours. It looks like they’re quite a long way behind us, though, because Paul Robinson is still in it!

30th September
During a working lunch at Panama Hatties, Gill told me some shocking news. Apparently David has quit! He said – in his own words – he “didn’t think he had any prospects at the Radio Times, not while that old witch is still hanging on.” I told Gill I thought this was a disgraceful way to talk about someone in her position. At this Gill started choking on her pickled artichokes, and I had to call a member of staff to perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre. 

1st October
David hasn’t quit after all! He was back in the building as usual this morning, looking in remarkably good health and full of beans. I know this because, when I stopped by his new office, he let me come inside, but only after the light above the door had changed from red to green. This took about two hours, so I think there must be a technical fault.

7th October
I have discovered the most amazing thing. All the programmes which were nominated for BAFTAs earlier in the year were ones which I like! How wonderful – they must have read my column! “At least someone does,” said David during a working lunch at Giovanni’s Pizzeria.

10th October
I have been invited to appear on television with Richard and Judy! This is a dream come true. Perhaps if there’s time I’ll get to have a go on Fred’s weather map.

11th October
Richard and Judy have resigned! There was something in the papers about them having quit Channel 4. I am convinced Channel 4 is now the country’s worst television station. They never seem to be able to hold onto anyone good: first Peter Sissons, now this! 

12th October
It seems Richard and Judy have a new show on a channel called Watch This. It is called The New Position. I told David I wasn’t sure I wanted to put my name to something that wasn’t likely to be seen by any more than half a percent of the country. “Why change the habit of a lifetime?” he replied, bizarrely.

17th October
I am a bit puzzled by this new series of Phoenix Nights. Brian Potter has become a woman who enters a reality TV competition in order to raise money for his club, and Paul McCartney joins him to sing the theme from Home And Away. Still, Peter Kay – garlic bread!

22nd October
Channel 4 really is in trouble. That idiot Brooker is presenting a new version of Big Brother where that wonderful hostess Davina McCall has to pretend to eat some of the contestants! British television has sunk to a new low. Thank heavens for Peter Kay.

25th October
Free packets of biscuits have been disallowed at Radio Times staff meetings! Well, what with the credit crunch, everyone is having to cut back and tighten their belts. I told Gill that despite the gloomy times she would not see any change in the content of my column. For some reason she did not look that pleased.

1st November
There is a new programme on ITV called Britannia High that I feel sure is going to be the smash of the winter. It’s so corny it’s crucial! It will be the perfect tonic for the credit crunch, and I said as much in my latest column. Nobody is interested in programmes that are about money and glamour anymore.

2nd November
Britannia High has been beaten in the ratings by Antiques Roadshow where they found a million pounds of money in a special edition hosted by the glamorous Fiona Bruce. Apparently Britannia High is a ratings flop. I’m not surprised. I knew it would not be a hit. Just as well I have my finger on the pulse of credit crunch Britain!

5th November
I have fetched up in the Cape Verde Islands on a late autumn break to escape the doom and gloom of the credit crunch. This time of year is usually very pressured, what with Christmas coming up, so I always try to get away in order to recharge my batteries and think up new ideas for my column. This year I think I am going to do a piece about the number of repeats on telly over the holiday period: just the sort of bold, new thinking which Gill has been asking for!

11th November
Apparently my idea has been vetoed by Gill because it is what everyone else writes about during Christmas. “What a pity,” said David in a live video conference link-up from his office, “maybe they could have all given you a few hints. Like how to write a decent column.” He’s so witty and perceptive, he’s wasted as my assistant!

15th November
I had an epiphany this morning. The TV programme Heroes is no longer any good. I always knew this would happen. I will have to use my column to tell the country about my bold new theory!

16th November
While on the phone to Mark, he mentioned how much better is the latest series of Heroes than the last. Apparently it is a hit with the critics. I do wish Mark wouldn’t keep changing his mind. He then mentioned that the BBC are bringing back Survivor, that rotten ITV reality show from the start of the decade where members of the public have to try and live on a desert island. The BBC is clearly in trouble if it is resorting to stealing ideas from the opposition!

17th November
I am going to try and write my next column from the point of view of a jaded misanthropic thirtysomething male. It was something I saw done in The Guardian. I am sure it will bring Radio Times a whole host of new readers!

20th November
During a working lunch at Country Joe’s Chicken Shack, Gill told us all how she’d like to experiment with dropping my new ‘Angry Alison’ column and running a few “classics” from the archives. “You could call them Golden Grahams,” quipped David, and everyone laughed, obviously realising how generous Gill had been in her offer.

22nd November
That idiot Brooker has been on the phone again to complain about me stealing ideas from his column. “Tsk,” I told David, “if he is resorting to ringing me up, no wonder he is such a miserable person.”  David responded by asking me for Brooker’s number, claiming he was a “kindred spirit”. How odd.

24th November
This new series of Survivor is certainly a departure. One of the contestants has to live in a jail where everyone can come and go as they please and there are no guards! “It almost makes you wish you were in prison!” I told David during the regular 10-second catch-up he allows me to have with him every morning.”We can but dream,” he responded, generously. “I wonder what kind of proper sentence I’d get?” I mused out loud. “In your case, any kind of proper sentence would be a first,” David replied.

30th November
Des O’Connor has been sacked from Countdown! I can understand why. He never seemed happy having to work with all those stuck-up co-presenters and female assistants. “Who wants to spend every day hanging around with a load of sour-faced old crones?” I mentioned to Mark, when I bumped into him in Waitrose. “By the way, how is David?” he replied, strangely.

4th December
Hooray! The Christmas edition of Radio Times is done and dusted and the holidays can begin! Or rather, the holidays can continue! Gill was so thoughtful the way she decided to cut my special column about why the new series of Survivor has proved that reality TV isn’t dead after all, and therefore allowed me to begin my vacation ever earlier than normal! I’m now off to Tenerife for four weeks of sun, sea and sauciness – by way of the local cuisine, that is! My tips for 2009: Phoenix Nights (a brilliant twist having Brian Potter turn into Briony Potter and go on a reality TV show!) Noel’s HQ (I’d vote for him anytime!) French and Saunders (I saw the stage show – I laughed and laughed and laughed) and Mark Lawson getting his own programme.

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