In the early 1980’s I was a DJ on a local commercial radio station in Leeds. We had four studios. One and Two were for on air, Three was for commercial production and Four for the news.
When the sun was over the yardarm and work sorted we would retire to Studio 5. This was The Queens Pub on Burley Road. Our station was next door to Yorkshire Television and their staff would often have the same idea.
I heard a story one night from the landlord. About ten years previously Les Dawson and Barry Cryer used to drink in there. Barry was writing jokes and scripts for “Sez Les” which was being made at YTV at the time with his regular writing partner John Junkin. One night Les after a few beers got on the piano and played it appallingly badly for laughs.
In reality Les was as good a pianist as he was a linguist and why he could muck about with both.
Barry heard his eye-wateringly bad playing in the pub and said to Les “that’s staying in”. Thus was born some of the funniest musical comedy ever seen on British television.
At that time Les had struck up a working partnership with Roy Barraclough, not least because both were great fans of the Lancashire comic Norman Evans.
They based their popular characters Cissie and Ada on Norman’s “Fanny Fairbottom”, a northern housewife who’s preoccupation was gossiping and whispering over the garden wall whilst adjusting her ample bosom and looking sideways to see if anyone was watching.
As a child I’d witnessed this female interaction at first hand. Neighbours sharing gossip and tittle-tattle over fences and walls appeared to be a very popular pastime where I lived.
I’ve also noticed many southern gardens have a predilection for higher fences which negate chatter across them. It seems the more money you have the less interested you are in next door interaction. This is probably why the UK TV soap opera was born north of Watford out of 1950’s stage plays known then as Kitchen Sink dramas.
When scriptwriter Tony Warren went to Sidney Bernstein, Head of Granada TV in 1960 with an idea called Coronation Street his proposal was rejected. Sidney just didn’t get it.
To be fair to Sid even today most men don’t get the attraction of regular fictional grief. What’s the point of that? You might like to tell me.
Producer Harry Elton told Bernstein to trust him after watching the reaction of Agnes, an office cleaning lady. who he watched transfixed by a close-circuit broadcast of the pilot show in his office. 13 episodes were grudgingly commissioned.
Within six months of the first programme being aired Coronation Street was the most watched show on British TV and recently celebrated its 10,000 episode. Why?
Women love gossip.
Fast forward to 2020. I’m in my garden with the hedge-trimmer. I manage to cut the washing line with it and several expletives rend the air.
I should explain to those of you living in the Home Counties that a washing line is something Northern folk peg their clothes out on to dry in order to save money.
Trisha next door sympathises and we chat. She has four young daughters in her household. Neither of the males who fathered them is allowed near. I don’t ask about this as I’m a man and therefore parking my bosom on the fence to discuss this further is not the way forward.
Trisha apologises for the state of her overgrown lawn and explains that since the lockdown it hasn’t been mowed as she has both hay fever and asthma so just can’t deal with it. A lady neighbour has sent up the bat signal. What’s a guy to do?
Before you can say Fanny Fairbottom, I’m digging out my mower and heading in the direction of her lawn. I hadn’t previously spoken to her for months.
It seems since Covid 19 struck we are suddenly discovering our inner neighbour.
People who previously you didn’t speak to are taking packages in and then leaving them on your door-step with a knock and a cheery wave.
An app on my phone called Nextdoor links me with others in my area. Someone has been making PPE but doesn’t know what to do next. Replies flood in. Job sorted.
A passer by smiles and compliments me as I work alone amongst my front garden flowerbeds. I look and give a thumbs up. It quite makes my locked down day.
Despite the fact we are distanced and apart there’s now more of a feeling of coming together than I’ve felt in many a year.
But should it really take a world-wide pandemic before we start looking out for each other? It appears so.
Here’s what really lifts my spirits.
I predict a seismic positive shift in the way we help each other. A re-evaluation of what really matters going forward and perhaps most importantly how we treat each other and care. Where does that begin?
What makes me very happy currently is pollution has stopped. Coral reefs are recovering. Our world is blooming again. Have you noticed how little this is reported?
Instead of the constant blame culture by journalists of our politicians and endless fake news, could we instead start talking and helping each other over the garden fence?
The recent decision by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to have nothing more to do with the British tabloids seems to suggest maybe we should.
The Chinese have come in for a battering over the virus. Is what we are told correct? In a recent statement to a Sunday newspaper the Chinese Embassy in London vehemently denied wrong-doing. In Downing Street I imagine lips were pursed and pads doodled on.
Maybe they were playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order.
The Chinese do have a way with proverbs though.
“A Good Neighbour is a Priceless Treasure”.