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by dr andrew cousins

Our Tune

I heard the following letter read out by Simon Bates on the radio this morning. It moved me deeply, which is why I have re-produced it here.
We’ve got a story now, about a man who has a very sad tale to tell. He doesn’t want us to give out his real name on air, so we’ll just call him ‘Barry’.

(Nino Rota’s ‘Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet’ plays in the background)

In the early seventies Barry was working as a newspaper sports reporter. He loved sport and was very happy in his job. Then one day he met somebody who was to turn his whole life upside down. She was a woman who we’ll call ‘The BBC’. Now the BBC was a well-endowed woman. She had two colour television channels and a large worldwide radio network. She was a very special lady. To say they didn’t hit it off would be a crime against words.

You see, she knew something about Barry that few other people did. Barry had a secret passion — something he’d loved since childhood. He was nuts about the movies, he always had been. As a kid he’d delighted in the Saturday matinees. A cartoon, an episdoe of ‘King of the Rocket Men’ followed by a western and as much Kia-Ora as he could drink. Of course, he just didn’t know when to stop and he’d drink so much orange juice that he’d eventually be sick. But he was just a kid, it was all part of the wild experimentation they got up to in the nineteen forties. It was a phase and he grew out of it. But the love of the movies remained with him always. It was a kind of reminder of days gone by.

He doesn’t know how but the BBC knew all that the instant she laid eyes on him. When she offered him a weekly film review programme he found he just couldn’t say "no". She’d, quite literally, hit on his weak spot.

For fifteen years, Barry and the BBC were blissfully happy together. He would go out in the morning and sit through a press preview and she would be there when he got home at night with a regular time slot. Sometimes he would have to go abroad to cover a foreign film festival or award ceremony. She would provide him with an outside broadcast camera crew and cover his expenses. They were a couple in every sense of the word, like Roy Rogers and Trigger or Desmond Lynam and Grandstand.

Barry was having a great time. Being able to meet his childhood heroes was a real thrill for him. As was being able to meet the biggest stars of the day. Eventually they all knew him by name. Not bad for a former sports reporter. His name became synonymous with film criticism. A bad word from him could severely undermine a film’s box office potential. But he was always careful, always responsible. He knew what influence he had and how to use it wisely. Barry was just that kind of guy.

He would champion causes. He was a great supporter of Woody Allen whom he regarded as a big, big talent, yet despite this, his later films were commercial failures. But Barry stood by his guns and had total belief in his opinions. He stuck by Woody despite what others said about him. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Barry was a good man.

But all relationships change over time, and I guess that Barry just didn’t see it coming. The signs were there though, if you knew where to look. He now realises, and lets not forget that hindsight has 20/20 vision, that the BBC was trying to change him. It was subtle. It didn’t happen over night. Perhaps she didn’t even realise what she was doing. We just don’t know.

The first real sign that things weren’t right came when she started to change the way he dressed. Now, Barry had always been a pretty casual sort of guy. He liked his comfy sweaters. Lets be quite honest, he looked good in them. But suddenly she told him that he couldn’t wear them any more. She said they sent out the wrong message. The focus groups said they didn’t like them. This came, quite literally, like a bolt out of the blue to Barry. He was hurt. If we’re honest about it anyone of us would be. But Barry still wanted to make the relationship work. He agreed to ditch the casual menswear and start wearing a suit instead.

For a while everything seemed to be back to normal. She was still there for him with her regular timeslot and camera crews as necessary. Then came the next shock. She said that she wanted to open the relationship up to other people. She wanted to bring other reporters onto the show. She said that it would ease Barry’s burden. Allow him to concentrate on the presenting and reporting duties. Barry let her — he still couldn’t see what was going on around him. I guess he was just too close.

After that nothing he could do seemed right anymore. The title sequence was jazzed up regularly. The studio camerawork was deemed uninteresting and efforts were made to make them more exciting. Barry found himself having to present reviews while the camera tracked around him. He didn’t know why but he just felt it was all wrong. Sometimes he would find her looking longingly at Johnny Vaughn on Channel Four’s Moviewatch. She said that she admired the way he would intersperse the reviews with comedy and sketches. Still Barry accepted it. Even when the regular timeslot was taken away and he was put wherever she deemed there was a gap in the schedules.

Then one day, a cold foggy November morning, she blurted out that she wasn’t bidding for the Oscar coverage that year. She claimed that the asking price was just too much. It was like somebody had pulled the rug out from under his feet. He was, quite literally, in a whirl.

At this point somebody new enters our little story. She was somebody who had been watching all this from afar. Somebody who, up until then, had been powerless to help. She was a little lady who we’ll call ‘Sky’. Now Sky was young, she was inexperienced but she also had three dedicated movie channels. When she heard about how the BBC had treated Barry she made her move. She was bidding for the exclusive Oscar rights and she wanted Barry to host them and his own movie review show. Barry’s head was in a spin. He hadn’t felt like this since the Seventies. He agreed and moved in with Sky. I guess if we engaged honesty mode, we’d probably admit to doing the same.

That was three years ago. A lot has changed since then. The BBC has a new man. Somebody younger and trendier. A guy named Jonathan who gets invited to lots of celebrity parties and awards ceremonies. The kind of guy that, I guess, she’d always wanted.

For Barry, things haven’t been so happy. He’s enjoyed his time with Sky but there’s always been something nagging at the back of his mind. A feeling of something being wrong. Reviewing movies didn’t seem so much fun anymore. Something seemed to have changed. Then last week it finally hit him. It wasn’t him who had changed but the movies themselves. The Matrix was enormously popular but he just couldn’t see why. What was the appeal of Adam Sandler? These things seemed like mysteries where once the answer would have been staring him, quite literally, in the face.

He told Sky that he would be leaving her in June. He’s going to concentrate on writing his memoirs. Search yourselves and you know that he’s done the right thing. Sure, it might hurt her now but she’ll bounce back eventually. She’ll move on, just as he will, and find somebody else.

He closes by saying, ‘Thanks Simon, for listening to my story. I’d be grateful if you’d play Rhapsody In Blue by George Gershwin for me. It always reminds me of happier times with my old pal Woody.’

Barry, it’s a pleasure. It’s 12.15 — here’s Rhapsody in Blue….



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