The Carl Wheatley Blog

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I was really sad today to hear about the death of one of my comedy heroes, Bobby Ball.

I've got a theory that the style of comedy you grow up laughing at with your family stays with you all of your life. I grew up in the 70's and 80's, the heyday for the double act.

Sure, alternative comedians were starting to break through but the big box-office Saturday night TV comedians were the likes of Cannon and Ball, the Two Ronnies, Little and Large and, latterly, French and Saunders. Over fifteen million people regularly tuned in to The Cannon and Ball Show on TV.

Bobby Ball could make a room full of people collapse without saying a word. Just a quick glance at the audience was worth a thousand gags. I think this is a rare skill. There were others who had this superpower of course: Bruce Forsyth, Russ Abbott, Larry Grayson, Les Dawson – but as a youngster watching Bobby Ball explode with anger and stretch out those famous red braces was the best.

When he started to get 'angry' with Tommy the timing and the tension was electrifying. There was a sense of “Oh, here we go” from the audience. There was a real feeling that anything could happen. He was mischievous, and he broke the rules. As an audience we were aching with laughter – begging them to stop. Timeless comedy.

I last saw Cannon and Ball a year ago at Hull's Comedy Lounge. In one part Tommy told Bobby that he didn't need him for the act and that he should leave. Seeing Bobby in his old overcoat with a carrier bag of his belongings walk the long way through the audience as he left the room was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Pure joy.

I can't believe I won't get the chance to see them live again or watch tears of laughter fall down children's faces as they storm panto.

Rest in peace, and Rock-On Bobby.

-Carl

I can't quite put my finger on what makes a good old fashioned British pantomime so enjoyable to be a part of. When we staged our first one at the BBC at Christmas in 2000 I was physically sick backstage prior to “curtain up”. Since then the nerves have fallen and the enjoyment has gone through the roof.

From our point of view it always feels so rushed, almost chaotic in the lead up to the first performance. We expect cries of “we'll never be ready” every year. It always is ready. Just. The magic always happens.

In fact, there is a checklist of things that WILL happen every year in the run up to panto:

*One cast member will lose their voice *EVERYONE will get a cold *We'll all say “Never again” *One cast member/musician will be travelling from the other side of the country to be there for opening night *The scenery won't fit in one of the venues and tonnes of gaffer tape will be used by the stage crew

So, what (in my opinion) is the recipe for a good panto? I don't think you need special effects or celebrity names necessarily. But I do think the following are essential:

*Corny jokes. Real “groaners”. *Well known songs *A good ratio of jokes for the children and others for the grown ups *The feeling that every performance is slightly different *Heart

I say “heart” because when we ask people why they keep coming back to our pantomime, they tell us that it's because our show is warm and welcoming. It might not have the latest 3D special effects or a flying carpet but an old rug and an inflatable bed seem to do us fine.

My shopping list at this time of year often looks like this:

*White long football socks *Drooping joke flower *Baby wipes *Suggestively shaped cactus *Gold baseball cap

None of it would have been possible without the dedication of the team at Look North and Radio Humberside. We give our time for free and often rehearse after a ten hour working day. We couldn't have done any of it without Jonathan Parker's direction and Julie Long's choreography – and of course the scripts – courtesy of Jonathan and Mark Fairweather.

But most of all – to everyone who's supported us over the last 20 years (and there are some who've been EVERY year) – thank you. The best feeling of all is when we've got five minutes to go before curtain up – and we're on stage together and can hear the buzz of an expectant audience. That feeling of “no going back now” – as the house-lights dim and the band starts to play can't be described.

I do hope you'll enjoy our 20th year production of Mother Goose as much as we've enjoyed putting it together.

-Carl

After 25 years I said goodbye to my friends and colleagues at the BBC today.

It's been an incredible place to work from the day I walked in at the age of 23 to answer the phones. I almost begged the manager at the time, John Lilley, for a job – and bombarded him with demo cassettes from my fictional bedroom radio station 'Gemini FM'.

It worked – and he offered me a position. I started producing shows for the broadcasting greats at the time, Steve Massam, Mike Hurley, Judi Murden, Peter Adamson and the like.

Over those 25 years I've presented every programme in every slot across the week – 2 years on the afternoon show, 3 years on Drivetime, 10 years on mid-morning, 5 years on Breakfast and bits and bobs elsewhere including reading the non-league football results, hosting the gardening phone-in and playing showtunes in Westenders on a Sunday evening. That's not to mention the production, events, charity stuff, event hosting and the legendary panto's with Jonathan Parker and crew which have raised well over £100k for charity. Sally Fairfax and I won Stars in Our Eyes singing Phantom and I sprayed myself yellow to win our version of 'Strictly' for BBC Children in Need. What a wonderful way to earn a living.

As with any organisation, the people make it what it is. There are some incredibly talented people at Radio Humberside and Look North. Wonderful, warm people who really care about this area and making sure local people have a voice. Local radio is incredibly valuable, and I hope it remains a top priority for the BBC for many years to come. In our incredibly divided world, we need reminding of our roots. Local TV and radio bring us together like nothing else can and I think it's more valuable today than it's ever been. Forget what you read about overpaid BBC “stars” and focus instead on the real people working extremely hard at the BBC standing up for where we all live.

When the floods came in 2007, the people reporting it on the radio were also affected. I can remember colleagues like Andy Comfort working around the clock to keep the information flowing while worrying for their own homes and families. The companionship, warmth and local knowledge offered by BBC Radio Humberside during that difficult time was incredible. And that's just one example.

I've grown up with the staff at Radio Humberside. My best friends are there. I met Michelle, the love of my life there. As a team we've been through so many highs and lows together. We're family and always will be. It’s easy while doing the day to day job to forget what incredible people we all work with.

I've worked with the best. I hate to pick out individual names, but I must thank “mother” – Gloria Johnson who co-hosted mid-morning with me for ten years. Glo is such a lovely, warm person and we just had a real laugh every day. The audience loved the shows – including the specials we did over a few years in the sunshine live from Benidorm. We were on air together through difficult times too – including the morning that it was announced that Diana, Princess of Wales had died. I'll never forget it being one of our busiest on the phones as people turned to us to share their stories, feelings and to grieve. Gloria was an outstanding broadcaster and is a real friend. People still stop and ask me how “mother” is every week. (She's fine by the way).

I've also got to pay tribute to Lizzie Rose. We didn't really know that much about each other when we were given the big one, the Breakfast Show, in 2013 – but very quickly became best friends and I loved every minute we shared on the radio. Our philosophy was simple: tell people what's going on and then make them smile. Couldn't be simpler. We've laughed at the absurd stories and cried together at the cruelty of the world. One day I'll write the truth about some of the things Lizzie did to make me laugh when I shouldn't. I love you so much Lizzie Rose and I learned so much from you during those five years of 4am starts.

The job gave me access to places I might never have been and people I may never have had the opportunity to meet. Being a radio presenter allows you to be a part of people’s lives and I’ve never taken that for granted – people are so generous with their time and often so welcoming in the most difficult of circumstances. The way people went out of their way to help us plan a birthday party for Hull's legendary 'Bee Lady' is a brilliant example of how people love their local radio station.

There are too many highlights to list but broadcasting backstage with Elton John at the KC Stadium was wonderful as were our live shows in Benidorm, being on-air as the tall ships arrived in Hull, City of Culture year, the many outside broadcasts and campaigns, the naked calendar (!) and the time that I interviewed Sir Cliff Richard without pressing record! I hadn’t been doing the job long and was shaking like a leaf but like a true pro he just said, “It's ok Carl, we'll call that a rehearsal and do it all again.”

So, thanks to the amazing journalists, outstanding presenters, fast-thinking technical and production teams, editors, managers, schedulers, engineers and receptionists for 25 incredible years. I'm sad to call it a day but pleased to have met so many fabulous people inside and outside of the BBC. Thanks for the wonderful memories.

I'm off to make some more in my brand-new role with the brilliant team at NAPA!

-Carl

From the end of next month I'm delighted to be taking over as Chief Executive of Hull's Northern Academy of Performing Arts.

NAPA is a place I've been very close to for years. I was the charity's first chairman a million years ago and the Northern Theatre School (as it was originally known) was my first paid job. I'm delighted that the board of trustees have selected me to take over.

To have one dream job in a lifetime is lucky – to go from one dream job to another is, frankly, incredible.

For those of you who don’t know what NAPA is – you soon will. It’s the most amazing place which gives this area’s young people performance and confidence skills for life. It’s a place like no other and the chance to help shape its future direction and take it to the next level makes me fizz with excitement. My head is buzzing with ideas. Watch this space!

Nowadays NAPA’s strength is its staff. They are the creative engine of the charity and no one gets close to the quality of their work. I can’t wait to start working with some old friends and make some new ones. If you’ve ever taken part in a class or a performance or summer school at NAPA you’ll know exactly what I mean. Quality, hard work and passion every single day. They're quite incredible people.

I’d like to pay tribute to my mum who has been at the helm for over 15 years. Her strength, determination and passion for the academy have seen it grow beyond everyone’s wildest expectations. It can be a lonely job at the top of any organisation, but she got through it by remembering what the charity is all about – the hundreds of young people who come back week after week. My mum’s are big shoes to fill. She's been an incredible force for good at the academy.

Of course I'll miss my friends and colleagues at the BBC. Some of the most creative, warm and professional people you'd ever want as colleagues. That place has a huge heart. I'll write more about that and my love of local radio before I leave next month.

And so to the future. I'm all for collaboration and partnerships – so if you think we could work together I'd love to hear from you.

I take up the post on August 27th and I'll be blogging about my new adventure on a regular basis but you can find out more about NAPA for yourself on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/napahull/ or the website https://www.northernacademy.org.uk/.

Thanks for reading. Cx

-Carl

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