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writing archive

Strawberry Fields, New York City

Sowerby & Luff write…

On West Drive in New York City, we found Strawberry Fields, the garden of remembrance for John Lennon. It’s a small circular mosaic, with the word “Imagine” in the centre, surrounded by park benches. Its simplicity makes it very touching, and it’s probably the only location in New York where the place is named after a song, and not the other way around.

The memorial was created by Yoko Ono, with the support of the city of New York. Over a hundred countries contributed to the garden with native plants and stones, and a small plaque lists all the countries who contributed. John and Yoko loved to walk in Central Park and one of their favourite spots is precisely where Strawberry Fields now lays.

While we were there, the sombre atmosphere was slightly offset by the fact that the mosaic was covered in pumpkins, candles and Halloween party props – John’s fans obviously feel their hero would want to be a part of the celebrations for this holiday. In the same way, I imagine that Strawberry Fields is probably adorned with tinsel and holly at Christmas. I’ll bet it looks great in the snow.

There were about ten people sitting on the benches around John’s memorial, all of them, as far as we could see, either drunk or stoned. One elderly tramp had a cardboard begging sign which made us laugh out loud. It simply said “Why lie? I need a beer!”
We sat on a bench between Strawberry Fields and the Dakota, and recorded a short chat for the second of our New York podcasts. Then we crossed Central Park West and went and stood in the exact place where Lennon was shot.

John and Yoko bought several apartments in the Dakota building, and Yoko still lives there. The place was built in the late 1800’s, and it’s part of a series of spectacular gothic buildings which overlook the park – one of which featured in the movie Ghostbusters.

Access to The Dakota is restricted and the entrance is guarded by a fairly eccentric doorman who stands permanently outside, posing for photographs and filling in the tourists on any gory details they care to enquire about. John was shot right in front of the main entrance on December 8th 1980, when he was returning from a recording session for his final album Double Fantasy, accompanied by Yoko.
“I really don’t want to be here,” said Georgina. So I resisted the temptation to try and interview the doorman, and we headed back towards Broadway.
“What was the name of the guy who shot Lennon?” asked Georgina.
“I can’t remember,” I said.

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writing archive

Cranberries at 30 Rock

Sowerby & Luff write…

For some reason that we were unable to fathom, while we were in New York we were invited to cover a press event called Bogs Across America. Not even knowing what this meant, it was an invitation so insanely odd that we felt right from the off that it had Sowerby and Luff written all over it. Obviously “bog” does not have the same connotations in the U.S. as it does in Britain, and the hundred foot tall “Bogs” placard that greeted us at the Rockefeller Center was testament to this.

Let’s face it, whatever the reason, 30 Rockefeller Plaza is a pretty cool address to show up at. The Crossroads of the World is how some Americans describe it. There’s even a TV show called 30 Rock. We had an hour to kill before we could enter the Bogs event with our press passes, so we wandered around the brightly lit Plaza. As she looked up at the 70 story Rockefeller building, Georgina sighed aloud and announced that this was the first time she’d actually felt dizzy at the sheer size and scale of Manhattan. Everything was floodlit in a soft peach-coloured hue, and tens of thousands of twinkly fairy lights adorned every tree in the square. Giant American flags fluttered outside all of the surrounding buildings, and the spectacular ice-rink – complete with lavish waterfall and huge golden statue – was being prepared for the evening.

At the designated time we strolled back to 30 Rock, and entered the huge Art Deco lobby of the building. We asked the receptionist about the Bogs event, but he hadn’t even heard of it. I think it may have been his first day on the job. So, we wandered back outside, this time stumbling upon a tennis court-sized pit, filled to the brim with cranberries.
“How did we miss this before?” I said.
“We weren’t looking,” Georgina replied. To be fair, how often do you go looking for a tennis court-sized pit filled with cranberries?

We were, of course, on the guest list, and gained immediate access to the Ocean Spray Bog, where we were handed a couple of alcohol-free, cranberry juice cocktails. I took Roland the MP3 recorder out of my pocket and we recorded a quick link for the podcast.
“I’m guessing that Bogs Across America is something to do with cranberries,” I said, as Georgina and I described the strange scene for our listeners. Nearby, was a woman standing knee-deep in cranberries and giving an interview to a man with a microphone. Georgina started to laugh.
“Look who’s doing the first interview,” she said, and to our amazement it was Podshow. What were the chances of us running into them in a cranberry bog?

We waited our turn, then took Roland over to meet the lady in the bog. It was an odd sight – the centre of the plaza completely taken over by a huge pit filled with 20,000 lbs of fruit. 
“Why are we at the Rockefeller Centre talking about cranberries?” I asked the lady, who turned out to be called Irene Sorensen.
“Because this is the Crossroads of the World,” she said.
“What is a bog?” I asked her.
“A bog is the name we give to the place where we grow cranberries,” she said. “It’s actually a wetland.”
“And why are we here now?” I asked.
“We’re celebrating the cranberry harvest,” she said “on the eve of Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Most of the people around the bog seemed to be involved with Ocean Spray in some way, or actually worked for them, but there was a marked absence of media people or journalists. In fact, the only media we could identify was Podshow and Sowerby and Luff. The Rockefeller Bog wasn’t exactly hitting the headlines.

Irene was generous and funny with her interview for our podcast, even though she didn’t have the faintest idea who we were. We finished by telling her that we’d never again eat Cranberry Sauce without thinking of her standing in that bog in Rockefeller Plaza. And we probably won’t.

At the mention of alcoholic cocktails some thirty minutes later, there was a veritable stampede of guests towards the Brasserie Ruhlmann on 50th Street. Some people moved so quickly that the PR lady had to hold back the crowd outside the revolving doors of the restaurant.
“You can’t go in,” she said to us. “It’s too crowded. It could become dangerous in there.”
Once inside we picked up our press badges and followed our well-trained PR noses toward the unmistakable smell of Moet and Chandon. We were handed two tall glasses of champagne, with dried cranberries floating around inside, and were surprised to see that the cranberries floated up to the surface, then down again. Up, and then down again. It was very entertaining, and strangely hypnotic. But it completely ruined the taste of the champagne.
“Do you have any bubbly without cranberries in?” I asked one of the waiters. But he just frowned, and walked away.

Surrounded by Armani suits and designer dresses we felt a little under-dressed in our grubby jeans, but we downed as many glasses of fizz as we could, while watching a desperately dreary presentation about cranberries.
“What’s that?” I asked another waiter as he sped past with a silver platter covered in delicious looking, but tiny appetisers.
“This is French toast, with spicy lamb, on a bed of cranberries” he said. The nibbles may have been small but they were perfectly formed. A bit like Georgina.
“What’s that one?” Georgina asked. 
“That’s garlic bread with a little Roquefort cheese on a bed of cranberries,” he replied.
“Oh I get it,” I whispered to Georgina, “Everything here is made out of cranberries.”

That press bash at Rockefeller Plaza must have cost a small fortune. Let’s hope for the sake of Ocean Spray that there were one or two real journalists there as well.

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writing archive

Fear and Loathing at the BBC

Brian writes…

Impressed by my apparent expertise on the subject of podcasting and “user generated content”, I was contracted to manage the BBC’s online comedy team in the spring of 2007, so I was back at the Beeb faster than I’d anticipated. This time, Georgina and I planned carefully how we were going to balance producing our podcast with me working at Television Centre, and I was determined not to experience the frustrations I’d suffered working for Endemol at Television Centre the previous year.

One of my briefs during this temporary contract was to add more audio and video content to the BBC comedy website and I threw myself into the project with my usual smiley enthusiasm at being back at the home of British broadcasting. I have a love-hate relationship with the BBC, intensely disliking the way the corporation is run in the twenty first century, but at the same time having a deep fondness for Auntie the way she used to be. One of my very first jobs after leaving school was working in the video tape library at TV Centre, and in those days it was an exciting, almost magical place.

Many of the Beeb’s most famous comedy shows were being recorded at that time -The Good Life, Till Death Us Do Part, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em – all those shows were rotating around the studios while I was there. I once stepped into a lift with Morecambe and Wise, and all that went through my mind was that Eric Morecambe wasn’t as tall as I thought he’d be. Nowadays when I walk around those evocative circular corridors, I can literally feel the ghosts of those great performers, and I wonder if the BBC will ever again return to such glory days.

Georgina says I view my spells at the BBC as a sign of defeat – an admittance that I’m not clever enough to earn a full-time living as a comedy writer or broadcaster in my own right. I hope she’s wrong about that. My problem is I have an extremely low tolerance of static situations – sitting in the same claustrophobic office day after day drives me insane. Taking the same crowded tube train to work. Having to deal on a daily basis with completely institutionalized staff. To me, all of these things are like a prison cell.

On the exact day I started my contract in BBC online comedy, the whole department, along with the rest of the BBC, was completely re-structured, with the effect that nobody in the entire place knew what the fuck they were supposed to be doing. The online department suddenly appeared to be called “The Vision Multiplatform Studio”.

“Can I see my production budget?” I asked on my first morning.
“You don’t have a budget,” replied the Interactive Executive.
“How can I manage a website if I don’t know what’s in my budget?” I said.
“I don’t know,” said the Exec.
“Do you have a budget?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” he said.

I rang Georgina. “How can you manage a website if you don’t know what’s in your budget?” she said.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“What do you want for dinner,” she said.
“Kalashnikov and tonic,” I replied.

I spent the next couple of days familiarising myself with the BBC comedy site for which I was now responsible, and was delighted to discover that I myself was listed as a scriptwriter within the pages of its vast online Comedy Guide.
“That’s me!” I said to the web producer sitting next to me. “You’ve got one of my Channel Five writing credits on your site. Great!”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” she said.
“Oh?”
“We’re cutting costs on the Comedy Guide.”
“Costs?”
“So one of your main jobs while you’re here will be to oversee the removal of all the non-BBC credits.”
“Including mine?” I asked.
“Starting with yours,” she said.

The BBC is a fantastically frustrating place to work. Even jobs which sound exciting can fast turn into experiences in which you might consider taking your own life. Let me give you an example. I was charged with the task of creating a fully animated, interactive website for The Mighty Boosh – one of the BBC’s flagship comedy shows. In other words, the kind of project your average media student would chew off their right arm to undertake.

I set about visiting some vibrant young web design agencies in the West End of London, and within a few days found an agency I thought would do a great job.
“You can’t do that,” said a BBC Jobsworth.
“What?”
“You can’t just go and talk to people.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. How am I going to find the right web design agency for The Boosh if I don’t go and talk to people?”
“Because that’s not fair,” said the BBC Jobsworth. “If you go and talk to people you might give one agency an advantage over another.”
I was lost for words. “So what do I do?” I asked.
“You use the BBC’s Online Commissioning System,” he said proudly.
“And how does that work?” I enquired.
“It’s simple. I’ll give you a username and a password…”
My heart sank. “Then you login and the system will give you a long list of all the skills you think your agency might need to build a nice website for The Mighty Boosh.”
“Right…”
“Next to each useful skill on the list is a little tick box.”
I had died and gone to Hell.
“You place a tick in the box next to the skills you need, and the Online Commissioning System will cleverly give you a list of all the web agencies in the world who might be able to do the job for you.”

I felt myself slowly sinking down into my BBC chair. “Then what do I do?” I asked.
“You make a long shortlist of the ten or twelve agencies who get the highest points on your scoresheet.”
“Can I talk to them then?” I ventured.
“Of course not,” said Jobsworth. “That would be unfair. First, you have to fill out a 30 page Request for Proposal form, and email it to each agency.”
“Where do I get the form from?”
“I’ll give you a username and a password,” he said.
Sigh.
“When you’ve received official pitches for the work from all of the agencies on the long shortlist, you can go ahead and make a short shortlist.”
“How short should it be?” I asked.
“Ooh, I don’t know, seven or eight agencies is usually a good number.”
“And then I can talk to them?”
“Absolutely not,” he snapped. “Then it’s their job to come in here and pitch to the BBC for the work.”
“Seven agencies?” I squeaked
“All on the same day, yes,” he added. 
“Why does it have to be on the same day?” I asked. But I guessed before he could answer.
“Don’t tell me,” I said. “If the pitches for work are not all delivered to the BBC on the same day, some of the agencies might have more time to prepare than others.”
“I can see you’re getting the hang of this,” he said.

I rang Georgina.
“How long does all this take?” she asked.
“He says they can usually rush the procedure through in about two years,” I said.
“I thought you said the programme’s on the air in six weeks!”
“It is,” I said.
“Well you should have started sooner,” said Georgina helpfully.

Every time I go and work at the BBC the corporation seems to be hit by some kind of major crisis. I’m pretty sure none of these incidents have been my fault, but it is rather an odd coincidence.

During my previous contract, Greg Dyke had been hounded out of his post as Director General following the Hutton Report, and on this occasion it was the crisis that became known as “Crowngate”. During a press launch for the BBC Autumn Season, the Controller of BBC1, Peter Fincham had shown the press a clip of what appeared to be the Queen angrily storming out of a room. It later transpired that scenes had been deliberately re-edited to make the sequence appear more interesting and controversial, and that the Queen had actually been storming into the room at that moment. Of course, no-one at the press launch really gave a toss which way the Queen was storming, but Buckingham Palace kicked up a stink and heads began to roll.

Then, only a few weeks later, the BBC’s flagship childrens’ programme Blue Peter admitted that it had deliberately fixed the result of a viewer competition. The effect of both of these unrelated scandals – one after the other – was that the BBC’s general trustworthiness was called into question, and the corporation went into total panic-mode, issuing apologies for everything it had ever done and sacking staff left, right and centre.

That week all competitions were banned on all BBC programmes, and staff were marched into Nazi-like briefing sessions, me included. We were instructed to blow the whistle on any fellow staff we knew to have deceived viewers in any way. There would be an “amnesty”, they said. No-one would be punished, they said. So, like idiots, dozens of BBC staff routinely shopped their colleagues for any minor deceptions they could think of. A few days later, equally routinely, most of those named and shamed by their colleagues were disciplined or sacked. They’re lucky they weren’t put up against a wall and stoned.

The result of all this, was that most BBC staff were afraid of their own shadows. We were running a page on the BBC comedy website with an interactive game called Numberwang – based on a ridiculous non-existent gameshow in a sketch series called Mitchell and Webb. I actually received a call from the Managing Editor of BBC Online, saying that the Editorial Policy department had asked for the page to be removed, because it was clearly a competition.
“Have you ever seen the Mitchell and Webb Show?” I asked him.
“No,” he replied.
“There is no such game as Numberwang. How could there be a game called Numberwang? It’s a sketch. A comedy sketch.”
“Just checking,” he said, and quietly put the phone down.

But I wasn’t going to get involved in this witch-hunt, was I? It was simply my job to put more video onto the BBC comedy website. So, off I went to the Edinburgh Fringe to direct some comedy clips. Co-financed by BBC New Talent, the idea was to talent-spot some up-and-coming comedians, and give them a showcase online. To my amazement, even during production of this innocent little web project, the corporation’s astonishing paranoia kicked in. I was warned by EdPol (the BBC’s equivalent of the SS) that they might have to pull the plug on our shoot because showcasing new talent might imply a potential offer of future work by the BBC, and that might, in turn, be construed, by some viewers, as a sort of prize, which meant that what we were doing could be considered a form of competition. Which was no longer allowed at the BBC. There seemed no escape, even in Edinburgh, from the utter lunacy that was the BBC following “Crowngate”.

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writing archive

The Whole Podshow Fiasco

In March 2007, Georgina and I attended a podcasting conference in London called PodcastCon, an event which turned out to be rather aptly named. Because it was there that we first came face to face with Adam Curry – the ex-DJ from Guildford who once claimed to have virtually invented podcasting single-handed.

[Note: Legend has it that Adam actually doctored the Wiki history of podcasting, adding his name several times and deleting the names of numerous others who had been involved in the creation of the technology. He has since apologised for this cyber-tampering, and offered a fairly lame explanation of why he did it.]

On that day in Exmouth Market, the self-styled Podfather was suave and charming, if a little cheesy, and Georgina managed to pin him in a corner, over a warm glass of Chardonnay, and talk to him about The Big Squeeze. Meanwhile, I stood chatting with one of Adam’s UK executives, Neil.

Neil was pumped up about Podshow’s hot new UK talent signing.  Apparently, he was funny, versatile, and sexy, and Curry’s Podshow Network were planning to make him into a big star!
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“Dr Cockney,” said Neil.

Georgina and I had met Neil before. He’d been instrumental in getting us involved in the Mobipod project, which had briefly enabled us to distribute our podcasts via mobile phones, and earned us a little beer money a couple of months before. His brain still swimming from the heady success of signing Dr. Cockney to the Podshow Network, Neil invited us to a meeting at Adam Curry’s London headquarters. These “headquarters” turned out to be a small flat over a wine bar in Old Street, but we were undeterred. This, after all, was our big break.

Neil made us a cup of tea in the kitchen, which also doubled as the meeting room and a TV studio, and he began to pitch to us all the amazing things that Podshow could do for our podcasting careers. Neil said he could get our podcast onto the prestigious online radio station Sirius. He said he could promote our show as a key product on Podshow’s Network. Most importantly, he could hook us up with a sponsor who “would enable us to be podcasting full time within a year.” In short, he’d make Georgina and I podcasting superstars.

To be fair to Georgina, I have to say that she was dubious about Neil,and the whole Podshow thing, right from the start. But, ever the optimist, I persuaded her that Podshow were the biggest podcasting network in the world, and that we were better off working with them than remaining as independents. Without getting a media lawyer to check it over for us, we signed one of Podshow’s standard promotional contracts, and were now a part of Adam’s worldwide podcasting family. A couple of weeks later, we set about creating a brand new weekly series, exclusively for Podshow. We came up with new items, recorded new jingles, and threw ourselves headlong into the whole Podshow experience. The Big Squeeze became The Sowerby and Luff Show.

We had already syndicated six Sowerby and Luff Shows before the promised sponsorship finally came through, several weeks later. The partner that Podshow lined up for us was a web domain marketing company called GoDaddy.
“So, how much are GoDaddy going to pay us?” I asked Neil.
“A hundred pounds,” said Neil.
“A hundred pounds per show isn’t very much,” I grimaced.
“Not a hundred pounds per show,” said Neil. “A hundred pounds a month.”
I laughed. “No, seriously,” I said. “How much are they going to pay us?”

The deal was that our sponsorship income would come from driving traffic to GoDaddy’s website, and if any of our listeners bought a domain name from the company, we’d be paid an impressive ₤1.50. Even a year before we’d been earning more from product endorsement than this, so the figures were a little disappointing to say the least.
“Don’t worry,” said Neil. There are podcasts in America making thousands from this sponsor. Just be patient.

OK, I was prepared to give Podshow the benefit of the doubt on the sponsorship front, as long as our audience began to build. But it didn’t. It fell. Not only did it fall, but it dropped almost out of sight. Podshow had promised Sowerby and Luff prominent promotion on their network, but day after day, week after week, all we saw heavily promoted on the Podshow UK network were our main U.S. competitors Dawn and Drew.

“Why are you promoting U.S. podcasts on your UK network?” we asked. “Where’s all the PR and promotion you promised for the Sowerby and Luff Show?” All we received in return was corporate bullshit. It was becoming increasingly obvious that Adam and his huge network cared little about Brian and Georgina. In the meantime we were losing the loyal listenership it had taken us almost 2 years to build. We started to get numerous emails from our audience saying that Podshow’s website was so confusing to use and slow to operate that they simply didn’t have time to subscribe to our new series. Life was too short.

Georgina and I had a crisis meeting. Before we lost anymore of our audience, we had to take action. We decided to distribute our podcast through both Podshow and our old feed Comedy 365. This feed was still running repeats of The Big Squeeze, and still had many thousands of existing Sowerby and Luff listeners, so we reasoned that this was probably the only way of re-building our audience before it was too late.
“You can’t do that,” said Neil at Podshow. “We have the exclusive right to syndicate your show on our network.”

“Neil,” I said. “We’re earning less from our show than we were before, and our audience is falling by the minute. What possible incentive do we have to not use our own feed to reach our own audience?”
“You’ll be in breach of contract,” said Neil.
“But that doesn’t mean anything,” I ranted “if we’re not benefitting from being in a relationship with Podshow.”
Neil dug in his heels. “Those are the terms of your contract,” he said.
“Neil,” I said, through gritted teeth, “If you were paying us a fair fee to produce the show for you, then you’d have the right to control its distribution. As it is, you’re having your cake and eating it. You’re getting virtually free content, and benefitting from exclusivity. You can’t have it both ways!”

“I’ll speak with the guys in the States,” he said. It was something he was going to say to us many, many times over the next few weeks. Meanwhile, we began to do some serious digging into the whole subject of Podshow contracts. What we found on the internet was alarming to say the least. Our fellow podcasters in New York, Keith and the Girl, had taken a rather closer look at their Podshow contract, and had refused to sign it in the first place – going on to dedicate the whole of one of their shows to warning other podcasters about entering into partnerships with Podshow. We even found a Facebook group for people who had quit Podshow in disgust. It looked like Georgina’s gut feeling might have been right in the first place.

The whole Podshow fiasco came to a head at the end of that week, when we received a provisional offer of programme sponsorship from a company called Kalashnikov Vodka.

Kalashnikov had been founded by a British entrepreneur called John Florey, who had bumped into the infamous Soviet general Mikhail Kalashnikov at a tradeshow in Russia. During a fairly heavy drinking session with the 84 year old general, John had suggested that Kalashnikov would be a great brand name for Russian vodka, and the general had agreed.

After being wounded in World War II, old Mikhail had invented the world famous AK47 assault rifle. But having created it for the Soviet people, he had been paid bugger all for his idea. The old feller was therefore relatively penniless, so the notion of co-creating a product for which he would actually receive royalties appealed to him. Having swiftly hired a distillery to make the stuff in St Petersburg, a few short months later John was proudly presenting the general’s new liquor in London. From gun-toting to vodka-tasting – General Kalashnikov was certainly moving up market – and best of all, no-one was getting shot in the process.

During the media-crammed launch for Kalashnikov Vodka, the general was quoted as saying that he was delighted that this new brand of 82% proof spirit was continuing “the good name of his gun”.

We met with John Florey in a rather smart gentlemen’s club in Mayfair. He was already a fan of our podcast, and when we talked to him about the promotional work we’d once done for Malibu Rum, he was particularly impressed. John immediately understood the potentially excellent brand match between alcohol and comedy, and was excited by the prospect of Kalashnikov having its very own podcast. By the time the dessert course arrived, we were shaking hands with a brand new sponsor for The Sowerby and Luff Show.

When we came out of the club we danced around Mayfair like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on uppers. It was by far the most exciting moment so far in our podcasting adventure. Breathlessly, I rang Neil Dixon at Podshow.
“Great news!” I said. We’ve found a sponsor for The Sowerby and Luff Show.”
Neil was in no mood to join the party. “You can’t do that,” he said.
“What?”
“Only Podshow’s marketing people can find sponsors for your show,” he explained.
“But this is 10 times more money than we’re earning from GoDaddy!” I winced. “Surely you can’t be serious!”

I even suggested that Georgina and I would be prepared to agree to a percentage from the Kalashnikov deal, if Podshow, in return, stepped up their level of promotion for The Sowerby and Luff Show. In the face of everything everyone else was telling me, I really was still trying to cut a realistic deal with Podshow. It was as if I had been brainwashed.
“Here’s how it works,” said Neil. “You put us in contact with Kalashnikov, we do a deal with them, then we distribute their sponsorship money across a number of UK podcasts, including yourselves.”
“You are fucking joking,” I said.
“I can validate your anger!” said Neil.
“Neil,” I said, “I am going to start running Kalashnikov endorsements in programme 15. That’s in three weeks time. Would you be kind enough to remove the GoDaddy branding from our show by then?”
“I’ll talk to the guys in the States,” he said.

When Georgina and I launched the first Kalashnikov-sponsored programme three weeks later, Podshow were still stubbornly inserting GoDaddy sponsorship stings into the beginning of every new Sowerby and Luff Show. They obviously knew this would jeopardize our valuable new partnership with Kalashnikov. But they clearly didn’t care.

We signed a termination of contract letter the following week, and I faxed it to Podshow. But the GoDaddy branding stayed in place. I rang Neil.
“Will you please remove the GoDaddy promos from our podcast,” I pleaded.
“I’m afraid I’m not able to do that,” said Neil. He was slowly turning into an annoying computer, like the one in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Neil had started out as a podcaster himself. He had built a reputation for promoting good UK podcasts with his own excellent website Britcaster. But now he had clearly gone over to the dark side. I became so incensed when the GoDaddy promos continued to jam our Kalashnikov podcasts the following week that I rang Neil, on his private mobile number, on a Saturday afternoon. My language was so colourful on that occasion, that he was prompted to immediately email his boss Joe in the States. When Joe replied, he accidentally sent the reply to me, instead of to Neil, and when Georgina and I read the tone of that email, we finally realised what a thoroughly unpleasant bunch of characters the Podshow executives were.

Joe had telephoned me at home only a couple of weeks before and had gone to extraordinary lengths to tell me how much he “valued our talent”, and how “committed” he and his colleagues in the United States were to furthering our careers. But the arrogant and dismissive email he sent to us by accident that day proved that neither he nor his network appeared to give a damn about any of their UK talent.  We were clearly nothing more than a disposable resource. If one lot of podcasters were unhappy, the strategy was to just get rid of them as quickly as possible and sign another bunch of mugs. Of course, Georgina didn’t trust Podshow from the start. “Validating our anger,” and asking us to “Play as part of the bigger picture,” was never going to impress her. Child-like mid-Atlantic jargon like that has always made a little bit of sick creep up in the back of Georgina’s throat.

We were both desperately disappointed at the way Podshow treated us and the way in which the company so blatantly and cynically failed to keep their promises to us, then did everything they could to damage our chances with our own sponsors. We felt stupid, we felt ridiculously naïve, and we were deeply, deeply hurt. But we were also extremely angry, and absolutely certain that no-one would ever take advantage of Sowerby and Luff in the same way again.

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Our First Podcast

Soon after I had created the Comedy 365 podcast feed as a showcase for various new performers, Georgina suggested that she and I should do a podcast of our own. “Why were we spending so much time and effort promoting the talents of other performers?” she asked. If our flat was going to look like a BBC outside broadcast unit, then wasn’t it time we used it for our own show?

I was skeptical at first, but agreed to think about it. Still not entirely understanding the nature of podcasting, or why her life was suddenly, exclusively, dedicated to it, Georgina went surfing around on Google, trying to source good examples of the genre. It wasn’t long before she stumbled upon Dawn and Drew.

Dawn and Drew were a young married couple from Wisconsin who did a regular podcast, and everyone on the internet seemed to be raving about their show. Georgina downloaded a couple of episodes and played them to me. When I first heard The Dawn and Drew Show I couldn’t believe my ears. I’d been brought up in broadcast television, so I was used to everything being slick and well-produced. Dawn and Drew were so laid back. There were no production values, there was no script, there was barely any content at all. They just chatted to each other, and listened to messages that people had sent them. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, we can do this!” I screamed at Georgina. “What are we waiting for?”

On the 20th July 2005, we set up two of Bennsy’s microphones on the dining table in the living room, and we recorded the first ever episode of our inaugural podcast, which we decided to call Sowerby and Luff’s Big Squeeze. It was fairly tightly scripted, but not very well rehearsed and featured the dull, rumbling accompaniment of a fleet of W7 buses pulling up at the bus stop outside our flat. We did an opening link, a couple of sketches and then, for added tension, we played Trivial Pursuit at the end. That was it.

We recorded ten 15 minute episodes of “Sowerby and Luff’s Big Squeeze” over the next few days, and we uploaded the first one to the Libsyn server on 25th July 2005. Georgina and I talked about anything and everything we could think of, and in one episode I can even remember Georgina waxing her legs. Those ten shows were the only podcasts we ever really planned to record.

So it would look like we worked for a real production company, we signed off every show by saying that The Big Squeeze was “produced by the British Podcasting Corporation for Comedy 365”. I even registered the name and I set up a web page which looked a little like our podcast was produced by the BBC.

About a week after the first Big Squeeze went onto the podcast feed at Libsyn I noticed that someone had left a comment on our Libsyn blog page. Excitedly, I clicked on the link.
“You’re shit,” it said. I quickly hit delete. I’m sure I blushed.
“What was that?” asked Georgina.
“Oh, nothing,” I said.