Decade spawned new TV format… and murdered some songs

The Children In Need logo from 1980.

The Children In Need logo from 1980.

As I was looking at the schedule for last night’s Comic Relief I began to wonder where it all began: This telethon lark, I mean.

Like many television formats we now take for granted, it originated in the UK during that decade of television firsts – the Eighties.

Back then – as with Live Aid – it was genuinely ground-breaking as a form of mass entertainment and in terms of a technological achievement.

The first terrestrial TV telethon was screened in Britain in 1980 and it has since gone on to spawn Comic Relief and Sport Relief – all fronted by the BBC.

Thirty three years ago the Beeb’s Children In Need charity – which has its roots in a 1927 Christmas Day appeal for children’s charities – took centre stage for a single themed programme which lasted the whole evening.

Presented by veteran Terry Wogan, newsreader Sue Lawley and That’s Life’s presenter Esther Rantzen, we were all shocked when it raised more than £1 million from public donations.

The show benefited, of course, from the fact that there was no cable or satellite TV back then and so most people in the UK tuned in to watch this most unusual bit of programming.

The massive success of that first telethon persuaded BBC bosses to keep the format which has been an annual fixture ever since.

Using its massive resources, Auntie has turned Children In Need Day into a huge annual fund-raising exercise – with all its regional TV news teams and local radio stations encouraging their viewers and listeners to do something daft for the good cause.

In 1985 Pudsey Bear became the charity’s mascot – designed by a BBC graphic designer and named after her home town in Yorkshire.

Originally, the teddy which now pops up on all Children In Need branding and brightens up supermarket checkouts during the month of March, was brown in colour and didn’t sport an eye patch.

Interestingly, the telethon isn’t universally popular – with some observers arguing that such events detract from other charities.

Others have criticised a lack of accountability in terms of where the money goes and the fact that some celebrities are able to promote themselves for free on prime time television.

But the telethon has surely done more harm than good since that historic first broadcast in 1980 – even if some of the telly is woeful.

Just look at the numbers: To date Children In Need has raised more than £600m – all of which has helped disabled children and vulnerable young people across the UK.

Five years after that first Children In Need extravaganza, comedian Lenny Henry and comedy scriptwriter Richard Curtis founded the Comic Relief charity in response to famine in Ethiopia.

It was launched on BBC1 on Noel Edmonds’s Late Late Breakfast Show on Christmas Day with a live appeal from a refugee camp in Sudan.

Since then Red Nose Day has raised more than £800m while, over the years, inflicting upon us some devastatingly awful music.

This tradition began in 1986 with Cliff Richard and the cast of The Young Ones who murdered Living Doll.

The following year Mel and Kim and Kim Wilde did similar to Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – with a little help from comedian Mel Smith.

But worst of all was Bananarama’s version of Help! in 1989 which was ruined with the assistance of comediennes French and Saunders and Kathy Burke.

In 2002 Comic Relief and BBC Sport came together to create a new charity initiative. Sport Relief now alternates with Red Rose Day as Comic Relief’s big annual fund-raiser.’

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.

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Journalism isn’t broken so be careful what you wish for

Bankers must be going to work with a spring in their step these days. Those who still have a job, that is.

No longer are they the sole pariahs of British society.

It seems journalists are the new hate figures as the BBC staggers like a punch-drunk boxer from one crisis to the next.

As newspapers await the verdict of the Leveson Inquiry, the scandals enveloping the Beeb suddenly look just as big – if not bigger.

A few weeks ago it was the corporation’s management and practices during the Jimmy Savile era that were making the headlines.

Today it is the catastrophic investigation (I use that word advisedly) which smeared an innocent politician as a paedophile that is dominating the news agenda.

It has already caused the BBC’s Director General George Entwistle to fall on his sword and left the BBC Trust’s chairman Lord Patten considering his position.

To make matters worse, we have the unedifying spectacle of national newspapers lining up to put the boot in to Auntie.

Indeed that boot is on the other foot to such an extent that none-other than the whiter-than-white, small screen star that is Gary Lineker OBE is showing his displeasure at the press treatment of his employer.

He Tweeted: “Whilst television has made some appalling errors of late (and apologised for them), the hypocrisy of some newspapers is truly staggering.”

Of course, our Gary overlooks the fact that, at times, the BBC – or rather some of its presenters – have been undeniably smug and self-righteous as the Leveson panel has been giving print media hacks a good kicking.

Talk about dog-eat-dog.

How sad it is that amid the indignation and the resignations the real stories are being lost.

A hysteria akin to that surrounding the Salem Witch Trials seems to have set in and the genuine issues of note are being lost in the hunt for scapegoats and fall guys.

What began with an eminently-justifiable probe into the reprehensible actions of a minority of national newspaper journalists and executives has morphed into a sort of collective paranoia about the media.

Politicians licking their wounds in the wake of the expenses scandal undoubtedly viewed the Leveson Inquiry as the perfect excuse to bring the out-of-control press to heel.

It was pay-back time and the likes of Labour MP Tom Watson set about the task with relish.

However, as a result of this vindictive witch hunt we seem to have lost all perspective.

We can no longer see who has the moral high ground because there are so many people clamouring to be up there.

No-one can justify illegal phone-hacking and those newspaper employees and executives who used it or who sanctioned its use should, of course, be held to account.

By the same token I’m sure every right-thinking person wants a thorough investigation into the way in which former BBC star Jimmy Savile was able to get away with what, on the face of it, appears to have been the systematic abuse of children during his time with the corporation.

And, following the shambolic Newsnight programme which wrongly accused a senior Tory peer of abuse, it is only right that the Beeb’s editorial practices are rigorously reviewed.

However, none of this means that we should allow a few bad apples to spoil the barrels.

Journalism isn’t broken and neither, for that matter, is the BBC.

For the most part, the national newspapers in this country do a fine job of keeping us informed – precisely because they are irreverent and they have a heart unlike their counterparts in, say, the U.S.

Yes, they make mistakes – as any large organisation does – and perhaps Leveson will clean up the murkier side of the national press, but they are certainly not beyond redemption. Neither is the Beeb whose journalists must now feel somewhat besieged as their print cousins have been for the last 12 months.

Granted, I’m only 40, but for as long as I can remember, the BBC has been a reliable, trusted medium and remains so – irrespective of the current furore.

The work of its journalists and presenters is required listening for me – whether it be Radio Five Live stalwarts Peter Allen and Nicky Campbell or my friends and colleagues at BBC Radio Stoke.

Let’s not forget that the important issues here are phone-hacking, alleged child abuse and an horrific mistake made by senior editorial executives on one programme.

What worries me is that, as we await the results of the Leveson Inquiry, and as the BBC becomes a rudderless ship there is a very real danger of lasting damage to journalism in the UK.

The profession, at its best, is a cornerstone of our democracy. Journalism holds our leaders and institutions to account and, crucially, it gives the majority a voice and a form of redress.

In my opinion a neutered press and a BBC afraid of its own shadow cannot be good.

We must be careful that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water as the many and varied investigations into the media come to a conclusion.

Those enjoying the trial of the national press and the BBC ought to be careful what they wish for.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Lessons to be learned from topless royal pictures

As a former agency hack, a wry smile creases my face when I hear the editors of British national newspapers speaking of their disgust and dismay at a French magazine’s decision to run with topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge.

Call me a cynic, but their stance couldn’t have anything to do with the imminent publication of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press, could it?

The reaction reminds me of the BBC’s attempts to distance itself from those awful print journalists in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and the demise of the News of the World.

It is hypocrisy of the highest order, in my book. As is the decision by Richard Desmond to try to close down the Irish Daily Star newspaper after its editor chose to publish the same images.

Another case of jobs and a news title being sacrificed, amid feigned outrage, to protect commercial interests.

Turn the clock back a few years, before the paranoia, and I dare say all the UK tabloids would have paid good money for said images of Kate Middleton.

What’s more, the British public would have bought the papers in their millions and poor Kate’s picture would have been adorning the walls of more than a few workshops and garages.

Let’s face it: for two decades or more, topless or scantily-clad women have been the staple currency of tabloid newsrooms – and members of the royal family haven’t been immune.

I was a cub reporter back in August 1992 when the Daily Mirror published topless images of the Duchess of York having her toes sucked by American businessman John Bryan while on holiday in a remote villa in the south of France.

Each to his or her own, I guess.
True, the episode did little for Fergie’s marriage to the Duke of York, but she recovered her reputation sufficiently to be flogging Wedgwood to the Yanks a few years later.

No matter how embarrassed or angry Prince William and the Duchess are right now, the truth is that this incident will blow over.

Their reputations are intact. Indeed, the French mag’s indiscretion seems to have simply served to endear the newlyweds even more to many people as they are, quite clearly, the victims.

There are understandable, continuous comparisons between the heir-to-the-throne’s wife and his late mother – Diana, Princess of Wales. There always will be.

The way in which the tabloid press dogged Diana throughout her marriage to prince Charles, and the involvement of the paparazzi in the tragic accident which led to her death, obviously means that Prince William’s relationship with the media will always be strained.

But we shouldn’t forget that the late Princess of Wales used and manipulated the media as and when it suited her, and so all is not as black and white as some would have us believe.

Let’s be clear: the photographer was wrong to take the pictures of William and Kate and the French magazine was wrong to publish them.

It is wrong now as it was wrong 20 years ago with Fergie.

What has happened in Aix-en-Provence was a gross invasion of privacy in a country which, ironically, is held up as a shining example because it has some of the world’s toughest privacy laws.

By the same token, the British press was right to refuse to publish the images of the topless Duchess.

You see, it’s one thing to justify printing images of a naked Prince Harry fooling about in a hotel room when they have already been seen by millions of people on the internet.

It is quite something else to expose the future Queen to such scrutiny when the images of her were taken by stealth in a private moment where she could have reasonably expected a degree of personal freedom.

There are several lessons to be learned here. Firstly, members of the royal family should not disrobe in public – and what I mean by that is basically: “Don’t take your kit off outside”. No matter where you are.

It may not seem fair and it may not be right, but the Duke and Duchess are – next to Brand Beckham – arguably THE most popular celebrities in Christendom and thus will spend the rest of their lives under the scrutiny of camera lenses – some of which will have a very long reach.

The second lesson to learn from this is that draconian privacy laws simply don’t work – as evidenced here. Those penning the final pages of the Leveson Inquiry report and recommendations would do well to take this onboard.

I’m all for the British national press cleaning up its act.

Indeed, I think it has and will further because the phone-hacking scandal is a genuine watershed moment.

However, we must be careful not to turn the pursuit of better standards into a witch hunt because a toothless, neutered press really would be neither use nor ornament.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

A golden decade for Team GB’s Olympic athletes

Believe it or not there was a time when people in the UK could choose whether or not they wanted to watch the Olympic Games.
It was a more innocent age when not being interested in handball, beach volleyball and synchronised diving wasn’t punishable by incarceration in the Tower of London.
It was a time when seeing Olympic athletes perform on telly in glorious colour was a relative novelty and BBC employees had the freedom to criticise stuff as they saw fit.
It was a period when we weren’t brow-beaten into repeating the mantra that sports we’ve never heard of are all wonderful and exciting just because it has almost bankrupt the nation to stage an Olympics.
That decade was the 1980s when colour TVs which were becoming a fixture in most homes turned some British Olympians into household names.
The Moscow summer Olympics of 1980 was the games that made baldness cool as swimmer Duncan Goodhew scooped gold in the 100m breaststroke and bronze in the 4x100m medley relay.
At the same games, which was boycotted by many countries including the U.S., Japan, China and West Germany because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, Scottish sprinter Allan Wells won gold in the 100 metres in a photo finish. He was pipped to silver in the 200m by just 0.2 seconds.
It was in Moscow that decathlete Daley Thompson announced his arrival on the world stage by taking top spot on the podium – a feat he then repeated four years later in Los Angeles.
The 1980 games saw current London 2012 supremo Lord Sebastian Coe, beaten into second place by his great rival Steve Ovett in the 800 metres – his speciality.
However, Seb hit back in the 1500m race to take gold, while Ovett had to settle for bronze. Coe replicated his achievements over both distances at the next Olympics in LA.
Those games in the City of Angels marked another golden period for British athletics when Tyneside’s Steve Cram – the ‘Jarrow Arrow’ – completed a one, two, three for us when he nabbed the silver in that infamous 1500 metres.
It was a race which was so thrilling that even I, a 12-year-old asthmatic and the laughing stock of Holden Lane High’s cross country course, was enthralled.
That year also saw Tessa Sanderson become the first black British woman win gold in the javelin. She went on to represent Britain at no less than six Olympics.
Meanwhile, her close rival Fatima Whitbread, whose personal story of triumph over adversity was as inspirational a tale as you could hear in sport, won hearts and minds when she scooped bronze at LA and followed this up with a silver medal four years later in Seoul.
Hockey forward Sean Kerly sealed a bronze medal for the GB men’s team with his winner against Australia in the Los Angeles games and went on to be the Aussie’s bogeyman again in 1988 when he scored a hat-trick against them in the semi-final.
Believe it or not, 1984 was the year that a young Steve Redgrave won the first of his five Olympic gold medals for rowing.
Little did we know back then that he would go on to become Britain’s greatest ever Olympian.
Swimmer Adrian Moorhouse had been expected to win gold in LA in the breaststroke but finished a disappointing fourth. Happily he made up for it four years later by winning gold in the 100m race.
My final Eighties Olympic household name will be no stranger to Sentinel readers.
Former policeman and Cobridge newsagent Imran Sherwani scored two goals and set up the third in Team GB’s demolition of West Germany in the final at Seoul.
It prompted one of the best bits of Olympics commentary ever by the BBC’s Barry Davies whose enthusiasm led him to ask the question: “Where were the Germans? And, frankly, who cares?”
All in all the Eighties was a great Olympic decade for Britain – before the time when the games themselves became the huge corporate monster that they are today.

The day Live Aid rocked our world

Thirteen was a pretty good age to be when the biggest concert in the history of the world was staged.

I had discovered music two years before when I was given my first record player for Christmas and got my first album (Status Quo – Twelve Gold Bars).

After that I had built up a collection of 30 or so singles ranging from Paul Young’s Love Of The Common People to King’s Love And Pride. Enough said.

As well as regular trips to Lotus Records up Hanley, like most people back then I relied on Radio One’s Sunday chart countdown and Top Of The Pops for my musical fix.

Then at 12 noon on July 13, 1985, a charitable phenomenon quite literally rocked the world.

Unless you were around at the time of Live Aid then it is difficult to appreciate the sheer scale and impact of the dual concert staged at Wembley Stadium and across The Pond at the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia.

Indeed, in comparison the Live 8 concerts – staged some thirty years later – felt like Live Aid light. They were simply duller reinventions for a new audience.

Back in 1985 the dual concert was all anyone was talking about.

Live Aid was a televisual first and one of the largest satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time.

Against all odds, a relatively minor punk rock artist managed to bring together a multitude of genuine superstars who performed at the same time in front of an estimated audience of 1.9 billion people in more than 150 countries.

Bob Geldof was that man – or Sir Bob, as he is now.

The scruffy and irreverent lead singer of Irish band The Boomtown Rats had been incredibly moved by BBC reporter Michael Buerk’s of the 1984 famine in Ethopia.

This led him to pick up the phone and call Ultravox lead singer Midge Ure and together they co-wrote the massive number one hit single Do They Know Its Christmas?

The Band Aid track, sung for free by a collection of British and Irish musicians, became the fastest-selling single ever in the UK and raised a staggering £8 million for the famine relief effort.

Overwhelmed by the public response, Geldof then set about organising a concert of epic proportions.

Although most of us were completely unaware of the logistics at the time, the Live Aid concert brought together TV networks ranging from the BBC in the UK to ABC and MTV in the U.S. as well as numerous channels on the continent.

It was also broadcast live on the radio in a technical accomplishment which, for its time, was quite remarkable.

The list of performers – with a few notable exceptions – read like a who’s who of the music world.

It’s like a snapshot of the mid-Eighties music scene and, looking at it, I defy anyone to tell me that the Nineties or Noughties were richer and possessed more talent.

At Wembley the Coldstream Guards band opened the show with a royal salute before veteran rockers Status Quo kicked us off with the very appropriate Rockin’ All Over The World.

Elvis Costello sang The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love and U2 established themselves as one of the great with an energetic set in which lead singer Bono leapt into the crowd to dance with a girl who he thought was being crushed by the throng.

Other artists included Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Alison Moyet, Dire Straits, Elton John, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Adam Ant, The Style Council, Bryan Ferry, The Who, Nik Kershaw, Sting, Sade and Bob Geldof himself who sang I Don’t Like Mondays with The Rats.

Phil Collins was unique in that he preformed on both stages – using a Concorde to make it to the U.S. show in time.

But, for me, the stand-out performance of the show was Queen’s astonishing set.

Genius frontman Freddie Mercury held the entire crowd of 72,000 in the palm of his hand during Bohemian Rhapsody and We Are The Champions – while the rest of us sang along at home.

It’s little wonder to me that various artists, music industry executives and journalists voted it the greatest live performance in the history of rock music.

Artists on the stage in front of 100,000 people in Philadelphia included The Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, Run D.M.C., Reo Speedwagon, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judas Priest, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, Madonna, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, The Thompson Twins, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppellin, Duran Duran, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and Lionel Richie.

All the while the music was playing 300 phone lines were being staffed by BBC personnel – allowing us to make donations to the Live Aid cause.

At one point, the yet-to-be Sir Bob, interrupted BBC presenter David Hepworth as he attempted to give out the address for potential donations.

Pumped up by Queen’s performance, Geldoff shouted: “F*ck the address, let’s get the (telephone) numbers!”

After his outburst the rate of donations rose to £300 per second.

It was estimated that Live Aid ultimately raised around £150 million for famine relief in Africa.

It was certainly the ‘Woodstock’ of my youth – even though I don’t even know anyone who was actually there!

Pick up a copy of the Weekly Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

The sorry state of the UK’s dumbed-down TV is forcing me to watch period drama

That’s it then. There’s nothing for it. I guess I’m going to have to watch Downton Abbey.

Having set my stall out long ago against costume romps, the latest viewing figures for British TV are so depressing that they leave me with no choice but to cave in.

How did it come to this? Well, the sad truth is that ITV’s flagship period drama – the most successful since 1981’s Brideshead Revisited – is actually the only proper programme in the top 10 most-watched shows of 2011.

According to figures just released by the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (Barb), reality TV and ‘talent’ shows account for six of the top 10 slots.

The X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent each grab two places while Strictly Come Dancing and I’m A Celebrity (Get Me Out Of Here) also chart.

Now, as a staunch supporter of our very own Stoke’s Top Talent, I’ve got nothing against variety competitions. If they do what they say on the tin, that is.

But the X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent aren’t anything of the sort.

They are, first and foremost, entertainment programmes and anyone who doesn’t understand that simple conceit is being emotionally mugged.

Let’s face it: If they were genuine talent competitions then the likes of Jedward and Wagner would never have got anywhere near a television camera.

They were put through to the finals in order that we would all sit around asking each other why they had made it to the finals.

As one of the few people in the UK not under the spell of PJ and Duncan – sorry, I mean Ant and Dec – I have to say I’m A Celebrity (Get Me Out Of Here) also leaves me cold.

Morecambe and Wise they are not and if I want to watch people eating a kangaroo’s testicles I can observe the queue for pies at any League Two stadium that Port Vale visit.

As for Strictly (I’m told you’re supposed to shorten the title) I have no real objection other than the fact that it seems a tad self-indulgent of the BBC to throw its own presenters into the mix with the so-called celebrities.

For example, no sooner had Alex Jones finished fawning over the latest guest on the unfathomably random One Show than she was all sequins and cleavage doing a rumba.

When you take out the boring annual Coronation Street set-piece and the yearly Eastenders misery-fest that leaves only Downton and the Royal Wedding – which topped the chart with an average of 13.59 million viewers but doesn’t really count as it’s a one-off event.

I’m afraid to say that, had it not been for William and Kate’s nuptials, Simon Cowell’s empire would have reigned supreme once again.

What a depressing thought.

Granted, I’m not your archetypal television watcher: If a programme doesn’t contain space ships, the supernatural, an archaeological dig, cricket, Port Vale or Bon Jovi then it’s unlikely to be on my radar.

However, once in a while a fine piece of drama or a brilliant new comedy will grab my attention.

For example, programmes such as the excellent Band Of Brothers or current hit shows such as Boardwalk Empire or Game Of Thrones made the cut.

Of course, the aforementioned sweeping epics were made by U.S. network HBO because neither the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 nor Channel 5 have the resource or the gumption to pull off anything so cinematic.

The truth is I haven’t watched terrestrial telly for a long time and so I have to ask: Did IQs drop sharply while I was away?

Along with the shows I dismissed earlier there is even more vacuous tripe to avoid like Big Brother, Geordie Shore and The Only Way Is Essex.

I’ve clearly turned prematurely into a curmudgeonly old git because it seems to me that warm and engaging family programmes (Auf Wiedersehen Pet/The Darling Buds Of May) and non-offensive and clever comedies (Only Fools and Horses/Blackadder) are now considered too bland.

Meanwhile brainless is the new mainstream as we continue to worship at the cult of celebrity.

We’ve got more channels to choose from than we’ve ever had yet the only time the nation properly comes together is to watch warbling non-entities or Z-list celebrities wretching over a plate of cockroaches.

It’s so bad I’m almost looking forward to the Olympics. Yes, OK, and Downton Abbey.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Idea of Scottish independence frightens and saddens me in equal measure

I know when it happened. I had just climbed up the steps to the top of the Glenfinnan Monument, squeezed myself on to the viewing platform and was looking out across the sun-kissed shores of Loch Shiel.

That’s when I fell in love with Scotland.

I’ve visited Skye several times and even Orkney, Mull and Iona as well as braving the elements for a boat trip to the stunning Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa.

In my opinion, there is simply nowhere in Britain to rival the rugged beauty and sheer majesty of the Highlands.

Like my nan and grandad before me, who enjoyed many coach trips north of the border, I love Scotland.

I holiday there every year and I’ve never viewed taking the high road as going abroad. To my mind it is more akin to popping next door.

We are all part of the same island, after all, and so it’s no different for me to driving from Staffordshire into Cheshire – albeit a tad further.

Thus I find it hard to accept the concept of Scottish independence and the much talked-about referendum leaves me cold.

Rarely do I venture off-patch in my columns but the planned vote which could see our northern neighbours secede the United Kingdom frightens and saddens me in equal measure.

On the one hand, the political and economic arguments just don’t stack up for me. Surely, as our city’s motto says, United Strength Is Stronger.

It stands to reason that Britain has far more clout than any of its constituent parts would have if they were to go it alone.

At present, our tiny nation punches above its weight on the international stage.

Why therefore, at this time of global financial crisis, would anyone think it a good idea to break up the union?

Surely the Scots don’t buy Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond’s vision of a Gaelic utopia fuelled by endless supplies of North Sea oil (and none of our nation’s debt).

While the SNP chases the Braveheart vision of freedom, it strikes me that unravelling the Union would actually be complex in the extreme.

The problems it throws up range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

What would Scottish independence mean for our Armed Forces? Would the Scots keep the Pound, adopt the Euro, or make up their own currency? How would shared border controls be handled? What would it mean in terms of tuition fees for English students studying at Scottish universities? What would happen to the BBC and Team GB?

To my mind, while far from perfect, the Union has far more advantages than disadvantages.

What’s more, time and again it is the echoes of our shared heritage which convince me that a break-up after 300 years would be deeply unpalatable.

The peoples of the United Kingdom share common values which I believe should not be lightly cast aside in a jingoistic fervor surrounding the 700th anniversary of a medieval battle.

Let the facts be presented: The legalities of who calls a referendum plus the costs, the ramifications, the benefits and the disadvantages of such a momentous splitting of cultures must be laid bare to bring some clarity to the debate.

Ultimately, the decision must rest with the Scottish people but the discussion is one in which we should surely all be allowed to take part.

I spoke to a friend of mine about it all – a Scot who has made his living and home here in Stoke-on-Trent – and asked for his views on Scottish independence.

He wasn’t even sure he would get a vote on the matter but if he did, he said he would be against the split on gut instinct alone.

He said: “I think about all those boys in the Army who fought together in the wars and it just doesn’t seem right splitting us up.”

Amen to that, brother.

Ready my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel