Friday, August 27, 2010

Bill Hartston Speaks III: What Bill Did Next

On Monday we spoke to Bill Hartston about Chess on TV and on Wednesday we had a couple of examples of his work. Today we have a natter with him about what he's up to these days. As it turns out, not all of his time is going on building towers out of chess pieces ...





Jonathan Bryant:
“So, you’re working at The Daily Express and you’re doing the Beachcomber column. Trivia, would you call it?”


Bill Hartston:
"Well, no. Beachcomber is surreal humour. Officially I’m 93 years old because the column is 93 years old. It was written by a guy called JB Morton for 50 years and he, I think, was a very profound influence on the development of British humour. You can see Beachcomber to The Goon Show to Monty Python as the development of ever more surreal humour. Morton was a genius."

JB:
“How did you get involved?”


BH:
“When I was at The Independent, for a brief time Rosie Boycott was the editor there and she moved on to become editor of The Express. I met her again at just the right moment: she was thinking of sacking the guy who was writing the Beachcomber column because it wasn’t funny and she had actually been discussing that day who they ought to get to write it. My name had come up and I met her that day.”

JB:
“You met her because she had asked you to come to see them?”


BH:
“No, it was somebody else’s leaving party at The Independent and in fact it was about three months she’d left. Quite a lot of Independent people had gone to The Express and I’d been sort of half expecting her to ring and it never happened.

Knowing she was going to be there I’d prepared the scenario: our eyes meet across a crowded room; we stride into each others arms; we hug and then I say, ‘Rosie where have you been? You never write, you never call, you never offer me a job’. Exactly that happened. To my great surprise she then said ‘Oh do you want to come on over then?’ (laughing) then told me that they’d been discussing a new Beachcomber. The next morning I had the offer of a job.”

JB:
“When was this?”


BH:
“’98”

JB:
“And were you writing chess columns at that point?”


BH:
“For The Independent ... and everything else for them as well.”

JB:
“Did you continue to write about chess?”


BH:
“No. Well …”

JB:
“I seem to remember you writing for a Sunday paper for a while.”


BH:
Mail on Sunday, but I had to stop doing that when I went to The Express because they were such rivals.”

JB:
“And that was when you stopped the chess?”


BH:
“There was a brief moment when The Express had a puzzles supplement and I did some stuff for that but that’s all.”

JB:
“Do you miss that at all?”


BH:
“No.”

JB:
“Not in the slightest?”


BH:
“No.”




JB:
“Are you involved in chess in any way? Do you play at all?”


BH:
“I play online occasionally but mostly against computers.”

JB:
“And do you follow chess?”


BH:
“Occasionally. I try to discover what’s been going on for the World Championship matches.”

JB:
“Did you go to the London Chess Classic?”


BH:
“No. No I wanted to but there was just a busy week.”

JB:
“Are you in touch with anyone from your chess years?”


BH:
“No, I don’t think I am. Certainly none of the real players.”

JB:
“It’s something that you’ve moved on from?”


BH:
“Yes. I occasionally go to the RAC chess circle annual dinner. They’re terribly civilised.”



JB:
“It sounds like it! So, no more chess but you're involved in a website now - www.wakkipedia.com/ - that’s an outgrowth of a book that you’d written?


BH:
“I wrote a book a few years ago which was called ... well, the first edition was What’s What and the second edition was Mr. Hartston’s Most Excellent Encyclopaedia of Useless Information. For both The Independent and The Express I have at times done silly news stories and I browse the news wires every day for this kind of thing. I collect them, whether I use them in the paper or not, and I have this ever growing file of silly news stories which goes back to 1995. It’s now something like a five million word database of complete rubbish.


I’ve always been appalled at the standard of accuracy of trivia books that copy a lot of complete rubbish from each other so I thought the time had come for a proper encyclopedia of nonsense. So I did that and now the website, Wakkipedia. There are three of us basically doing it. One is the computer and internet person, one is the design person and I’m the editorial. They don’t overlap. We’re adding things all the time.



That's it for Hartston Week; we thank him for his time. We're not quite done with him yet, though. He'll be back with a little more for the S&BC Blog in a couple of weeks.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

A nameless source recounts that Bill H, Ray Keene and Michael Basman all played for Battersea CC as juniors but left as they could not resolve who should play on board one. RKs name is engraved on more than one trophy and he has a number of games on chessgames.com playing for Battersea and the old Clapham Common CC. Unfortunately there are no other records to prove this. Can Bill throw some light on this ? I was also interested on his views on penguins at http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/92318/Beachcomber
I wonder if he had any particular penguin in mind ?
Joe S

Jonathan B said...

Good spot Joe.

Clickable link to Beachcomber:-

www.express.co.uk/posts/view/92318/Beachcom

Martin S. said...

I know a chap's got to earn a crust; but the Daily Express?! (Still smarting after all these years since Bill beat me in the London Boys circa 1963..knight fork to win the exchange..sucker punch..still wrankles...)