'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'
T V Ceasar
TV Ceasar, according to Keith Reid, was written 'in the last period'
before the Grabham-version of Procol Harum started working on the Grand Hotel
album: in other words, late autumn of 1972 probably saw the music composed for
words that were very likely complete by August. The bitty arrangement does not
quite sound like a fully-realised creation, and the 'cross-talk' by which one
musical idea also crops up in For Liquorice John (which shares its
'late-developing' status) possibly suggests a hasty conception.
Many rock songs mention television but this (along with Lot of Wind by
the Fall) is one of the few that are apparently exclusively about it. It should
be borne in mind that TV, in the UK, was not the wide and pervasive phenomenon
it now is. Colour television sets were not sold until 1970 and were still not
dominant by 1973; only three terrestrial channels were on offer and many people
could still not receive one of those (BBC2). For compulsive viewers there was
less chance of escaping the domination of the personalities of the day. Though
the personalities mentioned in the song are mostly British ones, contemporary
interviews suggest that Keith Reid was motivated to write about television
because of viewing experiences on American tours.
'They have these talk shows,' Reid told Zigzag (April 1973).
'Particularly a couple of years ago when David Frost was really popular there
and Johnny Carson and Joey Bishop and all those shows, and the idea of the song
was like they are all TV Ceasars – Caesars of the television; they are running
everything.' Is the curious spelling 'Ceasar', which is found in all official
references to the song, a deliberate mistake? Is it intended to fall midway
between the 'Caesar' of Julius and the 'César' which is the Oscar-equivalent
Award of the French Film Academy (which includes categories for TV)? Caesar owes
something to a central image in George Orwell's once-futuristic satire 1984,
in which omnipresent television sets gather information for 'Big Brother'. Big
Brother has of course been adopted as the name of the new millennium's
biggest 'fly-on-the-wall' television show, consisting of candid 'revelations'
from a house with a plethora of hidden TV cameras: TV Ceasar would have
been an apt theme tune for this entertainment.
Like all the songs on side one of Grand Hotel, this long number begins
with a solo piano stating the fundamental motif of the piece, a typical Brooker
compositional 'cell' – a last-inversion chord collapsing back on to a
root-position triad on the same bass note. Though the song is in four-four time
the first bar appears to be in three, or else it starts on a second beat of the
bar, which is very unusual. The voice joins in soon, with drums and a
prominently-recorded bass, and within thirty seconds the guitar and the
orchestral strings are in full flight. They remain there for over five more
minutes … though, as tape-operator Chris 'The Grouts' Michie commented
to BtP, there is 'obviously a danger in throwing in the extra ear-candy too
early – anything added after the second verse would have to remain in the mix
until the end of the song, which would still be another five minutes away.'
There's a lot crammed into this track (including the tail-end of an 'unclean'
vocal erasure at 2:57). However Gary's orchestration is all interesting, with
wide-flung string fills and some Handelian touches; only the drop-ins (heard at
2:13 for example), which may have been done by Chris Thomas, sound like
spice-me-up afterthoughts: are these the acoustic basses with which Alan
Cartwright is credited on the sleeve? Later in the song the organ becomes
prominent; its solo starts with an unusually treated note, as does the ripping
guitar, which brings a welcome vibrancy to the piece. Elsewhere the ensemble
guitar has a Beatly flavour, echoing Here Comes the Sun as it conspires
with the orchestra to decorate some of the song's empty spaces: there are quite
a lot of these, passing-chords required to bring in the next section in a
singable key; Brooker here lacks the boldness he uses in Bringing Home the
Bacon, which juxtaposes fragments without the artifice of modulating
gradients. He sings it with warmth and character, however, and the 'David Frost'
vocal (see below) is a nice touch. Gary's bluesy voice is the antithesis of the
stiffly-mannered choir, whose like we do not hear again until the orchestrated Butterfly
Boys in 1995.
The song starts in B flat, working pleasant changes on the poppy I, IV, V, I
formula. The orchestra's mildly syncopated intervention establishes F major,
then the mood darkens with 'creeping in' in B flat minor, though successive
minors brighten to majors as the tonal centre shifts upward: a 'spare' phrase
brings us into E flat for the chorus. Here there is a resemblance to the middle
section of For Liquorice John: the melody of 'his fall from grace was
swift and sure' fits neatly over the chords of 'TV Ceasar, mighty mouse'. The
chorus restlessly transposes itself downwards under the falling, saw-tooth
melody, and ends in D, whence it takes a colourful dive into a transitional
passage that ends with two bursts of a whimsical three-note pattern,
rhythmically recalling the nursery-rhyme Three Blind (Mighty?) Mice.
The chords have to wrangle seismically through B flat minor to G major, A flat,
G flat and F, in order to be ready to begin again. The guitar takes its solo
over the 'creeping in' chords, and the choir's cycling ending – reiterating
the verses' mutating tag-lines – involves an adaptation of the chorus whereby
the last chords tip upward again, the bass taking two semitonal steps back to
where it started from. All in all, it could be said that the song finds
ingenious harmonic solutions to the puzzle it sets itself.
A 'live' substitute for the fading ostinato on record has been found by
repeating the falling 'three blind mice' chords and adding a final cadence; but
another solution has involved a short coda in the form of a verse from the
patriotic song Rule Britannia. 'Britannia' was the Romans' name for
England and Wales and, long after Julius Caesar had left these islands, the
English adopted it to represent the spirit of Britain, mingling ideas of empire,
economics and military might; the poem Rule Britannia (words here)
by James Thomson (1700–48) was set to music by Thomas Augustine Arne in about
1740 and is favoured by some as an unofficial national anthem. It's a particular
favourite of the young revelers known as 'Promenaders', whose lusty
participation on the last night of the BBC 'Prom
concerts' from the Royal Albert Hall is an annual institution on British TV.
If TV Ceasar has to grow a coda, this is the right song, with its Roman
name, its dreams of imperial omnipresence, and its TV connection.
Doubtless the prospect of live orchestral gigs put the Rule Britannia
coda into the band's minds, and it was heard in symphonic splendour at
the very end of the Hollywood Bowl gig in September 1973; but TV Ceasar has
also been played band-only with coda (Paris 10 August 1973, Gothenburg 29
October 1973 ) and without coda (Edinburgh Empire Theatre, 25 August 1973).
Its gigging history appears to be limited to 1973 (it was broadcast from Biba's
in London on the Midnight Special show in October) and – though it has
a certain charm – it is probably not high on many fans' wish-lists for
- 'TV Ceasar Mighty Mouse': 'Caesar' was the cognomen of Caius Julius
Caesar, the empire-builder, and became a title conferred on the heir
presumptive to the Emperor's throne (cp Too Much Between Us) so the
TV here is being likened to a conquering force in waiting. German Emperors
turned the word into 'Kaiser', Russians into 'Tsar'. Syd Caesar, US comic,
was at one time a major force on television. 'Caesar' is also a name given
to a particular salad, another link to a common Grand Hotel theme.
It's also a pun here, inasmuch as we hear 'TV sees … '. 'TV' is of course
television, and it also stands for 'transvestite' or sometimes trans-sexual,
perhaps tallying with the song's voyeuristic theme. The Grand Hotel
lyric booklet punctuates the line oddly as "T.V.s' Ceasar"
presumably meaning 'Caesar of the televisions'. Mighty
Mouse (b. 1942) is the Oscar-nominated Terrytoons cartoon character,
whose theme and dialogue were delivered in an operatic style ('Here he come
to save the day ...' as the caped Mighty Mouse soared aloft with a jet
aircraft sound); television is a 'mighty mouse' in the sense that it is small but
astonishingly powerful, and it's like an ordinary mouse in that it has
become the infestation of every sitting-room in the land.
- 'Holds his court in every house': the 'court' here, unusually for Reid, is
not a legal one, but an Emperor's retinue of courtiers, ie the viewing
- 'Spies in every crack and corner': in 1973 the 'fly-on-the-wall'
documentary of daily life was still a new, startling and debated phenomenon:
TV was now watching ordinary people, as well as the other way round. 'Crack'
is a small structural flaw in a wall, but in Luskus Delph 'the
widow's crack' suggests that there may be a sexual overtone here too.
'Crack' is the slang verb associated with making ('cracking') a joke or
wisecrack; it alliterates nicely with 'corner', usual location for a
television set in a room.
- 'Watch you eat your TV dinner': the sense of this line carries on directly
from the last, and such enjambements (common in She Wandered Through the
Garden Fence for example) are rare at this era in Reid. The TV dinner
was in the early 70s a snack-gimmick, a ready-meal sold in a tinfoil tray,
to be oven-heated and consumed on the lap in front of the television
(post-microwave, of course, it has become a norm). This was seen at the time
as a destructive intrusion into family life and table-talk, albeit some sort
of a boon for the working mother, a rising class at the time. The idea of
convenience food is picked up below in the metaphor 'sandwiched'.
- 'Creeping in through eyes and ears': this line, implying the insidious
influence of television, is the one that Spencer Zahn's illustration focuses
on, though the creature in question is more Alsatian than mouse, however
mighty. The word 'creep' possibly suggests some sort of judgment on the
hosts of the TV shows in question.
- 'Finding out your secret fears': the phrase implies that problems are
being repressed, since one would normally be prepared to admit to fears. If
the TV Ceasar can indeed find out secret fears then it is a most probing
phenomenon, hard to equate with the trite fare on television. Secrets are
referred to in several Procol Harum songs: 'She's swallowed my secret' (A
Rum Tale); 'They knew his secrets every stitch' (The Idol); 'Just
a whole load of secrets' (Man with a Mission); 'The secrets of
the hive' (A dream in ev'ry home); 'There's a man with a
secret' (The Hand that Rocks the Cradle).
- 'Shares the bed in every house': this intimate conjunction of bed and TV
was later developed in the Prodigal Stranger's A Dream In Ev'ry
Home. The word 'home' appears with remarkable frequency in Procoldom,
but this song differs in its frequent repetition of the word 'house':
elsewhere we find houses 'open' in Dead Man's Dream, investigated by
bloodhounds in Whaling Stories, and threatened with arson in Man
with a Mission. 'Bed' is not infrequently-encountered as well: 'and
attacked the ocean bed' (A Whiter Shade of Pale); 'and the lipsticked
unmade bed' (Homburg); 'to try to throw some light upon the gloom
around our bed' (Salad Days (Are Here Again) ); 'His bed is made' (Good
Captain Clack); 'I'm lying in my bed hatching million-dollar schemes' (Seem
To Have The Blues Most All The Time); 'I wasn't at home in bed' (Juicy
John Pink); 'As I lay down dying, a floor for my bed' (Dead Man's
Dream); 'Got the wrong side of the bed' (The Thin End of the Wedge).
- 'Gets the news in every house': normally television 'gives' the news
rather than getting it. It's worth recalling that in the next song, 'news is
leaking out' apparently equates the word 'news' with the disagreeable
consequences of unclean copulation.
- 'Who's been doing what with who / How they do it when they do': this
beautifully concise couplet speaks of a TV equivalent of the lowest tabloid
journalism, gossiping about the amours and proclivities of the famous. Its
prurient flavour carries on the theme of 'shares the bed' and possibly
- 'Every saint and every sinner': these terms are tabloidese for the
blameless and the guilty parties in the sexual affairs mentioned above. The
Saint was a TV series that ran from 1962 right through to the
end of the 70s, featuring Roger Moore, and later Ian Ogilvy: rebuilder of Shakespeare's
Globe, Sam Wanamaker, acted in one episode. The 'Saint' himself was
associated with a very characteristic musical motif which Brooker, perhaps
surprisingly, has not seen fit to incorporate into the song.
- 'Every fact and every figure': 'facts and figures' are the stuff of TV
news journalism; 'fact' is a contrast to the foregoing gossip. 'Figure'
additionally refers to the female form, and leads naturally into the 'flab'
- 'Fights the flab in every house': 'fight the flab' was the weight-watching
radio [not TV] catchphrase of Irish disc jockey Terry
Wogan (A Whiter Shade of Pale recently featured high in Wogan-listeners'
chart of all-time favourites) who later became a major figure as a TV
chat-show host. 'Fight the flab' was his dieting slot for housewives, and
the phrase also caught the ear of sometime Reid-collaborator, BJ-collaborator
and all-time Procol friend Vivian
Stanshall, who then spent much time in a BBC sound lab attempting to
realise the sound of flab being fought, for a comedy sketch which was never
produced. The 'flab' reference shows a concern with body image, quite rare
in the Procol corpus, but also found in 'growing fat with sin' in Barnyard
Story, in A Rum Tale, perhaps, where food is disavowed, in Toujours
l'Amour where 'she grew thin and I grew fat', and in Bringing Home
the Bacon, with its disgust at copious ingestion. There is more
fighting in Reid songs: 'In fighting I did hurt those dearest to me' (Pilgrims
Progress); 'French girls always like to fight' (Grand Hotel);
'The cause for the fighting has long been a ghost' (Fires (Which Burnt
Brightly)); 'Fighting for freedom' (As Strong as Samson);
'fighting monsters all my life' (Fool's Gold); 'We must fight it out'
(The Final Thrust); 'One hell of a fight' (This Old Dog); 'Not
a lover or a fighter' and 'talking of the fight' (the unpublished I'm a
Reader and a Writer).
- 'Tops the pops in every house': Top of the Pops is the UK's TV
chart show, on which Procol Harum appeared when their singles charted,
except in the case of Conquistador for which a rather insubstantial
film interpretation was offered.
- 'Sandwiched in between the ads': the word 'sandwich' occurs in a different
context in Playmate of the Mouth; here the ironic reference is to
television's actual content merely being 'filler' between the commercials,
which are seemingly the programmers' main concern. It's not clear what is
thus sandwiched here: 'something for the mums and dads' might be a Top
of the Pops phrase for a more-slushy less-rocky type of number; but Top
of the Pops itself is a BBC show, and as such has never suffered from
advertisements, which occur only on the commercial channels. Cartoons of the
Mighty Mouse variety would have occurred between the ads, but these
would not have been 'for the mums and dads'. Incidentally this is the only
explicit reference to 'dad' or 'father' in any Procol song (barring
references to the Dalai Lama in Glimpses of Nirvana and perhaps to
'my old man' in Your Own Choice), and the only song in which mum /
mother and dad / father appear together. Other parental references in the
songs include 'Can't you hear me mother calling you?' (Crucifiction Lane);
'Old Mother Hubbard's ran off with the chair' and 'Call my mother's
name' (Drunk Again); 'you have caused your mother great
distress' and 'You wouldn't take your mum's advice' (The Piper's Tune).
- 'Great to have you on the show / sorry that you've got to go': this
couplet compiles two typical chat-show clichés, the first being the
catchphrase of TV mogul and presenter (Sir) David Frost. Gary's 'oooh' at
3:52 is an unmistakable parody of Frost's vocal mannerism. Procol Harum
played on Frost's show, and Reid commented in Circus (May 1973),
'Remember how David Frost always used to say, when he ended an interview
with one of his guests, "'great to have you on the show"? That
kind of prompted me, after seeing him doing one too many "great to have
you on the shows", to write the song.' Frost is possibly most famous
for his Richard Nixon programmes, the highest-rated news interviews in
television history; he now co-hosts the suitably voyeuristic Through
The Keyhole, in which TV does indeed come
- 'Gets the vote in every house': the line may primarily relate to Party
Political broadcasts, but in 1973 few families would have had more than one
television set, so disputes over which programme to watch would be decided
by a vote. Uniquely for Procoldom we see the whole family assembled, and it
is seemingly the children's vote, Mighty Mouse, that wins. However
since the song equates this Mouse with Caesar and with television, it seems
we are being shown a victory for the medium rather than for any particular
message. Keith Reid would revisit this song's theme of invasive manipulation
in much later songs such as All Our Dreams are Sold and The
Pursuit of Happiness.
Thanks to Frans
Steensma for discographical information
about this song