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Last Updated: Friday, 17 June, 2005, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Faces of the week
Faces of the week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are Bill Oddie (main picture), with Adolf Hitler, Shirley Bassey, Asafa Powell and Carlo Maria Giulini.

Bill Oddie

Bill Oddie's Springwatch series, now in its third year, has outstripped even Big Brother, making its star, formerly best-known as a Goodie, into television's newest cult hero.

Millions of viewers in the UK have recently been mesmerised by the re-emergence from winter hibernation of one of their favourite creatures.

A male - of the genus homo sapiens Brum-ensis - his habitat covers the whole of the rural British Isles: coastline, moor, mountain and marsh.

Instantly recognisable by his characteristic greying facial hair, field-glasses and hiking gear, this gregarious and feisty beast is often to be found in the company of television cameras, producers and directors.

Bill Oddie with a robin
Bill Oddie with feathered friend
He is the greater-spotted Bill Oddie.

Once a hugely successful comedian and musician, Oddie has completed the transformation to TV wildlife expert. Not an easy accomplishment in a country which likes to compartmentalise its stars.

His BBC Two series, Springwatch, the UK's biggest ever live wildlife event, has proved a phenomenal success, capturing an audience of three million and trouncing both Big Brother and Celebrity Love Island.

Explaining the mating habits of British fauna is a million miles away from Oddie's previous incarnation, as a member of the country's best-known comedy trio, the Goodies, and musical celebrator of another exotic animal, the Funky Gibbon.

But much in Bill Oddie's life has defied convention.

Comic flowering

Born in Lancashire in 1941, he was brought up in Birmingham, and has retained a hint of his Brummie accent to this day.

His was not an easy childhood, with a restrained father and a mother who was often confined to mental institutions.

Recently he revisited this time for the BBC's family history programme Who Do You Think You Are? He discovered that he had a sister who died at five days old and that his mother had also suffered a late miscarriage.

"It completely rewrote my assumption of what my mother was," says Oddie, who has had a couple of bouts with clinical depression himself. "It undemonised her."

It was Cambridge University which saw the flowering of Bill Oddie's talents. A member of Footlights, he soon found himself writing scripts for TV shows like That Was The Week That Was.

The Goodies
The Goodies: Three men on a trandem
A series of comic roles ensued, including the groundbreaking radio series, I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again.

Then, in 1970, he teamed-up with fellow Cambridge graduates, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor, to form the Goodies.

Into a Britain cowed by the three-day week, industrial strife and power cuts, the Goodies brought colour, light satire and just plain daftness.

With giant kittens demolishing London's Post Office Tower, the lost Lancashire martial art of Ecky Thump, and a natty three-man bicycle - the trandem - the TV programme soon boasted huge ratings.

Added to this were a number of best-selling spoof books and, above all, a series of hit records, all created by Bill Oddie, who is also a talented musician.

Transformation

Besides their success with the aforementioned Funky Gibbon, the Goodies also made the charts with The Inbetweenies and Black Pudding Bertha. In 1975, Oddie was the fourth best-selling chart songwriter in the UK.

The programme, which has among its fans Steven Spielberg, Reeves and Mortimer and Mike Myers, finally ended in 1981 and, almost uniquely for such a popular series, has never been repeated on BBC television.

Aficionados had to wait until 2002 for the Beeb to release a DVD of Goodies highlights. It seemed as if the comic odyssey had been erased from history.

Then in March, the unthinkable finally happened: the Goodies re-formed for a 13-night tour of Australia. Treated like rock stars, Oddie enjoyed himself, even though he thought the adulation "weird".

Bill Oddie with birdwatching monocular
On the look-out: Bill the birdwatcher

While Garden and Brooke-Taylor have continued to delight audiences, most notably on Radio Four's "antidote to panel games", I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, Bill Oddie has ploughed a new furrow as a television presenter, combining his twin loves of performing and wildlife, especially birdwatching.

Oddie's style, unscripted and unrehearsable, is a TV director's nightmare. "I just carry on as normal and treat the camera as a mixture of a companion and a viewer," he says.

Yet, even though his team has no idea what he will say or even when he will stop, his extemporising style works.

Though he is dismissed by some as bumptious, Bill Oddie's sheer fascination with his subject has made him a formidable guide to Britain's wildlife, and his relaxed presenting style is effective because of, not despite, its very spontaneity.

And today, whether discussing the life or habits of badger, red deer or barn owl, Bill Oddie has become a British institution every bit as much as Sir David Attenborough.

And, just like the butterflies whose metamorphosis he so colourfully describes, Oddie's own transformation has been fascinating to behold.


Adolf Hitler: Book sold
Adolf Hitler

A signed first edition of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf has sold for 23,800 at auction in London. The book, signed by the Nazi leader in ink on the inside, is believed to have been removed from one of Hitler's offices at the end of World War Two. The book was expected to sell for between 20,000 and 25,000. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle) after being imprisoned for his part in the Munich beer hall putsch in 1923.

Charity auction: Shirley Bassey
Shirley Bassey

The big spenders were out in force when Shirley Bassey auctioned the contents of her London flat for charity. The 68-year-old Welsh diva, who now lives in Monaco, decided to donate the 20,000 proceeds from the sale to charity. Potential goldfingers could have bid for a leopard figure (6), a Warhol-influenced poster of the singer (313) or a Louis Vuitton suitcase with SB monogram (482). With prices as low as 12, there was Something for everyone.

Asafa Powell: Fast man
Asafa Powell

Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell slashed one hundredth of a second off Tim Montgomery's 100metres world record to become "the fastest man on earth". Powell's time of 9.77secs, achieved at the Super Grand Prix meet in Athens, made him the first man from his country to hold the record. The island's prime minister, PJ Patterson, praised the run as "eloquent testimony of Jamaica's profound impact on the international stage and possibilities as a nation in the modern world".

Musical titan: Carlo Maria Giulini
Carlo Maria Giulini

One of the giants of 20th Century music, the conductor Carlo Maria Giulini, has died at the age of 91. In a 60-year career, he conducted at Milan's La Scala Opera and with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic. A friend of Arturo Toscanini, he made his debut in 1944 at a concert to celebrate Rome's liberation by Allied forces. Famously modest, Giulini told one interviewer that conductors were "only interpreters".

Compiled by BBC News Profiles Unit's Andrew Walker




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