Thursday, June 04, 2009

I Hope You're Satisfied, Thatcher!

Just to confirm to all dear blog readers who might be interested (that'll be, like, one of you, no doubt) Mama Telly Topping has returned from her nine-day Spanish stroll. And, is obviously knackered but, mercifully, not especially plane-wrecked. Did yer actual Keith Telly Topping get a present? Did he hell, as like.

It's been a damned queer week so far, dear blog reader. Some of it work-related, some of it personal-related but most of it concerning DVDs of old TV shows. Particularly yesterday when this blogger got an 'uge package of stuff from Stately Telly Topping Manor's postie (our Royal Mail postie that is, as opposed to our 'special delivery' postie). About a week ago yer actual ordered a range of DVDs from Play (Waking The Dead Series Six, The Complete Young Ones) and from Sendit (who've got a mad-cheap Doctor Who sale on at the moment). And, lo and behold, they ALL turned up yesterday morning.
So, during the afternoon when this blogger should have been working, frankly, he spent the time being EXTREMELY SAD, sitting in his gaff watching series one (and half of series two) of The Young Ones and var nigh chanting along with all of Rick The Peoples Poet's piss-poor poetry (you know, that stuff which 'punks and skins and rastas' get together and 'hold hands in sorrow for their fallen lead' over?) '... And all of the grown-ups will say "But, why are the kids crying?"'! Completely brilliant.

Yes, I am fortysomething and have no girlfriend. It's a valid lifestyle choice, I suppose. Do you fancy some Telly Telly News?

It's mostly BBC stuff this week. Andrew Buchan (Cranford, Party Animals), the great Alun Armstrong (New Tricks) and Lyndsey Marshall (Rome) are to star in a forthcoming four-part historical legal drama inspired by the life of pioneering barrister William Garrow on BBC1. Garrow's Law is set in the Old Bailey of Georgian London against a backdrop of corruption and social injustice and is based on real legal cases from the late Eighteeenth Century. So, same sort of time-frame as Channel 4's excellent City of Vice from a couple of years ago. Each one-hour episode begins with the investigation of a case sourced from the Old Bailey archives from the day - from rape and murder to high treason and corruption - and follows Garrow (Buchan) and his associate Southouse (Armstrong) working to fight for justice. In an age where the defence counsel acted in the minority of cases, the young Garrow championed the underdog and pioneered the rigorous cross-examination of prosecution witnesses that paved the way for our modern legal system of today. 'A gifted maverick, at times arrogant and with a burning sense of destiny, Garrow is driven to change the nature of the trial against a backdrop of social and political upheaval,' says Jamie Isaacs, the series' Executive Producer. Co-created by Tony Marchant (The Knight's Tale, Holding On, Crime And Punishment), Garrow's Law is a Twenty Twenty/Shed Media Scotland production for BBC1. The series was commissioned by Mark Bell, the BBC's Commissioning Editor for Arts, for BBC Knowledge. Bell says: 'It is a great privilege to be bringing history to life for BBC1 in this way. Garrow made the law as we know it. His is a thrilling and dramatic story, brilliantly re-imagined in this script.' BBC1's Controller, Jay Hunt, added: 'It's a fantastic collaboration between factual and drama to create an immersive history piece which should also feel like a period drama.' Sounds excellent, that. Filming begins this summer in Scotland and Garrow's Law will be broadcast on BBC1 later this year. BBC Knowledge, of course, has a long tradition of making well-received factual-based dramas such as the recent Best: His Mother's Son, Casualty 1907 and Maxwell.

Meanwhile, Jay Hunt has warned that she will not be shopping for US acquisitions for BBC1 and has pledged her support to British productions instead. Speaking at a Broadcasting Press Guild event, Hunt said: 'Hand on heart, [acquiring overseas series] is not a massively important part of my vision for the channel. If something came along that, to be blunt, blew my socks off, I might change that. But part of what I’m proud of is our record in domestic production and I want to keep that being really strong.' Other BBC channels have had critical (and sometimes commercial) hits with US series such as Heroes and The Wire on BBC2 and Mad Men on BBC4. BBC1 has also had success with Damages, which was singled out for praise by BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons as an important part of the BBC's drama offering but currently airs in a late night slot. However, Hunt said it is unlikely to play out in a more prominent part of the schedule. 'Part of what the [BBC] charter commits us to do is to find the best of world television and showcase it and it's great to have pieces like Damages on the channel but I do feel absolutely passionate that part of what I'm there to do, particularly in drama, is to spearhead real innovation and creativity and original British product,' she said. 'That's something that we do, day in day out.'

BBC1 is to reinvent the Tomorrow's World format with new popular science series Bang Goes The Theory. The ten-part series, which will debut in late July, promises to explore 'the world’s most advanced technological breakthroughs' and how to test and manipulate scientific principles in our own backyard. Four presenters have been lined-up for the series: Gadget Show presenter Dallas Campbell, biochemist Liz Bonnin - pictured right, with ahem 'a friend' - (RI:SE), Scrapheap Challenge's Jem Standsfield and academic Dr Yan Wong. The series will be co-produced by the BBC and The Open University. Jay Hunt, who commissioned the series, said: 'Bang Goes The Theory brings popular science back to the very heart of BBC1. The four presenters have a passion and knowledge for their subject that guarantees to bring science alive in an entertaining and engaging way.' Bang Goes The Theory will be supported by a website, interactive resources and free events to inspire viewers to get hands on with science, of which more details will be available later this year. Tomorrow’s World ran for nearly forty years from 1965 to 2003, but was cancelled in the wake of falling ratings. So, that's Tomorrow's World: The Next Generation, then? Or, should that be The Day After Tomorrow's World?

BBC1 is to turn Frank Cottrell Boyce's bestselling children's novel, Framed, into a family show starring Trevor Eve. Set in Wales, the ninety-minute drama focuses on ten-year-old Dylan Hughes, whose father leaves their struggling rural petrol station to find work. When the National Gallery is flooded, a disused slate mine near Hughes' home is used to store some of its works. Eve plays Lester, a reserved curator who falls in love with a local schoolteacher. Cottrell Boyce is adapting Framed himself. Andy DeEmmony, who is directing, said: 'The BBC wanted a family film, but there is an aspiration about Framed that's far beyond a children's comedy drama.' The producer is Richard Burrell and the exec is Jessica Pope. Controller of drama commissioning Ben Stephenson ordered the show, which he described as 'a warm and modern story about how the power of art and beauty can transform lives.'

Gavin and Stacey writer James Corden says he's 'very sad' as the cast prepare for the third and final series of the hit TV show. Filming starts on 15 June. Corden, said: 'It's an emotional time because we're saying goodbye to these characters that we love.' However, Corden did not rule out working with co-writer Ruth Jones following the series' conclusion. 'When we wrote the words, "This really is the end, the end," we were both a bit welled up and we looked at each other and we were sure that's it. I just hope it's good enough. Ruth and I, we'd like to write something else again but we're inevitably not going to spend as much time locked in a room together.'

The BBC's international news services have enjoyed a record-breaking year, according to an independent survey published today. The figures indicate that BBC Global News's weekly audience stands at two hundred and thirty eight million, up five million from last year's total. And BBC World Service saw its audience rise to one hundred and eighty eight million, another record. Despite a five million fall in radio listening - the World Service remains the world's most popular radio broadcaster. Across all platforms, the largest overseas audiences for BBC news are in Nigeria (26.0m), USA (24.1m) and India (22.2m). Over the past year, the biggest increase in the BBC's global audiences came from Niger, a newly-surveyed market which saw a rise of 2.4m. BBC Arabic television,- which launched in March 2008 - helped to boost the figures, with countries like Saudi Arabia (+1.9m), Egypt (+1.3m), and Syria (+1.0m) attracting significantly larger audiences. Even though audiences dropped in Iran - due to a decline in shortwave listening and the cutting of medium wave transmissions - and in Sri Lanka, due to government interference, there was still much to cheer at World Service radio. Audiences in the USA grew to a record six million and World Service attracted one-and-a-half million weekly listeners in the UK during the first quarter of this year, an increase of nine percent. Figures indicate that BBC World News – the corporation's comercially-funded international English language news channel – attracts seventy four million viewers per week. Richard Sambrook, director of BBC Global News, said: 'In a year when international radio listening to the BBC actually went down marginally, record overall global audiences demonstrate the success of our multimedia strategy and investments. People come to the BBC's international news services for journalism that is challenging and asks difficult questions, yet respects different points of view and actively encourages debate. Increasingly, audiences want access at a time and place that suits them.' I love it when networks brag about the size of their capacity.

There was an excellent bit of shit-stirring in Broadcast today which alleged that the government is preparing a major public consultation on the use of children in TV shows such as Britain’s Got Talent, which last week saw ten-year-old semi-finalist Hollie Steel break down on live-TV and then blub her way into the subsequent final. Broadcasters and indies - including BGT producer Talkback Thames and Love Productions, which made controversial Channel 4 series Boys and Girls Alone - are among producers to have met with the Department for Children, Schools and Families in the lead-up to the full consultation, due later this summer. The DCSF's review, which is also canvassing the modelling, stage and film industries, centres on legislation that has remained unchanged since 1968, when the Children's Entertainment Regulations came into force. It is being led by junior children's minister Delyth Morgan. A DCSF spokesman said: 'We want children to develop and have exciting opportunities to participate in television and other forms of entertainment. However, while they are doing that, we have a duty to ensure that children are safeguarded appropriately, and that the regulations we have make sure that this happens.' Pact chief executive John McVay, who is also contributing to the review, said shows like BGT can be 'a fantastic life-changing opportunity and can launch a career.' But, he added: 'It's so much in the public domain now that producers will be concerned about the impact on all contributors, especially children.'

Both Talkback and ITV are standing firm in the face of criticism from various quarters about the treatment of children on BGT, stressing that they are experienced at handling talent show contestants and parents or guardians. In addition, they pointed out that Hollie was given 'additional support, backstage' after breaking down during her semi-final performance. However, while Talkback is currently undergoing a review of processes and procedures across the show, it is not clear whether BGT will impose an age limit on contestants. On ITV and Talkback's other hit talent show, The X Factor, the age limit is sixteen. A Talkback spokesperson said: 'The X Factor is a very different format with a longer period of performing. At most, Britain's Got Talent contestants perform three times. In The X Factor it can be up to thirteen weeks”. It is also believed that the company is keen to keep the formats distinct, with The X Factor very much about the search for a pop-star, not a child-star. Industry views on BGT's use of child contestants are split. A common view is that most children and their - increasingly pushy - parents are savvy enough to know what to expect and many are the product of stage schools where they are rigorously trained. According to Talkback: 'Hollie's mother has gone on record saying that she is used to auditioning and also to having knockbacks.' New Sky entertainment boss Duncan Gray, who was involved in the format in his previous role at ITV, also defended criticism of the younger contestants by judge Simon Cowell, who last week reduced eleven-year-old dancer Aidan Davis to tears. 'It's perfectly acceptable that kids appear in the show. They are not press-ganged into it and their parents know Cowell is TV's greatest communicator because he tells the truth.' However, others pointed out that practices among broadcasters vary wildly. 'We made a show with children for the BBC and they had to undergo psych testing even though it wasn’t live,' said one. Rain Media creative director Mark Wells, who worked on talent shows such as Stars in Their Eyes during his time as controller of entertainment at ITV Studios, said: 'I really think putting kids on TV, in that situation with that much pressure, is inexcusable. At best, it's extremely questionable. There are very strict local authority rules on using kids in TV and I was amazed that in the final, at 10pm, those very young children were still on TV - still working.' Love Productions managing director Richard McKerrow said: 'Individual production companies should have to show that they have the ability to work with children and there needs to be a common standard. The protocols we put in place on Baby Borrowers and Boys and Girls Alone go beyond Ofcom regulations and anything that local councils would do.'

BGT has also raised issues on duty of care, particularly towards vulnerable entrants, after Susan Boyle's admission to hospital. Silver River boss Daisy Goodwin said: 'There's an interesting moral question for everyone in telly about why the most popular programme on TV is one where children cry and where a woman with learning difficulties is shown at the end of her tether. If I was making the show, I would consider raising the age limit. I'd also question why there was no psych testing.' Talkback has said psychological testing is one of the things it is considering introducing. However, some question how practical that would be on a show such as BGT. But Virgin Media TV director of television and former ITV controller of entertainment Claudia Rosencrantz, who was involved in BGT's early development, questioned the logistics involved. 'It would be almost impossible and probably wrong to introduce in-depth psych testing - and let's not forget Susan Boyle has auditioned on other talent shows. I remember her on Michael Barrymore's My Kind of People, so she obviously has long had a desire to perform and be on camera and has not been put off.'

Back to BBC1, and it's is stepping up a daytime drama push with a major period series about four women working in the Women's Land Army during the Second World War. Land Girls was created by Roland Moore and commissioned by daytime controller Liam Keelan to tie in with a season of programmes marking the war's Seventieth anniversary. Keelan said: 'When Neighbours went, it freed up a lot of money. Rather than put that into acquisitions or other genres, we wanted to use it for UK-originated drama. There is not enough to have something all year round, and we probably wouldn't want one alongside Doctors, but the strategy is to have a new, major drama event every quarter.' Land Girls will air in September, marking BBC1's third major day-time drama this year, after Missing and Jimmy McGovern's Moving On. It follows the lives of four women who join the Women's Land Army and are united by the war effort. The four leads are played by Hollyoaks' Summer Strallen, Christine Bottomley from Hope Springs, Jo Woodcock of All The Small Things and stage actress Becci Gemmell. The show is being produced by the Doctors team, with John Yorke and Will Trotter as executive producers and Erika Hossington as producer. It is being shot in HD in and around Birmingham.

More news from series six of Qi which is currently filming: The David Tennant/Lee Mack episode which I mentioned last time is apparently the Christmas special and so will, obviously, air during Week Fifty One this year. It's still unclear as to whether the sixteen-episode 'G' series will be broadcast in one unbroken run or be shown as two batches of eight. And, whether it will run from September to, well, early January probably, or start earlier and end with the Christmas episode. Or, what! Anyway, what we do know is that episode eleven - 'Geometry' - was filmed last week features guests Rob Brydon, David Mitchell and Johnny Vegas. Ooo, very good line-up, that one. Next up is episode twelve, featuring Davey Mitchell again (virtually becoming a third regular these days), Dara O'Briain (I was wondering when Dara was going to show up this year) and, first time guest, Graham Norton. That one sounds a crecker as well.

ITV have announced that they will shortly be showing the long-delayed drama Monday Monday, and eight-part series starring Jenny Agutter and Cold Feet's Fay Ripley, 'about a group of workers in the head office of a supermarket chain who are struggling to come to terms with the demands of new management directives.' The ensemble cast also includes appearances by the divine Goddess that is Holly Aird, Neil Stuke (Game On), Morven Christie (Oliver Twist) and Laura Haddock (Honest).

Lastly, a rather self-indulgent personal note. On 31 July 2009 The Doctor Who Forum (formerly Outpost Gallifrey) - the Internet's largest unofficial Doctor Who resource with over 25,000 regular contributors - will be closing its TARDIS-sized doors for the final time, the site owner Shaun Lyon announced yesterday. This announcement has, somewhat inevitably, led to much bewailing and gnashing of teeth from certain quarters of Doctor Who fandom. In a sort of 'but ... but ... but ... where the hell am I going to go now to talk to people?'-type area. Albeit, the news has been somewhat tempered by the revelation that a new forum - Gallifrey Base run by DWF's Senior Administrator Steven Hill and some of the old site's moderators - will soon be online. As, if not a direct replacement then, at least, as a viable place to keep many of DWF's various communities together under one roof.

Obviously I, personally, am very sad about this - Outpost Gallifrey and its decendents have been a major part of my life for much of the last decade, both through the website, the forum and the annual Gallifrey One conventions in Los Angeles. But, as we know from past experience the beat goes on and we, however reluctantly, must go on with it. I reckon I know Shaun better than the vast majority of people on the board. I know, for instance, just how much of himself and his time he has given over to Gally and all of its constituent parts over the years. The man is a legend and he really does not deserve some of the harsh, spiteful, selfish nonsense he's currently getting from some particularly wretched individuals over his having the temerity to announce that he's closing down a website that he owns. If anybody in Doctor Who fandom deserves the right to say 'that's it, I quit,' and have a bit of peace and quiet in their lives for a while, it's Shaun Lyon. I'm as unhappy to see DWF go as anyone but I have too much respect for the man to put my self-interest before his. Let us, therefore, have a moment of quiet, dignified praise (or 'gratuitous arse-licking' as one especially nasty specimin of the worst that both fandom and, indeed, humanity has to offer described it) for the Guv'nor.

I honestly can't think what my life would have been like over the last eight years without Gally. That, in and of itself, is not only a huge testament to OG/DWF's many plus points but, also, possibly a perfect indication about why now genuinely is the best time to end it. When something in life starts to appear irreplaceable, then is probably the ideal time to try and replace it! To quote a line from one of my favourite movies, Picnic at Hanging Rock, 'everything begins and ends at exactly the right time.'