Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Political Stew: Open Fields & MP Pot Calling The BBC's Kettle?

The BBC's licence fee should be opened up to bids from other broadcasters, a report - commissioned by no-one in particular - has recommended. The paper concludes that the BBC spends most of its funding on 'entertainment shows' and fails to fulfil its public service broadcasting commitments. Now, I thought that the BBC's stated - and widely supported - Reithian remit always has been, and remains, 'to entertain, educate and inform' personally, so that's a curiously narrow view of what the BBC should be spending its money on. Some rather spiteful sick agenda going down here, perchance? This, the report noted, would allow the BBC to bid for the money, while recommending the sale of some channels including BBC1. A spokesman for the BBC Trust said: 'This is one of the many different contributions to the PSB debate. In recent years rather than encouraging competition on audience share, the Trust has used a basket of different measures including quality, originality and value for money to measure the BBC's performance.' The report, called Auntie's Dying: Long Live Public Service Broadcasting, also suggests the sale of BBC3, Radio1 and Radio 2.It was written by Labour MP, a fucking plank, Frank Field. Nice to see Frank - someone whom this blogger has always thought talked a right load of old effing codswallop - keeping up his daily average. What he's saying, essentially, is that the BBC should not be producing the likes of Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who, [Spooks], EastEnders, or any other programme that people actually want to watch but, instead leave that sort of populist drivel to ITV and get on with making documentaries about the Renaissance and plays - produced by Tony Garnett and starring Annette Crosby - which have an audience of three. As somebody who likes documentaries about the Renaissance and plays with an audience of three and also Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who, [Spooks] and EastEnders please allow me to say 'away with yourself, you silly little man.' The remaining services including BBC2 and Radio 4 would still be financed entirely by public funds, Frank's Glorious Masterplan advocates. So, Top Gear would be safe. Except, that's also populist nonsense and the BBC would be told to stop making it. Or else some Big Hard Men would come round their gaff and stamp on their fingers. With the licence fee placed in the hands of a new independent commissioning body, broadcasters would pitch ideas for public service programmes and gain funding accordingly. So, once again, we have the curiously narrow definition of Public Service Broadcasting as 'what I want to watch and sod everyone else.' Thank you for your contribution to the debate, Frank. Bonkers, as usual. We'll let you know. Any more bright ideas?

The BBC Press Office have confirmed that, in relation to Strictly Come Dancing, fifty eight contacts were received on Friday of last week from people unhappy that Alesha Dixon is to replace Arlene Phillips on the show's judging panel for the forthcoming series. The total of received comments relating to this issue is now 1,465 contacts (of which 1,250 are complaints). The BBC have also received an additional one hundred and seventy four complaints from people who were complaining about this issue for a second time. That last little bit, I have to confess, made me chuckle. Presumably those making the duplicate complaints didn't think the BBC heard them the first time.

The hit US animated comedy Futurama could be voiced by new actors after the studio behind its comeback failed to reach an agreement with the original cast. According to the Hollywood Reporter, talks have broken down after a pay dispute with actors including John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal and Billy West. 'We love the Futurama voice performers and absolutely wanted to use them,' a 20th TV spokesman told the paper. 'But unfortunately, we could not meet their salary demands.' The other original cast members are Maurice LaMarche and Tress MacNeille. It was announced last month that the show would return to US TV screens with twenty six new episodes - seven years after it was axed by FOX.

Radio2 presenter Sarah Kennedy has been 'spoken to' by BBC bosses after she praised the controversial late MP Enoch Powell. During her show on Wednesday of last week, Kennedy described Powell as 'the best Prime Minister this country never had.' Well, that's certainly a valid opinion to hold, albeit it's not one that I, personally, share; I'd go for Denis Healey myself. A lot of my mates, if asked, would probably pick Tony Benn whom I consider to be a nutter of the first order (albeit, a brilliant diarist and humanitarian. Just a lousy politician). Others may look to someone like Willie Whitelaw, for instance. It's a jolly good pub-debate question, when you think about it. Mind you, it's one of those pub-debate questions that will in all likelihood end in a massive brawl in the car park! Powell was, of course, a very devisive figure and was sacked from the Shadow Cabinet by Ted Heath in 1968 for his outrageous 'Rivers of Blood' speech in which he gave his hysterical perceptions on the consequences of mass immigration. I always found Powell to be a fascinating man - someone, whose intellect I genuinely admired but whose views on repatriation I found to be wholly abhorrent. A BBC spokesman said: 'It was inappropriate for Sarah to offer an off-the-cuff political opinion. We have spoken to her and made that clear.' The BBC said twenty five listeners had complained about the comment. This is the second occasions on Kennedy has been warned by the BBC about content in her early morning show. Last year, Radio2 apologised after Kennedy said she had almost run over a black pedestrian because she could not see him in the dark. Now that, I thought was fully a justified pants-down bare-bottom chastisement that Kennedy received, given the somewhat provocatively insensitive nature of such comments - even if they weren't meant as badly as they sounded. Of course, the BBC is in a very awkward position is this regard having to be seen to be, essentially, political neutral at all times. It's a fine line. But, I'd really like to know why twenty five people thought such a nothing comment was worth complaining about over the Enoch Powell thing. There are far more offensive things on radio than that. Most of the playlists, for one!

Harry Hill is poised to quit ITV after being offered a double-your-money deal by Sky according to the Sun. He is being tempted with a £400,000-an-episode deal to take the Harry Hill's TV Burp format to Sky1. TV production company Avalon currently makes the show for ITV for just over two hundred grand an episode, the paper claimed. If the production deal is doubled, the comic would get a much higher cut, estimated at up to eighty thousand pounds. A source close to the star - who is currently on a one million pounds-a-year contract with ITV - said: 'Sky have tried to get Harry twice before and it looks like it could be third time lucky. This deal would put him up with Sky's highest-paid stars. It's extremely tempting. Sky are telling Harry they'd turn him into one of the faces of the channel.'

Andrew Lloyd Webber has pulled plans for a Wizard Of Oz musical reality show on the BBC. The programme, which would have followed a similar format to his former series I'd Do Anything, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and Any Dream Will Do, was supposed to involve nationwide auditions for someone to play Dorothy in a new West End production. However, according to the Sun, Webber was concerned that he may have been criticised for using the series as a publicity stunt for his latest musical Love Never Dies, which opens in March 2010. 'We will not be finding Dorothy through a BBC reality show - we've pulled it,' said Webber's business partner André Ptaszynski. 'It's just too risky. It's only been in the last two or three weeks that we've realised how much of a field day people would have with it.' A bigger problem for the BBC was also highlighted by the newspaper with the realisation that Graham Norton was to have presented the show. The BBC are said to be struggling to find a format that will suit the presenter after the horrible failure of Totally Saturday.

Michael Parkinson has claimed that he was rejected by BBC1's Who Do You Think You Are? after his family history was deemed 'too boring.' The veteran chatshow host admitted that producers of the hit genealogy show had approached him for the new series. Speaking to the Radio Times, he explained: 'I'm addicted to Who Do You Think You Are? It's the fascination we all have for our roots - the intriguing story of our lives.' Commenting on his own ancestors, he added: 'On my father's side - miners and farm labourers. On my mother's - railwaymen and domestics. My story was so boring they had to cancel the entire project. I was gutted.' Parkinson revealed that the snub came after he turned down approaches from ITV's All Star Mr and Mrs and I'm A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! He said: 'Of all the celebrity-based telly programmes, this was the only one I wanted to be on.'

Lime Pictures' digital arm Conker Media has teamed up with controversial teen novelist Melvin Burgess for a cross-platform psychological thriller for BBC Switch. The Well features a group of teens renovating a house in Liverpool who uncover a well that is the resting place of a 'dark and malevolent force.' The four-part drama stars new Doctor Who assistant Karen Gillan and will air on BBC2 on consecutive Saturdays leading up to Halloween. It will also be available online, where it will link to a 'deeply immersive' multi-level game, in which users can explore the house and try to solve a puzzle at the heart of the story.

A sexually suggestive advertising campaign for pork sausages has been criticised by the industry watchdog. The Advertising Standards Authority was hearing complaints against an innuendo-filled radio adverts for Mattesons smoked sausages. It said the adverts, which asked listeners where they would like to 'stick it,' should not have aired when children were likely to be listening. The ASA rejected twenty one complaints that the advertisements were 'offensive.' It agreed with Kerry Foods, which makes the sausages, that the adverts were meant to be tongue-in-cheek (or, sausage-in-cheek if we are being strictly accurate, here) and light-hearted and were unlikely to cause serious offence to anyone with so much as an ounce of humour in their entire body. But the ASA said that although the ads were not sexually explicit and younger children were unlikely to understand them, the innuendo was not appropriate for older children. Blimey, it's come to a sorry state of affairs when a man can't say, casually, 'look at the size of that sausage' and not have political correctness rammed down his throat. Or, at least, a sausage rammed ... Okay, okay, I'm starting to see their point.

Britain's oldest working television has been tracked down in a house in London. The 1936 Marconiphone is thought to have been made in the months that Britain's first 'high-definition' television service began. The set belongs to Jeffrey Borinsky, an electrical engineer and collector of antique television and radio sets. He bought the set, which has a twelve-inch screen from another collector about ten years ago and is still working on restoring it to its original state. The screen is mounted inside a wooden cabinet. The image from the cathode-ray tube, mounted vertically inside the cabinet, is reflected onto a mirror. The few controls include volume and vertical hold, but there is no channel changer, as there was only one channel when it was made. The set appears to be in good condition, but Mr Borinsky aims to replace a number of modern components with originals. 'The cabinet was beautifully restored by the previous owner,' he explained, 'but my aim is to gradually restore its electronics to its true 1936 magnificence.' The Marconiphone 702 model still works as a modern television. It has been hooked up to a Freeview box so that it can show digital channels, although Mr Borinsky has had to install a standards converter to capture a modern television signal. Mr Borinsky only keeps the set turned on up to two hours at a time and uses it to view films from the 1930s and 1940s. He says he enjoys watching the kind of pictures that might have been seen by the original owners. The National Media Museum in Bradford has a similar set, but does not use it to show television pictures for fear of damaging it. Iain Logie Baird, the curator of television at the museum, said it is a thrill to see the Marconiphone working. 'It's very exciting to see the image the way people would have seen it in 1936, before television became ubiquitous as it is today,' he said. Mr Logie Baird, grandson of the television pioneer John Logie Baird, says this set would have been of huge local interest when it was first acquired at a cost of sixty guineas - the equivalent of eleven thousand pounds today. 'Television was a very exciting thing, it was something that the whole neighbourhood would come over to watch. People would crowd into the home of the owner.'

Top Gear has been accused of 'glorifying speeding' in a recent episode of the programme. Grampian Fire and Rescue Joint Board convener Mike Raeburn has 'expressed concern' in an open letter to Scottish Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson, encouraging him to challenge the corporation over the matter. Presumably, actually buying a stamp and making it a 'closed letter' was beyond Raeburn's financial resources? Talk about ruddy mean old Scotsmen, eh? His move follows a number of recent road deaths in the North-East of Scotland which, instead of seeking logical local answers to the problem, Raeburn chose instead to blame wholly on a television programme made in England. In the 'open letter,' Raeburn commented: 'It is with complete incredulity that I watched the most recent edition of the BBC's Top Gear programme when a speeding ticket from America was produced showing a vehicle travelling at two hundred and ten mph in a sixty mph zone. The presenters, led by [Jeremy] Clarkson, seemed to find this hugely amusing, further reinforcing the programme's theme that inappropriate speed is okay. There is apparently a culture within the production team that refuses to see the effect that this continual reinforcement of the "speed is good" message has on the viewers, particularly the younger ones.' As has been noted before, it's not actually the speed that kills you, Mister Raeburn. Rather it tends to be the 'coming to a sudden stop' thing afterwards that usually proves to be fatal. Responding to this quite nonsensical criticism, a - seemingly very amused - BBC spokesperson said: 'If Mike Raeburn or Stewart Stevenson would like to contact the BBC about these concerns, they will be responded to in due course.' Perhaps Raeburn will also use that opportunity to explain - using graphs if necessary - just exactly what a speeding ticket issued to someone on another continent has to do with road deaths in Northern Scotland. Tell you what, you stick to your job - whatever that is - Rab, and leave geography to those who actually sodding understand it. I do, however, thoroughly look forward to Jezza responding - in kind - on the News Section of Top Gear next week. Raeburn, just in case you were wondering, is a Scottish Liberal. And has a beard. Why am I not surprised by this revelation?

They might not be flavour of the month with at least one sour-faced individual in the land of the kilt and the haggis, but it seems there is a part of the UK where Jezza, Hamster and Cap'n Slow have some big fans in the ranks of officialdom. The Top Gear production team have reportedly been asked to come up with a plan to copy a famous sequence from The Italian Job by racing Mini Coopers through Belfast's sewers. A spokesperson for the show said they hoped to film the race through the city's new six-mile sewer network in the coming weeks. In past, the presenters have raced to the North Pole, driven across Botswana and sailed cars across the English Channel. However, this is the first time that they have raced underground. The original movie saw a daring gang of London crooks led by Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) hatch a plan to steal four million pounds in gold destined for banks in Turin before making their getaway in three Mini Coopers. The city's sewerage system made the ideal route for the little cars, which were chased through the tunnels by the Carabinieri. Although the entrance and exits in the film's sewer sequence were shot in Turin, the 'in tunnel' footage was actually filmed in a sewer in Coventry, which was under construction at the time. A Northern Ireland Water spokesperson said the company had put forward a number of proposals to the BBC last year and the idea to film a Top Gear episode at the Belfast Sewers Project was developed from there.

Meanwhile, Hollywood actress Sandra Bullock has named Top Gear as her favourite TV show. Sandra admitted that she would love to appear alongside Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May in an episode of the hit BBC motoring programme. 'I live for Top Gear,' the Daily Record quotes her as saying. Best not go anywhere near Aberdeen then, Sandra chuck, they'd probably do onto you what Dennis Hopper tried to do onto you in the movie Speed. A film which, incidentally, is banned in the area due to the possibility that it might give young'uns some notions. Allegedly. 'They tried to [remake Top Gear] in the United States and it failed. It deserved to, because no-one needs to remake it. Those men are the show. It only really works with those great gearheads who bicker, who wear clothes you don't expect and come in shapes you don't expect.' On the possibility of attempting one of the programme's challenges, she confirmed: 'I would love to be a Star In A Reasonably Priced Car. I want to do it. I saw Helen Mirren and she rocked it.'
Alex Kingston will return to Doctor Who in the upcoming fifth series, it has been confirmed. The actress was spotted filming alongside new Doctor Matt Smith and Karen Gillan on the first day of filming for the new series, which airs next Spring. Kingston was last seen in the acclaimed series four two-parter 'Silence in the Library'/'Forest of the Dead', penned by showrunner Steven Moffat. In the episodes her character, River Song, revealed that she was closely involved with The Doctor from an unspecified point in his future. There is even the implication that, because she knows his real name she may, indeed, have been his wife.

Jorja Fox is making a return to CSI, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The actress, who played Sara Sidle in the popular crime drama for eight years, will appear in five episodes of the upcoming tenth season, which premieres in the US on 24 September. 'We are thrilled for Jorja's return to CSI,' said executive producer Carol Mendelsohn. 'The viewers and long time fans will be excited to discover where life has taken Sara and what brings her back to the team in Las Vegas in our premiere episode.' Foxy was last seen in CSI in William Petersen's final episode, when her character was reunited with Gil Grissom in the jungles of Costa Rica. There are currently no plans for Petersen himself to return to the series (although rumours of a two-parter, possibly set in Europe, persist online).
Viewers in Scotland will be able to watch the new 9pm version of The Bill, despite ITV licence holder STV deciding to opt out of network programming at that time. ITV commissioners have rejigged the ITV3 schedule to play the grittier drama at 11pm on Monday, four days after the original transmission on Thursdays at 9pm.

Five's recent coverage of the current Ashes Test cricket series pulled in 1.4m viewers on Friday night, the channel's highest ever audience for the sport. The forty five-minute coverage of the second day's play of the second test at Lord's outperformed the 1.1m viewers that watched on 20 August 2006 when the England v Pakistan test at The Oval ended in huge controversy over a ball-tampering incident with right stroppy goings-on and the taking of considerable umbridge. Five's coverage marked an entire weekend of strong audiences for the cricket, which saw the national side take a 1-0 lead against Australia in the five test series after the first test, in Cardiff, has been narrowly drawn. Saturday's audience, at the same time, had 1.3m which was followed by Sunday's average of 1.1m. Over the entire coverage of the second test, a total of approaching seven million people have watched Five with 3.1m of those being ABC1 viewers. 'Nice people in suits who don't live on council estates' in other words.

Media secretary Ben Bradshaw has refused to intervene in the political row over BBC salaries and expenses despite MPs voicing concerns in the Commons. Big Ben, pictured right (ahem) 'getting down, widdit' told MPs at Media Questions in Parliament: 'These must be matters for the BBC. The BBC has plenty senior managers who are well paid enough to make these decisions and to account for themselves rather than for me to micro-manage salary levels for staff.' His junior minister Siôn Simon told loud-mouthed opinion-on-everything Labour MP Ann Clwyd, like Bradshaw a former journalist, that she should take any concerns she had to the BBC Trust and its chairman Sir Michael Lyons. Clwyd said the BBC would have more money for broadcasting if they spent less on expenses. Oh, where to even start with this one. An MP wants to criticse someone else for their expenses claims? Is that supposed to be an example of dramatic irony from the Honorable Member, or what? Did you think we'd all just forgotten about that malarkey, Ann? Try putting your own house in order, m'am, before you start making trouble with your crass comments about anyone else.

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