Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Death At Sea

We start of the latest burst of Top Telly News with a couple of sad passings from the TV world. Cartoonist John Ryan, creator of the Captain Pugwash TV series, has died in hospital in Rye, aged eighty eight. The BBC commissioned the first series of the cartoon in 1957 after spotting potential in Ryan's best-selling children's books telling tales of Pugwash and his nemesis Cut-Throat Jake and his Mexican sidekick, Stinka. Ryan's agent, Jane Gregory, said there was 'a huge amount of love' for the childish, pompous and cowardly pirate and his shipmates aboard the Black Pig - Tom the Cabin Boy, Master Mate, Barnabas, Willy and Jonah. The series memorable theme tune, 'The Trumpet Hornpipe', was played by Northumbrian accordianist Tommy Edmundson - who was paid the princely sum of two guineas by the BBC when he recorded it in 1957. Ryan is survived by his wife, Priscilla, and three children. Captain Horatio Pugwash was created in 1950 while Ryan was working as an art teacher at Harrow School. It was published in the same year in the first edition of the Eagle comic. A book deal soon followed, before the stories were adapted for TV by the BBC, with black-and-white episodes being made for ten years until 1967. A batch of colour episodes were shown on the BBC in a successful mid-1970s revival. Ms Gregory told BBC News that Ryan was 'always enthusiastic, always charming. A lot of the character of Captain Pugwash was John, which is probably why we loved him as much. He was an absolute gentleman.' Ryan had continued to write books until the 1990s. Ms Gregory added: 'They're all now republished and they're hugely successful. Grandparents bought them for their parents and parents are now buying them for their kids.' Speaking to BBC News in 1998 - when the character was brought back to life for a series of cartoons for ITV - Ryan said Pugwash was born out of necessity. 'I had to make some money having got married, being a sort of artist, and I think he represented something which is in all of us, which is cowardice and greed.' Simple sets and home-made puppetry gave the original BBC series its distinctive look. Levers were used to provide jerky movement on flat cardboard characters, they were largely controlled by members of Ryan's family. The earliest episodes were recorded live without editing, and with all the voices being provided by legendary voice-actor Peter Hawkins. Ryan's daughter Isabel, also speaking in 1998, said: 'We had a lot of fun with pieces of coloured card, Indian ink, Copydex glue, staples, pins, putting things together and cutting things out and sharpening pencils - genuinely feeling as though we were part of the whole process.' Ryan also enjoyed success in the late 1960s and early 70s with two other series for the BBC, Mary, Mungo and Midge and The Adventures of Sir Prancelot. He was also a cartoonist for more than forty years for The Catholic Herald newspaper. Editor Luke Coppen said Ryan had 'created a hilarious visual chronicle of the post-Vatican II Church. No other Catholic cartoonist, it is safe to say, depicted the period with such consistent wit and insight. He will be greatly missed.'

And, on a similarly sad note, one of Keith Telly Topping's favourite actors, Harry Towb, has died. He was eighty three. Harry, who was born in Larne, County Antrim, died peacefully in his London home on Friday after battling cancer for a short time. Harry grew up in Belfast and worked with different theatrical groups before moving to England in the 1950s. As recently as last December he appeared in the BBC's EastEnders as David, Janine Butcher's elderly fiancee. He is survived by his wife, actress Diana Hoddinott, three children and three granddaughters. His son, Joshua, said his father was a great family man who loved his work. 'He loved his family very much,' he said. 'But he never liked not to be working. He worked all the way through his illness as long as he could, right up until a few months ago.' One of the actor's biggest stage roles was in the National Theatre production of Brighton Beach Memoirs. Elsewhere Towb's numerous TV credits include appearances in Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars, cult favourites The Avengers and Doctor Who (twice), the sitcom Home James, the popular children's dramas Tottering Towers and The Flaxton Boys, Moll Flanders, Callan, Heartbeat, Casualty, and The Bill. He was one of a number of older actors used by Armando Iannucci as part of a rep-company for The Day Today and Clinton: His Struggle With Dirt. Harry also had roles in a variety of films including The 39 Steps, Patton, Digby the Biggest Dog in the World, All Neat in Black Stockings, Carry On at Your Convenience and The Most Fertile Man In Ireland. In 1991 he starred with Warren Mitchell in the controversial BBC Northern Ireland comedy So You Think You've Got Troubles. In it he played George Nathan who was trying to re-populate the Jewish community of Belfast. He brought over the Mitchell character, Ivan Fox, as a non-practising London Jew, who is confronted with the sectarian attitudes of the city.

John Sergeant will star on ITV this autumn, travelling to England's tourism hotspots to uncover the 'gems and eccentricities' of the UK for a new factual series. John Sergeant on the Tourist Trail, will see the former political journalist and Strictly Come Dancing contestant take in famous sites and join foreign tourist parties as they visit Britain for the first time. The series is one of the highlights of ITV's autumn schedule, unveiled last week by director of television, Peter Fincham. Other factual shows include Joanna Lumley: Catwoman, Robson Green's new series on Wild Swimming and Outbreak, which will commemorate the anniversary of the outbreak of World War II on 3 September by documenting every hour of the first day that war was declared. Made by ITV Studios, Outbreak will feature archive footage interviews with Richard Attenborough, Betty Driver and Sir Peter Blake as well as soldiers, politicians and ordinary families. Fincham said the line up would offer 'something for everyone. ITV has enormous pulling power, as was very powerfully demonstrated by the phenomenal success of Britain's Got Talent. It is a channel that brings people together not only in front of their televisions but also online, connecting audiences that are otherwise splintered by the multitude of choice on offer,' he said. Yes, Peter. It's all very well banging on about how great Britain's Got Talent did (and it did). But nobody's watching anything else you're producing at the moment, apart from the soaps. There does reach a point where that eighteen million audience does start to look like a one-off. 'The range of programming that we offer caters to a wide range of different tastes and this autumn is no exception. Viewers can look forward to great drama, big events, major stars, and real impact from ITV.' In drama, ITV will show new five-part drama Collision, which tells the story of a major road accident and a group of people who were involved. Robbie Coltrane will star in David Piries three-part thriller Murderland, while Mammoth Screen will bring the previously announced Wuthering Heights to life in a tw-part adaptation. Agatha Christie's Marple, Blue Murder, Doc Martin and The Fixer will also return in the autumn. In entertainment, The X Factor will be back. Phillip Schofield will host a new game show based on strategy called The Cube, where contesatnts can win up to £250,000. Benidorm and Harry Hill's TV Burp will all return to the channel (although in the case of the latter, not for too much longer if the Sky bid is successful), whilst the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson will help communities raise standards and ambitions in a new series of Duchess on the Estate. Oh, Christ NO! Was once not enough?

Top Gear presenter and Twenty First Century Renaissance Man and All-Round Good Chap James May is looking for volunteers to help him build a new house in Surrey - made entirely out of Lego®™. As part of his BBC series James May's Toy Stories, he plans to build a two-storey house in the middle of the Denbies Wine Estate, in Dorking. More than three million Lego bricks have been delivered to the site. May will host a building day next Saturday, when members of the public can help him with the project. The house will be life-size with a staircase, toilet and shower, and May said once it was completed he intended to live in it for a few days. He added that although the house would be temporary, there had still been various 'planning hoops' to leap through. 'I've got a man working on a flushing Lego lavatory. We think it's possible. Things like power supply, sanitation and plumbing coming into the house are as they would be for a real building. Everything within my Lego house must as far as possible be Lego.' May said that although he already had thousands of Lego bricks, he could not be sure there would be enough. 'So if people do have bricks that aren't being used that they would be happy to donate to a very worthy pioneering Lego cause, then we'll be happy to take them off your hands.' I used to have a fantastic Lego collection when I was a kid. I used to get a box for every birthday and Christmas and I acquired loads of extra bits and pieces from cousins and neighbours. I kept the whole lot in a huge cardboard box. I built skyscrapers that you wouldn't believe (although, I only had about four window bricks so that, presumably, meant it wasn't a particularly bright skyscraper to work in). Then, one day, my dad gave the lot away to the osn of someone he worked with because he hadn't seen he playing with it for a couple of months and assumed I'd grown out of it. Fathers, eh? Anyway, James's Lego event follows two other successful toy challenges which saw May build what was said to be the world's first Plasticine garden, which won the People's Choice Award at the Chelsea Flower Show and also the world's largest model plane.

ITV has been forced to defend The Jeremy Kyle Show after it was criticised in court for a second time. Judge Sean Enright claimed that the programme contained 'an element of cruelty and exploitation' as he presided over a case involving two former guests of the show last week week. Peterborough Crown Court heard that Jamie Juste had attacked his partner Rebecca Langley after they appeared on the daytime show and took lie detector tests. Juste, who believed that Langley had been unfaithful, was jailed for two years. Summing up the case, Enright commented: 'I have not seen this show, which I believe is classified as light entertainment, but there is plainly an element of cruelty and exploitation in what takes place. [The couple] must have both suffered considerable mortification and embarrassment.' Responding to the criticism, an ITV spokeswoman told The Guardian: 'With respect to the judge, we are surprised at his remarks given that he pointed out that he has not seen our programme. And we absolutely refute the notion that it involves cruelty and exploitation. Jamie Juste and Rebecca Langley approached the production team requesting an appearance on the show to resolve problems within their relationship. As well as discussing these issues in the studio they were given advice from our aftercare team about dealing with their difficulties and offered counselling sessions prior to this incident. The court heard the attack occurred after Juste had been drinking and taking drugs.' In September 2007, Judge Alan Berg voiced similar concerns over The Jeremy Kyle Show, branding it 'a human form of bear baiting.' He made his complaints as he sentenced a guest who had headbutted another during filming for the programme.

And finally, Jamie Oliver will visit 'America's fattest town' in a new cookery show for ABC, which will air next year. The series will apparently be based in Huntington, West Virginia. Oh good. I hope they don't eat him, because that would be dreadful.

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