Thursday, September 24, 2009

No More Mr Nice Guy!

The BBC is 'part of a conspiracy' preventing the 'radical changes' needed to UK democracy, the corporation's former director general has said. Greg Dyke told a Liberal Democrat conference meeting that he wanted a commission to look into the 'whole political system.' But he said: 'I fear it will never happen because I fear the political class will stop it.' The BBC said its political coverage was taken extremely seriously and was highly regarded by the public. Mr Dyke added major changes he had wanted to make to the BBC's coverage of politics had been blocked. He told the Liberal Vision fringe meeting about the expenses scandal and how it had changed voters' attitudes: 'The evidence that our democracy is failing is overwhelming and yet those with the biggest interest in sustaining the current system - the Westminster village, the media and particularly the political parties, including this one - are the groups most in denial about what is really happening to our democracy.' Serious charges. Has this blogger ever mentioned that he used to work for the employment service and that one of his jobs was dealing with incoming letters from clients who had recently by sacked from their former employment. Bitterness, dear blog reader, isn't something that only occurs when one eats lemons.

Jana Bennett closed the second BBC Vision Forum with a rallying call for people inside the BBC to get better at fighting the BBC's corner. Following an almost unprecedented barrage of political and press criticism in recent weeks and months, people inside the organisation - including artists, presenters and indies - needed to be more confident about answering the critics, she told interviewer Andrew Marr. 'We need to step up our advocacy [of the BBC] but slip into arrogance or blind conviction - not ranting back... and that's hard to do when it's happening through the newspapers,' the director of BBC Vision said. She added: 'We can do more to be open and transparent and talk with pride and conviction about what we do. We need to keep clarifying our mission and our purpose. We should all see ourselves as advocates.' Achieving 'the right blend of confidence and conviction' and getting the arguments right was one of the things that would come out of the new strategic review, she added. On that subject, Marr wanted to know if it would be such a terrible thing if the BBC pulled back from activity that was not traditional broadcasting. 'The boat's already sailed,' Bennett said. 'We've been in multi-platform for more than a decade. We were there early, the audience are there now. We're not ahead of the audience. The idea that we can roll back history is totally negative, and the way we're funded means that we have to be where the audience is. Hence iPlayer.' But, yet another review, asked Marr? Bennett said she made no apology for being thoughtful about the future: 'The licence fee settlement runs out in 2012-13, we need our case lined up [for what the next settlement should be]. The strategy review is about our long term future - not about short term reaction.' Asked about what some saw as the BBC's 'aggressive' scheduling of Strictly against X-Factor, she countered: 'We can't stretch peak time. Unlike seven or eight years ago, we now have great [Saturday night] entertainment on two channels... and the debate's happening as if we only had two channels to watch.' Earlier Bennett put the BBC's argument about the schedule clash in a blog: 'You won't have missed over the last week the press commentary about the return of Strictly Come Dancing and The X-Factor - and specifically the scheduling of the two shows on Saturday night. Much of what has been written feels one-sided from my perspective, so I wanted to take the opportunity to explain the BBC's side of the story. The first and most important point to make is that these two great shows, with loyal fans, have happily co-existed on a Saturday night since they began. Indeed, every season in the past the press have excitedly written about the two shows going head-to-head and whether Bruce or Simon would be crowned king of the living room. The facts are that the shows have overlapped more than forty times in the past - and on many occasions for well over an hour. So this is nothing new to either the schedulers, or more importantly the public, many of whom have grown up over the years with competing light entertainment shows on the BBC and ITV. The idea that the BBC would deliberately schedule to damage ITV is simply untrue. Indeed, this year there is even more choice for viewers with Strictly launching on a Friday and Saturday night and X Factor scheduled on a Saturday and Sunday night. The great fact about Strictly and X-Factor is both shows are highly popular with the public - nearly twenty million viewers tuned-in last Saturday. With about ninety per cent of homes now with digital television and many of those with digital recorders or broadband, the chances are if you want to watch both shows you can. ITV repeat X-Factor seven times over the week, and Strictly is available on iPlayer for seven days from broadcast. From the perspective of the BBC we shouldn't get too thrown by this media debate. When we think about scheduling Saturday night we should continue to think exclusively about our audiences and the journey that they are on from family drama, to entertainment, to sport. There's been a long tradition of competing entertainment shows on BBC1 and ITV on a Saturday night - from Noel vs Cilla to The Two Ronnies up against Game for a Laugh. So let's not get knocked off course by people who want to make a larger point about the BBC at the expense of a great show. Strictly has made a brilliant start and I am looking forward to tuning in every week over the autumn.' About time somebody at that level of management showed a bit of backbone. Jana Bennett, the new hero - at least - of one licence fee payer.

Channel 4's comedy chief has urged the BBC to take more risks in comedy, and ignore the anti-corporation bias of newspapers such as the Daily Mail. Comedy and entertainment controller Andrew Newman said: 'The Daily Mail has a psychotic agenda against the BBC. Whatever they do, they're not going to like so they [the BBC] should do what they believe in.' He told the Broadcast TV Comedy Forum that he was often shocked at the negative reaction comedy shows prompted in the press, saying of some of the newspaper-generated hysteria about the BBC: 'Just because you may think one book in a library is shit, you don't think the whole place should be burned down.' Later at the same event, Jimmy Carr echoed the point, and also defended the BBC's right to put out comedy programming that not everybody liked. 'The people who complain, I just think they're dicks,' he said. 'Are they saving the batteries in their remote controls? All they need do is click. Even though Last Of The Summer Wine does nothing for me, the BBC should still make it. You can't please everybody.' And US comedy producer Caryn Mandabach, whose credits include The Cosby Show and Roseanne, suggested that rows over taste were often manufactured by the press because it made good copy. Or, sometimes, because the press are - almost to a man - a bunch of wretched scum-lice. Either/or.

Daniel Mays has been cast in the final series of Ashes To Ashes, reports the Manchester Evening News. The thirty one-year-old actor, who recently starred alongside Anna Friel on The Street, will reportedly play a Discipline and Complaints Officer called Jim Keats. The BBC's Piers Wenger said of the third and final series: 'Series three of Ashes To Ashes will have the same combination of thrilling crime drama, outrageous eighties outfits and cutting one liners. 'We'll be sad to see Gene and the gang go but the journey that will take us to that finale will be one of the most exciting, compelling and edge-of-your seat rides on TV!' The eight-episode third series begins filming this Autumn for transmission in 2010.

Former True Blood and The West Wing actor Stephen Root has joined the cast of FOX's 24, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The fifty seven-year-old, has reportedly been booked on the Kiefer Sutherland-fronted show for a multi-episode arc. Root has been cast in the role of Ben Prady, an officer of the Department of Corrections who is looking into a parolee who has gone missing. He joins Rami Malek, Julian Morris and Hrach Titizian, who have all recently landed recurring roles on the show's upcoming eighth - and, possibly, final - season.

Strictly Come Dancing host Bruce Forsyth has reportedly called for an end to criticism of new judge Alesha Dixon. Yeah, like that's going to happen now that the tabloids have scented blood. The eighty one-year-old presenter spoke out in defence of Dixon at a workshop for BBC staff in West London, the Sun claims. Forsyth is quoted as saying: 'The show has been so hyped up this year and the criticism of Alesha has been unnecessarily harsh. She should be given a chance - the girl's got guts.' Dixon's debut as a panellist on the programme has received a frosty response from a - highly vocal - minority of viewers and critics. She made her first appearance as Arlene Phillips's replacement last Friday. A source commented: 'Brucie obviously feels very passionately about the Alesha situation as he was being quite feisty. He seemed genuinely annoyed by it all. Normally he reduces everyone to fits of giggles but this was an altogether more serious Bruce.'

Jill Halfpenny has become the latest celebrity to form an orderly queue to defend Strictly Come Dancing's new recruit Alesha Dixon. The actress, who won the ballroom show's second series in 2004, claimed that Dixon brings a fresh insight to the judging panel because she doesn't focus on technical concerns. Speaking to BBC Leeds, Halfpenny explained: 'Alesha is going to be talking to us from a completely entertainment view, she's not going to be talking about heel leads or anything like that - in a way, she's probably going to represent the everyman. She's a lovely girl and I think she'll do really well.'

Doctor Who and Torchwood author - and all-round thoroughly decent chap - James Moran is to make his directorial debut with a web-only crime thriller. Girl Number 9 stars Joe Absolom as a man arrested for the brutal murder of seven girls. But the police team have limited time to uncover his guilt, and become embroiled in his sick mind-games.The series plays out over six five-minute episodes. James, who has also written for [Spooks] and scripted the movie Severance (and shared the odd writing panel with yer Keith Telly Topping, as it happens), wrote the screenplay and is directing parts four to six, with Dan Turner directing the first half. The series was produced by Martin Baker and Pete Coogan, veterans of the Jim Henson Company, who set up their own independent, Baker Coogan Productions, in 2006 and subsequently produced Disney's first large-scale international production, Bunnytown. Girl Number 9 will be launched online at http://www.canyousaveher.com/ at the end of October. Looking forward to that.

Dominic Monaghan has claimed that FlashForward is 'a huge headfuck.' Speaking to SFX magazine, the thirty two-year-old actor also said that the show may draw comparisons to Lost, but is 'also its own beast. There's certainly a [Lost] influence on FlashForward in terms of the model of the show, in the same way that Lost has a large international cast,' he said. 'It's a worldwide show, a world event with mystery and drama and suspense. In that way, it's similar but then it's also its own beast.' Discussing the stories each character will experience, he added: 'Some people have great lives, some people who were going to commit suicide know they are alive in the future, some people are going to have a baby and in the future they don't have a baby anymore.'

Joss Whedon has said that he is 'bitter as hell' over FOX's decision not to broadcast the final episode of the first series of Dollhouse. The thirteen episode, titled Epitaph One, was not broadcast in the US, despite fans urging FOX to screen it. In the UK, the Sci-Fi channel broadcast the elusive episode earlier this year. Speaking to SFX magazine, Whedon explained: 'There was no reason to God's green and verdant Earth not to air it. It is an episode of the show, even though it is an odd tale; it will absolutely affect the show. I will structure the second season so that people who didn't see it will still be able to come in even if they've never seen the show, or if they saw the whole season except for that, I will make it easy for them to understand what it was we had in it that we are paying off.' Whedon also revealed that Eliza Dushku wants to film some burlesque scenes for the show. Whedon said that Dushku got the idea after seeing several dancers at the season one wrap party. 'Eliza wants to be a burlesque dancer,' he said. 'We haven't figured out how to put it in an episode yet but we are still trying! We had some burlesque dancers at the wrap party and she was like, "I want to do THAT!" I was like, "OK, but everybody has to know it came from you."' Is that what you were like is it Joss? For God's sake, you're an educated man, you went to Winchester, try using the word 'said' instead of the phrase 'was like' you'll find a lot more people actually understand what you're wittering on about. Keith Telly Topping is not, usually, a grammer Nazi but there are times when he's, like, narked by trivial little things.

Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller have revived their cultural critic characters Craig and Martin for a spoof online review show for the BBC. The characters, who previously fronted twenty six audio podcasts for The Times website, will present The Node, in which they will seek out what they think are the latest cool trends on the net. The studio-based shorts are being filmed against a green screen, with graphics showing the latest trends and images of what Craig and Martin think the Internet would look like if it were a real place. The Node also features guest reviewer Stuart Ashens, who has made a name for himself on YouTube with a series of gadget reviews. Hat Trick head of interactive Jonathan Davenport, who is producing the series for Armstrong and Miller's label Toff Media, said he is now talking to Ashens about further projects. Toff is initially making six instalments of The Node and will post the first two on the BBC's comedy website to coincide with the second series of BBC1's The Armstrong And Miller Show next month. Davenport said of The Node: 'It's a way to do something with characters who are thinly veiled versions of Ben and Alexander themselves, but who don't appear in the TV series.'

Meanwhile, the duo have also agreed to cut the word 'gypsy' from a sketch in their forthcoming series after 'debate' with BBC executives. The comedy duo confirmed at the Broadcast TV Comedy Forum that a spoof 1970s public information film, lampooning the 'casual racism' of the era, would not feature the word as planned. 'We had a debate with the BBC, "is it a good word to use" amid the current climate of fear,' Miller said. 'The consensus was to take it out. There is electricity in the air around any subject that could be seen as racist, such a hunger for debate.' He said however that discussions over such matters were a 'normal, healthy part of writing,' adding: 'Taken over a whole series, if all we have to do is have one discussion about the word "gypsy" that's quite good in terms of governance.' Miller accepted that because the show plays on BBC1, it requires special consideration due to the mass audience it reaches. 'In a comedy club you can get away with more, because the audience is used to a certain brand strength in the comedy cigarettes they smoke. But BBC1 is like speaking at a wedding - you need to be aware you're speaking to all sorts of people, not a unified group.' Armstrong said he feared the influence of newspapers in the wake of the row over Jonathan Ross' and Russell Brand's call to Andrew Sachs last year. 'Copy writers are holding sway over comedy,' he said. But he accepted the need to scrutinise comedy in particular. 'Comedy is about laughs, and it can look like you are using a position of strength to look down on people.' The BBC has previously come under fire for references to gypsies in an episode of the children's programme The Basil Brush Show and a joke made by Jimmy Carr in edition of Radio 4's Loose Ends. The BBC themselves have stated that the sketch was not pulled because of use of the word 'gypsy', but because the sketch - as a whole - had the potential to cause offence. A BBC spokesman said concerns were raised about the use of the word because it might cause offence in the context in which it was being used, reflecting editorial guidelines: 'There are no banned words on the BBC; "gypsy" isn't a banned word. This wasn't about the word itself, but about the sketch as a whole and the potential to cause offence. As with all comedy, it's about context, and in this particular case we felt there were less offensive ways of making the same joke.'

A new comedy festival inspired by a classic advert featuring Rich Hall is being launched in Auchtermuchty. The Fife town was mentioned in a beer advert showing the American comic in the countryside and wearing a fox hat. He said: 'When I told the folks back home I was coming to Auchtermuchty, they said wear the fox hat.' Inspired by that advert a comedy festival is being launched at the weekend. The inaugural Wear the Fox Hat Auchtermuchty Comedy Festival takes place on Friday and Saturday in the town's Victoria Village Hall. Glaswegian comedian Bruce Morton will be master of ceremonies for the first instalment of the festival, which will feature regular Mock the Week writer Jim Muir as his alter ego creation The Reverend Obadiah Steppenwolf 111, Liam Mullone and musical combo Rob & Skatz. The event is being organised by local promoters Jim Russell and Ian Harrower. Mr Russell said: 'I remember at the time of the advert's popularity that everyone associated with the village was hugely proud that "Muchty" was suddenly famous and on the big screen, mentioned in cinemas across the country. We stumbled across an old scratchy version of the advert on YouTube recently and wondered why no-one had ever thought of bringing a comedy evening and Auchtermuchty together before.'

Bo Selecta! creator Leigh Francis has hinted he may bring back the Channel 4 comedy series. Francis told the BBC although there had been no plans to resurrect the show, he had become 'excited' again while making a Michael Jackson tribute. 'We're now thinking how we could do another one differently,' he said. The comic has made a special one-off show in honour of Michael Jackson, who he imitated during Bo Selecta's run from 2002-2004. 'I think everyone will still want characters like Mel B in it, but I think we would have to do something different for it to continue. That's why we stopped before, because we couldn't think of anything else. But since then, loads of new celebrities have been born - the Lady Gagas, Russell Brands, Amy Winehouses - there's loads of new people to do now,' he said. Francis has created a new Michael Jackson rubber mask for his tribute programme - Cha'mone Mo'Fo'Selecta! - and said although he would be 'putting to bed' the old mask, he was also thinking of ways to continue with the new character. 'We were thinking he could maybe come back and guide somebody,' he said. 'Maybe the spirit of Michael Jackson could guide a real person like Peter Andre - who is a Jackson fan - like in The Doors when he's got the Indian guide.'

You may have believed stage hypnotism would die a death after even Little Britain took the mick out of it. However, it seems that some celebrities - at least the ones who can't get on other reality shows - are prepared to give it a go in order to keep their boat-races on screen. ITV is putting the finishing touches to Celebs Behaving Strangely, a show in which various C-to-Z-listers will allow themselves to be hypnotised and persuaded to perform embarrassing stunts. An excited 'channel insider' told the Sun: 'Everything is done for the amusement of the viewers. We've even hypnotised a group of celebs and sent them back to school. So you've got Danny Wallace showing off in class and Coleen Nolan trying to get out of a PE lesson.' Is it too much to hope that, somebody somewhere, gets caned fror this? Elsewhere, singer Michael Ball will be programmed to make life even more miserable for waiting staff by throwing a strop in a restaurant, while presenter Michael Underwood will be roused from his trance while abseiling down a building. In the most revealing illusion, ex-Spice Girl Emma Bunton will reportedly be persuaded that 'she's not famous at all.' (Oh, the irony.) The six-show series is being lined-up for a fearsome head-to-head clash with Have I Got News for You in the Friday 9pm slot, although dates haven't yet been finalised.

Coronation Street actress Jennie McAlpine has called for the return to the show of her screen mother Wendi Peters. The pair last worked together on the ITV drama's 2008 DVD special Out Of Africa, which saw Peters's scheming character Cilla Battersby-Brown being reunited with daughter Fiz and son Chesney (Sam Aston) in Sun City. McAlpine has now suggested that it would be 'lovely' to see Cilla causing trouble with another stint in Weatherfield. 'I think she'd definitely stir things up. Fiz definitely would not want her to come back, that's for sure,' McAlpine is quoted by the Press Association as saying. 'I think Chesney would because he loves her whatever she's done. He always seems to forgive her. So it would be great for Corrie and for us. But not for Fiz, I don't think.'

Former Coronation Street star Tina O'Brien has admitted that she is grateful to the soap's producers for not killing her character off. The twenty six-year-old actress quit her role as Sarah Platt in 2007 after more than seven years in the part. Viewers saw Sarah bowing out of Weatherfield to start a new life in Italy with her daughter Bethany. O'Brien went on to have her first child, Scarlett, in October last year and has since focused on life as a stay-at-home mum. Discussing her Weatherfield exit, she told the Manchester Evening News: 'It's really strange, because my character is supposed to have left the show, but even though she has gone they've kept the feeling there that she is obviously still a family member.' She continued: 'With regards to me, I feel very lucky that they didn't kill Sarah off and there is always that possibility of going back. But now that I'm a mum and I'm enjoying that part of my life right now, I don't really know how that would fit in to me at the moment.'

Emmerdale star Charlotte Bellamy has admitted that she is finding it difficult to conceal her baby bump during scenes. The actress, who plays Laurel Thomas in the Yorkshire-based drama, announced in May that she is expecting another child. She will take maternity leave from next month. Speaking to Inside Soap, Bellamy commented: 'My main challenge during filming is hiding my bump - I keep walking with bags in front of me and have to breathe in!' Bellamy and her partner Mungo Denison already have two children together.

Former EastEnders actress Emma Barton has claimed that her axing was a 'blessing in disguise.' Barton was dropped from the BBC drama in April last year after producers apparently decided that her character Honey Mitchell had 'come to the end of her storyline.' She has since secured the lead part of Roxie Hart in a touring production of Chicago. Barton's last scenes on the soap saw Honey leaving Walford with her son William and daughter Janet following the breakdown of her marriage to Billy (Perry Fenwick). Reflecting on her departure, Barton told the Sheffield Telegraph: 'I came to the end of my contract and the executive producer decided there wasn't much more to do with the character of Honey. I think having to leave was a blessing in disguise rather than playing a part that couldn't do much more and running the risk of getting tied to it.'

Charlotte Church has revealed that she plans to launch a revamped version of her Channel 4 show next year. The Welsh star has put her TV career on hold following the arrival of her second child Dexter in January. She took a similar break from screens after welcoming her first baby Ruby in September 2007. However, the ex-singer has now confirmed that she wants to bring back The Charlotte Church Show in 2010 with some changes, the Sun reports. Speaking on The Paul O'Grady Show, she explained: 'I'm hoping to come back with my show in the New Year. There might be less chat, though, I'm not as good as you are at it, Paul. More music and entertainment.'

Alexandra Burke has revealed that she got her body tattooed against the wishes of Simon Cowell. The X Factor winner told Attitude that she has three tattoos so far, including designs on the back of her neck and her foot. Burke said: 'They're all hidden. I'm not gonna get any on my arm or anything like that or Simon will kill me. He was like, "Why are you getting tattoos?," and I was like, "Because I like them."' She added: 'I'm already addicted to the pain of it. The one on my foot killed. I think it's because it's on the side bone. I screamed my nut off in the shop.'

The prospect of a downsized Channel 4 will hit new talent and regional independent producers the hardest, outgoing chief executive Andy Duncan has warned. At last week's RTS Cambridge Convention and in a subsequent conversation with Broadcast, Duncan has reiterated that with two hundred million pounds in reserve, Channel 4 is 'in absolutely no danger of going bust' and predicted that the broadcaster would come out of the recession better than its commercial rivals. Duncan is set to step down by the end of the year and will attempt to use his remaining months to close commercial partnerships that he has pursued for the past year, such as the BBCW joint venture. But with shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt giving his strongest signal yet that Channel 4 might have to 'scale back its ambitions' under a Tory government, the possibility of 'managed decline' at the broadcaster is looming in the background. Duncan's successor will face a climate in which PSB plurality is welcomed, but cash is less likely to be forthcoming to plug C4's stated 2012 funding gap of one hundred and fifty million pounds. Duncan warned that Channel 4's 2010 programme budget is likely to be below four hundred and seventy five million pounds, down from a peak of six hundred and twenty five million in 2007.

The BBC has defended its plan to ensure that all Freeview HD equipment will be equipped with more stringent copy protection technology. Earlier this month, Ofcom said that it is likely to permit the BBC's scheme for ensuring compliance with protection standards on the upgraded Freeview HD multiplex. The corporation wants to compress service information data, which boxes need to understand the TV services in the data stream. It will offer its decompression algorithm without charge to all manufacturers who implement the technology. However, Labour MP Tom Watson used his personal blog to criticise the BBC's proposal, which he said would render all existing Freeview PVRs 'obsolete.' He wrote: 'In attempt to satisfy the fears of powerful rightsholders, the BBC will prohibit millions of people from programming their existing set top boxes. If implemented this will make it difficult to view or record HDTV broadcasts with free software. Where's the consumer interest in that settlement?' Writing on the BBC Internet Blog, BBC head of distribution technology Graham Plumb stressed that 'no existing Freeview boxes will be affected' by the scheme. Plumb said that the BBC wants all public service content to remain unencrypted on digital terrestrial television, but some form of copy protection is 'required to enable us to launch Freeview HD to audiences in early 2010.' He claimed that the current technical specification for content management on Freeview HD equipment 'places no restrictions whatsoever' on copying SD content or recording/viewing stored HD content on a PVR.

The Scottish National Party has proposed establishing a new Scottish Broadcasting Corporation, funded by a proposed three hundred million pound pot of TV licence fee raised in Scotland already, subsidised by advertising and direct taxation. The paper, by Scottish culture minister Mike Russell, was produced to answer questions over the nation's share of its own cash and investment by the corporation, with the political party claiming that one hundred and thirty million pounds of Scotland's Licence Fee input was not spent north of the border. The core of programming available exclusively in Scotland would include a dedicated news service with a 'Scottish perspective', and increase of Gaelic programming and a greater committment to freely screened Scottish sport. The BBC - which would in effect become a foreign broadcaster - would still be available to Scottish viewers on digital or satellite platforms. Russell also criticised Channel 4's investment into the nation, saying that only 1.4 per cent of the station's output was produced there. But Scottish Labour and Conservative spokesmen disagreed with the proposals, describing the proposals as 'undoable' and accusing the SNP of maintaining a 'narrow nationalist view'.

Channel 4 is to draw parallels between British Muslim terrorists and Victorian anarchists in an 'unsettling' sixty-minute documentary from the maker of The Seven Sins Of England. The Enemy Within will show young British Muslims delivering authentic words of Victorian terrorists, through what purport to be surveillance cameras. Joseph Bullman produced and directed the piece, with Grant McKee as the executive producer. Channel 4's Mark Raphael has taken over the project from ex-C4 commissioner Meredith Chambers.

Cougar Town executive producer Bill Lawrence has admitted that Courteney Cox plays an 'exaggerated version of herself' on the show. The forty five-year-old Friends star portrays the character of Jules Cobb, a newly-single mother of a seventeen-year-old son. In real life, husband David Arquette is eight years her junior. Lawrence called the actress a 'fearless comedian' and explained that parts of the role's traits are derived from Cox's own personality. He told ABC News: 'I think Courteney Cox is great at playing the comedy of discomfort. Courteney says what's on her mind. She sometimes doesn't have a filter. She's basically playing an exaggerated version of herself.'

A former music studio set up by late broadcasting legend John Peel has been bestowed with two prestigious English Heritage Blue Plaques. The DJ, who died in 2004, invested in new equipment for Tractor Sound Studios in Heywood. Rochdale's Suite Sixteen Studios, which were used by Echo And The Bunnymen and Happy Mondays have also won a blue plaque. Ex-Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook, who once ran Suite Sixteen, played at a special gig on Wednesday to honour the studios. 'It was the ethos of the studio which I thought was wonderful,' he told BBC 6 Music. 'It was next to a music shop so basically there was a great little community because if you got bored or needed anything, you could go into the music shop.'

The Faces are to reform for a one-off charity show at London's Royal Albert Hall next month. Without Rod Stewart. And the late Ronnie Lane. Isn't that a bit like The Beatles reforming without Paul and Ringo? Rockin' Ronnie Wood, Kenny Jones and Ian McLagan will be joined by former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman filling in Lane. Other performers will include Mel C, Georgie Fame, Kiki Dee and Mick Hucknall of Simply Red. Proceeds from the event, to be held on 25 October, will aid the Performing Right Society for Music Members' Benevolent Fund.

TV presenter Dani Behr was one of the victims of a violent robber who has been jailed for life for attacking a series of wealthy women, including designer Nicole Farhi. Daniel Mykoo, twenty nine, attacked the star days before she was due to attend David and Victoria Beckham's wedding in 1999, punching her in the face and stealing her eight thousand pound Cartier watch and Versace bag as she stepped out of her car in west London. Mykoo and his brother, Matthew, spent twelve years terrorising women with a 'strangulation technique,' stealing valuables to fund their twelve thousand pound-a-month crack-cocaine addiction - netting almost one million pounds in money and goods. The thug, who admitted eighty four robberies - including the attack on style guru Farhi - was sentenced to life imprisonment on Wednesday and was told he must serve at least fourteen years behind bars. His twenty seven year old brother was given an indeterminate life sentence and must serve a minimum of nine years after he was convicted of seven robberies and was cleared of eight, including the one on Farhi.

Michael Palin has expressed frustration over his 'nice guy' image, complaining that it makes him seem 'weak.' The Monty Python star admitted that he finds the tag insulting because it gives people the impression that he lacks passion. 'People saying I'm nice makes me angry,' the Daily Express quotes him as saying. And you don't want to get Michael angry, trust me. he might call you a slightly rude name. Like 'a rotter' or something. 'I think that it's a weak word because it suggests you've got no strong feelings. And of course I have very strong feelings about a lot of things.' The sixty six-year-old, seen to the right, in one of his most unexpectedly nice personae, claimed that Gary Lineker had the same problem before he started his relationship with lingerie model Danielle Bux. He explained: 'People tend to think that those in showbiz are awful, apart from a couple of us like Gary Lineker and myself, who are nice. I think Gary is married to a younger woman now so he's lost a few points and doesn't have to be nice anymore. Lucky him!' Jeez, the crap some people chose to care about. Michael, listen, it might've helped if you hadn't put out a six hundred page book of your diaries a couple of years back in which you appeared (from your own words) to spend the entire 1970s playing 'desperately-nice-moderator' between the towering egos of John Cleese, Eric Idle and Terry Jones. That's kind of set the jelly as far as most people's perception of your niceness goes. It might also be an idea, the next time you're doing one of your travelogue shows, if your hurl some gratuitous abuse at some of the locals and make tasteless comments about how you 'can't stand the smell of Johnny Foreigner.' That might conspire to rid you of the 'nice' preception far quicker than you'd imagine.

Paul Gascoigne wants a second chance to visit the I'm A Celebrity psychologists, say reports. Various tabloids have claimed that the ex-footballer failed to pass ITV's psychiatric tests, which they make celebrities take before signing up for the show. However, Gascoigne (pictured to the left looking perfectly sane and, not at all like a complete nutter) has apparently asked for further meetings because the initial tests came shortly after the death of his mentor Sir Bobby Robson. Gascoigne has fought public battles with alcohol and depression and was last year sectioned twice under the Mental Health Act. 'Paul was gutted when he was told he hadn't passed the test,' a source told the Daily Star. 'He's keen to go on the show. He thinks it could actually help his recovery. But the analysis could not have happened at a worst time. He was is no state to be examined by a psychologist. The woman asked him all kinds of personal stuff. Was he gay? Had he been abused or seen his dad hitting his mum? The answers were "no" but he found the questions very intrusive.' Ex-Westlife singer Brian McFadden, snooker player Jimmy White, actor Brian Blessed, former model Sam Fox and celebrity footballers girlfriends Lizzie Cundy and Nicola T (no, me neither) have also been tipped to appear on this year's series.

Kirstie Allsopp, the Location, Location, Location presenter was invited to appear on Question Time, she believes, because she is a 'Right-leaning working mum. My night did not get off to a great start. The taxi I'd ordered to take me to the show didn't arrive, so there I was out on the street in Notting Hill, the Thursday before Christmas, desperately trying to hail a cab in my TV finery. It was a nightmare and, by the time I arrived, everyone had been through make-up. I was so panicked about being late I didn't even have time to be nervous, but all the way there I was on my mobile, boning up with a friend of mine who's a great expert on Europe. I was on with Chris Patten, former governor of Hong Kong, who wasn't awfully welcoming, Piers Morgan, already in party mood as he was off to [PR guru] Matthew Freud's Christmas party afterwards, Charlie Kennedy, who was less friendly than I expected, and little Hazel Blears and her booster cushion, who was an absolute poppet.'

Kerry Katona has been seeking help from psychic hotlines as her high-profile personal problems continue, a report claims. According to the Daily Star, the troubled ex-singer decided to get in touch with her spiritual side in the aftermath of her recent cocaine scandal. A source commented: 'It's sad, because it's mainly just for someone to talk to.' Katona is said to have become distrustful of her husband Mark Croft after being filmed snorting the drug in the bathroom of her Cheshire home.

Mel B hopes to reform the Spice Girls for a performance in South Africa at the same time as next year's football World Cup finals, it has been claimed. According to the Sun, the singer wants to reunite the group with or without band member Victoria Beckham. A source said: 'Mel's determined to get the girls back together for the World Cup and wants them to plough ahead as a foursome if Victoria doesn't want to take part. She has got the others excited by the idea of a one-off appearance. They are very interested.'

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