Sunday, December 06, 2009

Week Fifty: Let's Hope Jamie Oliver Gets Stuffed

Cancelled, it may have been, but Dollhouse returned to FOX on Friday night in the US with an extraordinary two-part story that mixed elements of The Stepford Wives, The Parallax View and Dr Strangelove and featured Alexis Denisof reminding us why he should have his own series. (All this along with guest appearances by Keith Carradine, Ray Wise and a virtually unrecognisable Summer Glau.) It was complex, big-concept stuff, with a slapstick middle-section (the two Tophers), high-octane action sequences, brilliant comedy (Adele's testicular solution to a problem) and a completely unexpected climax. Yer Keith Telly Topping has said it before I know, dear blog reader, but it does bear repeating - there must be something bloody good on opposite this to stop all bar a couple of million Americans from watching this show. Sometimes, we get the TV we deserve. And, sometimes, we ignore it.

Laila Rouass and Anton Du Beke were the latest couple to be voted off Strictly Come Dancing last night. The Footballers' Wives actress and her professional partner were bottom of the judges' leader board after only scoring a combined total of fifty nine points out of one hundred for their Latin and ballroom routines. Rouass's salsa came in for particular criticism from the panel, which this week included a fifth judge - Darcey Bussell - for the first time. Bruno Tonioli said that a 'deflated balloon' would have had more rhythm than the actress. Hollyoaks star Ricky Whittle and Natalie Lowe joined them in the bottom two, despite finishing top of the leader board with ninety five out of one hundred. Len Goodman said that Whittle's foxtrot was 'too marvellous for words,' but, seemingly, the viewers didn't agree. After both couples performed in the dance-off, Craig Revel Horwood, Bussell and Alesha Dixon all voted to save Whittle and Lowe, sending Rouass out of the show without the need to ask Bruno and Len what they thought. Speaking afterwards, Rouass said: 'Thank you, we have had such a ball. I would like to say it has been such a dream dancing with [Anton] for the last three months... it has been marvellous.' Du Beke added: 'She has been a joy to work with - not once has she moaned or complained. She has been so much fun.' Chris Hollins and Ali Bastian and their partners will join Whittle and Lowe in next Saturday's semi-final, which will got out at 6.45pm on BBC1.

Meanwhile reports in the Mirror earlier in the week suggested that Strictly judges Len Goodman and Craig Revel Horwood would be kept apart for the show's remaining episodes. And, indeed, last night the ballerina Darcey Bussell was sitting between the warring pair, and looking rather uncomfortable as a consequence of all of the publicity her seating arrangement had caused. A source had previously told the newspaper: 'Darcey may be tiny but she's determined to be tough on the contestants, especially if they haven't improved. She is also happy to referee if things get heated on the panel.' Goodman and Horwood have rowed live on-air several times during the current series. One argument prompted the sacked former judge and notorious face-ache Arlene Phillips to lead calls for the pair to be separated in the studio. But then, as previously noted, nobody is all that much interested in anything she has to say these days.

Guy Ritchie reportedly broke four cars while attempting to become the fastest star to appear in a reasonably priced car on the current series of Top Gear. The Sherlock Holmes and Snatch director was involved in a series of spins and shunts while circling Dunsfold Park track in Surrey, according to the Mirror. Ritchie, who was taking part in the BBC2 show's Star In A Reasonably Priced Car segment for tonight's episode, said that the wet weather on the day was a factor. An audience member at the programme's recording on Thursday grassed to the tabloid: 'He told the show's presenters it was a wet track and he had ended up breaking four cars over the course of the day, including destroying one of the gearboxes. It sounded like he had a few problems finding top gear, so I don't think his time will be the fastest.' You filthy snitch, I hope the pay was good.

And now, some further Top Telly Tips:

Friday 11 December
Mister Eleven - 9:00 ITV - is the first in a two-part romantic comedy drama written by Shameless author Amanda Coe. It's the story of schoolteacher Saz Paley's love life which is not driven by her heart, but by an obsession with numbers. Specifically, she believes implicitly the widely-quoted statistic that the average British woman marries her eleventh sexual partner. as a consequence Saz couldn't be more certain that her fiance, Dan, is the only man for her - because he is her own Mister Eleven. But on their wedding day, Saz is horrified to discover that Mister Eleven is, actually, Mister Ten. Handsome Aussie Alex, whom Saz counted as her Mister Nine, turns up unexpectedly and confesses that she passed out before they actually had sex. As Saz., promptly, goes into freefall. As she reflects on Misters One through Eight, both Dan and Alex wait to see if the course of true love can outsmart the mathematics. Sounds a bit tacky, to be honest (and, uncomfortably like parts of High Fidelity to boot) but it stars the hardest working bottom in showbusiness, Michelle Ryan, plus Sean Maguire, Adam Garcia, Lynda Bellingham and The Peep Show's Olivia Coleman among others. So at least the cast is decent even if the central concept isn't.

Comedy Showcase: Guantanamo Phil - 10:00 Channel 4 - is the world's first 'extraordinary rendition' comedy. Which, for novelty value alone, should guarantee it some sort of an audience. Phil (the excellent Steve Edge), who's from Stoke, was enjoying a spot of bird-watching on holiday near the Afghan border when he was accidentally arrested by US Marine forces on suspicion of being a member of al-Qaeda. After a six year campaign to secure his freedom, he finally returns home. But, life in Britain is not quite as he remembers it. Mmm ... very interesting premise for a 'comedy.' I'm certainly going to give this one a try.

Saturday 12 December
Just in case you've been living in a cave for the last thirteen weeks, it's The X Factor Final Weekend beginning at 7:30 on ITV. Hurrah! Put yer money on South Shields Joe, he's starting to look like a shoe-in as every other contestant implodes for one reason or another. Hundreds of thousands of hopefuls came to the nationwide auditions, but now only three acts remain to battle it out for the title. At stake is 'the biggest prize in pop' - a life-changing record contract and the release of a debut single which is cast-iron guaranteed to be a number one. Judges Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Dannii Minogue and Louis Walsh are also joining in the race to the finish line, as they cross their fingers for their own individual acts. Well, except for Louis cos he hasn't got anybody left in it. Plus, some 'amazing international guest stars' will be appearing. That'll be George Michael and Robbie Williams if the rumours are true.

Sunday 13 December
Sports Personality of the Year 2009 - 7:00 BBC1 - comes live from the Sheffield Arena, presented by the truly dreadful Sue Barker, the only marginally better Jake Humphrey and, at last a decent front-man, Gary Lineker. This is scheduled to be 'the biggest ever Sports Personality of the Year' (albeit, they say that just about every year) with a celebration of the best moments from 'an exceptional year of sport.' Well ... we did win The Ashes, I suppose. I'll give them that. The evening climaxes with the presentation of 'the most prestigious award in British sport' - an award chosen by the viewers live on the night from a shortlist of ten contenders. This year's race promises to be 'one of the closest for years.' Again, they say that every year. But, if you want to watch the conclusion of The X Factor instead then, don't worry dear blog reader, because Jenson Button's going to win this. You heard it here ... eighth.

Monday 14 December
In Out of My Depth - 9:00 ITV - we try to discover whether a 'well-known TV star' can learn a new skill in just one month to such a standard that they can do it for real? Amanda Holden puts her showbiz career on hold (or, what's left of her showbiz career after Big Top anyway) as she joins a group of student midwives. After little more than a month of intensive on-the-job training her mentor, the consultant midwife Pippa Nightingale, has to decide whether her celebrity student has what it takes to be part of the delivery room team. Hang on, I'm confused. If she does, then does that mean Amanda Holden will be giving up judging, blubbing and a million pound contract on Britain's Got Talent to become an actual midwife? Because, if that happens, THAT would be news. And, if not, then I just have to ask what is the sodding point of this show? Again, like The Duchess On The Estate and 7 Days on the Breadline there's something dark and quite sinister about these kind of 'life swap' shows in which the audience know in advance that, no matter what happens, the celebrity involved will be back in their comfort zone sooner or later. Next, apparently, Amanda will be trying an even harder task - attempting to see if she can make Big Top any less thoroughly wretched than it currently is. She'll fail, miserably. That job would be too tough for anyone.

Michael Jackson was a great singer, of course. You might have noticed that. But, he also a superb dancer. What does it take to be that good? Lots of drugs, it would seem. Ooo ... controversial. Anyway, to find out if a natural sense of rhythm can be achieved without the use of vast quantities of steroids, a contest is being held to find the best sixteen dance acts in Britain who will battle it out to perform at Jackson's memorial event and hosted by his brother, Jermaine. You know, the one that was on Celebrity Big Brother when there was all that bother going on. In Move Like Michael Jackson - 8:30 BBC3 - the nationwide auditions come first, in which Jackson's choreographer Lavelle Smith Jr and the casting agent Mark Summers select the best dancers for a place in the studio semi-finals. That's, where judges Jamelia (who is 'an R n B singer,' apparently m'lud) and Jermaine await. Hosted by Reggie Yates. Sounds just about the single worst idea for a TV show since the last time somebody did a Michael Jackson special. Maybe Derek Acorah is one of the dancers? Perhaps we'll never care.

This week's big stories on Coronation Street - 7:30 ITV - include whether Carla will be rumbled by the police or not. Also, a desperate Dev is torn between Sunita and Bernie. And, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Ken's Gazette article causes trouble in t'street.

Tuesday 15 December
Back in the 1980s, One Man and His Dog - 7:30 BBC2 - used to get an audience of eight million viewers who were, it seemed, transfixed watching a bunch of sheep being menaced by a border collie. Well, it returns for the 2009 competition tonight, from Armoy in the stunning County Antrim countryside. Stepping up to the handler's post in this episode are the various seasoned and weather-beaten professionals. These giants of their field have spent many years honing their fingers-in-the-mouth whistling skills and those of their dogs. Presented by Kate Humble, who seems to be on everything at the moment, with expert commentary from Matt Baker and Gus Dermody.

Jamie's Family Christmas - 8:00 Channel 4 - is, as you'd probably expect, a festive cooking series in which pompous, full of his own importance Jamie Oliver prepares to share his secrets for a stress-free family Christmas. Lock the door, switch up the central heating and go to bed until 27 December, that's yer Keith Telly Topping's formula. Also, avoid watching crass, pointless drivel like this presented by as smug a host as the wretched Oliver. That will certainly help lower the blood-pressure. In the first programme the Oliver shows viewers how to prepare the perfect turkey, along with allegedly 'great gravy and simple stuffing.' Is it too much to hope that he's the one that's going to get stuffed? Hard? He also explains the best way to carve your meat ('use a knife,' I'm guessing), and has some patented top tips for using the leftovers. God, I really hope this man gets a severe dose of salmonella poisoning on Boxing Day just like the rest of the country.

Is Paradox - 9:00 BBC1 - 'the new [Spooks]' as my radio producer, the legend that is Scunthrope Steve, believes? Certainly, it's an action-packed rip-roaring roller-coaster of a ride, albeit one with a fair few flaws in evidence. In tonight's episode, Tamzin's team receive double the amount of outer space images in what appears to be their most unfathomable mystery so far. The photos seem to be predicting a robbery, a fire and multiple deaths, but how can they possibly trace so many clues in so little time? Plus, of course, one of the images last time was random; are some of these the same? How do they know which pictures relate to the event that they are supposed to stop and which ones they can trust? Many, many good questions. On the evidence of the first two episodes, we'll get a fair few answers too. This is a pretty decent little drama - well-acted and with nice sense of impending on-rushing doom. Whether it's got the potential for a eight year run, is another question entirely.

Wednesday 16 December
The Hairy Bikers' Twelve Days of Christmas - 9:00 BBC2 - is a typically madcap Hairy Bikers' journey through the verses of one of our most popular Christmas songs. No, not that one by Slade, the other one. For each line of the song, Simon and Davey have come up with a suitable twist on a classic Christmas dish. From roast partridge with spiced pears and a classic trio of top-end poulets de Bresse chicken dishes to spiced Christmas pannacotta, and of course the secrets of a perfect roast goose. I'm guessing when they get to the drummers drumming we're going to get chicken drumsticks. And, of five gold rings, it's gonna be a bag of Hoola Hoops. Probably. Sometimes, literalism really is the way to go, dear blog reader. This was also, of course, the episode that they were filming when Si King had his nasty spill off his Harley Davidson on Gosforth High Street although I'm not sure whether any footage of that will be included. So, you might be better off with You've Been Framed if you're looking for the spectacular.

Remember once upon a time when The Royal Variety Performance used to be one of the highlights of the TV year, with acts of the calibre of The Beatles performing a'fore her majesty? No, me neither I'm only forty six. Anyway, these days it's somewhat hidden away in a mid-week slot, just pre-Christmas, and you can see it tonight at 7:30 on ITV. Peter Kay - whom, I have to be honest, I don't find anywhere near as funny as lot of people do - hosts the Eighty First Royal Variety Performance from the Opera House Theatre, Blackpool, in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. Who'll probably sleep through the whole thing and then say something tasteless and borderline racist to somebody on the meet-and-greet line. It seems they've drawn the short straw this year. Last year, it was poor old Charles grumpily asking her 'do I have to do the Royal Variety Performance, mother? Can't I be King instead?' The star-studded list of performers includes the bill-topping Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg and the cast of the smash hit musical Sister Act, and the dance troupe Diversity, the winners of this year's Britain's Got Talent. There is music from Lady Gaga, Michael Buble, Alexandra Burke, Miley Cyrus (well, I say 'music' in the widest possibly sense of the word), Katherine Jenkins, the stars of the show Here Come the Girls, Lulu, Anastacia and Chaka Khan. Plus alleged comedy from Paddy McGuinness who, of course, is on since Peter Kay's hosting. However, we've also got Jason Manford and the excellent Adam Hills, and Bob Golding paying tribute to legendary Eric Morecambe. So, there should be at least a few chuckles on offer.

In Grow Your Own Drugs for Christmas - 8:00 BBC2 - ethnobotanist James Wong returns for a Christmas special. In his usual inimitable style, James is tossing out the tinsel in favour of a more organic approach to celebrate the festive season. He delves into the origins of our favourite Christmas plants and shows how to think entirely differently about how we make use of them in the build-up to Christmas, plus demonstrates how traditional herbs can be made into natural remedies, recipes and original hand-made presents.

So, if Paradox really is 'the new [Spooks]' then what, exactly, does that make [Spooks] itself? Find out at 9:00 on BBC1. The show could really use a bit of support at the moment, the ratings have been really decidedly average of late. Which is a shame as the show itself is still as good as ever. Tonight, when Section D discovers that a group of Hindu nationalists are planning an attack on the Muslim community, the race is on to find out when and where and put a block on their nefarious skulduggery and sectarian naughtiness. Harry and his team's only asset is a scared teenage boy who can't handle the pressure. Lucas has his work cut out trying to keep him on side. Meanwhile, the team make a shocking discovery about Project Nightingale and a horrifying realisation dawns on them.

Thursday 17 December
Having returned from filming his lengthy odyssey all around the Far East earlier in the year, Rick Stein was inspired to come up with the answer to that perennial cooking dilemma facing us all each Christmas time - what the hell do you actually do with all the left-over cold turkey? In Rick Stein's Christmas Odyssey - 9:00 BBC2 - Rick tells us exactly where to stuff it. Up Jamie Oliver? Or is that too cruel? I mean, for the turkey, of course. Yer Keith Telly Topping has his own answer for this dilemma. I don't bother with turkey - I've never really liked it all that much, it's a bit too dry for me. I usually go for a nice moist chicken and some belly pork trimmings for Christmas Day although, I think I overdid it a bit last year so, this 25 December I shall be mostly eating chicken and chips. Like most days, in fact.

BBC4's Christmas Session: Fire and Ice at 9:00 celebrates midwinter with a blend of folk tradition and burlesque fun. Bellowhead and, a particular favourite of all of us on BBC Newcastle's Afternoon Show, The Unthanks get together with folk singers Thea Gilmore and Lisa Knapp, plus other specials guests, to perform seasonal songs of their own alongside some yuletide favourites. There are folk ballads, carols, parlour songs and carousing dance numbers, with everyone coming together for a final knees-up. Filmed at Shoreditch Town Hall, the setting evokes an old music hall combined with a festive Victorian family parlour. If you can imagine Fairport Convention on The Good Old Days ... then you've probably been at the Bailey's Irish Cream a bit early this year. But, that's the kind of thing that you're in for with this. Looks rather splendid, actually.

And lastly, if you don't fancy either turkey or hey nonny-nonny, there's always good old reliable Qi - 9:30 BBC1. Which, I know I seem to recommend near enough every week but, let's face it, it's either this or Gavin & Stacey. No contest, really. Tonight, Stephen Fry gets the gist of geography with G-type guests Jo Brand, Rob Brydon, Jimmy Carr and Alan Davies.

Moving on to some Top Telly News: Alyson Hannigan has criticised plans for a Buffy The Vampire Slayer movie remake. The thirty five-year-old actress, who played the cult heroine Willow Rosenberg in the acclaimed supernatural TV drama, told Cinemablend that she cannot understand why one of the franchise's owners, the original movie's director Fran Rubel Kuzui, is hoping to bring back the character without the involvement of Buffy's creator Joss Whedon. Hannigan commented: '[It's] a very big mistake in my opinion. I mean, if Joss isn't involved, it's only a title.' Asked if she would consider getting involved with the project, she replied: 'Not without Joss. [He's] is the only reason that we would go back. I mean, it's just ridiculous to think of that TV show without Joss. That's just silly to me. And all the fans know that, too, so I don't know what they're thinking.' Whedon wrote the script for the original 1992 Buffy The Vampire Slayer movie. He then went on to relaunch the franchise for the cult TV series of the same name four years later. It ran for seven years and over one hundred and forty episodes. Anthony Head, who starred as Buffy's mentor Rupert Giles on the programme, has previously warned that the new movie could be 'a bit like watching a car wreck.' I have to say, mind, that this story about a new non-Joss Whedon Buffy movie or TV show has been doing the rounds off-and-on since about six months after the TV shown finished in 2004. In May of this year, The Hollywood Reporter stated that Roy Lee and Doug Davison of Vertigo Entertainment were working with Fran Rubel Kuzui and Kaz Kuzui on a re-envisioning of the Buffy movie for the big screen. The film would not be a sequel or prequel to the existing movie or television franchise and Joss Whedon would have no involvement in the project. Whether this will ever actually amount to anything is, of course, debateable. Having said that, the idea of any Buffy Summers-related project without Joss Whedon is like Jaws without the shark.

If you were watching on Friday night you'll already know that Gino D'Acampo won this year's I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race On TV... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possibly, I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want! The chef triumphed after receiving the majority of the public vote ahead of runner-up Kim Woodburn. Snooker player Jimmy White had earlier exited the show in third place. Speaking to Ant and Dec after leaving the jungle, D'Acampo remarked that his experience had been 'full of crazy ups and downs,' adding: 'But I enjoyed every moment of it. And being named King Of The Jungle is the cherry on the cake! It's been amazing.' And then, it got funny as D'Acampo and his follow contestant, Stuart Manning, were reportedly charged with animal cruelty. The News of the World claims that pair were 'arrested' after leaving the show because of an incident in which they were seen to kill and eat a rat. The Australian RSPCA, which has previously suggested that it would investigate the rat's death are said to have asked ITV to hand over all their footage of the rodent-murder, including any which wasn't shown on television. Show sources have also claimed that the rat may have been a tame animal introduced to the camp by producers. 'There were rats used for the bushtucker trials and they were as tame as hamsters,' a source allegedly nitched. 'They were used to human contact and not afraid like wild ones who would run away. The killing made for dramatic TV. But it's likely the animal was one of the trial rats.' D'Acampo, who was previously jailed for two years after stealing guitars from Paul Young's home, was reportedly worried that he wouldn't be able to leave the country. 'Gino was detained so long his family, including his two young boys, had to travel back to the hotel without him,' the source claimed. 'He has previous convictions and is terrified of getting into more trouble with the authorities. But police say now he is free to go home.' ITV confirmed that the pair are being investigated, saying in a statement: 'Australian RSPCA are currently looking into an incident in which a rat was killed in the camp.' D'Acampo and Manning have allegedly been told to appear in court on 3 February. If sentenced, they could face up to three years in jail.

ABC has announced that FlashForward will not return to US screens until Thursday 4 March. The Joseph Fiennes-fronted drama series was expected to be back in January, but the network have pushed it back to after the Winter Olympics so that it can air the remaining twelve without repeats. What effect this will have on Five's confident statement the week before last that FlashForward would return to British screens 'in the New Year' remains to be seen. FlashForward's first episode brought in an impressive audience over over twelve million for ABC in September, but its figures have since steadily declined with latest instalment managing just over eight million last Thursday. V's return date has also been rescheduled. The miniseries will continue on Tuesday 30 March.

Irish folk legend Liam Clancy has died at the age of seventy four. He was the last surviving member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, who were famed for their iconic Aran sweaters and close harmony ballads and drinking songs. The band was at the fore of the early 1960s folk revival and Bob Dylan once said he 'could not think of anybody who's a better ballad singer than Liam.' Clancy had been ill for some time, and died in hospital in Cork on Friday, surrounded by family members. One of his last screen appearances was in Martin Scorese's 2005 Dylan documentary No Direction Home giving a quite beautiful emotional deconstruction of 'Girl From The North County.' Rest well, big fellah.

Fabio Capello refused to take England's progress beyond the group stage of the 2010 World Cup for granted despite being handed what appears on the surface at least to be a relatively easy group against the United States, Algeria and Slovenia. 'I think it is one of the most balanced groups,' the manager said. 'Algeria have beaten Egypt so they are a dangerous side. I remember there have been groups that looked easy but then became really complicated. It's not so bad,' the Italian told BBC Sport. Sadly, he didn't go on to add that it was a nice-a place, nor, indeed, inform Jonathan Pierce who was interviewing him that he should shuddup-a his face. (My thanks to Danny Blythe for providing me with that joke!) Capello urged his players not to assume that a place in the last sixteen was already in their grasp. 'The games we have to play here will be not easy,' he told Sky Sports News. 'I hope the players will stay with us and prepare with a good mentality to play these games. We have to respect the teams we play against.' Asked what he knew about Algeria, Capello replied: 'Nothing.' He said he planned to arrange a friendly against Egypt for 3 March to prepare for the match against Algeria, who defeated Egypt to reach the finals. 'I saw only some moments of the games they played against Egypt. I saw the goals they scored to qualify but not too much to underdstand the style or what will happen during the game.'

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa will be filmed using 3D production techniques for the first time, it has been announced. Up to twenty five games will be captured using 3D cameras after football's world governing body FIFA signed a media rights agreement with Sony. Firm plans to run live broadcasts of 3D games have yet to be confirmed, but FIFA has said that it will decide whether to offer the rights 'in the coming months.' After the event, Sony Pictures Entertainment will act as official producer and distributer of all World Cup 3D films. 'This propels the football fan into a whole new viewing dimension and marks the dawning of a new era in the broadcasting of sport,' said FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke. 'We are proud that the FIFA World Cup can serve as a platform for advancing technology and the viewing experience and are truly fortunate to have Sony as a partner in this endeavour.' Sony chairman and chief executive Sir Howard Stringer added: 'The transition to 3D is underway, and we, at Sony, intend to be leaders in every aspect. Our sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup allows us to leverage our cutting-edge 3D technology and premier products with dazzling content to produce a unique and totally compelling viewing experience. 3D viewers around the world will feel as though they are inside the stadiums in South Africa, watching the games in person.' Sky recently ran trials of 3D filming at the ATP Tennis Finals at the O2 arena by using two independent cameras to record images for the left and right eye to create the required depth.

The Russian actor Vyacheslav Tikhonov, who immortalised a fictional wartime spy called Stirlitz in a 1973 Soviet TV series, has died in Moscow aged eighty one. Tikhonov, more familiar to Western audiences as Prince Andrei in the epic Soviet adaptation of War And Peace in the 1960s, had suffered a heart attack. As Stirlitz, he was as familiar to Soviets as James Bond is in the West. Jokes about his encounters with the Gestapo chief, Mueller, in Nazi Berlin remain a national treasure in Russia. The series, 17 Moments Of Spring, has been a perennial offering on Russian television. Reacting to news of his death, Karen Shakhnazarov, director general of the Mosfilm studios in Moscow, said: 'For many generations, he personified the best in Soviet cinema.' Russian film director, Eldar Ryazanov, described Tikhonov's death as 'a catastrophe. I'm sorry, he was my friend and I'm in no state to say anything now,' he told Interfax news agency. International recognition came with the central role of the philosophical Prince Andrei in Sergei Bondarchuk's Oscar-winning version of War And Peace (1968), set during the Napoleonic Wars. Tikhonov also had a part in Nikita Mikhalkov's 1994 Oscar-winning film about the Stalinist repressions, Burnt By The Sun. The actor was decorated with state awards in his home country and Russia's leaders duly paid tribute to him on news of his death.

Friends has been named the most watched TV show of the last ten years. The US sitcom, which launched the careers of Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry and Courteney Cox, ran for a decade between 1994 and 2004. Figures published by The Hollywood Reporter reveal that the programme's 2004 finale was the highest-rated broadcast in America since 2000, attracting over fifty two million viewers. A 2000 episode of reality show Survivor: Borneo came second with 51.7 million. Dating series Joe Millionaire was third with a 2003 episode garnering an audience of forty million. An instalment of medical drama ER came fourth, with 39.4 million, and talent show American Idol rounded off the top five with 38.1 million. Other entries in the top ten included episodes of Grey's Anatomy, Frasier and Spin City.

Former Coronation Street actor Bruce Jones has pleaded not guilty to charges of dangerous driving and assault. The actor denied the offences when he appeared at Mold Crown Court on Friday ahead of a forthcoming trial, BBC News has reported. Jones, who played Weatherfield layabout Les Battersby, has been accused of dangerous driving on the A55 (North Wales Expressway) in August. He is also facing allegations that he assaulted his wife, Sandra, on the same day. It is thought that Jones's trial will begin on 4 February. He has been bailed on the condition that he must not contact his partner. Press reports have stated that the ex-soap star is currently living in a caravan in Rhyl due to his bail conditions.

I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! producers have reportedly started to regret recruiting Katie Price for the jungle. According to the Daily Star, the programme's bosses were forced to lay off cameramen and scrap plans for expensive bushtucker trials because so much of their budget was eaten up by paying for Price, whose fee was rumoured to be three hundred and fifty thousand pounds. Later, having swanned in on a helicopter like she owned the place, Price quit the jungle after just one week. A source said: 'The booking of Kate Price has really cost this show. A lot of money was spent on her and, as a result, cuts had to be made elsewhere. The producers genuinely thought having Jordan go back into the jungle after her split from Peter Andre would be a great coup. But it has blown up in their faces.' The insider added: 'Cuts had to be made. ITV is already cash-strapped like other stations. But a huge slice of their jungle budget went on Jordan. Now they are wondering, "Was it worth it?"'

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