Thursday, April 30, 2009

'Flu? No, I Came On The Bus.

I hear news that there was an actually, proper, honest-to-God earthquake in Cumbria the other day. Quite a serious one, too as I understand. Damage to the value of two pounds and seventy five pee was done to Carlisle city centre. I wonder if the earth moved for them?

And I was pure dead pleased to hear that Durham's fast bowler Graham Onions had been called up to the England cricket squad for the first test against the West Indies at Lord's next week. This comes just a few months after his Durham team-mate Phil Mustard made his international debut. I wonder if there's any truth in the rumour that Durham are trying to sign the Australian off-spinner Craig Berger to complete the gastronomic set.

Nah, listen...

Let's have a little round-up of some hot Top Telly News.

In America the hugely dramatic seventh season of 24 - their best in at least three years (since the one in which William Devane played 'Secretary of Defence With A Machine Gun'!) - continues ever onwards with the show's unique, high-octane mixture of absolutely insane plots and tool-stiffening violence. The big bonus over the last couple of episodes has been a terrific performance by Amy Price-Francis - she's the girl who plays Tony's shadowy establishment conspirator. She is fabulous. If you think you might've seen her before, I can tell you that she was in a few episodes of Californication last year and was also a regular in a decently average - albeit short lived - US drama called Tracker from a few years ago.

House delivered one of its best episodes of the season this week (and, again, it hasn't exactly been short of other great episodes to compare with this year). Ah, that Anne Dudek - what an flaming icon that young lady is! Her bitchy double act with Hugh Laurie is absolutely inspired - one of genuine pith and wit and beautifully acted by the pair of them. And, the subplot about Chase's mad bachelor party being organised in Wilson's apartment, without Wilson's prior knowledge was just brilliant. 'Where's my furniture?' 'Oh ... probably out back, somewhere!' Genius. Meanwhile Lost's also doing very nicely after a week's break with an episode this time around that concentrated largely on Daniel's over-complicated back story and his curiously loveless relationship with his mother, the mysterious and sinister Eloise (there's a joke in there about 'sonovabitch', I'm sure). Which was very good (particularly the wholly unsurprising revelation concerning the idenity of his father) but ... NOT ENOUGH DESMOND, I'm afraid! Guys, will you just put it right, soon, please, I'm getting Dessie withdrawl over here. Two scenes and some gun shot wounds do not satisfy me.

There was an excellent bit on the - always impressive - Daily Show earlier in the week with Jon Stewart (at his wonderful stone-faced best) berating God for his dramatic irony in really having it in for humanity. 'Seriously, a pandemic?! You're adding that to the financial crisis? Is this your idea of a joke?' They followed that with a short sketch in which John Oliver - who now gets almost Beatlemania-style screams each time he appears on the show from the studio audience - standing outside the Centres for Disease Control and being very balanced and 'don't panic'-like about the swine 'flu outbreak. This scene then cut to another of the Daily Show's fine correspondants, Jason Jones, at somewhere called 'the Centres for Stuff I Heard From Some Guy.' Jason claimed that he had it on very good authority that the entire population of the state of Arizona was already dead and that John Oliver himself was infected and would be soon turning into a brain-eating zombie and should to be shot with a silver bullet! John had to make an 'official' statement, thereafter, that the 'flu could not be spread 'through dragons laying eggs in your heart!' Wild and crazy guys. Mind you, I'll bet Terry Nation's having a damned good laugh about this pandemic. Didn't he sort-of predict this?!

Lastly, it has been announced that a bunch of terrifyingly ugly men in their mid-forties with very bad hair and who like wearing spandex - Mötley Crüe (who, apparently, are 'a popular beat combo' of some description) - will be appearing in the Bones season finale in two weeks time. The horror. David, in your past life as a vampire, you used to ruthless kill people like that on a weekly basis ...

And, so to UK TV. And, something that been very eagerly awaited in the Telly Topping household. A teaser for Torchwood: Children of Earth was broadcast on Australia's UKTV this week, in conjunction with their broadcast of the final episode of Torchwood series two. UK blog readers can see the teaser on the BBC's Torchwood site. Torchwood: Children of Earth is, just in case you've been living on Mars recently, a five-part mini-series, which will air in Britain this summer on BBC1 and, in the US on BBC America. An official air date hasn't yet been announced, but the British Film Institute will host a preview showing of the first episode in London on Friday 12 June, at BFI Southbank (formerly the National Film Theatre) so it'll be sometime after that. This preview will be followed, apparently, by a question and answer session with various members of the cast and crew. Sounds rather good. I'll have to see if I can blag a press ticket for that.

The BBC, meanwhile, have ordered an adventure format from the executive producer of Last Man Standing that will 'abandon' losing contestants from the show in far-flung locations around the world. Can't they do that with people on Britain's Got Talent? I'd definitely watch that.

Each week, Drop Zone - a series of six one-hour episodes - will helicopter contestants into a different location, ranging from easily recognisable cities to deep jungles. Those who don't get out on their own, seemingly, get left there. Nice idea! It'll be Pro-Celebrity Dwarf Tossing next, mark my words.

It would appear that Jay Hunt wishes to move BBC1 away from voting-style talent shows (apart, obviously, from their one great success in the genre, Strictly) and into more general Saturday night entertainment shows such as John Barrowman's Tonight the Night and Graham Norton's forthcoming vehicle. And also, as this format suggests, gameshow-type adventure series following the unexpected success of Total Wipeout and the 'far less successful, in fact, a sodding disaster, but they've still - somehow - milked a second series out of it' Hole in the Wall.

ITV seems to be moving away from Friday night comedies as it's reported to be looking for another shiny-floor show for Friday nights at 9pm. The new ITV director of comedy and entertainment, Elaine Bedell, is said by Broadcast to be searching for a sixty-minute entertainment show to air at 9pm on Fridays on ITV1. The move would push the broadcaster away from thirty-minute comedies such as Moving Wallpaper or light-hearted hour-long dramas like the upcoming Boy Meets Girl. The change will, they hope, help to distinguish ITV1 from BBC1, which regularly runs thirty-minute comedies between 9pm and 10pm. Yeah ... I think it not outrageous to suggest that most people can already distinguish between the two. BBC1 is Channel One and ITV1 is Channel Three. If you've reached adulthood and haven't managed to work that out yet then, frankly, there's probably not much hope for you beyond flipping burgers and asking 'do you want fries with that?' as a supplementary question.

The following is from the BBC's in-house magainze Ariel: "Horne and Corden, the sketch show written by Mat Horne and James Corden, has broken all previous records amongst the channel's target audience of 16-34s. The series averaged 0.9 million viewers per episode and a six percent share overall. BBC Three's controller, Danny Cohen, said: 'I'm delighted their first series has performed so well. It's a wonderful indication of their popularity with young people in particular, and it goes right to the heart of BBC Three's mission to work with the best of young British talent.' According to figures released by the BBC, the series opened with 1.4m viewers (an 8.7 per cent share). The final episode of the series drew seven hundred thousand. Discussions for a second series are well underway between production company Tiger Aspect and BBC Three." So, what they're basically saying here is that 'this show is very popular with students.' Aye. That's hard to argue with. And, given the current appalling state of the education system in this country, that says SO much on so many levels.

Satellite TV broadcaster BSkyB has said its profits rose in the last quarter as more customers signed up for its high-definition digital services, appearing to buck purchasing trends in the luxury goods market. Pre-tax profits at BSkyB climbed thirteen percent to sixty three million between January and March.

Although it added 243,000 customers for its Sky+HD service, many existing customers left, bringing the net gain down to 80,000 new customers. Revenue gained to £1.4bn, from £1.25bn in the same period last year. Sky has a total of 9.3 million customers, with five million of those subscribing to Sky+, which lets users record programmes. More than one million subscribers now watch regularly Sky's high-definition service. Customers who have TV, broadband and a telephone service with Sky make up about fifteen percent of the broadcaster's total users, up from nine percent a year ago.

'Looking ahead to the rest of 2009, we expect conditions to remain challenging,' a spokesthing for BSkyB said. 'In difficult times, customers are making careful choices.' In February, BSkyB won the rights to show more than eighty percent of live televised Premier League games in the UK from 2010, beating rival Setanta. As a fully-paid up Sky man myself, I'm saying nothing at this juncture except wondering, idly, who's got the rights to coverage of the Championship next year? Since that's, almost certainly, where my lot are headed.

The BBC have released a press pack up today for the forthcoming Alex Kingston drama vehicle Hope Springs - presumably it will be taking over from All The Small Things on a Tuesday when the latter, which has been critically mauled but, actually, got moderately decent ratings and, more importantly, kept the majority of its audience though most of the series, ends next week. Hope Springs, meanwhile, is said to be about a group of female crooks who hide from the law in a sleepy village and has been described, wonderfully, as 'like Widows crossed with Heartbeat.' I'll tell you what, I'm gonna watch it now and if it isn't, exactly, like that then I personally am going to be very disappointed!

The BBC have also announced today that the Sports Personality Of The Year event will be held in Yorkshire for the first time, at The Sheffield Arena, and will be covered live on BBC1 on Sunday 13 December. Last year, you may remember, was an hilarious romp in which some big bloke on a bike beat a little chap bloke in a car (who said entertainment was dead?) and everybody said 'Cor!' just like Sid James in Carry On Abroad when they saw the dress that Rebecca Adlington was almost wearing. Tickets for last year's show, presented by Sue Barker, Gary Lineker and Jake Humphrey, sold out within an hour of going on sale, so the increase in the size of the venue this year will also allow an increase in the total size of the audience.

Meanwhile, a particular favourite drama of all of us on the Top Telly Tips slot [Spooks] is now back in production for its eighth series which will be shown later in the year. The critically-acclaimed last series saw the appointment of ice cold Ros Myers (the great Hermione Norris) to Head of Section D and the release of Lucas North (hunky, dangerous Richard Armitage) after eight years in a Russian prison. Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) and his elite team of spies were forced to quickly adapt to their new dynamic following the dramatic death of Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones), but there was no time to mourn their colleague as the Russians descended on London and a mole within Section D was discovered. It was Connie. We were all very shocked. Sorry if you haven't seen that particular episode but, if not, where've you been?

Rolf Harris, artist to royalty, musician, singer of hit singles, TV presenter, all-round entertainer, swimming teacher, wobble-board maestro, insurance salesperson, asthmatic and cult heroes to at least two generations of Britons (possibly more) is to guest host Have I Got News For You, the BBC's top-rating topical comedy quiz show, for the first time. Born in Bassendean, Western Australia, but resident in the UK for more than half a century, Rolf will join the regular team captains Ian Hislop and Paul Merton on 15 May 2009 for the fourth programme in the current series.

And, finally, the following is, quite simply, the greatest newspaper headline in the history of the world. It hasn't, actually, got anything particularly to do with TV per se. But, who cares? From the Daily Mirror: Leona Lewis bloodied and knocked to the floor after being headbutted by her horse. You know ... They should film that and show it on TV every Christmas.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Week Eighteen: To Whom Does One Have To Be Related To Get A Job On Robin Hood?

Here's the arrival of yet another week of Top Telly Tips from yer Top Telly Tipster, Keith Telly Topping. Who has got sciatica at the moment, dear blog reader, and is thus in considerable pain and discomfort this weekend. All expressions of sympathy will be gratefully received. Though, to be honest, boxes of Ibuprofen would be even better...

Friday 1 May
Boy Meets Girl – 9:00 – is a new body-swap comedy from ITV. So, the words "Comedy" and "ITV" appearing in the same sentence? No, new one on me too, dear blog reader. But anyway… struggling DIY man Danny (played by one of my favourite comedy actors, The Office's Martin Freeman) wakes up to find himself trapped in the body of female fashion journalist, Veronica Burton. Who said that ITV weren't interested in producing Sci-Fi these days? There's no trace of Danny's own body anywhere and he is desperate to find out what has happened. But first, he must negotiate life as a glamorous thirtysomething woman. Can he fend off the attentions of Veronica's pushy boyfriend? And is anyone missing the real Danny? Yeah … sounds rather intriguing this one, albeit not the most original idea in the world (it's the film All Of Me, basically, isn't it?) It's also got Survivors' Paterson Joseph in it and Marshall Lancaster from Ashes to Ashes along - with a name for the nostalgia market, here - one of my first TV crushes Gabrielle Drake (UFO, The Brothers, Crossroads). This sounds like a cracking good little idea. Watch, after all that build up now it'll turn out to be rubbish like most comedy on ITV!

Saturday 2 May
In Robin Hood – 6:20 BBC1 - Prince John pays a long-awaited visit to Nottingham and he is out to make trouble for someone (and, since he's played in best cat-stroking fashion by ex-Bond villain Toby Stephens, that's kind of understandable). With Gisborne and the Sheriff assigned to look after the royal mission, it surely spells the end of the road for one of them. Meanwhile, Robin is up to some mischief of his own, the knavish prankster, he. I do like Robin Hood, I know I've said this before. They've got some really good actors in this show – especially Joe Armstrong (Alun Armstrong's son) and Sam Troughton (David Troughton's son and Patrick Troughton's grandson). And Joanne Froggett ... who was Sam Tyler's mom in Life on Mars but, otherwise, shares no obvious family connections with anyone other than Mr and Mrs Froggett, seemingly. Just to prove that there's a little bit more going on here than mere TV nepotism for the theatrical classes. Not that there is anything whatsoever wrong with being either Alun Armstrong's son, Patrick Troughton's grandson or, indeed, Mr and Mrs Froggett's daughter, Keith Telly Topping notes quickly wondering if there is any way he can get out of the hole that this preview is rapidly turning into with some vague shred of dignity still in tact? No, thought not. Anyway, somewhat dwindling viewing figures notwithstanding, I remain a cautious fan of the Merry Men (and lady).

If you're looking for something else to watch instead of Susan's new hairstyle on Britain's Got Talent then, frankly you're a going to be a bit snookered on Saturday night. I mean, quite literally. Dave are having a Qi marathon (six episodes from nine o'clock onwards) which I'll probably be watching but, otherwise, it's something of a dead loss. Unless, of course, you're gripped by the sight of grown men in bow ties putting their balls on the table in the World Snooker which reaches the semi-final stages on BBC2.

Sunday 3 May
Tonight sees the return of (the slightly renamed) Inspector George Gently – 8:30 – BBC1's attempt to muscle in on the traditional ITV Sunday night Morse/Lewis-type slot written by Our Friends in the North author Peter Flannery. During their investigation into the ghastly murder of a lonely old man in his dilapidated mansion, Gently and Bacchus (the very good Lee Ingleby) stumble upon a world which is beyond their comprehension. Well, it was the 1960s, there was a lot of that sort of thing going on. There's a good cast joining Martin Shaw in this one - as usual - including Jill Halfpenny. As an alternative to this, ITV begins a three-part series which follows the currently very busy Martin Clunes as he explores some of the one thousand miles of islands that surround the coast of Great Britain (the imaginatively titled Martin Clunes: Islands of Britain). Along the way, Martin meets some of the extraordinary characters who live in these remote spots. In the first episode, Martin travels north to the most secluded islands of Scotland, including a hazardous trip to Muckle Flugga, the last outpost of the British Isles. He meets a Viking called Derek, some refugees from city life seeking paradise and gets his passport stamped by the sole inhabitant of a remote rock. So, this is a knock-off of Coast, essentially. Only, replacing a softly-spoken Scottish Man with lovely hair with a tall cheerful Englishman with big ears. Hey, it could work.

Monday 4 May
Johnny Cash: The Last Great American – 7:00 BBC2 – is a repeated documentary profiling the life of the legendary country star Johnny Cash, who died in 2003 shortly after completing American Recordings, the five-CD work which resurrected his career in the last decade of his life. Featuring contributions from his daughter Rosanne (whose comment '"Johnny Cash" is the two-word answer for why it's still all right to be an American!' is the best line on TV this year!) and son John Carter Cash, manager Lou Robin and fellow musicians including Little Richard, Elvis Costello and Kris Kristofferson. In my opinion, the greatest single moment in musical history occurred in early 1968 when Johnny performed live at Folsom Prison in California and opened his set with 'Folsom Prison Blues', the song that made his name on Sun Records twenty years earlier. He got to the third line ('I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die') and 4,000 murderers, rapists and … you know, people who got slung in pokey for nicking stuff from the local 7-11, holler their bone-chilling approval of the sentiment. Beat that for menace, Johnny Rotten at the 100 Club.

Bear Grylls: Mission Everest – 7:30 Channel 4 – follows the popular adventurer Bear and his mate Gilo Cardozo as they attempt to fly motorised paragliders above the height of Mount Everest. That's over twenty nine thousand feet or, about six miles high in case you were wondering. You know, the height that jumbo jets fly at. These blokes are off their bloody rocker! So, I'm definitely going to be watching this just to see if they, you know, die. Before tackling Everest, however, Gilo must design a powerful and lightweight machine that can fly where no other has gone before and the pair must also convince their wives to let them undertake a dangerous mission which has no guarantee of success or, indeed, survival. After troubles in testing, the day of the flight approaches and the reality of the challenge ahead becomes apparent.

Lastly, on Ashes to Ashes – 9:00 on BBC1 - when animal rights activists threaten a series of attacks in London, placing the daughter of a laboratory owner in hospital, Gene Hunt orders his team not to rest until those responsible are caught, kicked-in until they confess and then jailed for a long time to contemplate the error of their ways. Their investigations subsequent brings Alex face to face with a man whose eerily prescient knowledge of the future makes her think he could be involved with her own fate. What, another one? That's two in two weeks. Meanwhile, Gene skirts close to a dangerous conflict with his boss, Supermac (played by the excellent Roger Allam), who warns Gene to do as he's told or face the consequences. Whatever they are. Gene, of course, does nothing of the sort. Cos he's the Gene Genie and he knows where it's at. Unless you were watching the American version of Life on Mars, of course, in which case he's an astronaut in the 2030s. No, I didn't understand that bit either… Fabulous soundtrack too - note when the first episode of the new season was previewed, I made a sarcastic comment about them mentioning Duran Duran and ABC being in the charts in the press pack but ignored some more left-field chart stuff from the eighties. I specifically mentioned Echo & The Bunnymen and, lo and behold, the next episode opens with 'The Back of Love.' If they did that just for me then thank you boys and girls, it was truly appreciated. As was the inclusion of 'Town Called Malice' about twenty minutes later! I love this show.

Tuesday 5 May
Six Degrees of Separation – 7:00 BBC2 – is a rather neat looking film exploring the science behind the popular theory that Kevin Bacon is, actually, God. Originally thought to be an urban myth, it now appears that virtually everyone on the planet can be connected by just a few steps of association to anyone else on the planet. But, more seriously six degrees of separation is also at the heart of a major scientific breakthrough; that there might be a physical law that nature uses to organise itself and which now promises to solve some of its deepest mysteries.

How Britain Got the Gardening Bug – 8:30 BBC2 - looks at the extraordinary changes that have happened to British gardening since the Second World War, from gnomes and crazy paving to Leylandii and decking. As recently as the 1960s Garden Centres simply didn't exist and most gardening was strictly a hobby for old boys in sheds or on allotments. Yet today it has become the height of cool. At least, according to Radio Times anyway. I remain to be convinced, myself, being a confirmed non-gardener who pays the local Job Allowance Scheme boys to strim his overgrown garden once every few months. Contributors to the documentary include Penelope Keith, Laurence Llewellyn Bowen, Germaine Greer and Carol Klein. Sounds suitably different. Might get my fingers dirty with this one.

The One Show – 7:00 BBC1 – is back to its traditional half-hour slot this week having briefly experimented with a longer format for a few days. I'm not sure whether it worked, really. The ratings stayed pretty much the same as normal but the beauty of this show remains that it is something which works, excellently, in little bite-sized chunks of quality infotainment. I think half-an-hour is the perfect length for it personally. Save the hour-long episodes for really special occasions and when they've got a guest who can get Chiles to shut up for five minutes like Michael Caine managed.

Wednesday 6 May
On Coronation Street – 7:30 ITV – the question is asked 'Has Ken Barlow chosen the right woman?' Well, there's been no evidence of him having done so at any stage in his life since poor Anne Reid got electrocuted with that dodgy hairdryer in 1971. So, I'm going to mark that one down as a cautious 'no.' Meanwhile, in other news Tara comforts Amber when she has a row with Darryl. Big fight, little people.

Midsomer Murders – 8:00 ITV – continues in its weekly quest to scare pensioners to apoplexy. In tonight's episode a glassware factory in Midsomer Magna faces ruin after the death of its co-owner Alan King. His widow, Hilary, angers her son by marrying Alan's brother Charles and rumours begin to circulate in the little Somerset village with a murder rate higher than Baltimore that Charles and accountant Peter Baxter have embezzled funds. When Peter is found stabbed to death with a ceremonial masonic dagger, Barnaby is called in to investigate. A new amateur production of Hamlet seems to contain a message - but can Barnaby pick up the trail of clues? And, how many more of the village's rapidly dwindling inhabitants must die, horribly, before he does?

On The Apprentice – 9:00 BBC1 - with only nine candidates remaining in the battle to become thuggish bullyboy businessman Sir Alan Sugar's apprentice, he sends them off to the North of England. For punishment, you may well ask? No, actually, the idea is that they must select two new innovative products to sell to trade. Determined that everyone should sell, Sugar gives each candidate their own individual order books with strict instructions to notch up as many sales as possible. But in these tough economic times, can everyone live up to his expectations? Or will one of the apprentices hit the smug, arrogant sod, hard, in the mush on the general principle and flounce out of the room to the massed applause of a grateful population? … It's going to be the former, isn't it? What a very great pity.

Thursday 7 May
Madeleine Was Here – 9:00 Channel 4 – looks at possibly the most tragically over-reported crime of the last decade. Exactly two years after the disappearance of young Madeleine McCann from the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz, this documentary follows her parents Kate and Gerry in their continued attempt to piece together what happened on the day of her disappearance, whilst maintaining a normal life for their two other children. Can't be easy, what with them having spent most of their time suing just about every newspaper and media organisation on the planet. There's an inherent tragedy about this case that has screwed up the lives of just about everybody involved in it. I'm actually rather loathed to recommend this film on the off-chance that this is going to add further controversy to what was once a massive bonfire. But, you know, if Channel 4 have their Cutting Edge or Dispatches head on rather than their populist Who Pig Is This Anyway? production team at work then it could be thought-provoking, moving and watchable. I hope it is, really I do. Because, frankly, it's about time this story had a trace of humanity and decency attached to it.

In EastEnders – 7:30 BBC1 - Dot comes to the rescue at Amy's christening and it is decision time for Jack and Ronnie. Heather fears for her future and Zainab's plans backfire disastrously. Both Corrie and Easties have been quite watchable of late, which is unusual. (Normally when one's on form, the other tends to be in a bit of a slump.)

Lastly, in Keep It in the Family – 9:00 BBC2 – we meet Gary Doneghue who has dedicated his life to the auction house that he inherited from his father and grandfather. But, with no-one to take over the business when he retires it faces an uncertain future. He has persuaded his son Jamie, a music video director, to give the family firm one last go - Jamie has spent a lifetime avoiding antiques and has never even thought about taking on the family business but if he doesn't, then Leeds' last auction house could be gone forever.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

45 Is The New 33

I've been thinking a lot about my dad, recently. Curious, that. The main reason, I think, was a sudden realisation a few weeks ago that I'm now, almost exactly (to the day) the same age that my father was when I was born - forty five. Because of this fact, I've always tended to view people in their fifties as, essentially, well ... my dad, if you see what I mean. Example: When I started working for Radio Newcastle on the The Book Club a few years ago, during discussions on the format of the slot and what books we would be covering, I was told that in a recent survey carried out by the station it had been revealed that the average age of listeners was around fifty to fifty two. Of course, we have many younger listeners just as we have plenty of older ones too but that was the average at that particular time. Now, to me, mention the age of 'fifty' or thereabouts and, as I say, I get an image on my dad in my head. Because, that's the decade that he was living in when I was growing up. Someone born in 1918. Someone whose idea of pop culture was Bing Crosby. Someone who thought that Frank Sinatra, much less Elvis Presley or The Rolling Stones or The Who was 'New-fangled rubbish. It's all just one conglomeration of sound, these days.' (A particular favourite saying of his, that.)

The issue that brought this curious intellectual oddity in my head to the forefront was on about the third Book Club show that I presented where I wanted to feature, as one of the show's recommended books of the month, a biography of Joe Strummer (I think it was Chris Salewicz's Redemption Song). I was all ready to argue my corner for including it in terms of 'well, he might not be exactly the demographic of our listeners but I think he was a jolly important cultural figure and I believe this book is worth talking about.' But, in the event including the item didn't even bat and eyelid with anyone and that really surprised me. I can remember saying to Jamie Wilkinson, who was producing Julia's show at the time, that I'd been amazed by this as I had expected to have to fight to get it included. He was surprised that I was surprised! 'Somebody who's fifty now [this was 2006, I think] was born around 1955' he said. 'They grew up during the sixties, became teenagers around 1970 and in the summer of punk they were twenty two. Chances are they've bled two copies of London Calling white!' Of course, when he put it like that a lot of pennies dropped into a lot of slots. It's ironic that this very week, when The Specials began their much-anticipated comeback tour at Newcastle Academy (and I, tragically, couldn't get a ticket) about half of my colleagues at the station went to the gig. Doug Morris's splendid review of the event can be read here. As Doug told me the other day, local radio has come a very long way over the last couple of decades to the point where, these days we genuinely don't have to point out to our listeners how important a cultural and political figure somebody like Jerry Dammers was. Because, by and large, our audience are the same age as us and, actually, know.

So, anyway, there you have it. We've all got old together, it would seem. I can remember going to see Paul Weller (another hero of my youth) play a gig on my thirty fifth birthday - in 1998 - and I can remember reflecting (and being rather depressed) to a friend that, ironically, I'd also seen him play (with The Jam) on my seventeenth birthday in 1980. I thought, back then, that hitting twenty five would be The End Of The World. My mate said something very interesting. 'They always reckon that the years between twenty five and fifty five go just like "that"' he said, clicking his fingers together. 'Just the other day I was thinking about the day I bought Give 'Em Enough Rope in Virgin and rushing home to listen to it. I can still remember how the shop smelled, what colour the carrier bag was, what bus I got and how much the fare was. That was twenty years ago but it seems like yesterday.' And, now it's thirty years ago and we're all looking down the barrel of fifty and, my God, he was so right. Where the hell has the last twenty, twenty five years gone in my life? In my mind, I'm still nineteen. Still that same pill'd-up Mod doing a fifteen-record stint on the dance-floor at one of those Greenford all-nighters I was talking about a few posts back. Not some sad, crocked old has-been with a bad-back (the sciatica, sad to report, has been giving me gyp something fierce this last week). Somebody who gets all misty-eyed and nostaligc for a time back in t'day when we had t'proper tunes (like 'Borstal Breakout', 'Complete Control', 'Down in the Tube Station at Midnight' and 'Harmony in My Head') instead of this tuneless rubbish the kids of today have! My God, I have - at forty five - turned into my father. When did THAT happen?!

But, before I leave you, and you get time to reflect upon the quite tragic decline of Keith Telly Topping's street cred, allow me to wallow in one final bit of crass and naked nostaliga for another week. News that Mick Vickers' wonderful soundtrack to the greatest film ever made, Dracula AD 1972, is being released on CD at last - albeit in a limited edition.

http://buysoundtrax.stores.yahoo.net/dra19orsobym.html

As Johnny Alucard noted at the time, 'Dig the music, kids!'

If you've never seen AD 1972, then there is - quite simply - a coffin-shaped hole in your life that needs filling right now. The success of AIP's Count Yorga, Vampire, a 1970 movie which set vampirism against a modern Los Angeles backdrop, persuaded Hammer to attempt to update the Dracula franchise. Don Houghton, fresh from writing a couple of great scripts for Doctor Who, had penned a script called When the Earth Cracked Open which impressed the company greatly. His subsequent Dracula/Chelsea script, however, as The Hammer Story notes, was 'irretrievably undermined by a perspective on youth culture a decade behind the times.' The young tearaways featured in the movie, for instance, argue about getting tickets for 'a jazz spectacular.' What is it with teenagers in early-70s British horror movies and jazz festivals? At a time when most of Britain's youth was listening to glam, mellow singer-songwriters or prog rock, the kids here (and in Tower of Evil, for that matter) just dig that crazy jazz, baby. Dracula AD 1972 is, to be blunt, one of the most hilariously dated movies of any era – by having a specific date as part of the film's title, it is forever trapped within a particular time capsule. Yet, perhaps because of this, 1972 has aged so utterly terribly that it has now transcended its humble origins to become little short of a comedy masterpiece. Exploitation cinema is always at its finest when polemic and dogma meet head-on and, instead of producing the expected gestalt of social-comment, ends up with a mélange of clashing and fractious statements. Dracula AD 1972's like that. It so desperately wants to be taken as a serious, po-faced, observation on important youth culture issues. Instead, by the sheer banality of its construction, the film comes over as, essentially, Carry On Biting, full of unexpected laughs at, literally, every turn. However, that said, a word of genuine praise: Dick Bush's cinematography, particularly during the title sequence with zoom-lens shots of the concrete jungle that London had become, is just gorgeous.

Listen, the DVD is currently on sale at HMV for three quid. Get it and watch this one on a Saturday night with a few friends, a bottle of cheap plonk and a Chinese takeaway and, simply, thank whatever God you chose to believe in that you weren't born in the 1870s and, thus, never got the chance to experience incompetent genius like this.

If life was a party, I'd really rather like it to be the one in Dracula AD 1972 – with top beat combo Stoneground rockin' the shack with 'Alligator Man' in my front room and Caroline Munro dancing on my kitchen table. A man can dream, can't he?

Might as well have a quick 'PS' as well. Check out the following video piece at Digital Spy -

http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/tv/a153887/stephen-fry-on-well-everything.html

It's a lovely little five minute interview with a very fit and tanned looking Stephen Fry. Amongst other things Stephen confirms that they're about to start filming the next series of Qi (and that it will be sixteen episodes), reveals he's started writing the sequel to Moab Is My Washpot (at long last) and gives his thoughts of Hughie's Big Thing (and how it's never lupus!) and talking about his recent guest slot on Bones and his forthcoming Last Chance To See.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Another Extract From The Fortysomething's Guide

Here is a further extract from The Fortysomething's Guide to TV's Great Sporting Moments and a day in 1974 that will, perhaps forever, live in infamy in the sheer disgracefulness of its happenstance. Or something.52
DER BOMBER BLASTS THE CLOCKWORK ORANGE
7 July 1974


Over to Our Live Outside Broadcast From: Olympiastadion, Munich, West Germany.

Action Replay: For a certain age-group Sunday 7 July 1974 remains one of the blackest days of our – till then - short and relatively uneventful lives. There had been much great football played during the Tenth World Cup finals competition, held over three wet and muddy weeks in West Germany, even if England had failed to qualify. But nothing else compared to the free-flowing totaalvoetbal of Holland and their mercurial genius playmaker, Johan Cruyff.

The Dutch team was build around the superb and successful Ajax and Feyenoord club sides of the era, coach Rinus Michels fashioning a team - and a system - that attacked in number, hunted in packs when not in possession of the ball, made intelligent and artistic use of space and dazzled opponents with individual skill (who can ever forget 'The Cruyff Turn'?) Over six group games Cruyff - aided by his mates Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep, Wim van Hanegem, Rob Rensenbrink, Wim Jensen, Arie Haan et al - ran riot, playing football that thrilled the watching world and scoring goals for fun. Even their 0-0 draw with Sweden was something of a masterpiece. And, it all culminated on the night they annihilated the reigning champions, Brazil, in their final second round match. This suggested that the final would be a mere formality. Not only that, but as broadcaster Danny Kelly has noted 'in 1974 Holland was the only place where the 1960s was still going on!' The team, with their long hair, cool clothes and casual strut, looked like a bunch rock stars recently escaped from the backrooms of some smoky Amsterdam hash-bar. Even their hardest defender, Ruudi Krol, it was noted, wore love-beads. If ever the term 'sexy football' applied to anyone, it was to the Dutch in the summer of 1974.

Against them were the hosts, the current European champions. West Germany were also one of the genuine cult sides of the early 70s but had been far less impressive through the group stages, particularly when losing to neighbours East Germany. There were stories of factions in the camp and many were mystified by coach Helmet Schön's reluctance to find a place for the talented but tempremental midfielder Günter Netzer. Indeed, it was widely suggested that a group of senior players - mostly a clatch from Bayern Munich - were effectively picking the team and not Schön. They were a hard-working side, with obvious ability, considerable flair and with the world’s best libero centre-back, Franz Beckenbauer and its most lethal striker, Gerd Müller. The Germans, however, despite having their own resident Maoist loony in their ranks – the afro-hairstyled left-back Paul Breitner whose frequent politicised rants could give Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof a run for their money - were still the uncool ying to Dutch rebel yang. Most people outside Germany confidently expected Holland to win.

What Happened Next?: As a nation, the Netherlands had - and still has - very strong feelings about their German neighbours, an enmity which dates back to their occupation by the German army during World War II. Memories were still raw for many, not least Wim van Hanegem. 'Eighty per cent of my family died [in the war]; my daddy, my sister, my two brothers. The Germans were good players but arrogant.'

The Dutch kicked-off and with just sixty second gone, after a complex move involving over twenty passes, Cruyff was brought down by Uli Hoeness in penalty area as he raced through on goal. Neeskens scored from the ensuing spot-kick, the first German player to touch the ball in the match being the goalkeeper Sepp Maier when he picked it out of the net. For the next twenty minutes, Holland strolled around in complete control. But, as van Hanegem noted, half of the team seemed more interested in making the Germans look silly than in winning a football game. 'We played great but we forgot to score the second goal,' Johnny Rep would regretfully add later. Passing the ball around for fun, they allowed the West Germans to steady themselves and get back into the game.

In the 26th minute Bernd Hölzenbein dramatically fell (for which read blatantly dived) in the Dutch area and English referee Jack Taylor awarded the Germans a penalty. Hölzenbein had, controversially, done exactly the same thing in the previous match against Poland and, as on that occasion, the referee had bought it. Breitner equalised. Just before half-time, Müller latched onto a pass by Rainer Bonhof and scored from close range past the Dutch keeper, Jan Jongbloed. The second half was one of most one-sided in football history as Holland laid virtual seige to the German goal with wave after wave of attacks. But the outstanding Maier, Beckenbauer and co. held firm and, at the final whistle West Germany were world champions for the second time, twenty years after The Miracle of Berne.

Back to the Studio for a Summing Up: Every tournament since 1974 it's been the same. The Dutch get our hopes up. They briefly thrill us and delight us with their brand of flair and genius. And then, every time (except for the European Championships in 1988, admittedly) they let us - and often themselves - down. They seemed to make us a promise in 1974. They said to every unhealthy ten year old 'be brilliant, be expressive, be fabulous, be yourself … and you’ll win.' They lied. David Winner, author of the award-winning book Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football devotes an entire chapter to 1974 – Football Is Not War – in which he, like everyone, remains completely unable to explain just how The Best Team In The World managed not to win the ultimate prize. As Ruud Krol reflects 'Sometimes, in football, the best team just doesn’t win.'

There would be another World Cup run four years later (without Cruyff - whose absence was never, satisfactorily, explained - but with most of the squad of 1974), another final and, perhaps inevitably, another highly controversial defeat - this time to the next host country, Argentina.

What the Papers Said: 'Germany became the fourth host nation to win the trophy and the Netherlands after their long slog from the foothills just failed to scale this Everest of the game,' noted a rather florid Times report. On Dutch TV, commentator Herman Kuiphof gave an agonised response to Germany's victory: 'Zijn we er toch nog ingetuind' (translated as 'they have tricked us again' and usually taken as yet another reference to events of thirty years earlier). The Dutch were further enraged by an article published on the eve of the final in the much-raking German tabloid Bild-Zeitung headlined Cruyff, Champagne, Naked Girls and a Pool ('Cruyff, Sekt, nackte Mädchen und ein kühles Bad'). It claimed that four unnamed Dutch players had held a nocturnal party with some local Mädchen in the swimming pool of their Hiltrup hotel on the evening before the Brazil game. It is yet to be established whether the story was true – the paper claimed at the time to have photos but none have ever been published - however, it clearly upset many of the Dutch players. It is alleged that Cruyff spent most of the night before the final on the phone to his wife, Danny, promising her that the article was a lie. This, claims his brother Hennie, is why he 'played like a dishrag' the next day.

Also That Day:-

- In Music: Charles Aznavour spent a second week at number one with the earache inducing 'She.' The charts were pretty wretched all round during that period, with only odd nuggets of genius on the horizon - R Dean Taylor's epic Northern Soul stomper 'There's A Ghost in My House' at No. 17, Paul McCartney & Wings' 'Band on the Run' at No. 27 or The Rubettes kitsch classic 'Sugar Baby Love' at No. 33. Despite their elimination from the tournament a fortnight earlier, The Scotland World Cup Squad's 'Easy Easy' was still hanging on in there at No. 32. Novelty hits like Ray Stevens' 'The Streak' (No. 7) and The Wombles' 'Banana Rock' (no. 12) were also in tragic evidence. The Carpenters' Singles 1969-1973 topped the LP charts ahead of Elton John's Caribou.

- On TV: The BBC’s highlight of the evening was an episode of America written and narrated by Alistair Cooke. ITV featured the sitcom Doctor at Sea. Later Seven Faces of Woman included an adaptation of Shelagh Delaney's St. Martin's Summer. BBC2 also had a drama, A Work of Genius starring Michael Bryant and Ted Ray. Their afternoon alternative to blanket football coverage was a John Player League cricket match between Worcestershire and Somerset where John Arlott witnessed early stirrings of coming West Country greatness as Ian Botham, Viv Richards and co. won by thirteen runs in a finish every bit as exciting as that at the Olympiastadion.

- In The News: West Germany's victory was a major news event, as was the attendance at the match of the US Secretary of State Dr Henry Kissinger. Derek Stevenson, secretary of the British Medical Association said legislation would be needed to abolish private beds in NHS hospitals and Social Services Minister Barbara Castle was wrong to suggest otherwise. The General Synod issued a rebuff to the World Council of Churches over grants given to organisations seeking to counter inequality. One member, D. Yates of St Albans, noted that by 'harping on [about] racism, real and imaginary, the council have done more to embitter race-relations than good.' Christianity, eh? You can't live with it ... can you? Derbyshire police reported that the bill for their services at the Buxton Pop Festival would be £30,000 despite the fact that rain had kept attendances down and just fifteen arrest were made – mostly for alleged theft, drug-taking, drunkenness and other public order offences. The cost of running a family car had risen to £14 according to the AA. Ex-Radio 1 DJ Simon Dee was jailed for twenty eight days for charges relating to rates arrears. A strike of Production Assistants at the BBC was expected to black out some live shows.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

All The News That's Fit To See (And Swim)

Yer Keith Telly Topping is currently in the process of mopping up after suffering a relatively minor - and completely self-inflicted - flood-related mishap in the kitchen of his Top Telly Gaff, dear blog reader. This was, it should be pointed out in the strict interests of balance and crass blame-apportioning, occassioned by him trying to multi-task at the time. (Doing the washing up, cleaning out the deep-fat fryer, reading some e-mail, listening to the radio AND looking for a book he knows that he's got somewhere but still hasn't found.) So, dear blog reader, Keith Telly Topping believes that there may be a valuable lesson to be learned from this devastating chain of circumstances and kefufflement for, perhaps, all of us.

Whatever anybody else might say, do ONE THING AT A TIME, you'll find that life is far easier to cope with that way.

Keith Telly Topping is also, as a direct consequence of all this outrageous malarkey and daft-bugger shenanigans, totally bastard-well knackered. He may now go and have a little lie down to recover after he's finished blogging his rank displeasure at the general shite state of affairs in the modern world.

... I'll tell you what, mind - it might've been unintentional (and it was) and it might have been a right bleeding pain in the arse at the time (and it definitely was) but that's - by a considerable distance - the cleanest my kitchen floor's been in, ooo, five years at least. You win some, you lose some, I guess.

Oh and if you're wondering, fortunately, my neighbours in the flat below were mercifully unaffected by any leakage, I got to the mopping up before any of that happened.

Anyway, let's have some Top Telly News. Final ratings figures for Planet Of The Dead were 9.54 million. The Doctor Who Easter special gained over a million extra viewers from time-shifts putting it comfortably into the Top Ten Most Watched shows on TV thus far in 2009 at number seven:

01 - 11.90m - Britain's Got Talent (18/04/09) - ITV*
02 - 11.46m - Coronation Street (02/02/09) - ITV
03 - 11.46m - EastEnders (02/04/09) - BBC1
04 - 11.31m - Dancing On Ice (22/03/09) - ITV
05 - 9.91m - Jonathan Creek (01/01/09) - BBC1
06 - 9.84m - Comic Relief (13/03/09) - BBC1
07 - 9.54m - Doctor Who (11/04/09) - BBC1
08 - 9.26m - Whitechapel (02/02/09) - ITV
09 - 9.20m - Kilimanjaro: The Big Red-Nose Climb (12/03/09) - BBC1
10 - 8.92m - Dancing On Ice: The Skate Off (08/03/09) - ITV

* = overnights only, final figure to be confirmed.

That top figure was, of course, achieved by the - now completely legendary and "seen by more people than the Moon Landings via YouTube" - Susan-sings-and-Simon-actually-smiles-(well-sort-of) episodes of BGT. Inevitable, really. And, as I said when appearing on Mike Parr's Breakfast Show on Tuesday (available to you on Listen Again for the next few days, if you like being bored senseless), not entirely undeserved either. Kind of restores onces faith in the inherent decency of people. Or something.

Elsewhere, the BBC is reported to be slashing its marketing budget by twenty five percent which will, of course, affect the glossy advertising campaigns that it has run - quite impressively - for things like Ashes to Ashes recently. Thankfully, however, they're going to be spending the money saved wisely as Jonathan Creek will be back for another ninety minute special. Hurrah. This one will be shown at Easter 2010 and not at Christmas. I think that's probably, largely, because there is likely to be no space for it in the Christmas schedules and publicity would be limited. The two-part Doctor Who which sees David Tennant leaving the role will, most probably, be overshadowing pretty much everything else that the BBC's drama department makes between now and then. Meanwhile, a two-part Cranford special is said to be pencilled in for a key 9pm slot over the festive period.

The Culture Show will be extended back to fifty minutes and moved to a 7pm weekday slot in a complete revamp of BBC2's arts schedule. In addition to the weekly programme, six hour-long documentaries will be made under the show's banner in the same style as last year's excellent Motown homage Culture Show Special made by Martin Freeman. Controller of BBC2, Janice Hadlow, said the revamped strand would 'offer more authority and sometimes, too, more surprise in its coverage.' Glad to hear that. The team responsible for The Culture Show will also produce Newsnight Review after its planned 2010 move to Glasgow. Speaking at the launch of BBC2's spring and summer schedule, Hadlow confirmed that current Newsnight Review presenters Kirsty Wark and Martha Kearney would stay with the programme. The discussion show will be called on to 'extend its current remit beyond pure review' although the exact details of the new format are still being worked out.

The Culture Show was, of course, originally launched in a 7pm weekday slot in 2004 before being moved - for no particular reason - to Saturday nights and then - for even less particular reason - to Tuesdays at 10pm and having its running time cut to thirty minutes per episode. Hadlow said the programme, presented by one of the best double-acts on TV, Wor Luscious Lovely Lauren Laverne and Big-Quiffed Marky Kermode, 'had done a wonderful job in attracting the interest of younger viewers; now I hope it can expand its appeal.' With you all the way on that one, Janice.

A poetry season will also form part of BBC Two's new arts coverage. Among the planned programmes, Thick Of It creator Armando Iannucci will present a documentary about John Milton, while historian Simon Schama will look at the life and work of John Donne. Is now the time to mention that I actually got to ask Armando a couple of questions on the radio on Tuesday about The Day Today? Probably not, but I feel like bragging having talked to one of my TV heroes, however briefly. Goldie, who took second place in the BBC's Maestro competition last year and gained something of a cult following has been commissioned to write a seven-minute musical piece for the Proms on the theme of evolution, while Charles Hazlewood will front a major new series on British classical music.

Several programmes will have a space theme to tie in with the fortieth anniversary of the moon landings - including a James May fronted documentary and a SF new drama, Defying Gravity, about astronauts on a mysterious mission. The channel also announced several new comedy programmes including a comedy serial, Psychoville, made by The League of Gentlemen's Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. Sean Maguire and Matt Lucas face off against each other in a fantasy series called Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire, while war reporters will be the butt of the jokes in Taking the Flak.

Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson's spoof phone-in host Gary Bellamy will transfer to television after a successful run on Radio 4 and sketch show That Mitchell and Webb Look - which I think is hilarious but which has a reputation with many other reviewers somewhat lower than rattlesnakes piss - will return for a third run.

In far less savoury news, Emmerdale actor Luke Tittensor has been sacked from the ITV show after he pleaded guilty to attacking a teenager. The nineteen-year-old, who played Daz Eden in the soap, appeared in court in March and admitted inflicting grievous bodily harm on a sixteen-year-old. An ITV spokeswoman said the actor had been told his contract was being terminated because 'we cannot condone criminal behaviour.'

More ratings news: Ashes to Ashes returned for a second series with an audience of seven million, according to overnight figures - which is near enough exactly what the first episode last year got. So again, consistency. On opposite it, ITV's cooking show Hell's Kitchen drew a disappointing four million viewers.

Now, here's some really terrific news - former CSI star William Petersen, best known for playing Gil Grissom in the hit US drama series, has confirmed that it is hoped a film based on the show will be made. Petersen, who remains an executive producer on the franchise, says he understands fans are 'a little trepidatious' about a movie version. But speaking to the Radio Times, he said: 'It's about finding the right story, there has got to be a real reason to do it.' Petersen's character, of course, has left the series recently but both he and, screen-girlfriend Sara (Jorja Fox) may return next year to film a special two-parter, possibly set in Europe. On the subject of the proposed film, Petersen noted 'Usually people leave it till a series has finished - they did that with The X-Files and Sex And The City. You don't just do it because you want to make money; you do it because there's a story that can't be told on TV and needs to be told from CSI's perspective and the audience wants it. And we can't wait for CSI to end or Grissom will be about ninety!'

And, in further CSI news, apparently producers and executives from the franchise have been forced to cancel a proposed new spin-off series, CSI: Sunderland, after they discovered that nobody in the town has any dental records and that they all share the exact same DNA.

BBC Worldwide has received the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in recognition of its contribution to international trade. The BBC’s commercial arm is one of around only one hundred businesses to receive the accolade, which is awarded on the Queen’s official birthday every year. The International Trade Award recognises 'substantial growth in overseas earnings and commercial success at outstanding levels', based on three years trading results. Worldwide had increased overseas revenues by some 33% and had returned over £1 billion from overseas activity back into the UK’s creative industries.

John Smith, Worldwide’s CEO said: 'It's an enormous honour to receive this award and testimony to the hard work and commitment of all at Worldwide, its partners and customers. Content created by the BBC and the UK creative industries are the lifeblood of our company, whether in television or publishing, and we are proud to represent this wealth of British talent across the world. We pride ourselves not just in generating export income for the UK generally, but also in building international partnerships that benefit the creative industries and ultimately the licence fee payer.'

Recent sales successes include Planet Earth, which has been sold to ninety seven broadcasters across forty nine countries, while the DVD of the series sold more than three million copies around the world. Impossible Pictures' Primeval, which airs in the UK on ITV, is distributed internationally by Worldwide, and has sold to sixty seven broadcasters in forty six territories. While Dancing with the Stars, which was named as the world's most watched programme by industry magazine Television Business International, can be seen in over forty countries around the world and has been licensed as a local version to a further thirty. Other big merchanidisng earners for Worldwide include Top Gear and Doctor Who.

It is the second time that Worldwide has won the accolade, first collecting the Award for Enterprise in 2002, while 2Entertain, Worldwide's joint venture video distribution with Woolworths, received the award for International Trade in 2008.

And, here's a funny story; Two of the British television industry's most outspoken figures look set to face each other in court. Michael Grade, the executive chairman of ITV, has issued a libel writ against the former BBC director general Greg Dyke. Grade is suing his old rival over comments Dyke made in a column published by The Times newspaper last month, two days after ITV announced that it was shedding six hundred jobs and cutting its budget by £135m after recording a £2.7bn pre-tax loss for the financial year.

Dyke's column, printed on 7 March under the headline "Grade's ITV is in a classic lose-lose situation", made a series of allegations about Grade's professional conduct while he was chairman of the BBC's board of governors immediately before he resigned to take over at ITV at the end of 2006. The piece also criticised Grade's role in managing the commercial broadcaster's finances. Shortly after the column was published, Grade's lawyers wrote to The Times accusing it of, 'serious defamation' and requesting that it print an apology, which has so far failed to appear. As a result, Grade is said to be suing both Times Newspapers as well as Dyke personally. The online version of the article is still available on the newspaper's website, but has since been edited.

After Grade's initial letter, the newspaper's lawyer issued a statement that said: 'The Times has no wish to be involved in any sort of dispute with Michael Grade. There is no bad feeling, or any history we are aware of. We very much wish to resolve this without litigation – but we will also defend our position, if we feel we should.' Several thousand Doctor Who fans have already offered to appear as character witnesses for the defence.

Both Dyke and Grade resigned separately from the BBC under controversial circumstances and have a long-held rivalry. Both have also been quick to rebuff criticism of their editorial practices in the past, so if the case does reach court it is likely to produce some verbal fireworks.

Dyke, who also - like Grade - had a long career in commercial television, resigned as the BBC's director general after the Hutton report into the death of the weapons scientist David Kelly. It said that the corporation – and specifically one of its journalists, Andrew Gilligan – had made grievous editorial errors in reporting claims that the Government's case for going to war with Iraq had been 'sexed up.' Three months later, Grade took over as chairman of the BBC from Gavyn Davies, who had quit the day before Dyke.

Big fight, little people.

Lastly today, is it just me or does anyone else think it was high time somebody told Alesha Dixon that the word 'composure' has only three syllables in it and not seven as her song 'Breath Slow' appears to suggest? Just me then? Okay ...

Fine lookin' lady that Alesha, mind. Not ower-hot in the pronunciation department, maybe, but still a fine lookin' lady.