Monday, August 31, 2009

Five Great Britons: Part One

This, dear blog reader, is the first in an - irregular - From The North series concerning those Britons who have, in the opinion of yer actual Keith Telly Topping, done considerable ... stuff. And that. All comments and suggestions for future inclusions, although welcome, will be completely ignored. Because, this one is personal!
1. Yer Actual Field Marshal Sir Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, KG, KP, GCB, GCH, PC, FRS. Born - Dublin, Ireland c. 29 April 1769. Died - Walmer Castle, Kent 14 September 1852. Quite simply, the man responsible for more dead Frenchmen in history than anyone else. And, therefore, worthy on a place on anyone's list of Top Chaps.
2. Yer Actual Douglas Robert Jardine. Born - Bombay, India 23 October 1900. Died - Montreux, Switzerland 18 June 1958. A fine writer and a genuine twenty four carat war hero he may have been but his place on this list is for one solitary reason. He was the first man to prove conclusively that Australians are excellent sportsmen and generally decent blokes but they do not like it up 'em. And, if you give it up 'em they will, like as not, squeal like a bunch of girls and run a mile, whinging.
3. Yer Actual John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, OBE. Born - Heswell, Cheshire 30 August 1939. Died - Cuzco, Peru 25 October 2004. Because he was decent, caring family man who loved football and played Half Man Half Biscuit on the BBC and got paid for it. A legend of self-deprecation, honesty and integrity. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's record collection would be a tenth of the size without him.
4. Yer Actual John Graham Mellor. Born - Ankara, Turkey 21 August 1952. Died - Broomfield, Somerset 22 December 2002. For writing 'Death Or Glory' and 'Complete Control' and '1977' and 'The Right Profile' and daring to be different. My guitar hero.
5. Yer Actual Thomas Topping. Born - Newcastle upon Tyne 4 December 1918. Died - Newcastle upon Tyne 27 April 1991. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's dad his very self. Survived the Spanish 'flu, the Great Depression, Dunkirk, an ear infection which almost killed him in his thirties and a lifetime of supporting the (even then, unsellable) Magpies, and still managed to raise three sons properly, hold down a job and keep the garden tidy. That's what I call being a hero.

Next time, whenever that is, five further Great Britons ... and whom they pissed off to achieve that distinction.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hamster Baiting, Drugs And Rock & Roll

Radio dee-jay, chat show host and all round top chap Simon Dee, one of the biggest stars on British TV of the late 1960s, has died at the age of seventy four. He first found fame on pirate station Radio Caroline and, according to Elizabeth Hurley, his dandy-about-town Sixties grooviness made him the inspiration for the character of Austin Powers. Like John Peel and Michael Palin an Old Salopian, in 1967 Dee, real name Cyril Nicholas Henty-Dodd, was seen as a natural successor to David Frost, who had recently deserted the Beeb for London Weekend Television. Dee began his early evening chat show Dee Time and the show became massively popular, with up to eighteen million viewers at one point, and guests that included Sammy Davis Jr, Lee Marvin, Charlton Heston, and John Lennon. Dee Time opened with sports presenter Len Martin announcing 'It's Siiiiimon Dee!', imitating The Johnny Carson Show and would regularly close with a shot of Dee driving off in an E-type Jaguar with blonde model, Lorna McDonald. After himself moving to LWT in 1970 (ironically, to front a show that immediately followed Frost's) Dee's contract was, controversially, terminated six months later. The final edition of the chat show included a bizarre interview with the actor George Lazenby, who had reportedly been smoking cannabis beforehand and who outlined - at some length - his theories about the assassination of Robert Kennedy. The show was dropped soon afterwards and Dee's career never recovered. Dee later claimed that there was an Establishment plot against him because of his open opposition to Harold Wilson's government and their policies in relation to pirate radio. Certainly, recently released government files show that Dee was, indeed, being monitored by the Secret Service during this period. Simon was always synonymous with the spirit of the Swinging Sixties and rubbed shoulders with many of the biggest names of the day. In the 2004 Channel 4 show Dee Construction, fellow broadcaster Tony Blackburn recalled, 'He used to drive up and down the King's Road in an Aston Martin driven by his secretary. To be honest, I thought that was a bit of a waste of money.' He also, famously, had a memorable cameo in The Italian Job (1969), playing Charlie Croker's tailor. His daughter Domino Henty-Dodd noted he her father had bone cancer. 'He was dearly loved by his family,' she said. And by many, many TV viewers of 'a certain age,' too.

Independent trade body PACT has warned that a number of local authorities are rejecting plans to feature children in television shows, on the basis that they do not like the scripts. Speaking at the Edinburgh International TV Festival on 'duty of care,' PACT chief executive John McVay warned that several councils across the UK were becoming more interested in making licence application decisions based on editorial content and, in some cases, had rejected licences because of that content. Local authorities are responsible for granting performance and stage licences to indendent producers. The licences stipulate how many breaks the performers must have, as well as the hours they are allowed to work and rules around appointing a chaperone. McVay said: 'What's become clear in the view of the regulation, is that there are a number of groups including local authorities and a number of child psychologists who are not only interested in all those issues - absolutely important and integral for looking after the care of children - but about the editorial content of a programme. We know of a number of local authorities that refused children appearing in an amateur dramatic scripted programme on the basis of a script - and that's probably not allowed in legislation.' McVay added that local authorities were lobbying to vet the contents of programmes including factual entertainment.

X Factor judge Cheryl Cole's former boyfriend Jason Mack has revealed in a new biography that his drugs problem caused the singer a lot of worry and stress. According to the News of the World, the star began dating Mack aged sixteen when he was already addicted to cocaine. He began taking heroin later in the relationship. Mack recalled Cole, then Cheryl Tweedy, pleading with him to come clean: 'You don't need it, man! Why do you need that when you got me?' He continued: 'She wasn't eating. And she wasn't sleeping from the worry, in case she had to identify me on a slab somewhere. She lost that much weight that people actually thought she was taking heroin with me.' Mack also admitted that he sold five hundred pounds worth of designer clothes Cole had bought him as a Christmas present to pay for drugs. Upon discovering this, Cole said that he had to choose between her and the drugs and Mack walked away. Ah well, never mind mate, who won in the end, eh? ... It was her, wasn't it? Stupid question, really.

Joe Francis has denied all accusations made against him by Brody Jenner. The Girls Gone Wild founder, who was reportedly involved in a brawl with the Hills star and his girlfriend Jayde Nicole on Friday, has dismissed claims that he physically attacked Nicole. Francis told MTV: 'This was an unprovoked attack. The security camera footage pretty much confirms my account of the events entirely... I was talking with a friend of mine. I got punched in the back and then all of a sudden, Jayde poured a drink, and then a glass hits me in the head. I turned around. I reached over. I see it's a girl, the head of the girl. I wanted to turn her head around. I grabbed her hair and the next thing I know, my shirt's being ripped. I'm punched in the face. I go into the submissive ball until the whole thing gets settled down. I remember having a cigarette with Chris, and the next thing, I was on the ground, so I don't remember the punch, but Brody punched me.' The thirty six-year-old entrepreneur is said to be 'pretty angry' with the altercation, reportedly having sustained various injuries, including 'swollen jaw, cuts and bruises,' all over his body.

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards believes that it is inevitable the BBC will have to publish the salaries it pays its stars in the future. Asked by ITV's Peter Fincham whether the current 'age of transparency' meant the corporation would have to bow to political and press pressure and reveal what it pays its top talent, Richards said: 'It looks that way to me.' He said: 'Where the public is paying for something they expect to know where that money is going. If millions are being paid to an individual it feels hard to keep it secret.' Richards also insisted that Ofcom is not the regulatory villain that James Murdoch has recently claimed and pointed to the government as the key force in setting the regulation agenda. He said that the suggestion Ofcom should dramatically scale back its regulation was too simplistic. 'It's easy to say, but underneath that it's hard to tell me which bit of regulation you don't want. With the Broadcasting Code we have a legal duty to consider every complaint. When accepted standards are discussed in Parliament, the reaction is not that there’s too much [regulation], but that there's not enough. If we have legal duty to do it, we should do it properly. Does everybody believe there should be less economic regulation? There's a range of broadcasters who say "we'd like more." Sky doesn't want it, but there's a range of others who do. On ad-sales, ITV doesn't want regulation, but Channel 4 and Five do. Which bit of regulation don't you want? The main determinant of the level of intervention is the government. Whether there will be a BBC or whether Channel 4 should be in the public sector are questions for the government.' He added that the accusation of a micro-managed industry where Ofcom was determining the type of content that is being screened was 'not a description that I recognise.'

VH-1 president Tom Calderone has admitted that he is not pleased with the tone of many of the network's shows. The channel recently cancelled Megan Wants a Millionaire and I Love Money 3, the former after a contestant, Ryan Jenkins, was accused of killing his ex-wife Jasmine Fiore. Jenkins was later found dead in a Canadian hotel room, while questions were raised about how the thirty two-year-old's criminal history was missed in a background check. However, Calderone has revealed that the fallout from the tragic series of events will lead to changes in VH-1's programming. He said that he is 'trying to get together' with 51 Minds Entertainment – the company that produced the now-cancelled shows - in order to reprioritise the content of their series'. He told the Los Angeles Times: 'This is not what I signed up for. We always want 51 Minds to be part of our arsenal and stable of creativity, but the only way VH-1 will survive and be healthy is to have several different voices and production partners.' Calderone cited The T.O. Show as an example of the direction he'd like to take VH-1 in. The programme features American footballer Terrell Owens trying to rehabilitate his career and image, which Calderone said is a more 'redemptive' kind of programme. He explained: 'We don't want our viewers tuning in and feeling like it's the same network all the time, that is not something we want to be famous for.'

ITV is yet to fully commit to a micropayment strategy for some online content and is wrestling with where to pitch charges and agreeing a common payment system with other players. Tony Cohen, chief executive of The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent-owner FremantleMedia, has revealed the production giant believes it can develop a model where it charges as little as fifteen pence for some short-form content. ITV executive chairman Michael Grade and other senior ITV execs have spoken about the potential for tiny payments for full episodes or clips of its shows, such as Britain's Got Talent. But ITV director of online content Ben McOwen Wilson said the company had yet to finalise its plans and added that there were still questions to be asked. 'It's not a slam dunk. Advertising is core for us and where we are focusing our efforts to monetise content,' he concluded.

Gerhard Zeiler, chief executive of Five-owners RTL, has said all free-to-air broadcasters will need a pay strategy to reverse an industry-wide decline in revenues. Speaking at Edinburgh, Zeiler predicted that economic recovery is still a way off and a paid-for model would need to be adopted to generate revenues. 'I simply don't believe that we will see a quick recovery in advertising revenues, nor do I think they will return to previous levels as fast and easily as some of us may think,' he said. 'Every major free-to-air commercial broadcasting group will need a pay strategy. Each of them will have to identify which part of their offer is so exclusive and unique that it would work in a pay environment. On the one hand some programme offers will switch from free-to-air to pay tv, and on the other hand we will see the development of new pay channels from what so far have been pure free-to-air media companies.' Zeiler stated that the consumer – directly or indirectly – will have to 'step up' if the advertising industry can't pay broadcasters bills.

Animated characters Wallace and Gromit are to present a new BBC1 programme about inventions. The popular duo will introduce documentary footage of scientific breakthroughs, drawing on Wallace's own characterisation as an absent-minded inventor in films such as A Grand Day Out and The Wrong Trousers. 'In Wallace and Gromit’s World of Inventions, Wallace will take a light hearted and humorous look at the real-life inventors, contraptions, gadgets and inventions, with the silent help of Gromit,' the BBC said. 'The series will aim to inspire a whole new generation of innovative minds by showing them real, but mind-boggling, machines and inventions from around the world that have influenced his illustrious inventing career.' BBC1 controller Jay Hunt said had she commissioned the show from Aardman Animations, in a bid to find more accessible routes into heavyweight factual topics. 'We've got to be creative about how we take difficult subjects and bring them to a mass-market audience. It's got to be done in a way that doesn't say, "Sit up straight and eat your bran and here's a bit about the Nazi's,"' she said. She also called for more mainstream history shows, to sit alongside the channel's successful genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?

Big Brother has been 'complianced to within an inch of its life' following restrictions introduced after the 2007 race row, presenter Davina McCall has said. The reality show host also claimed she was disappointed the programme was being axed – and suggested that she had thought of going into the house for the final Celebrity Big Brother series next year. Channel 4 confirmed it would drop Big Brother in 2010 following final summer and celebrity series after a dip in ratings. McCall, speaking at Edinburgh, said the show had become harder to make, with new rules put in place after the racial bullying row involving Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty. 'I mustn't talk about compliance because I will say something I will regret,' she said. 'Don't get me started on compliance. We were the programme where the naughty things happened and we are not allowed naughty things anymore. But even now when we are complicanced to an inch of our lives. It is one of the best series ever. We are so restricted but it is the tasks that provide the comedy and humour. I do feel compliance has been an issue and it has made the programme harder to make but we have still provided one of the best.' McCall said she believed compliance issues had been one of the reasons why the live daytime streaming of the show on E4 had been axed – although the broadcaster has insisted it was because of declining ratings. 'I think streaming is harder,' she said. 'There has been a lot of complaints about streaming not being on during the day, and I think that is harder because of the compliance.' McCall also said she thought the show would stay on air forever. 'It didn't overstay its welcome,' she said. 'If you hate it, you will be really glad it will be off the screens. I will be grieving a lot. I have already started my greiving process, but I am trying to stay chipper because we have got another year. I thought it would go on forever. I seriously did. I thought it could run forever with amazing casting and great housemates.'

Comedian Stewart Lee is alleged to have launched a strongly-worded attack on the Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond, saying that he wished Hammond had been 'decapitated' in the high-speed crash that almost cost the popular presenter his life. In a performance of his current Edinburgh fringe stage-show last week, the forty one-year-old Lee, star of BBC2's critically acclaimed Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, reportedly accused Hammond and his Top Gear colleagues of being 'bullies' and joked about the crash which left Hammond suffering from brain damage. Lee, interestingly, went to the same school as Hammond in Solihull - although he was two years ahead of the presenter. When he was confronted about his onstage comments by a reporter, Lee told the Daily Mail on Friday: 'I don't want to talk about it. They do jokes on Top Gear don't they? Treat it as a joke.' Fair comment, I suppose - humour comes in many different shapes and forms, and some of it is not for the faint-heatred or the thin-skinned. Still, it's a bit nasty, though, particularly as Lee is alleged by the paper to have stated, during his act, 'I wish ... that his head had rolled off in front of his wife.' Lee's spokeswoman played the incident down, adding: 'I don't think they knew each other at school.' The Hamster's thoughts on the matter have yet to appear in public. Actually, to be honest, if he's wise it might be an idea for Richard to maintain a dignified silence. He's a witty chap, but I'd hate to get into a public slanging-match with Stewie Lee, who is very good at dishing out the insults.

Sky1 controller Stuart Murphy has revealed plans for a fifty per cent boost in scripted content and a 3D interview series hosted by 'a famous footballer.' The broadcaster will film two episodes of the forthcoming eight-part series, which will air next year on the Sky's HD service, alongside the previously announced 3D episode of Twofour Broadcast's Are You Smarter Than A Ten Year Old? 'It's a bit like Cribs,' he told delegates at Edinburgh. 'It’s a bit like when television was in black and white and people thought, "Well, you need snooker in colour but everything else can be black and white." Actually, I think 3D will be the norm if Sky has its way.' He also called for more UK dramas with 'idiosyncratic' protagonist, to make sure they are 'tonally consistent' with Sky's US imports like Lost and House. The broadcaster currently airs around three big single dramas and two six-part series each year, but Murphy said he plans 'to do a lot more than that. I hope to do half as much again. The skew of Sky1 is going to be a lot more scripted,' he said. He previously told Broadcast that he has thirteen comedy projects in development and aims to pilot around eight of them when Lucy Lumsden joins as controller of comedy at the end of October – with a view of launching three to four new comedy series next year. Murphy also used the platform to publicly disagree with his boss James Murdoch's claim that the BBC is 'throttling' creativity. Murdoch, the chief executive of News Corporation, Europe and Asia, made the allegation in his MacTaggart lecture, but Murphy – who is a previous BBC3 controller – today took a different line. 'I don't [agree], actually. The BBC's a creative place and Sky's also a creative place,' he said. Quite right Stuart. Now, let's see if you're still in a job come next week. Cos normally when you disagree with a Murdoch you wake up in the morning with a horses head in your bed.

Michael MacIntyre's Live at the Apollo is the fifth most watched show on BBC iPlayer over the last twelve months as comedy proves one of the best performing genres in on-demand content. The top four shows were, somewhat predictably, EastEnders, Top Gear, Doctor Who and The Apprentice, but Nelson said the appearance of Apollo at number five was partly due to the genre being well-suited to online viewing. BBC Vision controller of multiplatform and portfolio Simon Nelson said: 'Comedy is really punching above its weight as people are looking online for something funny. They're after good snackable content.' He also pointed to BBC1 comedy Outnumbered, which attracts over four per cent of its audience on iPlayer, as 'finding new audiences' online. Nelson admitted factual shows were 'finding it harder' suggesting a longer window than seven-day catch-up might help the genre but said entertainment was 'cutting through' and didn't work only as linear events on live TV. He added that drama performed well, 'arguably better than linear' when it comes to sustaining an audience over a series.

Definitely? ... Maybe!

The news this weekend that Noel Gallagher has reportedly quit Oasis, saying he can no longer work with his brother Liam, surprised me somewhat. In so much as that it's taken fifteen years for it to happen. What's this, the fourth or fifth time that either Noel, or Liam (or both) have walked out? This one, admittedly, does sound a little bit more final than, say, the 'Talk Tonight'/San Francisco going walkabout affair. Or, indeed, the 'I've got a new house with Patsy, I can't be bothered to tour America' fiasco of 1996. If it is the end of what was, quite simply, the best live rock and roll band of the last two decades, then I guess what I'm most looking forward to now is hearing Noel's first solo LP. Without the 'baggage' (and/or 'support') of Our Kid on board. That'll be the point at which everybody realises just how much Oasis was down to the songs and how much was down to the singer. Because, to be honest, I'm not sure if anybody knows that for certain right at this moment. Least of all Liam and Noel themselves! And, I note that Ginger Alan McGee is already talking up the chances of a 'reunion tour' in a few years time. Class act, mate!

'Because we neeeed/each other/we belieeeve in/one another...'

Right, on with the Top Telly News, a lot of it coming - inevitably - from Edinburgh this week, as you'll note: Stephen Fry has said editorial compliance staff should 'fuck off' in a passionate diatribe against a culture of inflexible rules which is damaging realism in television. Keith Telly Topping's admiration for Lord Stephen is previously a matter of public record so we don't need to go into it again, here. Suffice to say that Keith Telly Topping agrees with this. Muchly. Fry's comments came as part of the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival session, Is Compliance Fucking Up TV?, which also saw Hat Trick boss Jimmy Mulville blame the BBC's director general Mark Thompson for a 'climate of fear,' and comedian Frank Skinner claim that expletives are wasted on the likes of Gordon Ramsay. In a pre-recorded statement, Fry savaged the logic behind editorial decisions to ban drama sequences which, for example, show criminals talking on their mobiles as they drive, or not wearing their seatbelts. 'I know it happens to be illegal, but it's also illegal to shoot people in the face,' he said, borrowing a popular phrase from his mate, Jezza Clarkson. 'It's called compliance. Compliance with what? With being an arsehole? Compliance with stupidity? I cannot believe that anybody allows this to happen. You are not allowed to do it as it really would be done, because you're "setting a bad example." What kind of example are you setting by betraying your country or shooting people in the face? It makes me want to explode with fury – and the awful thing is that the producers of these programmes comply.' Fry's potent, righteous anger was echoed by Mulville, who claimed that jokes aired on Have I Got News For You in previous years would not even be discussed as a possibility in the current climate and warned that producers are self-censoring their content to avoid the hassle of compliance. Citing a humourous mention of the phrase 'motherfucker' permitted by Jane Root when she was controller of BBC1, he said: 'I'm sad to say we wouldn't have that debate now. I'd just think I'm going to lose that war, I'll save time and take it out…The atmosphere now is one of retrenchment. There are rules but the people on the ground floor [of the BBC] don't know quite where they stand with them.' Mulville also singled out the director general for blame, saying: 'I'm not saying that it's anyone's fault at the BBC except for, probably, Mark Thompson. The fish rots from the head down.' The ONE Show presenter Adrian Chiles, who was chairing the panel, addressed director of BBC Vision Jana Bennett and said: 'You've got to tackle the ripples of caution that are going out [among BBC producers] and go out there saying it's fine.' BBC executives said afterwards that they agreed with Mulville's criticism but were surprised Mulville had vented them so openly, especially when sat next to Bennett. However, other speakers laid some of the blame at the door of the television industry as a whole. Skinner argued that television had allowed shows such as Gordon Ramsay's F Word to devalue the currency of certain expletives, instead of allowing them to be used sparingly but effectively. 'TV has slightly brought this on itself. Language has been wasted on Gordon Ramsay instead of comedians who know how to use it,' he said. 'It gives them [the press] the ammunition to say "Get fuck off telly." Actually fuck is a beautiful word when used correctly.' He continued that sensible compliance depended on 'bright people' to interpret the Ofcom editorial guidelines, much like a referee interprets the rules of football. 'It cannot be broken down into a checklist,' he said. Jan Tomalin, the former Channel 4 lawyer who now works at the Media Law Consultancy, came in for praise from nearly all the speakers – but went further than they did in blaming producers for interpreting compliance rules badly rather than the rules themselves. She said the Ofcom guidelines could be viewed 'through two ends of the telescope' – as the framework for getting risky content on screen or as a barrier to block content – and that often producers opt for the latter. 'It becomes a reductive process. I truly think that if Ofcom witnessed the conversations that happen among producers sometimes, they'd be horrified,' she said.

The creator of highly-acclaimed hard-hitting TV drama The Wire has said television can only be worthwhile when freed from the constraints of advertising. David Simon, who was also appearing at the Edinburgh TV Festival, said: 'Television as a medium, in terms of being literate and telling stories, has short-changed itself since its inception.' Simon, whose work originates on US subscription cable channel HBO, added: 'Only when television managed to liberate itself from the economic construct of advertising was there a real emancipation of story. American television up until the point of premium cable was about the interruptions every thirteen minutes to sell you cars and jeans and whatever else.' He said that adverts were in danger of becoming more important than the show. 'You had to bring the most number of eyeballs to that show and that meant dumbing down and making plots simple, gratifying people within the hour.'

Summer Glau has landed a recurring role on Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, according to various US reports. The actress, who has previously worked with Whedon on Firefly, its movie spin-off Serenity and Angel, is said to have taken the role of Bennett, a Dollhouse employee who shares a secret past with Echo. Showrunner Whedon had previously hinted that he was interested in casting Glau in the show's second season. 'I mentioned it to her before The Sarah Connor Chronicles was cancelled. I was like, "You know, we should get you in the house." But first we have to come up with something that works.' And, in a further revelation which would appear to suggest that Joss Whedon's career now exists largely to provide some quality work for the stars of his previous shows, it had also been announced that the great Alexis Denisof (Wesley in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and one of Keith Telly Topping's most admired actors) will also be making a guest appearance in the new series of Dollhouse. He will play Senetor Daniel Perrin, who is on a witch-hunt to expose the activities of the Dollhouse organisation. Also in the coming season Michael Hogan of Battlestar Galactica will play Bradley Karrens, a man who seeks the Dollhouse's help to stop a family member's psychotic killing spree. Hogan's fellow BSG castmate, Jamie Bamber, was inadvertently revealed to be another guest star last Wednesday when FOX made photos of the season's premiere episode available to the press. Bamber will play businessman Martin Klar, who is Echo's new husband. Besides the main cast, FOX have also announced that Amy Acker's character, Dr Claire Saunders, and Miracle Laurie's character, Madeline, will return for seperate story arcs. With all this activity, let's just hope that the show actually finds an audience this year.

Channel 4's digital service More4 has bought the UK rights to the US cop drama Southland, starring Ben McKenzie, best known for playing Ryan in The OC. The series, described as 'gritty and authentic' (aren't they all?) is about a police unit based in Los Angeles and takes viewers inside the lives of the cops and criminals. It was created by ER and The West Wing's John Wells, Christopher Chulack, and NYPD Blue's Ann Biderman. It is expected to be broadcast on the channel later this year. Channel 4's Gill Hay said: 'Our audience expects thought-provoking, high quality drama, and Southland comes to More4 with a sterling pedigree. As you would expect from the creative talent involved, it is gripping, uncompromising and a truly thrilling addition to the channel.'

Ant and Dec have revealed that their latest show for ITV will be based around ordinary families. The cheeky chappy Geordie duo (pictured right with Ant, as usual, on the left), who were recently branded 'irreplaceable' by ITV's director of television Peter Fincham, told delegates at Edinburgh that they felt TV audiences wanted to see modern British families on-screen, having moved away from formats such as their 2000 BBC series Friends Like These. The new show, which will air on ITV next spring, will be 'slightly more formatted' than the pair's previous hit, Saturday Night Takeaway and is now in the rehearsal phase of its lengthy development.

The final ever episode of Rescue Me will reportedly air in conjunction with the anniversary of 9/11. The FX firefighter drama, starring Denis Leary, was initially inspired by the 11 September terrorist attacks, whilst the show's producer has announced that filming on the final seasons is about to get under way and that the series will go off the air in 2011, TV Guide reports. 'Within the next couple of weeks, we're going to begin shooting the last nineteen episodes, which will be the final two seasons of the show,' co-creator and executive producer Peter Tolan said. He added: 'I think they're stretching the airing of it out until the tenth anniversary. So if you put ten episodes on next year and nine the following year, you'll land there.'

A survey, reported by Sky News, has found that less than one in ten people think TV presenters are worth their wages. The YouGov poll discovered that eighty per cent of respondants thought that stars' wages should be cut. Only six per cent of people thought Piers Morgan was good value for money, while only nine per cent were happy with Jonathan Ross's pay deal. Simon Cowell and Davina McCall were also backed by just nine per cent of the respondents. However, twenty seven per cent of people thought Stephen Fry was paid the right amount, while Michael Palin was supported by thirty per cent of those surveyed. Keith Telly Topping concurs and, in fact, goes further. TV previewers aren't worth their wages either. But, we're cheaper, at least. Much cheaper.

Five has signed Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakston to present a new show called Britain's Best Brain, it was announced on Friday. The eight-part prime time series, which has been co-funded by Nintendo, reunites the duo on screen for the first time in nearly ten years. 'I'm very happy and excited to be working with my mate again,' said Ball. 'Jamie is very sharp and a generous co-host and still makes me roar with laughter, so it's not like work at all. We've slotted straight back in to our working relationship, like putting on a favourite pair of old socks.' Theakston added: 'As soon as I heard about the show I thought it sounded like a great concept. I can't believe it's been ten years since Zoe and I last presented a show together. After our first run through it was like we had never been apart. We both find the same things funny and she can make me laugh like no other presenter I've ever worked with.'

Rob Brydon has revealed that Gavin & Stacey fans can expect 'momentous' events to occur in the final series. The forty four-year-old actor, who plays Bryn West on the BBC sitcom, hinted that viewers may be surprised by the storylines in store in the forthcoming third run. Speaking to the Liverpool Daily Post, Brydon confirmed: 'We finished Gavin & Stacey about two weeks ago. I think it's very good, another great script, but then it's hard for me to tell because I'm so close to it now.' He added: 'They like it to be secret, but I will say lots of things, momentous things, happen. I can say Uncle Bryn is in it a lot - I think he has more to do than in previous series. All the characters move along brilliantly. I just can't wait to see it now, we all enjoyed filming it so much.'

Back to the US and TNT has ordered a third season of the highly watchable con-artist drama Leverage, the cable network announced last week. The fifteen-episode third season will air next summer. Leverage, which wraps up its summer run 9 September and returns to conclude its fifteen part second season this winter. The series - which Keith Telly Topping rather admires - stars Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton as the leader of a band of grifters who swindling nasty people out of their ill-gotten gains. It co-stars Coupling's Gina Bellman, Angel's Christian Kane, Beth Riesgraf and Aldis Hodge.

The Hills star Brody Jenner has claimed that he was tased outside a Los Angeles bar after becoming involved in a fight with Girls Gone Wild mogul Joe Francis. Speaking to TMZ, the reality star alleged that he was at the Guys and Dolls nightclub with his girlfriend, Jayde Nicole, when they witnessed Francis hitting 'unrelentingly' on a woman that they knew. Jayde is reported to have thrown a drink on Francis who then became involved in a confrontation with her before security stepped in. Writing on his Twitter account, Jenner said: 'Joe Francis beat up my lady this morning for no reason! Pulled her to the ground, punched and kicked her... what does that say about him? How can you call yourself a man when you beat up a girl? Joe Francis is a piece of shit. Joe Francis needs to be in jail!'

The discovery of five young women murdered in Ipswich in 2006 is to form the basis of a new BBC1 drama. Three-part serial Five Daughters (working title) will be written by Stephen Butchard, who penned BBC2 drama House of Saddam. Made with the full co-operation of Suffolk Police and other agencies involved in the case, this factually-based drama will tell the story of the women's lives through the eyes of family members and friends, as well as following the inside story of the police investigation. It was commissioned by BBC1 controller Jay Hunt and Ben Stephenson, controller of BBC drama commissioning. Butchard said: 'These five young women, precious to their families, had heart, ambition and potential; until an event or events, one wrong turn, one chance meeting, led them into the world of heroin and crack. Their dependency on these drugs facilitated their easy exploitation and led them to the street. Our hope is that this drama provides a glimpse of the real girls their families knew, and also leads to further debate on the impact of drugs and sex industries upon every town, every city in this country… and what action is, or isn't, being taken.' Filming begins this November for broadcast in 2010. Director is Philippa Lowthorpe (The Other Boleyn Girl). Producer is Simon Lewis (My Family And Other Animals) and executive producer is Susan Hogg (Survivors, Larkrise To Candleford).

ITV director of drama, Laura Mackie, has defended the decision to move long-running police show The Bill to 9pm, saying that the show's new format will need time to bed in. Speaking to Broadcast, Mackie said that she 'would have liked to get more' viewers watching the show but that, overall, she was satisfied with how the programme was rating. Since being moved to a 9pm slot, The Bill has been averaging less than the slot average and viewing figures over the last three weeks have been some of the lowest for the series in many years. As an 8pm show, it was regularly pulling audiences of around five million, but after debuting in the new time slot with four and a half million, that figure this week dropped to just over three million last week. Mackie said: 'The team on the programme is still making the transition from 8pm to 9pm. In an ideal world, we would have stopped production for six months and had the time to make all the changes necessary. To have made the leap without stopping production at all is a huge achievement by [producers] Talkback Thames. These changes always take time, but we are absolutely in this for the long game. The Bill had some very stiff competition from launch – none of us were expecting it would have to go against New Tricks. But it did dent [New Tricks'] ratings and we think over the autumn The Bill will move from strength to strength.'

BBC3 has lined up Mock The Week's Russell Howard to host a younger-skewing take on Charlie Brooker's Newswipe, in a bid to boost the channel's coverage of current affairs. The nine-part series, Russell Howard's Good News, was ordered by BBC3 controller Danny Cohen as one of three new shows for the channel, which also includes a drama about lesbians and a full series of pilot comedy Mouth To Mouth. According to the BBC, Howard 'will offer his unique perspective on the big stories dominating all of our news outlets, from online and print to broadcast, as well as picking up on those sometimes overlooked things that make him smile.' I like Russell's comedy a lot so I'm quite looking forward to that one. The series, which is set to air this autumn, will be will be produced by Avalon in front of a live studio audience and comprises a seven-week run, followed by a best-of and a Christmas special much in the same style as Mock The Week. It follows an edict from the BBC Trust to boost levels of news and current affairs on BBC3, despite the historically poor performance of straight forward news bulletins for the channel. The new show will sit alongside a six episode drama about 'the sex lives and love affairs' of a group of twentysomething lesbians living in Glasgow. Get your standard complaint forms from the Daily Mail as soon as they've got the photocopier working again. Lip Service, which has yet to be cast, was penned by Harriet Braun, who also worked on the first series of Mistresses and co-created Attachments. It will be produced by Kudos Film and Television in Glasgow later this year. Braun said: 'Based on my own experiences and those of my friends, I wanted to write a sexy, funny and irreverent drama that reflects what it is to be a young gay woman living in Britain today. I loved The L Word but it's high time we saw some contemporary British lesbians, with all the bad weather, trips to the pub and repressed emotions that go with that. It will be as funny as it is pathos filled, because in my experience that's how life is.' Polly Williams (Hotel Babylon, Holby City) will produce the series and Derek Wax (Occupation) is the executive producer for Kudos. Matthew Read (Fiona's Story, Wallander) is the executive producer for BBC Scotland.

More from Edinburgh, and this one's a cracker: Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson has scorned health and safety checks, saying presenters who do dangerous stunts will inevitably sometimes get hurt or die. After a clip which showed him driving a lorry into a brick wall, he said: 'Doing a show like Top Gear, you have to realise that from time to time presenters are going to get hurt or killed.' Clarkson's comments come after his co-presenter Richard Hammond suffered a near fatal accident in 2006 – but Clarkson said the episode was a 'shock' but would not change his attitude to health and safety. 'It was not a wake up call. It was deeply shocking but a tyre blew out. All the health and safety in the world couldn't have prevented that accident,' he said. Clarkson and the programme's executive producer, Andy Wilman, also used the Top Gear masterclass to attack decisions by the BBC Trust to uphold various complaints against the show. Last summer the Trust censured the show for glamourising drink driving, after it showed Clarkson and co-host James May drinking gin and tonic as they drove across an ice pack on their way to the North Pole. Clarkson asked delegates 'Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?' noting that there is no traffic or law against drink driving in the region, which is classed as international waters. 'You can't listen endlessly to Ed Pol on the sixth floor of the BBC, whose opinions are often very far removed from those of the people watching the show,' he added. The controversial BBC host also ruled out having a woman on the Top Gear team because the abuse the current trio of presenters give each other could be construed as bullying. 'When we did the original screen tests and some BBC people came down and insisted we had to have a girl, honestly I didn't give a damn and said we must get [the best] presenter,' Clarkson said. 'Now though, having seen how we work, I think a girl would be a disaster… If a girl came in and we started taking the piss out of her it may look like bullying.' He added that in the average nuclear family, girls only watch Top Gear because they fancy Richard Hammond and their mothers watch it because it is family viewing. Plus, they want to mother James May. Clarkson also noted women were often pushed to the front of the audience so they were seen behind the presenters. 'We get five hundred people coming to the show each week and most of them are oafs,' he said. 'Who would you rather have in our shots?' It's a great word, 'oaf,' isn't it? You don't get it used anywhere near enough in relation to television these days. Anyway, Jezza - entertaining as always, especially in his fabulous ability to wind up (and slap down) the Gruniad and the Daily Mail simultaneously. I remain in awe of your dazzling fabulousness, sir! Encore.

BBC2 boss Janice Hadlow's comedy plans include uncovering a 'broad comic' success in the vein of Goodness Gracious Me and Absolutely Fabulous, and solving the problem of men dominating panel shows. Speaking at Edinburgh, Hadlow said that one of her key priorities with panel shows was 'to shift things, to find different ways of being funny.' She said: 'We don't want to take an existing format and "female it up," but we're looking hard to find a different kind of panel show that is welcoming to women.' Hadlow admitted it would take time, but pointed to the forthcoming Miranda Hart sitcom - Miranda Hart's Joke Shop - as the first step towards more female-friendly comedy. She added that as well as strong returning niche series such as Beautiful People, she was after something that could be come a genuine mainstream hit. 'It would be great to add a broad comic success to BBC2, like Absolutely Fabulous or The Catherine Tate Show. Something to point to as part of a wide mixed economy.'

BBC1 controller Jay Hunt has spoken of her distress at negative press coverage about her – and fears that it will discourage other women from taking senior TV roles in the future. 'I've always been very reluctant to say it's because I'm a girl, but it was extremely tough to read. It was extremely hard for my family and friends to read and I think me being a woman certainly played a part in it,' she said at Edinburgh. 'I have been struck by how many women have been put off by what's happened to me and that I think that is quite dispiriting. I don't think you want to be in an industry – which I've always prided myself didn't have a discernable glass ceiling – and find people saying I'm not sure I'd want to put myself through that. I wouldn't do your job for a million quid. I think that's alarming. The most important thing for me is that other women aren't put off trying to get this sort of job or operate at this level.'

Julian Bellamy, the head of Channel 4, has admitted that his biggest mistake this year was the programme schedule he pitted against the "firestorm" of ITV's mega-rating Britain's Got Talent. Bellamy, speaking at Edinburgh yesterday, said that Channel 4 would look to overhaul its scheduling strategy against the hit ITV show next time around. 'My biggest mistake this year was our schedule against Britain's Got Talent. We underestimated how big that show was [going to be],' he added. Bellamy said that he selected a 'mish-mash' of good films and a series of repeats as a 'holding pattern' to air against the mega-rating ITV show. 'We missed a trick. Next time we will be more interesting and daring and worry less about holding up audience in the firestorm of Britain's Got Talent,' he added. He also said that for the next series he was working on a 'big idea that will play across a few days while it is on.'

Fearne Cotton has reportedly told friends that she believes her house is haunted. The popular presenter's Georgian cottage is built over a tunnel thought to have been used either by smugglers or women looking for a safe route to travel by, reports the Daily Star. A 'source' told the tabloid: 'It's little known, but if Fearne is being spooked I would put my money on it being something to do with that tunnel. About ten years ago builders renovating the cottage discovered the tunnel. There were many theories going around about what it was built for but whatever the truth it seems there are some dead souls down there who still enjoy troubling the living.' So spooky are these spooks, it would seem, they've terrified poor Fearne out of her top (see right). It's awful when that happens, isn't it?

Robert Peston has admitted that the BBC's offering – particularly its online news – may look like 'unfair competition' in a news market where commercial players are moving to charge for online access. Delivering the Richard Dunn Memorial Lecture at Edinburgh, the BBC's business editor said: 'I understand why James Murdoch has argued that the BBC's online news service looks like state-subsidised unfair competition.' But he questioned whether 'a wholly liberalised commercial news market would ensure that everyone has access to the kind of news and financial information they need and deserve.' He said: 'There is a debate about two kinds of fairness. There is the fairness of ensuring a level playing field for players in a commercial market. And there is the fairness of the distribution of information and knowledge to all who need it. Having just lived through the greatest failure in history to distribute financial resources in an efficient and equitable way, we certainly shouldn't assume that a commercial digital market in news will distribute information in a way that would support a healthy democracy. The big question is whether the incipient structure of our new digital news industry will promote or undermine the healthy discussion that is necessary for democracy to thrive.' Meanwhile James Murdoch has continued his recent attack on the BBC at another Edinburgh event, but said that he was against top-slicing the corporation as it would be 'catastrophic' for commercial media companies to become dependent on public money. Speaking at Edinburgh's post-MacTaggart session, the chief executive of News Corporation, Europe and Asia, said: 'I think contestable funding would be catastrophic for the sector. It atomises the state dependence of media companies.' At the Q&A session, chaired by Peter Bazalgette, Murdoch said the licence fee may be 'regressive' but it 'enables you to put a spotlight on the totality of the intervention.' Asked by Bazalgette where he would begin cutting the BBC, Murdoch, responded: 'You seem to be starting from the assumption that there's going to be something left.' He refused to be drawn on the specifics of where he would see the BBC cut but said the BBC online news is 'creating enormous problems for independent news.'

ITV's director of television Peter Fincham has defended the treatment of contestants on Britain’s Got Talent, and said the network would have faced a barrage of criticism if it had not allowed participants like Susan Boyle to take part. Fincham said that the rise in the popularity of reality competitions like The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent had led to an unprecedented level of scrutiny on contestants, fast-tracking the route to international fame. But he added that while the 'unpredictable' did happen on the shows, contestants like Boyle, who has learning difficulties, should never be excluded from competing. 'My question back to those who ask that is would we have done the right thing to say "no, you shouldn't, no you can't?." Imagine the criticism we'd be exposing ourselves to,' Fincham said. 'I'm quite confident that we were doing the right thing.'

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Week Thirty Six: Joanna Gets Catty, Stephen Has His Big Break And Paul, George, Ringo And ... The Other One Make Some Sweet Music

Right. Cack ye not in yer own pants, dear blog reader. Here be your weekly Top Telly Tips in the area one day sooner than usual. In fact, let's make a pact - let there, from this day forth, be no further pant cacking of any description; it's not necessary (or, particularly, pleasant) if truth be told.

Friday 4 September
In Tonight: From Bin to Banquet - 8:00 ITV - Jonathan Maitland highlights Britain's food waste problem as he and that somewhat small chef Antony Worrall Thompson use food thrown away by supermarkets to feed hungry shoppers. That's a wee bit unhygienic, isn't it? Keith Telly Topping would like to assure you, dear blog reader, that he never wastes any of his food. Not even if it's way past its sell-by date. Except, possibly, if said item has started to develop living things growing on it in their green-ness. Then I might consider that the bin's probably the best place for 'em, but not until. Anyway, how many people will they be able to serve from just one evening of bin raiding and will the consumers recoil from their scrummy banquet once they know from whence the feast originated? I should blooming well cocoa. Unless they're tramps, of course, in which case they're probably used to the rank stench of and acrid taste of decay. To the left we can see Anthony in his latest 'I'll do absolutely anything to get my gnomic boat-race on TV,' pose. Yeah, very good. Put them away, Anth, I've just had my breakfast.

Saturday 5 September
The Beatles were 'a popular beat combo' of the 1960s, m'lud. You might've heard of them. As previously announced this is Beatles Weekend on the BBC. In 1962 an unknown four-piece outside of their native Liverpool (and a few disreputable, stinking and whore-infested Hamburg beer kellers) entered EMI's Abbey Road Studios in St John's Wood to record their debut single. During the next eight years they created what is arguably the greatest collection of studio recordings of the Twentieth Century. Certainly one of the biggest selling. The Beatles on Record - 8:35 BBC2 - charts how Paul, George, Ringo and ... the other one (you know, the alcoholic wife-beating junkie) developed as musicians, matured as songwriters and created a body of work that, in many places, still sounds as fresh now as it did at the time it was recorded. This documentary charts The Beatles' extraordinary journey from 'Love Me Do' to Abbey Road. Narrated entirely by Paul, George, Ringo, Sir George Martin and ... the other one, the documentary features extracts from more than sixty classic songs, rare in-studio footage and photos from The Beatles' own archives and previously unheard out-takes of studio chat from the sessions. Also keep your eye open for tomorrow's Storyville: How The Beatles Rocked The Kremlin on BBC4 and, indeed, all of this weekend's various shows on the band. They were a bit gear. And a splendid time is guaranteed for all...

Sunday 6 September
When Joanna Lumley: Catwoman - 7:00 ITV - was first announced a few months back, it inevitably led to a whole raft of jokes about 'pussies galore' and all that sort of childish nonsense within the TV industry. Not that Keith Telly Topping didn't snigger, briefly, at one or two of them you understand dear blog reader. He's like that is Keith Telly Topping - usually disapproving, but a right sucker for a decent joke about rude bits. Thus, in this, the first of two programmes, animal - and Gurkha - lover the divine Joanna Lumley travels the globe to learn more about man's love affair with cats. Hang on, that's not natural, is it? Oh, I see what you mean, Joanna. Okay, carry on. As cat ownership outstrips the popularity of dogs in Britain and America, Joanna heads to Egypt - the nation where humans first forged a close relationship with felines almost four thousand years ago - to learn why cats were revered as gods. In Belgium, she enjoys the entertaining spectacle of the world's biggest cat festival and on a trip to Japan she hears the story that spawned the nation's cute-cat craze, as well as superstitions and ghost stories about longtail cats. Finally, she heads to the Mayan jungle to seek out one of the mightiest of the big cats - the jaguar.

There's more animals (although this time of a somewhat less common variety) on display in Last Chance to See - 8:00 BBC2. In this charming looking documentary series, the lovely Stephen Fry and the celebrated zoologist Mark Carwardine head (literally) to the ends of the Earth in search of animals on the edge of extinction. Following the route that Mark took twenty years ago with the late author Douglas Adams when the pair wrote the book on which the series is based, Stephen and Mark set out to discover how the lugubrious Amazonian manatee, a freshwater mammal, has survived the last two decades. But - in the process - clumsy old heffelump Stephen falls and breaks his arm deep in the Amazon rainforest. Across six weeks, Stephen engages in what he calls an 'exhausting, exhilarating and exasperating' journey, but one that he wouldn't have missed for the world, as he tracks the progress of the aye-aye in Madagascar, the blue whale off the coast of Mexico, the kakapo in New Zealand, the northern white rhino in Uganda and the komodo dragon in Indonesia. Stephen admits that while he loves animals, he's not so keen on the fact that to see them in the wild, one needs to spend so much time trekking and camping to wherever they are. But it's a sacrifice that he's prepared to make to share some incredible moments with viewers – his first sight of a blue whale fluking (raising its tail vertically in the air), stirring 'almost unbearable' excitement; meeting the world's smallest primate, Madame Berthe's pygmy mouse lemur – 'sheer, unadulterated cute' - and watching tiny turtle hatchlings rushing across the sand to reach the sea, which Stephen describes as 'one of the great evenings of my life.' Although Last Chance To See introduces some rare and wonderful specimens, as with the original book and radio series, there is a very serious message at its core. Currently almost eight thousand five hundred species are officially recognised as endangered by extinction and it's not getting any easier as habitats continue to be destroyed, sometimes, ironically, so that we in the West can claim we're going green.

In the best bit of TV news of the last couple of months, one of Keith Telly Topping's favourite dramas, the excellent Waking the Dead, returns at 9:00 on BBC1 in a two-part story which concludes on Monday. If you've never seen this one before, then where've you been for the last eight years? It's a crime drama featuring a police department set up to reinvestigate old cases led by the grumpy-yet-brilliant Trevor Eve and eternally patient mother figure Sue Johnston. In tonight's opening episode when a naked woman is found wandering the streets with no memory and her DNA matches that found on a 1966 crime scene, Chief Inspector Boyd finds himself dealing with a hot case as well as his cold one. But how are the two connected? Don't worry, Trev'll find out. He da man. The episode is also notable in that it features a guest appearance by Trevor Eve's wife, Sharon Maughan. This is the first time that the couple, married for over thirty years, have ever worked together on TV. Remarkable. I think what I like most about Waking the Dead - quite apart from the always solid acting and the usually clever and mutli-layered scripts - is that it takes the best aspects of similar US formats like the CSI shows, Cold Case and Without a Trace but its carries them off in a very British way, a much slower pace and with more time to think, to characterise and to play subtle games of misdirection with the audience. I think it's a quite brilliant show and, even into an eighth year of production shows little sign of diminishing returns.

It's an astonishingly fine night for drama as, on opposite Waking the Dead on ITV, we've got Julia McKenzie's debut in Agatha Christie's Marple. This adaptation of A Pocket Full of Rye features Prunella Scales, Matthew Macfadyen, Ralf Little, Rupert Graves, Helen Baxendale, Ken Cranham, Eddie Tudor Pole, and in their final performances, Wendy Richard and Ken Campbell. Magnificent cast, that. And there's also a fine-looking documentary (9/11: Phone Calls from the Towers) on Channel 4 as well as that Beatles documentary on BBC4 which I mentioned in yesterday's tips. Viewers really are spoiled for choice tonight and it's not often you can honestly say that.

Monday 7 September
Waking the Dead concludes tonight but, yet again, it has some genre competition because it's on opposite Blue Murder - 9:00 ITV. This is another - in this particular case, rather laboured - crime drama, this one starring Caroline Quentin as DCI Janine Lewis. The show is, essentially, about her constant battle to balance a normal family life with her career. In tonight's opening instalment Janine and her team are brought in to investigate when a cheerleading coach is found dead in her garage. Janine's youngest son, Tom, meanwhile is not reacting well to the recent departure of his dad but can Richard's man-to-man talk with the troubled boy help? For me, there's simply no contest in this one - watch Waking the Dead and catch Blue Murder on repeat if you're a fan of Caroline. Or, indeed, avoid it completely if you're not.

A major TV event this week is Land Girls - 5:15 BBC1 every day. This is a period drama series which is part of the BBC's season of programmes commemorating the Seventieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. It's 1942 and four young women from very different backgrounds have different reasons for joining the Women's Land Army: patriotic Joyce wants to 'do her bit', argumentative Nancy is there under sufferance and sensible Annie joined so that her younger sister Bea could escape an abusive father. Soon, however, Bea rebels from her sister's control and finds herself enthralled by a charming GI, Cal Gillespie, while at the dance Nancy tries to get closer to Lord Hoxley. Against the backdrop of war-weary Forties Britain, Land Girls is set on the Hoxley Estate, as the girls balance their working lives at the run-down Pasture Farm and the opulent Hoxley Manor. The drama follows the women as they try to live out their lives in very challenging circumstances, and we're promised 'lots of laughter and tears along the way.' Of course, for my generation the war is a somewhat distant event but for a lot of viewers it's a part of their own personal histories. I'm particularly impressed with the strip-scheduling of the show across the entire week. I hope it gets an audience, I really do.

A Garden in Snowdonia - 7:00 BBC2 - presents a year in the life of Bodnant Garden in North Wales. Head gardener Troy Scott Smith struggles to preserve one of the largest collection of rhododendrons in the country. With many rare and ageing plants, and a growing threat from 'sudden oak disease', Bodnant faces some tough challenges. Yeah well, that's kind of an occupational hazard for gardeners, isn't it? If you wanted a quiet life, pal, you should've become a librarian instead.

Tuesday 8 September
Tonight sees a welcome repeat of Among the Apes - 6:30 Five - the natural history series introduced by renowned primatologist Charlotte Uhlenbroek. In this series, Charlotte travels the world on a quest that brings her face-to-face with some of the world's greatest primates. This episode sees Charlotte visit Uganda for a close encounter with a group of wild chimpanzees. Wild, wild, they were absolutely livid when another camera crew turned up following that David Bloody Attenborough ... Sorry. Old joke, that. Loses a lot in translation. As Aristotle once said ... 'Ἐποποιία δὴ καὶ ἡ τῆς τραγῳδίας ποίησις ἔτι δὲ κωμῳδία καὶ ἡ διθυραμβοποιητικὴ καὶ τῆς αὐλητικῆς ἡ πλείστη καὶ κιθαριστικῆς πᾶσαι τυγχάνουσιν οὖσαι μιμήσεις τὸ σύνολον· διαφέρουσι δὲ ἀλλήλων τρισίν, ἢ γὰρ τῷ ἐν ἑτέροις μιμεῖσθαι ἢ τῷ ἕτερα ἢ τῷ ἑτέρως καὶ μὴ τὸν αὐτὸν τρόπον. Ὥσπερ γὰρ καὶ χρώμασι καὶ σχήμασι πολλὰ μιμοῦνταί τινες.' Don't come looking round here for a translation, it's all Greek to me.

The last time somebody said Trust Me I'm A Dealer to me, I ended up spending the night 'helping the police with their enquiries.' The programmes of the same name - 6:30 BBC2 - however sees antiques expert, the only slightly oily Paul Martin, helping members of the public make a decent return on their savings. In each episode he takes cash off one set of contributors and sets out on a nationwide adventure to buy, restore and sell objects in order to deliver a healthy profit. A sort of Antiques Roadshow for the Arthur Daley generation, as it were. Samantha and Chris Gee from Somerset are hoping Paul will be able to raise some money to improve the quality of life for their daughter, Pippa, who has Down's Syndrome.

In tonight's EastEnders - 7:30 BBC1 - Roxy is left out in the cold as the Mitchells close ranks to protect Sam. But will their lawyer bring good news? Of course not - as previously noted, this is EastEnders, there's never any good news in Albert Square. Elsewhere, Lucas is panicked to discover Trina's bracelet gone and Minty's heart is reignited by an old crush. Meanwhile, Whitney urges Bianca to fight for her man. Two falls and a submission?

Wednesday 9 September
As ever on Top Telly Tips, we seek to bring you three alternatives whenever there's a big match on. As, there is tonight in the case of England v Croatia. Last time these two played at Wembley, somebody ended up losing their job. Will it happen again for Fabby Fabio?

In Nigel Slater's Simple Suppers - 7:30 BBC1 - the popular food writer creates a week's worth of simple yet delicious meals, using everyday ingredients to rustle up sumptuous food that is both inspiring and achievable. To prove that 'making it up' doesn't, necessarily, have to mean, 'making do', Nigel encourages us to experiment in the kitchen and have the confidence to make dishes up as we go along. He also visits local allotment holders and creates a tasty feast from the fruits of their labour. The series is part of the BBC Dig-In campaign.

The much-anticipated drama The Last Days of Lehman Brothers - 9:00 BBC2 is a strong pull away from the footie. This goes behind closed doors to tell the story of three days that, quite literally, shook the world. On 12 September 2008 the heads of Wall Street's three biggest investment banks were summoned to a late afternoon meeting by the US Treasury Secretary to discuss the plight of one of their biggest rivals. After six months of turmoil in the world's financial markets Lehman Brothers, the fourth biggest player on Wall Street, was on life support and the government was about to pull the plug. As The Last Days Of Lehman Brothers begins, confidence in the bank has plunged. Its clearing bank is demanding more collateral, its attempts to raise money from a Korean bank have stalled and credit agencies are warning that if it doesn't raise more capital within the next twenty four hours it will be downgraded. In an incredibly tense atmosphere, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson assembles Wall Street's finance titans at the Federal Reserve Building in downtown Manhattan. All the big executives are present – apart from the CEO of Lehman, Dick Fuld, who remains in his office. Paulson delivers the harsh message that there will be no government bailout and that it is in everybody's interests that a private-sector solution be found in the form of a merger with either Bank of America or Barclays, both of whom are showing interest. Proper big budget drama this, with a genuinely world class cast that includes James Cromwell, Ben Daniels and James Bolam among many others.

Shooting Stars - 10:00 BBC2 - is usually good for a laugh if you're looking for something daft to watch besides England's defence. In tonight's episode of the hit comedy panel show presented by Vic and Bob, on captain Jack Dee's team is the actor Martin Freeman and the divine Julia Bradbury. Oooofahfu. Meanwhile Ulrika-ka-ka Jonsson welcomes Hollywood movie star Paddy Considine and regular guest, burger van owner Angelos Epithemiou. Tonight Vic and Bob present their own special tribute to classical rock act Escala and George Dawes sings a song all about kissing. Bless his little cotton socks.

Thursday 10 September
In Watchdog - 8:00 BBC1 - that sour-faced malcontent Anne Robinson returns to present a new-look, hour-long format alongside Matt Allwright and Anita Rani. Having spent the best part of a decade terrifying hapless quiz contestants on The Weakest Link Ms Whiplash now has her cold, dead eyes set on destroying the reputations of Britain's small businesses, especially any hapless painter and decorator who happens to charge a fiver too much for doing some bloke's kitchen. The programme now also includes the undercover filming series Rogue Traders. Among tonight's reports, EastEnders actress Melissa Suffield discovers an unexpected establishment promoting a dangerous message about sunbeds, Anita helps some angry customers find the best way to send their complaints right to the top and Matt has a showdown with a company he has taken on before. Robinson, meanwhile, has revealed that she is keen for celebrity guests to appear on the new series. The presenter confirmed that the Queen's husband will be at the top of her wishlist. 'I think my Aunt Betty in Birkdale will love it if someone like the Duke of Edinburgh is making the complaint. Apparently he adores the show,' the Daily Express quotes her as saying. Yeah, I'm not surprised by that revelation, personally - it's full of nasty xenophobic Little Englanders complaining about either migrant tradesmen or the common working classes, I'm sure it'll be right up Phil's straße. Much like the average reader of the Express, in fact. 'I'm persuading many well-known names to come and make their complaints personally,' Robinson continued. Dear Anne, here's one for you from a not even remotely well known name (not even in my own house). Why, oh why, oh why...?

Alone in the Wild - 9:00 Channel 4 - is a documentary series following adventurer and cameraman Ed Wardle as he is dropped in Canada's Yukon wilderness with just basic provisions. Ed, who is not a survival expert (but who may be a certified nutter) must struggle to stay alive in one of the world's most inhospitable places. I repeat, why, oh why, oh why? In this opening episode Ed must come to terms with suddenly being alone and starts to build his camp.

Programmes with daft titles aren't always complete and total rubbish, of course. But Clever v Stupid - 8:30 BBC3 - really isn't doing itself any favours with its chosen handle. The format is surprisingly simply, and unsurprisingly cruel and unusual: Matt Edmondson presents a game show using tasks based on psychological research. The show tests two teams' creativity, their emotional intelligence, their physical dexterity and practical skills. In tonight's episode four stunning glamour models, including an ex-Playboy bunny, go up against a team consisting of a Latin master, a literary scholar, an Oxford biologist and a Doctor of Pharmacology. The models are determined to prove that they're smarter than the stereotype and, to be honest, I'm sure they probably are. But the show, seemingly, thinks it's entertaining to put them into a competition with four no doubt extremely bright (but, I'm guessing here, rather socially inept) men from sheltered academic backgrounds. This sounds like freak show telly far worse than anything Channel 4 have ever come up with. So, definitely one to watch with a takeaway, a bottle of wine and a few mates, then. I've a feeling this could become cult viewing over the next few weeks.

Let's finish off todays' bloggerations with some Top Telly News. The ONE Show host and resident mouth Adrian Chiles has said the decision to drop Arlene Phillips as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing was 'absolute bloody nonsense.' The decision to axe the sixty six-year-old to make way for singer Alesha Dixon triggered a lengthy ageism row in which everybody and their dog had their say on a casting decision. Some people more than once. It prompted the Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, for instance, to warn the BBC not to pander to 'the cult of youth.' And it prompted, Keith Telly Topping to warn Ben Bradshaw to mind his own bloody business and stick to doing his own job (whatever the hell that is) badly and leave TV critique to the professionals. The BBC has denied being ageist and says Phillips was dropped as part of an overall refresh for the hit show. Indeed, as many fans of the show will happily tell you, the real reason Arlene has been dropped is that she wasn't very popular with a large part of the audience; being seen as overly bitchy and unnecessarily caustic and - the worst sin of all - the teller of some really bad jokes. Chiles told Broadcast magazine: 'From a personal point of view, it's absolute bloody nonsense. They are dealing with issues I don't understand, but I thought it was nonsense.' Well, thanks for that mega-insightful comment on an issue you don't understand, Chilesy; can you give us your considered - and no-doubt fascinating - thoughts on the Large Hadron Collider next, please?

The cult movie Heathers will be developed as a television series by FOX and Sony Pictures TV. The 1989 black comedy centred on a high school clique all with the titular name, while Winona Ryder portrayed their friend Veronica Sawyer and Christian Slater played rebellious new kid in school Jason Dean. The pair hatch a plot to kill off the members of the popular crowd and pass off the deaths as suicides. Mark Rizzo will produce the update along with Sex And The City executive producer Jenny Bicks and Lakeshore Entertainment, Variety reports. Rizzo, who will also write the script, previously penned the pilot for Zip for NBC. 'We had the title, and talked about doing a film remake at times,' said Lakeshore president Gary Lucchesi. 'But doing it for TV seemed like a fresh and original idea.' Hang on, doing a remake is this chap's idea of 'fresh and original...' You do understand what those two words mean don't you, Gary? Cos, if not, I can loan you my dictionary for the weekend. It's jolly interesting reading.

News Corporation's James Murdoch has said that a dominant BBC threatens independent journalism in the UK. The chairman of the media giant in Europe, which owns The Times and Sun, also blamed the UK government for regulating the media with relish. 'The expansion of state-sponsored journalism is a threat to the plurality and independence of news provision,' Murdoch said. He was giving the MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival. Murdoch added that organisations like the BBC, funded by the licence fee, as well as Channel 4 and Ofcom made it harder for other broadcasters to survive. Yeah, but you've got a lot of subscription money behind you, young man - including mine - so stop whinging and get on with it. 'The BBC is dominant,' Murdoch said. 'Other organisations might rise and fall but the BBC's income is guaranteed and growing. The scope of its activities and ambitions is chilling.' Indeed. Today television centre, tomorrow ze verld. News Corporation, which owns a majority shareholding of Sky television, lost around two billion pounds in the year to the end of June, which his father, News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch, said had been 'the most difficult in recent history.' Other media organisations are also struggling as advertising revenues have dropped during the downturn. Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, told the BBC's World Tonight that Mr Murdoch had underplayed the importance of Sky as a competitor. I don't mind Sky most of the time, and I'll defend it against ill-informed and crass criticism (particularly from the 'get cricket back onto terrestrial' mob who simply don't get that it isn't 1955 any more and the world has changed). But self-interest nonsense like the above really doesn't help matters when you're trying to persuade people that you're not heartless capitalists! I mean, I know you are, but every now and then if you just pretended not to be for a little while, it'd be a PR coup if nothing else.

Andrew Lloyd Webber is said to be fighting to extricate himself from his BBC contract so he can move to ITV before his rights to stage The Wizard of Oz expire in 2010. Lloyd Webber has spoken publicly about his frustration at the 'nonsensical' conditions placed on the proposed show, including a ban on any mention of his forthcoming Phantom of the Opera sequel, Love Never Dies, amid fears it would breach BBC editorial guidelines and attract negative press. Rumours have also been circulating for some time that the musical impresario is in discussions with ITV but well-placed sources claim he on the brink of agreeing a deal following the return of ITV's director of comedy and entertainment Elaine Beddell from a trip to New York to hammer out the details. Both Beddell and ITV's director of television, Peter Fincham, confirmed they are interested in recruiting Lloyd Webber, who was behind the BBC's hit shows How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, Any Dream Will Do and I'd Do Anything. However, Beddell denied the rumours of a New York trip and pointed to Lloyd Webber's existing contract with the BBC. 'If he does get freed up, we'll talk to him,' she told Broadcast. Lloyd Webber is currently under a contract with the BBC, which runs until 2011 - struck whilst Beddell was the corporation's controller of entertainment commissioning and Fincham was the controller of BBC1. Sources claim that BBC is still 'fighting tooth and nail' to keep hold of him. Sources close to Lloyd Webber added that he has always enjoyed working with the BBC and is having 'friendly and constructive' negotiations with BBC1 controller Jay Hunt, although it is not yet clear where these will lead. A BBC spokesman said: 'He is a BBC presenter with more than a year left to run on his contract.' However, insiders have told the magaizne that executives are now at a loss to figure out how the tie-in deal can work. Previously airing his frustration about the BBC's ban on any mention of Love Never Dies, Lloyd Webber told the Daily Express: 'If every paper is mentioning it and there's no mention of it on the programme it looks curious. On ITV, it doesn't matter as it's not using licence payers' money. I just want to enjoy putting the show on at this stage of my career and I don't want the waters muddied by unnecessary negative PR.' Sources close to Lloyd Webber added: 'Apart from anything he doesn't want the hassle [of controversy]. He finds it demeaning and embarrassing.'

And lastly, PG Tips-gate continues to make the headlines in all the red tops and most of the broadsheets too. Kerry Katona's ex-accountant has said that he isn't interested in any reconciliation after he accused his former client of injuring him with a cup of hot tea. David McHugh claimed that Katona's husband Mark Croft had sent him a text after the alleged attack in a bid to make peace between the pair, the Daily Mirror has reported. Of the incident, McHugh is quoted as saying: 'The door slammed open and she said, "David what the fucking hell is this?" She was yelling and yelling. She started getting nasty and went for me. She caught my neck and ear and threw a hot scalding cup of tea over me.' He added: 'I've got black and blue bruises on my neck and side. The police wanted me to go to hospital but I decided not to. I have no intention of sorting this out. I am severing all contact with her. We never really got on very well.' Blimey, the milk of human kindness was certainly absent from that cuppa it would appear.