Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sheep, Pigs & Mad Dogs

Let's kick off today's blog, with a heavy heart, with the political part, dear blog reader. Because, to be honest, yer actual Keith Telly Topping would much sooner be talking about casting spoilers for the next series of Doctor Who, who is going to be on Qi on Friday, how good The First Men In The Moon was on Tuesday night, and whether there will be a new Stig, or not, on Top Gear at Christmas. Sadly, the real world occasionally must intrude, however annoyingly, on life within the TV industry. For overseas readers, a brief few words of explanation in case you weren't aware of the facts: In this country we have a right-of-centre political party who have been kicking around for a few hundred years. They're not very nice, by and large. Sometimes, they're a bit nicer than others but, generally speaking, they pursue their several agendas with a rigorous and ruthless efficiency, rewarding those who help them greatly but God only help anyone who gets in their way. That was, pretty much, the story of the 1980s, a lot of people did very well, some people did all right, most people clung on by their fingertips scared to make waves in case the whole bloody ship sank and those who couldn't help themselves got rammed, hard, up the Gary Glitter with a pointy stick till they bled. The Conservatives don't - generally speaking - like the BBC very much. Never have, even though it was actually created whilst they were in government. They, and their right-wing friends in the scum media, resent the fact that the BBC is independent of any state control and suspect it - loudly - of being left-of-centre (or, at best, liberally-minded) on many issues - socially, domestically and internationally. Which, might well have a shade of truth to it although it's a rather broad brush to paint over an organisation that employs well over thirty thousand people. So, no matter how Centrist any Tory administration may appear (and the current one is, at least, making a few gestures in that direction - albeit not very convincingly, it should be noted) there's always a vague suspicion, at the core of them, that they'd really very much like to shaft the BBC in exactly the way they shafted the poor in the 1980s. To castrate the BBC's will to be truly independent and muzzle their power, such as it is, to influence general public opinion. We shouldn't really be surprised by this since it's been going on for a very long time and, indeed, the current government - in the shape of its vile lack-of-culture secretary, the odious Jeremy Hunt - has never made any pretence of hiding his distaste for the BBC and all its doings. So, even if their leader mouths the occasional platitude about having 'high regard' for the BBC as 'a national treasure' and wishing to do 'nothing to interfere with its independence or its ability to produce quality TV and radio,' that's not really fooling anyone. All you have to do is read the party's hated, rancid lice mouthpiece - the Daily Scum Mail - and you'll really know what the average Tory thinks about the BBC as an institution. So, news that the current government has just taken a really big hatchet to BBC finances should not come as a shock to anyone. Thing is, however, that there's a slight fly in the ointment from the government's point of view. They, actually, do not have an electoral mandate from the people of this country to do anything to the BBC. Put simply, the only reason that David Cameron is the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland today, and the only reason Jeremy Hunt is in employed in the job that he currently has is because of the support of fifty seven Liberal Democrat members of parliament. Without those, the Conservatives would have a minority within the House of Commons and would, even if they were able to form a minority government as the largest single party, have to seek cross-party support for every single measure they wanted to put through. So, to put this simply, I imagine some of you dear blog readers might, possibly, have been Liberal Democrat voters at the General Election in May. No problem with that, they're an old and highly respected party - have a lot of time for them on many issues, myself. However, you may have also woken up this morning to headlines about how the government - your government - has, as part of its spending review, saddled the BBC with about three hundred and forty million quid per year of extra expenses that it didn't previous have and that it didn't ask for, whilst fixing the current TV licence - the BBC's major source of income - for the next six years. You might, therefore, be wondering how the BBC are expected to do more than they do at the moment, whilst being given less (quite a bit less) money to do it with. And why, exactly, this is being done in your name. Particularly when your own party's manifesto included not a single, solitary indication that this was something that anyone within the Liberal party agreed with. You might, as a consequence, like to ask some of these people just what exactly the hell they think they're doing in your name. I think many tax payers - of many different political persuasions - would be highly interested in the answer to those questions.

David Cameron has been criticised by Labour MPs - and most of them are scum as well, before anybody starts questioning the balance (or otherwise) of this blog! - for failing to provide parliament with details of his meetings with executives at News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch's media company. He's definitely scum. Prime grade, twenty-four-carat scum. And, I pay him thirty odd quid a month in subscriptions so I feel entirely justified in having, and voicing, that opinion. It's still a free country, after all. Allegedly. The Prime Minister has replied to written questions tabled by two Labour MPs saying that appointments with 'external organisations' would be published as part of a separate list of ministerial meetings. The government has promised to publish an account of departmental meetings with lobbyists and other bodies every three months, but is yet to do so. Michael Dugher, MP for Barnsley East, asked Cameron if he had met executives at News Corp or its subsidiary News International, which publishes a number of UK newspapers. Tom Watson, the former Labour minister who represents West Bromwich East, asked a similar question. In his written answer Cameron said: 'Information on official meetings with external organisations will be published in accordance with the ministerial code.' Dugher yesterday accused the prime minister of 'evasion' and said that other ministers had given details of their dealings with News Corp. Last week, the business secretary Vince Cable - Lib Dem. Allegedly - confirmed that he'd had 'a short introductory phone call' with James Murdoch, who runs News Corp's European businesses, in June. 'The Prime Minister promised transparency yet all we have had is evasion,' Dugher told the Gruniad Morning Star. Who, as a minor issue, are also scum. Seems to be something of a running theme today, dear blog reader. 'What has he got to hide? Vince Cable has been honest and straightforward. Why can't David Cameron?' Dugher wondered. The conversation between Cable and James Murdoch took place on the same day News Corp made a bid for full control of BSkyB, the pay-TV broadcaster in which it holds a thirty nine per cent stake. 'Sources' described as being 'close to the company' say that the call was placed mere out of courtesy. And, one or two people have even said they believe that. An alliance of media organisations have recently written to Cable urging him to block the bid on public interest grounds. Which he isn't going to do because, like most of the current government - he has his tongue rammed far up Murdoch's arse for good, hard lick. Previous meetings between News Corp executives and the lack of culture secretary, the vile Jeremy Hunt have also been confirmed following questions from MPs.

And so we must, inevitably, return - like a fly to a turd - to the subject of the government and its current screwing of the BBC with its pants on. Topic and a half, this one. Below is a copy of a standard letter that the minister for culture, communications and creative industries, Ed Vaizey, sent out to a number of MPs who forwarded correspondence from their constituents to him in July after Jeremy Hunt had made a number of very aggressive comments about the BBC in a series of interviews - particularly one with the Telegraph as covered by this blog at the time. I would, especially, like to draw dear blog readers attention to ... well, all of it, but the two highlighted areas in particular:Thanks muchly for that, Mr Vaizey. It's always nice to have a few handy examples of staggeringly, pants-on-fire mendacity by scum politicians who'll say anything to get themselves elected in writing. 'Nothing this government does will compromise either independence of the BBC nor the quality of its output.' Except saddle them with three hundred and forty million quid a year to pay for stuff that you were paying for but didn't feel like any longer and freeze their major source of income for the next six years so that it won't go up even if inflation does. And then, expect them to produce exactly what they have been producing, and more, but for less money. Much less.

Senior BBC executives have admitted that staff will likely be 'stunned and baffled' by the scale of the cuts in the licence fee settlement, which they described as 'clearly very challenging.' Nice use of understatement there. As I'm sure every viewer will discover them they find their favourite programmes having their budgets slashed to the bone. Peter Salmon, the director of BBC North, said it was 'tough, but it is tough all round. These are pretty difficult times. This is an exceptional settlement and it's going to be difficult for the BBC but it's difficult for everyone in the whole UK economy,' he added. Events moved so fast in the last forty eight hours that only the corporation's most senior executives knew what was in store and as the news leaked late on Tuesday evening, even controllers of several BBC services at the Radio Festival in Salford looked shell shocked when they were told. The implications were described privately as 'brutal but realistic.' As the initial shock started to subside, BBC executives have begun to focus on the six-year guarantee for the licence fee, despite being frozen at the current level of £145.50 annually. The BBC's funding is, effectively, being cut by sixteen per cent in real terms. So, that means in every office one in every seven staff are likely to lose their job and every programme is likely to lose the money they would normally get for an entire episode each year. Two episodes each year in the case of Doctor Who. Back to using tin-foil and paper plates for spaceships, Steven, just like the 1960s. Indeed, that could be the entire mantra of the spending review ' back to the 60s.' You know, whole families trying to live on twenty quid a week and that kind of thing. Whilst BBC executives have staved off the threat of being forced to take on the five hundred million pounds-a-year plus funding of free TV licences for the over-seventy fives, the corporation has been forced to sign up to a string of extra spending commitments, including taking over funding the World Service from the Foreign Office and the one hundred million pound budget for the Welsh-language broadcaster S4C. The cost of these will come out of the licence fee from 2015 onwards. The BBC has also agreed to take over funding of BBC Monitoring. In total, the BBC has committed to spend an extra three hundred and forty million pounds of licence-fee money to fund all these undertakings by 2015. Government expenditure from central taxation will fall by an equivalent amount. So, in other words, most people in the country will, perhaps, be ten pounds a year better off. Perhaps. But, they'll be watching the Match of the Day studio lit with candles and Hansen and Shearer replaced by the Chuckle Brothers. 'On the positive side, the stuff that we are taking on board are a collection of related responsibilities, a lot of which make sense given what the BBC does and what the BBC cares about – programme-making, content-making, news,' said Salmon trying hard to look cheerful. 'The most important thing for the BBC is the fact that it maintains the BBC's independence.' Which is true. Albeit, an independence of relative poverty that must have American networks looking at us, shaking their heads and asking 'what are you, doing? This is the BBC you're fucking with!' You know, that corporation which is trusted and respected right around the world. Except, seemingly, in its own back yard. Oh, and in Iran and China as well so, excellent bedfellows for the government and their supporters there. 'We are very keen on multi-year settlements, on having the kind of financial security we need over a period of time so that we can plan, and also stay at arm's length from the government and government politics,' continued Salmon. 'It's really important to us, it's important to licence payers, it's what's kept the BBC brave and independent all these years. It's a tough day. The staff are going to be stunned and probably quite baffled by the news.' Not man, uncle. 'You get a sense on lots of fronts you are not immune from all the big and difficult things happening in the world. The pension gap was another difficult part of the story. These are tough times.' Indeed. And now, a word from our sponsor:Ah, but hold on. You thought it couldn't get any more ridiculous, dear blog reader? You were wrong because S4C is set to launch a judicial review of the decision to transfer responsibility for the funding of Welsh language channel to the BBC. Not that it'll do them any good - if a government that isn't a government can just do whatever the hell they like because of the support from their lapdog Liberal pals then, frankly, a bunch of Welshmen aren't going to stop them - but it's going to be fun watching them try. S4C chairman John Walter Jones said it will 'effectively merge' the broadcasters and have 'disastrous' consequences for viewers. Jones first heard of the plans on BBC Radio Cymru on Tuesday evening. The decision was confirmed by Chancellor George Osborne as part of the Spending Review which also confirmed the S4C budget will be cut by twenty five per cent by 2015. Jones said it would mean the BBC would have effective control over the finances and operations of the channel. 'The effect of the financial cuts agreed between Jeremy Hunt and the BBC will have a disastrous effect for viewers across Wales, and this at a time when the BBC has already cut spending on both English and Welsh language programming in Wales.' Yes, because they've been forced to, moron. Listen, if you want S4C so badly, you can have it, matey. I'm sure that's one hundred million quid the BBC could find a perfectly good use for elsewhere. You know, more episodes of programmes that people actually want to watch, for a kick off. 'Under such an arrangement it is inevitable that Welsh language television would have to compete with every other BBC service and the S4C Authority believes that this would pose a serious risk to the provision of Welsh language television,' he continued. 'I am astounded at the contempt that the London government has shown not just towards S4C, but also towards the Welsh people and indeed the language itself.' You are? Since when have the Tories ever treated Wales with anything but contempt? Seriously. He added that he was told by the culture secretary that it was a non-negotiable agreement. 'This is no way to conduct public affairs and surely is an affront to the good conduct of public policy and the democratic process.' Shadow Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain, said that Labour would support S4C in seeking a judicial review. 'The government have handled the whole issue very badly. There has been no consultation with the Welsh Assembly Government or with S4C themselves,' Hain said. Welsh Culture minister Alun Ffred Jones has already expressed his surprise and anger at not being informed about the move. The BBC will have to part-fund the channel which also has revenue from advertising. Though, not much. Alun Ffred Jones told BBC Wales that there had been no discussion or debate at all in Wales about the new funding arrangements for S4C. He said the move had gone under the radar and that the channel was being dismantled with no reference to Wales at all. He also denied that there had been any discussion of transferring S4C to assembly government. 'It is not healthy, it doesn't matter what the BBC is about, it is not healthy to have one broadcaster dominating the broadcasting and the media scene here in Wales. And therefore we will have to look carefully at how to preserve the independence of S4C if that is possible within the parameters of the deal.' BBC Wales political editor, Betsan Powys, believes that a model being proposed is a joint management board to govern the relationship between the two organisations. 'However, this would also need to satisfy the Department of Culture Media and Sport's requirement for S4C to have operational independence from the BBC - a tricky line to walk,' she said. Plaid's parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd said there were a lot of questions to be asked and the 'devil was in the detail.' Or Hell. One or the other. Sir Michael Lyons, the Chairman of the BBC Trust, said: 'This is a tough settlement, but it's also a settlement that delivers certainty and stability for the BBC and licence fee payers through to 2016-17. It reflects the centrality of the licence fee in securing and safeguarding public service broadcasting. We recognise the importance of securing such a settlement at such an unprecedented time.' He added: 'The settlement also seeks to secure the long term future of broadcasting in the Welsh language through the extension of a partnership with S4C. The BBC is not government funded, but these are pressing times for the nation as a whole, and we believe licence fee payers would expect us to see what contribution we can properly make.' Hey, Michael, I've just found your backbone down behind the sofa. I can sling it back over if you want it. See, this is one of the things I'm very proud about living in this country. We are a democracy. In other countries state broadcasters have unelected, undemocratic governments who use them like a doormat. Here, as I'm sure you're beyond glad, dear blog reader, we hold elections.

The BBC Trust has also confirmed that it will 'quiz' the BBC's director general Mark Thompson over his decision to sign a protest letter against News Corporation's proposed takeover of Sky. So, too cowardly to stand up to Jeremy Hunt, but perfectly happy to take their own DG to the woodshed because he had the balls to stand up to Rupert Murdoch. What a shining example they are for all to see. Seriously, they should be stuffed and mounted. Last week, Thompson joined Channel Four chief executive David Abraham and BT boss Ian Livingstone in signing a petition submitted to the business secretary Vince Cable (Lib Dem. Allegedly) urging him to intervene in News Corp's eight billion pound bid to take full control of the pay-TV operator. The move followed Thompson's recent comments on US television about the potential risk to media plurality in Britain if the deal is allowed to go through. The Trust is understood to be privately 'concerned' about the BBC being so publicly connected to the protest letter, which Thompson signed without first consulting the governing body. This is all, of course, according to a report in the Gruniad Morning Star so it's probably all lies. Speaking at the Radio Festival in Salford on Tuesday, the BBC trustee David Liddiment - no, me neither - said: 'I think we will certainly be discussing it with the director general, yes. We haven't had that discussion yet. We will certainly be discussing it with him.' So, that'll be the BBC looking for a new Director General sometime around next Monday, whaddya reckon?

And, finally on what's become something of an episode of Newsnight, overseas news. President Barack Obama - remember him? He used to be popular as well - is to make an appearance on Comedy Central's The Daily Show next week. White House spokesperson Dan Pfeiffer announced that the president will tape his first interview with Jon Stewart since taking office on 27 October, according to The Associated Press. Obama's visit to The Daily Show will come just three days before Stewart and fellow Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert hold political rallies in Washington. The president has previously expressed support for Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. It was reported earlier this week that President Obama will also guest on an upcoming episode of MythBusters.

On the latest episode of MasterChef: The Professionals, Jay Rayner proved himself to be something of a fan of classic British crime drama. He adapted one of the late Sammy Johnson's most memorable lines of dialogue from Spender after being served with a piece of extreme rare lamb: 'If you had a defibrillator, you could have this animal up and moving again!' Sarky bleeder.

Mel Smith has reportedly joined the cast of Rock & Chips. The Only Fools And Horses prequel stars Inbetweeners actor James Buckley as a young Derek Trotter. Original Only Fools star Nicholas Lyndhurst also appears in the show as Freddie 'The Frog' Robdal. According to the Sun, comedian, actor and writer Smith has now joined up to play a detective in the programme. Former EastEnders star Kacey Ainsworth is also expected to appear.

Coronation Street favourite Beverley Callard is to leave the soap next year, it has been announced. The actress - who has played Rovers Return landlady Liz McDonald on and off since 1989 - has made the decision to leave the role to 'pursue pastures new.' In a statement, Callard explained: 'I've loved every minute of my second stint on the street - it's always a difficult decision to make the leap but I returned for the fortieth [anniversary], so leaving for the fiftieth feels like perfect timing. I'll miss everyone on the show but I'm looking forward to some new challenges and to see what life has to offer beyond Liz's famous mini skirts!' Not much, love. If you're looking for a job at the BBC, forget it! Meanwhile, Coronation Street's series producer Phil Collinson commented: 'Bev has created an iconic and much-loved character in Liz. She will be greatly missed behind the bar of The Rovers by the viewers of the show. She's a lovely lady and is such a talented actress. We all wish her well in whatever she does next and we hope to see the character of Liz return sometime in the future. Plans are now being made for an exciting exit storyline for her departure next year.' The character has featured in a number of high-profile storylines over the years, including a memorable domestic violence plot featuring Liz and then-husband Jim (Charles Lawson).

Express Newspapers owner Richard Desmond never misses an opportunity to show his face in his papers, you might have noticed. And, at the current rate it's two every week. Desmond's smug, oily grin popped up in an almost vomit-inducing lick-piece on page eleven of yesterday's Daily Star and, also, on page eleven of today's Daily Express. Both were full-page features on his newly acquired Channel Five, 'Britain's brightest TV network' according to the journalists - if you can call them that - responsible. And the least watched, you forgot least watched, guys.

BBC Three is premiering one of its new comedies online. DOA will be broadcast on television this weekend but viewers can watch the show on the BBC Three blog now. The comedy drama stars Karen Taylor and former My Family actor Kris Marshall as two paramedics working on the night shift. Earlier this year, BBC Three previewed three comedies before they were broadcast on television. Pilots Stanley Park, Dappers and Pulse were also available to watch online pre-transmission.

The third series of The Inbetweeners ended with a new record audience on Monday night. The sitcom was seen by 2.62million on E4, and three hundred and forty thousand additional viewers an hour later on E4+1, beating its own record for the most-watched show ever to be broadcast on the channel. The series, which is set to be the last, launched six weeks ago with a combined audience of 2.79million; which it beat three weeks ago with 2.87 million. But the new overnight BARB figures combine for a total 2.96million – more than fourteen-and-a-half per cent of the entire TV audience. Only BBC1 and ITV rated higher in the same slot. It is expected that the comedy will not return for another full series as the characters have left sixth form, but a film about a foreign holiday is in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, The First Men In The Moon was watched by more than eight hundred and thirty thousand viewers on BBC4. Mark Gatiss's adaptation of the classic HG Wells science fiction story averaged eight hundred and thirty eight thousand between 9pm and 10.30pm, the third-largest multichannel audience of the night.

With The X Factor already in full swing, data from Kantar Media's British TGI study reveals that approaching a third of British adults watch Cowell, Cheryl and Co. And, two thirds don't. Which is, at least, a small crumb of comfort. Those that do, according to the survey, are - perhaps predictably - a predominantly young group, being twenty eight per cent more likely than the average adult to be aged fifteen to thirty four. But, they are also a high-value one, as over three hundred thousand of them have a personal income in excess of fifty thousand pounds a year. So, rich and stupid. Marvellous. Their commercial value is enhanced by the fact that they are forty per cent more likely to be in the Playschool Parent TGI Lifestage group and twenty five per cent more likely to be a Primary School Parent, meaning they are spending more money on a variety of different things such as toys and groceries. Indeed, they spend more than twice as much as the average adult on their weekly grocery shopping. X Factor fans are a voraciously materialistic group, it appears. They are significantly more likely to buy new brands on the market and to feel tempted to buy products they have seen advertised. This makes them a very attractive group to advertisers, particularly as they are also more likely to be undeterred about using their credit cards to pay for the goods they crave. As well as being influenced by advertising, they are also influenced by TV programme sponsorship, and over two million of them have X Factor sponsor Talk Talk as their landline phone supplier. Marketers looking to reach them also need to bear in mind their general approach to life relative to the general population in order to target them in the most appropriate fashion. They tend to be career-oriented and more likely to want to get to the very top in their chosen profession. As well as working hard, they play equally hard and are more likely to really enjoy going out to get drunk, and to eat takeaway food at least once a week. Young people, eh? Don't you just lurv them.

The Advertising Standards Authority has banned a Waitrose TV advertising campaign featuring the chef Heston Blumenthal for making misleading claims about pork. In the television adverts, Blumenthal was depicted walking through a field talking about how the best-tasting pork comes from 'outdoor bred' British pigs. In one of the adverts, he claimed that 'Waitrose essential pork comes from pigs that are outdoor bred,' before a farmer adds: 'Happy pigs do make for great tasting pork.' And, miserable ones don't? Has any research been done on this because, I'm guessing, once they get into the abattoir and see the knives, most of them are, exactly, as happy as pig in shit. The ASA received four complaints that the TV adverts were misleading because they implied Waitrose pork came from pigs that spent the duration of their lives outdoors, when in fact they were reared 'indoors in confined conditions after a few weeks.' Waitrose attempted to argue that 'outdoor bred' was a standard term in the pig farming industry which meant animals were born in fields but later moved indoors into 'airy sheds with straw.' The supermarket chain also said that it had deliberately ensured not to use the term 'outdoor reared,' which would have been misleading. The ASA noted that the term 'outdoor bred' is 'commonly understood in the pig farming industry,' but it judged that television viewers would not be aware of its meaning. 'Viewers were likely to understand "outdoor bred" to mean that the pigs that were used to produce the product spent the duration of their lives outdoors,' said the watchdog. 'Because that was not the case, we concluded that the adverts were misleading.' The ASA therefore banned the TV adverts and warned Waitrose to ensure that future marketing campaigns were not misleading.

Jennifer Aniston's pet dog, Norman, has reportedly been diagnosed with depression. Aniston took Norman to a 'specialist canine therapist' after the dog disappeared for a night and started acting unusually upon his return, claims Now magazine. Only in America, ladies and gentlemen, only in America. A 'source' is alleged to have said: 'Jen became seriously worried about Norman's mental health after his disappearance. He came back dazed and lacklustre and often didn't seem to recognise her. She's concerned this could be it for him and she's devastated. The dog therapist said Norman was depressed and that's what was causing him to act oddly.' The magazine further claim that the therapist prescribed the fifteen-year-old pet with medication, but Aniston is intent on nursing him back to full health on her own. The 'source' added: 'She's hoping to coax him out of it herself. People may laugh at her, but Norman really is her best friend. She can't bear to see him like this, but he's very old and she's starting to accept he might be on his last legs.'

Filmmaker Anton Corbijn has directed what has been claimed to be the world's shortest and smallest movie. The clip has been placed on normal stamps for the Dutch and international postal service TNT, Dexigner reports. Communications agency KesselsKramer was tasked with taking advantage of progress in lenticular printing, which now allows thirty frames - around one second of footage - to be shown. KesselsKramer creative director and founder Erik Kessels said: 'Anton was our first choice since we have worked with him before. Also, like us, he works in many different fields of visual communication so he understood exactly what we wanted to do.' Corbijn, who is famed for his rock photography, music videos and movies Control and The American, was reportedly inspired by a 1951 Dutch stamp by Cas Oorthuys showing a girl in front of a windmill.

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