Friday, December 17, 2010

England Is Mine! (And It Owes Me A Living)

The highlight of a cracking episode of Qi on Friday evening was Rob Brydon wanting to go back in time after he did the groan-inducing 'philately will get you nowhere' joke. There was also Stephen Fry's suggestion that they used to have a mosh-pit during recordings of Blackadder and his admiration for the Japanese transport system in the aftermath of Hiroshima. If you missed it, dear blog reader, the XL edition will be shown on Saturday at 10:00. Hopefully we'll get a bit more Rich Hall in the longer version. Other good bits included Bill Bailey's British Rail announcement on the sandwiches not being affected by a nuclear blast and that bit he often does in his stage show about getting stopped at Schiphol airport and asked by a security man what he had in the case. When Bill replies 'it's a guitar,' the guy answers 'that's no guitar, that's a Gibson 71 with the flying pick up, let's jam a little!'

Following that on Have I Got News For You, which has been a really good run of late, Ian Hislop came up with the priceless observation when he wondering whose bright idea it was to have a band called Take That on The Royal Variety Performance 'in the middle of a riot'! And then, coming up with a brilliant piece of wordplay around water cannons and kettling that had Ross Noble doing 'we're not worthy' genuflecting! Noble himself was on outstanding form, particularly his rant about wanting politicians who appear on Strictly Come Dancing to be dragged out of the studio and thrown in a skip and his observation that Eric Pickles used to have a walnut dashboard in his car but 'he ate it.' As, indeed, was Mickey Flanagan a comedian whom I've always been a bit in two minds about whenever he's been on Mock The Week in the past. But, he was excellent in this. Best line of the episode, however, came from Paul Merton when host Xander Armstrong revealed that the Home secretary has this week instructed prison governors not to carry out 'naked squat searches' on transsexuals. 'For some people, that is Christmas!' Although Armstrong's reply that prison officers complained this would impede drug searches saying there would be 'a fall in crack seizures' wasn't very far behind.

The Royal Variety Performance 2010 was watched by more than eight million viewers on Thursday evening, according to overnight audience data. The programme averaged 8.34m for BBC1 between 8pm and 10pm, peaking with 9.6m for the final fifteen minutes. Earlier on the channel, The ONE Show grabbed 5.18m from 7.30pm.

Katherine Jenkins was nervous about filming an onscreen kiss for an upcoming episode of Doctor Who - because she knew her mum would end up watching the scene. Well, she might not. I mean, she might be watching Emmerdale on the other side. The Welsh opera singer has a cameo role in the annual festive installment of the family drama, which is broadcast on Christmas Day. Jenkins admits it was 'the most nerve-wracking thing' she has encountered in her career. She told the Sun, 'The kissing was the most stressful part of the whole thing. My Mum's got to watch that on Christmas Day! I really don't know how it's going to come across. I just want to get that bit out of the way.'

Former EastEnders actress Natalie Cassidy is to make another appearance as Sonia Fowler in the New Year. In early 2011, fans will see Sonia return to Albert Square for one episode as she finds herself drawn into a new storyline centring around her half-sister, Bianca Jackson (Patsy Palmer). Sonia's sudden reappearance in Walford comes after a huge confrontation between Carol, Whitney and Connor sees truths emerge over Connor's relationships with Bianca's mother and stepdaughter. After events come to a head, Bianca mysteriously disappears from the Square - but Sonia's comeback sees her provide some answers to questions that Carol and Ricky have about the feisty mum's whereabouts. Someone described as a Walford 'insider' allegedly revealed: 'True to form, Bianca has got herself into big trouble while trying to protect her family and, scared about what might happen, she does a runner. When she suddenly goes missing, Sonia turns up unannounced and drops the bombshell that she knows where Bianca is and what she is going to do next.' Sonia's brief return will also see some other truths revealed as viewers discover what she and husband Martin have been getting up to away from Walford. Cassidy's last appearance in EastEnders was in February, when Sonia attended Ricky and Bianca's wedding.

Matt Baker has revealed that he does not plan to quit presenting duties on Countryfile if he takes on The ONE Show full-time. The presenter is currently sharing the role with Chris Evans opposite Alex Jones on the BBC's flagship magazine show, after Jason Manford left the production. Baker told the Belfast Telegraph: 'I've had a great relationship with [The ONE Show] over the last year so it would be lovely. Whatever happens I do want to keep going with Countryfile so I won't be finishing with that for sure.'

Coronation Street's executive producer Kieran Roberts has reassured viewers that the confirmed move to a new studio will not affect the soap's output. It was announced this week that the Weatherfield drama will relocate to a purpose-built seven acre set-up at the MediaCityUK complex in Salford Quays. 'Of course there will be a degree of sadness about leaving Quay Street and we'll be sad to say goodbye,' Roberts told the Manchester Evening News. 'But we have to look forward. If we just wallow in nostalgia, then we're not doing the right thing by the show and the right thing for our viewers.' The new set will look identical to the current one based at Granada Studios - however, the buildings on the street will now be constructed to scale. Roberts continued: 'Obviously we won't move over there until the new site is not just built but seriously road-tested. We will have a brand new, state-of-the-art bespoke facility, which is hugely exciting. But we'll move in such a way that there's no great interruption for the viewers. We don't want it to suddenly look and feel completely different. It's going to have the same Coronation Street that they know and love. I would certainly want to reassure viewers that it won't lose anything, and it will gain. We're not going to do it in such a way that the viewers will notice any changes that they're uncomfortable with,' he stated. 'Going full-scale will allow us certain opportunities whereby we may be able to dress more of the insides of the houses, for example. Currently we can only film in doorways on the lot and then obviously you have to move to the studio to do the interiors. That's something we could look at having more flexibility.' Roberts was unable to confirm if the new exterior set will allow viewers to see more of Weatherfield. 'We may add but we haven't gone into that level of detail,' he said. 'Over the years the site has organically grown. Once upon a time there was just houses on one side. Then we built on the other side. Then we added Victoria Street and Victoria Court beyond. So we may well look at that opportunity. That will be in the fine detail that we work through over the next twelve months or so.'

Stephanie Cole is to join the cast of Coronation Street, taking on the role of Roy Cropper's mother Sylvie, it has been announced. The actress - best known for her roles in Tenko, Waiting for God and Doc Martin - will begin filming with the soap in the New Year and make her first appearance on screen in March, when Sylvie turns up in Weatherfield to stay with Roy and Hayley. According to Corrie's official website, Sylvie has an outspoken attitude and soon makes her mark on the street following her arrival. Speaking of her casting, Cole commented: 'I am absolutely delighted to be joining. In any great drama - be it on television or on the stage - the writing comes first, and Coronation Street is brilliantly written. When I worked at Granada Television a lot in the 1980s, I used to play bridge with Doris Speed and I remember thinking, "Maybe one day they will offer me a role on Coronation Street." Well that day has finally come and I am thrilled. I am a huge Roy and Hayley fan, so to be joining their family on screen is a privilege for me and I can't wait to get started.' Producer Phil Collinson added: 'I am delighted to welcome Stephanie Cole to the cast. I have long been an admirer, from the brilliant dramatic performances she gave in Tenko, to the side-splitting Diana in Waiting for God - she is one of this country's finest actors. Life at Roy's Rolls is never going to be the same again.' News that one of Roy's family members would join Coronation Street first emerged in October, when the new arrival was tipped to 'put the cat among the pigeons' for Roy and Hayley.

Syfy has reportedly decided not to renew Stargate Universe for a third season. The decision comes after the show's second run struggled in the ratings, according to Deadline. Recent episodes of the spin-off have attracted around one million viewers, down on the 2.3m who watched the pilot episode in 2009. Syfy's decision will mark the end for the Stargate television franchise, which began with Stargate SG-1 in 1997. The remaining ten episodes of SGU's second season will air in the spring.

Former Buffy The Vampire Slayer actor Danny Strong is to make a guest appearance on How I Met Your Mother. The Los Angeles Times reports that the actor will play 'a bully from Marshall's past' in an upcoming episode. The instalment will see Strong reunited with Alyson Hannigan, who played Willow on Buffy. Another Buffy actor, Hannigan's husband Alexis Denisof will also reprise his role as news anchor Sandy Rivers in an episode which will be broadcast on 3 January. When Robin (Cobie Smulders) lands a new dream job, Rivers is said to throw 'a huge wrench in her plans.'

In the genteel world of TV costume drama, any tensions are usually scripted – and fictional. But an unlikely spat has broken out between Jean Marsh, actor and co-creator of Upstairs, Downstairs – which will return to BBC1 this Christmas – and Hugh Bonneville, star of rival ITV Edwardian drama Downton Abbey. Hackles were raised when Marsh suggested that Downton Abbey, one of the unexpected drama hits of the year, was a thinly-disguised facsimile of the original Upstairs, Downstairs, which ran from 1971 to 1975 and has been watched by an estimated one billion people worldwide. 'I think we were all surprised,' Marsh told BBC1's The ONE Show. 'The new Upstairs, Downstairs had been in the works for about three years. We were trying to sort out forty years of rights and then it also started – Downton Abbey – in the Edwardian era, which Upstairs, Downstairs did. So it might be a coincidence and I might be the queen of Belgium.' Indeed, your majesty.Bonneville, who plays the Earl of Grantham in the ITV drama, replied on Twitter: 'I thought Jean Marsh was bigger than that – running down Downton while bigging up Upstairs?' Well, all the cool kids in telly are doing it. Didn't you know? Jimmy McGovern, for one. 'Downton never downed Up when upping Down.' Very good, Hugh. That was more witty than six episodes of Bonekickers put together. Oh, yes. Don't think anybody round here has forgotten (or forgiven) your involvement in that fiasco, matey boy. 'The consensus seems to be that Ms Marsh needs a big huggle in the friendly chair. Last thing we need is a face-off at the Albert memorial.' Dame Eileen Atkins, who co-created Upstairs, Downstairs with Marsh and will appear alongside her in the new series, joined the fray at the programme's launch at the British Film Institute in London on Thursday. Asked what she thought of the timing of Downton, which finished last month, Atkins said: 'At first I thought it was a bit of a bore, quite frankly. As it happens, I think they laid out the groundwork quite nicely. What was a little worry is now not a worry at all.'

Michael McIntyre has revealed that he plans to lose weight before appearing as a judge on Britain's Got Talent. The comedian, who will sit on the panel alongside David Hasselhoff and Amanda Holden in the new series, said that he will look 'enormous' if he doesn't slim down before the show begins. He explained to Chris Evans on Radio 2: 'I have to lose weight because I keep imagining myself in that line-up, when they have the live shows on Britain's Got Talent and announce the judges. I don't want me to be standing there, looking enormous, not being able to do up my jacket, which is the situation I'm in now. I want to look svelte.' Simon Cowell will also return to the programme as a judge during the live stage of the competition but will not appear at the auditions. McIntyre admitted that he felt under pressure when he met Cowell to discuss the show. He added: 'It was like Judges' Houses on The X Factor, that's how it felt. I kept telling myself I was going for a chat but when he was in front of me I couldn't help but feel I was auditioning.'

BSkyB faces a two hundred thousand pounds payout to two women journalists after they won their claims for unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination. A tribunal ruled that Natalie Stone, thirty four, and Victoria Waterson, thirty one, were axed from their jobs because they were mothers with young children. The pair were overlooked for a new position of video producer, which was given to the then senior Sky executive Mike Taylor's personal assistant, Dee Lakhan. Taylor, head of networked media at Sky Movies, had 'a mindset adverse to pregnancy and maternity leave,' the tribunal found. Stone and Waterson are now seeking compensation for loss of earnings and injury to feelings. The pair, who both earned about twenty thousand pounds per year, can claim up to sixty five thousand pounds each for unfair dismissal and open-ended damages for discrimination. Taylor had quizzed both women ahead of a departmental restructuring about whether they intended to have further children. A panel at London South Employment Tribunal found that the new post was 'their job under a different name.' The tribunal criticised BSkyB's restructuring for its lack of transparency in the awarding of jobs. The two women had previously taken maternity leave and were the only part-time workers out of a Sky Movies workforce of one hundred and eighty. Stone lost her job as a senior content editor on the channel's website whilst expecting her third child just as she was due to go on maternity leave. She and her job-share colleague, mother-of-one Waterson, alleged that they were forced out by BSkyB to save on further maternity pay. The tribunal ruled Sky management 'exaggerated' differences between their job and the producer post in a new video-on-demand department. In its judgment, the tribunal found: 'There was no redundancy situation as there had not been a reduction in need for employees to do work of the kind the claimants had been doing. We consider that we can also properly take into account the fact that not only are the claimants women but also that at the time they were each in the process of having families and consequently taking maternity leave.' A BSkyB spokeswoman said: 'We're disappointed with the outcome of this case as we take responsibility to our employees very seriously.' Not seriously enough, it would appear. 'However, we maintain that the actions taken by the team were fair and transparent. We have a diverse workforce including thousands of valued women, many of whom are mothers working either full-time or on a flexible basis. Recently we've doubled our maternity provision.' The women were notified that there would be a thirty-day consultation period over the restructuring in September last year. But eight days later, they were informed the consultation process was over. The tribunal ruled: 'The process of allocation of jobs without competition as part of the reorganisation was totally opaque.' The duo, who each joined BSkyB in 2004, told the tribunal that they had not found work since losing their jobs in October last year. Their compensation awards are due to be decided by the tribunal at a hearing next year. Taylor, who previously worked for GMTV and ITN, where he worked on the Big Breakfast's news bulletins, and Five News, produced Sunrise and Live at Five on Sky News before setting up the digital division of Sky Movies and developing it for almost a decade. He has since left Sky and now works for a digital services firm.

Morgan Freeman has been mistakenly reported as dead by CNN. The news network appeared to tweet the news on Thursday morning based on a widespread hoax circulating across the Internet. 'Breaking News: actor Morgan Freeman has passed away in his Burbank home,' they wrote. Freeman's friend Peter Shankman replied: 'Dear CNN: Morgan Freeman is still busy living. He's yet to get busy dying. Please confirm first.' The entry on CNN's account was later removed and an apology issued. 'CNN did not report Morgan Freeman death,' read a tweet. Well, you did. 'Rumour is false. CNN will aggressively investigate this hoax.'

The Metro newspaper has refused to carry an advert for a comedy show – allegedly for fear of upsetting London Underground. The musical duo Amateur Transplants wanted to promote their West End show this weekend with a reference to their caustic 'Underground Song,' which has been a huge viral hit. However, the free newspaper, which has a deal with transport bosses to distribute at Tube stations insisted that they remove all reference to the song from the advert. The song, which has been downloaded more than four million times, rewrites the lyrics to the Jam's 'Going Underground' with the chorus: 'London Underground! They're all lazy fucking useless cunts!' Crude, perhaps, but you've got to admire their sincerity! When they first submitted their advert for their show at the Vaudeville Theatre on Sunday, it had the strapline: Fucked off with the Tube strkes? From the guys who brought you 'The London Underground Song'. Metro refused that, so instead they tried 'Pissed off,' and then the sarcastic 'Loving the Tube Strikes?' However, in the version that was approved in the newspaper on Friday, there is no reference to the song at all, and the strap reads, simply: Loving all the Tube strikes? The most politically incorrect songs anywhere in London. Amateur Transplants – who are doctors Adam Kay and Suman Biswas – said they were told the paper couldn't be seen to promote any criticism of their major partner. They said: 'We're completely astounded. How can the Metro possibly be relied upon to cover the Tube strikes fairly or accurately when they are clearly in the pockets of Transport for London. We've always sung that the drivers are "lazy fucking useless cunts," but didn't realise this extended to the in-flight magazine. And banning the fully-starred word "****" seems to be a dangerous precedent to set.' They added: 'Tube drivers - please don't strike over this.' Although, if you want to strike over being called 'lazy fucking cunts' by a pair of smug middle-class medics then, I personally wouldn't blame you chaps. Up the workers and all that. John Leitch, Metro's director of distribution and partners, said: 'I can confirm that we are running an advert for Amateur Transplants. Because of the way in which Metro is distributed, free to everyone on the public transport network across the UK (not just on the Underground), we always have to consider the concerns of the broad demographic of our readership. We're proud to have readers of every age, ethnicity and outlook and occasionally we work with our advertisers to produce content reflective of that broad demographic.'

Morrissey turned apparently down a role in David Walliams and Matt Lucas' new comedy show - because he believes that he is 'a useless actor.' The singer was in talks with the Little Britain duo to appear in the BBC's upcoming series Come Fly With Me, but he pulled out of negotiations shortly before filming began. Walliams told Heat magazine, 'He liked the idea and there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. Then, when we finally thought it would happen, I got this text. "I'd love to do it, because it's you, and because you and the bald one are unclassifiable yet genius. But the thing is, I can't bloody act. I'd faint, I'd vomit, I'd cover the crew in diarrhoea. I'm just useless whenever someone shouts "action."' Personally, I think that Mozza fainting and covering the crew in diarrhoea is likely to be much funnier than anything Walliams and Lucas will come up with for Come Fly With Me so, to be frank, I reckon that's an opportunity missed.

However, since Mozza can't face the thought of that, here's a few examples of what he can do without fainting for today's Keith Telly Topping's 45(s) of the Day. Good band, The Smiths. Seen here in 1983 on Whistle Test Live.And, in 1984 on The Tube. (Yer Keith Telly Topping's somewhere in the audience on that one, dear blog reader. True story.)And, in 1985.And, in 1986 on Italian TV. And then they split up. And, finally, as reported earlier in the week Sir Paul McCartney turned back the clock as he returned to the days of playing cramped, sweaty bars with a lunchtime show at London's famed 100 Club on Friday. Macca and his band played to an audience of around three hundred people in the heaving basement venue - renowned as a hotbed for punk in the 1970s. It was the smallest venue that McCartney had played Liverpool's Cavern in 1999, and was designed partly as a warm-up for a pair of Christmas shows, as well as to show his support for the venue which could close because of a huge rent rise. The show was also a return to his early days as a musician, learning his craft with The Beatles with endless hours of performing in bars in Hamburg and Liverpool before landing a record deal. After walking to the stage with his band performing an a cappella 'Hey Jude,' Paul asked fans: 'Who wants to save the 100 Club?.' But the lunchtime start seemed to be a slight shock to the system. 'It's too early for this,' he joked at one point. Paul opened the show with Carl Perkins' 'Matchbox' (one of a number of rock and roll cover versions he played including 'Honey Hush' and 'Hitch Hike') and then launched into Beatles 'Magical Mystery Tour' for the standing room-only crowd who had paid sixty smackers each for tickets. Dressed in a pale shirt and grey waistcoat Macca acknowledged the contrast with the snow on London's Oxford Street outside the venue, saying: 'It's snowing outside, freezing cold - and it's boiling in here.' McCartney played almost thirty songs during the one hundred and ten-minute performance, including Beatles classics like 'Eleanor Rigby', 'Yesterday' and 'Get Back.' He also performed energetic version of a group of songs from Wings' Band On The Run (the title song, 'Jet', 'Let Me Roll It', 'Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five'). He also drew attention to the possible closure of the venue, which has been a home for jazz, blues, punk and indie since it opened in the 1940s but is now fighting for its survival, saying: 'It's a great gig for us and many bands - so I think, please, Mr One Hundred try and save it, because it's a really class place, this.' He rounded off the performance with his four-piece band with a version of 'Sgt Pepper's Loney Hearts Club Band' before slipping into a section of the long medley from Abbey Road, and finishing - as usual - with 'The End.'