Monday, December 27, 2010

Let The Blue Caps Roll Tonight

'Can I just say, if I'm kidnapped, I don't want to hear any of this "We don't deal with kidnappers." Just pay. I don't want to be beheaded on the Internet!' Thus began Jeeza Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May's journey through about four war-zones in Top Gear's Middle East special on Boxing Day. As usual with these specials, it was quite beautifully filmed, very funny, wholly irreverent to everyone and everything, including (especially) the presenters themselves, in places touching, in other places touched with genuine magnificence. But mostly, it was three daft blokes cocking around in cars. Which, if for no other reason than it gets right up the snooty collective nose of a bunch of Gruniad subscribing hippies and Communists and another bunch of Daily Scum Mail readers, is a good thing. It was hard not to love the fact that the programme is unexpectedly huge in Syria. (The locals were going to throw stones at them as they would with most Westerners till somebody said, 'Oh look, that's James May in a BMW!') Great soundtrack too. Apart from the Genesis stuff, obviously. I imagine there'll be complaints about some aspect of it. From humourless glakes. Ultimately, though, it doesn't really matter. Because, let's face it, that's the North Pole, Europe, Botswana, Vietnam, Japan, America, the Andes and the Middle East they've now conquered. Where next, one wonders? Next year's Top Gear Christmas Special coming live from The Moon. Via a satellite knocked up in James May's shed. Top Gear, dear blog reader, ambitious but nowhere near as rubbish as they claim to be!

This festive season's most unsuccessful 'trying hard not to sound smug' award goes to the new BBC1 controller, Danny Cohen, after the announcement of the Christmas Day's ratings: 'I'm delighted to see that BBC1 was so popular on Christmas Day. With flying sharks on Doctor Who, festive glitz from Strictly and brilliant new comedy in Come Fly With Me, we aimed to offer something for everyone.' It's all downhill from here, Danny. The Daily Scum Mail will see to that. Christmas television viewing figures were at their highest in at least a decade this year. They show that despite the distractions of the Internet and video games and the growing number of ways to watch TV programmes, including the iPlayer, families are still gathering on the couch for the festive season – although the bitterly cold weather and the expanding choice of what to watch doubtless helped to send overall Christmas Day viewing levels to their highest since a new ratings system was introduced ten years ago. And, speaking of ratings, Upstairs Downstairs launched on Boxing Day evening with seven a a half million viewers – just a fraction below the debut figure for ITV's similar period drama Downton Abbey earlier in the year. Meanwhile Top Gear scored its biggest overnight audience of 2010, 6.41m watching their Middle East special on BBC2 and BBC HD. Over on ITV, their highlight of the evening was the Benidorm Christmas special, which was watched by six million viewers.

Jennifer Saunders has spoken about her recent breast cancer treatment, joking that it has given her 'lovely pert new bosoms.' The comic and actress was diagnosed with the disease last year but kept it secret for months. She decided to speak about the illness on Radio 2. In the first of three programmes, co-hosted with her long-time colleague Dawn French, the fifty two-year-old made light of her new breasts, before her comedy partner chipped in: 'Yes, she has. That's the upside of her poorly last years. They're gorgeous.' French then urges studio guest Gok Wan to touch her friend's new breast, saying: 'Before you leave, ask if you can touch them.' Jennifer's husband Adrian Edmondson recently spoke of the difficulties of coping with cancer, saying it should not be referred to as 'a battle.' He said: 'It's not a three-part TV drama full of great moments. It's a long grind, like a slow car crash that will last five years and then, hopefully, we'll get out.' Yer Keith Telly Topping's own family has had more than a few brushes with the Big C over the years - lung cancer got me grandad and oesophagal cancer took my dad before Mama Telly Topping looked ovarian cancer straight in the face and beat it. And, I have to say Ade's is, actually, a pretty accurate description.

Ant and Dec are a modern-day Morecambe and Wise, according to Eric Morecambe's son Gary. He said that the Geordie presenting pair have 'the same natural chemistry' his father had with Ernie Wise. Morecambe told the Radio Times: 'The public can spot an impostor; they want the genuine article and they got that with Eric and Ernie, one hundred per cent. Theirs was a natural chemistry. You see it with Ant and Dec. You feel safe because you know they've been together since they were twelve. Well, so had Eric and Ernie. The public just didn't know it.' Morecambe and Wise's rise to fame is shown in a new biopic drama, Eric and Ernie, which will be shown on the BBC on New Year's Day. It follows their career from the moment the then thirteen-year-old tap dancer Ernest Wiseman met twelve-year-old comic Eric Bartholomew at an audition for a teenage variety show in Manchester. Morecambe's widow, Joan, said that his mother Sadie, played in the drama by Victoria Wood, was central to the pair's success. She said: 'Sadie and her husband George had lived through very hard times and she was determined that Eric wouldn't end up like his dad, working for the council, all hours in all weather, just "tied to a whistle" as she called it. She wanted something better than that for him. He wasn't academic, but he'd always shown this gift for entertainment. Even from when he was a tot, if anyone was there at the house, Eric would start dancing.' The duo began their act on stage in 1941, but their first attempt at TV, with the 1954 BBC series Running Wild, ended in failure after garnering bad reviews. (Memorably, from the Sunday People: 'Definition of the week. "TV set" - the box they buried Morecambe and Wise in.') Undeterred, they altered their approach and, went back to the variety halls and pioneered a new comedy technique that, within a decade had made the the most loved comedy duo in Britain.

'Tip-top' actors will help to ensure the success of the BBC's Upstairs Downstairs this Christmas, according to the creator of ITV's rival costume drama Downton Abbey. Posh old Lord Snooty, Julian Fellowes, said that he thought both programmes could be hits even though they are broadly based on the same formula of upper-class characters and servants. 'Maybe it's marvellous, I don't see why it shouldn't be marvellous, they have Eileen Atkins, Keeley Hawes, she is terribly good,' Fellowes said, adding: 'It sounds like a tip-top cast to me.' The Downton Abbey creator believes that the British public remain fascinated by what he calls the 'servanted house' and argues that the format is a form of workplace drama, where people from different social backgrounds mix – a successful construct shared with police and hospital shows. He added: 'There hasn't exactly been a lot of costume drama on offer recently, has there?' after a period in which the BBC has restricted its spending in the genre, highlighting modern pieces such as Luther and even contemporary adaptations of classics, most notably Sherlock.

Lip Service, BBC Three's drama series about lesbians living in contemporary Glasgow, written and created by Harriet Braun, will return for a second series. Produced by Kudos Film and Television (makers of [spooks], Hustle and Life on Mars) through BBC Scotland, Lip Service demonstrates BBC Three's ongoing commitment to original UK drama for sixteen to thirty four year olds. Laura Fraser, Ruta Gedmintas and Fiona Button lead the cast of twenty-something lesbians whose lives and affairs were detailed in the series. Lip Service attracted an average audience of over half a million each week across six episodes and enjoyed significant support from vocals fans and an online community. And, by its very existence, it pissed off the Daily Scum Mail so that's another big tick in its plus column. Ben Stephenson, the Controller of BBC Drama Commissioning, said: 'Lip Service is the second drama I've recommissioned on BBC Three; the audience clearly have a real appetite for original home grown young drama on the channel and I'm thrilled Harriet Braun's fresh and contemporary take on relationships will return.' Harry Lansdown, the Acting Controller of BBC Three, added: 'I'm delighted to announce there will be a second series of Lip Service; a deserved return for both the drama and its fantastically loyal following.' Writer and creator Harriet Braun noted: 'I am incredibly happy to be given this opportunity to take the characters forward and to allow all of our loyal viewers a chance to get to know them even better. I've got some great twists, turns and surprises up my sleeve for series two.'

Sarah Harding is to host the upcoming series of Sky Living's Dating In The Dark. The Girls Aloud singer says she is 'excited' to front the third series of the dating show, where she will 'introduce, greet and quiz' the daters. And, presumably, walk in a straight line and talk at the same time. Well, let's face it, if Cheryl can manage it, Sarah should be able to as well. Sarah said: 'I've been a huge fan of Dating In The Dark and I'm totally excited to be presenting the third supersized series.' Or, in other words, 'I've never seen a single episode, because it's on an obscure digital channel. But, hell, even Nicola's getting TV work now and I'm starting to get a bit desperate.' Or something.

Two contestants wrongly eliminated on the US version of The Million Pound Drop have been invited back onto the show. As detailed last week, partners Gabe Okoye and Brittany Mayi lost eight hundred thousand dollars during the premiere of Million Dollar Money Drop on the question 'Which item was sold in stores first: the Macintosh computer, the Sony Walkman or Post-it notes?' Clearly shaken by their loss, the couple ultimately left empty-handed after dropping their remaining eighty thousand dollars on subsequent questions. However, viewers disputed the question immediately after the show's broadcast and deduced that the pair's answer of Post-it notes had, technically, been correct. Despite initially brushing off the mix-up, Money Drop executive producer Jeff Apploff has been quoted by Contactmusic as stating: 'Unfortunately the information our research department originally obtained from 3M regarding when Post-it notes were first sold was incomplete.' Or, in other words, wrong. 'As a result of new information we have received from 3M, we feel it is only fair to give our contestants, Gabe and Brittany, another shot to play Million Dollar Money Drop.' It is not yet known when Okoye and Mayi will make their return to the show.

Conan O'Brien has issued an official apology for a recent Sarah Palin spoof which reportedly bore resemblance to a recent Jimmy Kimmel sketch. In a video statement posed on his official website on Thursday, the comedian apologised for a comedy sketch which showed Sarah Palin hunting Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was since discovered that Jimmy Kimmel Live broadcast a similar sketch earlier in December. 'We weren't aware,' O'Brien said. 'This is not the first time this kind of thing has happened.' O'Brien went on to joke that one of his show's comic characters wasn't originally conceived by his writing staff either. He jested: 'It turns out that the Robo Rabbi that's been featured on our show the last couple days was once on Jack Paar. I think it was 1962.'

One would have thought that all Englishmen, good and true, would have been delighted at the England cricket team's superb Boxing Day performance in the fourth test against Australia at Melbourne. When they bowled out Punter's Aussies for just ninety eight runs and then ended the day themselves on one hundred and fifty seven for no wicket. But, you can't keep a good old miserable grumpy sod down even by being successful, it would seem. Auld mad-as-toast Geoffrey Boycott began the day on BBC's Test Match Special by declaring, after just two overs had been bowled: 'I can't see any way how England can win this Test from what I've seen so far. A draw would do. If you were an opener, you'd be queueing up to bat on this compared to Perth.' A moment later when Philip Hughes cut Chris Tremlett to the boundary for four, a disgruntled humpf was heard to come from the corner of the commentary box. 'Too wide and too short,' chuntered Lord Geoffrey. 'Rubbish over. If he bowls like that, they'll be a hundred for none at lunch. Absolute tripe.' About five hours later, just after Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook had put England into a first innings lead midway through the evening session on Day One, Boycott's colleague Jonathan Agnew was noting on Twitter 'Not seen much of Sir Geoff since he wrote off England's prospects after twelve minutes of play!'

Meanwhile, also on the subject of sport, Sky News furthered their justified reputation for wholly accurate reportage on Boxing Day afternoon with their round-up of the day's Premier League action. Because, according to those crazy cats at Murdoch Towers yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though still, tragically, unsellable) Magpies were not only losing an exciting encounter, 3-1 at the cathedral of dreams, St James Park against Man City Sheikh Yer Money, but also, simultaneously, getting a damned good shallacking at Old Trafford off The Scum. Come on, guys, it's hard enough to get a foothold in the Premier League these days without having to play two matches at the same time. (For those interested in such trivia, it was actually Sunderland who were getting twanked by Fergie's boys, not their fierce local rivals.)

Daniel Radcliffe - beheaded though he may have been on Friday's Qi - has reportedly 'lost faith' in the Liberal Democrats over the furore surrounding the increase of university tuition fees. You and lot's of 'normal people' who aren't wizards, pal. The Harry Potter actor publicly announced his support of party leader Nick Clegg in the run-up to the May General Election, but says that he has since been left disappointed by the party's reneging of its pledge to protect students. A Liberal Democrat source told the Daily Scum Mail: 'Daniel does not in any way support the violence of the rioters, but to say he is underwhelmed by his party is an understatement. Like millions of others he was under the impression that the Liberal Democrats had no plans to increase the cost of studying. While Daniel will never have to worry about his finances again, a tuition fee hike is a serious issue which will directly affect many of his fans. And these fans have contacted Daniel to tell him so in their droves. Quite frankly, he is beginning to regret his loyalty now.'

And so to yer actual Keith Telly Topping's 45(s) of the Day. For today's single samples firstly we've got a record that was on almost permanent rotation on the Telly Topping household dansette when yer Keith Telly Topping was but knee high to a saucepan lid. A little rock-a-beatin'-boogie classic by Sweet Gene Vincent. And, what better way to follow that, than with a genuine twenty four carat classic about Sweet Gene Vincent! And here's the late, great Ian and his beautiful Blockheads, with Micky Jones of The Clash guesting, playing it as part of the Concert For Kampuchea movie. 'White face, black shirt/White socks, black shoes/Black hair, white strat/Bled white, dyed black!'