Sunday, January 02, 2011

January, Sick And Tired, Don't Be Angry With Me

So, anyway, dear blog reader, across the world quite literally billions of people of all creeds, races, colours and nationalities took to their streets to party well into the wee small hours as the final seconds of 2010 crept, tired and exhausted, towards midnight. And then 2011 arrived and stood before the world, all naked and trembling with excitement. It was crap, to be honest. Total mind-numbing bollocks of the highest order. I went to bed and avoided it. Do you know what the cusp between New Year's Eve and New Year's Day is, ladies and gentlemen? I'll tell you - it's you being one day closer to your inevitable cold and lonely death, that's what it is. Yer Keith Telly Topping sees no reason to celebrate. Still, far be it from me to be a party-pooper. Oh, hang on. Too late for that. Best get on with the news, eh?

Thankfully, Saturday evening was brightened - immeasurably - by Peter Bowker's superb dramatic evocation of the early years of Morecambe and Wise's career, Eric & Ernie. Which, even within just twenty one hour of the year starting is going to take some beating as the best single drama of 2011. Everything was right about the piece, paced beautifully to take the audience on a whistle stop tour of Eric and Ernie's teenage and twentysomething years, playing dives as a back-up to strippers and living in grotty bed and breakfast. And their big break, its catastrophic failure and the hard route back to get a second chance at the big time. Heading a superb cast were Daniel Rigby and Bryan Dick who inhabited the central roles with a charm and wit that well worthy of the originals. Vic Reeves (credited under his real name, Jim Moir, on the cast list) was terrific was as Ernie's kindly, sensitive dad and even Victoria Wood wasn't as annoying as usual as Sadie, Eric's competitive, driven mother. Surreally, Ted Robbins (he's Paul McCartney's cousin, you know?) played the impresario Jack Hylton as, effectively, the same character he plays in The Slammer! One of the great things about this play was that it should help to finally lay to rest the ludicrous idea that you still sometimes hear from supposedly sensible people, that Ernie Wise was a passenger in the partnership and that Eric would've made it, regardless, with any other partner in Ernie's place (or, even, on his own in a solo act). This wholly misreads the strengths of the double act. As Ken Tynan once brilliantly noted, Morecambe and Wise worked precisely because their act was at a brilliant tangent to the normal structure of a comedy duo. Ernie wasn't the straight man and Eric the funny man, as you might've expected. Rather Ernie acted the part of a funny man who wasn't, actually, funny but had ideas above his station and Eric was the childlike straight man who actually was funny (and, kind of knew it) and was there to bring his friend's grandiose schemes down to earth. But, God help anyone else who tried the same thing. They refined the act over the years and, by the time they got to the BBC in the late sixties and started working with Ken Dodd's gag man Eddie Braben, it became the template for near enough every comedy double act - no matter how 'alternative' - that have come along since. They were Morecambe and Wise and they brought us sunshine. Eric & Ernie was a timely reminder of that.

The lack of culture secretary the vile and odious Jeremy Hunt is expected to refuse any requests from Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation to meet or communicate with him directly as he weighs up whether to hold up the company's controversial eight billion pound buyout of satellite broadcaster BSkyB. Which, of course, is very unusual and Hunt as shown little reluctance in the past to get down on his knees and stick his tongue right up News Corp's collective chuff for right good lick. So sensitive is the case that Hunt, his civil servants and his advisers are all expected to rebuff any external lobbying – so that they can base their judgement only on a analysis of the public interest issues raised by the proposed deal that was completed by media regulator Ofcom on New Year's Eve. Or, at least, claim they did. News Corporation, which so assiduously wooed Hunt's Conservative Party before the election, wants to meet with the minister or at least send him a dossier of information to help him make his final decision. Which would be to give them whatsoever they want. However, the company had not been given any assurance that it would be able to do so according to the Gruniad Morning Star. Ofcom spent New Year's Eve completing its report – which is expected to recommend a further, six month long enquiry by the Competition Commission. Hunt will now have about ten working days to decide how to proceed, and will publish both the report and his verdict sometime in the middle of January. Hunt's team, to newspaper claims, are determined 'not to trip up' in what they describe as 'an awfully difficult case' after watching business secretary, Vince Cable, being stripped of his powers to regulate the media industry in the wake of his unguarded 'war on Murdoch' comments made to two undercover journalists from the Daily Torygraph. The Conservative cabinet minister has complete discretion as to whether to follow Ofcom's advice or not, leaving him the choice of clearing the proposed deal or referring it to the Competition Commission. Which you just sense he'd so like to do. However, the Gruniad suggests that it will be 'a major surprise' if he does not follow the regulator's advice in a quasi-judicial process which means that he is not supposed to discuss the matter or take any guidance from David Cameron or other members of the coalition government. And, we at From The North are sure that the prime minister would never dream of, for example, ringing the vile and odious Hunt up and saying, for example, 'Oi, Jezza, I've got Rupert on me case over this. Get it sorted so he gets what he wants and make it snappy.' Of course not, because that would be wrong. At issue is whether News Corporation's buyout of BSkyB would lead to the creation of a media company that with seven and a half billion pounds of UK turnover is so large that rival newspapers and broadcasters are progressively unable to compete. Objectors to the deal include an unlikely alliance of the owners of the Daily Scum Mail, the Mirror, the Daily Torygraph and the Gruniad Morning Star, who argue that the tie-up would lead to 'a loss of media plurality' in the UK. Ofcom has been trying to quantify Murdoch's media power, by asking analysts how it might be possible to measure how far the combined News Corp and Sky would dominate news attention. Chris Goodall, from Enders Analysis, was among those asked to suggest methodologies that the regulator could use.

Doctor Who star Matt Smith will go head-to-head with his terrestrial rival, Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch, at the National Television Awards. Both actors, who were thrust into the limelight last year as the eleventh incarnation of the Doctor and the quirky detective Sherlock Holmes respectively, have been nominated for best Drama Performance. Philip Glenister also competes for the title, for his role as Gene Hunt in Ashes to Ashes, as does five times National Television Awards winner David Jason for A Touch of Frost. Smith, twenty eight, and thirty four-year-old Cumberbatch's BBC dramas, Doctor Who and Sherlock, have also been shortlisted for best drama, against rivals Shameless (Channel Four) and BBC1 school series Waterloo Road. X Factor host Dermot O'Dreary will be up for his first National Television Award for best Entertainment Presenter at the ceremony, which takes place later this month. He will compete against Britain's Got Talent duo Ant and Dec, who are aiming for their record-breaking tenth consecutive win in the category. Davina McCall, who presented the final Big Brother last year, and Paul O'Grady, the host of Paul O'Grady Live, are also in the running. Two of Simon Cowell's shows, The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, are in the running for the talent Show category against BBC rival Strictly Come Dancing and ITV's Dancing on Ice. The shortlist and eventual winners of the National Television Awards are voted for by viewers. The ceremony - hosted by O'Dreary from the O2 Arena - will be broadcast live on ITV on Wednesday 26 January.

Meanwhile, on Facebook on New Year's Eve Doctor Who and Sherlock showrunner The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat (Thou Shalt Worship No Other Gods Before He) posted that 'First time ever, I'm feeling sad to let a year go. Sherlock and the Doctor - can't ever top that.' To which yer Keith Telly Topping merely replied, 'you can try, Steven. You can try!'

Stephen Merchant has accused Simon Cowell of killing Britain's cultural heritage. Speaking after funding cuts were announced at North London venue ArtsDepot, where he often previews his stand-up, Merchant said: 'If we continue to let places like the ArtsDepot disappear, we're going to wake up one day and find our greatest artistic achievement is a dancing dog on Britain's Got Talent. And Simon Cowell will be nailing the coffin closed on our cultural heritage.' Listen, mate, he's responsible for a lot of crap music, it's true, but I really don't think you can lay government policy towards the arts at Simon Cowell's door.

ITV have put five short webisodes for Primeval online, ahead of the latest season's premiere. The popular time-travelling dinosaur show succumbed to the scourge of cancellation after three seasons due to ITV's financial concerns, but was then brought back for a further two series order as an international co-production. Starting off with interviews with two of the remaining characters (James Lester and Captain Becker) is recap of events so far, the first webisode goes on to show recruitment interviews with two new members of the team, Matt Anderson and Jess Parker. The businessman and scientist Philip Burton is also introduced later on. Later webisodes gives viewers the chance to get to know the characters, as well as setting up the mysterious secret agendas of certain characters, which will presumably feed into a main storyline of the season proper. There's also some intrigue as to which of the MIA characters are going to return. The writers also indulge in a spot of in joking: 'So you feel the ARC should be allowed to continue its work?' 'It was a colossal mistake to suspend us in the first place. A decision I believe the minister has already had good cause to regret.' This is followed by some humour, as we're told of the consequences of the ARC, whose job it is to deal with creatures that come through anomalies, having been abolished. A stegosaurus in the members' bar at the House of Commons. A dinosaur in parliament? Wonder if he's a Tory or Lib Dem?

Poorly researched question of the week, this week comes from The Sunday Times in an interview with Julian Clary: 'You're performing with Joan Collins this year. Is she aware that you used to run her fan club?' Ah, bless 'em!

Thursday night's ratings: Toast, BBC1's adaptation of cookery writer Nigel Slater's memoirs of his childhood, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ken Stott, averaged 6.2 million viewers between 9pm and 10.30pm. It had another ten thousand viewers on the BBC HD channel, where it was repeated at 11pm. Compared to Toast, ITV's Ad of the Year was, if you will, brown bread in the water, with an average audience of 3.3 million viewers.

Paranoid Irish government chiefs during the Thatcher era feared that the Cabinet room had been bugged after a BBC camera crew was allow in to film, papers released under the thirty year rule have revealed. Officials called for the Council Chamber to be swept for listening devices after giving a television team access to the restricted area. No bugs was found. A classified memo from Irish State papers in 1980 revealed concerns over allowing the crew access to such a sensitive meeting room. 'The BBC was filming in the Council Chamber yesterday in connection with the series Sean which is currently being screened by RTE,' the memo stated. 'Mr O'Riordain has asked that arrangements be made with the Department of Justice for the gardai to come and have the area checked for bugging devices before the Government meeting next Monday.' Sean was a thirteen-part drama series based on the autobiographies of Irish writer Sean O'Casey.

Mock The Week's Ed Byrne has become a father for the first time, after his wife Claire gave birth to a baby boy on Tuesday. Everyone at From The North sends Ed and Claire our very best wishes at this happy time.

The Discovery Channel television network has said it will not broadcast a re-enactment of Michael Jackson's autopsy, amid concerns the programme was distasteful. Executors for the late singer's estate had requested the programme - entitled Michael Jackson's Autopsy: What Really Killed Michael Jackson - be cancelled. John Branca and John McClain had said the show was 'in shockingly bad taste.' Discovery said an forthcoming court hearing was also a factor. 'Given the commencement of legal proceedings beginning next week, and at the request of Michael Jackson's estate, the scheduled broadcast of the medical documentary related to Michael Jackson's official autopsy has been postponed indefinitely,' Discovery Networks International said in a statement. Branca and McClain said they were pleased with the network's decision. In a letter previously sent to Discovery, the pair had accused the company of being motivated by 'blind desire' to 'exploit' the singer's death. 'Your decision to even schedule this programme is in shockingly bad taste and insensitive to Michael's family,' the co-executors wrote. The programme was scheduled to be broadcast in Europe on 13 January. An advertisement used to promote the show reportedly depicted a corpse covered by a sheet with one hand wearing the singer's trademark sequined glove visible. A preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin on 4 January where it will be decided if there is sufficient evidence to try Jackson's physician, Conrad Murray, on involuntary manslaughter charges. Murray has repeatedly denied causing Jackson's death. The singer died suddenly in June of 2009 from a prescription drug overdose at age fifty.

James Corden 'touched up' Billy Connolly when they filmed scenes in the new Gullivers' Travels movie together – and the Big Yin apparently didn't mind a bit. The legendary Glaswegain comic said: 'After he completed every scene, he touched me. And it was always somewhere that he didn't touch me after the previous scene had come to an end. It was an absolute joy for me. I was wondering where his hand was going to land next! I love young Mr Corden, we definitely bonded.' But, Connolly says that the newer generation of comics often intimidate him. 'I always find it unsettling when I watch other comics perform,' he said. 'When I go and see other comedians live, I think, "What am I going to do to top that?" I saw Rob Brydon on stage and he was so funny it scared me. He was funnier than me.' Oh, recount, surely?

To generations of British television viewers, Billy Taylor, who has died at the age of eight nine, will be known as the pianist who composed the theme to the BBC's film review show hosted by Barry Norman, then Jonathan Ross and now Claudia Whatsherface. But the American was also a prominent civil rights campaigner and a bona fide titan of jazz, who played alongside the likes of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. His most famous piece, 'I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel To Be Free,' was adopted as an unofficial anthem for the US civil rights movement and was recorded by Nina Simone for her 1967 LP Silk and Soul. The BBC's Film show, which began as a national programme in 1972, also adopted the tune and made the instrumental version into an instantly recognisable classic in Britain. Taylor also led the house band on The David Frost Show in America between 1969 and 1972. He was himself an accomplished broadcaster and a passionate ambassador for jazz. He was given an Emmy for his television work for the CBS network. Unlike many of his jazz contemporaries, he had formal training, graduating from Virginia State College with a degree in music and later earning a masters and PhD from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. But as the house pianist of Charlie Parker's New York club Birdland, he also had a fine jazz pedigree. He was a protégé of the pianist Art Tatum and had the opportunity to play alongside such performers as Billie Holiday and Miles Davis.

Anna Chapman, the flame-haired former Russian spy and Karen Gillan lookalike, who hit the headlines earlier in the year thinks that Sean Connery was the best James Bond, always wanted to live in London, and was given a lion cub for Christmas. In her first television appearance since being expelled from the US this summer, the spy who became a glamour model fielded questions about patriotism, spies and celebrity – and hinted she would be making more television appearances in future. 'Watch TV next year. I'll reveal all my secrets,' she said. On Let Them Speak, a This Is Your Life type show on Russia's Channel One, Chapman was subjected to the reminiscences of relatives and old school friends from her home town of Volgograd, debated with a retired KGB agent about the merits of the American people, and endured a cringe-inducing reunion with her first love. Fifteen minutes into the show her grandmother presented her with a platter of selyotka pod shuboi – a traditional salad made of pickled herring and beetroot – saying 'she really loved it.' A schoolfriend from Volgograd revealed that Chapman had, at a young age, said she would find a husband in England and live in London. Chapman said it was her school English teacher's descriptions of red telephone boxes and double decker buses that made her want to move to Britain. Probably a lifelong love of Doctor Who and Corrie as well, I'm guessing. And that was how it turned out, until there was a divorce and a move to the US. Later on the show her 'first love' presented her with a bouquet of flowers and kissed her on the cheek. Sitting on a black leather sofa and wearing a green dress with black stockings and high heels, Chapman appeared nervous and her answers slightly stilted, despite the best soothing efforts of the host, a Jonathan Ross lookalike. She was even presented with a lion cub, the top item on her Christmas list. Asked what she thought of Salt – a film released not long after her arrest which featured Angelina Jolie as a Russian sleeper agent in the US – she managed only to say that she considered Jolie 'one of the most beautiful women in the world.' Chapman was reticent about her own intelligence career, which ended prematurely this summer when she was booted out of the US with nine other alleged spies in a swap reminiscent of the Cold War. Chapman, who has posed on the cover of Maxim and recently entered political life by joining the Young Guard, the youth wing of Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party, said her newfound fame had not changed her life. 'Lots of people recognise me on the street, but in general my life is no different to the way it was before.' But she added that she felt no ill will toward the man who is thought to have betrayed her and nine other Russian spies to the FBI this summer. 'It's his business. I wish no ill will to anyone, even a traitor,' she said. 'It was for the best. It is the beginning of something great and beautiful.' In November Russian media identified the alleged traitor as a Colonel Scherbakov in the SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence service. Sources in the intelligence community suggested a hit squad had been sent after him to take revenge.

Tweet of the week comes, yet again, from Viz's Top Tips: 'Save money on a justice system: Simply show the suspect on Sky News, and people on Twitter can give you the verdict in seconds.' Proper cutting-edge satire, that!

And so to yer actual Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day. And if the world really is crashing towards oblivion as many people believe, I'd ask to speak to the the pilot, personally. Hey, put that double-neck guitar down, bonny lad, you'll have somebody's eye out with it. Anybody's think this was 1975.

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