Friday, March 04, 2011

See Yourself Going By, The Other Side Of The Sky

BBC1's superior cold case crime drama Waking The Dead will return for its ninth - and final series - at 9pm on Sunday 13 March. Starring Trevor Eve as stern-faced manic depressive Peter Boyd and Sue Johnston as lovely, motherly Grace Foley, episode one will see a new cast member Eva Birthistle join as Detective Supt Sarah Cavendish. The second part of the opening story, entitled Harbinger, will be broadcast the following night at 9pm. The second two part story is called Care. In January, the BBC announced a new Waking The Dead spin-off series, The Body Farm. The forensic crime drama will feature Tara Fitzgerald as her Waking The Dead character Eve Lockhart. The six-part series begins filming this Spring and will be broadcast early in 2012.

And now, dear blog reader, yer actual Keith Telly Topping has a very sincere apology to make. I'm sorry, but most of the rest of today's blog is going to be taken up with sodding politics. So, if you're easily bored - and I don't blame you - or don't particularly want to listen to what is, effectively, an episode of Newsnight - only without Paxman's droll stand-up comedy qualities - then you might want to scroll down the page. Where you will find a bit of the usual tittle-tattle, celebrity gossip and TV industry insider malarkey that we at From The North specialise in. Others, pull up a comfy chair, grab yourself a cup of a relaxing tasty beverage of your choice and prepare, do you see, for war!

The lack of culture secretary the vile and odious rascal Hunt has defended his pretty much indefensible decision to allow the alleged scoundrel, blaggard and rapscallion Rupert Murdoch's controversial bid for BSkyB to proceed. The vile and odious rascal Hunt said that undertakings made by News Corporation would ensure greater independence for Sky News. Pretty much nobody believed him. The shadow lack of culture secretary the only marginally less vile if not quite as odious and rascally Ivan Lewis said that Labour had 'serious concerns' about the decision-making process and the vile and odious rascal Hunt's rational for this disgraceful and spineless capitulation. Lewis questioned why the minister had decided not to refer the takeover to a full Competition Commission inquiry. 'Public interest not political expediency will determine our judgment on whether this revised package goes far enough to avoid the need for a Competition Commission enquiry,' Lewis said. The lack of culture secretary claimed - ridiculously and very unconvincingly - that media plurality in the UK would be strengthened rather than weakened if the deal went ahead. He explained that the chairman and the majority of board members of Sky News would be independent under the terms of the offer made by News Corp. This would mean James Murdoch, the son of his father, stepping down as chairman, the vile and odious rascal said. As though that, in and of itself, made any difference whatsoever. Rival media groups dismissed News Corp's offer - correctly - as 'a whitewash' and said that they would 'vigorously contest' it. An alliance including the Gruniad Morning Star, Associated Newspapers (publishers of the Daily Scum Mail), Trinity Mirror (publishers of the Daily Mirra) and the Daily Torygraph said that they would be 'examining all legal options.' Which is bloody dreadful, frankly since it - for once - means that yer actual Keith Telly Topping and both the Gruniad Morning Star and the Daily Scum Mail are on the same side over something. This blogger, as you can probably imagine dear blog reader, feels horribly conflicted by this turn of events. Violated, even. But, as they say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Even if only for a short while. The proposed takeover is now open to consultation until 21 March, after which the vile and odious rascal Hunt will make a final decision. Unless he changes his mind, which he won't, then it will then be down to BSkyB and its shareholders whether to accept an offer from News Corp. Earlier on Thursday, the vile and odious rascal Hunt said that he intended to allow the takeover to proceed following News Corp's offer to 'spin-off' Sky News as an independent company. The vile and odious rascal Hunt told the BBC that he was 'very, very conscious that people are suspicious of politicians' motives,' which is why he sought advice from Ofcom and the OFT when making his decision. Not conscious enough not to sodding well do it, it would seem. 'Ofcom assured me that News Corp's undertaking addressed its concerns about media plurality,' he said in a piece of impressive buck-passing worthy of the great Bucky The Buck-Passer McBuck, winner of the world buck passing championship for three years running. The vile and odious rascal Hunt said that News Corp had moved 'a very long way' from its original offer and that 'spinning-off' Sky News would, in fact, mean it had 'less control of news media [in the UK],' not more. Not, as previously noted, that anyone believed him, of course. News Corp said that it welcomed the vile and odious rascal Hunt's decision. Which, of course, it would.

Politically, the repercussions could be long-term. The Commons, frankly, were puzzled by this turn of events. As the Gruniad's Simon Hoggart asked: Had the lack of culture secretary, the vile and odious rascal Hunt, 'given way to Rupert Murdoch as a payback for the Sun's support at the last election campaign? Or for Murdoch's support in the next election? Or was it revenge on the BBC for calling him by a very rude name, twice in the same morning?' Either way, MPs appeared to be cynical, said Hoggart. Nobody could quite bring themselves to believe that it was a rational decision based on wide consultations. 'More a question of a dumper truck filled with money turning up at Mr Murdoch's front door, and the driver shouting "Say when!"' The vile and odious rascal Hunt spoke softly and calmly, 'as if to turn away wrath before it reached him. Which of course it did,' wrote Hoggart. 'Like the tide that lapped round the feet of King Canute. "The chairman will be required to be an independent director"' the vile and odious rascal said. MPs laughed. 'Nothing is more precious to me than a free and independent press, for which this country is world famous,' he added, to much louder laughter. The vile and odious Hunt 'kept harping on about openness and transparency. Every word of his consultation was available. Nothing was hidden. We could follow his thought processes as easily as a satnav guiding us round Spaghetti Junction.' Almost nobody took it at face value. Even a couple of Tories spoke up to say that their constituents were worried about giving so much power to Murdoch. Ivan Lewis, for Labour, asked scornfully how the Tories would have reacted if the last government had come to such a decision in the week they had appointed a former Labour chairman to head the BBC. On 21 December, Vince Cable had been stripped of responsibilities for broadcasting. Two days later the prime minister had attended a dinner with James Murdoch. 'I wonder what was on the menu,' asked the Gruniad. 'Turkeys voting for Christmas? Loads of carrots? Sky in the pie?' Oh, how we laughed. Lewis was, of course, somewhat hamstrung by the fact that his own party had spent some seventeen long years sucking up to the Murdoch dynasty in a most disquietingly sycophantic way. One which very few of their supporters didn't know would, one day, come back to bite them in the arse. Until Murdoch turned his back on them a couple of years ago, basically. Which, perhaps, is why Lewis didn't condemn the vile and odious rascal Hunt's decision outright, a lapse which the vile and odious rascal Hunt described as 'utter cowardice.' And, for once, the vile and odious rascal Hunt was, in this regard, absolutely correct. Why not? Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Support for the vile and odious rascal Hunt came from Jacob Rees-Mogg, who 'unwound himself from the bench and took off his phantom top hat to point out that it was vitally important for such decisions to be taken quickly because business moves quickly,' according to the Gruniad. The vile and odious rascal Hunt admitted that the Office of Fair Trading had 'been able to turn this decision round faster than is usually the case.' What a very great surprise. Labour MPs continued to be outraged. Tom Watson claimed that News International was 'clearly guilty of widespread illegal phone-hacking.' Dear old Mad Dennis Skinner called it a 'disastrous day for democracy,' but then, as the Gruniad notes sadly, 'Mr Skinner is rarely under-disastered.' Chris Bryant, who is rapidly shaping up as one of Labour's best attack hornets on Tory glakery, pointed out that the vile and odious rascal Hunt had told him last year that 'he had already decided to go ahead with this decision.' Which, if true, is an utter disgrace and a near-criminal subsequent waste of time and resources. One that should be highlighted by every national newspaper opposed to this deal. Strangely, the vile and odious rascal Hunt did not furnish an answer to that one.

The vile and odious rascal Hunt was, of course, thought to be better disposed towards Murdoch than Vince Cable, the Lib Dem (allegedly) business secretary who was stripped of his role as adjudicator in this matter after the Daily Telegraph, in a tactic as grubby as one of Murdoch's tabloids might employ, sent two reporters masquerading as constituents to extract indiscretions from 'the vain old ballroom dancer,' was the Gruniad's Alexander Chancellor describes him. One of these indiscretions, cravenly suppressed by the Toryraph at the time but leaked to Snitchy Robert Peston at the BBC, was Cable's comic boast that he was 'at war' with Murdoch and that he was going to win. It could well be that the time has come for Cable to seek a future in pantomime, like that other Strictly Come Dancing celebrity political failure, Dame Ann Widdecombe. But despite the vile and odious rascal Hunt's widely reputed pro-Murdoch leanings he said, nevertheless, that he was 'minded' to refer the bid for BSkyB to the Competition Commission; and there were believed to be some very good reasons for him wanting to do this, even though it would incur the not-inconsiderable wrath of the tycoon. At stake was the coalition government's reputation for independence and integrity. David Cameron had already put this at risk by appearing to be in league with the Murdoch empire. He not only chose a disgraced former editor of the phone-hacking News of the World as his first communications director, but was caught out over Christmas having a cosy dinner with Murdoch's son, James, and News International's chief executive, Rebekah Wade, at a very sensitive moment in the battle over BSkyB. This didn't look at all good for a prime minister who had ostensibly forsworn the murky, backroom dealings of Tony Blair. So, irrespective of the merits of this particular case – and the government maintains, improbably as previously noted, that media plurality is actually safer under the Murdoch deal – it was important that the government should parade its independence in an unchallengeable way by leaving any decision to the Competition Commission. This, as the former Conservative minister Lord Fowler said yesterday, it has demonstrably failed to do. If Cameron has decided, like his predecessors in Downing Street, that Murdoch's support is the single, overriding key to electoral success, however craven it might make him look, he may find that now that, actually, the opposite is the case. Not only will the Sun's and The Times' approval be at least balanced by the disapproval of just about all of the rest of the British press, including several organs which have traditionally supported any Tory under the heavens no matter how lame, but an electorate weary of political sleaze may feel badly let down by him and his vile and odious rascal of a lack of culture secretary.

Perhaps, however, there is another angle to all of this. Certainly one that the Daily Scum Mail seem keen to push: 'Jeremy Hunt's decision to favour Rupert Murdoch's complete control of Sky TV is seen by some colleagues as part of the Culture Secretary's cunning plan to obtain the keys to No 10. This seems a bit far fetched. Does Hunt, a Latin-dancing aficionado, have any support? "So far, Hunt's campaign consists of himself and his friend, the housing minister Grant Shapps MP," says my source. "Shapps seems to have appointed himself as Hunt's campaign manager to share future glory. But most people here think (Chancellor) George Osborne will have them executed." In a manner of speaking.' Oh, if only wishing made it so.

Andrew Neil, the former editor of The Sunday Times and founding chairman of Sky - and, therefore, hardly an impartial voice in this matter - has said that Rupert Murdoch's bid to take full control of Sky is 'pretty much a done deal.' Neil pinpointed the stupid behaviour of business secretary Vince Cable last December as making the deal an almost certainty. Cable was stripped of the power to arbitrate over the takeover after telling two undercover reporters that he had 'declared war' on Murdoch's media empire. At which point David Cameron couldn't believe his luck and passed the decision making process over to the vile and odious rascal Hunt. Who, it would appear, bent over backwards almost to the point of disappearing up his own arsehole to find some way of letting the deal progress. Asked whether anything could now block Murdoch's News Corp from taking full control of Sky, Neil told ITV News: 'I don't think this can be stopped now. I'm afraid Mr Cable and his behaviour made it pretty much a done deal.' Neil, who now hosts This Week In Politics on the BBC, said that this is 'a good deal' for Murdoch as he will get full control over Sky's multi-billion pound revenues, and only have to surrender the loss-making Sky News operation. 'It certainly is a good deal for Rupert Murdoch because he'll get his hands on all of Sky - that's worth billions to him,' he said. 'The price he's had to pay is he has got to offload a warehouse - the loss-making Sky News division and he'll continue to subsidise it twenty to thirty million pounds a year - it's like an economic rent. And it means that he's getting billions in return. It's a no-brainer for him.' Neil added: 'As far as the British public is concerned, they still gets Sky News, it's very important in a country of our size that we have three major broadcasting news providers - the BBC, ITN and of course Sky. Whether Sky will be as well funded in the future of course is another matter. It could suffer at the edges by being at arm's length of the Murdoch operation rather than in the family.' Neil even suggested that Murdoch's thirty nine per cent stake in the new Sky News company, Newco, could enable him to exert control over the broadcaster in the future. 'Rupert Murdoch I've said is like an Italian when it comes to negotiations. The real negotiation only begins once he's signed the deal and he's going to retain forty per cent of the new company that will own Sky News and he's going to be providing most of the cash,' said Neil. 'In my view, if you own forty per cent and you provide most of the cash, you in some way have got control and in the end it could come back to you. It's a long game for him here. I would not rule out Rupert Murdoch once again having control of Sky News.' An alliance of media groups - including the owners of the Daily Scum Mail, the Daily Mirra, and the Gruniad Morning Star, along with BT - is currently considering legal options to challenge the government's decision to approve the Sky takeover, including a possible judicial review. Neil said that the rival newspapers are not concerned about the future of Sky News, instead they are worried about the Murdoch-owned News International group - publisher of the Sun, The Times and others - benefitting from Sky's financial muscle. 'The opposition of all the other newspapers like the Telegraph, the Mail and so on, this hasn't been properly reported. It's nothing to do with Sky News. They couldn't give a stuff about Sky News,' he said. 'They're terrified that Mr Murdoch now gets a handle on a billion pounds of free cash a year by owning all of Sky. And he uses some of that money, it wouldn't have to be much, into a newspaper war, a price cutting war, that drives the other papers out of business. That's their concern and it will be interesting to see if the government has got any regulations to stop that from happening because that would reduce the diversity of media.'

In the corridors of Sky News itself, meanwhile, the mood was decidedly subdued. Journalists at Britain's first twenty four-hour news channel know that being a fully owned part of Sky was, in effect, what gave them some extra influence – a Murdoch link which ensured they would not be ignored in Westminster and elsewhere in the media. 'Totally unnecessary,' said one veteran broadcaster of the News Corp/Sky merger arrangement, quoted (anonymously, of course) in the Gruniad. He (or she) argued that Sky News had, in effect, been sacrificed to solve a problem of plurality that its journalists don't believe exists. Sky News has long built up an independent, impartial editorial culture – whatever the critics of that smug oaf Kay Burley might say – buttressed by Ofcom's long-standing impartiality regulations. Co-operation between Sky News and the Sun or The Times has, in the past, been informal and often prone to breaking down in News Corp's notoriously federal system according to the Gruniad. And at times, so serious is the channel that even Rupert Murdoch has described Sky News dismissively as 'BBC lite.' The umbilical cord, of course, has not been completely broken – but any future Sky News Ltd will be at one removed from the rest of the enlarged News Corp machine. While News Corp will retain its existing thirty nine per cent stake, the small resulting company with its independent chairman will be heavily reliant on a forty million pounds a year subvention from Murdoch's enlarged company, rather in the way that ITN, forty per cent owned by ITV, is heavily dependant on its relationship with The X Factor broadcaster. Nor is it entirely clear what investors would be attracted to a business which will generate two-thirds of its revenue from a single broadcasting deal, and whose growth prospects are unlikely to match that of BSkyB. The satellite broadcaster's existing independent shareholders, UK and US financial institutions, are unlikely to be particularly keen to hang around once the bomb drops. At Sky News there was speculation this week that Middle Eastern investors – such as the Abu Dhabi Media Corporation, run by Sheikh Mansour of Manchester City – could become shareholders. ADMC is already a joint investor in a separate Sky News Arabic channel, and any new strategic partners from the peninsula or elsewhere could change the perception of the channel in ways not easily predicted today. None of those concerns, though, afflicted a crowing Jeremy Darroch, the chief executive of BSkyB, who e-mailed Sky News staff telling them the compromise was 'a good outcome' which would maintain 'long-term continuity.' Meanwhile, an 'insider' at BSkyB's corporate team put it more robustly to the Gruniad: 'Look, Sky News has been promised ten years guaranteed funding – that's even longer than the BBC has.' But, BSkyB bosses have long known that obstacles had to be removed to News Corp's proposed takeover, and Sky News could never be allowed to stand in the way of this eight billion pound deal. While the enforced 'spin-off' arrangement heads off the emergence of any kind of 'FOX News lite' channel, Sky News is bracing itself for a more uneasy future. And, at least one good thing has come out of all of this fiasco. The thought that, because of this future uncertainty, the delightful Ms Burley is sweating in her knickers over suddenly no longer finding herself Rupert's pet Rottweiler is, at least, a crumb of comfort to many of those who think this entire deal stinks to high heaven.

The National Union of Journalists, meanwhile, is set to protest against the lack of culture secrertary the vile and odious rascal Hunt's decision to approve News Corporation's takeover of BSkyB. Not that it will do any good of course but, bless 'em, at least it shows they care. According to jounalism.co.uk, the NUJ has called on supporters to demonstrate outside the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in London on Thursday, describing the proposal to jettison Sky News as an independent company as 'a Whitewash.' Jeremy Dear, general secretary for the NUJ has described the decision as 'bad news for democracy and media plurality,' and has expressed his fears that the affects will 'reverberate' across the entire media and political landscape. He also described 'previous undertakings' by News Corporation owner Rupert Murdoch as 'toothless and illusory,' adding that this would prove the same.

All of this occurred, of course, on the very day that Rupert Murdoch's entire stable of British newspapers was dragged into the phone hacking row when a former Labour minister told the House of Commons the scandal touched not only the News of the World, but also The Times, The Sunday Times and the Sun. Tom Watson said that during discussion of Murdoch's BSkyB bid he believed evidence existed that journalists employed on The Times titles had been involved in phone hacking and that their sister paper, the Sun, had printed a story possibly based on hacked conversations. He also told MPs that the BBC had been bullied into delaying a Panorama programme investigating 'newspaper tactics' – which he said involved 'more sinister forms of illegal surveillance.' In the Lords, John Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, urged the Government to delay a decision on Murdoch's BSkyB bid until the conclusion of the criminal investigation into his company's involvement in the illegal interception of calls. Watson's claims are the first time that The Times and The Sunday Times have been named in the context of phone hacking, which has tarnished the reputation of Murdoch's best-selling title, the News of the World. Dozens of Metropolitan Police detectives are currently investigating whether a private ieye working for the NOTW, Glenn Mulcaire, eavesdropped on the mobile phone messages of public figures beyond three Royal aides and five other individuals. Speaking with the benefit of Parliamentary privilege, which allows MPs to comment without fear of legal claims, Watson told the Commons: 'I believe the evidence exists that shows journalists currently employed on The Times and Sunday Times were involved in phone hacking and that damaging revelations were printed in the Sun from information possibly collected by illegal hacking.' He added: 'We are told that the BBC have been bullied into delaying broadcasting an edition of Panorama that shows more sinister forms of illegal surveillance.' He asked the lack of culture secretary the vile and odious rascal Hunt: 'If the Metropolitan Police show you this evidence, will you change your mind?' the vile and odious rascal Hunt, of course, replied that although hacking was 'extremely serious,' he could not involve himself in 'a judicial process.' So, that'd be a 'no,' then? Just minutes later, in an apparent reference to Watson's claims, Lord Prescott – who has been told that he himself may have been targeted by Mulcaire – raised the issue in the upper chamber. He asked the Coalition minister Baroness Rawlings: 'Are you aware that the investigation into the Murdoch press phone hacking has been extended now to The Sunday Times? So the argument that it was simply one paper and one "rogue" reporter is no longer true. It is a number of papers owned by the Murdoch press and a number of their employees who have been involved in withholding evidence and illegal practices.' A spokeswoman for the BBC denied that it had delayed Panorama's transmission. 'The BBC has not come under any external pressure to delay the programme and we will broadcast it when we are ready to do so,' she said. News International added: 'We have no idea what he is talking about.' In relation to Watson's other claims, NI said: 'We do not believe Tom Watson has any evidence to support these allegations.' A spokesperson added: 'It is not a coincidence that he has made such cowardly and unsubstantiated claims under the cloak of parliamentary privilege. If he has any evidence, we urge him to provide it to us and we will take immediate action if proven.' Watson later told the Independent: 'I will share any platform or any TV studio with News International's Rebekah Brooks to discuss phone hacking and other criminality.' Prior to the exchanges, a lawyer accused the Metropolitan Police of failing to admit that there were thousands of potential victims of Mulcaire because it wanted to conceal the inadequacy of its original investigation. Mark Lewis, who brought one of the first civil claims against the NOTW, is suing Scotland Yard for libel over what he says is 'a damaging allegation' that he misled MPs when he said that a senior officer had told him the scandal involved 'six thousand people.' Lewis claims that an officer involved in the first Met inquiry into the hacking activities of Mulcaire, Detective Sergeant Mark Maberley, revealed the figure during a conversation in 2007 while he was pursuing a damages claim against the paper on behalf of footballers' union head, Gordon Taylor. The officer has since denied through the Yard that he gave that particular figure, saying that he was 'wrongly quoted.' Lewis alleges the Yard knew from evidence seized from Mulcaire's home that the number of victims 'could easily run into the thousands,' but at a pre-trial hearing yesterday, his skeleton argument said: 'However, to admit this would have been to concede the inadequacy of the initial investigation.' Scotland Yard denies that it defamed Lewis and is applying for the libel claim to be struck out by the court.

So that, ladies and gentlemen of the blog, was Question Time. And no, as Fiona Bruce always says, 'the rest of the news.' Onto other - slightly less teeth-grindingly annoying - matters. Wasn't Brian Cox just brilliant on The ONE Show on Thursday night, dear blog reader? Funny, enthusiastic and he managed to get get through an interview with Xander Armstrong and Alex Jones there's lovely, isn't it, in which a small child called him 'Professor Crox' without storming off in a huff. Outstanding.

Jo Brand is to make a four-part series about water. The hour-long programmes, for the digital channel Dave ('the home of witty banter'), will investigate what is supposedly 'British people's obsession' and 'occasionally bizarre relationship' with the common liquid. Jo Brand's Big Splash will mix stand-up with travelogue as the comic explores the seaside, pool parties and water sports. Dave's head Steve North said the commission was part of the channel's 'strong stable of on-brand, original content.'

Teachers have slated the other vile and atrocious rascal Jamie Oliver's latest self-important, self-publicising and utterly charmless television crusade after a teenage boy was singled out and called 'fat.' The first episode of Jamie's Dream School, which aims to get troubled youngsters back into the education system, aired on Wednesday night on Channel Four and saw the historian David Starkey rounding on a boy called Connor. Chastising the lad for his size and telling him to go on a diet, Starkey told the hapless teen: 'You're so fat you couldn't really move.' He then added: 'Poor lad has got a problem. With Jamie's food, there'll be lots of dieting opportunities.' An outraged Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, told the Evening Standard: 'If you think a child has a health problem there are ways to deal with it without humiliating them.' Hobby added: 'Fair play to Jamie Oliver for looking at this. But so many people think teaching is easy and they could do a better job. But there is a whole level of skill and character involved. You need to maintain your temper and treat pupils with respect.' The programme follows pupils who have failed to pass five decent GCSEs and have been turned off by mainstream school. In the debut episode, Starkey told a group of pupils some 'home truths' and reminded them: 'You are all here because you have failed.' After his history lesson, he railed about the teens once more - with apparent emphasis on Conor - saying: 'They're destroying themselves. They're destroying what they could be as human beings.' Other 'teachers' lined-up for the series include Olympic gold medal decathlete Daley Thomson who will be leading the physical education lessons, Simon Callow teaching drama, Ellen McArthur taking yachting, science by Professor Robert Winston on biology and Rolf Harris doing a bit of art. Politics will be taught by Alastair Campbell, maths by Alvin Hall and other figures such as Cherie Blair, Tinchy Stryder and Andrew Motion have also pitched in with lessons. And, through it all, the smug and disgraceful rascal Oliver, a singular fraction of a man, will preen himself like he's the single-handed saviour of everything we hold dear (sponsored by Sainsbury's).

Coronation Street producers have announced plans to broadcast a special Easter episode of the soap which will include scenes filmed in London. A thirty-minute bonus edition due to broadcast next month will see Weatherfield's Sean Tully (Antony Cotton) head to the capital to be reunited with his son Dylan at the Easter holidays. During his time away from home, Sean is surprised to bump into his ex-boyfriend Marcus Dent, played by Charlie Condou. Fans will also have the chance to catch up with old Weatherfield residents like Dylan's mum Violet (Jenny Platt) and her boyfriend Jamie (Rupert Hill) who both appear in the episode. Additionally, the special sees Bruno Langley reprise his role as Todd Grimshaw as he returns to Weatherfield to introduce mum Eileen to his new rich boyfriend. Producers have promised that there will be surprises in store as Todd's journey north does not go entirely to plan, while Sean's time in the capital also sparks some unexpected events. Speaking of the special, a Coronation Street spokesperson said: 'It will be a real treat for Corrie viewers to see Sean exploring the sights of London, whilst at the same time Todd returns to Weatherfield to catch up with his mum. Sean is desperate to be a real dad to Dylan so when Violet says he can visit he is thrilled, but when he arrives in the capital he is in for a few surprises. Meanwhile, back in Weatherfield, Todd has returned home for Easter - but how does he feel about Coronation Street now he has a rich boyfriend in tow and a glamorous life in London?'

EastEnders, meanwhile, has officially confirmed that actor Colin Mace has been cast in the role of Fatboy Chubb's father, Ashley. Mace, who has previously appeared in a number of other TV shows, is understood to have filmed several episodes of the BBC soap and will appear on screen in the spring. News of Mace's casting - revealed exclusively by EastEnders fansite Walford Web - comes just a few weeks after show bosses announced their plans to introduce the character of Ashley. He is expected to arrive in Walford when he faces problems in his personal life and decides to pay his son a visit, looking for somewhere to stay. His appearance has been billed as a chance to give viewers an insight into Fatboy's background and upbringing. An Albert Square 'source' recently told the tabloids: 'Fatboy has been a real hit with viewers and the bosses have decided that it's now time to bring in his dad so people can see what Fatboy is really all about.' Mace's previous television credits include appearances in Casualty, The Bill and Doctors.

NCIS star Mark Harmon is to appear in a new two-hour television film for the USA network. Deadline reports that the actor will play Lucas Davenport in Prey, based on a series of novels by John Sandford. The project, an adaptation of the tenth Davenport novel Certain Prey, will follow the deputy police chief as he 'faces off' against 'a ferocious killer' and 'a deadly female assassin.' I'm interested in what other sort of assassins there are other than 'deadly.' Unless they're pretty crap ones, of course. Prey is initially intended as a one-off production, but further adaptations of the nineteen remaining Davenport novels could follow if the project is a ratings success. Mississippi Burning writer Chris Gerolmo has penned the script, while Harmon will executive produce alongside Michael Jaffe and Howard Braunstein.

Liz Hurley has confirmed that she has joined the cast of NBC's Wonder Woman pilot. The project, written by David E Kelley, will star Friday Night Lights actress Adrianne Palicki as the costumed hero. In a post on Twitter, Hurley wrote: 'Thrilled to be doing the NBC pilot Wonder Woman.' She also confirmed that she will be playing the lead character's nemesis, adding: 'I'll be playing the evil villain. Can't wait.' Hurley's past acting credits include film roles in 1997's Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and 2000's Bedazzled. Her last television appearance was in 1996 television film Samson and Delilah.

Sarah Parish has revealed details of her character in the new ITV drama Monroe. The show stars James Nesbitt as a neurosurgeon who struggles to balance his career and his personal life. Parish has now told TV Choice Magazine that her character, cardiac surgeon Jenny, is 'pretty irritated by life.' Aren't we all, ducky? 'She's chosen to go into heart surgery because it's quite mathematical,' she said. 'The brain is a mystery whereas the heart is a pump, so you're either dead or alive, and she can deal with that.' Parish continued: 'She's brilliant at [her job] but not so great at her personal life. If she engaged in an emotional sense with patients she would find it impossible to do her job. That's why she comes across as very stern and cold.' Parish also revealed that she 'loved' playing such an apparently unemotional character, joking: 'I would have had to reach for the bucket and puke if at one point we saw Jenny crying in the corner!'

James Nesbitt, meanwhile, has claimed that Monroe is different to US series House. In so much as he's not as good an actor as Hugh Laurie, for one. The actor, who plays neurosurgeon Gabriel Monroe, told the Manchester Evening News that comparisons between the two shows were inevitable. However, he added: 'I think [Monroe is] very different. I'm hoping that performance, Pete [Bowker]'s writing, our particular look and just the very difference in the characters will dispel people's thoughts on that pretty quickly.' Nesbitt explained that the charming but egotistical Monroe 'thinks, in a way, that he is God. He thinks he's the best of a very defined and brilliant profession,' explained the former Cold Feet and Jekyll star. 'The surgeon is God but everyone has a role to play and he is very aware of that.' He continued that playing the role was 'the hardest, but the best, twelve weeks I've ever had.'

Independent broadcaster Information TV has joined the bidders vying for the lack of culture secretary the vile and odious rascal Hunt's proposed new national channel for delivering local TV services in the UK. In its submission to the vile and odious rascal Hunt, Information TV claimed that it is the only bidder to have'"already made local TV happen,' and without the need for 'excessive funding, new legislation or regulatory changes.' The company operates channels on Sky, Freesat, Freeview and IPTV, providing a platform for a range of niche content providers, including 'local' services such as Lakes TV, Liverpool City of Culture and Man United Fans TV. Information TV feels that it is therefore well placed to take on the vile and odious rascal Hunt's proposed 'backbone' channel on Freeview for delivering local content and services to major British cities. In total, eleven bidders are known to have submitted local TV proposals to the vile and odious Hunt's department before the deadline expired on 1 March. Confirmed bidders include Richard Horwood's Channel Six group, Element TV and a Scottish consortium, along with former ITV News editor Nigel Dacre and Welsh independent production company Tinopolis. Also in the running is the Local Television Network, led by Greg Dyke, the Local6 group backed by former Channel Four chairman Luke Johnson, TripleSee, an IPTV joint venture fronted by former BBC executive Simon Walker and local media operator Six Television, backed by commercial radio group UKRD. In a statement, Information TV chief executive Fred Perkins warned that 'big companies with big ideas' may not necessarily be able to 'deliver the aspirations of the local TV providers. The government wants to create the Big Society - empowering individuals and local communities to work with and for one another. But Big Society will not be served by the reinvention of regional ITV, run by big companies and even bigger egos, spending tens of millions of pounds on a new national TV channel,' said Perkins. 'Local TV is not about mass audiences or massive spending, it's about bottom-up engagement with local capabilities, where the stakeholders in local TV are the entire local community. And it doesn't require millions of pounds of funding, particularly the forty million from the BBC - which, in these times of austerity, could be better deployed.' He added: 'The top-down approach is one which patently does not address the aspirations of the many local stakeholders who, for several years, have been campaigning for local TV across multiple fronts.'

Claudia Winkleman has announced she is pregnant with her third child. The presenter and her film producer husband Kris Thykier already have two children; seven-year-old Jake and Matilda, four. Claudia has now confirmed she will be welcoming a new addition into the family later this year. In a message on her Twitter page she writes, 'Thank you very much for your messages. It's true I'm having a baby,' before adding, 'Although to be frank, on the scan it looked more like a goat.' Winkleman also revealed that she is suffering from morning sickness, 'I am HURLING like never before. I SMELL OF SICK. Am drinking ginger beer and eating marmite. It's actually repulsive.'

The executive producer of CSI has confirmed that the serial killer Nate Haskell will return to the show. Carol Mendelsohn told TV Line that the villain (played by the great Bill Irwin) will reappear in two future episodes to confront his old nemesis Ray Langston (Laurence Fishburne). 'Breaking out of jail was only the beginning,' she revealed. 'As Haskell warned, he's always five steps ahead of our CSIs, until he's not.' Haskell was previously able to escape his captors, having been convicted of attemtping to murder Langston in the tenth season finale.

The X Factor's celebrity executive Daisy Moore has joined the BBC. Moore, who also worked in casting for I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! for six years, will become a talent executive in the BBC's Entertainment department. She is expected to work on the new series of Strictly Come Dancing as well as on other projects involving alleged celebrities. Moore said: 'I have had a brilliant time at ITV Studios casting celebrities for the jungle but now I cannot wait to swap my camo gear for sequins and ballet pumps. I am very excited about this new challenge on such a successful and glamorous show. The last series was compelling TV, with amazing characters and such an incredibly high standard of dancing. I look forward to joining the team and creating another glittering series.' Moore, who has also worked on shows including Marco's Kitchen Burnout, The Door, Love Island and Hell's Kitchen - or, in other words, just about every single piece of tragic lowest-common denominator crap with the word 'celebrity' attatched to it that ITV have churned out like so much diarrhoea for the last decade - will begin her new job at the BBC on 14 March.

Dame Helen Mirren is convinced children shouldn't be introduced to Shakespeare's work in the classroom, insisting the classic plays need to be seen to be appreciated. The actress has performed in several productions of the playwright's works and has even graced the stage with the renowned Royal Shakespeare Company. Mirren has gone back to the Bard once again with a starring role in Julie Taymor's new big screen adaptation of The Tempest, and the Oscar-winner is adamant she would prefer teenagers to see Shakespeare's plays performed by actors, instead of labouring over his texts. She told Daybreak, 'Honestly, I don't think kids should be made to read Shakespeare at all. I think children's very first experience of Shakespeare should be a performance in the theatre or on film. Mostly in the theatre but it should be performed because that makes it alive and real. The great thing about doing Shakespeare on film [is that] in twenty years' time when Avatar is - don't get me wrong, I think it was a groundbreaking, brilliant film - but it will be kind of old hat. The Tempest will be watched as fresh in twenty years' time as it is [for] anyone watching it tonight. I watched Shakespeare plays on film. They bring people to Shakespeare in a very exciting and real and much easier way than having to sit reading the play.'

Two national newspapers, the Sun and the Daily Scum Mail, were this week found guilty of contempt of court over the use of pictures on their websites. In what is believed to be a first, two high court judges ruled that the papers were in active contempt for publishing online pictures of a murder trial defendant 'posing with a gun.' The publishers were taken to court by the attorney general Dominic Grieve. The cases arose out of the Sheffield crown court trial in 2009 of Ryan Ward, who was eventually convicted of murdering car mechanic Craig Wass by hitting him on the head with half-a-brick. The trial judge refused to discharge the jury after saying he was satisfied that no members of the jury had been influenced by the pictures. But the attorney general thought the pictures had created 'a substantial risk' that the trial could have been 'seriously impeded or prejudiced' by jurors seeing them. His counsel, Angus McCullough QC, said that both newspapers had knowingly breached the strict liability rule under the 1981 contempt of court act, which makes it clear that publishing an article or picture may be contempt, even though there is no actual 'intent' to interfere with the course of justice. He said there was no allegation by the prosecution that Ward had ever used a firearm, or possessed one. The newspapers' lawyers argued there was no strict liability breach, and that any risk of prejudice was 'insubstantial,' particularly as the trial judge had repeatedly warned jurors not to consult the Internet. Use of the picture was 'a mistake' which was quickly corrected. But Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Owen said that - 'notwithstanding that publication of the image of the accused with a pistol was a mistake' - there was a breach of the contempt laws under the strict liability rule. 'We conclude that the nature of the photograph created a substantial risk of prejudicing any juror who saw that photograph against the defendant Ward.' Moses said: 'The criminal courts have been troubled by the dangers to the integrity and fairness of a criminal trial, where juries can obtain such easy access to the Internet and to other forms of instant communication. Once information is published on the Internet, it is difficult if not impossible completely to remove it. The courts, while trusting a jury to obey a prohibition on consulting the Internet, have been concerned to meet the problem. This case demonstrates the need to recognise that instant news requires instant and effective protection for the integrity of a criminal trial.' The judges will consider what penalties and costs orders to impose on the papers' publishers, Associated Newspapers and News Group Newspapers at a future date.

Former England cricketer Andrew Flintoff will join BBC Radio 5Live this summer for a new sports show, it has been announced. The live programme, titled Freddie's World Of Sport, will launch on 26 May and run throughout the summer to August, also hosted by 5 Live presenter Mark Chapman. Flintoff will appear on the station every Thursday between 8pm and 9pm to discuss the big stories and issues in the world of sport, as well as interview celebrity guests. Freddie's World Of Sport will also specifically cover a range of major sporting events, such as Wimbledon, the Open Golf and England's test series against India. Commenting on the new show, Flintoff said: 'I've always been a fan of sport on the radio and can't wait to get started on Freddie's World Of Sport. We'll be talking to the biggest names in sport and getting the inside track on what's happening across the summer's sporting action.' Radio 5Live deputy controller Jonathan Wall added: 'We think Andrew's a really exciting addition to the 5Live line-up. We love his enthusiasm for the new show and are delighted that he's chosen to start his live radio broadcasting career with 5Live.' After retiring from cricket following the 2009 Ashes series, Flintoff has been busy carving out a media career for himself, including recent TV series Freddie Flintoff Versus The World on ITV4.

Sir Paul McCartney's ex-wife Heather Mills is facing legal action from her former publicists, who allege she tried to fix Celebrity Apprentice to win the show. Bosses at publicity company Parapluie are suing the former model over unpaid fees totalling one hundred and twelve thousand pounds and in the explosive lawsuit they've accused her of lying and cheating. Mills' former representatives claim they lined her up for a stint on Donald Trump's US reality series in 2008, but she refused to accept the offer unless it was guaranteed she would be crowned the winner. Trump snubbed her demand and she was dropped from the line-up, according to Parapluie's lawsuit. The legal documents, obtained by TMZ.com, also allege Mills only gave a portion of her earnings from Dancing With The Stars to charity, despite her vow to donate all of the prize money to a good cause.

During his 'woah, little bit of politics, there' rants of the Eighties, Ben Elton would often passionately rail against the widespread pit closures instigated by Margaret Thatcher's government. Now, twenty five years on, it would seem that the one-time darling of the left is fighting a new battle over the future of coal mines – but this time he's campaigning against the industry. The comic is backing campaigners wanting to ban mining near his home in Western Australia. And, this weekend, he'll be taking part in a fundraiser to help the cause. Protester Ian Parmenter said that Elton's support will help the No Coalition campaign's fight against planned mines in the picturesque Margaret River area. 'He's really fired up about this as we all are,' Parmenter said. 'He's got a house down here, so obviously he's interested from a local perspective.' There you go, ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here first. Ben Elton is a NIMBY! 'Anyone like Ben Elton who's got an international reputation and image is obviously going to lend weight to what we're doing here,' Parmenter continued. Elton, who always vehemently denies claims that he has 'sold out' his principles, has long been an environmental campaigner. He even sparked a widely-reported spat with the local council after installing solar panels on his historic home near Perth without getting prior planning permission. However, his influence may have been overstated - his Australian show Live From Planet Earth has just been cancelled after just three of the planned six episodes due to disastrously poor ratings. My name's Keith Telly Topping. Goodnight.

Oh no, hang on, we've still got yer actual Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day to do. Time for a quick encore. In the 1980s, when back Ben Elton was still vaguely funny, the comic book author Alan Moore in an article for Sounds summed up what my old mate Ian Abrahams in his book Sonic Assassins described as 'that anarchic "anything or nothing"' which might come from your average Hawkwind gig. Moore saw the band on their Space Ritual tour in Wellingborough in early 1972: 'Bundles of joss-sticks were passed out. Copies of Frenz were passed out. Hepatitis sufferers in greatcoats were passed out. The Day-Glo Hawkwind insignia blazed in the ultra-violet light, bouncing semaphore flahses off the retina. Christ, I had one hell of a time!' And here, filmed at the Dunstable Civic Hall on 7 July 1972 (so they could avoid going on Top of the Pops and miming!) are Stacia, Lemmy, Dave Brock, Nik Turner, Dik-Mik, Del Dettmar, Simon King and, possibly hidden somewhere in the background, Bob Calvert. Light show by Liquid Len, design by Barney Bubbles. 'Hawkwind weren't the gentle sub-acid Moodies we were made out to be,' yer man Lem once noted. 'We were a black fucking nightmare. We wanted to make people's heads and sphincters explode!'

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