Thursday, March 17, 2011

This Is A Journey Into Sound

It had been, as India Fisher's well-husky voice over told us, 'an emotional journey to get this far,' for the final eight constestants on Masterchef. As if that wasn't enough, it was also veggie-burger week on the show this time around. Something that put a smile on veggie-mommy Jackie's face. A smile that then turned into a look like she'd just shat in her own pants when she discovered that her idol, Yotam Ottolenghi was about to walk through the door and give the contestants a few herbivorous recipes to try out. Tim and Alice were given the task of making poached stuffed onions skins and both managed quite nicely, despite Tim being told, bluntly, that his 'looked quite terrible!' In the mom's corner, Jackie and Annie did a sweetcorn polenta with Feta cheese. Yotam had clearly found himself a soul-mate, dubbing Jackie 'the polenta queen.' Tom and Kennedy produced the only dish that yer actual Keith Telly Topping would've even considered tasting, chili black pepper tofu with ginger. Tom's was great, Kennedy's a wee bit over generous on the pepper. 'You were having a war with those peppercorns and I think you lost!' Yotam told him to sniggering from Torode and Wallace further down the table. Meanwhile this blogger's two favourites left in the competition, Sara and the Gospel According to St James the Carpenter got lumbered with grilled vegetable halloumi salad dressed with basil oil. Next up was 'a major challenge.' In a park in Peckham Rye was Zippos Circus. The contestants were split into two teams. The first four had to make lunch for the riggers. Big, hunky, manly men (and, a couple of big hunky manly women) who put up tents for a living. And, they had to do it all with no meat in sight. Alice was the star of the show here with vegetarian spicy haggis parcels, a Scottish potato scone and whisky balls. St James the Carpenter did mushroom and truffle risotto with a Parmesan crisp. Kennedy produced wild mushroom and spinach tart with creamed leeks and Jackie's effort was vegetable dumplings in a spicy curry sauce. The latter proved to be something of a disaster and Jackie quickly went from polenta queen to drama queen, turning on a flood at the waterworks and twisting her face in a best dear-departed Polly-style. Meanwhile, the other four contestants were preparing dinner for the performers, including the legendary ringmaster Norman Barrett. 'I wouldn't want to face those clowns with an empty tray' warned Gregg. And, we can assume that for once he probably wasn't talking about himself and John! Sara's effort was a pepper bake with aubergines, Tom cooked a spiced pumpkin tart, Mad Tim went for a hugely ambitious tempura bento with loads of tricky little side dishes that seemed to go down really well and taught him one valuable lesson. No, you can't serve tempura batter cold, because it tastes horrible! Finally Annie, way out of her usual comfort zone suddenly produced a majestic trio of beetroot dishes (tart, soup and hummus) that had Gregg purring even if her opening line when delivering the dishes to the acrobats was 'like some beetroot?' Which, to be honest, sounded more in hope than expectation. With two of the eight scheduled to go out at this stage, for the final challenge Annie and Alice who'd impressed so much at the circus got a bye leaving Kennedy, St James the Carpenter, Sara, Tim, Tom and Jackie to compete for, in theory, just four places. Jackie got herself into another right old tizz, brought forth another display of blubbing and then, finally, got her shit together at the death to produce one of the two standout dishes, spicy aubergine curry with stuffed paratha. Now that, yer Keith Telly Topping could've easily eaten and licked the plate afterwards. 'Get in, Jackie' said a clearly relieved Gregg. Tim also sailed through with yer another bizarre dish that shouldn't have worked but somehow left John and Gregg virtually speechless as to how good it tasted. Sesame ricotta tagliatelle with black olives. Whilst Mr Tordoe was still shaking his head over that combination, St James the Carpenter did something virtually unique in the history of MasterChef, he split the judges over a pudding. That's not so remarkable, admittedly, until you discover that John loved it and Gregg thought it was a bit 'meh.' No, this blogger didn't believe it either! Mind you, the dish looked great to yer Keith Telly Topping, it must be said - a fig tart with sweet ricotta filling. Elsewhere there were issues for Sara who promised to have conquered the 'headless chicken syndrome' which had seen her unable to count to ten at the circus. Her butternut squash with caramelised oranges and potato crisps had the Top Gear look of 'ambitious but a bit rubbish' to it. Similarly Tom's chickpea and red lentil spice salad with tomato sauce produced some humming and harring. 'Since we've taken away his meat and fish he's looked lost,' noted Gregg. Alas, poor Kennedy had another 'mare, the Gorgonzola and tomato tart with basil oil vinaigrette being considered simply too basic for this stage of the competition. In the end, with Kennedy gone, John and Gregg decided that they couldn't decide who else to chuck out and so instead of the final six, the final eight became the final seven. The trial continues!

Matt Smith hopes his latest TV dramatic role will separate him from Doctor Who, albeit only temporarily. The twenty eight-year-old actor, who has shot to fame playing the Time Lord in the BBC1 family drama series says he wants his portrayal of a young gay man in Christopher And His Kind to show his diversity. He said: 'Hopefully people see me as actor who can adapt to different roles and I'm very grateful to Doctor Who for giving me the platform to do it - it's one of the favourable things about having a great role like that. But hopefully, watching this, you don't see the Doctor.' Matty added that playing Christopher Isherwood - a pioneer of open sexuality - in the new drama was difficult because he was aware he has to separate the character from the time-travelling Doctor. When asked if he found the role challenging, he replied: 'Challenging the perception that I can only be one thing, yes. I mean, I always want to do varied work that is challenging - this is a great story. I don't think it has any bearing on whether I'm straight or purple or Bognor Regis or whatever; you can be anything. The point is you pretend and make it all up. I'm just an actor playing a part.'

The ONE Show continued its recent, rather pointed 'anti-David Cameron vendetta' (at least, according to guest Frank Skinner), on Wednesday night's episode by airing an especially amusing clip about Cameron's perceived shallowness from the last series of Frank's Opinionated. And, good on them for that.

Everything James May touches these days seems to turn to gold. His subtle sense of humor, considerable technical knowledge and deadpan delivery make him one of the great presenters of our day. It turns out that May has been making another program on the BBC, a second series of Man Lab. And it's everything you might imagine, as he 'sets out to help modern man relearn some of the vital skills that are now in danger of being lost forever.' If you watched the first series you'll know that includes everyday stuff like defusing a bomb, making a rocket, dueling and building a pub. Now entering its second year, Man Lab now wants to involve you, dear blog reader. Or, more specifically, your inventions. Each week during the first series, the show featured an Invention of the Week, a motorized picnic table, a wasp-destroying helicopter airforce or a toilet paper empty alarm. All ground-breaking, critical inventions destined to save humankind from itself. But all of them invented by May and his team. So now it's the general public's turn. If you have an invention that you think can match one of these, send your 'videos, concept drawings, technical explanations, anything you've got,' to manlab@bbc.co.uk, marking your subject line with, 'I've come up with this.' And, make it a good one.

There's a very interesting little piece on one of the Gruniad blogs related to various gossip overheard at Tuesday night's Royal Television Society awards at London's Grosvenor House hotel. 'Word from top BBC executives at the RTS bash is that the talk of cuts is really just the suggestions of mid-ranking executives, without responsibility for the areas they are proposing to slash,' it suggests. 'Nor do they take into account director general Mark Thompson's reluctance to close down services, as he eyes up his legacy. Big economies, they suggested after a glass or two, are expected to come from different areas, such as hacking the cost of distribution on different broadcast platforms, especially cutting regional variations and regional opt-out programmes, and a massive restructure of the way BBC bureaucracy operates, especially within TV — where a replacement for BBC Vision boss Jana Bennett has yet to be announced.'

Ah, but wait. Also from the Gruniad on Wednesday, there are suggestions that 'The BBC could end up cutting up to a quarter of its workforce by 2016 in order to make the necessary savings following the six-year licence fee freeze.' More than one thousand job losses have already been announced – including six hundred and fifty at the World Service and three hundred and sixty from the BBC's online operation – and this figure is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. BBC executives are understood to accept that several thousand jobs will go as they draw up plans to meet director general Mark Thompson's target of a twenty per cent cut to the corporation's costs in the coming years. Some 'insiders', the paper claims, believe this figure could reach twenty five per cent of the existing workforce, although the BBC insists there is no specific plan to cut this number of staff. According to BBC internal figures, as of September 2010 about almost twenty two thousand full-time staff were employed by the corporation, including eighteen hundred at the commercial arm BBC Worldwide. BBC sources said no total jobs cuts figure could be given at this stage as a number of factors are still being worked out. For instance, the number of job cuts may be reduced if greater than expected savings are made in areas other than staff cost. The September 2010 BBC staff figure also excludes World Service employees. The BBC spent just over one billion pounds on salaries during the twelve months to the end of March 2010, out of a total licence fee income of £3.6bn. Caroline Thomson, the BBC chief operating officer, said: 'It is simply not true to say that the BBC is planning a twenty five per cent cut in its workforce. As we have said repeatedly, just because we are making twenty per cent savings does not mean we need to cut twenty per cent of jobs.' A BBC spokesman added that the savings being made will 'transform the BBC. Whilst we cannot speculate about job losses because it is far too early to say, there are many other ways of make savings and it will depend on what we can achieve in areas such as technology and finding better ways of working,' the spokesman added. 'That is why we are asking staff for their ideas and input now including how we become a simpler organisation, and how we can attract, retain and inspire the best people. We recognise that this is difficult for staff and will be providing as much support as is possible to those areas affected.' However, a BBC 'source' allegedly told the newspaper: 'The only way to make the savings is by cutting headcount. The BBC has made so many efficiencies, it is very lean already.' The issue of how big the BBC should be is being planned out as executives gear up for moving out of BBC Television Centre in west London. BBC children's, learning, sport, BBC Breakfast and parts of technology and Radio 5Live are moving to the BBC's new northern headquarters in Salford by next year, while BBC News is moving to the redeveloped Broadcasting House in central London. Remaining staff, such as BBC Vision employees, are due to be housed in buildings in White City just down the road from Television Centre, alongside BBC Worldwide. The iconic Television Centre is due to be emptied by about 2015-16 and sold, although the BBC is considering keeping a small presence there and renting some studios. Alongside the proposal to cut twenty five per cent of staff, there is a series of internal discussions about savings, under the banner Delivering Quality First. According to reports, one idea being mooted is to cut BBC2 daytime output and replace it with footage from the BBC News Channel. 'Those familiar with the situation' the Gruniad claim say that this could save between twelve and fifteen million pounds a year. One executive said: 'Politically it's a good statement and would not be terribly bad share-wise. It would also help prop up BBC1's Weakest Link, which is expensive and has been hit a bit by ITV's The Chase.' However, the outgoing BBC Trust chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, said last week at his farewell speech at the London School of Economics that cutting BBC2's daytime programming and filling it with news to save money is 'not the preferred option' and he thinks it 'unlikely' it will end up being put to the Trust. As the BBC considers the impact of the licence fee freeze, the picture for programme-makers at the coal face is already bleak in some areas. One BBC producer claimed efficiencies are so tight on the BBC4 series Time Shift that producers could not afford camera crews and are having to 'self-shoot' while researchers and assistant producers learn how to record sound. In addition, they are having to travel with kit on National Express coaches, rather than more expensive trains or cars and work very long hours. One - again, nameless - 'source' allegedly said: 'Although the health and safety policy and risk assessment will dictate a day no longer than fourteen hours, this isn't always adhered to because there just isn't money for hotels. People will say that they're fine and that it's going well, to save face with the executives, when behind the scenes the staff are incredibly stressed and getting more so by the day.' The 'insider' also alleges that staff feel pushed and are 'too exhausted and stressed to follow health and safety procedures. These schedules don't work, they don't encourage a creative atmosphere but they do create stressed staff.' Another producer reportedly said that in their division contracts of around one or three months were increasingly 'the norm' as the BBC tries to save money but said it is leading to job insecurity and lack of loyalty.

Meanwhile, there's a quite hilarious example of yer daily dose of BBC bashing from the Sun this week: To sum up then, according to the Sun, the BBC should not be spending money on the following (and, thanks to yer Keith Telly Topping's close friends on Gallifrey Base's General UKTV News thread for these): A subsidised workplace canteen (bring your own sarnies instead), water coolers (water coolers are fine for other businesses, but if you're paid with 'public money' then you clearly have to drink tap water, that's the rules), flowers in reception, food or drink in meetings, any sort of bank account, adverts highlighting its programmes and services, biscuits, consultants, executives or advisors, Christmas decorations, legal advice, travel allowances or expenses for employees. Because, as we all know, and accept under the sick jackboot on Oberstgruppenführer Murdoch's new benevolent dictatorship of the proles, the BBC is an obligated, abased and grovelling slave to the nation and not an everyday workplace for over twenty thousands well-meaning and hard-working people. It's a wonder they're not complaining about the cost of the toilet rolls in the BBC lavatories. This, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with the BBC exposing that News International are a bunch of crooked lice who hire other crooks to do illegal acts for them in Panorama earlier this week. Perish the very thought.

Whether you're an industry leader or a rising start-up star looking for career inspiration, Stephen Fry's Big Digital Day is the premier event to engage, entertain and inspire you. 'Representing the diversity and enterprise of the UK digital sector and what it offers the entire economy,' the Big Digital Day, hosted by Mr Fry himself in London on 4 April, matches hi-tech with hi-entertainment – bringing together industry luminaries with networking opportunities, discussion and entertainment. It will, according to pre-publicity, shine a spotlight on the best and brightest of the UK digital industry, finding the next generation of world-beating ideas and celebrating the UK's entrepreneurial spirit. Announcing the key speaker line-up and 'The Great Pitch Up' competition, Stephen said: 'I'm really delighted that such a fascinating mixture of movers, shakers, innovators, achievers and thinkers have agreed to participate.' A roster of industry stars will be speaking; alongside Stephen is TV physicist Brian Cox, Ben Hammersley (from Wired UK), the genius behind the web phenomenon Moshi Monsters Michael Smith of Mind Candy, Bindi Karia (from Microsoft Biz Spark), Rewired State's Emma Mulqueeny and Sue Black (of Bletchley Park) with further big names to be announced on the website http://www.bigdigitalday.com/ The major keynote speakers will flank the centerpiece event of the Big Digital Day - 'The Great Pitch Up.' This is an open competition to uncover the best of digital Britain's ideas. To register your interest, and make your initial pitch applicants should register at www.bigdigitalday.com/contact/ Big Digital Day producer Andrew Sampson describes the line-up of speakers as 'representing the diversity and enterprise of the UK digital sector and what it offers the entire economy.' It's not all work and no play, however. Alongside seminar and networking opportunities throughout the day, there will be live music and other entertainment.

Jonathan Ross, Simon Pegg, Chris Moyles, Snoop Dogg – the list of celebrities who openly express their love for computer gaming is consistently growing. But aside from Charlie Brooker gamers have, for years, been desperately short of respected TV faces with the capacity and enthusiasm to intelligently tackle gaming's critics. Fortunately, Dara O'Briain can now be added to that list. 'The depressing thing about the constant media debate that the games industry is in – whether that's violence, addiction or demotivation from games – is that [gaming's opponents] take people from the very extreme of the bell-curve who are just going to react badly to anything that's put in front of them – box-sets, dope, whatever. And then they spoil the fun for the rest of us,' O'Briain told CVG in an interview recently. 'At some point, you've got to call a halt to it. There's a philosophical element to it: Yeah, I'm sorry, just because one guy made an idiotic decision doesn't mean the rest of us will. Kids just occasionally will fall out of trees and hurt themselves really badly. It doesn't mean you stop your child climbing trees. We're enjoying [games] quite responsibly. It's sad, isn't it? It's just sad. But the tone [in the media] should be "It's awful when that happens in a pastime we all enormously enjoy and can handle just fine."'

Julie Walters has been cast in Peter Morgan's new ITV drama series The Jury. Walters will play Emma Watts, a defence barrister who is fighting for Alan Lane (John Lynch), a man convicted of murdering three women he met on the Internet. The Thick of It's Roger Allam will play the prosecution barrister John Mallory. The drama's focus is on the everyday people in the jury, who are caught up in a high profile trial which forces them to face up to the problems in their own lives. Aqib Khan, Natalie Press, Steven Mackintosh, Jodhi May and Ronald Pickup will appear as some of the jurors. ITV Drama's Laura Mackie said: 'Peter Morgan's original series in 2002 was a hugely popular state of the nation drama so we were delighted when he came up with a brand new, equally compelling case. Peter is one of the best writers in the country so we are delighted to have his work back on ITV.'

Jack Dee is set to host a new comedy panel show for Sky1. The bone-dry stand-up comedian will record a pilot episode of Us Vs Them next week, in which a team of public figures will be pitched against a team of comedians. There is also a twist in which the audience will decide who is on the side of the people, and who is 'Them.' The pilot is being recorded at Teddington Studios in Middlesex.

The creators of The Inbetweeners are reportedly working on a new sitcom based on the life of Dizzee Rascal, innit? According to the Sun, the rapper has held meetings with Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, who are keen to make the show about his rise to success. The paper claims that the twenty five-year-old wants to be involved in the show and could appear in the programme. 'Damon and Iain like the idea of making a funny show about a rapper,' a 'source' allegedly told the paper. 'Urban artists are usually portrayed in negative or bleak circumstances but they want to do something different. Dizzee is a big personality with loads of charisma and the writers think he would be the ideal subject for the show.' On whether or not he could star in the show, the 'insider' supposedly said: 'It's just a question of whether or not he has the acting ability to pull it off.'

February was another very strong month for BBC iPlayer, with average daily requests across the month setting a new record. Because the month had twenty eight days compared with January's thirty one days, the total request number - one hundred and forty eight million requests for TV and radio programmes including both online platforms and devices, and BBC iPlayer on Virgin Media TV – was correspondingly lower (January's total was one hundred and sixty two million). Top Gear was once again the most popular TV programme for the month, but the rest of the Top Twenty showed a wide range of genres from factual - Human Planet, Madagascar to children's - Tracy Beaker, comedy - Come Fly With Me, How TV Ruined Your Life, Episodes and drama - Hustle, Outcasts, Being Human.

Philip Seymour Hoffman has reportedly started developing a new drama for HBO. Deadline says that Upstate focuses on Roy Perkins, a man who has recently lost his job. Roy moves his family to the countryside so that he can become a correctional officer at a new private prison. Hoffman is best known for his film work and has previously starred in movies such as The Big Lebowski, Almost Famous, The Talented Mr Ripley and Cold Mountain.

Posters advertising Mad Frankie Boyle's Channel Four show have been cleared of promoting violence and drug abuse. The Tramadol Nights billboard campaign was accused of being 'offensive and irresponsible' because it featured cartoonish images of fuzzy-felt animals brutally attacking each other. They showed a badger firing a machine gun, two rabbits attacking each other with hypodermic needles and another who had been stabbed with knives, as well as a rodent holding a chainsaw and pools of blood. Thirteen people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, stating the use of fuzzy-felt was likely to appeal to younger children, that the images could cause distress, and that it could encourage the use of recreational drugs. In response, Channel Four said that the campaign for the 'famously challenging' comic was designed to be 'comedic and surreal' rather than a realistic depiction of violent or criminal behaviour, and there was nothing in the advert to suggest that this behaviour was encouraged. The broadcaster added that any child seeing the poster would not understand the adult themes, and the post-watershed nature of the programme was clearly signalled by the inclusion of the transmission time and by the use of the word 'night' in the title. However, the watchdog said that children would have seen such untargeted adverts as billboards, and been attracted by the 'brightly coloured fuzzy felt animals.' But they have this week ruled that that the images were 'so stylised and fantasy-like' that most children would not perceive them as reflecting reality, and so were unlikely to cause any harm or distress. They added: 'While we acknowledge that the juxtaposition of the fuzzy-felt characters and the violent imagery might make some consumers feel uncomfortable, we considered that most would interpret the sharp contrasts to be absurd and surreal. We concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.'

Sky is reportedly ready to deliver its new targeted live advertising system, but is delaying the launch due to a possible backlash from consumers. The satellite broadcaster's new AdSmart system is able to deliver targeted adverts during live broadcasts to homes based on their subscription package, location and other criteria. According to a report in Marketing Week, sources indicate that AdSmart is ready to roll out, but Sky is holding back on the launch due to fears about potential criticism over privacy concerns. Current data protection law restricts the level of targeting Sky can use within advertising, but that has not stopped targeted adverts from being a contentious subject. In July 2009, BT and TalkTalk dropped plans to roll out the controversial targeted advertising technology developed by Phorm, although both firms stressed that privacy concerns were not a factor in the decision. Virgin Media has also tentatively explored various options for targeted advertising on its video on-demand platform, including initial talks with Phorm. Last year, Sky agreed a deal with Experian for the firm to oversee its customer insight activity, including the AdSmart system. It is understood that AdSmart matches adverts by using data from a panel of viewers covering a broad range of demographic factors, including age, sex, subscription package and location. Matched adverts are then allocated to households via unique identifier numbers in Sky+ HD set top boxes. Sources claim that the system is ready to go, but Sky has denied that a launch is imminent. Jeremy Tester, director of brand strategy and communications at Sky Media, said that the software inside Sky+ HD boxes is not yet ready for AdSmart. 'There is middleware inside the set top box that is not yet ready to deliver live targeted ads,' he told Marketing Week. 'We do plan to test systems towards the end of 2012, taking it to market in 2013.' Tester did admit that AdSmart was already in operation on the Sky Anytime video on-demand service. He also feels that there is an around eighty million pounds market in local and regional advertising spend that Sky could tap into when the live adverts system launches.

BBC Worldwide has announced plans to simulcast BBC1's coverage of the royal wedding next month on its channels around the world. So, there's absolutely no escaping from it even if you decide to go off on holiday to miss the nation being whipped into an erotic and sick frenzy of patriotic chimney whacking. On 29 April, the marriage of Prince William Toby-Jug Rex and Kate Middleton will be aired live on the BBC Entertainment channel across Asia, India, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. So, I suppose, you could try Libya, you'll probably be able to avoid it there. The coverage will also be broadcast on the BBC Knowledge channel in Africa as part of the corporation's mission to become 'the home of the British royal wedding.' Jana Bennett, president of BBC Worldwide Networks and Global iPlayer, said: 'The royal wedding provides a special opportunity to bring together our local channels around the world for a truly global viewing event. William and Catherine's big day has captured the imagination of audiences around the world and I am proud that, for the first time, millions of BBC Entertainment and BBC Knowledge viewers in Africa, Asia, India, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe can join together to watch the day unfold.' BBC newsreader Huw Edwards will anchor the BBC's coverage of the royal wedding, backed up by a team of presenters as the day unfolds. In the run up to 29 April, Worldwide will also broadcast a host of royal documentaries on BBC Knowledge, including a retrospective of past royal unions and the story of Prince William and Kate Middleton's relationship so far.

And, finally, some more bad news I'm afraid dear blog reader. Today, Coleen Nolan has confirmed that she in not quitting TV. Sorry.

For the latest batch of yer actual Keith Telly Topping's 45(s) of the Day ... well, y'see, yer actual Keith Telly Topping has always had this dance element to his music! Well, from about 1988 to 1990 he did. Starting with seven minutes of madness. 'When all is ready, I throw this switch!' 'Def with the record.' And from that, to a record which sampled it to buggery. 'Put the neddle on the record when the durm beats go like this!'As, indeed, did this one. Meanwhile, something very odd was happening in student discos across the land. Indie kids were shedding their My Bloody Valentine LPs and discovering their inner rave. 'Enjoy this trip. And it is a trip.' And, indeed, rokin' da house. Surprisingly, some of these dance records actually had a message. This one's message being 'police, stay off my back/or I will attack, and you don't want that.' Whilst this one's message was more a sort of 'and that what's happenin'!And this one said, basically, 'dig!' Tell 'em all about it, Bootsie.

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