Wednesday, March 23, 2011

You're Coming On Strong & I Like The Way The Visions We've Had Have Faded Away

Both House and Hawaii Five-0 premiered new episodes in the US this week. The former - Fall From Grace - started off as a rather amusing little conceit about House falling in utter lust with Dominika, a woman of non-specific generic eastern block background who wants to marry him to acquire a green card, a scheme that House is keen to play along with for financial and sexual gain and because it'll punish Cuddy. There was also a somewhat less involving subplot about a homeless man with a history of drug abuse being admitted to Princeton Plainsboro with burns and mysterious scars on his chest. And, another little side-plot concerning Cuddy herself revealing her guilt to Wilson about breaking up with House a couple of episodes back. It was all reasonably fun stuff, particularly the Russian Bride (climaxing in a wedding scene that was, actually, almost in spite of itself, really genuinely touching). It had some great dialogue too, particularly in the Masters and Chase exchange concerning House's wild living: 'He already jumped off of a hotel balcony. Who knows what he'll do next?' 'Ride some kind of prostitute chariot to work?!' And then, in the final scene, it all got really weird, via a quite stunningly unexpected bit of dramatic deconstruction, totally out of left field, that just screams out for a sequel. Meanwhile, over in the fiftieth state of the union, McGarrett and co were, seemingly, having some fun too. In an episode - Ne Me'e Laua Na Paio - that began with Hawaii Five-0 treading similar contextual waters in which both CSI and Bones have swum previously, and featuring a comic convention as the backdrop to a murder. But, of course, it wasn't that simple and, several shifts of focus later, we had a low level CIA analyst with a fixation on Wo Fat, an unsolved murder and a series of seemingly unconnected robberies mixed into the malarkey. It managed to avoid going up its arse at least twice (mainly thanks, as ever, to Scott Caan's pure sarky one-liners keeping the whole thing just the right side of parody) and, again, the final scene sets up a whole new ocean boulevard of potential plot strands to follow.

It is not the fate you might expect of the star of arguably the most popular TV show in the world, but Hugh Laurie has work up one mornin' to find that he's got dem blues. Laurie, fifty one, is the - as nobody will stop reminding you in print - highest paid actor on US television for his role as the eponymous Gregory House in the FOX medical drama. But to prepare for the release of his debut CD as a recording artist, he was due to appear in a small New Orleans venue earlier this week for his first ever gig, with a crack (if you will) house band behind him – featuring the likes of local legend Allen Toussaint. Guests in the specially invited audience included his old mucker Stephen Fry. Laurie confesses that he is a lifelong fan of the blues, ever since hearing 'I Can't Quit You Baby' by Willie Dixon as a child. 'I'm embarrassed to say I don't recall where I was when I heard that John Lennon had been assassinated,' he said recently. 'But I do remember where I was when I heard Muddy Waters had died. I was driving down the A1 from Lincolnshire and had this awful, selfish reaction: "Now I'll never get to see him play live."' To satisfy his musical ambitions, Laurie recorded a CD at Ocean Way studios in Santa Monica in September 2010, covering such blues standards as 'St James Infirmary.' An impressive array of guests appear on the record, Let Them Talk, including pianist Dr John the Night Tripper, blues singer Irma Thomas and Sir Tom Jones. Laurie sings lead vocals and plays piano and guitar. 'In my imagination New Orleans just straight hummed with music, romance, joy, despair,' Hugh told the Gruniad. 'Its rhythms got into my gawky English frame and, at times, made me so happy and sad, I just didn't know what to do with myself. I love this music as authentically as I know how.' The producer of the record, singer-songwriter Joe Henry, said: 'I'm sincere when I say I think people will be stunned, not just at how much time he's devoted to his musical life but how interesting his take on the music is.' Laurie has previously played guitar and piano in several episodes of House - and before that, his comedy songs like the memorable 'Mystery' were a regular feature of A Bit of Fry and Laurie - and he guested as a pianist on Meat Loaf's 2010 CD Hang Cool Teddy Bear. But, we'll forgive him for that. He also appeared in the music videos for the Kate Bush single 'Experiment IV' in 1986 and the 1992 single 'Walking on Broken Glass' by bloody Annie Lennox. Anticipating criticism of his new career, Laurie added in a statement to accompany the release of Let Them Talk: 'I was not born in Alabama in the 1890s. I've never eaten grits, cropped a share, or ridden a boxcar. I am a white, middle-class Englishman, openly trespassing on the music and myth of the American south. If that weren't bad enough, I'm also an actor: one of those pampered ninnies who can't find his way through an airport without a babysitter.' Now, if you can write a blues song about that, Hugh, I'll be impressed!

Neil Gaiman has revealed that he is 'pleased' with the final version of his forthcoming Doctor Who episode. The Sandman author's contribution, which will be broadcast fourth in the show's next run, will feature Suranne Jones and Michael Sheen in guest roles. In a post on his official blog, Gaiman wrote: 'I just saw the finished version of my Doctor Who episode. I was happy. There were moments and even scenes I missed, but that's always the way.' He also praised the production values of the instalment, which was originally delayed for budgetary reasons. 'Mostly I was just impressed by the performances, direction and music,' he said. 'And [the] effects. They spent money on this one and it shows.'

Richard Curtis has apologised for any offence caused by Lenny Henry's Comic Relief opening sketch. It was previously reported that more than one hundred viewers - who didn't have anything better to do with their time, seemingly - complained to the BBC about the spoof, which saw Henry mocking a sequence in the Oscar-winning film The King's Speech. The British Stammering Association branded the clip, during which Henry grew increasingly impatient with King George VI's inability to begin a speech, 'deplorable,' and alleged that it could cause bullying. Speaking on Radio 5Live, Curtis explained: 'Comic Relief does spend money on bullying, and I'm sure that we were just thinking about the huge fame of that film and the immediacy of it. I would never want to give that impression (of bullying), and if we did I am sorry about that.' The fifty four-year-old added: 'It was meant to be a big joke about a very famous film rather than anything to do with stammering and offence.' Which, to be perfectly fair, anybody who isn't a crass serial whinger would've probably realised from the off. So why on Earth Richard felt the need to apologise in the first place is, frankly, beyond this blogger. If you look to be offended by everything, sooner or later you'll probably find something, dear blog reader. And again, can we just marvel at the utter juvenile crap that some people chose to care about.

Meanwhile, speaking of whinging, the BBC has responded to further complaints from viewers who felt that a ten-minute EastEnders special focusing on Whitney Dean should not have been shown during Red Nose Day. Because, of course, there's nothing more that viewers enjoy that having their licence fee wasted on having to pay somebody to answer bollocks like this. The mini-episode, broadcast during the Comic Relief telethon, continued Whitney's sexual exploitation plot and saw the vulnerable teenager, played by Shona McGarty, escape the clutches of Rob (played by Jody Latham). However, confirming that some viewers thought that the material had been 'inappropriate for a family audience,' the BBC acknowledged that it was a 'challenging storyline,' but insisted that it was 'in line with the show's long tradition of tackling difficult social issues.' 'The EastEnders audience would have been aware of the dark situation Whitney was getting into. In the preceding episodes viewers saw Whitney feeling increasingly unwanted and unloved, with her brother and her step-mother absent, her life was taking a downward spiral,' the official response stated. 'Alone and unhappy, she fell for the charms of an unscrupulous man, Rob, who began to manipulate her and ultimately exploit her sexually for his own financial gain. We have been working with experts and charities funded by Comic Relief in order to research this story - which explores a growing problem facing many young women in the UK today - and to ensure it was told accurately and sensitively.' The corporation reiterated that the hard-hitting plot had been researched thoroughly and that a number of charities had been approached, who confirmed that they 'are hearing stories like Whitney's more and more often.' The statement continued: 'It was a natural progression of Whitney's story thus far and we felt it was an important story to tell, and hopefully to raise awareness of amongst our audience. In doing so, we believe it was right to show the - albeit unpleasant - reality of the situation faced by these girls, rather than put a gloss on it. In the episode Whitney is seen to escape and to raise the alarm - we did not leave the audience on a cliffhanger. The menace and danger Whitney is in whilst clear is implied rather than graphic or sensationalised and is in keeping with the audience expectations of how EastEnders would tackle a tough story in a pre-watershed manner and indeed how Whitney's story has evolved over the last few years.' Directly commenting on the episode's scheduling during the telethon, the BBC said: 'We are conscious that Red Nose Day programming includes many different tones and themes, ranging from light comedy sketches to difficult and emotional appeal films, all of which played out around the time the EastEnders episode was scheduled to transmit.' It continued to add that presenter Davina McCall had highlighted that Whitney appeared in 'real trouble' and that the 'tone and content' of the episode was 'clearly sign-posted to viewers. We hope that the majority of the audience would have heard the first extended warning and that the serious tone of the introduction, though truncated, pointed to the fact that the upcoming film was a gear change. It was further put into context by the presenters at the end of the piece, when they talked about the Comic Relief-funded charities working to help girls like Whitney,' the statement concluded. Comic Relief's head of UK grants Gilly Green previously praised the Albert Square soap for 'profiling this issue.'

A new documentary series featuring acid-attack survivor Katie Piper opened with a more than respectable 1.7m on Tuesday evening, whist the BBC's legal drama Silk again proved popular, overnight audience data suggests. Katie: My Beautiful Friends, following Piper as she attempted to help other people suffering with disfigurement, averaged 1.72m for Channel Four from 9pm with a further three hundred and fifty seven thousand viewers on C4+1. Also in the 9pm hour, Silk continued with 4.87m on BBC1, easily outperforming Caroline Quentin: A Passage Through India, which had a meagre 2.52m on ITV and one hundred and forty four thousand on timeshift. Earlier, Grimefighters was watched by 2.93m on ITV from 7.30pm. BBC1's Holby City had an audience of 5.79m in the 8pm hour, beating Lion Country's 2.4m on ITV1 and one hundred and nine thousand on ITV+1.

Simon Cowell has confirmed that Cheryl Cole could still be in line for a role on The X Factor USA judges' panel. The music mogul made the revelation during a Twitter chat on the official feed for the show, following a question from a Cheryl Cole fan account. Someone using the name @CherylColeUSA asked: '@TheXFactorUSA The million dollar question: Will Cheryl Cole be a judge? We want Cheryl! #AskSimon [sic]' Cowell responded: '@CherylColeUSA Cheryl is in the mix, talking to the network this week, hope to announce the two remaining judges very shortly.' Oh, who the hell cares?

Brian True-May will step down as Midsomer Murders producer at the end of the current series, according to reports. True-May was suspended from the show last week pending an investigation into idiotic comments he made over the show's lack of ethnic minorities. Production company All3Media, which makes the ITV crime drama, released a short statement on Tuesday confirming that the showrunner had been reinstated after its investigation concluded. The statement added: 'Brian apologises if his remarks gave unintended offence to any viewers.' The Mirra claims that the sixty one-year-old had already hinted that he would retire before his suspension and the subsequent investigation into the comments. The paper quotes a representative from ITV as saying: 'We welcome the apology and understand [True-May] will step down from his role on Midsomer Murders at the end of the current production run.' Last week writer Anthony Horowitz said that he thought the producer's comments were 'clearly inappropriate,' but that there is no 'Little England mentality' on the show. True-May had initially come out fighting after his comments were reported, telling his new best friends at the Daily Scum Mail that he felt he had been 'treated like a criminal.'

Blue Peter has announced plans to become the first mainstream TV programme in the UK to present a show online in three hundred and sixty degrees later this month. On 29 March, viewers will be able to watch the children's factual programme in three hundred and sixty degrees on the Blue Peter website, enabling them to fully rotate the view to watch whatever they want. The Blue Peter team want to give viewers the opportunity to see how a working television studio operates, including what goes on behind the cameras. There will also be an online game available involving tracking down particular crew members. Next Tuesday's Blue Peter, presented by Andy Akinwolere, Barney Harwood and Helen Skelton, will also feature a world speed-skipping record attempt and a performance by extreme skipping troupe Circolombia. Tim Levell, the editor of Blue Peter, said: 'Children are now very familiar with 3D, so we're going to give them a whole new technology experience: television in three hundred and sixty degrees. They'll get to see every nook and cranny of our famous studio. If only the technology had been around when Lulu the elephant appeared on the show in 1969!' Yes. The shit would've gone everywhere. The three hundred and sixty degree filming is being handled by specialist firm YellowBird, which will shoot the programme with a dedicated unit housing six cameras, five looking outwards in the horizontal plane and one looking upwards. Yellowbird's technology then stitches the different images together to create the view.

Richard Desmond's Daily Express has emerged as a cheerleader for the proposal that the BBC axe its overnight programming. The money-saving move would, of course, drive late-night viewers to commercial rivals – Desmond's Channel Five among them – and would also please Express-reading monarchists. Wednesday's leader explains: 'Traditionalists would be even more delighted were Mr Thompson to announce a midnight shutdown marked by the playing of the national anthem.' Not quite as delighted as the soft core porn producers at Desmond Tower, one imagines.

EastEnders' live twenty fifth anniversary episode cost almost seven hundred thousand pounds to produce, it has been revealed. And, got an audience of sixteen million viewers so most people would probably regard that as money well spent. Not the Daily Scum Mail, of course but then, nobody's much interested in what those glakes have to say. About anything. The National Office of Statistics has released figures detailing the BBC's costs for its soap output, which includes EastEnders, Casualty, Holby City and Doctors. Despite originally being approved to spend an additional five hundred thousand smackers on the landmark EastEnders show, which saw Bradley Branning fall to his death and his wife Stacey confessing to Archie Mitchell's murder, the live programme overspent by forty per cent, resulting in a final total of six hundred and ninety six thousand quid. As well as revealing the Walford-based soap's celebration spending, the data shows that the corporation's cast spending for EastEnders will reach £6.9 million this year. The BBC's total funding for continuing drama throughout the UK cost a total of £102.5 million for 2009-2010. Commenting on the report, BBC1 controller Danny Cohen said: 'Continuing drama on BBC1 delivers high-quality British programmes that reach huge and appreciative audiences. Today's NAO report shows costs have dropped by twenty per cent but at the same time, audience appreciation has risen considerably. On this basis, it provides excellent value for money for licence fee payers across the UK.'

Charlie Sheen reportedly stands 'no chance' of getting his job on Two and a Half Men back. The Internet was flooded with reports earlier this week that the actor, who was fired from the CBS comedy earlier this month, could be re-hired by the show. NBC News's Jeff Rossen tweeted that the broadcaster was 'happy' to have Sheen back and had offered him a return. However, TMZ has claimed that this story is 'simply bogus,' citing sources connected to the show who claim that any decision on whether to reinstate the forty five-year-old lies with Warner Bros. and not CBS. The site states that the programme's executive producer Chuck Lorre has held meetings about Two and a Half Men's future and the possible recasting of Sheen's role. Sheen has reportedly filed a one hundred million dollar lawsuit against Warner Bros. and Lorre himself. The actor, whose new tour My Violent Torpedo Of Truth/Defeat Is Not An Option sold out in record time, recently celebrated acquiring his three millionth follower on Twitter.

David Walliams is being lined up to host a new gossip-based panel show for Sky 1. The Little Britain star – who recently competed a twenty four-hour panel show marathon for Comic Relief – is fronting a pilot episode of David Walliams' Wall Of Fame, to be recorded next week. The programme features two teams of six, and a prominent video screen of celebrity faces around which the games will be based. Sky is bidding to expand its roster of panel shows following the success of James Corden's utterly shite sports-based quiz A League Of Their Own. Jack Dee is also said to be developing a current affairs panel show for possible broadcast on the channel.

Christopher Eccleston and Tamsin Greig are to star in a play to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the King James Bible, to be staged in Westminster Abbey. Ralf Little and Sharon Small are also in the cast for In the Beginning, which takes place on Thursday of this week. Actors will lead audience members around the building where scholars met in 1611 to finalise its translation. The work, written by Nick Payne and produced by London's Bush theatre, contains extracts from the Bible. Billed as a celebration of the Abbey and the King James Bible, the event will see small groups taken into areas of the London landmark that are rarely seen by visitors. The play touches on some of the lesser-known facts about the building, such as poet Ben Johnson being buried there upright because he could only afford a tiny plot. Payne, whose play If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet was staged at the Bush in 2009, had his comedy Wanderlust staged at the Royal Court last year. Other cultural events to mark the King James Bible's anniversary include actors from the Shakespeare's Globe theatre reading out the work from cover to cover.

A movie has been made on the international space station which tries to show what Yuri Gagarin might have seen on his historic flight around the Earth in 1961. FirstOrbit is being released as a free Internet download to celebrate the Russian cosmonaut's achievement fifty years on. No film exists showing what Gagarin actually saw through the viewports of his Vostok capsule; there is only an audio recording of his observations. This has now been matched to high-definition video shot from the station. 'When you combine these pictures of what he was genuinely able to see with the excitement and tingle in his voice, it's quite amazing,' film director and space historian Chris Riley told BBC News. Yuri Gagarin became the first human to venture above the Earth's atmosphere when he blasted off from the Tyuratam missile range (now Baikonur Cosmodrome) in Kazakhstan at 06:07 GMT on 12 April 1961. His one hundred and eight-minute journey around the globe took him across the Soviet republics, the Pacific Ocean, over the Straits of Magellan in South America, above the Atlantic and across Africa before re-entry and a bailout back to the ground near the city of Engels in south-west Russia. The view down to Earth along this same path has now been filmed from the International Space Station. The pictures recorded from the orbiting platform cannot be a perfect match for Gagarin's view. For one thing, the cosmonaut flew a path that took him closer to the poles than is possible on the ISS. The precise cloud formations fifty years ago also can never be exactly recreated. But the team behind the movie project hopes that the sequence will nevertheless give viewers something of the sensation Gagarin must have experienced as he created history. Organising the filming onboard the busy space lab was not straightforward, said Riley. 'My stipulation was that we had to film it at the same time of day that Gagarin had seen it, to get the Sun angles right,' he explained. 'Those chances only happen every six weeks.' The director of photography on the project was Paolo Nespoli, the European Space Agency astronaut currently living aboard the station. For FirstOrbit, he set up a camera in the station's Cupola, a sort of viewing turret on the underside of the platform. The Cupola has seven windows, including one that is eighty cm in diameter and faces directly down to Earth. Nespoli and his astronaut colleagues on the platform ran the camera whenever the station passed over portions of the Earth's surface that Gagarin saw. This video was then stitched together with Gagarin's capsule recording and a music soundtrack from the composer Philip Sheppard. Interwoven also are news reports from Radio Moscow, Tass and the BBC. The movie will be premiered on YouTube on this year's fiftieth anniversary and then will be available for free download. 'Right from the very beginning, our thought was to make it and then give it away,' said Riley. 'Once it became clear we were making this film for all mankind to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Gagarin's flight, everyone just threw their weight behind it without any payment.'

Marianne Faithfull has been awarded one of France's highest cultural honours at a Paris ceremony. The sixty four-year-old singer was made Commander of the Arts and Letters by Frederic Mitterrand, the French Minister of Culture and Communication. The British performer, who now lives in Paris and Ireland, said she was 'very grateful to be so honoured.' The award recognises figures who have contributed to the 'enrichment of the French cultural inheritance.' 'Since I started coming to Paris in 1964, the French have welcomed me and been very loving,' Faithfull said. The singer, who had her first hit the same year, recently released her twenty third CD Horses & High Heels. She is currently in the middle of a European tour and will perform three dates in the UK in May. Previous recipients of the French honour have included Sir Michael Caine, Stevie Wonder, Sir Roger Moore and Dennis Hopper. Ironic, isn't it dear blog reader? In France they have a ministry of culture that actually celebrates it. Over here, we get the vile and odious rascal Hunt who wanted to smash the greatest cultural prize this country has, the BBC. No justice.

Grammy award winning blues pianist Pinetop Perkins has died at the age of ninety seven, his manager has announced. Perkins, who died at his home in Austin, became the oldest-ever Grammy winner only last month winning for best traditional blues album. His agent Hugh Southard said he died of cardiac arrest after waking up with chest pains on Monday. In a career spanning eight decades, Perkins toured with Ike Turner in the 1950s and later with Muddy Waters. Perkins also won Grammy awards for Lifetime Achievement in 2005 and for Best Traditional Blues Album in 2007. Despite his age, he played regularly at blues clubs in the Austin area. His agent told the Associated Press news agency he had more than twenty performances booked this year. 'He is the blues, he is the epitome of it,' Southard said. 'He lived it, breathed it.' Once asked about his longevity, Perkins said: 'I always try to do something different all the time.' Another blues legend, BB King, said: 'He was one of the last great Mississippi Bluesmen, and he sure could play the piano. He will be missed not only by me, but by lovers of music all over the world.' His agent said that his tastes were simple. 'Two cheeseburgers, apple pie, a cigarette and a pretty girl was all he wanted,' Southard said.

Elizabeth Taylor has died at the age of seventy nine. The actress died of congestive heart failure in the early hours of Wednesday morning. She had been ill for some time. Taylor's publicist Sally Morrison said in a statement: 'She was surrounded by her children - Michael Wilding, Christopher Wilding, Liza Todd and Maria Burton.' Her son, Michael, added: 'My mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humour and love. Though her loss is devastating to those of us who held her so close and so dear, we will always be inspired by her enduring contribution to our world.' He continued: 'Her remarkable body of work in film, her ongoing success as a businesswoman, and her brave and relentless advocacy in the fight against HIV/AIDS, all make us all incredibly proud of what she accomplished. We know, quite simply, that the world is a better place for mum having lived in it. Her legacy will never fade, her spirit will always be with us, and her love will live forever in our hearts.' Taylor had been admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles in January for her heart condition. Her health was reported to have been improving last month. Elizabeth Taylor is considered one of the last, if not the last major star, to have come out of the old Hollywood studio system. In her prime, she was arguably one of the world's greatest actresses and certainly one of the most beautiful women on the planet. Her colourful private life - eight marriages - screen success and AIDS charity work ensured that she was never far from the spotlight since finding fame at the age of twelve. With her timeless beauty, on-screen dramas and off-screen theatrics, Elizabeth Taylor was the epitome of Hollywood excess. Her glamour made her the most highly paid actress of her day and for a long time the most publicised. Her film career lasted for more than half a century but her private life was more complicated than any movie scriptwriter could possibly dream up, and her romances kept her in the headlines. Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born in Hampstead in 1932 the second child of Francis Lenn Taylor (1897–1968) and Sara Viola Warmbrodt (1895–1994), who were Americans residing in England. Her parents were originally from Arkansas City, her father was an art dealer and her mother a former actress whose stage name was Sara Sothern. At the age of three, Taylor began taking ballet lessons with Vaccani. Shortly before the beginning of World War II, her parents decided to return to the United States to avoid hostilities. They settled in Los Angeles where Sara's family, the Warmbrodts, were then living. Through Hedda Hopper, the Taylors were introduced to Andrea Berens, a wealthy English socialite and also fiancée of Cheever Cowden, chairman and major stockholder of Universal Pictures in Hollywood. Berens insisted that Sara bring Elizabeth to see Cowden who, she was adamant, would be dazzled by Elizabeth's breathtaking dark beauty. In September 1941, Universal signed the nine year old Elizabeth to a six-month renewable contract at one hundred dollars a week. Taylor appeared in her first motion picture three months later, There's One Born Every Minute. The following year came her breakthrough role as Priscilla in Lassie Come Home which was followed, in 1944, by the movie that made her a box office sensation, National Velvet. In 1947, when she was still just fifteen, she starred in Life with Father with such heavyweights as William Powell, Irene Dunne and Zasu Pitts. Throughout the rest of the 1940s and into the early 1950s Elizabeth appeared in numerous studio product, with mostly good results. Her first fully-fledged adult roles came in 1950, when she played the wife of a Soviet spy in The Conspirator and an amateur psychiatrist in The Big Hangover. She later said that the first film in which she was 'asked to do any acting' was 1951's A Place in the Sun, in which she played a rich girl whose love for George Eastman, played by Montgomery Clift, had tragic consequences. Her busiest year was 1954, with roles in The Barefoot Contessa, Rhapsody, Beau Brummell, The Last Time I Saw Paris and Elephant Walk and she effortlessly made the transition from child star to adult star with her magnetic performance opposite James Dean in Giant. In 1957, Liz starred in Raintree County, a rather overblown epic which, nevertheless, saw her pickup her first Oscar nomination. She got another one the following year for her brilliant performance as Maggie Pollitt in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. And again, the year after that for Suddenly, Last Summer. After three successive near-misses she finally won her first Oscar in 1960 for her flawless performance in Butterfield 8 as Gloria Wandrous, a call girl who is involved with a married man. It was to be her last film for three years. She left MGM after her contract ran out. In 1963 she starred in Cleopatra, which was one of the most expensive productions up to that time - as was her salary, a reported one million dollars. She starred opposite Richard Burton and the pair developed a relationship on set and married in 1964. It was an affair played out in the full glare of the public eye, from when the miner's son from Pontrhydyfen, met the Hollywood icon. The movie was the world's most expensive film to date at that point, and was to change Burton's professional and personal life forever. Recalling meeting Burton for the first time, Taylor said: 'The first day we worked together he had a hangover and was looking so vulnerable. He was trying to drink a cup of coffee and his hand was shaking, so I held the cup to his lips.' Burton said: 'She was the most sullen, uncommunicative and beautiful woman I have ever seen.' He was her fifth husband after Conrad Hilton (1950), Michael Wilding (1952), Michael Todd (1957) and Eddie Fisher (1959). She was married a total of eight times, including a second time to Burton in 1975 after they had divorced a year earlier. Her second Academy Award was for her performance as Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966 playing opposite Burton. Taylor and Burton, the celebrity couple of the 1960s, would appear together in six other films during the decade – The VIPs (1963), The Sandpiper (1965), The Taming of the Shrew (1967), Doctor Faustus (1967), The Comedians (1967) and Boom! (1968). Taylor also appeared in John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) opposite Marlon Brando and Secret Ceremony. However, by the end of the decade her box-office drawing power had considerably diminished, as evidenced by the failure of The Only Game in Town (1970. Taylor continued to star in numerous theatrical films throughout the 1970s, such as Zee and Co. (1972) with Michael Caine, Ash Wednesday (1973), The Blue Bird (1976) with Jane Fonda and Ava Gardner, and A Little Night Music (1977) where her massacre of 'Send in the Clowns' simply has to be heard to be believed. With Burton, she co-starred in the 1972 films Under Milk Wood and Hammersmith Is Out, and the 1973 made-for-TV movie Divorce His, Divorce Hers. Taylor starred in the 1980 mystery film The Mirror Crack'd, based on an Agatha Christie novel. In 1985, she played movie gossip columnist Louella Parsons in the TV film Malice in Wonderland. Taylor also appeared in the TV mini series North and South. Her last theatrical film was 1994's The Flintstones. In 2001, she played an agent in the TV film These Old Broads. She appeared on a number television series, including the soap operas General Hospital and All My Children, as well as The Simpsons — once as herself, and once as the voice of Maggie Simpson, uttering one word 'Daddy.' Her tempestuous relationship with Burton - whom she described as 'impossible to live without, or with for that matter' saw the couple divorce and then remarry in 1975 before she moved on to further marriages with Republican senator John W Warner and Larry Fortensky. But she and Burton loved each other to the end and, when Burton died in 1984 aged fifty eight, Taylor was inconsolable. Explaining why they could not stay together, Taylor once said: 'Maybe we loved each other too much.' She also said that she wanted to be buried with him when she died. His widow, Sally, was not amused. Her health problems began with a fall from a horse whilst filming National Velvet, which led to a lifetime of back problems. A rare strain of pneumonia almost killed her in 1961 and she also battled addictions to alcohol and painkillers. In the 1990s, she endured two hip replacement operations and another near-fatal bout of pneumonia and survived surgery for a benign brain tumour in 1997. In 2004, it was revealed that she was suffering from congestive heart failure, with symptoms including fatigue and shortness of breath, and scoliosis, which twisted her spine. But she continued to campaign for her AIDS charity, which she set up in 1991 after the death of her friend and co-star Rock Hudson. There was tragedy in her life as well, her third husband producer Michael Todd dying in a plane crush. One of her last public appearances was at the funeral of another friend Michael Jackson, whom she offered her support during his sex abuse trial in 2005. Taylor is survived by ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A fire alarm at Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco last week was apparently caused by burnt toast. The Business Insider reports that staff at the social networking site, which celebrated its fifth birthday this week, were evacuated from the building on Friday afternoon. Some employees tweeted comments as they waited to return to work. Carolyn Penner from the organisation's PR department wrote: 'Nothing like a Friday building evacuation in the rain. Damn toast.' API engineer Ryan Sarver added: 'Quick math: thirty min fire alarm, four hundred employees - two thousand five hundred dollars for burnt toast. Ooops.' BBC1's evening current affairs programme The ONE Show was taken off air last month when a fire alarm sounded in the middle of a live broadcast, forcing presenters and production staff to leave the building immediately. Presenter Alex Jones later used Twitter to explain that the alarm was triggered when somebody tried to warm up a cup of tea in a nearby microwave.

And so to yer actual Keith Telly Topping's 45(s) of the Day dear blog reader. Now, here's a funny little fact; whenever yer actual Keith Telly Topping is asked - by his tens of fans - what music he normally listens to when he's working (particularly on fiction) the answer is always very simple: 'Dig Your Own Hole, by The Chemical Brothers. Or, if I fancy a change, Surrender, by The Chemical Brothers.' Music that was almost seemingly designed to for yer actual Keith Telly Topping type by! If you want rhythm, for example, what could possibly be better than this? Mind you, dear blog reader, yer actual Chems abilities lie in much broader areas than merely giving desperate Tyneside scribblers some necessary pace and quality vision. Oh yes. The last time, for instance, that yer actual Keith Telly Topping got himself right good and proper shit-face wasted was watching The Chems dropping an atom bomb on Glastonbury in 2000. God, that was a night and a half! Ed and Tom, of course, are also responsible for one of the most genuinely scary videos for a number one single ever. Seriously, you think 'Firestarter' is evil, check out 'Setting Sun'. (Even the bloody cat's terrifying!) Another great thing about the Chems, was (and still is) the variety of the moods their stuff creates in the listener - from ambient somnambulist states of cotton wool trance like 'Where Do I Begin?' or 'Asleep From Day', to huge towering slabs of manic aquamarine techno like 'Star Guitar' or 'Out of Control'And they made great videos. Take 'Let Forever Be'. So, if you're writing a novel this weekend, dear blog reader, slap on The Chems and you'll be in another world before you know it.

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