Monday, April 25, 2011

Sat Down For A Drink In Her Father's Favourite Chair

And so, dear blog reader, by the process of 'there only being three episodes left,' we come to the final batch of MasterChef episodes. John Torode and Gregg Wallace's ongoing search for Britain's finest amateur cook has certainly ramped up the challenge this year with trips to Australia and New York, some molecular gastronomy lessons, and an all-new 'audition in front of your friends and family' round. Some of it has, admittedly, worked better than others but the suspiciously concerted efforts by certain national newspapers at the beginning of the series to suggest that it has fans 'switching off in droves' has, spectacularly, been shown to be tabloid nonsense. Anyway, the first of the final three episodes was a quite beautifully filmed trip to the land down under (where women glow and men chunder).'This is it,' said husky-voiced India Fisher, 'the cooking adventure of a lifetime,' as various shots of Sydney Harbour looking all pretty were flashed before our eyes. Tim summed up his feels thus: 'Winning would be like being punched in the face with a big happy fist.' Must try that on someone I don't like someday. Then India was back, talking about 'a culinary odyssey.' Someone, you sensed was about to say they were on 'a voyage of discovery.' Then Tom said 'we're on a voyage of discovery.' Thanks Tom, knew we could rely on one of you. Australia, India (that's the voice-over girl, not the country) earnestly informed us, had 'a culture of family and friends built around a celebration of food.' And beer. You forgot beer, India. So, we started off deep in the jungles of upstate Queensland with Gregg looking for all the world like an extra from Monty Python in his silly bush hat. The task for Tim, Tom and Sara was to a cook a Barbie for their aboriginal guide and his friends and family from rain forest ingredients. And, there the trio got dumped, in among the crocodiles and snakes and really nasty spiders. Next, they started looking at some berries. 'Don't eat that one,' their guide told them, solemnly. 'It's poisonous!' That sort of set the tone for the next few minutes which climaxed with Tim looking quizzically at a large flat piece of what looked like bread. 'That's bread, mate,' he was told, simply. Yeah. Course. So, we were off. Tom got to work on stuffed barramundi cooked in ginger leaf and a mud crab salad (without much crab in it as several people subsequently complained) with ginger and chillis. Sara, meanwhile, was frying marinated crocodile (which looked just like chicken, actually) yabby crayfish salad with bush fruit chutney and macadamia nuts. And she did all this whilst claiming to have a definite 'hate/hate' relationship with cooking on a barbecue. Tim, inevitably, was the most ambitious, cooking up lemon myrtle spiced kangaroo with French toast, a fruit compote and vanilla. The diners (including the local didgeridoo player, presumably invited along to add a bit of oomphf to the proceedings) all seemed to enjoy their grub. Especially since British licence fee payers were gifting it to them! We're not bitter. Well, the ones that read the Daily Scum Mail might be, but 'normal' people aren't. Next, the trio were off down the Gold Coast to Port Douglas where a couple called Glenn and Elizabeth were getting married and had, bravely, allowed the BBC to cater for their reception at a five star hotel. Things got off to a rocking start when John Torode kissed Riviera Sara for simply 'looking happy.' I look happy all the time, dear blog reader, and nobody ever kisses me. Bastards. Anyway ... Tim got the starter of chicken shank with a curious ham, cheese and pumpkin sandwich, a Manhattan sauce and what were described as 'edible flowers.' Yer actual Keith Telly Topping was reminded of the moment in The Ludicrous Ms Dahl when that awful Dahl woman claimed that eating flowers 'makes you feel like a princess' and Harry Hill used that clip in the next episode of TV Burp, adding 'no it doesn't, it makes you feel like a really hungry tramp.' Sara's main course was rack of lamb (medium ... well, mostly) in a red wine reduction, potato dauphinoise and Jerusalem artichoke flan. Tom's triumphant pud was white chocolate and coconut pannacotta topped with a praline disc, pineapple, mango and a white chocolate granita. One of the wedding guests a young lady of, shall we be charitable and say massive bazookas, said that she had 'loved the wobbly thing,' though I think most viewers' attention was more drawn at that moment to her own wobbly things, frankly. All that taken care of, the whole production moved effortlessly down to Sydney where, in the sight of the Harbour Bridge, there were told they were cooking three courses of John's own design for some of his family and closest friends. Actually, I say Sydney in the sight of the Harbour Bridge, to be honest it could've just as easily been Newcastle on a sunny day with some clever camera angles. But, I digress. These closest friends, inevitably, included Gregg who said some nice things about his pal whilst John, for probably the first time in seven series of MasterChef showed a bit of emotion that wasn't food-related when talking about his late mother. Bless. Sara got the job of starter this time, cooking a deep friend Thai crayfish omelette stuffed with beansprouts and a crayfish bisque. This, John said, reflected his love of Thai street cooking. Sounds vile, I know, but it looked stunning. Tom's main course was one of John's specialities at his London restaurant, Beef Three Ways, containing a beef fillet, braised beef cheek, and beef cheek cannelloni. Tim's desert was supposed to be vanilla and toffee soufflé with two types of ice cream and a chocolate biscuit. But then, everything that could go wrong did go wrong and, for once, it was nothing to do with the amateur since John was there helping him. Twice Tim came to the rescue, suggesting making the ice creams into milkshakes after neither set, and then whipping up a quick chocolate soufflé after the first batch collapsed and then exploded. John went from having a look on his face like man man whose finger had just gone through the hole of the toilet paper, mid-wipe, to something approaching delirious. With little stopover in between. Gregg, as usual, ate pretty much everything that was put down in front of him. In an uncertain world, dear blog reader, some things - comfortingly - never change. Tomorrow, they're all off to New York. I suppose we're all paying for that as well?!

Robson Green has conceded that his first days on Waterloo Road were uncomfortable. The actor, who was last seen on BBC3's Being Human, makes his debut on the school serial next Wednesday. He told Reveal: 'I feel like I should put my hands behind my back when I speak to the director - it's like talking to the headmaster! At first, there was an uncomfortable two hours when I stupidly thought "I am not really happy in this place."' Green continued: 'I asked for someone to direct me to my caravan, and we all had bloody classrooms for dressing rooms. Nightmare!' Meanwhile, referring to his own experiences inside the classroom, he explained: 'I was brutalised by my head teacher. He used the fucking cane - it was terrifying.' Ironically, these days, one has to pay good money for that sort of thing down Soho, Robson. Or, so I'm led to believe, anyway. 'There were teachers who disciplined by fear and you're kind of scarred by that - by the hitting and the mental scarring. I talked too much. I think I just expressed myself in a way that was inappropriate.' The actor added: 'I wanted to be the centre of attention - it's what an actor does. If there is a lull in the room, you try to make it a nicer place. Later, I decided wearing make-up and doing dialogue is what I loved. It was a great way to feel more confident and express and learn and educate, but that wasn't encouraged in the North East of England. No one could understand why I wanted to be an actor.'

Karen Gillan has revealed that she would like a trip to the Swinging Sixties on Doctor Who. However, the actress - who recently gave hints on her alter-ego Amy Pond's future - conceded that any potential episode 'wouldn't be very exciting.' She told the Press Association: 'I always think I'd like to go back to the 1960s, but that wouldn't be very exciting for Doctor Who, because what would the monster be?' Addressing her new role in BBC4's Shrimpton, which is set in the era, Gillan revealed that she is excited. 'I'm already well into my research now and I just love that period,' she said. 'When that script came along I was like, "This is perfect for the first thing that I do after I finish Doctor Who." So this'll be my first venture outside of Doctor Who, scaring me slightly but I'm just so looking forward to it. I just find it such an interesting, fascinating period.'

Alex Kingston, meanwhile, has reveals that she didn't expect to have a recurring role on Doctor Who when signing on for the role of the mysterious River Song. River debuted in the fourth series two-parter Silence in the Library and Forest of Death and shocked the Doctor (then played by David Tennant) by revealing a great knowledge of his future. The character has since returned in Matt Smith's inaugural series and in last Saturday's episode The Impossible Astronaut. Kingston has told Entertainment Weekly that she initially had no idea that River would prove to be an important part of the popular SF family drama's mythology. 'When I first did Doctor Who with David Tennant, I wasn't expecting that at all,' she admitted. 'As far as I was concerned, it was just a two-episode story-arc with me being held forever in a computer, or whatever. But Steven always intended that she would come back.' The actress also revealed that her favourite aspect of portraying the archaeologist, whose identity is shrouded in ambiguity, is that the various incarnations of The Doctor never meet River in chronological order. 'The really exciting journey for me, and for Steven, is backtracking. The characters keep missing each other,' Kingston added. 'She's like The Time Traveller's Wife. In this particular season, and certainly in the first two episodes, what you see is her knowing that she's on the brink of the moment where the Doctor doesn't know any more who she is. And I think that's just tragic, really.'

By the way, during a Goggle search on Monday afternoon, yer actual Keith Telly Topping was startled to discover that From The North copped a mention in a lengthy Mumsnet forum discussion on the new series of Doctor Who. That was a nice surprise. So, if anyone's stopping by, hello ladies.

And so we come to the vexed subject of ratings. Professor Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe and BBC3's Junior Doctors have both received significant ratings increases under new data from the BBC's Live +7 system. The BBC has published more ratings data from its new audience measurement system, introduced last November to work alongside traditional 'overnight' ratings. Live +7 is designed to give a more accurate picture of viewing consumption of BBC shows and the changing habits of how TV is consumed by the punters. It does this by aggregating overnight ratings, live recordings, narrative repeats, BBC iPlayer and HD viewing for seven days after first transmission. Covering programmes broadcast in March, the new Live +7 data reveals that the first episode of Cox's Wonders of the Universe series actually pulled in a combined audience of 6.4 million on BBC2, up seventy seven per cent on its initial overnight data. An episode of BBC3's popular Junior Doctors programme which broadcast on 29 March enjoyed a massive two hundred and thirty five per cent increase in take its total audience to 3.6m. Shown on BBC1 on 9 March, The Boat That Guy Built pulled in a Live +7 audience of 7.7m, while the 28 March episode of the controversial comedy Mrs Brown's Boys had a combined audience of 4.6m. Agony & Ecstasy: A Year With The National Ballet, a BBC4 documentary shown on 22 March, was boosted by a healthy timeshift to end with an audience of one million, more that double its overnight rating. David Bunker, the head of audience research at BBC Vision, said 'Whether it is learning about industrial age Britain in BBC1's The Boat That Guy Built or life on the wards on BBC3's Junior Doctors, audiences seem to be finding the informative popular and the popular informative.' Published last month, the first Live +7 data covering January and February indicated that an episode of airport comedy Come Fly With Me attracted a total audience of 10.1m, while a recent episode of Top Gear was watched by 10.6m on all platforms. So that's, clearly, the wave of the future. Hopefully soon, we'll start to see weekly updates by the Beeb as to way in which we view overnight audience e data continues to change.

Which is certainly needed. Saturday's overnight figures - covered by this blog in full detail on Sunday, of course - brought a very interesting cross-section of reactions from the tabloids. Predictably, the Daily Scum Mail followed their instincts and led with a typically BBC-bashing 'Doctor Who loses a million viewers'-type piece which quoted incorrect ratings figures (the episode had an average viewership of 6.52m not 6.4, which the Mail appears to have taken, unchecked, from an inaccurate report - subsequently amended - on the BBC News website and a peak of seven million). And, at the same time, to have mostly ignored various contextual elements which even traditionally 'they'll never understand this in Barnsley' newspapers ran with. (Compare, for instance, the Sun's clipped: 'Doctor Who returned with a healthy peak of seven million viewers' or the Daily Lies' equally 'short but mostly accurate': 'Doctor Who got seven million viewers, making it the most-watched BBC show of the night.') Once again, guys, seven million was the 'peak' audience, the average was 6.52m. Which is 'good.' And, it'll be even better in a week's time when all of the people who recorded it on video or DVD or them Sky+ boxes that I don't know how to operate are taking into account. As The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat (Thou Shalt Worship No Other Gods Before He) noted on Twitter yesterday: 'For those who asked the overnights are good, but not commenting on the ratings cos we don't know what they are yet.' Word. Nevertheless, the tabloids have spoken, all of which proves what we already knew - that the way in which people consume TV is changing so rapidly that other media can't quite keep up; that the days of 'overnights' being an accurate indicator of a show's success, failure or any number of shades of grey in-between are rapidly diminishing and that all of the tabloids have an agenda of one sort of another. The agenda at the Sun and the Mirra, in particular, at the moment seems to be that it's just about high time that Britain's Got Talent got a damned good kicking and taken down a peg or two, especially now that Simon Cowell is safely out of the country and can't give them any lip back. Thus, Monday's mornings papers contain some extraordinary pieces. Firstly the Sun claimed that: 'Nearly a million viewers switched off for the second instalment of Britain's Got Talent on Saturday night. An average of nine million tuned in - nine hundred thousand fewer than for the launch episode a week earlier. A peak of 10.6million watched the latest batch of hopefuls, which was a million down on the second episode of last year's series. The dwindling figures, which have been blamed on Simon Cowell's absence, have left ITV bosses panicking that the audience will continue to fall as the series progresses. They are also worried that this year's X Factor will fail to match previous ratings after confirming that Cowell won't be a judge on that either as he launches the show in America. BGT wasn't the only programme which saw its viewing figures slide on Saturday night. ITV's wacky game show Sing If You Can managed a peak of 3.6million after debuting with 5.6million the week before. BBC1's So You Think You Can Dance slipped to a peak of 4.1million after getting 4.2million for the previous episode.' Note, again, that the Sun are quoting episode peaks not episode averages as most newspapers seem to do these days. The Mirra, meanwhile, had this to say: 'Britain's Got Talent has slumped in the ratings for the second week running, ringing alarm bells at ITV. Saturday's offering was watched by an average of 8.99 million viewers according to overnight figures, the lowest for the audition stages since 2007. Last week’s curtain-raiser was watched by 11.6 million – down on last year's opener. An insider said: "BGT has become one of Britain’s most bankable shows for the last four years. Seeing the figures drop for a second week will set alarm bells ringing. A huge amount is riding on the new judging line-up without Simon Cowell." Saturday night's episode, which featured Romanian street dancer Razy Gogonea, scored another five hundred thousand viewers on ITV+1.' Whilst the Daily Lies added: 'Britain's Got Talent boss Simon Cowell has been hit with a double whammy. Ratings for Britain's Got Talent are dropping – because he's not on it. And the Britney Spears act at the centre of a "fix" storm has sparked more controversy by revealing she previously worked for his TV company.' Other papers follow this line as well, although with - perhaps - not quite the glee that these three display. Again, though, context and changing viewing habits are the key missing elements here. And, the possibility that all three are actually spinning for, rather than against, Cowell, per se. Because, there's no such thing as bad publicity. Painting a TV show that gets an audience of nine and a half million viewers and lost less than million from the previous week as 'dwindling' or 'flagging' or even suggesting the vague possibility that it seems as though it is anything other than an unqualified rating winner is an act of deception. And, one so utterly mendacious that it seems scarcely credible anyone would actually go to print with it. This certainly seems to validate the impression many people have that the press runs their pre-formed narratives regardless of any actual facts that get in the way. Let's put it this way, if a show that's getting an audience nearly ten million really is, as the Daily Lies claims in a 'Shock! Horror! Probe! Pictures!' headline a show 'IN CRISIS' then ninety five per cent of all Britain's TV show's must also fall into that category. Which would be news.

One final point about the tabloids. One of the few TV reviewers working on these alleged papers that yer Keith Telly Topping has much time for is the Mirra's Jim Shelley. Who, to be fair, gets as much wrong as he does right but at least seems to actually enjoy the process of watching TV to critique it. (Unlike, for instance, his faceache, full-of-his-own-importance colleague at the Mirra, Kevin O'Sullivan.) Jim's review of The Impossible Astronaut is very much a case in point; some excellent observations in a pretty balanced and thoughtful review. I don't agree with all of it, but it's worth drawing your attention to it so you can discover than, astonishingly, not all tabloid TV reviewers write monosyllabic, smug, crass, lowest-common-denominator clichés for the scum masses. Just, you know, most of them: 'The opening was worthy of all great sci-fi thrillers (The Avengers, The X Files, The Prisoner), as Amy, Rory and the inexplicably ubiquitous River Song, turned up in the Utah desert to find the Doctor lying ostentatiously on a classic American car in his Stetson ... At its best Doctor Who comes together in an overwhelming barrage on the senses that leaves it irresistible and makes for legendary telly - in the Van Gogh or Weeping Angels episodes, for example. Hopefully those episodes will be hurtling towards us in - or from - the future.' Tune-in next week Jim, baby, I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

In what is just about the worst kept secret in the industry, the lack of culture secretary the vile and odious rascal Hunt is expected to approve News Corporation's bid to take full control of Sky this week, triggering speculation over the satellite broadcaster's sale price. The vile and odious rascal Hunt, his tongue rammed so far up Rupert Murdoch's chuff there's no room for anyone else to get in there for a good lick, has been considering responses to a consultation on his decision to approve plans to 'spin-off' Sky News as an independent company to ease media plurality concerns about the takeover. The oily and horrible minister said that his final decision would be announced 'just after' the return of parliament tomorrow. Sky's share price has risen well above the eight hundred pence mark that its independent directors said last June they would at least consider a bid from Murdoch's media giant. Last Thursday, Sky shares reached eight hundred and forty three pence, valuing the company at £14.8 billion, considerably more than the £12.3bn price tag when News Corp submitted its bid last year. Industry figures contacted by the Financial Times believe that there will not be a legal challenge to the vile and odious rascal Hunt's eventual approval of the takeover. A group of rival media firms opposed to News Corp's action, including BT and the publishers of newspapers such as the Daily Torygraph and Daily Scum Mail, are thought to have privately dismissed a judicial review of the decision. Should the vile and odious rascal Hunt give News Corp the greenlight this week, the move would be followed by Sky's first quarter profits statement on Thursday, in which the company is expected to post further growth in profits and customer numbers. Speaking to the Press Association, Nomura analyst Matthew Walker predicted that Sky will post a net addition of around forty thousand new customers over the three months, helping the firm's underlying profits to increase fifteen per cent to two hundred and fifty two million smackers. However, the vile and odious rascal Hunt could also this week announce that he has accepted a number of criticisms about the Sky News remedy, and present an alternative remedy, potentially triggering a further period of consultation. But, he won't. Critics of the plan have argued that the Sky News company would be wholly reliant on News Corp/Sky for its income and so would lack genuine independence. A further complicating factor should be the phone-hacking scandal involving the News Of The World, the tabloid paper operated by the News Corp-owned News International. Rival groups have argued that the vile and odious rascal Hunt should take the controversy into account, but the lack of culture secretary's officials have claimed that he cannot link the two matters because the Sky takeover is being reviewed solely on media plurality grounds.

Jack Dee has revealed that he turned to hypnotherapy to counteract his depression. Speaking to the Daily Torygraph, the Live at the Apollo comic - who has also had problems in past with alcohol - admitted that a course of anti-depressants was proved ineffectual. He said: 'I was on various anti-depressants, but not for long - I didn't function very well on them. I felt sort of flattened out. Plus I found another way. Hypnotherapy. It's very good. I mean it's only really talking. I always think of it as being a bit like a brain massage. It just sort of resets you.' The comedian added: 'Sometimes you have to switch the computer on and turn it back off again. I try and do it once a month and no more, because you can end up depending on things. I don't want to come off stage and think I did a good gig just because I was wearing red socks. Life would become intolerable.'

Christine Bleakley has been confirmed as the presenter of the National Movie Awards next month. Which, to be honest, would only really make sense if it was being sponsored by Orange. Anyway ...

The Daily Lies claims to have 'revealed' the opening storyline of Michelle Collins's role on Coronation Street. According to the seldom accurate tabloid running joke, the former EastEnders actress's 'new fiery alter ego' Stella will 'lock horns' with 'superbitch' Tracy Barlow (Kate Ford) when she arrives at the Rovers in June. 'Dressed provocatively,' Tracy is 'shot down' by Stella, who tells her: 'I'm sorry, Tracy, but you'll have to change that dress before you come bar-side. We don't want customers thinking they've walked into a brothel, do we?' Meanwhile, an 'insider' allegedly claimed: 'Tracy is spitting blood. She can't believe she's been so stupid. And to add to the insult, she's now got a new enemy in Stella.' The situation arises after Steve McDonald cons Tracy, who thinks she is taking over the pub, into signing a document giving him near full custody of their daughter, Amy. Steve is quoted as saying: 'Oh, I'm really sorry for any misunderstanding but I've decided to give the job to someone else.'

Meanwhile, also in the 'we'll print any old crap on the off change that some people might believe it' column, Peaches Geldof has denied tabloid rumours that she will be presenting a revived version of The Tube. For which, trust me Peaches, we're all truly grateful. According to claims made in the Sun, Channel Four has decided to recommission the cult music show twenty two years after ended, fronted by Saint Bob's daughter. However, the waste-of-space airhead wrote on Twitter: 'Just to clarify - I'm not presenting on the new series of The Tube, if there's going to even be one. It's an Internet rumour and isn't true.' Actually it's a tabloid rumour, love but don't let a little thing like accuracy put you off. The Sun never do.

Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, meanwhile, presents a right slammin' tune from Ned's Atomic Dustbin that speaks unto the nation, verily, about the importance of idolatry.