Friday, July 15, 2011

Threw My Bad Fortune Off The Top Of A Tall Building, I'd Rather Have Done It With You

The opening episode of Torchwood's fourth series seems to have gone down - for the most part - very well with UK reviewers. The Gruniad's Sam Wollston headed his piece 'Torchwood – bigger, louder, bolder – has deployed the turbo boosters. But it's still got soul.' He added, 'There will be moans, I'm sure – that it's lost its soul, its Welshness perhaps. Pah! Come on, look it's got rocket launchers now, and exploding helicopters, expensive special effects and excellent zombies. But – probably because Davies is still at the helm – it doesn't ignore the interpersonal, the characters are still at its heart. Sci-fi that sci-fi phobes will enjoy too.' In a piece entitled Torchwood turns John Barrowman from chat show lightweight to TV hero, the Metro's Keith Watson observed: 'Although you have to suspend a fair amount of disbelief to buy into the concept of eternal life – with all its religious implications – on the evidence thus far, it will be worth the effort. Writer Russell T Davies has set up a platform for exploring both the rise of religious evangelism (with Pullman a paedophile-turned-cult hero) and the fragility of the planet, all cunningly built around an action adventure which finds room for the requisite helicopter chases and shoot-outs.' The Torygraph's Huw Turbervill opened with a witty flourish: 'Torchwood is like a box of chocolates, to paraphrase Forrest Gump: you never quite know what you’re gonna get. The Doctor Who spin-off, which is aimed at an older audience, has returned to BBC1 for a fourth series. The tale of alien hunters, led by John Barrowman's Captain Jack, is usually set in Wales, but this time it has been filmed mainly over The Pond, and has a fistful of dollars behind it, courtesy of a co-production deal with American network Starz. And it shows. It was an enjoyable first instalment, with an intriguing concept at his heart: what happens to the planet if everyone stops dying?' He concluded: 'Some of the humour may have gone over British viewers' heads. "What is this Severn Bridge?" Matheson asked American colleague Alexa Havins (Esther Drummond) on his mobile. "It connects England to Wales," she replied. "You mean Wales is separate? It's like the British equivalent to New Jersey." Still, the concept is gripping enough to make me want to watch more – with three hundred thousand people not dying globally every day, it is estimated society could function for four months before space and food starts to run out and anarchy descends. So the countdown is on for Jack and his new-look team. Barrowman's performance also stood up well. He is not everyone's bag (Tonight's the Night anyone?) but he is on form here. Compared with much of the rubbish that is inflicted on us in the summer months, the new Torchwood looks set to be gripping and intriguing – just not necessarily for viewers with queasy stomachs.' The Daily Lies also noted that Torchwood is 'still the only show featuring John Barrowman in which he doesn't burst into some appallingly cheesy musical number at every opportunity,' and added 'Look out for a particularly out-of-character performance from guest-star Bill Pullman, playing a convicted rapist and child murderer who, owing to what's happened, has managed to survive his execution.' The Independent was also positive and wrote that: 'As the BBC feels the pinch of financial cuts, could this be the future for funding British television programmes? Torchwood has certainly proved that these joint projects marry together brilliant writing with valuable financial resources to bring stories to life. A show that may have died a sad death several years ago has been given another chance.' 'Torchwood is, of course, utter tosh, but it's terrific fun and zips along like a finely tuned Mercedes. Whether of not it can keep up this pace over the remaining nine episodes remains to be seen, but you'd be a fool not to tune in to find out,' noted the Shropshire Star. And as for yer actual Keith Telly Topping? I thought it was an intriguing and nicely set-up opening with great characterisation, plenty of plot points to keep the old fans happy (the references to the 456 and Owen, the glimpses of PC Andy and Gwen's parents) and some terrific performances. Old Barrowman really is a very good actor when he puts his mind to it and once Jack had his clandestine meeting with Esther there was a distinct and definitive change of gears as the episode - and indeed the series - focus shifted and got serious. It's always nice to see Kai Owen back, an actor I've admired for several years in several series and a man I've liked enormously for three years since he bought this blogger a pint! And, of course, just as there could be no Torchwood without Barroman's cheeky mix of dark shading and big gay magnificence, so it would also be lost without Eve Myles. And, her impressive ability to be both hard and determined and whine like a distressed animal when surrendering to occasional moments of emotion (as in the scene at her father's bedside, here). Unlike some fans, I'm not at all bothered about the alleged 'Americanisation' of the show. It's not where you from, as the man once said, it's where you're at. The fact that most of the actors have different accents makes a welcome change from every nasty in the universe descending on Cardiff. Plus, if it means we get Alexa Havins and Arlene Tur, instead of 'somebody who used to be in Hollyoaks' then maybe a few more British dramas should be thinking about seeking Pan-Atlantic finance. Lie To Me's Mekhi Phifer and (especially) a horribly magnetic turn-against-type by Bill Pullman justify, alone, the collaboration. So, yes, Big Rusty's gone stateside, taken already existing inspirations from The X-Files and Buffy, added a splash of The West Wing, a pinch of House, more than a healthy dollop of 24 and a liberal dose of The Wire to his Welsh cheese-on-toast and come up with something a bit flashier, with a bit more pizazz and garnish but still, essentially, the same old Torchwood.

The series launched with an audience of nearly five million viewers on Thursday evening while the US version of The Killing slumped to 1.5m, according to the overnight audience data. Miracle Day premiered with an audience of 4.83m on BBC1 in the 9pm hour, the highest non-soap audience of the night. The Doctor Who spin-off proved far too strong for the opening of series two of crime drama Single Handed, which was watched by 3.5m on ITV from 9pm and a further two hundred thousand viewers on ITV+1 and hour later. Also in the 9pm hour, The Killing, the AMC remake of the acclaimed Danish drama, continued with 1.52m on Channel Four, down six hundred and seventy thousand on last week's premiere. A further three hundred thousand watched the show on timeshift.

Journalists at the BBC have begun a twenty four-hour strike in a row over compulsory redundancies. Members of the National Union of Journalists voted in favour of industrial action last month because a number of World Service journalists are facing compulsory redundancy. The NUJ has warned that the strike will cause 'widespread disruption' to radio and TV programmes. A BBC spokesman said the corporation was 'disappointed' by the action. BBC Breakfast said that it was running a slightly different programme on Friday due to the strikes. Radio 4's Today programme went ahead but began at 07:00, an hour later than normal. A number of people working in the World Service and BBC Monitoring are facing compulsory redundancy this summer, the NUJ said. General secretary Michelle Stanistreet said it was 'shameful' that the BBC was 'provoking' a strike over a handful of job losses. Stanistreet added that the union have offered a number of solutions to the dispute, and that an offer from the conciliation service ACAS for peace talks had not been taken up by management. 'There are so many people who want to leave the BBC that this could be resolved through negotiations,' she said. 'Jobs are being saved and created at management level, but journalists are losing theirs.' The BBC said it would continue with its efforts to reduce the need for compulsory redundancies. 'Industrial action will not alter the fact that the BBC is faced with a number of potential compulsory redundancies, following significant cuts to the central Government grants that support the World Service and BBC Monitoring,' the spokesman said. Another twenty-hour strike is planned for 29 July.
Talking of the BBC, it is notable that on one of the busiest days yet in the Hackgate saga, the corporation is without its top political reporters Laura Kuenssberg, Nick Robinson and Robert Peston due to the strike. Because, well-known Crystal Tipps lookalike Rebekah Brooks has - finally - resigned from her post as chief executive of News International following the News of the World phone hacking scandal. She said she wanted to 'reiterate how sorry I am for what we now know to have taken place.' Her statement went on: 'I have believed that the right and responsible action has been to lead us through the heat of the crisis. However my desire to remain on the bridge has made me a focal point of the debate. This is now detracting attention from all our honest endeavours to fix the problems of the past.' She has been replaced by Tom Mockridge, who was in charge of News Corporation's Italian broadcasting arm. Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel Four News tweeted: 'She was no longer effective as a firewall to protect the Murdochs so no point keeping her there.' In a sign of the changing world of journalism the news was, ironically, also broken on Twitter when David Rose, assistant news editor at The Times, tweeted: 'Rebekah Brooks: "I have given Rupert and James Murdoch my resignation. This time my resignation has been accepted."' It then became just about the only topic of discussion worth mentioning on Twitter for the next couple of hours. The Sunday Torygraph's Business Editor, Kamal Ahmed tweeting: 'Elisabeth Murdoch did for Rebekah Brooks - Telegraph's John Bingham revealed her saying Brooks had "fucked the company."' The Torygraph also noted that within ten minutes of the news being announced Brooks's Wikipedia page has already been updated. 'Doesn't the world move fast these days?' they asked. Ah, it's a harsh, cruel world, guys. The new entry reads: '[Brooks] is a prominent figure in the ongoing News of the World phone hacking scandal, having been the editor when a number of illegal phone hackings were allegedly carried out by the newspaper. On 15 July 2011, Brooks resigned as chief executive of News International, following widespread criticism of her role in the controversy.'
Reaction was, of course, swift and brutal. A spokesman for the Hacked Off campaign, which is lobbying for a full investigation into phone hacking, welcomed Brooks's resignation but said that it was more important for the full truth about the scandal to be uncovered. He added: 'The Hacked Off Campaign's main focus is on getting an inquiry with the right scope, powers and timescale to get to the truth, but all the victims we have spoken to have told us that they cannot see how Rebekah Brooks could remain in her job, given what has so far been revealed. The key issue is not, however, whether Rebekah Brooks is in work, but whether she lied to Parliament, told the full truth to the police or was engaged in a massive cover-up. That is what the victims want to know.' Sophy Ridge, a Sky News political correspondent and former tabloid hack with lots of connections within the former News of the World newsroom, added: 'Several former News of the World reporters told me they cried at the news. Rebekah Brooks' resignation is very important for them. Reaction of one former News of the World journalist: "It feels a bit like we've been sacrificed for nothing."' Former Gruniad editor Peter Preston said Brooks's departure was a surprise, but added: 'It's surprising only in that it didn't happen ten days ago.' He described her as 'the last line of defence' before James Murdoch, adding: 'Now she's gone.' Brooks's testimony to the committee next week would 'change in character' because of her departure, Preston predicted. He said that she would be 'a victim rather than a defiant red-haired lady on a burning deck.' Preston said there was a sense that no one knew where the story was going next. ' don't think Rebekah Brooks's going helps that - it keeps things bouncing along.' Roy Greenslade, the media commentator and former tabloid editor, blogged to say that Rebekah Brooks should have resigned 'ages ago. Rebekah Brooks succumbed finally to the pressure. She has gone – and not before time. It was the right decision but it came far too late. Rupert Murdoch should have requested her resignation on the day that he discovered she was editor of the News of the World when Milly Dowler's phone was hacked. That revelation was so shocking in and by itself to have warranted her red head on a platter.' Tommy Watson MP - Power to the people! - said that Brooks's resignation was inevitable but added to the chorus which considered that she should have resigned 'two weeks ago.' He added that Brooks still needs to be held to account and is glad that she will be attending the culture committee hearing next week. Watson, a member of the committee who will be questioning her and the Murdochs, said that the focus should now switch to James Murdoch to 'uncover the cover up that has gone on at News International.' Chairman of the Commons culture committee, John Whittingdale said he believed that her resignation had been 'inevitable.' He told Sky News: 'I think this is the right decision. Many people expected it to come rather sooner, but I think her position was extremely difficult. The most shocking revelation of all, perhaps, was the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, which took place when she was the editor of the paper and there has obviously been a stream of revelations since then.' Ed Milimolimandi soon added: 'It is right that Rebekah Brooks has finally taken responsibility and resigned. Mr Murdoch still hasn't apologised to the victims of phone hacking.' John Prescott, inevitably, was a bit more blunt. The former deputy prime minister said: 'Just heard Rebekah Brooks' has resigned. Thank God! It's another step closer to getting a more responsible press in this country.' Labour frontbencher Chris Bryant, who has been a leading critic over the phone-hacking scandal, said Brooks should have left sooner. 'I think it is right that she goes. I think she should have gone a very long time ago. Frankly, she should have gone when she said she had paid police officers for information back in 2003. I thought it was disgraceful when the newspaper last week was closed as a way of trying to protect Rebekah Brooks and then Mr Murdoch saying that she was his priority. It felt like those in the boiler room were carrying the can for those who were really at the helm of the ship.' Bryant added that questions still remain to be asked: 'Was the News Corporation board notified of the payments to [Max} Clifford and [Gordon] Taylor? When did Brooks and James Murdoch know the argument that this was not the work of "a sole rogue reporter" was completely untenable? And most importantly, has News Corporation, in its complete managerial ineptitude and moral turpitude, not proven itself wholly unsuitable to own any share of a British media company?' The Lib Dem MP Don Foster added: 'At along last Rebekah Brooks has made the right decision, but it is far too late. It was disgraceful that Rupert Murdoch, when he arrived in the UK, said that his top priority was Rebekah Brooks rather than the people who had been affected by the alleged illegal activity of a small number of his staff. Brooks' resignation should not deflect attention from the police inquiry and the other judicial inquiries which must progress as quickly as possible so we can sort out this mess and return to having confidence in our media.' One lone voice of contrast was The Times columnist Giles Coren, who gave a forthright defence of Brooks on Twitter: 'I like Rebekah Brooks. She's a good person, and I'm sad that she's gone. And I don't give a flying fuck what Twitter thinks.' And, the irony that he posted that on Twitter, dear blog reader should, trust me, not be lost on anyone. Elsewhere on the web as talk about a News of the World movie continues, the Belfast Telegraph considers the top 10 actresses who could play Rebekah Brooks.

In related news, News Corporation's chairman Rupert Murdoch says that his company has handled the phone-hacking crisis 'extremely well' and will recover. To guffaws of astonishment from across the political spectrum, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the eighty year old billionaire tyrant said that he would establish 'an independent committee' to 'investigate every charge of improper conduct.' Err, somebody's already doing that, Rupert, mate. And, they'll be a damn sight more 'independent' than anybody you appoint. Earlier he and his son James had finally agreed to appear before MPs to answer questions on the scandal on Tuesday. The men had initially declined to appear before the Commons media committee but the sheer force of political and public opinion mounted against them (not to mention the vague threat of being chased by the Commons Sergeant in Arms) seems to have changed their minds. The Murdoch-owned News of the World was shut down last week amid the mounting scandal over the (no longer even alleged) hacking of phones belonging to crime victims, the families of dead soldiers and terrorist victims, politicians and celebrities. On Wednesday, News Corp dropped a bid to take complete control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB. In the interview with the US paper, which is, of course as with so much else in the world, owned by News Corp itself, Murdoch said that he wanted to address 'some of the things that have been said in Parliament, some of which are total lies.' Well, you'll have a chance to face some of your accusers on Tuesday. The thought of grumpy old defiant Murdoch facing off against, for instance, Tom Watson or Paul Farrelly or John Whittingdale is a delicious prospect. He said: 'We think it's important to absolutely establish our integrity in the eyes of the public.' Might be a bit late for that, chum. 'I felt that it's best just to be as transparent as possible.' Eventually. After years of denial and - possibly criminal - obfuscation, months of grudging lack of cooperation even after admitting previous misleading statements and a fortnight of stubborn of resistance to the inevitable. But, he insisted that the damage to his company was 'nothing that will not be recovered. He said that he acted appropriately and quickly: 'When I hear something going wrong, I insist on it being put right.' Murdoch also rejected criticism that James Murdoch had acted too slowly in dealing with the tabloid scandal. 'I think he acted as fast as he could, the moment he could,' Rupert Murdoch said of his son. Meanwhile, the second largest shareholder in News Corp told BBC2's Newsnight that Rebekah Brooks should leave her position as News International chief executive in the event that she is shown to have been involved in phone-hacking. Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Alsaud, who owns seven per cent of News Corp, said: 'You bet she has to go. Ethics to me are very important.' This from a member of the Saudi Royal Family. What next, 'freedom on speech is very important to me' by Joseph Stalin? We can only wonder. However, the prince defended Rupert and James Murdoch, saying: 'Speaking of my dealings with them there has been nothing but high ethics for the past twenty years.' In yesterday's main development, Neil Wallis, the ex-News of the World executive editor, was arrested on Thursday morning on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications. Wallis, also a former member of the Editors' Code of Practice Committee, is the ninth person to have been arrested since the Metropolitan Police launched a fresh phone-hacking investigation, Operation Weeting, in January. In the US, it is being widely reported that the FBI is investigating alleged hacking of the phones of 9/11 victims by the News of the World. When they're not too busy hunting for aliens or helping Torchwood get to the bottom of the 'nobody dying' thing. A growing group of senators and a senior Republican congressman have been calling for the authorities to investigate the allegations. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who wrote to the attorney general to urge an investigation, said the claims newspapers sought to 'exploit information about personal tragedies for profit' needed to be probed. How nice of you to notice, sir. We've been saying that for years whilst you people just let him get on with running FOX News. On Tuesday, the UK's Commons culture committee invited the Murdochs and News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks to give evidence at the House of Commons about the phone-hacking scandal. In a statement, the MPs said that 'serious questions' had arisen about the evidence Brooks and Andy Coulson, both of them former News of the World editors, gave at a previous hearing in 2003. The Murdochs - eventually - agreed to give evidence after receiving summonses from the committee. To the delight of the Metro which, as you can see to your right, used an infamous Sun headline from thirty years ago to ram News Corp's capitulation down their collective throats. With some apparent glee. Earlier in the day they had said they were 'unavailable' to attend. Washing their hair, that day, no doubt. The summonses were the first to be issued by a parliamentary select committee for almost twenty years, since the sons of the late newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell were ordered to appear in 1992. Meanwhile, on Thursday evening, the London mayor Boris Johnson met with Met Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, to discuss the hiring of Wallis as a consultant for the force, for which the journalist was paid twenty four thousand pounds during the very period when John Yates was deciding that there was 'no further evidence' to suggest that the police should reopen their investigation into Wallis's former employers, the News of the World. Home Secretary Theresa May - who earlier in the week said that Yates was doing a good job at the very moment when he was being grilled by members of the Commons home affairs committee - has written to Sir Paul to get the 'full picture' on the circumstances surrounding Wallis's appointment. The home affairs committee has also written to ask him to give further evidence on the matter next Tuesday. As part of the contract, Wallis advised the Commissioner's Office, and the Directorate of Public Affairs and Specialist Operations, working closely with Assistant Commissioner John Yates. Meanwhile, the family of a Brazilian man shot dead by police in London in 2005 has called for the News Corp phone-hacking investigation to be widened. In a letter to David Cameron, Jean Charles de Menezes' relatives say that the actions of police who investigated Menezes' death should be probed. Cameron has asked Lord Justice Leveson to oversee a public inquiry into the News of the World scandal and media regulation. The inquiry will be in two parts - an investigation of wrongdoing in the press and the police, and a review of regulation in the press.

However, as if to prove that when it comes to yer actual political scandal we in Britain are still in nappies compared to others, the dirty old Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is alleged to have had an 'affectionate relationship' with a former TV showgirl. He rewarded her with 'a top local government job,' a court has heard. Berlusconi, seventy four, gave Nicole Minetti a post as a regional councillor without any previous political experience. Minetti, twenty five, whose mother is British, is accused of supplying women for the politician's bawdy 'bunga bunga' parties. I don't even want to ask. I am, however, reminded of Mad Frankie Boyle's one-liner from a couple of years ago on Mock The Week when he noted that Berlusconi seems to be the sort of guy who, 'if you told him to go fuck himself, he'd give it a try!' Minetti's lawyer Piermaria Corso admitted there had been a relationship between the premier and Minetti, a former dancer and dental hygienist. Both of which, whilst fine and perfectly respectable vocations in and of themselves are not, necessarily, the first jobs one would have thought of as qualifying someone for an importance government post. 'It was a bit like "you scratch my back and I will scratch yours,"' Corso told a preliminary hearing to decide if there is enough evidence for Minetti to be sent for trial on charges of procuring prostitutes for Berlusconi. Oh, so there was back-scratching involved. Very dodgy. Corso said: 'Miss Minetti was not the organiser of the parties but instead one of many women who had an affectionate relationship with the prime minister. Some were given Land Rovers, others were given positions in local government. It gave her certain advantages but she was certainly not a brothel keeper. Everyone is entitled to do what they please in their own home,' he said. Well, not unless it's against the law and, to be perfect honest, I'm rather surprised to head a lawyer trying that line of defence. 'Everybody's entitled to do what they please in their own home, officer,' said Reggie Kray as he wiped the blood off the knife that done for Jack the Hat. 'Actually, I don't think that's true, son,' replied George Dixon. 'You've been watching too many of those Italian crime movies again, haven't you?' Corso denied previous prosecution claims that Minetti and another guest at the parties held at Arcore, near Milan, had 'indulged in a lesbian kiss' with then seventeen-year-old belly dancer Karima El Mahroug. El Mahroug is one of thirty three women who are said to have been paid with cash, jewellery and other items by Berlusconi in return for 'sexual favours,' allegations which both he and they deny. Judge Domanico adjourned the hearing until October. On Monday, Berlusconi's own trial for paying to have underage sex with El Mahroug resumes although he has said that he will not attend. Now, why didn't Rupert Murdoch try that? Oh, hang on ...

Alastair Campbell has written a blog in which he praises the Deputy Prime Minister's approach to the phone hacking scandal. In an article headlined, 'Don't faint, but I want to say something positive about Nick Clegg', Tony Blair's former spin doctor writes: 'Clegg outlined a series of proposed reforms to press regulation, but he promised the end result should do nothing to stifle a "raucous, probing" press, which he said was a cornerstone of liberal democracy.' Truly, we are living through The End of Days.

Scottish comic Kevin Bridges has reportedly landed his own BBC1 show. The comedian was handed the six-part prime time series after impressing BBC executives on Channel Four's Comedy Gala. The programme, which is currently called - with fantastic imagination - The Kevin Bridges Show, is expected to include the comedian's stand-up routines. 'It's great news for Kevin,' a 'source' allegedly said. 'He's working on loads of new gags - and they won't be jokes that only Scots can get.' One would hope not. Bridges recently hosted the Channel Four series Stand Up For The Week and has appeared on several BBC comedy panel shows including Have I Got News For You, Mock The Week and Would I Lie To You? His stand-up routines have also featured on programmes such as Live At The Apollo and Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow.

Classic 1970s TV series The Persuaders! will be released on Blu-ray for the first time this autumn, complete with brand new special features, to mark the show's fortieth anniversary. Originally broadcast on ITV between 1970 and 1971, the show starred the late Tony Curtis and the still very much current Roger Moore as two millionaire playboys, Danny Wilde and Lord Brett Sinclair - one a self-made man who battled his way out of the New York slums and the other a peer of the realm, born into money - who are duped by a retired judge into righting wrongs and fighting crime. Whilst driving around the Riviera in Lamborghinis and drinking champagne cellars dry. Filmed on location (mostly at Pinewood and but with a few days in Monaco) the series featured scripts written by Brian Clemens (The Avengers) and Terry Nation (Doctor Who) among others and a spellbinding title theme by the great John Barry. The eight-disc Blu-ray set will be released on Monday 19 September, featuring HD restorations of all twenty four episodes. So, now all you've got to do is buy a Blu-ray player so you can watch the damn thing.

A new trailer has been unveiled for Steven Spielberg's The Adventures Of Tintin movie, which features a screenplay by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish.

And so to yer actual Keith Telly Topping actual 45(s) of the Day. This time out we've got a trio of gems from the Goddess that is Miss Polly Harvey and his various men. There just aren't anywhere near enough uses of the word 'filthy' in rock and roll for my liking dear blog reader. So, let's put that right.
And, here's that legendary performance of 'Down By The Water' from Later. Sex.
The official video's pretty tasty too. And lastly, one of the greatest songs of the last decade, by anyone. Fine performance too.
Seriously, if you haven't got Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea in your CD collection then you're incomplete!

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