Saturday, July 23, 2011

Week Thirty One: Copper's Narks!

Evidence of possible phone hacking at the Sunday Mirra newspaper has been found by the BBC's Newsnight. The programme spoke to a journalist who worked on the paper within the past decade who claimed to have witnessed 'routine' phone hacking in the newsroom. The 'source' said that 'celebrities' including the actress Liz Hurley and the footballer Rio Ferdinand were 'targeted.' Trinity Mirra said its journalists 'work within the criminal law and Press Complaints Commission code of conduct.' Which, of course, is exactly what News International said - consistently - about the News of the World right up until January of this year. So, we must believe them. The 'source' told Newsnight's Richard Watson: 'One afternoon in the newsroom I saw Liz Hurley's phone being hacked and a reporter listen to her mobile phone messages and take a note of what was said. It was a Thursday and I was told that there wasn't much on there - just something about lunch from another woman, so they would keep trying before the weekend to see what they could find.' The programme's source said the technique of phone hacking was used on a daily basis. 'Designated reporters would be doing it pretty much every day,' they claimed. 'One reporter who was very good at it was called the "master of the dark arts." At one point in 2004 it seemed like it was the only way people were getting scoops. If they didn't just randomly hack people in the news, they would use it to stand up stories that people had denied.' The source claimed the Sunday Mirra hired 'a voiceover artist' to imitate famous people in order to get information about them. 'I was told he had successfully managed to get health records too,' the 'source' is alleged to have claimed. 'He was such a God of a voiceover artist that he could pretend to be famous people or failing that he'd pretend to be their lawyer or someone related to them. I was told that we had got Leslie Ash's medical records from the "dark arts."' Meanwhile, BBC home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds said that a former Daily Mirra journalist, James Hipwell. has told an Australian newspaper he is willing to testify that in the late 1990s Mirra journalists were 'told to go through the voicemails of celebrities to look for stories.' Hipwell, who worked as a financial journalist under the editorship of Piers Morgan, said the practice was 'seen as a bit of a wheeze.' He was jailed for six months in February 2006 for pocketing nearly forty one thousand smackers by repeatedly purchasing low-priced stocks, recommending them to readers in the Mirra's City Slickers column and then quickly selling them as values soared. Trinity Mirra Group said in a statement: 'Trinity Mirror's position is clear. Our journalists work within the criminal law and the Press Complaints Commission code of conduct.' The BBC has also learned that the News of the World allegedly hired a private investigator to follow the Labour MP Tommy Watson (power to the people!) when he attended his party's conference in Brighton in 2009. A 'source close to the now defunct Sunday tabloid' said that the paper was attempting to write a story about the MP but that nothing was published. There is no suggestion - at least at this stage - that Watson's mobile phone was hacked. 'Politicians were being followed extensively,' said the 'source' who 'worked for the newspaper for several years but asked not to be named.' In other developments on Friday, David Cameron said that James Murdoch 'clearly' needed to answer questions from MPs after his evidence on phone hacking was challenged by two former News International executives. The Law Society will write to the judge leading the inquiry into phone hacking asking him to investigate after revealing that police have warned a number of solicitors that their phone messages might have been hacked. The Solicitors Regulation Authority launched its own investigation into the role of solicitors in the events surrounding the crisis. Labour MP Chris Bryant, who is suing over allegations that his phone was hacked, wrote to non-executive directors of News Corporation asking for James and Rupert Murdoch to both be suspended by the company's board. And, the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg - remember him? - confirmed that he did raise questions about Cameron's decision to bring the ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson into No 10 as his director of communications. The BBC said that it had also learned the FBI plans to contact actor Jude Law following media claims that his mobile phone was hacked during a visit to the US which, potentially, could lead to News International as an organisation facing criminal charges in America.

The Evening Standard has reported that Lord Justice Leveson, the judge who will lead the inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal, has links to the Murdoch family - albeit rather tenuous ones: Lord Justice Leveson, they allege, attended two evening events at the London home of PR boss Matthew Freud - who is married to Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth - as well as having another dinner with him. The revelations raised questions over why the judge had been chosen to carry out the landmark inquiry into the media, police and politicians. A spokesman for the judge said that he met the boss of Freud Communications 'by chance' at a dinner in February last year. Freud then offered to help the Sentencing Council on how to promote public confidence in the criminal justice system. 'To that end, in his capacity as Chairman of the Sentencing Council, and with the knowledge of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Justice Leveson attended two large evening events at Mr Freud's London home: these were on 29 July 2010 and 25 January 2011,' the spokesman added. Prior to his appointment to the inquiry, Lord Justice Leveson had told the Government about the links. Downing Street said that Leveson had been appointed on the recommendation of the Lord Chief Justice 'in line with the procedure of the Inquiries Act 2005.' He was the only proposed candidate. 'He has been entirely open about attending these events,' the spokesman added. A spokeswoman for Freud Communications declined to comment saying that these were 'private events.'

Many angry victims of the News of the World's particular brand of thuggish boot-boy journalism over the years have tried their hand at suing over allegations made in the newspaper. The paper's battle-hardened lawyers have proved to be very good at seeing them off according to the Gruniad. Still, even conservative estimates suggest that they regularly paid out somewhere in the region of £1.2m a year on a variety of libel claims made against the News of the World and other News International titles. But in May 2008, Nick Davies writes, Tom Crone, the paper's veteran head of legal, 'got a nasty shock.' His opponents in one lawsuit against the paper suddenly appeared to have 'got hold of a smoking gun.' It was a piece of evidence which seemed to guarantee that the complainant in question, Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers' Association, could 'virtually write his own cheque in privacy damages and blow a major hole in the tabloid's budget.' Much worse, Davies notes, was the fact that this single document, later christened the 'For Neville' e-mail, had the potential to wreck all of the previous News of the World efforts to cover up the developing hacking scandal. Ultimately, this piece of evidence would not only cost Crone his own job, but also help to destroy the entire newspaper for which he worked. News of the 'For Neville' e-mail originally arrived on Crone's desk at Wapping, in the form of an 'amended particulars of claim' from Taylor's lawyers, dated 12 May 2008, the Gruniad claims. 'It used dry legal language, but Crone immediately saw its force.' It apparently detailed the contents of one of the documents seized by the police in the raid on Glenn Mulcaire, the News of the World's private detective who had recently been jailed for phone hacking along with what New International had insisted for a year - and would continue to exist for the next three years - was a lone 'rogue' reporter, Clive Goodman. What the e-mail allegedly revealed was the way in which senior staff at the News of the World had been involved in systematic hacking – the very thing the paper had been strenuously denying all along, not only to Taylor's lawyers, but also to its readers, to parliament and to the general public. The legal pleadings said: 'Prior to 29 June 2005, Mr Ross Hindley acquired a transcript of fifteen messages from the claimant's mobile phone voicemail and a transcript of seventeen messages left by the claimant on Ms Armstrong's [a business associate of Taylor] mobile phone voicemail. At all material times, Mr Hindley was a journalist employed by NGN working for the News of the World. By e-mail dated 29 June 2005, Mr Ross Hindley emailed Mr Mulcaire a transcript of the aforesaid fifteen messages from the claimant's mobile phone voicemail and seventeen messages left by the claimant on Ms Armstrong's mobile phone voicemail. The transcript is titled "Transcript for Neville" and the document attached to the e-mail was called "Transcript for Neville." It is inferred from the references to Neville that the transcript was provided to, or was intended to be provided to, Neville Thurlbeck. Mr Thurlbeck was at all material times employed by NGN as the News of the World's chief reporter.' Taylor's lawyers had obtained a copy of the 'For Neville' e-mail, with its lists of carefully transcribed hacked private messages, from the police under a court order. It was one of the eleven thousand pages of evidence seized from Mulcaire which were, at that time, mouldering in a number of black bin bags in the basement of Scotland Yard since the police had been, Davies writes, 'persuaded to drop their pursuit of a case so potentially embarrassing to their tabloid journalist friends.' Crone, he notes, 'must have been shocked to realise the incriminating nature of the information the Metropolitan police possessed which could be used in future against his own employers.' Faced with such a crisis, Davies claims, Crone decided he had to consult his new boss, who was to authorise a huge, secret payout which, effectively, buried the 'Neville' dossier. He went to see the abrasive and self-confident younger son of the proprietor, thirty six-year-old James Murdoch. Rupert's oily offspring had arrived in December 2007 as the chief executive of News International, the company which controls all four of Murdoch senior's UK papers, the News of the World, the Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. He had not been around the gaff when the original hacking affair erupted the previous year with the jailing of two employees and presumably, Davies writes, he knew little of its history at that point. At this week's parliamentary hearing, James Murdoch's Octogenarian father hastened to protect James when the subject came up, saying that his son had only been in charge of the papers for 'a very few weeks.' But the truth about who said what in the subsequent conversation with James now 'threatens to derail not just one paper, but the whole of Rupert Murdoch's dynastic ambitions.' Neither side disputes that James, without telling his father, agreed to hand over almost one million pounds of the company's money for a settlement that was to be kept totally confidential: three hundred thousand charged by their own outside lawyers, another two hundred and twenty thousand smackers for the fees of Gordon Taylor's lawyers, and a monster pay-off of four hundred and twenty five grand in personal damages to Mr Taylor himself. This was a sum almost twice the two hundred and fifty thousand quid which, according to James, outside counsel had advised was the 'likely' damages Taylor could have expected to receive if he won the case at trial. On the face of it, the deal made little obvious commercial sense. James, previously regarded as the heir apparent to Rupert, 'now stands accused of complicity in an attempted cover up of crimes within his company.' If that turns out to be true, it will be fatal for James' ambition, and also open him to a raft of legal dangers, as lawsuits proliferate against the Murdoch empire. For the contents of the 'For Neville' e-mail are, claims the Gruniad 'so obviously toxic that James, a reluctant witness, last week emphatically testified to MPs on the culture, media and sport committee and that he was never told about its existence.' Crone, with all his authority as the tabloid group's most long-serving and senior consigliere, almost immediately contradicted him. Crucially, Crone has the support of a third man at the crucial meeting in question. This was Colin Myler, the then editor of the News of the World, who issued a formal statement jointly with Crone on Thursday, backing the lawyer's version of events. John Whittingdale, the Commons committee chairman, is demanding to know whether his committee has, yet again, been misled, and Tommy Watson (power to the people!), the Labour MP who extracted James Murdoch's disputed testimony, has notified the police of potential criminal duplicity. The gauntlet has, effectively, been thrown down to Rupert Murdoch and his son this weekend, in the most melodramatic fashion yet. As the Gruniad's Lisa O'Carroll and Owen Gibson note: 'It's like the last scene from Reservoir Dogs when they all shoot each other. But what did the Murdochs expect? After dumping on so many senior News International executives and laying off hundreds of journalists when they impetuously shut down the News of the World in a bid to contain the scandal, the only surprise was that the shots weren't fired sooner. The question now is who are going to be the last men standing at the newspaper empire Rupert Murdoch built up over the last four decades? And will his son and heir-apparent, James, be among them?'

It's not been a good few days for the Murdochs and it got worse on Friday when Max Mosley called into doubt Rupert Murdoch's claim that he was unaware of the identity of the News of the World's chief reporter. During questioning at the Commons media select committee on Tuesday, Murdoch senior was asked by Watson: 'In 2008, why did you not dismiss News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck following the Mosley case?' Murdoch replied: 'I'd never heard of him.' That reply seemingly surprised Mosley, the former motor sport chief who was the subject of a controversial News of the World exposure of his private life. He recalled writing to Murdoch in March of this year specifically about Thurlbeck's role in the story and the evidence which he gave when Mosley sued the paper for an intrusion into his privacy. Mosley won his case and was awarded damages of sixty thousand pounds. The trial judge was heavily critical of Thurlbeck and that was the burden of Mosley's complaint to Murdoch in his letter. It was sent by post to Murdoch at the New York headquarters of his company, News Corporation, and also e-mailed to him on 10 March. In the letter and e-mail, there are several mentions of Thurlbeck by name. It began: 'Dear Mr Murdoch, Your companies have a policy of zero tolerance towards wrongdoing by employees. This has been reiterated by you and by those speaking on your behalf, particularly in the context of recent allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World. You may know that in 2008, I sued the News of the World over a story about my private life [which was written by] the chief reporter of the newspaper, Mr Neville Thurlbeck.' Quoting from the written judgment by Mr Justice Eady, Mosley pointed out that Thurlbeck sought a follow-up to the original exposure by sending e-mails to two of the unidentified women who featured in the story. He wrote that Thurlbeck 'threatened to publish their pictures in the next edition of the News of the World if they refused to give him what he wanted.' Mosley continued: 'The editor of the News of the World, Mr Myler, was questioned about this during the trial.' He concluded: 'No disciplinary proceedings of any kind appear to have been taken. In the light of your zero tolerance policy towards wrongdoing, would you please give instructions that this matter be investigated without further delay and appropriate action taken?' It is not known whether Mosley's letter or e-mail was actually read by Murdoch. Mosley subsequently received confirmation that the letter had been received, but has had no reply to its actual contents. It is, of course, possible that Murdoch's staff did not pass it to him. In two months' time, Thurlbeck and the News of the World's publishers, News Group Newspapers, are due to appear before a court in Paris on charges relating to the Mosley story. They face criminal charges of breach of privacy and defamation that will be tried before the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris on 20 September.

Mark Thompson, the director-general of the BBC, has written that 'journalists must be allowed to break the rules' in the pursuit of a story: 'The phone-hacking scandal has put investigative journalism in the dock. Yet without investigative journalism - and in particular the meticulous work of one investigative journalist, Nick Davies, of the Guardian - it's a scandal that would never have seen the light of day. Right now it's the journalistic and moral failures, and the human consequences of those failures, that loom large. But don't lose sight of the second half of the paradox when you consider how British journalism should respond to the events at the News of the World. Whatever the ultimate conclusions of the Leveson inquiry, it is important that the ability of serious investigative journalists to do their work is not blunted or unnecessarily constrained,' he added, writing in a comment piece in Friday's Times, which was also published on a BBC blog. 'Nor do I believe should we automatically assume that newspapers should be held to the same level of regulatory supervision and constraint as the broadcasters,' Thompson wrote. He cited the MPs' expenses scandal as an example of something that the BBC, as an organisation funded by the public through the licence fee, would not have been able to do because it entailed paying for stolen information. 'The privately owned Telegraph took a different view and was able to publish a series of stories that, taken as a whole, were clearly in the public interest,' he said. Thompson also hit out at critics of the BBC who have claimed its coverage of the phone-hacking scandal is 'biased' because it is a competitor of BSkyB. He said that a recent poll published by the Daily Scum Mail that the public has 'little appetite' for the phone-hacking affair did not tally with the BBC's own poll, which showed eighty one per cent of the public believed it was 'important' to cover the story. Internal tracking data also showed that BBC1's Ten O'Clock News bulletin devoted fewer minutes to the story than News at Ten on ITV, according to Thompson, and that Sky News devoted more time to phone hacking in the key slot of 5pm to 6pm than the BBC News channel. Thompson ridiculed those who have been touting the line that the 'real story' is about the BBC's dominance and said the public want a serious discussion about the difference between good and bad investigative journalism 'and a complex but necessary debate about where the boundary of acceptable journalistic practice lies.' Thompson's article can be seen as a response to prime minister David Cameron's surprise announcement on Wednesday that the inquiry into phone hacking, media practices and ethics would be extended to social media and broadcasters. In what is regarded as a sop to anti-BBC sentiment on the far right of the Conservative party, Cameron singled out the corporation for attention during Wednesday's Commons debate on phone hacking, along with News Corporation and BSkyB, when he discussed a move towards stricter media ownership rules. 'Above all we need to ensure that no one voice, not News Corporation, not the BBC, becomes too powerful,' he told MPs. 'I think we should be frank: I think in this country sometimes the left overestimates the power of Murdoch, the right overdoes the left-leanings of the BBC. But both of them have got a point and never again should we let a media group get too powerful.'

Police have started an investigation into allegations that Andy Coulson committed perjury when he testified in the Tommy Sheridan trial. The Crown Office in Scotland said it has instructed Strathclyde Police to formally begin an inquiry after a 'preliminary assessment' of evidence was completed. Although prosecutors refused to confirm whose evidence will be examined, it is understood officers will focus on the testimony given by Coulson. They will also investigate allegations of phone hacking and police corruption in Scotland. The then Downing Street director of communications, Coulson told the trial last December that he had 'no knowledge' of illegal activities by reporters while he was editor of the tabloid newspaper. He also denied knowing that the paper had paid corrupt police officers for tip-offs, but it has now been widely reported that News International has uncovered e-mails showing payments were made during his editorship. Among the other witnesses whose testimony may come under scrutiny are Bob Bird, the News of the World's Scottish editor, and Douglas Wight, the Scottish edition's former news editor. Sheridan, a former socialist MSP, was jailed in January for himself committing perjury during a successful defamation action against the News of the World. The newspaper had claimed that he was an adulterer who visited a swingers’ club. The Crown Office said the police's initial assessment, which included examining evidence given by 'certain witnesses,' had been concluded after two weeks. George Hamilton, Assistant Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, said: 'Following our discussions with the Crown, we have now been instructed to carry out a full investigation into allegations that witnesses gave perjured evidence in the trial of Tommy Sheridan and into alleged breaches of data protection and phone hacking. We will also be looking to see if we can uncover any evidence of corruption in the police service or any other organisation related to these enquiries.' He warned that the investigation is likely to be lengthy as there is a 'huge amount' of material for the investigating officers to consider and a large number of people to contact. 'However, you have my absolute assurance that it will be a thorough one. We will do everything we can to find out the facts and to report all examples of wrong doing,' he concluded. The Crown Office said 'significant resources' would be directed at the inquiry. Two weeks ago Coulson hired Paul McBride QC, one of the Scotland's most high-profile lawyers and a former Conservative Party colleague.

Nick Frost of Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame and Tommy Watson (power to the people!) have been enjoying something of a Twitter love-in after Frost joked 'I can't wait to play Tom Watson' in the forthcoming Hackgate: The Movie the other day - and Watson offered to buy him a beer in Parliament to 'discuss the plot.' The two men do, certainly, look rather similar.
It was inevitable that sooner or later somebody would say or report something in relation to Hackgate that was, potentially, sueable. Louise Bagashite got close to it the other day with regard to oily twat Piers Morgan but, luckily for her, she was covered by parliamentary privilege at the time. Now its seemed, the Evening Standard is the lucky owner of the first writ to be issued. Former assistant commissioner of the Met John Yates is reported to be suing the Standard for libel 'over aspects of its reporting of his conduct in the News of the World phone-hacking investigation,' his solicitors, Carter-Ruck, have announced. They say the claim relates to allegations made in articles published on 7 July 2011. Luke Staiano of Carter-Ruck said: 'The Evening Standard published highly defamatory allegations concerning Assistant Commissioner Yates which go to the heart of his integrity as a police officer. The allegations are completely false and without foundation. The newspaper made no effort to contact Mr Yates to verify the accuracy of the allegations and even wrongly claimed in the article that Mr Yates had not responded to calls. The Evening Standard has refused to apologise or withdraw the allegations, leaving Mr Yates with no alternative but to bring legal proceedings.' Watch this space for further developments.

And, finally, Tom Crone and Colin Myler, the former News of the World legal manager and editor respectively, were spotted together at Lord's cricket ground, watching the first Test of the series between England and India on Friday. No doubt they were trying to forget all about their many troubles related to Hackgate - and their recent sackings - by having a nice quiet day at the cricket, watching probably the best two test sides in the world at the moment. And, admiring Kevin Pietersen's savage hitting along with Matty Prior's delightful cameo whilst attempting to recall if their former employers had ever published a story about Pietersen obtained by methods other than the purely ethical. One would, of course, hope not. Because, that would be very wrong. Also celebrity spotted at Lord's - this time on Saturday - was Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch, sitting next to dreary old Yorkshire bore Michael Parkinson. Who was probably telling him all about that time when he interviewed 'the late, great Gene Kelly. And, of course, Sammy Davis jnr.'
And so to this week's batch of yer actual Top Telly Tips:

Friday 29 July
419: The Internet Romance Scam - 7:35 Channel Four - is a report on the Nigerian confidence tricksters who target British women by assuming fake identities on dating websites, then defrauding their victims out of thousands of pounds. This film hears from two victims - although for one the story took a surprising turn when the man she thought was romancing her confessed his true identity. A reformed scammer in Lagos also explains the thinking behind the Nigerians' deceit. Part of the First Cut strand.

Fergal Keane examines a cache of recently discovered aerial footage and photographs of the conflict in a repeat of The First World War from Above - 9:00 BBC2. A forty eight-minute film taken by a French airship in the summer of 1919, following the route of the Western Front, revealing the devastating impact of the war on the land, while a collection of one hundred and fifty thousand photos taken by First World War pilots, intended to provide commanders with a revolutionary view of the battlefield, tells human stories of that terrible conflict which were visible only from above.

If you fancy listening to an hour of a band so far up their own collective arse that they can brush their teeth from inside then Coldplay at Glastonbury 2011 - 9:50 BBC4 - is the very broadcast for you. Coverage of the band's set at Worthy Farm - and 'worthy' is a very apt word when it comes to Coldplay, the Dire Straits of the Twenty First Century and a band whose lead singer is, according to the comedian Katy Brnad, 'almost entirely made of hummus.' This set brought the second night of the festival to a close at the Pyramid Stage and sent lots of lice-ridden hippies on drugs off to try and find their tents with a vague, but nagging, feeling of dissatisfaction and regret. About everything really, but mainly about Coldplay. Featuring performances of 'Clocks', 'Viva La Vida', 'Yellow', 'The Scientist' and 'In My Place', as well as new songs 'Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall', 'Hurts Like Heaven' and 'Us Against the World'. And various other trite dirges. Tragically, they didn't play a cover of Mitch Benn's epic 'Everything Sounds Like Coldplay Nowadays.' About as welcome as a pork pie at a Jewish wedding, the sheer banal pointlessness of the event is further emphasised by the fact that Coldplay, for all their pompous bombast, retain an kind of boring tunefulness but without any inherent evidence of energy or soul. If yer actual Keith Telly Topping had been there, dear blog reader, I'd've thrown things at them just to prove to myself they were actually still alive.

Saturday 30 July
Saturday sees a return of John Bishop's Britain - 9:10 BBC1 - for a new - second - series. The former England cricketer and now desperate TV wannabe Andrew Flintoff joins the host for his entertainment show which delves into subjects and themes that, allegedly, 'touch everyone's lives.' Filmed in front of an audience in Manchester, the programme features stand-up, sketches and real-life stories from the British public and celebrities. The best bits, frankly, are Bishop's own stand-up routines which are, let's not beat about the bush here, bloody funny. The rest, I can take or leave to be honest.

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping was having a conversation with a colleague the other day who, again, brought up the omni-present nature of John Barrowman in relation to British TV. I did point out, fairly I thought, that before last week, the last time Barrowman had been on TV with any regularity was over a year ago and the last time he was doing more than one thing at once was in the summer of 2009. But, seemingly, it's one of those reputations that stick - although I did tell my colleague that such a prejudice probably said more about him than it did about Big Gay John. Anyway, Tonight's the Night - 6:30 BBC1 - continues. And, it's been quite popular so far this year, regular audiences of between four and five million. It's relatively harmless - as noted a couple of weeks ago, it's basically Jim'll Fix It with sequins and dance routines. Tonight, Big Gay John makes more dreams come true. Glee star Matthew Morrison makes one of his biggest fans happy with the help of The ONE Show's Matt Baker, pop singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor duets with a brave young woman, and a teacher gets his dancing shoes on to take the title role in Billy Elliot: The Musical. The Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, Portsmouth, has a new conductor for one night only and the survivor of a motorbike crash receives a golfing masterclass from Colin Montgomerie.

Sunday 31 July
Evan Davis presents the return of the business ideas contest Dragons' Den - 9:00 BBC2, and there is a new Dragon in town, as the perfectly extraordinary looking haulage industry expert Hilary Devey joins Peter Jones, Theo Paphitis, Deborah Meaden and Duncan Bannatyne to evaluate pitches from entrepreneurs. Check out those shoulder pads, ladies and gentlemen. You usually need planning permission for a construction like that. Those hoping to impress include a nervous woman who thinks she has the answer to a common birthday party problem (but, of course, hasn't), a Yorkshireman who comes unstuck when one of the Dragons knows more about the solar power industry than he does (ooo, elementary schoolboy-type error, that) and a circus act hoping to go with a bang.

Repeated, but still a cracker, tonight's episode of Inspector George Gently - 8:30 BBC1 - is set in the summer of 1966. The Northumbrian police come under increasing media scrutiny as Sunderland's Joker Park prepares to host a World Cup match involving the USSR, while campaigners protest against the proposed landing of the Polaris nuclear submarine at nearby Jarrow docks. When an academic is found dead after a CND rally, Gently and Bacchus are dispatched to Durham University to investigate his background - and find themselves in the middle of a wave of social and sexual rebellion. Fine period drama, starring Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby (so good playing against type in Luther recently), with Sarah Lancashire and Warren Clarke.

And, speaking of second opportunities to catch something, if you missed any of Hawaii Five-0 recently (and, if you did, why?) then Sky One have a great big catch-up session tonight with six episodes from seven o'clock through to the wee small hours. This is, of course, a remake of the popular US crime drama on the 1970s, starring Alex O'Loughlin, Scott Caan, Lost's Daniel Dae Kim and Battlestar Galactica's Grace Park. When former Navy Seal Colonel Steve McGarret returns to his native Hawaii to investigate his father's murder, the island's governor enlists him to run an elite branch of the state's police force, pairing him with a reluctant New Jersey detective Danny Williams. Whenever you're remaking a classic TV show, either as remake or as a movie, there is one golden rule you should always follow, unless you're doing a complete Battlestar Galactica type 'reimagining.' Remind yourself of all of the things that made the original so memorable and then, for God's sake, do not, do not, do not mess with them. Say the words 'Hawaii', 'Five' and 'Oh' to most people over a certain age and they will remember three things about the long-running Jack Lord series, apart from the locations and memorable characters. Great theme tune, stunning title sequence and one iconic catchphrase. I'm delighted to report that all three are present and correct in the remake (though 'book 'em Danno' is usually sent up something rotten). It's fast, it's slick and it's camp, it's well worth watching - a few bits of hilarious over-the-top mom's apple-pieisms aside - and Caan (as a wonderfully pissed-off Danno) is the best thing in it by a mile. Oh, and if you need another reason to watch it, James Marsters is a recurring guest villain in a couple of episodes.

Monday 1 August
In New Tricks - 9:00 BBC1 - the ex-coppers find themselves under the microscope when a psychologist arrives to conduct a study into 'older men in the workplace' - but she soon reveals a more personal reason for her visit. It turns out that five years ago her brother, a cycle courier, was the victim of a hit-and-run which left him unable to remember anything prior to the accident. He believes that he was targeted for the parcel he was carrying, which was stolen at the scene. The great Sally Phillips (from Smack the Pony) guest stars.

Somewhat battered by a handful of tabloids with an agenda, so now you know how the BBC feels, Coronation Street continues - 7:30 ITV. David makes a disturbing discovery after Gail informs him Kylie has been talking to social services. Amber spends all night clubbing with Tommy then urges Sunita not to tell Dev, and Audrey invites Marc to move in temporarily when his house gets flooded. Nick offers Becky an interview for a job at the bistro and Steve tries to track down Tracy.

If you're on the lookout for something a bit more ... full of bad language, perhaps, there's Hell's Kitchen USA - 9:00 ITV2. Eighteen contenders hope they have what it takes to impress Gordon Ramsay and win the life-changing prize of a job as a head chef at BLT Steak in New York City. The competition kicks off with the signature dish challenge, with the winning team getting to enjoy lunch at a leading Los Angeles restaurant. Before the evening service begins, there is a shock when one contestant has to be rushed to hospital and those remaining must continue in the kitchen. Those of a nervous disposition, look away now!

Tuesday 2 August
If you've been following The Hour - 9:00 BBC2 - so far then you'll know that pre-series impressions of something classy, slick and well acted seem, for the most part, to be accurate. In tonight's episode, the show's fortunes are on the up - if only Daybreak could say the same thing - so Hector invites the team to a weekend shooting party at his in-laws' country mansion. But, he struggles to hide his affection for Bel despite the presence of his wife. Freddie, meanwhile, continues to be baffled by his crossword, convinced the jumble of letters holds a vital clue to the killer's identity, while back at the office suspicions are growing about Tom Kish, with Isaac on the case to find out just what the blinking heck is going on. Romola Garai, Dominic West, Ben Whishaw and Torchwood's Burn Gorman star in the 1950s newsroom drama.

Having been given the hiding of a lifetime last week, Geordie School for Girls is back for more - 9:00 BBC3. The four women continue to experience life on the breadline in Walker. Just like yer actual Keith Telly Topping, in fact. They take on a variety of unglamorous jobs for very little money. Just like yer actual Keith Telly Topping, in fact. And, horribly, they find themselves excluded from a lavish black-tie event at a Fourteenth Century castle ... Nope, I've never had that problem, I'm forced to confess.

In the latest episode of EastEnders - 7:30 BBC1 - Ian Beale's attempt to impress Cheryl places him in a difficult position (and, if he remains there for two long his face will stay like that) and he takes a desperate step to reinforce his lies. Just like News International. Only, his main asset is a chip shop. Otherwise, same difference. Greg, meanwhile, tells Tanya that he wants Cora and Rainie to move out. Lola's thieving catches up with her at the cafe, Phil tries to force Janine out of their new partnership, and Tyler makes a big impression on the staff at the salon.

Wednesday 3 August
It's been a while since we mentioned Top of the Pops: 1976 - 7:30 BBC4 which, you'll note, has now switched to Wednesday nights on some weeks. Dave Lee Travis presents an edition of the pop show from 22 July 1976, the week in which Elton John (wearing a particularly vile checky suit) and Kiki Dee's duet 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' rose to the top of the chart in place of Demis Roussos. The show also features performances by Johnny Cash, David Dundas, Sheer Elegance, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, Johnny Wakelin and the Kinshasa Band (ah, yeah!), Five Thousand Volts and 1776, as well as dance troupe Ruby Flipper.

In The Great British Weather - 7:30 BBC1 - Carol Kirkwood visits Cape Wrath, one of the windiest places in Scotland, while Chris Hollins counts down the five worst storms in UK history and explores how weather was instrumental in the Spanish Armada's defeat in 1588. Plus, weathermen John Kettley, Bill Giles and Michael Fish celebrate the history of TV forecasts. Presented by Alexander Armstrong, from Stirling Castle.

If you missed it on Sunday tonight sees a repeat of the series finale of Top Gear - 8:00 BBC2. Jezza Clarkson and James May set out for the seaside in electric cars the Nissan Leaf and the Peugeot iOn, stopping off in Lincoln along the way. Richard Hammond meets an extraordinary rally team in which everyone, from mechanics to drivers, is an amputee with a military background, and the new Lamborghini Aventador is taken out on the track. Last in the current series. It'll be back later in the year. Whether, by that time, the Daily Scum Mail and the Gruniad have found something in it to whinge about, we'll have to wait and see.

The final episode of The Corrie Years - 7:30 ITV - is entitled The Changing Face of Britain. This focuses on how events in the outside world have played a part in creating Coronation Street storylines, from Ken Barlow taking part in a 'Ban the Bomb' march in 1961 to the eco-warriors who inspired a tree-top protest from Emily Bishop in 1997. The documentary also recalls the strike at Mike Baldwin's factory in 1978, which was followed by a real-life one at ITV a year later. Still narrated by David Morrissey. Still without Andrew Marr alongside him playing 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.'

Thursday 4 August
It's episode four of Torchwood: Miracle Day - 9:00 BBC1 - which is called Escape to LA. The Torchwood team travels to California as the battle against the mysterious PhiCorp continues - but a trap has been set for Captain Jack and his allies. Will they fall into it or, you know, not? Meanwhile, Oswald and Jilly find themselves with an enemy of their own. John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Bill Pullman, Mekhi Phifer and Lauren Ambrose star in the SF thriller. Which has been getting mixed reviews so far although this blogger's very much enjoying it.

The drama highlight of the night, however, is Margaret - 9:30 BBC4 - a repeat of one of the best biopics the BBC have produced in years. Lindsay Duncan stars as Margaret Thatcher in this one-off drama charting the former prime minister's final days in office. In November 1990, deputy prime minister Geoffrey Howe resigns with a speech in which he urges his fellow Conservative Party members to 'consider' their loyalty to Mrs Thatcher. A leadership challenge is announced, but the Iron Lady refuses to take it seriously - unaware that her premiership will be over just nine days later. Ian Diarmid portrays loyal husband Denis, with Geoffrey Howe, Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke played by John Sessions, Oliver Cotton and Kevin R McNally. Watch out for a fantastically angry and foul-mouthed Norman Tebbit played by Roy Marsden, Maurice Cochran as a scowling Alan Clark, and, highlight of the piece, Ian Hughes as that snivelling little twat John Selywn Gummer bursting into tears. One can't, ever, see too much of that.

Aircrash: Hudson River Landing - 8:00 Channel Five - is the story of the Airbus A-320 that hit a flock of birds less than two minutes after leaving New York's La Guardia airport in January 2009. With both engines disabled in the sky over the city, the pilot was forced to crash-land in the Hudson River - saving all one hundred and fifty five people on board. This documentary recreates key moments and explores the reasons for the crash, asking what lessons can be learned.

In the latest Help! My House Is Falling Down - 8:00 Channel Four - Sarah Beeny revisits a Hull family who were forced to leave their Victorian home when roots from the trees surrounding the property caused cracks to appear in the walls. The council refused to cut them down, so twelve months on, she returns to see if any progress has been made and whether the property is inhabitable.

On that bombshell, here's the news: David Tennant has revealed that he would be happy to return to Doctor Who for a guest appearance. The actor insisted that there are 'no plans' for him to appear in Doctor Who 'at the moment,' but said that he would 'love' to play the Tenth Doctor again. 'People keep telling me that they've read online that I'm coming back - but believe me, if that happens I'll be the first to tell everyone. I'll be shouting about it very loudly,' Tennant told TotalFilm. Meanwhile John Barrowman has confirmed that he wants to star in any potential Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary special in 2013. The forty four-year-old stated during the Torchwood Comic-Con panel that he would 'love' for Captain Jack to celebrate the popular family SF drama's milestone alongside Matt Smith. 'Torchwood and Captain Jack were born from the mother ship, which I always called and referenced as Doctor Who,' he said. 'I think it would be an interesting thing. I would love to do it. If Matt was welcome to it, because he is The Doctor now, I think it would be great. I think it would be a different kind of dynamic there with Jack and The Doctor. So, yes, I'm totally up for it.' Barrowman went on to say that he has already spoken to current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat and his predecessor Russell Davies about the prospect. 'I think it would be disappointing for the fiftieth anniversary not to have a character like Jack in that show,' he said. 'Russell thinks it would be a good idea, I've spoken to Steven about it.' Barrowman also spoke of his gratitude at being able to continue playing Captain Jack for so long, and identified the time traveller as his 'dream' role. 'I love playing Jack, whether with Torchwood or making an appearance on Doctor Who,' he added. 'It's the best coat I could put on every morning. When I was cast as Captain Jack, I thought it would be five episodes of Doctor Who. I thought that was it.'

The eye logo for Channel Five's first series of Big Brother has been revealed. The remodelled emblem has been stripped back from some of the more extravagant designs used during the programme's eleven-year run on Channel Four in order to 'set the tone' for the new version of the reality show. 'The new branding really jumps off the page for us and is something that I think symbolises Channel Five's values - straight-talking, direct and not afraid to be different,' the channel's director of programmes Jeff Ford commented. 'I am really proud of the work the creative team have done to develop the branding for the show, which will set the tone for the whole series.' Gavin Henderson, Creative Director for Big Brother at Endemol, added: 'The eye logo is part of Big Brother's DNA. This new design moves the brand forward and perfectly captures our confidence in relaunching this iconic series on Channel Five.' The new artwork, which was produced by Channel Five's in-house creative team and branding specialists Hello Charlie, will broadcast from Saturday in short teaser clips during commercial breaks. Big Brother is believed to be launching on Channel Five in August with a celebrity edition, followed by a regular series. The eye logo will run - unmodified - for both series. Ultimate Big Brother housemate Brian Dowling was this week confirmed as the show's new host, while Emma Willis follows the format to Channel Five as the presenter of new spin-off Big Brother's Bit on the Side.

Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps has been axed after ten years, according to reports. The long-running sitcom series, which starred Will Mellor, will not be renewed as the BBC makes way for fresh content, the Mirra reports. BBC3 Controller Zai Bennett said: 'BBC3 is all about giving new writers a chance. It's now time to give that chance to others. I want to thank the production team for creating a warm, cheeky and popular comedy.' The show's creator Susan Nickson joked: 'I've had a fantastic time for the last fifty years, but wholeheartedly believe it's right for us all to move on. The crew, fans, actors and writers have become like family over the life of the show - in that I see them once a year and ask them for money. I'm thankful we brought such happiness to a lot of people and a lot of enjoyable rage to many others.' Nickson is planning to write another series for the BBC, while Bennett is expected to announce new comedy commissions in the coming weeks.

Dear blog readers in need of a little light relief from the phone-hacking scandal need look no further than the BBC website, which on Friday reported an important anniversary for a telephone service that tells you the time. Except an unfortunate typo in the headline suggested it was more exciting than that: 'Speaking cock turns seventy five years old on Sunday.'
The error has since been corrected.

Britain doesn't have an equivalent to America's Daily Show because TV executives are 'cowards,' John Oliver has claimed. The comic is a regular on the Jon Stewart-fronted show on Comedy Central – which More4 used to broadcast daily in the UK before dropping it in the face of what it claimed to be disappointing ratings. And replaced it with repeats of Come Dine With Me. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Channel Four - and their 'public service remit.' Speaking on the Today programme on Radio 4 on Friday from the US, Oliver said: 'It's been easier for me to work doing political comedy here than in England, which is not something you would ordinary consider. There is absolutely no reason why there should not be a version of the Daily Show, a UK version of it, other than just cowardice on the part of television executives in England.' He added that broadcasters in Britain were scared of tackling big issues, saying that when he was working on a satirical show in the UK at the start of the Iraq war, he was warned away from tackling the subject. 'We were told, "Now is not the time to be making jokes about the Iraq Wa”,"' he claimed. But, he also said that he missed the 'rambunctiousness' of Britain's live stand-up audiences.

Pierce Brosnan has joined the mini-series Bag of Bones. The former James Bond will play a novelist in A&E's adaptation of the Stephen King novel. Bag of Bones centres on an author who - four years after the death of his wife - begins to suffer from nightmares set at the couple's lake house in rural Maine. He ultimately decides to move to the house in order to confront his fears. For X Files and West Wing star Annabeth Gish is also due to star in the project. Brosnan previously signed on to a new romantic comedy from Academy Award-winning Danish director Susanne Bier titled All You Need is Love. Earlier this week, it was reported that the film studio Universal has decided not to commit to Ron Howard's adaptation of Stephen King's Dark Tower series, though filmmakers are currently searching for another means of financial backing.

Quote of the week: 'I don't buy the Sun any more either cos it treats its readers as if we are morons.' Who could possibly have said that, dear blog reader? Why, none other than dear old right-wing bigot Jim Davidson. By Hell, Rupert, it really is a bad week when you've lost Jim Davidson.

ITV in Scotland is to finally screen successful period drama Downton Abbey. Broadcaster STV has announced they will screen series one and two as part of their autumn schedule. When series one of the massively popular costume drama was screened across the rest of the UK on ITV, UTV and CTV in Scotland STV decided to screen their own long running crime drama Taggart in the slot instead. Phyllis Logan, who plays the Downton Abbey Housekeeper Mrs Hughes told STV: 'I'm delighted that STV is showing Downton Abbey in Scotland - it means my family and friends in Scotland will be able to watch it.' Well, they could've just moved. The period drama, which follows the life and times of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, is set in the immediately pre-First World War era. Iain Glen, joins the cast for the second series as new character, Sir Richard Carlisle, told STV: 'I think good quality terrestrial drama made within the UK should be available to watch throughout the UK. No one expected Downton Abbey to be quite the global success it turned out to be and I think that added more voice to the argument.' The second series of Downton has already been making the tabloids this week with reports that Nigel Havers is to be one of the new main cast members joining a line up that includes Hugh Bonneville and Maggie Smith. Speaking to the ATV Today website last November Bobby Hain, Managing Director of Broadcasting and Regulatory Affairs at STV, told them that on the question of screening the costume drama, 'We would never say never. I think we will always look at future network programmes, remember though that we are a commercial business and everything we do has to give us a commercial return so we have to get the biggest audience that we can overall and deliver that to advertisers and more viewers.' He added: 'We would never turn our back on anything, we would always be open to the idea that we would look at everything afresh and consider what options we have going forward.'

X Factor hopefuls auditioning for this year's show have apparently been caught stealing items from backstage areas. Gosh, the naughty good-for-nothing scallywags. Off with them to Tyburn, that's what I saw. Producers are said to have footage of 'hundreds of contestants' taking cosmetics and perfumes from rehearsal rooms filmed through two-way mirrors. The situation has caused 'a dilemma' for 'show bosses' because some of the offenders have 'a great chance' of making it to the live shows, according to the Sun. They are apparently considering broadcasting the footage or axing them from the show. A 'show source' allegedly said: 'It has been really funny for the crew watching people slipping stuff into handbags. It's often the people you would least expect - the quieter folk. They seem to forget they're being filmed, although they've all been warned there are cameras behind the mirrors. The problem is, the scenes could play a part in the public vote when the live rounds come round. It looks like the footage will be left out but it might still end up on the spin-off show The Xtra Factor.' An X Factor spokesman confirmed that runners had to purchase more stock during the auditions, adding: 'Contestants are filmed throughout the audition process, including while in make-up.'

The Jalfrezi has beaten other popular dishes such as the Madras, korma and chicken tikka masala to be named Britain's favourite curry, a (small) poll has found. And, as usual when somebody carries out a (small) poll, it's being reported as 'news' in a bunch of the newspapers. So, we at From The North are doing likewise, albeit sneeringly because, let's face it, who doesn't enjoy a good curry? Glakes, that's who. Anyway, the survey of 'more than one thousand people' (so, in other words, approximately 0.0016 per cent of the population of Great Britain) by the British Curry Club's magazine Chaat!' showed that twenty one per cent of those who expressed a preference voted for the Jalfrezi - an unearthly concoction of green chillies, peppers, onion and tomatoes which yer actual Keith Telly Topping considers tasted just like a fried turd. I like a nice tikka myself. Jalfrezi, the name of which originates from the Bengali word 'jhal' meaning 'spicy hot', was followed in second place by the red-hot Madras which means that eighteen per cent of the voters like going through life with their eyes watering. Chikken tikka masala took eighth position - madness! - while the more bland korma - Mama Telly Topping's dish of choice when it comes to the subcontinent - was placed in tenth, perhaps due to its mildness. And coconuttiness. 'It's really interesting to see that Jalfrezi has topped the list,' said Dave Jenkins, the editor of Chaat! This obviously being some new use of the word 'interesting' that I hadn't previously come across. 'Being a spice lover myself, I think this is great news. People have been depending on the milder curries for too long now, so it's great to see some more adventurous dishes topping the list.' Of the estimated ten thousand Indian takeaways across the country, most are finding the public switching to hotter dishes rather than the previously milder varieties which are, historically, popular. To cook Jalfrezi, chefs marinate the meat to gather the flavour, then place it in fried oil and spices, producing a thick red sauce - a bit like a masala - with a deep spice as opposed to the largely cream-based sauce of something like a korma. I prefer Chinese and Thai, personally, but there's nowt like a good arse-rattling curry every once in a while.

Russia is to classify beer as 'alcohol' for the first time. Because it is. Beer is currently categorised as 'foodstuff' in the country, meaning that regulations surrounding the beverage are lax, the Daily Torygraph reports. Because beer is regarded as a soft drink by many Russians, it is not uncommon to see people drinking in public, even on mornings before work. However, the Russian government wants to cut down on alcoholism and underage drinking, with a new bill signed by President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this week. The new classification will prevent beer being sold in or near public places like schools, limit beer bottles and cans to a maximum capacity of 0.33 litres, and restrict sales at night. Yevgeny Bryun, the Ministry of Health's chief specialist on alcohol and drug abuse, said: 'Normalising the beer production market and classifying it as alcohol is totally the right thing to do and will boost the health of our population. We have been talking about and have wanted such a measure for ages. I take my hat off to the parliament.'

A man in Bangladesh has been severely punished for kidnapping and forcibly marrying a twelve-year-old minor. The thirty-year-old man reportedly had a brick tied to his penis while two hundred people watched him walk through his home village naked, AFP News reports. And laughed. The punishment was given last weekend by the village's local council. Police are said to be investigating the incident as councils are usually forbidden from handing out punishments on such a scale. Local councils in Bangladesh reportedly only have permission to deal with minor issues such as land disputes.

Amy Winehouse has died at the age of twenty seven. The Grammy award-winning singer was found dead at her North London home in the early hours of the morning. Metropolitan Police released a statement this afternoon confirming: 'Police were called by London Ambulance Service to an address in Camden Square shortly before 16.05hrs today, following reports of a woman found deceased. On arrival officers found the body of a twenty seven-year-old female who was pronounced dead at the scene. Enquiries continue into the circumstances of the death. At this early stage it is being treated as unexplained.' Last month, the singer pulled out of her European tour after she was jeered at her comeback gig in Serbia for appearing to be too drunk to perform. For ninety minutes, she mumbled through parts of songs and at times left the stage - leaving her band to fill in. Winehouse had a long, and very public, battle with drink and drugs which had, tragically, overshadowed her musical career in recent years. The singer's problems with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as frequently self-destructive behaviour, had become regular tabloid fodder since 2007. She and her former husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, were also plagued by a variety of run-ins with the law. She had won widespread acclaim, aged twenty, with her 2003 debut CD, Frank. But it was 2006's Back to Black - and its two huge hit singles, 'Rehab' and 'You Know That I'm No Good' - which brought her worldwide stardom, winning five Grammys. Her biggest hit was her 2007 collaboration with producer Mark Ronson on a cover of The Zutons' 'Valerie.'

Finally, for today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day From The North presents a reet tasty slab of yer actual 70s disco shit, baby. Get out yer tight dan dares and wear your medallion with pride. Tell 'em all about, George. 'Sexy!'


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