Saturday, October 15, 2011

Week Forty Three: Carve Your Number On My Wall And Maybe You Will Get A Call From Me

Have I Got News For You's, one suspects one-off, new parlour game for all the family, Fox or Cat was a particular highlight of Friday night's comedy telly. If you missed the episode, dear blog reader, then you've obviously got a life but, anyway, all of the panellists - and host Jo Brand - were on particularly good form. But, especially, that minxy little sauce-bucket Victoria Coren whose sarky one-liners were the icing on the cake of an episode that was perfectly timed to react to the Liam Fox fiasco.
Following that, there was also a proper superb episode of Would I Lie To You? which featured Frank Skinner and 'strong independent' Sarah Millican and yet still Jon Richardson got the finest line of show describing himself as not wishing to come over as 'Trevor Travel-planner' after Frank Skinner spun a yarn about finding himself on a railway holiday in Cornwall.
And, then there was an episode of Qi. You see, dear blog reader, you don't have to go out on a Friday night and drink alcopops and Bacardi Breezers with all of the hoodies and radjys and chavs to enjoy yourself.

And speaking of 'young people' and their odd lifestyles, in the week that millions of them were hit by 'the BlackBerry outage,' it seems YouTube users have been turning to a classic BBC comedy clip to help them get through their pain. The title of the sketch for The One Ronnie, produced last Christmas, seems strangely prescient: "My Blackberry Is Not Working!" There are plenty of great comedy one-liners in the Ronnie Corbett and Harry Enfield sketch, not least the exchange 'What's the problem with your Apple?' 'Well, I tried to put my dongle in it and it won't.' With fifteen million hits on YouTube - and rising - it appears that, yet again, BBC comedy is ahead of the game.

And so to our regular public service announcement, with guitars. If you are a listener or BBC local radio - or a consumer of BBC local TV for that matter - and you have any comments to make, be they good or bad, on the Delivering Quality First proposals and how they are likely to affect the future of your BBC then I urge you to go to the BBC Trust website. There, you can fill in a short questionnaire about your own local station and its output. What you think it does well, what you believe it does badly, how it can be improved. As a licence fee payer, remember that the BBC is, ultimately, yours and its future is something which needs as much - and as varied - comment as possible. This is too important a subject to be left to 'someone else.' The Gruniad's Martin Wainwright has written a rather decent - impassioned - piece on how he sees DQF's effect on local radio, entitled Radio cuts a disaster for 'localism' and community work: 'Radio Cumbria is not alone. This could be a very long post, because small but sturdy local radio across the north (and the whole country) is [sic] facing similar, potentially disabling cuts. I am well aware of pots and kettles, with the Guardian closing its much-appreciated Local operations in Cardiff, Leeds and Edinburgh at the end of May. But the wider issue of metropolitan direction-plus-starvation of regional resources does not justify the intentions of the publicly-funded BBC. My own favourite station Radio Leeds faces the loss of up to 11 staff and local programming between midday and 3pm, when the whole of disparate Yorkshire will share a programme, and after 7pm when all forty English local stations will broadcast the same material. The medium wave frequency would go too with effects on sport.'

The NUJ has suggested that Mark Thompson should follow his own advice after the BBC director general was reported to have told BBC staff in Belfast: 'No one is forcing you to stay.' Union general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said his comments showed 'complete and utter contempt' for those working in the corporation, who are facing net job cuts of up to two thousand. His words 'call into question his own position,' she said. 'Perhaps it's about time he moved on – after all, no-one's forcing him to stay.' The director general met with BBC staff in the Northern Ireland on Friday to discuss the changes, which are being brought in as part of the corporation's wide-reaching Delivering Quality First initiative. The NUJ quotes him as saying: 'If you're really that unhappy, if you think that you can't do your best work here then leave - no-one is forcing you to stay.' But a BBC spokeswoman said: 'This is simply not reflective of the overall staff session where a broad range of issues were discussed. The Director General was in Belfast today as part of his ongoing meetings with staff to discuss the Delivering Quality First process. As expected it was a forthright debate with a robust exchange of views, but useful for all involved.' Nevertheless, Stanistreet said Thompson's comments show 'just how little he values all the hardworking loyal and talented staff who are the lifeblood of the BBC's work. It's BBC staff who are standing up for quality journalism and for the future of the Corporation they are passionate about serving. For Mark Thompson to turn his ire on our members, at a time when the BBC is under unprecedented attack and needs strong leadership, calls into question his own position. Perhaps it's about time he moved on – after all, no-one's forcing him to stay.' A BBC 'insider' allegedly told the Gruniad: 'Mark Thompson is never one to dodge difficult conversations and today was no exception.' But one staff member who was present at the meeting, the newspaper claims, described Thompson's comment as 'insulting' and 'disgraceful.' This is, of course, a very difficult subject to form an instant view on because the comments are only 'reported' and, in any case, there may - as the BBC spokesman alluded to - be some context to them that has been lost between then being said and being, nakedly, reported. This blogger isn't the greatest of Mark Thompson fans - I've found some of his rather weak and insipid comments over the years, when the BBC could have used a bit of strong and robust cheerleadering, to be a hindrance rather than a help. And I believe he's been, at times, downright cowardly in his dealings with government. Nevertheless, I have no intention of condemning the man simply on the word of, of all people, the BBC-loathing Gruniad Morning Star. Nevertheless, it's possibly worth Mark Thompson reflecting, at his leisure, on the fact that the BBC staff to whom he was, is and will be talking to are not only BBC employees but are, also, BBC licence fee payers. You know, those annoying 'little people' who pay your wages, Mark. Have a bit of respect for your employers, please. Thanks, I'm sure it will be very much appreciated.

A fifth of all TV drama viewing is now taking place on a timeshifted basis, BARB has revealed. Drama was the most shifted genre in the week ending 25 September, which the ratings measurement company said was a record week for such activity. The volume of timeshifted viewing reached record levels in the UK, accounting for ten per cent of all TV consumption. BARB classifies any viewing which takes place within one hundred and sixty four hours (approximately seven days) of an original broadcast as 'timeshifted.' This includes playback through PVRs, DVD-recorders or VCRs as well as via catch-up services, but only those available through the TV. Views of BBC content on the iPlayer would count if they took place via Virgin Media for example, but not if they take place on a PC (although the BBC do record numbers of iPlayer usage and have their own Ratings +7 figures which do include iPlayer). While timeshifted viewing is on the rise, almost half (forty eight per cent in the week in question) still takes place on the same day as the linear broadcast. This means it is reported as Viewing On The Same Day As Live and is usually included in standard overnight figures. Young adults between twenty five and thirty four and ABC1s (that's posh people with nice teeth who live in their own homes and have jobs) timeshift more viewing than other groups (common oiks who live in council houses and spoil the landscape). After studying the total viewing across the top ten TV channels during the week ending September 25, BARB found that drama is the most timeshifted genre of programming, at twenty per cent. Which, of course, anybody who follows the ratings of Doctor Who or Downton Abbey could have told them. And, indeed, did when the Sun ran ridiculous stories about 'falling ratings.' This was followed by soaps at sixteen per cent, documentaries at fifteen per cent and entertainment programmes at thirteen per cent. And All Star Family Fortunes are two per cent. Sorry Vern. Among individuals with a PVR or TiVo service such as Sky+ or Freeview+, this proportion rose to thirty two per cent for drama, twenty six per cent for soaps, twenty three per cent for documentaries and twenty one per cent for entertainment. Indeed, of the people whom this blogger knows who have such devices almost none of them actually watch TV 'live' per se anymore, in the traditional sense, even if they only timeshift by a few moments. BARB found that timeshifting varies depending on demographic group, with adults aged between twenty five to thirty four the most likely group to watch shows outside the broadcast schedule, at sixteen per cent during the week. A report published last year indicated that the majority of on-demand viewing is done by people catching up on missed TV shows, casting doubt on the supposed death of the linear schedule but these figures suggest that even in just twelve months viewing habits are changing and changing rapidly.

And, speaking of ratings - overnights, at least - BBC1's new drama Hidden lost a few viewers on Thursday evening for its second episode, but still outperformed Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey on ITV, overnight audience data has shown. Hidden, starring Philip Glenister as down-on-his luck solicitor Harry Venn, was seen by 4.25m on BBC1 in the 9pm slot. The drama proved too strong for Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey, which premiered with 3.64m on ITV in the 9pm hour and a further two hundred thousand viewers on ITV+1. Watchdog was seen by 4.59m on BBC1 in the 8pm hour, and Question Time had an audience of 2.61m from 10.45pm.

Coronation Street legend Betty Driver has died aged ninety one, it has been announced. The actress, who played Rovers Return barmaid Betty for forty two years, 'died peacefully in hospital' early on Saturday morning, an ITV spokesman confirmed. She had been in hospital for six weeks. Betty, who was made an MBE in 1999, had been suffering from ill health since May, when she was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. She celebrated her ninety first birthday at the hospital and, later, said she was intending to returning to Coronation Street. 'I am looking forward to getting back to work. It's lovely in here, but I am looking forward to getting home soon. It's been a wonderful birthday,' she said at the time. 'She will be sadly missed by everyone who knew her,' the spokesman added. Fellow Coronation Street star Julie Goodyear told the BBC: 'It was an honour and a privilege to work with Betty Driver for twenty five years. We laughed together, we cried together and never once had a cross word. She was a totally professional actress. A true icon and legend and a very dear friend. She will be missed and remembered by millions.' Barbara Knox, who plays Rita Sullivan, added: 'I have lost a very dear friend and the Street has lost a very great character, a professional to her fingertips - she will be greatly missed.' Betty joined the ITV soap in 1969 as barmaid Betty Turpin - later Williams. She was initially employed on a three-month contract but stayed for forty two years. 'I thought, why not,' she recalled. 'It'll make a break for a while.' She had originally auditioned for the role of Hilda Ogden in 1964 but was later persuaded to come out of semi-retirement to audition for the role of Betty. She would go on to appear in more than two thousand eight hundred episodes of the show. Elizabeth Mary Driver was born in Leicester but moved to Manchester when she was just two years old. She described an unhappy childhood with, reportedly, little affection given to her or her younger sister Freda. At the age of eight she discovered that she could sing and her mother immediately began forcing her to enter talent contests. When she was fourteen Betty was given the leading role in the stage revue, Mr Tower of London, and was spotted by George Formby who cast her in his new film Boots! Boots! (1934). Her scenes as a cabaret singer ended up on the cutting room floor but many years later, the film was re-released on DVD with Driver's scenes were restored. Director Basil Dean, after seeing her in Jimmy Hunter's Brighton Follies, cast her in the 1938 film Penny Paradise, filmed at Ealing. After a few months of variety and radio work, she returned to the studio to make her second film, Let's Be Famous. In 1940 she became a big-band singer and toured extensively with the Entertainments National Service Association appearing in shows for the troops. Her most popular recording during this period was 'The Sailor With The Navy Blue Eyes.' After World War II she continued touring and appeared in her very popular own BBC radio show, A Date With Betty, which gave Bob Monkhouse his first break as one of the writers. Betty travelled to Australia where she performed her own show and her career took her to Cyprus, Malta and the Middle East. On her return to England she appeared on stage in The Lovebirds, Pillar to Post and What A Racket, and on television with James Bolam in the ITV Play of the Week Love on the Dole. She was then cast in the series Pardon the Expression, a comedy spin-off from Coronation Street alongside Arthur Lowe, before retiring in the mid-1960s and then appearing on Coronation Street. Betty had a seven-year marriage to South African singer Wally Peterson, which ended in her late thirties.

And, on that sad news, so to yer actual Top Telly Tips:

Friday 21 October
Tragically, and frankly daftly, scheduled, Celebrity MasterChef - 8:30 BBC1 - has kind of simply passed everybody by this year with a vague solemn air of 'yeah, so what'? Left to flounder, horribly, in a mid-afternoon slot and then wheeled out twice-a-week (at equally odd times) in the evenings for 'catch up' programming. If one didn't know better, one might almost suspect that it has been deliberately sabotaged to provide an excuse for the BBC to tell Shine to get rid of it. But, to be honest, I don't think anybody in BBC scheduling is that cunning. More likely they're just crassly incompetent. Mind you, it must be admitted, the quality of this year's alleged 'celebrities' has left something to be desired, maybe that was why the BBC were so reticent to put it in primetime. Is it merely twelve months since we were watching mumsy Christine Hamilton the Daily Scum Mail's favourite threaten to walk off with Lisa Faulkner's rightful crown and half the country was tuning-in? (Well, five million punters at least!) Even Torode and Wallace - still one of the best double acts on TV - haven't been able to salvage this disaster. Anyway, tonight the three finalists share their experiences of the culinary contest, discussing participating in a masterclass with Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines. They also reflect on the Chef's Table challenge, in which they prepared meals for leading cooks at Gidleigh Park in Devon. The winner will be announced tomorrow.

DCI Banks - 9:00 ITV - the detective drama in which Stephen Tompkinson reminds us that he can still act, concludes its latest series tonight. A surveillance operation establishes a clear link between the murders of Charles McKay and Barry Clough and the subsequent investigation takes a number of alarming twists before uncovering a conspiracy pointing to one of the team being an informer. As Banks pushes all the suspects hard, the case threatens to undermine his integrity as an officer and brings his relationship with Cabbot to breaking point.

In Derren Brown: The Assassin - 9:00 Channel Four - the illusionist and master of prestidigitation and jiggery-pokery creates a number of large-scale social experiments, some inspired by classic psychology tests, others concocted by Derren himself, to illustrate how easily people's behaviour can be manipulated in the right circumstances. Packed with magic, suggestion and stunts, Dazzling Dezza explores what makes members of the public tick and how they react to different situations. In the Assassin, he investigates whether somebody could be hypnotised into killing a celebrity. This blogger is a huge admirer of Derren Brown. I think he's a frighteningly clever performer with an uncanny ability to catch the public's imagination with his illusions. I also really enjoy the way in which he exposes the charlatans of supposed spiritualism and demonstrates that anything psychics can do, he can just as well through cold-reading, body language and sleight-of-hand. The man's a star.

The Graham Norton Show - 10:35 BBC1 - returns for a new series. Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet talks about her successful career and latest film Contagion. And, hopefully, doesn't burst into tears as she usually does when there's a camera on her. Comedian Rob Brydon drops by for a chat and Jamie Bell discusses providing the voice of Tintin in the new Steven Spielberg movie. Plus, top indie band Noah and the Whale perform their single 'Life Goes On.' Sharp.

Saturday 22 October
Tonight's extended episode of the popular comedy knowledge quiz QI XL - 9:45 BBC2 - is incomprehensible. So, why change the habits of a lifetime? No, really dear blog reader, I'm here all week. Apparently. This is the long-awaited and much-anticipated episode which features the first guest appearance by Britain's favourite pop-star-turned-particle-physicist, the very lovely Brian Cox. At last, somebody on Qi who's almost as brainy as Stephen Fry - that's very novel. He, of course, hosts an extended version of the quiz with a difference. Joining Foxy Coxy are the other guests Sue Perkins - who seems to be on telly more often than the news at the moment -and Wor Ross Noble and regular panellist Alan Davies. Stephen, as ever, asks questions on incomprehensible subjects, and awards points for the most interesting answers. Or rather, according to the Making of Qi documentary, some bloke in a white coat called Brian does!

Back under two hours for the first time in three week (and thank Christ for that), in tonight's The X Factor - 8:00 ITV - the eleven remaining desperate wannabes battle to get one step closer to that life-changing recording contract (followed by a massive hit with a cover version, a year of anticipation, a flop second single, then stacking shelves at Morrison's) in the third live studio round. Gary Barlow mentors the boys, Kelly Rowland is in charge of the girls, Tulisa Contostavlos is leading the groups and Louis Walsh has the over-seventy fives. Dermot O'Dreary is on hand to deal with the tears, the tantrums, the sudden appearance of breasts and the war of words as the judges defend their own contestants, who must then face an agonising twenty-hour wait for the results of the public vote and the next time they can get their undeserving boat-races on TV. The results can be seen tomorrow at 8pm. Millions will watch. How many will actually gain from the experience?

First shown on Wednesday 19 October, Holy Flying Circus - 10:30 BBC4 - is a comedy drama, based on the controversy that surrounded Monty Python's Life of Brian on its release in 1979. It's been much in the news even before its first broadcast after one member of the Monty Python team (the grumpy one) chose to publicly decry the work on the grounds that he didn't like the sound of it. The others don't seem to have a problem with it, however, and Terry Jones ever helped with the production. So, fer Brian's sake, Cleesey, cheer up y'miserable auld git, you're supposed to be a comedian after all. As a campaign to ban the film by tight-arsed bigots and Christians in search of filth gathered momentum, John Cleese and Michael Palin attempted to defend their work by participating in a live TV debate with face-like-a-smacked-arse cynic Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark - but the programme did not go according to plan. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Their chief weapon is Tim Rice. Darren Boyd and Charles Edwards star alongside Steve Punt, Rufus Jones, Tom Fisher, Phil Nichol and Stephen Fry. As God. Yeah, that sounds about right.

Another repeat, but a jolly good'un is First Light - 10:30 BBC2. This fine docudrama is based on the personal memoirs of Geoffrey Wellum, a young RAF pilot who fought in the Battle of Britain in 1940 with the legendary Ninety Two Squadron. His experiences in combat serve as intense rites of passage, but as time goes by it becomes clear that the price of victory can often be an unbearable loss. Starring Sam Heughan. if you missed it first time around, set your recording devices for this, genuinely, you won't regret it.

Sunday 23 October
Ah, it's a sad night on telly tonight, I'm afraid dear blog reader, as it's the last episode of yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved [spooks] - 9:00 BBC1. Ten years, eighty six episodes, nine regular cast members snuffing it (usually very violently), plenty of national crises averted and now, after all that, it comes to an end. I'm sad. Genuinely. As with the finale of Waking the Dead earlier in the year, it feels as if a little part of my life for the last decade has just walked out the door for the final time tonight. That's what you get when you invest, emotionally, in a TV show, dear blog reader. Your heart, broken! So, in the final episode, Harry (the great Peter Firth) faces deportation to America, so he agrees to go quietly on the condition that the signing of the alliance between the UK and Russia be brought forward. But when Elena confides in Ruth (the great Nicola Walker) that she has information about an imminent attack on the UK, Section D have no choice but to break their boss out of CIA custody. With all the main players assembled, the stage is set for a highly dramatic climax to the long-running spy drama. And, if the writers don't do right by Harry and Ruth there will be trouble!

It's also the last in the series of Fry's Planet Word - 9:00 BBC2 - which is called The Power And The Glory. Stephen Fry explores how language is used in storytelling, uncovering how words can evoke strong emotions. Screenwriter William Goldman and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson discuss the way plot and character are interwoven, actors David Tennant, Simon Russell Beale, Brian Blessed and Mark Rylance talk Shakespeare, and literary critic Christopher Ricks argues for Bob Dylan to be considered as great a poet as any other.

In Death or Freedom: The Jericho Jailbreak - 8:00 BBC2 - Martin Shaw tells the story of Operation Jericho, a famous and daring 1944 mission which saw a squadron of RAF Mosquito bombers try to free French Resistance fighters from a prison in Amiens by destroying its walls. You may remember Qi did a specific round on this a few years ago. Martin - something of an aviation buff with a passion for vintage aircraft and who did a similarly fine documentary on the Dambusters raid last year for the Beeb - takes to the air to retrace the British pilots' journey. He also meets survivors and aircrew as he tries to piece together who originally ordered the raid.

Monday 24 October
Now, as mentioned the other day, dear blog reader, Chris Jackson recently contacted From The North to remind yer actual Keith Telly Topping that the BBC's excellent regional human interest strand Inside Out is returning for a new series - 7:30 BBC1. In fact, it actually starts of 17 October so this'll be the second episode. If you've never seen it before, then where've you been?! It's a documentary series focusing on, basically, stories of interest to the region. As to why Chris alerted me to this, hey, what can I say, 'top local radio personality' and all that! Anyway, Inside Out is almost always worth a few moments of your time, featuring the kind of issues that often don't get much coverage at a national level. All of the things that BBC journalism does so well, in fact - investigations of alleged wrongdoing, the holding to account of local authorities and human stories of interest to those in the locale. This week of all weeks, when the whole issue of a local coverage of local events is at its most newsworthy, and whilst the lack of culture secretary scrambles around trying to convince anybody that will listen that local TV (which isn't produced by the BBC) is a good idea, it's vitally important that programmes like Inside Out be highlighted and be supported. Often, in life, you don't know what you're had till it's gone.

Lord Alan Sugar-Sweetie stomps around like an overgrown school bully and gives another group of twelve ambitious (for which read pushy and precocious) schoolchildren the chance to kick-start a future career in business in the second series of Young Apprentice - 9:00 BBC1. (Yes, it was called Junior Apprentice last year but nobody seemed to like the title so they've changed it.) Quite why Lord Sugar-Sweetie is the man for this particular task is something of a vexed question. His company, let's remember, made the ninth best selling hifi system in the 1980s. And the second best selling satellite system. When there were only two on the market. He was also the chairman of Tottenham Hotspur football club. You know how, with many football clubs, other teams supporters sing to the opposition's more Johnny-cum-Lately fans 'where were you when you were shit?' Well, when they play Tottenham the other teams fans often sing 'where were you when Sugar was your gaffer.' True story. Anyway, the teenage candidates, selected from a wide pool of applicants, battle it out through a series of challenges spanning eight weeks. They begin by taking part in a boys versus girls task in which they must conceptualise a new range of frozen snacks to be sold directly to members of the public. And, at the end of it, Sugar-Sweetie will reduce some sixteen year old to tears with a withering statement of inadequacy ending with 'your fired.' And, let's face it, that's always worth watching. Bring on the popcorn.

When yer actual Keith Telly Topping first heard the title of BBC2's Celebrity Antiques Road Trip - 7:00 - I genuinely thought somebody was taking the piss. But, seemingly not. The idea behind this thoroughly ridiculous conceit is that 'famous faces embark on the cross-country heirloom-hunting challenge' and 'Some of Britain's best loved celebrities will show off their antiques knowledge.' Why? We begin with well-known faceache (and drag) Ann Widdecombe and Craig Revel Horwood - neither of whom I think it would be fair to say, the average person would describe as 'some of Britain's best loved celebrities.' So, that's a case under the Trades Description Act for a kick-off. The duo are joined by expert assistants Mark Stacey and Catherine Southon to search Devon and Somerset for valuable items, before heading to an auction in Southend-on-Sea. Narrated by Tim Wonnacott. Why? I mean ... why, for the love of God, WHY?! Who is this supposed to be for? Who is supposed to gained anything, be informed, educated or, Christ help us, entertained by such as format? I'd love to see the balance sheet for this programme, I really would, and find out how many local radio jobs could have been saved if this piece of nonsense hadn't been commissioned. I'm guessing it's quite a few. There are at least ten episodes planned and, in future weeks we can look forward to the delights of Terry Wogan and Caroline Quentin or Tony Blackburn and Toyah Wilcox swanning around the Home Counties looking for antiques. I think, actually, that Terry and tony qualify themselves. And then Mark Thompson wonders why BBC staff are always annoyed at him.

Behind the scenes at a leading forensic pathology lab, scientists have been busy unlocking the secret of how the Egyptians of the ancient Eighteenth Dynasty were able to preserve the bodies of their greatest pharaohs for millennia. Which is the basis for Mummifying Alan: Egypt's Last Secret - 9:00 Channel Four. In this, a terminally ill man has volunteered to donate his body to experts, who having uncovered the complex blend of ingredients necessary for the process, prepare to create a Twenty First Century mummy.

Tuesday 25 October
If you've been watching the BBC's Original British Drama trailers recently you'll have caught a glimpse of Death in Paradise - 9:00 BBC1 - starring Ben Miller which has gone into the Body Farm drama slot. A British police officer is murdered on the Caribbean island of Saint Marie, and the local commissioner declares another officer from the UK must be flown over to lead the investigation into the killing. Enter DI Richard Poole, a brilliant detective with a unique approach to cracking crime, and just the man to solve the mystery of his colleague's death. The only problem is, he is totally unsuited to a life of sun, sea and sand - and worse still, it seems his boss back home wants him to stay there. Miller stars as the fish-out-of-water detective, with Sara Martins, Lenora Crichlow, Don Warrington, Danny John-Jules and Sean Maguire. From the few little clips I've seen of it so far, this looks really good. Miller is a very good actor - in addition to being a very funny (and very clever) man and manages to make his characterisation bumbling, charming and brilliant all at the same time. One to make a date for this, I reckon.

James May's Man Lab - 8:00 BBC2 - returns for a second series. James and his old mate Oz Clarke break out of Dartmoor Prison, evade a team of trackers and navigate their way across moors using only a map and compass in their latest attempt to re-skill the modern male. James tests his own abilities further as he takes on what he feels is the most threatening challenge facing men today - remembering names at a dinner party.

In Code-Breakers: Bletchley Park's Lost Heroes - 9:00 BBC2 - Keeley Hawes narrates the story of a secret Second World War mission in which a twenty four-year-old maths student and a GPO engineer tried to crack Adolf Hitler's personal code machine - reputed to be even more secure than the Nazis' renowned Enigma code. The duo's project led to one of the major breakthroughs of the war and played an important role in ending the conflict in Europe, but because it remained a secret long after the fighting had ended, the two men who devised the plan were never officially recognised. Churchill was so paranoid about Bletchley's secrets falling into 'the wrong hands' (and, for Churchill 'the wrong hands' were, basically, anybody elses!) that most of the work wasn't declassified until the 1970s. Of course, in recent years the stories of Station X, Alan Turing, Tommy Flowers and Colossus et al have become the stuff of legends (and the movie Enigma for a kick-off) but this sort of thing continues to fascinate. Hugely recommended.

Young Nuns - 10:35 BBC1 - sounds like it should be the sort of film you watch in a sleazy fleapit in Soho, but, in fact, it's a documentary following two women who have chosen lives of poverty, chastity and obedience in devoting themselves to God. Twenty three-year-old graduate Clara has decided to join a community of nuns straight from university, while Catherine, twenty five, has worked as a catwalk model, but always dreamed of becoming a nun. Hopefully, the won't pick up any bad habits. Oh, I'm sorry, that was dreadful.

Wednesday 26 October
It's yer actual Keith Telly Topping's birthday today. No, it's not 25 December, trust me. He's one hundred and six. So, what better way to celebrate than with the opening episode of Frozen Planet - 9:00 BBC1 - which is called To the Ends of the Earth. David Attenborough proves that he's certainly no getting too old for this sort of thing as he travels to the Arctic and Antarctic to explore the wildernesses at the Earth's poles, investigating the wildlife and geographical features found there. He begins by popping up to the North Pole, where two polar bears reveal a surprisingly tender side to their characters, before heading to the South Pole - one hundred years after Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott first reached it.

The Impressions Show with Culshaw and Stephenson returns for the first of a new series - 8:30 BBC1. The comedy sketch show, with Jon Culshaw and Debra Stephenson portrays a host of celebrities and public figures, including Professor Brian Cox, Claudia Winkleman, Davina McCall, Simon Cowell and X Factor judges Louis Walsh and Tulisa Contostavlos. One or two of them are even vaguely recognisable.

In the latest episode of Grand Designs - 9:00 Channel Four - good old doomy-voiced Kevin McCloud meets Claire Farrow and Ian Hogarth, who are trying to construct a home containing a sauna, spa, dance floor and DJ booth on a small patch of land in London. Jesus, don't these people know there's a recession on? They have applied for planning permission to include a basement and started work on the construction, but setbacks including their digger smashing into a neighbour's wall and the re-emergence of the old river under the project threaten to prevent them completing the build. 'And then,' Kevin will say in his finest doomy-voiced way, 'the builders arrived and all of their troubles really started.' It's impossible not to love Grand Designs, it's so catastrophically funny. McCloud himself is brilliant at getting drama of a crisis (and, visa versa). Fast becoming Channel Four's proper cult hit, a position once occupied by the now desperately-tired looking Location, Location, Location.

There's also a new series of Great British Food Revival - 8:00 BBC2. MasterChef: The Professionals host Michel Roux Jr tries to persuade people to buy native pears, and prepares a variety of dishes with them including a souffle in a bid to reduce the number that are imported. Personally, I like a nice juicy pear. Nah, lissun. meanwhile, chef, food campaigner faceache (and drag) Clarissa Dixon Wright takes up the cause of British garlic, and proves its long heritage as part of UK cuisine by preparing a meal first served at the medieval court of Richard II.

Thursday 27 October
It's the final episode of Hidden - 9:00 BBC1 - which, on the evidence of the first two parts has been well-acted and beautifully directed but, could've probably done with the input of a decent script editor to bring together all of the plot strands a bit sooner. Still, a decent effort with plenty of memorable moments and, hopefully, it'll end dramatically. Harry and Gina meet up with Joe Collins, who was hired to do a job for Styles only to steal his laptop instead. Now armed with the information he needs, the beleaguered lawyer realises he has less than an hour to stop an event that could change everything - not just for himself but for the country - and finally confronts the past that has long haunted him. Conspiracy thriller, starring Philip Glenister, Thekla Reuten and David Suchet.

In The Future State of Welfare with John Humphrys - 9:00 BBC2 - the journalist meets some of those most affected by the Government's plans to cut benefits. He travels to his birthplace of Splott in Cardiff, where one in four people of the work-aged population relies on state handouts to survive, and also visits America to learn about its welfare system.

One programme this blogger has been very much looking forward to since it was announced a few weeks ago is Frank Skinner on George Formby - 9:00 BBC4. The comedian - a long-term fan of Formby's work - presents a profile of the hugely popular entertainer, who was arguably the biggest star in Britain during the 1930s and 40s. Skinner explores why Formby's films and records enjoyed unprecedented commercial success both in the UK and abroad, and performs a selection of the songs that made him famous - as well as investigating the circumstances surrounding his sudden death.

The latest episode of Top of the Pops: 1976 - 7:30 BBC4 - sees Diddy David Hamilton presenting an edition from 14 October 1976, the week in which Pussycat became the first Dutch act to top the UK chart. The show features the last-ever routine by dance troupe Ruby Flipper before they turned into Legs & Co, as well as performances by David Essex, Simon May, JALN Band, Sherbet and Liverpool Express. Watching this week's episode, on which Sherbet also played, it has to be noted, there simply aren't enough bands these days who are brave enough to display their poverty by going on telly wearing a velvet jacket and waistcoat but with no shirt on, underneath.
One presumes that with the healthy worldwide sales of 'Howzat', singer Daryl Braithwaite was eventually able to afford a shirt to go with his tasty whistle. Nice chest hair, though, Dazza.

And so to the Top Telly News: Channel Four has confirmed it has ordered a ninth season of its popular comedy drama Shameless - a further twenty two episodes are currently in production.

ABC has cancelled the remake of Charlie's Angels after just four episodes. Production has been shut down immediately on the Miami set, although ABC will continue to broadcast the three remaining episodes on Thursdays. After its premiere on 22 September, Charlie's Angels received, frankly, piss poor reviews and it has also suffered a sharp decline in already not-very-good ratings. The Charlie's Angels reboot starred Minka Kelly, Rachael Taylor and Annie Ilonzeh, with Drew Barrymore as an executive producer. Charlie's Angels joins other axed fall shows such as NBC's The Playboy Club and Free Agents.

Sky Sports was temporarily unable to provide live TV coverage of England's first one-day international against India in Hyderabad on Friday morning after the broadcaster suffered 'a pictures blackout.' Pundits David Lloyd and Nick Knight had to provide phone commentary of the action for fifteen minutes from 10am. Lloyd, who revealed that the blackout was due to 'licence issues,' was forced to turn into a radio presenter at short notice - albeit, it's a job he has done before 9for the BBC in the 90s before he joined Sky). 'Where's Aggers when you need him?' he said at one point, in reference to Jonathan Agnew, the BBC's lead cricket commentator on radio show Test Match Special. It is understood that the blackout was caused by a breakdown in negotiations between rights holding production company Nimbus, the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the Indian government. The Sky Sports television coverage resumed at 10.15am after Lloyd reported that the dispute between the three parties had been 'successfully resolved.' However, it seems that it rumbled on for some time afterwards as Sky were not allowed to use their own commentary team - including Lloyd, Knight and Ian Botham - and had to make do with the host broadcaster's piss-poor alternatives instead. I mean, Dermot Reeve, come on! The Torygraph's Derek Pringle reports that 'the disruption was caused by a dispute between the Indian government, who issue broadcasting licences, and the Board of Control for Cricket in India, who sell TV rights. As a result, both Nimbus, the Indian rights holder, and Sky, were forced to wait for their licences to show yesterday's match. Nimbus finally received their licence after three overs of the match but Sky failed to get theirs. The Indian government claimed this was because the BCCI had not sent them a letter authorising Sky's coverage. It is unclear why Sky was made to suffer because of an apparently domestic Indian argument, but despite the best efforts of its executives to strike a deal, the issue was not resolved. Sky, which is furious about the incident and may yet seek compensation, has been assured the appropriate paperwork will be lodged in time for Monday's game between India and England in Delhi.'
As for the match? India won!

Twenty Four Hour Party People film-maker Michael Winterbottom will direct The Longest Cocktail Party, a film about Beatles record label Apple, its producer has said. Andrew Eaton, co-founder of Revolution Films with Winterbottom, also told The Playlist blog that Peep Show creator Jesse Armstrong had written the script. The film, based on Apple worker Richard DiLello's best-selling 1972 book, is co-produced with Liam Gallagher's film company. Eaton described the film as 'one of my passion projects.' Former Oasis singer Gallagher, whose In One Productions company owns the rights to the memoir by The Beatles' so-called 'house hippy' DiLello, revealed last year that the film would be made. It will chart the period between 1968 and The Beatles' break-up in 1970. Eaton told The Playlist that negotiating with Apple Records over using music from its back catalogue for the film was 'a minefield. We're doing a bit of a dance at the moment, we haven't really found a way to make it work,' he added. And he said that Gallagher was 'great to work with because he wants everything to happen tomorrow.' The Beady Eye singer has said he wanted Johnny Depp to play the pivotal role of Apple's press officer Derek Taylor in the film. Eaton said Depp 'would be great' but added that Taylor was 'from Liverpool, and he's probably thirty two or thirty three in the story, whereas Johnny Depp is forty eight or something, and American.'

Which brings us neatly to today's Keith Telly Topping's Beatles 45(s) of the Day From Around the World. A trio of 'I never knew they released that as a single' classics from Rubber Soul, today, I reckon. Bet you never knew, for instance, that  'If I Needed Someone' has been released as a single in the US, dear blog reader?
Or, that Macca's impeccable slice of faux-Motown 'You Won't See Me' came out on a 45 in, of all places, India?
Or that 'Nowhere Man' was the LP's favoured extract in Spain?
Well, you do now. Tomorrow, dear blog reader, 'three singles you never knew were singles' from Revolver!

1 comment:

Rita Doyle said...

How far would downton abbey really have been from London?