Monday, November 28, 2011

See The Sky In Front Of You

We start today's From The North bloggerisationism with a short sermon on ... stuff. Please note, yet again, that any anonymous comments sent to this blog will not be accepted for publication. I had a really good one the other day, concerning the story from earlier this year about Ofcom's acceptance of a completely bloody pointless whinge from some glake against the Dave channel for showing a barely-edited episode of Qi containing swearing in the afternoon. But, if the person writing comments - even interesting ones - can't even be bothered to put their name on their comments, whether by accident or design, then frankly I can't be bothered to read them. Democracy in action, dear blog reader. Even if this blog  is, by definition, a - benevolent - dictatorship. Actually, not so benevolent more often than not. Right, on with the show ...

David Coulthard and Lee McKenzie are to stay with the BBC's Formula One presentation team in 2012, it has been confirmed. The pair will remain at the corporation along with anchor Jake Humphrey next year, according to a post on the BBC Sport editors' blog. Ben Gallop, who is head of Formula One coverage at the BBC, wrote: 'Jake Humphrey will be leading our coverage from the F1 paddock, as he has for the past three seasons, and he'll have thirteen-time race winner David Coulthard alongside him, while Lee McKenzie will be back in place as pit lane reporter.' He also passed on his best wishes to Martin Brundle, who confirmed on Sunday that he is leaving the BBC to join Sky Sports F1 for the 2012 season. Coulthard, a former Grand Prix winner who has driven for McLaren and Williams, has been with the team since Formula One returned to the BBC in 2009. His original role as an analyst was expanded this season and he moved into the commentary box alongside Brundle, who replaced Jonathan Legard as lead commentator. McKenzie also joined the BBC's team in 2009. She became the first woman to present British television coverage of Formula One last year, covering for Humphrey while he was working at the Commonwealth Games. It is not yet clear whether analyst Eddie Jordan, pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz or BBC 5Live's lead commentator David Croft will stay with the corporation next year. Croft had been linked with a move to Sky to commentate alongside Brundle. Gallop also explained the rationale behind how the BBC's live races were selected as part of the controversial new joint rights arrangement with Sky. He said: 'Just to be clear, it wasn't the case that the BBC was simply able to select its preferred ten races to cover live - under the terms of our rights agreement, the allocation was decided through a negotiation with Sky, with each broadcaster able to prioritise specific choices within certain parameters.' Explaining that some of the races were chosen so as not to clash with next summer's Olympics coverage, Gallop added: 'The way the calendar works after the Olympics, the rest of the season on the BBC will effectively alternate between live and highlights races, so there is something of a pattern that viewers can follow. While we would obviously prefer to have all the races live, we still have significant airtime over the course of Grand Prix weekends to devote to F1.'

Still with the Olympics: along with a theme tune by Elbow, the BBC have also unveiled its Cultural Olympiad logo, which is a bit like the normal BBC branding, but in pink. 'It is the cultural colour,' explained Roger Mosey, the BBC's director of London 2012, helpfully. The colour-coded branding will accompany the whole of the BBC's coverage – orange for the seventy-day torch relay and gold for the Olympics itself. Elbow displayed a degree of self-awareness rare in pop music when discussing their selection to record the BBC tune. 'There was a big feeling of responsibility but also dead proud,' said lead singer Guy Garvey. 'Strange as well, with none of us really being athletic!'

Former EastEnders actress Samantha Womack has reportedly been lined up to judge the next series of Britain's Got Torment. Womack, who played Ronnie Mitchell in the soap, is said to have held 'secret talks' with 'ITV bosses' and is now 'on the shortlist' to join the panel. Well, they're not secret now, are they? 'Samantha is brilliant and the bosses love her,' an alleged 'source' allegedly told the Sun. So, this is almost certainly lies, then. 'She's hugely popular as ten million people watched her every week on EastEnders - and she's got a fair old mouth on her. She's not afraid to call a spade a spade, but she also has a down-to-earth approach that producers think will encourage acts. We don't just want the judges to slag people off.' David Walliams and Dannii Minogue have also been touted to join Britain's Got Torment, in recent days although the alleged 'insider' allegedly claims that the former X Factor judge Minogue would 'have to rely on Simon Cowell' to land the role. 'Dannii didn't even make the long list,' they allegedly told the alleged newspaper. 'She's only got a chance if Simon Cowell steps in and gives her the job.' ITV 'chiefs', the Sun claims, are searching for new judges after Michael McIntyre quit Britain's Got Torment and David Hasselhoff was, allegedly, given the tin-tack. Amanda Holden has confirmed that she will only be present for the live stages due to her pregnancy.
The Leveson inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press has summoned a political blogger to give evidence after a document purporting to be the evidence of Tony Blair's former communications adviser, Alastair Campbell, was released on the blog three days before it was due to be heard. Lord Justice Leveson called on Paul Staines to appear before the inquiry to investigate how a version of Campbell's evidence – which included his fear that a newspaper may have hacked into his phone messages and into those of the then prime minister's wife Cherie Blair – came to appear on the Order-Order website, which Staines runs under the pseudonym Guido Fawkes. A statement on the inquiry website said that the judge was 'very concerned' to hear of the publication in spite of strict confidentiality agreements being in place. 'The website asserts that this statement was obtained by "legal means" but Lord Justice Leveson will be enquiring further into this claim and Mr Paul Staines will be required to give evidence pursuant to section twenty one of the Inquiries Act 2005,' it said. 'Witness statements are disclosed under strict confidentiality agreements in order that participants can prepare for the evidence; that confidentiality must be observed to maintain the integrity of the inquiry.' Campbell himself said on Twitter he was 'genuinely shocked someone has seen fit to leak my statement to Leveson.' Staines' website published extracts from what it claimed to be Campbell's evidence and a link to a document. It is understood that the evidence published may be an early draft which differs from what Campbell finally submitted to the inquiry. The inquiry said: 'In the interests of fairness to Mr Campbell and others, Lord Justice Leveson has directed (and Mr Campbell has agreed) that his statement, which had been amended slightly, should be published on Monday on the inquiry website.' Campbell was due to give evidence on Wednesday morning and has prepared a wide-ranging critique of the media, sections of which were extracted on the blog. The controversy comes at the start of the third week of hearings. Last week was dominated by the testimonies of Kate and Gerry McCann, the parents of Madeleine McCann, and Margaret Watson, from Glasgow, who told the inquiry how her son killed himself after reading derogatory articles about his dead sister. Actors Steve Coogan and Hugh Grant also took the stand along with JK Rowling and Sienna Miller. Appearingon Monday will be Chris Jefferies, the Bristol landlord who won massive libel damages from eight national newspapers after they ran inaccurate, defamatory and highly prejudicial stories about him following the murder of his tenant Joanna Yates in December 2010. The singer and presenter Charlotte Church will be questioned about the alleged phone-hacking of her family and the former TV presenter Anne Diamond will also speak. Diamond was involved in an acrimonious divorce from Mike Hollingsworth and their private lives were written about extensively by the tabloid press. Nick Davies, the Gruniad Morning Star journalist who has led the phone-hacking revelations, will be questioned ahead of former tabloid reporters, Richard Peppiatt and Paul McMullan. Peppiatt has confessed to making up stories while he was working for the Daily Lies. He has said he was ordered to do so and was paid a one hundred and fifty bonus when he did. McMullan is a former deputy features editor at the Scum of the World who has publicly defended phone-hacking and criticised Steve Coogan for 'bleating' about it in a memorable clash on Newsnight. Though Coogan got the better of the exchange by describing McMullen as both 'a risible individual' and 'morally bankrupt.' 'I think you are a walking PR disaster for the tabloids because you don't come across in a sympathetic way,' Coogan told him. And he was right.

Meanwhile, the private investigator at the heart of the phone-hacking scandal is due to appear in the high court later today as he attempts to secure protection from facing more civil proceedings against him. Glenn Mulcaire is appealing against a court ruling that he cannot rely on privilege against self-incrimination, meaning he does not have the power to refuse to answer questions put in civil cases. Currently, Mulcaire would have to reveal who asked him to provide details of voicemail numbers, as well as explain how he obtained voicemail numbers and passwords. Steve Coogan and PR consultant Nicola Phillips, a former employee of Max Clifford, have launched civil damages claims against News International, the former publisher of the disgraced and disgraceful Scum of the World. A raft of information was contained in notebooks handed over by Mulcaire to the police after he was jailed for six months in January 2007 for illegally intercepting the voicemails of members of the Royal household. Mulcaire, who was jailed alongside Scum of the World royal editor Clive Goodman, was said to have been contracted by the Sunday tabloid for 'research assignments' from late 2001. His appeal will be heard by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Maurice Kay in London. Last week, the high court heard claims that Mulcaire was involved in illegally tracking phone signals, in a process known as 'pinging', along with computer-hacking. However, the private investigator has denied claims that he deleted the voicemail messages left on the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, leading her parents to think she was still alive.

E4 has unexpectedly axed its comedy showbiz gossip show Dirty Digest after just three episodes. The comedy website Chortle says that it understands the broadcaster pulled the plug after being 'unhappy' with changes to the senior staff on the series, which is made by independent production house Running Bare. A Channel Four spokesman would not discuss the reasons for the sudden cancellation, but confirmed that the episode which went out last Thursday would be the last. Originally, eight shows had been commissioned. It was hosted by model and ITV Fashion Show presenter Michelle De Swarte, who also came up with the format, and featured BBC Switch presenter AJ Odudu, former Qi researcher Dan Schreiber and stand-up Joe Lycett discussing the week's showbiz trivia. All the regulars, except Lycett, are clients of John Noel Management, the sister company of Running Bare. An alleged 'source' allegedly 'close to the show' told Chortle: 'The crew were changed without prior warning, meaning there was complete new set of writers and producers. The talent quite rightly started wondering what was going on, and due to the complete mess created, Channel Four pulled the plug.' Next week's show has been replaced by a re-run of Chris Moyles' Quiz Night. Just in case you want to avoid coming across it by accident.

2011 continues to be a really rotten year for many of this blogger's heroes; they're currently going at a rate of knots. Dear old mad as toast Ken Russell, the film director, writer, Agent Provocateur and enfant terrible of the British film industry, has died at the age of eighty four. His son, Alex Verney-Elliott, said that Ken died in hospital on Sunday following a series of strokes. During a near-fifty year career, Ken became known for his controversial and often outrageous films including Women In Love, which featured Oliver Reed and Alan Bates wrestling nude and The Devils in which Ken had Ollie burned at the stake. So, as The Goodies once noted, 'he's clearly not all bad, then!' Not even close, as it happens. 'I know my films upset people. I want to upset people,' the filmmaker once infamously said. He also directed The Who's rock opera, Tommy, in 1975, a film which perfectly sums up Ken's entire career and, indeed, entire life. A bit pompous and overblown and so-far-over-the-top-it's-down-the-other-side. But also beautiful, righteous, thoughtful, intelligent and fucking entertaining! There is a moment in the BBC's late 1980s sequel to The Big Time, In At The Deep End in which presenter Paul Heiney is trying to learn how to become a director so that he can make a video with Bananarama. Someone has the bright idea of getting Mad Ken Russell involved. In the space of five minutes, Ken makes the suggestions that Heiney's test video of a young boy playing with a man in a teddy bear costume should include a) the boy pulling the bear's arm off and b) the bear dumping a large jelly that they're supposed to be eating on the boy's head. Mad Ken Russell, ladies and gentlemen. One of a kind! 'My father died peacefully, he died with a smile on his face,' Verney-Elliott said and, you sensed, that's pretty much how Ken Russell lived his life. Except for the 'peaceful' bit. Glenda Jackson, who gave an Oscar-winning performance in Women In Love and starred in a number of Russell's other films including The Music Lovers, told the BBC it was 'just wonderful to work with him as often as I did. He created the kind of climate in which actors could do their job and I loved him dearly.' Jackson added that she believed the director had been 'overlooked' by the British film industry, saying it was 'a great shame. It was almost as if he never existed - I find it utterly scandalous for someone who was so innovative and a film director of international stature,' she said. Joely Richardson, who starred opposite Sean Bean in Russell's acclaimed 1993 BBC TV series Lady Chatterley, said: 'I will forever feel privileged and honoured to have worked with the great Ken Russell. More than that, I was extremely fond of the man himself.' Film-maker Michael Winner hailed Russell's 'duplicity of mind', adding he had made an 'enormous contribution' to British cinema. 'He pushed the barriers completely and got away with it sometimes and didn't others, but he made some startling movies,' said. 'He had an eye for the composition of each image on the screen - a great eye for imagery and then, of course, he had a great idea for the grotesque.' Ken's friend and cultural commentator Norman Lebrecht said: 'Among many achievements that spring to mind, he made British cinema less insular and self-referential. He was also a leading creative force in the history of British television. He will be widely mourned.'
      The maker of some great films - and, as he would admit himself, some terrible ones as well - Ken was born in Southampton on 3 July 1927, the son of Ethel and Henry Russell, a shoeshop owner. His father was distant and violent man who, by all accounts, took out his considerable rage on his family. Ken, therefore, spent much of his time at the cinema with his mother. It was, he said, 'where I got my real education.' He would cite impressionist masterpieces like Die Nibelungen and The Secret Of The Loch as two early influences on him and the style he would later develop. Ken was educated in Walthamstow and at Pangbourne Navel College ('full of sadomasochists,' he later noted). He harboured a childhood ambition to be a ballet dancer but instead joined the Merchant Navy as a teenager. On one occasion he was made to stand watch in the blazing sun for hours on end while crossing the Pacific. His lunatic captain feared an attack by Japanese midget submarines despite the war having ended some years previously. A nervous breakdown ensued and it was during his recovery that he first heard Tchaikovsky on the radio, inspiring a lifelong obsession with the classical composers. After a spell in the Royal Air Force he became a photographer and first made amateur films while working for the magazine Picture Post. His series of documentary Teddy Girl photographs were published in the summer of 1955, and he continued to work as a freelance documentary photographer until 1959. An exhibition displaying some of his best photographic occurred during the summer of 2007 in London's Proud Galleries in The Strand. The exhibition, entitled Ken Russell's Lost London Rediscovered: 1951–1957, included over fifty limited edition prints from Ken's personal collection. Soon afterwards Ken's amateur films (his documentaries for the Free Cinema movement, and his 1958 short Amelia & The Angel which he made after converting to Catholicism) secured him a job at the BBC in the arts department under Sir Huw Wheldon, who became a major influence on his career. At the Beeb, he developed an increasingly eccentric style, what the film critic David Thomson described as 'an unbridled sense of pictorial madness and decay.' There, he worked regularly from 1959 to 1970 making often acclaimed but, as usual controversial, arts documentaries for Monitor and Omnibus. Among his best-known works from this period were: Elgar (1962), The Debussy Film (1965), Isadora Duncan, The Biggest Dancer In The World (1967), Song Of Summer (about Frederick Delius and Eric Fenby) (1968) and Dance Of The Seven Veils (1970), a film about Richard Strauss. Ken recently said that the best film he ever made was Song Of Summer, and that he would not change a single shot frame of it. The Elgar film proved to be particularly ground-breaking because it was the first time that an arts programme (in this case Monitor) had broadcast one long film about an artistic figure instead of a series of short items. It was the first time that re-enactments were used, meaning that Ken Russell has a justifiable claim to being the man who, effectively, invented both the biopic and the docudrama genres. Ken fought with the BBC over using actors to portray different ages of the same character, instead of the traditional photograph stills and documentary footage. His TV films became increasingly flamboyant and outrageous as the decade progressed. Dance Of The Seven Veils infamously sought to portray Richard Strauss as a Nazi: one scene in particular showed a Jew being tortured while a group of SS men look on in delight, to a soundtrack of Strauss's music. The Strauss family was so outraged that they withdrew all music rights and imposed a worldwide ban on the film which continues to this day. Ken's ground-breaking BBC work - he made over thirty films, in all - influenced many directors in British cinema in the 1960s, particularly Stanley Kubrick, who admired the settings for Russell's films, which he subsequently used for his own Barry Lyndon. The feeling, however, was not mutual, Ken once infamously describing Kubrick's films as 'boring (although I did quite enjoy Dr Strangelove!)' Ken's first feature film was French Dressing (1963), a comedy loosely based on Roger Vadim's ... And God Created Woman; its critical and commercial failure sent Russell scurrying back to the BBC. His second big-screen effort was much better, part of author Len Deighton's Harry Palmer spy cycle, Billion Dollar Brain (1967), starring Michael Caine. In 1969, Russell directed what he, himself, considered to be his 'signature film', Women In Love, a rollicking, bawdy adaptation of DH Lawrence's novel about two artist sisters living in post-Great War Britain. The film starred Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed, Jennie Linden and Alan Bates and was notable for its homoerotic nude wrestling scene, which broke the convention at the time that a mainstream movie could not show male genitalia. Women in Love was a ground-breaking, highly intellectual film which connected with the sexual revolution and bohemian politics of the late-1960's. It was nominated for several Oscars, and won one for Glenda Jackson as Best Actress. Ken himself was nominated for Best Director (shamefully, his sole nomination) as were his cinematographer and screenwriter. The film is also notable for the BAFTA-nominated costume designs of Ken's first wife, Shirley Ann Russell, with whom he would collaborate throughout his 1970's prime. Reed said that when he worked with Russell on Women In Love, the director was 'starting to go crazy even then. Before that he was a sane, likeable TV director. Now he's an insane, likeable film director!' Russell enjoyed a short-lived prestige during this period, when he was praised as 'Britain's Orson Welles.' Known for his pioneering work and for his controversial style, he was often criticised for being overly-obsessed with sexuality and the Catholic church. Which made him less 'Britain's Orson Welles,' and more 'Britain's Pier Paolo Pasolini.' Only Ken made far better films! He followed Women In Love with a string of innovative adult-themed movies which were often as controversial as they were successful. The Music Lovers (1970), a biopic of Tchaikovsky, starred Richard Chamberlain in the flamboyant title role and Glenda Jackson as his wife. Russell won a reluctant United Artists around with the pitch that the film was less a biopic and more a lover story 'about a nymphomaniac who falls in love with a homosexual.' They immediately gave him the money! The score was conducted to great acclaim by André Previn. The film was a critical flop but, surprisingly, a huge box office success. The following year, Russell released the infamous The Devils, a film so controversial that its backers, Warner Brothers, still refuse to release it uncut. Inspired by Aldous Huxley's book The Devils Of Loudun, it starred Ollie Reed as a noble (if rather oversexed) priest who stands in the way of a corrupt church and state. Helped by publicity over the more sensational scenes, featuring (ahem) 'sexuality among nun's, the film topped British box office receipts for eight straight weeks. In America, the movie, which had already been cut for distribution in Britain, was further edited. It has never played in anything like its original state in the US. Film critic Alexander Walker described the film as 'monstrously indecent' in a television confrontation with Russell, leading the director to hit him with a rolled up copy of the Evening Standard, the newspaper for which Walker worked. That was Mad Ken all over - proving that the pen (or, the typewriter, anyway) is mightier than the sword! Just a couple of weeks ago, the British Film Institute announced they will release the UK-theatrical version of The Devils on DVD in March 2012. They were able to license the film from Warner Brothers, but were not permitted to use Russell's own 2004 'director's cut' restoration. Ken's next project was a reworking of the period musical The Boy Friend, for which he cast Twiggy, who won two Golden Globe Awards for her performance. The film was also heavily cut, shorn of two musical numbers for its American release, where, unlike Britain, it was not a big success. Russell himself provided most of the financing for Savage Messiah, a biopic of the artist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, and he provided the producer David Puttnam with a rare box-office hit with Mahler, a movie which helped to make the career of Robert Powell. Russell himself refused to compromise. 'Reality is a dirty word for me, I know it isn't for most people, but I am not interested. There's too much of it about.' In 1975, Russell's astonishing, wildly overblown, hugely entertaining star-studded movie of Pete Townshend's rock opera Tommy starring Roger Daltrey, Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton and Jack Nicholson, played to full houses for over a year. Adapting the LP for the screen, Russell had Townshend add some new numbers to fill out the story and changed a key detail in the traumatic murder that Tommy Walker witnesses (leading to the child becoming deaf, dumb and blind). The film is Ken's masterpiece - an every day story of child abuse, drug addiction and murder - in which Oliver Reed sings (well, sort of), Ann-Margaret gets half-drowned in baked beans and Tina Turner pumps Daltrey full of acid before Keith Moon rapes him. It's extraordinary. 'This country is in a weird, feeble, grotesque state and it's about time it got out of it,' Ken said in an infamous TV rant whilst being interviewed by Russell Harty to promote the film and which can be seen in all its bonkers over-the-top glory in Jeff Stein's The Kids Are Alright. 'And the reason it could get out of is through rock music! I think that Townshend, The Who, Roger Daltrey, Entwistle, Moon could rise this country out of its ambient, decadent state more than Wilson and those crappy people could ever hope to achieve!' Two months before Tommy was released (in March 1975), Russell started work on Lisztomania, another vehicle for Daltrey, also featuring Ringo Starr and with a score by Rick Wakeman. One of Ken's aims with this wild comic-strip movie was to explore the power of music for good and evil. But whilst Tommy was a big hit then and has become of a cult favourite since, Lisztomania was and is considered too outlandish, even by many of Russell's biggest fans. The 1977 biopic Valentino, also topped the British box-office for two weeks, but it was not a hit in America, a theme which, sadly, was to affect Ken's career ever after. 1980's Altered States was a departure in both genre and tone, in that it is Ken's only foray into science fiction - a genre many felt he'd been born to be an auteur in. Working from Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay, Ken used his penchant for elaborate visual effects to translate Chayefsky's hallucinatory story to the cinema, and took the opportunity to add in some of his own trademark religious and sexual imagery. The film was also noteworthy for its innovative Oscar-nominated score by John Corigliano. But Ken's over-the-top behaviour on set, including a spectacular row with Chayefsky himself, caused him to become a virtual pariah in Hollywood after this. Russell's last American film, Crimes Of Passion (1984), with Anthony Perkins and Kathleen Turner, was seen as a failure, and Russell subsequently returned to work for the most part in Europe. After taking a break from film to direct opera, Russell found financing with various independent companies. During this period he directed the excellent Gothic (1986) with Gabriel Byrne and Julian Sands - a brilliantly surreal account of what may have occurred between Byron, Shelley et al during the weekend before Mary Godwin was inspired to write Frankenstein. The scenes where the cast are supposed to be hallucinating off their tits on laudanum are some of the most frightening anyone has ever managed in cinema history. Ken also made The Lair of the White Worm (1988) with Amanda Donohoe and Hugh Grant, based on a novella by Bram Stoker. Though dismissed at the time, both of these films are now considered minor cult classics of the horror genre. 1988 saw the release of Salome's Last Dance, a loosely adapted esoteric tribute to Oscar Wilde's controversial play Salome, which was banned on the Nineteenth Century London stage. The movie, in many ways, defines Ken's adult-themed romance with The Theatre Of The Poor and was also notable for the screen début of Imogen Millais-Scott as Salome. Ken finished the 1980s with The Rainbow, another DH Lawrence adaptation, a prequel to Women In Love. Glenda Jackson played the mother of her character in the previous film. It was a more subdued movie for Ken than usual and impressed the critics. It is widely regarded as his last 'personal film.' He had one more go at producing a big-budget Hollywood movie, 1990's The Russia House - a Tom Stoppard adaptation of John Le Carre's novel - starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer. Ken made one of his first significant acting appearances in the film portraying Walter, an ambiguously gay British intelligence officer who discomfits his more strait-laced CIA counterparts. A year later, Prisoner Of Honor allowed Russell a further opportunity to explore his abiding interest in anti-Semitism through a factually-based account of the Dreyfus Affair in France. The movie featured Richard Dreyfuss in the role of Colonel Georges Picquart, the French army investigator who exposed the army establishment's framing of the Jewish officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Also in 1991, Russell directed his final film of note, Whore with Theresa Russell. It was, again, a highly controversial film and was given an NC-17 rating for its sexual content. The MPAA and the theatre chains also refused to release posters or advertise a film called Whore, so for this purpose the movie was re-titled If You Can't Say It, Just See It. Russell protested about his film being given such a harsh rating when Pretty Woman - released a few months earlier - had been given an R, on the grounds that Whore showed the reality of being a prostitute, whilst Garry Marshall's movie had 'glorified it.' Ken even tried his hand at music videos, making 'Nikita' for Elton John with whom he'd previously worked on Tommy. Many of Russell's later films were dismissed as too eclectic by critics and by the late 1990s he found it almost impossible to get funding for his work. But, Ken had become a celebrity by now: his notoriety and over-the-top persona attracting more attention than any of his recent projects. He became largely reliant on his own finances to continue making films. Much of his work post-1990 was commissioned for television, he contributed regularly to The South Bank Show. Prisoner Of Honor was Ken's final work with his old friend Oliver Reed; his last film with Glenda Jackson before she gave up acting for politics, was The Secret Life Of Arnold Bax. Mindbender (1996) was dismissed as propaganda for Uri Geller and Dogboys (aka Tracked) (1998) was unrecognisable as a Ken Russell film. In May 1995, he was honoured with a retrospective of his work presented in Hollywood by the American Cinematheque. Titled Shock Value, it was a retrospective that included some of Russell's most successful and controversial films and also several of his early BBC productions. Russell attended the festival and engaged in lengthy post-screening discussions of each film with the audiences and moderator Martin Lewis who had instigated and curated the retrospective. Ken's 1997 BBC documentary Ken Russell In Search Of The English Folk Song was a beautiful essay on a subject close to his heart.
     Turning to acting, Ken was fantastic in the Waking The Dead two-parter Final Cut in 2003 (playing, effectively, an exaggerated version of himself) and also appeared in Marple. He had a cameo in the 2006 film adaptation of Brian Aldiss's novel Brothers Of The Head. He also appeared in Colour Me Kubrick. From 2004, Ken was a visiting professor of the University of Wales, Newport Film School. He was also appointed visiting fellow at the University of Southampton in April 2007. His arrival was celebrated with a screening of the rare director's cut of The Devils hosted by the critic Mark Kermode, a huge admirer of Russell's work and a close friend during the later years of the director's life. Soon afterwards, Ken began production on his first full length film in almost five years, Moll Flanders, an adaptation of Daniel Defoe's novel, starring Lucinda Rhodes-Flaherty and Barry Humphries. But, a finished film failed to materialise. Also in 2007 Russell produced A Kitten For Hitler, a short film hosted by the comedybox.tv website. Ken commented: 'Ten years ago, while working on The South Bank Show, Melvyn Bragg and I had a heated discussion on the pros and cons of film censorship. Broadly speaking, Melvyn was against it, while I, much to his surprise, was absolutely for it. He then dared me to write a script that I thought should be banned. I accepted the challenge and a month or so later sent him a short subject entitled A Kitten For Hitler. "Ken," he said, "if ever you make this film and it is shown, you will be lynched!"' 'This is not the age of manners,' Ken once famously noted. 'This is the age of kicking people in the crotch and telling them something and getting a reaction. I want to shock people into awareness. I don't believe there is any virtue in understatement.' Ken joined Celebrity Big Brother in January 2007, but left voluntarily within a week after an altercation with the odious Jade Goody whom he described as 'a guttersnipe.' Besides several books on film-making and the British film industry, Ken wrote A British Picture: An Autobiography in 1989. it was, as you'd expected, bombastic, defiant, wilfully obtuse and hilariously funny. In 2006, Ken and his fourth wife, Elise Tribble, lost almost everything when their home in the New Forest burned down. Ken was at a doctor's appointment when the fire at the Sixteenth Century cottage began, while Elsie was in the bath. As well as his home and belongings, including much of his archive of scripts, he also lost work on a number of ongoing projects. Among those paying tribute was the broadcaster and film critic Jonathan Ross, who tweeted: 'RIP Ken Russell. A film-maker of rare vision and unique talent. Also, a lovely man to spend time with.' Russell's widow Elise said that she was 'devastated' by her husband's death, which happened at their home in Lymington, Hampshire. She said: 'It is with great sadness that I can confirm that Ken Russell passed away peacefully in his sleep on Sunday afternoon. It was completely unexpected, as he was doing what he loved.' Ken is survived by Elise, and by eight children from his previous marriages, Xavier, James, Alexander, Victoria, Toby, Molly, Rupert and Rex.

A man with a ring stuck on his penis had to be cut free by ten firefighters, it has been reported. Two fire engines were called to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in London after staff were unable to remove the ring. It took the firemen twenty minutes to cut the ring off. Firefighters have been forced to carry out the procedure on two previous occasions, according to Metro. The most recent incident is just one of four hundred and seventeen involving people 'stuck in objects, machinery or furniture' that London firefighters have attended to so far this year. A reported thirty six people had to be freed from handcuffs, a man in Kingston upon Thames needed help after 'getting wedged in a child's toy car' and several people managed to get toilet seats 'stuck on their heads.' An ironing board and a DVD player were also among the unusual objects that members of the public have become 'entangled in.' Don't ask. Just, don't ask! Dave Brown, the brigade's assistant commissioner for operations and mobilising, asked the public to 'be more careful' and to 'avoid' getting into such 'ridiculous' situations that 'take up' firefighters time. 'These incidents are time-consuming, costly and take up the precious time of our crews who are then unavailable to attend other, potentially life-threatening emergencies,' he said.

For today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, here's a little - if you will - stoned masterpiece from World of Twist. Groove. On.

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