Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Last Sunday Before Christmas

Lost Christmas - Sunday, BBC1 - was, as yer actual Keith Telly Topping kind-of suspected in advance, shamelessly manipulative and sentimental. And, also, really, really, really good! Particularly - as my mate Davie Mac noted afterwards - 'when Eddie Izzard turned up playing The Doctor'! Essentially, it was an It's A Wonderful Life-style modern fairy tale with a hint of abstract time mechanics thrown in. In lesser hands it could have been horrendous but, thanks to terrific cast, the whole thing held together remarkably well. Call yer actual Keith Telly Topping a mawkish old chap if you like (or, you know, preferably don't, as a fist in the mush often offends), but I very much enjoyed that. Remember kids, it's still cliched to be cynical at Christmas.
A further series of publicity photos have been released from the forthcoming Doctor Who Christmas special. This one appears to be called 'is that a halo in your hand or are you just pleased to see me, Matt Smith?'
Filming has begun on the new series of SF comedy Red Dwarf. The new season of the comedy reunites Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn. It follows the successful revival of Red Dwarf in 2009 for the three-part Back to Earth special which was a ratings hit for Dave two years ago. The success of the three-parter prompted press rumours that the digital channel would order another series - and, earlier this year it did so. The new series of Red Dwarf will be broadcast on Dave sometime next year. The comedy originally ran on BBC2 between 1988 and 1999 clocking up eight seasons.
Recording for the next - J - series of Qi is scheduled to begin in May and continue through into June with a likely broadcast date of sometimes in the autumn of 2012.
Former Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Alyson Hannigan is pregnant with her second child. The actress dismissed rumours that she was expecting in September, citing a bad diet and poor outfit choices for her bulging tummy, but now her representative has confirmed to Us Magazine that Hannigan and her husband (and former Buffy co-star) Alexis Denisof are set to be parents again in 2012. The actress showed off her - undeniable - bump to nosey media watchers like this blogger whilst 'running errands' in Santa Monica on Thursday and an alleged 'source' allegedly told the website, 'Alyson is thrilled to be pregnant! She has been wearing baggy clothes to cover the baby bump.' We'll take your word for it, mate. Whoever you are. Aly and Alexis married in 2003. They are already parents to daughter Satyana, aged two.

Virgin Media has agreed a deal with ITV, Fremantle Media and Syco TV to become the primary media partner for Britain's Got Talent. The cable operator will become the official sponsor of the new series of Britain's Got Talent when it launches in spring 2012, along with America's Got Talent when it returns to ITV2. Virgin Media's branding will appear on the official Britain's Got Talent website, mobile apps and a host of off-air licensing initiatives. Virgin Media follows Moneysupermarket.com, who sponsored this year's Britain's Got Talent. The 2011 final attracted a peak audience of fifteen million viewers for Jai McDowall's victory. 'We're extremely proud of all the fantastic things happening in the UK in 2012 and are teaming up with one of the nation's favourite shows to celebrate great British talent,' said Nigel Gilbert, chief marketing officer at Virgin Media. 'Britain's Got Talent is at the heart of primetime entertainment and we'll make the most of our partnership to bring the experience even closer to Virgin Media customers and to TV fans everywhere.' ITV commercial sales director Simon Daglish said: 'Britain's Got Talent is one of the shining lights of the ITV schedule and remains one of the most talked about shows on British television. The team worked closely with Virgin Media to really understand their marketing needs and have delivered a fully integrated partnership, with deeper brand activation than ever before across multiple platforms.' Syco chief operating officer Charles Garland added: 'Britain's Got Talent is one of the most anticipated shows of 2012, the year in which the nation will also be celebrating the best of Britain with the Olympics and the Jubilee. I'm delighted that we are joining forces with Virgin Media who are our ideal partners to activate our content across multi-platforms. This will enable viewers to have more engagement and to ensure Britain's Got Talent remains the most talked about experience of blah, blah, blah, bastard, blah.' Oh, for Christ's sake, somebody just give me a gun.

A new ITV darts ­presenter has reportedly been sacked before he even started work – after boasting that he'd landed a job working with 'fat bellied guys with little pricks.' Mark Peters had just been hired as a compere but, when officials read his comments on Facebook they sacked the former stand-up­comedian. An alleged 'source' allegedly said: 'Event organisers hit the roof when they read what Mark had been saying. It might have been a joke but officials didn't want to take the chance of upsetting any of the players taking part by letting him continue in his job.' Peters, from Hadleigh, Essex, was hired after being spotted by promoter Barry Hearn earlier this year. He then took to Facebook to tell his friends that he'd got the job. In a post on the site last month he said: 'I've now been appointed the new host for the world darts on ITV for December and through 2012 for Barry Hearn at Matchroom. Never thought I'd finish my career ­working with fat bellied guys with little pricks!' Ironically, in the days leading up to his TV debut, Peters had told how he was scared about ­saying the wrong thing. 'It's live TV, so it's very daunting,' he said in an interview. Yesterday a remorseful ­Peters told the Sunday Mirra: 'What I did was wrong. It was a joke which backfired on me badly and now I have blown a golden ­opportunity. Instead of presenting the darts I am sat at home twiddling my thumbs.'

One of yer actual Keith Telly Topping's genuine heroes outside of the world's of TV, music and sport, Václav Havel, the Czech Republic's first president following the Velvet Revolution, has died at the age of seventy five. The former dissident playwright, who had suffered from prolonged ill-health over the last few years, died on Sunday morning, his secretary Sabina Tancecova said. As president, he presided over Czechoslovakia's transition to democracy and a free-market economy after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. And, he oversaw its peaceful 1993 split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Havel first came to international fame as a playwright in the 1960s and through his involvement with the human rights manifesto Charter Seventy Seven. Tributes have poured in for the man many consider a driving force in the overthrow of Communist rule in eastern Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed Havel as a 'great European' in a letter of condolence to current Czech President Václav Klaus. 'His fight for freedom and democracy was as unforgettable as his great humanity,' wrote Merkel, who grew up in Communist East Germany. 'We Germans, in particular, have much for which we are grateful to him. We mourn this loss of a great European with you,' she added. David Cameron said that he was 'deeply saddened' and that Europe owed Havel a 'profound debt. Havel devoted his life to the cause of human freedom. For years, Communism tried to crush him, and to extinguish his voice. But Havel could not be silenced.' Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on Twitter: 'Václav Havel was one of the greatest Europeans of our age. His voice for freedom paved way for a Europe whole and free.' Born in 1936 in Hrádeček into a wealthy family in Czechoslovakia, Havel's first publicly performed full-length play, besides various vaudeville collaborations, was The Garden Party (1963). In 1968, The Memorandum was staged in New York, which helped establish his reputation in the United States, although after 1968 his plays were banned in his own country. Havel was unable to leave Czechoslovakia to see any foreign performances after the Soviet-led invasion which crushed the Prague Spring reforms of Alexander Dubček and other liberally minded Communists in what was then Czechoslovakia. Havel's plays were suppressed, as hard-liners installed by Moscow snuffed out every whiff of rebellion. But he continued to write, producing a series of underground essays which stand with the work of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov as the most incisive and eloquent analyses of what Communism did to society and the individual. One of his best-known essays, The Power and the Powerless written in 1978, borrowed slyly from the immortal opening line of the Nineteenth Century Communist Manifesto, writing: 'A spectre is haunting eastern Europe: the spectre of what in the West is called "dissent."' In the essay, he dissected what he called the 'dictatorship of ritual' - the ossified Soviet system under Leonid Brezhnev - and imagined what happens when an ordinary greengrocer stops displaying Communist slogans and begins 'living in truth,' rediscovering 'his suppressed identity and dignity.' Havel knew all about that suppression first hand. Born the child of a wealthy family which lost extensive property to Communist nationalisation in 1948, Havel was denied a formal education, eventually earning a degree at night school and started out in theatre as a stagehand. His political activism began in earnest in January 1977, when he co-authored the human rights manifesto Charter Seventy Seven, and the cause drew widening attention in the West. Havel was detained countless times and spent four years in various jails. His letters from prison to his wife, Olga Šplíchalová, became one of his best-known works. Letters to Olga blended deep philosophy with a stream of stern advice to the spouse he saw as his mentor and best friend, and who tolerated his reputed philandering and other foibles. They remained married until Olga's death in 1996. The events of August 1988 - the Twentieth anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion - first suggested that Havel and his friends in the freedom movement might one day replace the faceless apparatchiks who jailed them. Thousands of mostly young people marched through central Prague to Wenceslas Square, the cradle of the 1968 uprising, chanting Havel's name and that of the playwright's hero, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the philosopher who was Czechoslovakia's first president after it was founded in 1918. Havel's arrest in January 1989 at another street protest and his subsequent show trial generated anger at home and abroad. Pressure for change was so strong that the Communists released him in three months later. That fall, Communism began to collapse across Eastern Europe, and in November the Berlin Wall fell. Eight days later, police brutally broke up a demonstration by thousands of Prague students. It was the signal that Havel and his country had awaited. Within forty eight hours, a broad opposition movement was founded and a day later, hundreds of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks took to the streets. In three heady weeks, Communist rule was broken without a shot being fired. The Velvet Revolution has succeeded. The Rolling Stones arrived just as the Soviet army was leaving. Posters in Prague proclaimed: 'The tanks are rolling out - the Stones are rolling in.' Havel, a huge fans of Western rock music (notably Frank Zappa and The Velvet Underground), said that the greatest moment of his life was being introduced to Mick, Keef and co as 'a hero of the revolution.' Weeks later, on 29 December 1989, Havel was elected Czechoslovakia's president by the country's parliament. Three days later, he told the nation in a televised New Year's address: 'Out of gifted and sovereign people, the regime made us little screws in a monstrously big, rattling and stinking machine.' Although he continued to be regarded as a moral voice as he decried the shortcomings of his society in the early days under democracy, he eventually bent to the dictates of convention and power. His watchwords - 'what the heart thinks, the tongue speaks' - had to be modified for day-to-day politics. In July 1992, it became clear that the Czechoslovak federation was heading for a split. Considering this a personal failure, Havel resigned as president. But he remained a popular figure and was elected president of the new Czech Republic uncontested. So far as domestic politics was concerned, the ideological and personal competition between the two Václavs, Havel and Klaus, the prime minister, was not without its comic side. Klaus, who like the vast majority of his compatriots had not been prominent in the opposition until just before the Velvet Revolution, was more than a little jealous of Havel's international standing, and both personally and ideologically resentful of the thrust of his 'moral politics.' They competed keenly to establish their own descriptions of the new reality. When Havel re-established Masaryk's radio fireside chats with the nation in his weekly Conversations at Lány (the presidential country residence), Klaus quickly arranging a slot for his views of how things were in weekly interviews in the newspaper Lidové Noviny. One occasion on which their differences surfaced clearly was during the 1994 visit of Chile's former president, and still army chief General Augusto Pinochet to Prague to negotiate an arms deal. Havel recalled in unambiguous terms the bloody record of the general's men after the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende's government, while Klaus and his ministers stuck angrily to the line that this was a 'private commercial visit' by a valuable customer for what (to Havel's continuing regret) was still one of the country's most important export industries. Havel was small, but his presence and wit could fill a room. Even late in life, he retained a certain impishness and boyish grin, shifting easily from philosophy to jokes. Havel himself acknowledged that his handling of domestic issues never matched his flair for foreign affairs. But when the Czech Republic joined NATO in March 1999, and the European Union in May 2004, his dreams came true. 'I can't stop rejoicing that I live in this time and can participate in it,' Havel exulted. He left office in 2003 and returned to writing, publishing a new play in 2008, and directing first film in 2011. Havel died at his country home north-east of Prague. In his final hours, he was comforted by his second wife Dagmar Veškrnová, his secretary was quoted as saying. Havel had looked thin and drawn on recent public appearances. When he met the visiting Dalai Lama in Prague this month, he appeared in a wheelchair. A former heavy smoker, Havel had a history of chronic respiratory problems dating back to his years in prison. He had part of a lung removed during surgery for cancer in the 1990s. He was taken to hospital in Prague in January 2009, with an unspecified inflammation, and developed breathing difficulties after undergoing minor throat surgery. Jiri Schneider, a deputy Czech foreign minister, told the BBC that Havel had been 'a unifying figure' at the time of the transition from Communism. He had done much to put both Czechoslovakia and, subsequently, the Czech Republic on the political map, Schneider said. 'I think that without him it would have been much harder to get the Czech Republic and other countries in the region into NATO and the European Union, back to the family of free nations,' he told BBC World News.

An Australian vet is offering one-to-one obedience classes for cats. Nicole Hoskin claims she can train kittens to sit, stay and fetch. One of her most challenging students so far has been a ten-week-old hearing-impaired kitten called Buzz. The youngster needs to learn hand commands because he is unlikely to ever respond to vocal commands. Doctor Hoskin said: 'He's been dumped and is going to be harder to re-home so I've had to teach him to pay attention to me. Already he's sitting on command and high-fiving with one paw and he can high-ten with both paws over his head.' Originally, Hoskin offered a service similar to puppy obedience classes but the project failed. 'If you get more than one cat in a room, the claws come out,' she said. She added that dogs learn just to please their owners, but cats will only pay attention for food rewards.

A Christmas tree thief has been caught after accidentally leaving a trail of pine needles to his home. Police officers followed the foliage for half a mile and discovered the stolen goods dumped in a garden in West Yorkshire. When they entered the house, they also found a cannabis farm and arrested a seventeen-year-old on suspicion of burglary and cultivating cannabis. He was bailed pending further enquiries. The trees were stolen from Park House Nurseries in West Yorkshire, and boss John Dacre joined the police on their search. He told the Sunday Mirra: 'It happened in the early hours. I got up to find the Christmas trees had gone, along with wrought iron tree stands, holly wreaths, some little conifer trees decorated with "snow" and bird tables. I called the police, they were here within minutes and we found this trail of pine needles. The funny thing is that they were supposed to be low needle drop trees which don't shed so easily, but thankfully they dropped enough for us to follow. All the time I was thinking the trail would end, but while the needles got less and less, it just carried on. The police were brilliant.' A police spokesman confirmed that the pine needles led officers to the house, adding: As an extra present, officers also found a cannabis farm at the address.'

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