Monday, January 02, 2012

Cymbalism

'Just once can you two behave like grown-ups?'
'We solve crime, I blog about it and he forgets his pants. I wouldn't hold out too much hope!'

Still blown away by just how jolly good Sherlock was last night, dear blog reader? Of course you are. Then, why not check out John Watson's blog for the full inside story? I particularly recommend you have a gander at the comments sections and the thoughts of theimprobableone. Hi, Jim. Oddly the hit counter is still stuck at 1895. Which is about fourteen hundred more than this blog gets on an average day. Which, of course, brings us to the overnight ratings: Sherlock returned with 8.75m viewers on overnights (and a thirty per cent audience share) on New Year's Day. It peaked during the opening fifteen minutes at over 9.5m. The series' previous best overnight audience was just over seven million for the opening episode, A Study in Pink in July 2010. One would imagine that with an even average-sized timeshift, that should easily top ten million. As ever, final, consolidated ratings figures taking timeshifts into account will be available on the BARB website in about ten days time. The most watched programme of the night was, of course, EastEnders. It had 9.76m viewers (with a peak of 11.22m) for an extended episode which saw the death of Big Pat Cuddly Pat (Pam St Clements) and the - brief - return of Michael French. Following Sherlock, the second of the Absolutely Fabulous specials was watched by 7.1m punters. On ITV, the much-trumpeted terrestrial premiere of Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince tanked big-style, averaging a not even slightly impressive 3.45m for 7:00. It appears as though it got pretty much wiped out by the strong competition elsewhere. Given the circumstances and the opposition, BBC2 had a very good night and will be more than satisfied. Great Barrier Reef was watched by 3.26m in the 8pm hour (including HD figures), then 2.26m tuned into A History of Ancient Britain. During primetime, BBC had an average thirty per cent audience share compared with ITV's risibly low eleven per cent and BBC2, just behind on 9.4 per cent. By any standards, that's a bad, bad night for ITV. On Channel Four, Hacks had an audience of just under six hundred thousand. Disappointing for such a good comedy drama (see below). Meanwhile, over on Sky1, Treasure Island was watched by just over a million viewers (with a peak of 1.17m). Also on Sky1, the second series of Hawaii Five-0 kicked off with an above-slot-average six hundred and fifty five thousand viewers in the 9 o'clock hour.
Eddie Izzard starred in two big dramas over Christmas and New Year, but while one of them was so extravagantly Christmassy it should've come with a dollop of Christmas pud, the other is about as un-festive as it's possible to be. Treasure Island, with Izzard in the lead role as Long John Silver, contains neither snow, Santa, nor much in the way of good cheer. This starry retelling of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic is not, he Eddie has been anxious to stress, a swashbuckling slice of Boys' Own and barnacles. 'It was put to me, do I want to do this? And I said only if we do a really gritty version, a Goodfellas-y version. As long as we put that edge in there, I was in. I think we’re doing one of the definitive Treasure Island because I do think a lot of them have been hokey.' This production, directed by Steve Barron (the man who once directed Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' video, among others), is certainly not hokey. Far from it. There is no thigh slapping, yo-hohoing or unnecessarily shivering of timbers. With Izzard, Philip Glenister, Rupert Penry-Jones and Daniel Mays all going slightly stir crazy in search of the gold, this new Treasure Island is more Apocalypse Now than Captain Pugwash. Izzard threw himself into the role, as he always does. He shaved his head, endured searing Puerto Rican heat for 'the island' and the worst Irish winter on record for scenes set in the Bristol docks (but, actually filmed in Dublin), and spent the entire five-month shoot on a crutch. He has been seeing an osteopath ever since they finished filming. 'The whole one leg thing, that was tricky, because you know if you have one leg now you have two handles and two crutches, so you can get around. This is one stick and no handle. Getting that right was really hard. I can now go forwards and backwards on it. I can even do a fast walky-run for the chase scenes. And, yes, I have kept the crutch.'
Of course, such physical exertions are as nothing to a man who ran forty three marathons in just over fifty days in 2009, in spite of never having done much running in his life. There's nothing Izzard likes more than than pushing his own limits and creating new challenges. His list of self-imposed ordeals set and achieved in 2011 is almost as surreal as his comedy. He has done seventy one gigs in French. He played the roof of the De La Warr pavilion ('What The Beatles would have done if they had lived in Bexhill-on-Sea'). He then played the Hollywood Bowl – and combined two hobbies by running all the way up to the top of the arena and back again. He's done a couple of triathlons – 'a fifty five-miler over six-and-a-half hours' and is working his way towards an Ironman triathlon 'or a few Ironmans.' Right now he's in Australia and New Zealand, touring again. At least those gigs are in English. Next year he's talking about doing Berlin in German, and then Moscow and Cairo and Madrid, all in the mother tongue. 'Those will all be pinnacles to climb. My Spanish is – there's not much there, I’ve got "Dos cervezas por favor?", but I could probably get it. Russian will be tough. Arabic will be tough. German I did two years ago, so I can.' It's hard to picture Eddie Izzard relaxing at all. Yet between all of the marathons and the charity work, he professes to love nothing more than television at Christmas. 'ITV3 and 4 are very good,' he says. 'I like The Sweeney and The Professionals on 4 and then The Saint comes on and you get some of the older series like Upstairs, Downstairs. There's something about flashing back to when you were a kid watching those series. And then there's On the Buses, which comes on as well on ITV3 and is awful, just so awful. I cannot watch it without thinking I used to think this was, well, not brilliant but okay. I watch it in a car-crash way.' His Christmas movies are a little more predictable. 'My favourite Christmas film is The Great Escape. It is bizarre that it's always on at Christmas: I mean it's to do with Christmas but it's all, "Come on let's all go and get out of Nazi Germany" – or Silesia in fact. I know it's based on a real story and those guys did die ... I do love that film. But I think Valkyrie needs to go in there as well as a Christmas classic.' Valkyrie with Tom Cruise that, of course, co-starred Izzard himself. 'Because it's a story that grips you and it's the first one that German kids and British kids can all sit down and watch, and everyone's trying to kill Hitler and that seems to be a very positive thing. I like to get up a mountain and go snowboarding, or sometimes skiing. But mountains and snow and exercising. I remember this mountain restaurant where I had Christmas lunch a while ago in the Alps. You had to go up and down a number of mountains to get there, but you could book a table. The point was anyone could go there, but to get there you had to have a certain amount of skill: you couldn't just drive there and I liked that. Everyone was in there covered in snow, brushing it off, sitting down, having a glass of wine and some good food and I just thought this was great: we’re up a mountain and it's Narnia. It's always Narnia because I live in the world of Narnia in my head.'
It might be damning it with faint praise, but the phone-hacking comedy Hacks (Channel Four) was the third best thing on TV last night! It may have been the first example of a entirely new TV genre: the delicious revenge-is-a-dish-best-served-cold satire. Written and directed by Guy Jenkin, the co-creator of Drop the Dead Donkey and Outnumbered, it took not so much a swipe as a baseball bat at a real-life farce which has aroused intense public ire – the parade of newspaper executives explaining that they never asked where the stories on their front pages came from. And, in doing so, turned culpability into one big never-ending joke. Its characters included a Septuagenarian Antipodean media magnate - not obviously based on anyone you'd know - Stanhope Feast (played brilliantly by the Michael Kitchen) with a much younger Oriental wife, Ho Chi Mao (Eleanor Matsuura) and a weaselly, smooth-talking shit of an American son, Connor (Jonathan Hopkins). His tabloid newspaper, the Comet, is edited by a deliciously foul-mouthed moral vacuum of a woman not especially like any particular Crystal Tipps-lookalike we can think of, Kate Loy (an outstanding performance by Claire Foy), who was aware of the nefarious means used to extract celebrity pay dirt, and oblivious to its human cost and cruelty. Except she wasn't oblivious to her craft – the voices of phone-hacking victims were keeping her awake at night. Foy is, of course, a fine actress with something about her which manages to suggest warmth and vulnerability no matter how odious the role she's playing. This put Hacks in the awkward position of making some of its targets sympathetic. Kitchen's character, for instance, got all the best lines. Well, apart from the ones that Phil Davis's seen-it-all tabloid veteran with an aversion to the dark arts, (there to represent Fleet Street's conscience, one imagines) had. 'This is the story of a British tabloid newspaper,' said the on-screen message at the start of Hacks. 'Obviously everything in it is made up.' For the next hour and a bit, Jenkin's satirical look at you-know-which story chronicled, with humour but also with chilling realism, recent events. Only, without the boring bits. Kayvan Novak – Fonejacker turned phone-hacker – is particularly hilarious as an investigative reporter who specialises in the art of disguise and whose resemblance to any real investigative reporter who specialises in the art of disguise is, obviously, purely coincidental. He's shown at various points trying to blag documents in the voices of Desmond Tutu, Sean Connery and Prince Philip ('just fax me the bleeding bank statement, you imbecile').Nigel Planer is effective as a not-at-all-like-any-Nevilles-we-know slimy worm of a reporter. Likewise Alexander Armstrong is David Bullingdon, a posh public school twat who, somehow, gets to run the country. As if anything like that could ever happen. Hacks was funny. It was naughty and its was brave in so much as it articulated a very uncomfortable truth about the tabloid world. As Will Self recently noted, it's all our fault. We bought the Scum of the World and all the rest of them. We lapped up their sordid nasty little tales of kiss-and-tell, their endless stories about Ashley sending out photos of his knob, their turning celebrity-as-non-entity into something of an art form. We bought it, lock, stock and two smoking cornets. Weekly. And then, when we found out they were hacking not just Steve Coogan and Sienna Miller but also murdered schoolgirls and the victims of terrorist atrocities and the families of victims of crime we were, what, surprised? Outraged? Yes, we were. Maybe we should have been sooner. But, we were all too busy reading about the sex lives of the inarticulate to be so.

BARB have released the official final ratings for Christmas Eve 2011: -
1 EastEnders - 9.21m
2 Outnumbered - 8.47m
3 Merlin - 8.18m
4 Lapland - 6.89m
5 The Cube - 5.25m, plus two hundred and seventy thousand on ITV+1.
Merlin ended its fourth series with a final series average of 7.17 million and an average timeshift of 1.39 million. The final episode had its biggest ever timeshift - around 1.8 million. It's the ninth most successful drama of 2011, barring any competition from the Christmas dramas) and fifth on BBC1 behind only New Tricks, Doctor Who, Silent Witness and South Riding.

ITV's Downton Abbey and the BBC's Doctor Who have been shortlisted for the top drama prize at the National Television Awards this month. The ratings-topping country house drama created by Lord Snooty Julian Fellowes will also vie with Merlin and last year's winner, Waterloo Road. Last year was the first time Doctor Who had failed to win the most popular drama award since 2005. Doctor Who's lead actors, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, have also been nominated in the best drama actors categories, but there were no such nominations for the Downton cast, which includes Hugh Bonneville, Dame Maggie Smith, Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery. Gillan, who is stepping down from her Doctor Who role during the next series, shares the shortlist with Eve Myles of Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, Jaye Jacobs from Waterloo Road and Suranne Jones, who starred in the detective drama Scott & Bailey. Smith faces competition from Martin Clunes for his performance in Doc Martin, John Barrowman for Torchwood and David Threlfall, for his portrayal of the feckless head of the dysfunctional Mancunian Gallagher family in the Channel Four comedy drama, Shameless. In the battle for the top talent show award, BBC1's Strictly Come Dancing will be up against ITV's The X Factor, which won the category in 2011. In the comedy category, Miranda Hart faces competition from Benidorm and Outnumbered. Once again, despite the fact that not a single new episode of Miranda has been produced in 2011. In the best entertainment programme category, the multi-award winning Harry Hill's TV Burp will compete against Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow. Keith Lemon's quiz Celebrity Juice is nominated for best comedy panel show against a trio of BBC shows, Have I Got News For You, Mock The Week and Qi. There is no documentary category and shows shortlisted in the reality category include the semi-scripted The Only Way is Essex plus The Apprentice, Come Dine With Me and I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! Jonathan Ross, who moved his talkshow to ITV from the BBC, is nominated for the best chat show award. His competition includes Alan Carr, Graham Norton and Loose Women. For factual programme, An Idiot Abroad, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, This Morning and last year's winner, Top Gear are in competition. The awards are decided by a public vote and the winners will be announced during a televised ceremony hosted by Dermot O'Dreary from the O2 Arena in south-east London on 25 January.

David Walliams has signed to become a judge on Britain's Got Talent, according to reports. The Little Britain actor is believed to have agreed a quarter of a million quid two-year deal with the ITV show and will join the other judges to begin auditions next week. Simon Cowell recently confirmed his own return as a judge on the next series. Veteran panelist Amanda Holden will also come back, while former X Factor judge Dannii Minogue is said to be 'in advanced talks.' A source told the Sunday Mirra of Walliams's appointment: 'David can't wait to be a judge - it's right up his street. He's always been a big fan of BGT and will enjoy embracing the more eccentric side of the show. Producers are especially happy they've managed to get him signed up for two years. He's going to be a great asset and will give the show a completely new lease of life.' Comedian Michael McIntyre announced his departure from the show in September. David Hasselhoff confirmed his exit in November. Ant and Dec are expected to stay on as hosts.

The Curiously Orange Christine Bleakley has claimed that she was 'ready to move on' from Daybreak. Probably just as well she got embarrassingly fired from the flop breakfast TV show, in that case.

The new year is, traditionally, the time to spot emerging talent, but there is one cultural figure who, after more than forty years in broadcasting, is set for one of his highest-profile years yet. Melvyn Bragg, peer of the realm and acclaimed novelist, will be fronting a new series for BBC2, as well as helping the digital channel Sky Arts to give BBC4 a run for its money – and this week he starts a five-part, week-long radio investigation into the history of the written word as a spin-off from his highbrow Radio 4 show In Our Time. 'The new radio documentary was the idea of Tom Morris, producer of In Our Time, and it must be the fastest commission I have ever known,' said the seventy two-year-old last week. 'We had been looking around for a special to do and we wanted a really substantial subject. Once we had it, we had to be fast-moving because we could not believe no one had done it before.' Only two years ago, Lord Bragg was bidding his loyal television audience adieu when ITV dropped its late-night arts programme, The South Bank Show, after thirty years. Sky Arts swooped on the franchise by staging the Sky Arts South Bank Show last year and, a month ago, revealed plans to commission a series of six hour-long South Bank Show films. Like his former ITV programmes, the new films will focus on the work of a succession of individual artists, writers or entertainers, although the subjects have yet to be decided. 'I very much wanted to continue to make The South Bank Show and I'm delighted that Sky Arts has given me the chance to do that,' Bragg said in November. He likened the team at Sky Arts to those he worked with at the BBC as a young man in the early 1960s. 'It is very like the buzz of Lime Grove, with short lines of decision – which is such a relief. You ask for decisions and they'll give you a yes or no very quickly,' he said. The decision to invest in Bragg and his show, which will return this summer complete with Paganini-variation theme tune, is a symptom of Sky Arts's ambition. Its budgets have been tripled and its position on the all-important EPG TV guide has been given a hike. The Labour peer's new BBC2 series, on class in British society, is due to begin in early spring. 'Melvyn intends to examine class – upper class, middle class and working class – through all forms of culture, with a final programme on what has happened to our ideas of class in the last fifty years or so,' said Janice Hadlow, the channel's controller. However, in the first week of 2012 Bragg will be back on air with the radio station that he worked for when it launched in the 1960s. Radio 4, encouraged by the listener figures for In Our Time – which now enjoys an audience of two million for live discussions about topics from string theory to Arabic learning from the eighth to the fourteenth centuries – is to broadcast five programmes about writing. Since October, every In Our Time programme (there have been more than five hundred) has been available to download. During the run of the series, Bragg prepares by taking his notes to bed early on a Wednesday evening. 'I don't like to watch anything on TV or go out because I have homework to do.' His new programme, The Written World, tells the international story of writing and its effect on human development. 'Writing started in about 3500BC,' said Bragg. 'And what I find amusing is that it was probably started by a clerk who was tabulating goods going in and out of a market. In other words, we owe all literature to an accountant.' Clay, the most basic household medium, soon became the commonest writing material. 'It also turned out to be the most enduring of all materials. The examples they have at the British Library are beautifully clear. In fact, although we set out to make programmes about writing around the world, time and again we found that all the prime examples of the objects that show how writing gained in power are housed in England.' Bragg compares the devising of a workable alphabet to the invention of the worldwide web. Religions spread because texts could be passed around and read aloud, while propaganda and politics emerged with early printed journalism. One programme focuses on an English civil war newspaper, Mercurius Aulicus, produced on the eve of battle by Royalists as a way of unsettling their opponents. 'These were ferocious publications, written fast and powered by religion and radicalism. They were full of subterfuge and were the real first draft of history,' said Bragg. The web has heralded an age of unchecked self-publishing - look at this blog for example - and the widest ever access to the written word. 'People may have been surprised by the popularity of In Our Time, but the interest in all these extraordinary subjects was there – even at nine o'clock in the morning,' said Bragg.

Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell has been cleared of child sex allegations. The actor, who plays mechanic Kevin Webster in the soap, was arrested at his home in Hale, in September. He was questioned and released on bail on suspicion of an alleged sexual offence involving a young girl. Police confirmed that after their investigation lawyers decided there was not enough evidence to charge him. A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police said: 'No further action will be taken against a forty six-year-old male from Hale, arrested on suspicion of an [historical] sexual assault. A file of evidence was prepared for the Crown Prosecution Service, who decided there was insufficient evidence to charge.' Le Vell had strenuously denied the allegations and continued in his role in the TV show. He joined the soap in 1983 as Brian Tilsley's apprentice mechanic and became a favourite with fans who have followed his stormy marriage to Sally, played by Sally Dynevor. The actor had a major role in December's live fiftieth anniversary episode, featuring a fatal tram crash in Weatherfield.

For today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, a classic splash of Brian Fahey. Not 'alf.

No comments: