Friday, January 27, 2012

The Patron Saint Of Small Things

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping has some genuinely sad news to bring you, dear blog reader, ITV's Comical Ali-style head of press James MacLeod has, apparently, left the broadcaster. Thus we will no longer have the genius of his occasional tweets arse-lickingly bigging-up the latest Simon Cowell slavver or trying, manfully, to excuse the disaster that was Red or Black? Few, who saw it, will ever be able to forget his brazen claim that Red or Black? had 'reached twenty four million viewers' a figure obtained by simply adding together the audiences for all seven episodes. We'll miss you, man. Seriously. Like Morecambe and Wise, you brought sunshine to the world. Let's hope James' replacement, Mike Large, will prove to be half as entertaining in future.

ITV's flop fantasy drama Eternal Law lost out to Crimewatch in Thursday night's 9pm ratings battle. Created by the makers of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, the series' fourth episode drew 3.1m and one hundred and twenty nine thousand viewers on ITV+1, a slight improvement on last week's low. Crimewatch led the hour with 4.2m for BBC1, whilst the penultimate edition of Celebrity Big Brother had an audience of 2.4m. Against ITV's hour of soaps from 8pm, the final Earthflight was watched by 4.07m on BBC1. BBC2 documentaries Saxon Hoard: A Golden Discovery and Putin, Russia and the West were watched by 1.84m and 1.02m. Overall, BBC1 won primetime with 21.2 per cent versus ITV's 20.7 per cent. On the multichannel networks, Mad Dogs mustered seven hundred and twenty five thousand for Sky1.

This blogger has two thoughts for today, dear blog reader. The first is this -
Which is pretty self-explanatory. The second is a shade more conceptual.
And, on that bombshell...

Mark Thompson, the BBC's director general, has allegedly signalled to senior colleagues that he is ready to step down, with alleged 'insiders' allegedly believing he will allegedly quit at the end of 2012 or early in 2013, at the end of the broadcaster's Olympic year. This is according to the Gruniad Morning Star, of course, so no obvious or quite sick agenda is at work here. No, siree, Bob. Thompson has, the paper claims, 'not given an exact timetable' for his departure, but alleged 'friends' allegedly say that he allegedly acknowledges he has allegedly entered the 'final chapter' of his eight-year director generalship and is allegedly 'psychologically ready' to leave a job that paid him an alleged seven hundred and seventy grand last year. Allegedly. Thompson took over the helm at the BBC in the wake of the resignations of Greg Dyke as director general and Gavyn Davies as chairman after stinging criticism of the corporation in Lord Hutton's report on the death of the government weapons inspector Dr David Kelly. Stinging criticism which, with hindsight, proved to be completely wrong. Knowledge that Thompson's time is allegedly drawing to an alleged close will, allegedly, 'trigger a succession race' that, allegedly, could see a woman appointed to run the BBC for the first time: Caroline Thomson (not relation), chief operating officer, and Helen Boaden, head of news, are two of the three best placed internal candidates. Allegedly. Their main rival, the Gruniad state, is the low-key but cerebral George Entwistle, recently appointed head of BBC Vision, the corporation's TV channels. However, with no obvious frontrunner, the job could easily fall to an outsider, with Peter Fincham, ITV's director of television, who resigned from the BBC in the wake of the 'Crowngate' editing row, and Channel Four's chief executive, David Abraham, possible contenders. American TV executives are likely to be deterred by a long-standing pledge that the salary for the job be cut, but Mark Scott, who runs the Australian public broadcaster, ABC, has relevant experience and would be a credible contender. Eager to demolish any speculation that there has been a falling out with the BBC Trust chairman, Lord Patten, 'insiders' say that Thompson told the peer at the time of Patten's appointment last year that he intended to step down sometime before the chairman's term ended in 2015. That process moved forward when the BBC Trust appointed headhunters to draw up a succession plan, and accelerated on Monday when Patten chose an interview with The Times to confirm that the executive search firm Egon Zehnder had started preliminary work so that 'when the time comes' the BBC had an 'intelligent view' of possible successors. Thompson, the Gruniad claim, with no supporting evidence other than unnamed sources, was initially 'piqued' that Patten had begun to talk so openly about a BBC without him in charge, and his initial response was to have the BBC issue a statement saying that there was no vacancy for the director generalship, as he hoped to concentrate on preparations for what he describes as 'the biggest year in the BBC's history,' with the diamond jubilee in June and the Olympics in July. However, as speculation about the purpose of appointing a headhunting firm swirled at a media industry convention on Wednesday, Thompson - the Gruniad state - 'began to make his intentions clear to demonstrate he was on board with Patten's announcement.' BBC 'sources', the newspaper claim, said that Egon Zehnder – where David Cameron's close friend, the former Conservative special adviser Dom Loenhis, works on behalf of media clients – had been advising the broadcaster since the search that led to the promotion of Entwistle last summer to the job held by Thompson a decade ago. Thompson has long felt a stay of eight years in the top job was 'about right,' roughly the norm for successful director generals since the sixteen-year tenure of the broadcaster's esteemed first head, Lord John Reith. Leaving in the next year would allow his successor to lead the long negotiations in the run-up to the renewal of the BBC's governing royal charter, which expires at the end of 2016. Previous charter renewals have taken as long as three years. Thompson is unlikely to be short of offers of work after what has largely been seen as a successful tenure in which the BBC has navigated a storm of technological changes to remain the country's most watched broadcaster, with the help of the iPlayer. Arriving alongside Michael Grade in 2004, Thompson was able to maintain the BBC's reputation for quality and impartiality – although the middle part of his tenure saw the corporation engulfed in rows about fixing phone-in competitions, and the abusive messages left by Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross on the voicemail of Andrew Sachs. A clamour to rein in generous BBC budgets was headed off by the risky decision to agree a flat licence fee with the coalition government in 2010, while the political environment has become benign in the last year as the phone-hacking scandal and ensuing Leveson inquiry have moved the focus on to Fleet Street. Thompson's time was also punctuated by recurring industrial action and an inability to dampen down unease about executive pay (and in particular his own salary – a subject on which he was taken to task by PD James on the Today programme). It has long been speculated, the Gruniad allege, that he is 'interested in working in the United States', the native country of his wife, the writer Jane Blumberg, where he would be able to command a far higher salary than he earns at the publicly-funded broadcaster. But 'friends' say Thompson is 'remaining coy' about his ambitions as he tries to contain the inevitable speculation at a time when the BBC cannot afford to be seen to be putting a foot wrong. Patten said on Wednesday he had 'never belonged to an organisation' that had done succession planning well and wanted to ensure there was a plan for the BBC. Concerned that the corporation's history in appointing director generals was flooded with 'blood on the carpet' and 'briefings', the chairman insisted that Thompson would leave 'at a time of his own choosing.'

Karen Gillan cleaned up at the National TV Awards so it's no surprise to discover that she intends to keep her prize in her bathroom. The actress won the Best Female Drama Performance award on Wednesday night for her role as Amy Pond in Doctor Who. Karen – who pipped Suranne Jones, Eve Myles and Jaye Jacobs to the award – said: 'I'm going to put it in the bathroom. I could keep it on the side of my bath next to the shower gel. It's fantastic I won on Burns Night. My parents are going to be so proud of me. I wasn’t expecting that and then to stand in front of that many people in the O2 Arena just screaming, I was trembling afterwards.' Karen revealed she only just made it on stage. She said: 'I was late because of the crazy traffic in London. So I got there and then they called out my name. So there wasn't a second to spare.' Winning the award is a nice goodbye for Karen, who will leave Doctor Who during the next series which begins filming next month. She said: 'I am so sad to be leaving Doctor Who. I have had the best years of my life on this job. But it's time to go on to other things and all stories come to their natural end.' Karen - seen on Thursday night in BBC4's excellent We'll Take Manhatten - will film in Scotland for the first time since becoming a star when she shoots a Glasgow-set rom-com Not Another Happy Ending. She said: 'I play an eccentric writer.'

Writer and performer Julia Davis is to join Sky Atlantic in a new project described as 'a black comedy.' Hunderby has been picked up for seven half-hour episodes by the channel. The latest Sky commission is Davis' first project since since the award-winning - if little watched - Nighty Night. Davis's style of comedy has set her apart from her contemporaries, Sky state, and the broadcaster believes she is one of 'the most unique talents around.' The seven episodes of Hunderby will be set in the 1800s which features Helene, a shipwreck survivor washed ashore near a small English village. There, she is swept off her feet by widowed pastor Edmund and the two soon marry, the puritanical Edmund believing his bride to be untouched by another man. But she has a history, a dark past that she cannot escape. As Helene moves into Edmund's home, she falls under the watchful eye of housekeeper Dorothy who is more than a little involved in her master's life, and quite obsessed with his dead first wife, Arabelle - to whom Helene simply does not compare. While Helene battles to keep her past a secret, she must navigate Dorothy’s devious scheming, her husband's harsh critique and a potential new love interest. Davis said of the new comedy, 'I'm so excited to be making a series for Sky Atlantic HD, a channel that has so many of my favourite shows from around the world. It's great to be working with Stuart Murphy and Lucy Lumsden again.' In a Gothic setting populated by the requisite cast of fiends, physicians, hunchbacks, wastrels, maids, crones, and a puppy called Wilfred, Hunderby Sky hopes will have a 'dark and absurd humour.' Naomi Gibney, the Acting Channel Director, Sky Atlantic said: 'Sky Atlantic is committed to creating smart and engaging British comedy that will resonate with our target audience. Together with Kathy Burke's Walking and Talking, Hunderby is a key title in our stellar comedy line-up.'

We don't normally do US ratings on this blog but it's worth noting that Marg Helgenberger's exit gave CSI a season high on Wednesday night. Catherine Willows's last case, Willows in the Wind, attracted an overnight audience of just over fourteen million viewers to CBS in the 10pm hour. That's the series highest rating for an episode since January 2011.
Lord Justice Leveson has indicated that he believes social networks such as Twitter and Facebook should be treated differently from newspapers in any new regulatory regime for the media. Leveson said on Thursday there was a difference between an online version of a newspaper or an online magazine and social media websites which are hosting conversations between individuals. 'I think that I might see there is a distinction between Facebook, where one person is communicating with their friends, or Twitter, and organisations that are in the business of selling themselves with reference to news or information. That is the difference between the pub chatter, to take the analogy that was mentioned before, and that which the state – I don't mean government, I say immediately, but the broad corpus of all of us – has an interest in seeing as a level playing field,' he added. Leveson has stressed on several occasions during his inquiry that he has not reached any conclusions about the best form of future press regulation, but is seeking to explore potential options in his discussions with witnesses. He has publicly grappled with the question of regulation of the Internet, after hearing how celebrities and public figures have found it difficult to stop offensive material or private photos being spread virally almost instantly. He has also heard a succession of national newspaper editors and proprietors say they believe that news aggregators such as the Huffington Post should be encouraged to join any new regulatory regime, otherwise traditional print media could be subject to stricter regulation and left at a disadvantage. Last year Leveson heard from Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who told how she fears photographs of her children, taken without consent, are still on the Internet. 'A lie can spread around the world before the truth had got its boots on,' she said. Former Formula 1 boss Max Mosley told of his half a million smackers battle to have false 'Nazi' references removed from the Internet after he won a privacy action against the Scum of the World. He said that he was forced to sue Google in France and Germany to get the libellous content taken down and has launched legal action in twenty two or twenty three countries. Mosley described his strenuous efforts to get articles removed from websites, adding: 'The fundamental thing is that Google could stop this appearing but they don't or won't as a matter of principle.' On Thursday Google executives defended their policies on libel and defamation to Leveson, telling the judge they 'complied with local law around the world.' Daphne Keller, the legal director of Google, said material would be removed in a matter of days if they were shown a court order where a judge found material to be defamatory. Keller confirmed hundreds of references to Mosley had been removed, but said that he would have to apply individually to have webpage URLs removed from Google's sites in different countries. The inquiry also heard on Thursday from the co-founder of gossip site Popbitch, who told Leveson that the service she provided was very different to that of newspapers because it was on the Internet. She said unlike a newspaper, it was a 'two-way conversation' and readers expected to be able to respond to stories, give feedback and help shape stories about celebrities. Camilla Wright told the Leveson inquiry that she had 'certain rules' about not covering health issues or children but it was very difficult to 'say where the line would be' between 'legitimate public interest' and 'stories the public is interested in.' She added: 'It's a moving line, there's no absolute line. We look at who is making themselves influential and if so are they living up to it.' She said that a lot of celebrities 'live beyond their talent' - which is certainly true - and 'put themselves in the public eye' and Popbitch liked to provide a 'counter point' to that and to poke fun at them and their silly ways. 'They [celebrities] are there for our fun and it can be a bit darker and they are for people to joke at,' she told Leveson, adding 'you can't choose when are you are public and when you are private.'

Channel Four is aiming to launch a new TV service which would allow viewers to watch repeats of its best shows from June, if it can iron out differences with Virgin Media to secure the final deal needed for maximum distribution on digital platforms. The new channel, referred to internally as Project Shuffle, will allow viewers who missed the first live broadcast of Channel Four's most popular shows multiple opportunities to catch up with them over the next seven nights. 'Sources with knowledge of the plan', according to the Gruniad, are quick to distance it from suggestions that it will be like Gold, the UKTV-subscription service that repeats archived mainly BBC shows. 'In the old days, repeats were bad things – but you have to remember that this is not just an attempt to make a UK Gold, this is new, popular stuff just transmitted in the UK,' said one alleged 'source' whom the Gruniad claim is 'familiar with the plan.' The launch date for the new channel has not yet been confirmed but it is 'understood' that June is currently the most likely target, 'although it is thought that Channel Four would like to have it on air earlier.' Two media industry 'sources', the Gruniad claim, said they 'understand' that Channel Four has lined-up a Freeview slot for the channel and it is thought a deal with BSkyB has also been reached. However, the paper adds, talks with Virgin Media are understood to have been more difficult, with the cable operator said to be 'wary' about giving the green light to a channel that could provide direct competition to its own catch-up TV offering. One source with knowledge of Project Shuffle said it is 'a tiny bit like Sky Anytime but more really the equivalent of staggercast or video-on-demand on your TV, delivered as scheduled viewing.'

The Conservative MP and former defence secretary, Liam Fox, has been told by police investigating phone-hacking that he was targeted by a private investigator. Fox said in a statement on Thursday that he was seeking legal advice after his bank details were found on records seized under Scotland Yard's Operation Weeting investigation into phone-hacking. 'Dr Fox confirms that he has been informed by the police that attempts were made to hack into his voicemail,' the statement said. 'His bank details and a number of financial transactions were found in the records they have been investigating as part of the Operating Weeting.' Investigations are said to be 'ongoing' and Fox is currently consulting his lawyers. It is not clear exactly when Fox is alleged to have been targeted. The Tory MP resigned as defence secretary in October 2011 following intense media scrutiny about his links to businessman Adam Werritty. Fox held a number of senior positions when the Conservative party were in opposition, including shadow health secretary between 1999 and 2003, chairman of the Conservative party between 2003 and 2005, shadow foreign secretary for six months up to December 2010, and shadow defence secretary until May 2010. The Metropolitan police declined to comment. Seventeen suspects have so far been arrested under Operation Weeting. The Scotland Yard investigation is working its way through many thousands of e-mails and notes seized from Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who worked for the disgraced and disgraceful Scum of the World before being jailed for phone-hacking in 2007.

The veteran media and entertainment executive Lord Grade is to give evidence at the Leveson inquiry next week, when it will scrutinise the workings of the Press Complaints Commission. Grade, whose colourful media career spans six decades and includes stints as a talent agent, US TV producer, chairman of Camelot and Pinewood Studios, as well as senior positions at the BBC, ITV and Channel Four, will appear on Tuesday in his role as a PCC commissioner. The week will also give the PCC a chance to salvage its reputation, which has taken a mauling since the phonehacking scandal erupted last July. Politicians – including David Cameron and the lack of culture secretary the vile and odious rascal Hunt – have called for the PCC to be replaced with a new press regulator with beefed-up powers, a move that is backed by several national newspaper editors. The PCC has also faced sustained criticism at the Leveson inquiry from victims of alleged press harassment. Six witnesses with current or past connections to the PCC, including Grade, have been lined-up for the inquiry, with the body's current director Stephen Abell and his predecessor Tim Toulmin appearing on Monday. On Tuesday, Grade will be joined by the former PCC chairman and ex-British ambassador to the US, Sir Christopher Meyer.

'How Beeb downplayed its use of private eyes,' thundered the odious stinking filth at the Daily Scum Mail on Thursday, as it accused BBC News of 'virtually ignoring' evidence from director general Mark Thompson to the Leveson inquiry that the corporation had spent three hundred thousand quid on private investigators in a six years period. Strangely, however, when the Scum Mail covered the inquiry on 5 December – when Lord Justice Leveson heard how the names of journalists had been found at private investigator Steve Whittamore's Hampshire home – it described the 'veritable treasure trove' of material, yet failed to mention that it topped the list of titles using Whittamore's services, with nine hundred and fifty two requests, involving fifty eight of its scum journalists. And in the Scum Mail's Leveson coverage on 12 January, towards the end of a page eight story How Hugh Grant got his facts wrong, by the Mail's legal chief were a few paragraphs about Scum Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright's use of Whittamore. So no downplaying the use of private eyes there, then.

Most of the surviving members of Monty Python's Flying Circus are set to reunite for another film, Terry Jones has confirmed. Jones told trade newspaper Variety that he would direct the science fiction picture, Absolutely Anything. 'It's not a Monty Python picture, but it certainly has that sensibility,' he said. Jones revealed John Cleese, Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin were all 'on board' and that he still hoped to sign Eric Idle. That's if Eric isn't too busy hanging around with rock stars in LA like her usually is. The last time the five remaining members of the comedy group appeared together was in 1998 at the Aspen Comedy Festival. In the new CGI movie, the Pythons will provide voices for a group of aliens who grant a human being immense power, which eventually leads to 'all sorts of disruption.' A talking dog named Dennis will be voiced by Robin Williams. Jones co-directed the 1974 film Monty and the Holy Grail with Terry Gilliam and was the sole director for Life Of Brian (1979) and The Meaning of Life (1983). In June, it was announced that Cleese, Gilliam, Palin and Jones would voice a 3D animated film based on the memoirs of the late Graham Chapman, the sixth Python, who died in 1989. However, Idle was not involved in that film, which is expected to be released later this year.

Veteran actor John Hurt will receive the outstanding contribution to cinema award at the BAFTA's next month, it has been announced. 'I know that film means a great deal to me but I had no idea that I meant so much to film,' the seventy two-year-old said. BAFTA chairman Tim Corrie said the actor has an 'extraordinary screen presence' and brings 'utter conviction to every role he undertakes.' His film credits include The Elephant Man and Nineteen Eighty-Four. In 1976 he was presented with his first BAFTA award for his role as Quentin Crisp in the TV drama The Naked Civil Servant. Since then he has received a further two more trophies for Midnight Express and The Elephant Man, while earning further nominations for Alien, The Field and, most recently, the 2009 sequel to Naked Civil Servant, An Englishman in New York. He has also been nominated for two Academy Awards, for The Elephant Man and Midnight Express. Recent screen roles have included Ollivander in the Harry Potter series and the role of Control in the Oscar-nominated Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Corrie added: 'He is one of a kind, an iconic figure, and BAFTA is delighted to take this opportunity to honour his outstanding contribution to cinema.' Silent movie The Artist leads this year's BAFTAs with twelve nominations, including best film and best director. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is close behind with eleven nominations. The BAFTAs awards take place on 12 February in London. The ceremony will be hosted by comedian and broadcaster Stephen Fry and will be broadcast on BBC1.

The latest Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day comes from The Rubettes 'we're just like The Beatles, honest' phase. Top tune, frankly. (Point of interest, this Top of the Pops appearance was one of the few episodes presented by the instantly forgettable Paul Burnett.)

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