Thursday, February 09, 2012

I Should Have Known Better

News International is facing more than fifty new damages claims from alleged victims of Scum of the World phone-hacking, including Peter Crouch, James Blunt and Nigel Farage, the high court has heard. Rupert Murdoch's UK newspaper publisher has already settled more than fifty civil actions for invasion of privacy, including seventeen involving twenty one individuals such as comedian Steve Coogan that were confirmed at the high court on Wednesday, for several million quid in damages and legal costs. The details of six of Wednesday's settlements were revealed, costing News International another three hundred and sixty three thousand smackers in damages alone. However, there is no sign of a let-up on the pressure facing News International, with Hugh Tomlinson QC, representing phone-hacking victims, telling the high court that six new cases had been filed, with a further fifty being prepared. Out of these new civil actions, five have already been selected to be 'lead cases.' They will, along with the continuing action by Charlotte Church and her family, be considered with a view to establishing a benchmark for damages for the eight hundred or so potential victims of Scum of the World phone-hacking identified so far by the Metropolitan police. These new cases are being taken by Crouch, the England and Stoke City footballer, and his wife the model Abbey Clancy, alleged musician Blunt, Farage, the Ukip leader and MEP, Eimear Cook, the ex-wife of former Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomery and former England footballer Kieron Dyer. The damages settlements revealed at the high court on Wednesday bring the total number of phone-hacking cases News International has settled to fifty four, with six remaining in dispute. These are Church, Ryan Giggs, Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames and her husband the police detective David Cook, former royal butler Paul Burrell, Max Clifford's former assistant Nicola Philips and Elle Macpherson's former financial adviser Mary Ellen Field. Tomlinson told Lord Justice Vos at the high court that Church who was one of a number of potential test cases willing to go to full trial. The singer, who is suing along with her mother Maria and father James, claims that thirty three articles published by the Scum of the World between 2002 and 2006 came directly from phone-hacking. She also claims that her father was forced to sell his pub in Wales because of the distress caused by the press coverage. Coogan, ex-football star Paul Gascoigne and the mother of a 7/7 terrorist bombing victim were among the twenty one individuals whose settlements were revealed at the high court on Wednesday. Coogan, who has been fighting a case against News International since 2010, has been one of the leading critics of the company but settled his civil action after it admitted his phone had been hacked by the Scum of the World and agreed to payout damages of forty thousand notes. He said after Wednesday's court hearing that it was 'never about money' and he had just wanted 'to show the depths to which the press can sink in pursuit of private information.' At the time he began the civil action for invasion of privacy, the tabloid denied any wrongdoing. Coogan, who attended court to hear his settlement being read, added that he was 'delighted' the company had finally capitulated after years of denial that anyone other than a single 'rogue reporter' covering royal stories had been involved in phone-hacking. 'I am pleased that after two years of argument and denials, News International has finally agreed to settle my case against it for hacking my voicemails. It has been a very stressful and time-consuming experience for me and for those close to me,' he added. Simon Hughes was also in court for the settlement and was awarded forty thousand quid in damages. Other victims who have settled included the singer Pete Doherty, the jockey Kieran Fallon and the football agent Sky Andrew, who was awarded seventy five thousand knicker, one of the largest payments announced on Wednesday. The largest settlement of all went to Sally King, an estate agent, and her husband Andrew. They were collectively awarded one hundred and ten thousand quid in a joint claim, along with undisclosed damages for her father, John Anderson, and her autistic brother Scott. The high court heard how King, a friend of David Blunkett, had been subjected to 'physical surveillance' and phone-hacking by the Scum of the World, which instructed reporters and photographers to follow them. King went on holiday to the US and discovered that a Scum of the World reporter was booked on the same flight and photographers and reporters waiting at the rural holiday destination. Her solicitor Charlotte Harris told the court: 'The effect of this intensive and intrusive campaign of surveillance, pursuit and harassment, as well as the publication of intrusive and private information on those private individuals has been profound.' Alastair Campbell also settled on Wednesday for undisclosed damages, as did Sheila Henry, the mother of 7/7 victim Christian Small. Former England footballer Paul Gascoigne was awarded sixty thousand quid plus what was described as 'special damages' of a further eight grand. The court heard that hacking had a 'serious detrimental effect on his well being,' and that he was told he was being 'paranoid for' thinking he had been targeted. His friend Jimmy Five Bellies Gardner also received undisclosed damages. George Galloway received twenty five grand and the court was told that he was 'targeted' from the time of the second Gulf war in 2003. In a statement, Simon Hughes said: 'The evidence in my case clearly demonstrates that the practice of hacking was widespread and went much further up the chain than Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire. It was criminal behaviour on an industrial scale.' He added: 'Anyone involved in criminal activity at the Scum of the World must be brought to justice, and all those who allowed a large company to behave in this way must be held to account.' In a statement posted on his blog, Campbell described the settlement as a 'satisfactory outcome' for him personally and added that as part of his agreement, the Scum of the World publisher had 'also undertaken to continue searches of other "documents in its possession", so that I can ascertain the extent of any further wrongdoing, both for the time I worked in Downing Street and since, and they have agreed I "may be entitled to further damages in certain circumstances."'

The Lancashire detective 'exposed' by The Times for writing an anonymous blog about crime issues is to sue the newspaper for damages after it emerged that a reporter initially identified him by hacking into his e-mails. The decision by Richard Horton, who blogged under the name NightJack, to pursue a claim comes as the Metropolitan police continue their investigation into e-mail hacking by journalists. Horton is understood to have instructed his lawyer to claim damages from the newspaper. In evidence to the Leveson inquiry this week, the editor of The Times, James Harding, admitted that evidence of his paper's involvement in e-mail hacking had previously been withheld from the high court. Harding grovellingly apologised to Mr Justice Eady, who turned down an anonymity injunction sought in 2009 by Horton. Harding claimed he had not known of the circumstances that led to NightJack's exposure. It emerged that a Times reporter, Patrick Foster, had hacked into an e-mail account to 'identify and expose' the award-winning police blogger. The inquiry heard that Foster claimed to have obtained the same information from 'purely publicly accessible information.' Foster, who later left the paper, has since written freelance contributions for the Gruniad Morning Star and the Torygraph. The Metropolitan police are understood to be investigating allegations of e-mail hacking by The Times as part of the fallout from the NightJack case. The Labour MP Tom Watson (power to the people!) has written to the force raising his concerns. A police spokesperson said: 'Officers from Operation Tuleta are in contact with Mr Watson in relation to specific issues he wishes to raise. We are not prepared to give a running commentary on the investigation.' The Crown Prosecution Service said that any question of investigations arising from evidence at the Leveson inquiry would be 'a matter for the police.' News International, the owner of The Times, said it did not wish to make any further statement in response to suggestions that the high court might have been misled. A spokesperson referred to statements made by Harding to Leveson. Asked whether at any stage 'anybody suggested to you that these matters ought to be brought to the attention of Mr Justice Eady?' Harding replied: 'No. As I said, our statement, Mr Brett, the then legal manager, as I understand it, did not believe and still does not believe that the court was misled. When I read these documents, when I went through them, I felt that information had not been disclosed to the judge and I felt that it was right that he should get an apology and I have written to him to apologise.' The newspaper has declined to release the text of the letter to Eady.

The row between Hugh Grant and the Daily Scum Mail's odious fraction of an editor, Paul Dacre, took a further turn on Wednesday, when the actor claimed that he had 'uncovered evidence' of 'misbehaviour' by Associated Newspapers. In a fresh statement published on the Leveson inquiry website, Grant said that he had 'obtained letters' contradicting several aspects of the Scum Mail's version of the way it had tracked down and 'persistently hounded' Tinglan Hong, the mother of his newly born daughter. Scum Mail reporters pretended to have a parcel to deliver in order to get details of a lettings agency linked to the mother's former address, according to a statement obtained by Grant. The letting agency denied subsequently handing over Hong's mobile number, which the paper nevertheless obtained. Westminster register office also denies the Scum Mail's claim that its staff had subsequently handed over details of the baby's birth, supplied privately by the hospital. Grant says in his witness statement to Leveson that it would have been illegal for the register office to supply such details. The Westminster registrar has written to him saying: 'It is absolutely not our policy to release birth notification details to members of the public and to our knowledge we have not done so. Such disclosure would be likely to involve a potential breach of data protection legislation.' The country's chief registrar – Sarah Rapson – is to write to Westminster council 'to urge them to consider undertaking a full investigation.' Grant said: 'This information would have formed part of Tinglan's confidential medical records.' In another area of dispute with the Scum Mail, Grant discloses that his former lover Jemima Khan has now sworn a witness statement to the Leveson inquiry, saying that the Scum Mail on Sunday's version of how it came to print a libellous story about the couple 'could not possibly be true.' The Scum Mail claims that a freelance, Sharon Feinstein, got a story purportedly emanating from Khan herself, that Grant had been having an affair with a 'plummy-voiced woman' who called him on the phone. Khan says that she was 'completely unaware' of Feinstein until the story was published. The Scum Mail's editor is, very satisfyingly, being dragged back to Leveson on Thursday to be cross-examined by Grant's lawyers on these matters. This followed a belligerent performance from the odious Dacre on Monday in which the odious Dacre admitted, seemingly with some pride, personally helping draft the phrase 'mendacious smear' about Grant after the actor had suggested Associated Newspapers may have engaged in phone-hacking. The odious Dacre claimed that Grant 'knew, or ought to have known, he had no proper basis for smearing our company.' He said that 'to ignore the truth behind the carefully manipulated images' of celebrities would 'betray the readers.' A Daily Scum Mail spokesman said: 'We note that Hugh Grant has now accepted that his claims regarding information coming from the hospital were false. We stand by the statements already made to the inquiry.' A witness statement detailing the paper's stance was submitted last year by Associated's lawyer, Liz Hartley. In evidence to Leveson the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, told the inquiry on Wednesday that the Crown Prosecution Service would shortly release a guidance on the prosecution of journalists. He is drawing up an interim policy on the factors to consider when deciding whether to prosecute journalists over illicit newsgathering methods. The policy on the prosecution of journalists will include a public interest defence for journalism that uncovers a miscarriage of justice. The CPS said that the potential public interest defence of revealing miscarriages of justice would be 'balanced against considerations including whether the journalist used threats or intimidation,' or put criminal proceedings in jeopardy. 'It would be prudent to have a policy that sets out in one place the factors that prosecutors will take into account when considering whether or not to prosecute journalists acting in the course of their work as journalists,' Starmer said. The Guido Fawkes blogger, Paul Staines, in evidence on Wednesday, said he 'understood' that the editor of the Sunday Mirra, Tina Weaver, had personally authorised hacking and blagging. Staines said that he was 'told' by two journalists that Weaver 'personally authorised and told them to hack, blag and do all that kind of stuff.' Staines added: 'She knows all the bad things that have gone on under her rule. It's ridiculous.' The political blogger also claimed that the Scum of the World paid him twenty thousand quid for photographs of a political adviser who shared a hotel room with the foreign secretary, William Hague, during the 2010 election campaign. Staines suggested that the now-defunct, disgraced and disgraceful tabloid bought the photos to 'take them off the market' as a favour to its former editor, Andy Coulson, who at the time was director of communications at Downing Street. The blogger also told the inquiry that his home address had been discovered by a Daily Torygraph reporter, Gordon Rayner, and claimed that could only have been achieved by his details being leaked by a Land Registry employee. The Torygraph claimed that Staines and Rayner had never met. 'We don't propose to be drawn into any dispute with him. However, as any journalist will know, the Land Registry is a public resource, available to all.' Staines claimed that Rayner had used Steve Whittamore, the private investigator convicted of illegally accessing data in 2005. Staines said that Rayner appeared in the information commissioner's Operation Motorman report into trade of data by newspapers three hundred and thirty five times. 'If this inquiry does not act as a catalyst for criminal prosecution for those journalists who have invaded people's privacy, on an industrial scale, I think you have failed,' Staines told Lord Justice Leveson.

The former wife of Sir Paul McCartney has denied authorising former Daily Mirra editor Piers Morgan to access her voicemail messages. Horrible Heather Mills told the Leveson Inquiry about an incident in 2001 after she returned from a holiday in India. The couple had had a row, she said, and her then husband left her twenty five voicemail messages, including a 'ditty.' Mills said that another journalist later told her he knew there had been problems and mentioned the song. Morgan, now a chat show host in the US - albeit still the same slimy odious scum he always was in this country - had previously told the inquiry that he had listened to a voicemail message left for Mills by Sir Paul, but he refused to say when or where because he wanted to protect a 'source.' Mills said that she had never authorised Morgan or anybody else to access or listen to her voicemails. 'I couldn't quite believe that he would even try to insinuate, a man that has written nothing but awful things about me for years, would relish in telling the court if I had played a voicemail message to him,' she said. Mills said press coverage of her was 'quite favourable' after the accident in 1993 when she lost her leg. But she said: 'As soon as I met [Sir Paul] it became "one-legged bitch" and "cow" and every awful word you can think of.' She criticised the 'postage stamp-sized apologies' which newspapers were forced to make following inaccurate stories about her. Mills said: 'My personal view is that until there is a disincentive to write lies and abusive comments it's going to continue. If you know you are going to be embarrassed by front page apologies every week I think you'd stop.' She said tiny apologies, years later, were inadequate and added: 'The public believe the lies.' She also called for all photographers to be licensed and newspapers should only be able to use licensed photographers. Earlier former Scum of the World news editor Ian Edmondson agreed with Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, that there was 'a culture of bullying' at the disgraced and disgraceful Sunday tabloid. When asked if ex-Scum of the World editor Colin Myler was part of that culture, Edmondson alleged that he was, but said as he was awaiting an employment tribunal against News International for unfair dismissal he did not wish to go into detail. Jay asked Edmondson about the decision to rebrand private investigator Derek Webb as a journalist, complete with a National Union of Journalists press card. Edmondson admitted it was 'a sham' but, he said, Webb's surveillance experience was 'valuable' and attempts to use journalists to conduct surveillance had not been successful in the past because they were 'not properly trained.' Edmondson said he believed Scum of the World editor Colin Myler and News International lawyer Tom Crone were 'aware' of the 'pretence.' Edmondson was also asked about surveillance on solicitor Mark Lewis and he claimed that he did not understand the point when he was not a well-known figure. 'I didn't see it as a story. It wouldn't have got into the paper,' added Edmondson. He was later asked about reporter Neville Thurlbeck's attempts to contact two women who were involved in the attempt to expose Max Mosley over his involvement in an alleged sado-masochistic sex session. Edmondson said that, on reflection, they read like 'threats.' Earlier the founder of one of the world's biggest photography agencies claimed that he follows the Press Complaints Commission code. Darryn Lyons, who set up Big Pictures, said he had 'no reason to believe' the paparazzi he uses acted unethically. Lord Justice Leveson asked him: 'What is the line? Where do you draw the line?' Lyons, speaking on a videolink from Australia, replied: 'Along the PCC line.' He also accused celebrities and their public relations people of using paparazzi as a 'publicity tool' to 'raise their profile.' Carine Patry Hoskins, counsel to the inquiry, asked him about a paragraph in his book in which he mentions an incident outside the home of TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson in which photographers employed by him 'almost caused a major accident.' Lyons said: 'In that case the photographers were disciplined in no uncertain terms.' She asked him: 'Do you still condone car shots?' He replied: 'Yes. I think the photographer is within their rights to take photographs of someone in a car.' Hoskins asked him about proceedings brought in 2009 by the actress Sienna Miller for 'harassment' and 'invasion of privacy.' She was awarded fifty three thousand knicker in damages and the agency was forbidden from following her in future. Lyons said that incident stemmed from photographs his people took of her on a yacht in the Mediterranean with Balthazar Getty. He claimed: 'At the end of the day celebrities court publicity when they want to court publicity and then all of a sudden they want to switch it off. I don't believe people should be hounded up and down the street but I do believe that as part of history people should be able to take photographs in public places and I am adamant about it. We have a freedom of the press.'

The senior detective shouted at by Harry Redknapp for 'staring' at him during his trial had faced accusations that the police were 'leaking' details of the case to the Scum of the World. The now defunct, disgraced and disgraceful Sunday tabloid's conversations with both Redknapp and his co-accused, Milan Mandaric, formed a central part of the prosecution. But the defence QC John Kelsey-Fry attempted to get the evidence thrown out, claiming the 'press is effectively conducting a satellite investigation.' Both Detective Inspector Dave Manley and the sports journalist Rob Beasley denied City of London police was the 'source.' Beasley instead said that he had paid 'several thousand pounds' to 'someone close' to Redknapp. There had been simmering tension between the Stottingtot Hotshots manager and officers since a dawn raid on his Dorset home which was watched by press photographers. Redknapp told how his wife, Sandra, thought he must have been killed in a plane crash after looking out of the window to see the flashbulbs of photographers. The manager was further enraged by the volume of information Beasley had obtained when they spoke to each other on the eve of the 2009 League Cup final between Spurs and The Scum. Kelsey-Fry said during legal argument that Beasley's intentions were 'repugnant.' But during evidence heard in the absence of the jury, the judge, Anthony Leonard, dismissed the QC's submissions that the evidence was 'evasive, contradictory and manifestly unreliable.' The judge also ruled out a later bid by Kelsey-Fry to have the case thrown out altogether. During questioning with Manley, a senior officer on the case, the barrister said: 'It is, I suggest, blindingly obvious that there was a leak from your organisation, from somewhere within your investigating authority.' Manley replied: 'I would like to find out what happened. I would like to know that information. It remains a mystery. People in football talk to the media on a daily basis.' Kelsey-Fry added: 'Mr Beasley told the court that he believed that both Mr Mandaric and Mr Redknapp were actually under investigation and subject to an ongoing investigation, and he was going to interview them on what he understood to be the same matter. There is a distance between what they said in interviews with police and what evidence is brought and what they mentioned subsequently. The evidence is simply overwhelming. Beasley's evidence cannot properly be relied upon. It's evasive, contradictory and manifestly unreliable. I can't find any other situation where the press is effectively conducting a satellite investigation. The reality is that Mr Beasley is very much better informed about what was going on than they were. What he set out to do is not only unattractive, it is quite repugnant.' Whilst he was giving evidence, Redknapp shouted at Manley. Gesturing across the courtroom, Redknapp said: 'Mr Manley, will you please stop staring at me. I know you are trying to cause me a problem, okay.'

The new series of Doctor Who will begin filming on 20 February, it has been confirmed. The BBC's popular long-running family SF drama's seventh run, expected to broadcast on BBC1 in the autumn, will see Matt Smith reprise his role as The Doctor. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill will exit the show midway through the series, with a new companion then joining Smith's Time Lord. Saul Metzstein will direct the first new episodes to be filmed, the official Doctor Who site has now confirmed. The Scottish director previously worked on 2009 BBC4 drama Micro Men starring Martin Freeman and Alexander Armstrong, and also served as second unit director on forthcoming comic adaptation Dredd featuring Karl Urban. It was recently revealed that Being Human creator Toby Whithouse and another Who veteran Chris Chibnall will return to Doctor Who to write new episodes. The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat, of course, remains as showrunner, joined by producer Marcus Wilson and new executive producer Caroline Skinner whose previous work includes The Fades. Thirteen new forty five episodes have been commissioned, along with an extended Christmas special.

Wednesday's overnight ratings produced another primetime victory for BBC1. Super Smart Animals drew 4.7m from 8pm and MasterChef followed with 4.62m at nine. ITV's programming was dominated by an FA Cup replay match between The Smoggies and The Mackems - which averaged 3.97m. BBC1 won the night with 20.7 per cent average audience share beating ITV's 18.5 per cent.

In a week in which it has produced its best episode in a couple of years at least, it has been confirmed that House will not continue past its current eighth season. Executive producers David Shore, Katie Jacobs and Hugh Laurie, who has previously hinted at the series end, revealed that the FOX medical drama will draw to a close later this year in a statement released Wednesday. 'The decision to end the show now, or ever, is a painful one, as it risks putting asunder hundreds of close friendships that have developed over the last eight years - but also because the show itself has been a source of great pride to everyone involved,' they said. 'The producers have always imagined House as an enigmatic creature; he should never be the last one to leave the party. How much better to disappear before the music stops, while there is still some promise and mystique in the air.' Shore, Jacobs and Laurie also said that the legacy of House will live on, adding: 'The producers can never sufficiently express their gratitude to the hundreds of dedicated artists and technicians who have given so generously of their energy and talent to make House the show it has been - and perhaps will continue to be for some time, on one cable network or another.' FOX Entertainment President Kevin Reilly expressed his sadness at House's end, saying: 'While it's with much regret, and a lump in our throats, we respect the decision Hugh, David and Katie have made. A true original, on the page and amazingly brought to life by Hugh Laurie, there is only one Dr House. For eight seasons, the entire House team has given us - and fans around the world - some of the most compelling characters and affecting stories ever seen on television. They have been creatively tenacious and collaborative throughout this incredible run, and they are amongst the most superior talents in the business. For all the above, we wholeheartedly thank them, and the fans who have supported the show.'

Jaclyn Smith has been cast in a guest role in a forthcoming episode of CSI. The Charlie's Angels star will play the mother of David Hodges (Wallace Langham), according to TV Guide. Oh, that explains so much! Smith's character will pay her son a surprise visit at the lab and interact with his co-workers. Best known for playing Kelly Garrett on the original Charlie's Angels from 1976 to 1981, Smith latterly starred in CBS drama The District between 2002 and 2004 and also appeared in a 2010 episode of Law & Order: SVU.

The BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, has admitted that the broadcaster does not have enough older female newsreaders and presenters. He said the corporation had 'a case to answer' over the lack of older women in key news and current affairs presenting roles. He acknowledged that the landmark age-discrimination employment tribunal brought by ex-Countryfile presenter Miriam O'Reilly had been an important wake-up call for the BBC. In an article for the Daily Scum Mail, Thompson writes that there are too few women among the BBC's most senior on-air specialist journalists, particularly those who conducted the big political interviews. While he said there had been a revolution in the number of older women in leadership roles at the BBC, he said this had not been reflected at the same rate or scale of change on screen. Thompson said a thoughtful critic of the BBC might observe two failures. 'First, that there is an underlying problem, that – whatever the individual success stories – there are manifestly too few older women broadcasting on the BBC, especially in iconic roles and on iconic topical programmes,' he said. 'Second, that as the national broadcaster and one which is paid for by the public, the BBC is in a different class from everyone else, and that the public have every right to expect it to deliver to a higher standard of fairness and open-mindedness in its treatment both of its broadcasters and its audiences.' Thompson also notes that a survey, called Serving All Ages, found that a significant minority of men and women thought that older women were invisible on television. The report revealed that more than a third of women over fifty five said there were not enough of their contemporaries on screen. 'That perception, and the reality behind it, is what we have to change,' Thompson writes. The BBC chief said that the broadcaster must develop and cherish its many outstanding female staff and ensure that they know age will not be a bar to their future employment at the corporation.

Sky has ordered a second series of Ruth Jones's awful comedy Stella. Another ten episodes have been commissioned, to broadcast on Sky1 early next year. Jones said: 'I'm over the moon that Sky want more Stella. I'm looking forward to getting back to Pontyberry, even though the place doesn't exist.' The first series began last month with seven hundred thousand viewers – twice Sky's usual audience for the slot. Sky's head of comedy, Lucy Lumsden, said: 'All hail Ruth Jones. Stella was our first and biggest original comedy commission and we are thrilled that our customers love it as much as we do. Bring on the second series.' The broadcaster has also ordered a second series of The Café, which hasn't made quite the same impact as Stella, even though it's far funnier, and shows Sky's commitment to giving sitcoms enough episodes to establish themselves. Second series for Spy, the risible Trollied, Mount Pleasant and This Is Jinsy are all in the pipeline. Another eight episodes of The Café have been commissioned for broadcast next year, and they will again be directed by Craig Cash and star Ralf Little. Little co-wrote the show with his co-star Michelle Terry. The news comes the day after Comedy Central confirmed it has ordered a second series of its first home-grown sitcom Threesome.

Meanwhile, the director of Sky 1, Stuart Murphy, has updated his channel strategy to offer 'bigger, better, more loved' shows as it moves into its next phase of original programming. Well you could start by dropping Trollied, Stu. It's crap and its well-deserved kick into the gutter would certainly satisfy this particular Sky subscriber. The evolution replaces the 'fewer, bigger, better' mantra that Murphy applied to his first three years in the role, which concluded with Sky 1 picking up Channel of the Year at the Broadcast Awards last week. The budget increase announced last year, which will give Sky six hundred million smackers to spend annually on original content by 2014, will result in more shows, though Murphy is keen to stay focused and avoid repeating 'the sprawling mess of brands we used to have.' He is keen to replicate the strategy of sister channels such as Sky Arts and Sky Sports to reach viewers at events and ensure they are able to engage with Sky 1 shows off-air. Ideas under consideration include allowing viewers to suggest storylines for Trollied (how about 'they all die. Horribly'?), while fans of drama Strike Back will appear in series three following a casting call for extras. A live UK tour for talent show Got To Dance is also under consideration. 'People trust Sky for its sports, news and movies; now we need them to feel the same way about us as a family entertainment brand,' he said.

A Channel Four Comedy Lab pilot from 2005 featuring on and off-screen disabled talent is being dusted off to become a five-part series called I'm Spazticus. Produced by Zeitgeist Television, the series will be a mixture of hidden-camera and mockumentary stunts in a similar style to Trigger Happy TV. On-screen pranksters will use their disability as a smokescreen to explore people's attitudes, with disabled writers also brought in to create the series. Executive producer Jamie O'Leary, who worked as a senior producer and director on C4's Seven Dwarves, said I'm Spazticus would be 'naughty and risqué.' C4 comedy commissioner Nerys Evans, who ordered the series, said: 'First and foremost, the show will be very funny, but it also showcases some of the best disabled talent.' The original 2005 pilot won a Superfest International Disability Award, and it is thought that the series has been commissioned to tie in with C4's coverage of the Paralympic Games later this year.

Simon Cowell's notorious roulette game show flop Red or Black? is being lined up to return to ITV in August as a weekly format. ITV insists that it is yet to make a decision on a second series, but Broadcast magazine claims that 'it is understood' the broadcaster has earmarked a late summer slot for the format to coincide with the return of The X Factor. If commissioned, the show, presented by Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, will play out over two episodes each Saturday night, potentially over the course of eight weeks. Conversations are said to be 'ongoing' about possible changes to the format, with 'sources' allegedly suggesting 'a greater element of skill' will be introduced. It is the strongest signal yet that ITV will revisit Red or Black? – which is co-produced by Cowell's Syco TV and ITV Studios – despite the first series being mauled by critics and failing to entice the huge audiences that ITV expected from it. A recommission could also be crucial to efforts to export the format as ITV and Syco have so far failed to secure a single notable overseas sale. Buyers in the key territory of Australia have rejected the show, while ITV's conversations with a major US network have 'gone quiet.' The luck-based game show, which gives contestants the chance to win a million smackers by guessing red or black in a series of large-scale challenges, averaged a consolidated audience of 5.2 million over the seven nights it aired on ITV last year. Which was about half the figures that ITV had confidently expected.

ITV has announced that it is taking Emmerdale into the 'social and digital arena' and has hired Somethin’ Else to run the project that will extend Emmerdale storylines 'beyond the television screen and into the digital universe.' Major storylines from the soap will now also develop off-air as characters come to life outside the soap's weekly episodes. Fans will be able to follow the characters beyond the TV screen by, for instance, looking at their private messages and watching footage they've shot on their mobile phones. ITV Online & On Demand and ITV Studios have joined with Somethin' Else to work on the new initiative. The project is currently in user testing phase in order to launch later in the year. Ben Freeman, head of soap and drama, said: 'We are really excited to be working with Somethin' Else to expand the storytelling canvas for one of the nation's most loved soaps. We aim to transform the franchise into a multi-platform brand, and hope that digital activity will become a key element to the Emmerdale franchise.' Stuart Blackburn, series producer for Emmerdale said: 'This is an exciting proposition for Emmerdale and will give us a unique opportunity to provide viewers with a more interactive experience. From discovering what characters really think about each other by following their private messages, to seeing unseen footage filmed on their mobile phones, our rapidly developing online initiative will bring new ways of telling stories.' Paul Bennun, chief creative officer, Somethin' Else, said: 'This is a true collaborative effort between dramatists and technologists, and puts Somethin' Else's knowledge of non-linear storytelling into relief. Once Emmerdale told stories only on TV. Very shortly it will become the first truly multiplatform drama aimed at a mass audience, its characters coming alive in a playful, social way. It's an honour to be working on a property of this scale with such a forward-thinking broadcaster.'

Studio Lambert's former creative director Jamie Isaacs has resurfaced as the factual head at Avalon Television. Isaacs will take up the newly created role of chief executive of Avalon's factual arm, where he will oversee all of the production company's output in the genre, including content from subsidiaries Liberty Bell Productions, Flame TV and Topical Television. Avalon has tasked Isaacs with 'growing' its factual programming. He will report directly into Avalon's joint managing directors Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner, in what is his first major role since leaving Studio Lambert in June last year. Isaacs joined the All3Media-owned company in 2009 from Twenty Twenty Television, where he spent eight years, latterly as creative director, and oversaw hits including World's Strictest Parents and Brat Camp. He also created The Choir for BBC2. 'This is a great opportunity to help grow Avalon's factual output. Liberty Bell, Flame and Topical all have a proven track record in delivering innovative programmes of the highest quality,' Isaacs said. Avalon's current factual output includes BBC2 franchises Three Men … and Grumpy Old …, both produced by Liberty Bell, as well as the BBC1 daytime shows Heir Hunters and Don't Get Done Get Dom, made by Flame.

BBC2 is considering developing Stephen Poliakoff's five-part drama Dancing On The Edge into a returning series, set in the offices of a 1930s music paper. The £8.3m drama, which is filming in London and Birmingham, stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew Goode in a murder mystery set in the world of US jazz bands which visited London in the thirties. Goode plays a music journalist working for an New Musical Express-type newspaper who investigates the murder. It is the first time that Poliakoff has written and directed a drama series. Executive producer Alison Owen of Ruby Film and Television said that BBC drama controller Ben Stephenson was excited by the concept of a precinct show set in a music paper. Executive producer Paul Trijbits described the series as 'the most expensive pilot ever for what the precinct show could be.' Owen said: 'There's an opportunity to do another chapter with Matthew's character and some of the other characters. Ben loved the idea of a music paper and the idea of London hotels as clubs; places where things used to happen.' However a BBC spokeswoman said: 'No decision about recommissioning the show will be made until after transmission next year.' ITV Studios Global Entertainment will begin selling Dancing on the Edge at MipTV. Ruby also aims to start shooting two more ninety-minute episodes of Case Histories, starring Jason Isaacs, for BBC1 in May.

Director Peter Jackson has announced that Billy Connolly has landed a role as a dwarf warrior in his upcoming Hobbit films. Jackson said: 'We could not think of a more fitting actor to play Dain Ironfoot, the staunchest and toughest of the dwarves, than the Big Yin himself. With Billy stepping into this role the cast of The Hobbit is now complete.' Connolly will join an all-star cast that includes Sherlock's Martin Freeman as the film's protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, Barry Humphries, Stephen Fry, Benedict Cumberbatch and Evangeline Lilly. The film will also feature returning Lord of the Rings actors Sir Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett. Connolly's Hobbit role is the latest in a long line of big-screen parts for the Big Yin, which include his BAFTA-winning turn in Mrs Brown and an appearance in Gulliver's Travels. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be released this December with its sequel, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, expected to follow in 2013.

The Football Association will meet on Friday to discuss a successor to Fabio Capello with a preference for an 'English or British' manager. So, that'll be Harry Redknapp, then? FA chairman David Bernstein said he expected 'to move quickly' but refused to comment on rumours linking Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp with the vacancy. So, that'll be Harry Redknapp, then? 'We have to do it properly and get a shortlist together,' said Bernstein. A shortlist of ... Harry Redknapp, then? Hey, I'll tell you what dear blog reader, isn't it a very good thing that Harry Redknapp is still in the frame for this gig? Because, given that there's only about four English managers currently in the premiership (and, one of them is Tony Pulis) the shortlist would've looked pretty short indeed without Redknapp's name on it. Current assistant Stuart Pearce will take charge of England's friendly against the Netherlands on 29 February before a permanent replacement is announced. So, that'll be Harry Redknapp, then? Following Capello's resignation there has been a clamour for the new appointment to be English, with Redknapp backed by the likes of The Scum's Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney. 'No he will not definitely be English,' added Bernstein. So, that'll be Harry Redknapp, then? 'Clearly there is a preference for an Englishman or a British person but in the end we want the best person. I am certainly not prepared to rule out anything but an Englishman or British person would have a good start.' So, that'll be Harry Redknapp, then? Earlier on Thursday, Redknapp said that his focus, now that he no longer has the threat of a prison sentence hanging over him after his not guilty verdict, was on managing Stottingtot Hotshots and that he 'had not thought' about the England job. No, of course not Harry. We believe you. Euro 2012 begins on 8 June and Bernstein said that the FA was the keen for the recruitment process to be done 'properly and professionally.' So, that'll be Harry Redknapp, then? 'There is plenty of time. Time for new man to get in place, do what he needs to do - we are in a better place than we appear to be,' added the association's chairman. 'I am not going to get into any discussion on individuals. We will do this as quickly and as sensibly as we can do it properly and professionally.' So, that'll be Harry Redknapp, then? 'It will be interesting what we hear, and who comes to us. We will be putting a shortlist together and it will be a major priority for us.' Interesting one of only a handful of other genuinely credible English candidates for the job, Newcastle United boss Alan Pardew, immediately ruled himself out of the running. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though still unsellable) Magpies coach has been touted as one of those the Football Association may turn to in the wake of Fabio Capello's decision to walk away from the job. The work he has overseen at Newcastle has not gone unnoticed, with the club currently pushing hard for a top-six finish in the Premier League. Pardew considers his efforts on Tyneside to be 'a work in progress,' though, and insists he has no plans to turn his back on the club any time soon. He said that he had been flattered to be among those mentioned as possible candidates for the England job, but has made it clear that he will not be throwing his hat into the ring. 'Firstly as an Englishman, I am proud to be in that sort of frame, but it's not for me and I will make that quite clear,' Pardew told Sky Sports News. 'I am not even in the running as far as I am concerned. I am very happy here at Newcastle. It's a little project here that's going really well and I want to see it through. The passion and everything about this place is why I want to stay here. I do hope it goes to an Englishman, just on a personal level. I think that's important this time. I really hope Harry and Spurs and everybody sorts themselves out and can do it in a manner that it works for everybody. Roy Hodgson would have an opportunity and Sam [Allardyce] possibly - they are at the right age and right experience to do that role. Probably outside of them, there aren't too many leading candidates.' Yer actual Keith Telly Topping would like to confirm that, like Pardew, he has ruled himself out of the job. The travel did appeal to me, but the money wasn't right. And the hours were terrible. And, it'd also mean working with Wayne Rooney. There's some sacrificed that I'm simply not prepared to take.

For today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, yer actual Keith Telly Topping has decided that you shall have more Be-Atles, dear blog reader. You can thank me later.

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