Monday, March 05, 2012

Been Too Lonely Too Long

Suranne Jones has described filming the second series of ITV's Scott & Bailey as 'a real rollercoaster.' Starring Jones alongside Lesley Sharp, the police drama returns to ITV at 9pm on Monday 12 March in the slot vacated by Whitechapel for eight new episodes. The former Coronation Street and Doctor Who actress said: 'There are quite a few bruises. I don’t remember Rachel being this physical last year. It's a real rollercoaster filming Scott & Bailey. But my hands and face are alright, which is what they shoot mainly. So I'm glad of that.' Series two's opening two-part story sees big fat cuddly Lisa Riley (from Emmerdale) guest star as a suspect. Jones reveals: 'Lisa Riley can run faster than me. To be fair, that morning I’d done a bit more running in previous takes. But when it came to chasing her, I could hardly catch her. I'm the worst policewoman ever.' She adds: '[Riley] punches me in the face and then tries to throttle me. We filmed that for about a day and a half with lots of corpsing. There were a couple of moments when I looked at Lisa and saw "sweet and sour" tattooed on her breasts - for the character - and things went at bit awry.'

The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat (Thou Shalt Worship No Other Gods Before He) has described trying to schedule his work on Sherlock and Doctor Who as 'the most depressing thing I’ve ever seen.' Still, could be worse, Moffster, you could be working down a coal mine. Or in telesales. I think those'd be slightly more depressing. Just a suggestion. Moffat has been an executive producer and a lead writer on both shows since 2009. Speaking to a series of French websites including and Le Village, the writer commented: 'I don't know how it fits. We had a scheduling meeting last night which was the most depressing thing I've ever seen. We never had a scheduling meeting for the first two years of Sherlock and Doctor Who, which was a much better idea because you would see that it doesn't fit; it can't fit!' Moffat continued: 'At some point you're going to have to write a script really fast. In a turf war you never want to be the turf, I'll tell you that. I sat and drank a whole bottle of wine, because you can't plan these things. There's no way it works - except it does, somehow, somehow you get there!' Series seven of Doctor Who began filming last month and a transmission date and filming details for series three of Sherlock have not yet been announced. Moffat also confirmed that Irene Adler is saved at the end of Sherlock's A Scandal in Belgravia. As if there were ever any doubt about that. The final scene of series two's opening episode saw Sherlock rescue Adler, played by [spooks] star Lara Pulver, from execution in Pakistan. However, some viewers - glakes with diarrhoea for brains it would seem - 'speculated' (which is a kind way of saying 'thought too much') that the scene was a dream sequence. This blogger is great believer in the age old truism that if something wasn't specified on-screen in TV drama then, chances are, it wasn't supposed to be there. Speaking to the same French websites, Moffat commented: 'It couldn't have been [Sherlock] imagining it, could it? Because what he's just been told is that she's in witness protection.' Moffat added: 'It is a very complicated train of thought for you to believe that Sherlock was imagining that. No, he really goes and saves her. How could you doubt that? Of course he's going to save her!'

Television's second-worst job - after being one of ESPN's freezing, al fresco sports pundits, perhaps - must be the poor sod who gets lumbered with looking after Daybreak's Twitter feed. One presumes it's a naughty-step assignment. As highlighted a couple of weeks ago, this regularly appears to entail repeatedly replying to moron viewers convinced that the wrong time is showing on screen. And doing so with a barely contained fury that's really impressive: 'For the people still insisting our clock is wrong, Daybreak is now finished and Lorraine is airing. If [you're] watching Daybreak you're on [ITV]+1.'
No, only that but, it would seem that when the queries aren't clock-related they're usually about where the presenters shop for their gear. The replies here, too, have more than a hint of petulance about them: 'It's not the same dress. Nadia's dress was from Kaliko. Kate's dress today is from Pied a Terre at House of Fraser.' Ooo, get her.

Can BBC2's new drama White Heat, which follows the lives of a series of friends over five decades, emulate the success of the channel's classic Our Friends in the North? Comparisons between the new saga and its hugely successful predecessor are, perhaps, inevitable given the subject matter. Seven-parter White Heat charts the relationships, over forty seven years, of seven friends who meet in London in 1965. Peter Flannery's nine-part Our Friends in the North followed Geordie, Nicky, Mary and Tosker, from Newcastle, over a shorter people - thirty years - but with a similar time-frame. 'I think what Our Friends in the North proved is that the audience has a fantastic appetite for an epic novel, if you like, told over episodes over a period of time,' says White Heat's BAFTA-winning creator and writer Paula Milne. 'And that's an inspiration - without question. But I have to say that, as a woman, it didn't have a lot to do with me.' White Heat's female lead Charlotte, played by Claire Foy, is an 'intuitive feminist' from a suburban background who becomes outspokenly political at university and falls for rebellious MP's son Jack (played by Sam Claflin). Milne, whose successes include Channel Four's The Politician's Wife, starring Trevor Eve and Juliet Stevenson, says her 'experience of some of the periods that Peter Flannery wrote about was quite different. With my choices of the years [in White Heat] - the Falklands, Greenham Common, the rise of Thatcher - I wanted some things that I experienced and witnessed and how we all responded to them.' While Milne may not be completely comfortable with Our Friends in the North comparisons, she would no doubt be happy if her labour of love went on to occupy a similar place in TV history. Flannery's masterpiece began life as a Royal Shakespeare Company stage play in 1982 and, thanks in part to the politics of TV commissioning, took fourteen years to transfer to the small screen, by which time it had doubled in length. Flannery, who is now working on his BBC adaptations of Alan Hunter's Inspector George Gently crime novels, began writing it in his twenties and finished at forty four. 'I've grown up with the script and the characters have grown up as I have and their concerns are my concerns, just as they were when I was twenty nine,' he told the Gruniad Morning Star ahead of the production's launch in January 1996. (In case anybody's forgotten about this whilst most of the country's TV reviewers fell instantly in love with Our Friends in the North, the Gruniad were, actually, highly sniffy about the early episodes - picking holes in the plot, pointing out a few minor chronological mistakes and pouring utter scorn on the fact that one of the characters was called 'Geordie' seemingly ignorant of that fact that the nickname is given to everyone in the North whose first name is George. They only seemed to change their mind somewhere around episode four when they realised they were the only broadsheet not licking Flannery's chuff. A bit of historical perspective, there.) Our Friends in the North, which had a massive eight million quid budget, regularly appears on critics' lists of the greatest British TV shows. And its trio of male stars, Daniel Craig, Christopher Eccleston and Mark Strong had a future James Bond, a future Doctor and a film star among their number, while Gina McKee won the BAFTA for her turn as Mary, the abused wife who becomes a campaigning Labour MP. A story which, it seemed, didn't have a lot to do with Paula Milne 'as a woman.' Apparently. Our Friends in the North's producer Charles Pattinson says one of the biggest decisions faced by it makers was 'what age do you cast? We could justifiably have split it in the middle and have two sets of actors but we didn't want to do that so we cast broadly at the young end of the spectrum - I think Daniel Craig and Mark Strong were in their early to mid-twenties,' he told the BBC News website. He added: 'I think for a twenty-year-old actor to play forty, to play a parent, is a big leap of the imagination and that was where the real acting chops came in.' While White Heat has a second, older cast playing characters in the present - including Milne's long-time collaborator Juliet Stevenson - its young actors are still required to portray characters from the ages of eighteen up to their forties. Sam Claflin, twenty five, and Claire Foy, twenty seven, say they were given a head start by the show's hair, make-up and wardrobe specialists. Claflin, a star of last year's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, says: 'I was super-happy because, with Jack, not only his personality and his character but his look changed. He was a trendsetter of each era.' Foy, meanwhile, who is currently appearing in BBC1's Upstairs Downstairs revival and made such a star-making turn in Channel Four's Hacks at the back end of last year, says: 'The make-up and costume was extraordinary so we didn't really have to do anything.' Christopher Eccleston was rather less complementary about the ageing process for Our Friends in the North, famously citing 'dodgy wigs and bad beards.' But then, old Chris is notoriously grumpy about pretty much everything. That was why Nicky Hutchinson was such a great character. Producer Pattinson agrees it was 'probably the least successful area' of the production. 'I think the world of prosthetics has moved on considerably since we made Our Friends in the North and I don't think we were at our very best even then. It was a shame but do I think ultimately it mattered? No, because I think on the whole people are looking at character and performance and drama and story. It captured the zeitgeist, it captured the mood, I think, and there was the notion it was the right time to look over that bit of history.' Like White Heat, he says Our Friends was 'a very brave commission' by BBC2. 'It had ambition and fortunately the ambition paid off and I think people recognise that.'

When Bill Oddie stepped down as a presenter of Springwatch, the BBC said his health problems were to blame. The seventy-year-old former comedian now claims, however, that he was 'forced out' of the popular wildlife programme after an investigation into his behaviour during the filming. A story picked up on in highly suspicious circumstances for another round of BBC-bashing by those two bastions of true and accurate reporting the Daily Torygraph and the Daily Scum Mail. Oddie claims that the BBC carried out the inquiry after complaints were made about 'an incident' which took place while he was shooting the programme on Brownsea Island, in Dorset. He - perhaps tellingly - refuses to say what the incident actually was but insists that he does not know 'to this day' whether the complaints were made by members of the public or the crew. The naturalist, who had worked on the programme since it was launched in 2005, claims that he telephoned his producer and said: 'It's as if you've been told not to talk to me.' He claims that she replied: 'We have.' In 2008, Oddie was called to a meeting, at which he was told that he would not be asked back to the programme. 'That was the big shock,' he claims. 'No one explained why. After I was told I wouldn't be asked back, I started slipping into a depression that got worse and worse.' Oddie, who became a household name as a member of The Goodies - you know when he used to be funny ... forty years ago - says that tabloid newspapers learned that he was being treated in hospital. 'Some of the papers got hold of that, tracked down what hospital I was in,' he tells The Lady magazine. 'Now, of course, the BBC was splendidly off the hook. They could issue a statement saying they were terribly sorry Mr Oddie wasn't well. This, of course, was the reason Mr Oddie wasn't doing Springwatch. But it wasn't.' Nevertheless, Oddie made a guest appearance in the penultimate episode of the 2010 series of the programme and has also been back once since. So, is this a case of someone rewriting history? The BBC, of course, declined to comment on its alleged investigation. 'We would never comment on any personnel issue,' said a spokesman, who added: 'Bill's health and well being has always been an important consideration for us. He has since done several projects with the BBC. We are always open to working with him.' So, clearly, whatever this 'incident' was if, indeed, it even occurred, couldn't have been that bad.

John Ware and Vivian White, two of the BBC's longest serving and most respected current affairs journalists, are leaving the corporation, with the latter bowing out with Panorama documentary Murdoch's Satellite TV Pirates later this month. White's last Panorama as a BBC employee, a report to be broadcast on Monday 12 March, is, according to the corporation, 'an investigation into fresh hacking allegations but at the heart of [Rupert Murdoch's] pay TV empire exposing how former police detectives were used to recruit people to break the law in order to bring down Murdoch's commercial rival.' The sixty five-year-old has covered a diverse range of subjects for the BBC, from the scandal of the elderly forced to sell their homes to pay for care, to presenting from the party political conferences. In January, he made a popular Panorama programme about rising train fares. But since 2001 and 9/11 he has also reported extensively on British Muslims, including from Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan. White, who has worked for Panorama for about twenty years, said: 'For a reporter, it's an absolutely fantastic privilege to work there.' Ware, sixty four, who since 2007 has worked more broadly across BBC current affairs as well as for Panorma, is taking voluntary redundancy. He said that although he had been critical about aspects of the BBC, including the power over current affair programmes exercised by channel controllers, he wasn't pushed: 'I wanted to go.' In a leaked e-mail, Ware described the former BBC1 controller, Jay Hunt, as 'shallow as a paddling pool.' Which might be true but, hell, it's hardly the sort of thing that's going to endear you to your bosses. I mean, personally, this blogger reckons Mark Thompson has all the personality of a block of Edam. Which almost certainly means that yer actual Keith Telly Topping will never be put in charge of BBC4. C'est la vie, mon petite fromages. Ware has worked for the BBC for twenty six years, and has a deep knowledge and understanding of Northern Ireland's troubled past. He won TV journalist of the year from the Royal Television Society in 2001 for his programme titled Who Bombed Omagh? 'I have other things to do, probably a BBC2 programme, a book I want to write about the policing inquiry into the Omagh bombings. Panorama has got a tremendous momentum currently. It's on-song.' His most recent Panorama, which screened in December, was about public finance initiatives, titled Who's Getting Rich on Your Money?. Panorama editor Tom Giles said: 'I have known them both for ages and admire their work. I certainly envisage them doing more for me in future as freelancers.'

Digital TV channel Alibi had a prescient new series last week, watched by nearly two hundred and fifty thousand punters. Alas Murdoch Mysteries are based on Maureen Jennings' Nineteenth Century crime novels, and not a Twenty First Century media empire. Pity.

As mentioned last week, Vic Reeves and stand-up Chris Ramsey are to star in a new BBC2 sitcom, created by comic Jason Cook. Cook has mined his own past for the series, which will be titled Hebburn after the Gateshead suburb where he grew up. Ramsey is to play the character based on Cook himself, while Reeves will play the character's father. Kimberley Nixon from Fresh Meat has also signed up for a role, while Cook is co-writing the scripts with Ideal creator Graham Duff. Cook, thirty eight, said: 'It's about my life but I don't play myself. It is based in Hebburn where I grew up so it's quite personal to me. It's a warm family sitcom and that's the only thing I wanted it to be. I want it to have a good heart. The show, which will be produced by Channel X North and Steve Coogan's Baby Cow production company, was commissioned after a live pilot was performed as part of the BBC's Salford Sitcom Showcase last October. Ramsey – who says he is 'so excited' to get the part – played the central role in that run-through. At the time, Cook said: 'The good thing about Chris playing me is that we're really close friends anyway so he just had to basically do an impression of me and he was brilliant. It's a bit unnerving because sometimes you have to ask yourself, "Do I really do that?" And unfortunately, the answer is yes.' Filming on the six episodes is due to start next month, with much of the shooting taking place on location in and around Hebburn. Cook added: 'It is a dream come true.' It is the second sitcom to be picked up from the Salford showcases. Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto's Citizen Khan, which will be broadcast in the autumn, was commissioned immediately afterwards.

ITV News-wallahs could have been forgiven for looking a little strained last week after their network servers suffered 'a meltdown' only marginally short of apocalyptic. A system which is usually able to store hundreds of hours of video could handle only five hours a day, according to alleged 'insiders.' Barely longer than the ITN-produced programme is on air each day. Viewers' enjoyment 'remained unaffected,' we were reassured. well, no more than usual, anyway.

Ralph McQuarrie, the artist who helped George Lucas bring Stars Wars to the big screen, has died aged eighty two. The conceptual designer created the look of characters including Darth Vader, Chewbacca and R2-D2 and C-3PO. He also worked on the original Battlestar Galactica TV series and Steven Spielberg films ET and Cocoon, for which he won an Oscar. A tribute on his website said: 'We'll miss you Ralph. You will forever be the brightest star in our galaxy.' Born in Gary, Indiana, McQuarrie began his career as a technical illustrator for aeroplane manufacturer Boeing and designing film posters. He also animated US TV network CBS's coverage of NASA's Apollo space programme. In 1975, he was hired by Lucas to design some of the characters and scenes for his 'space opera' Star Wars, then in the early stages of development. As well as designing some of the sets including the desert planet Tatooine, McQuarrie also did the conceptual drawings for many characters. His rewards included an uncredited acting role in the sequel The Empire Strikes Back, as General Pharl McQuarrie, and his own action figure. In a statement, Lucas said: 'His genial contribution, in the form of unequalled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original Star Wars trilogy. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph's fabulous illustrations and say, "do it like this."' McQuarrie also designed the alien spaceships in Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET. In 1985, he was presented with an Academy Award for Visual Effects for the film Cocoon - about the residents of an old people's home given a new lease of life by visiting aliens. The statement on his website praised 'an especially kind, sensitive, deep, modest, funny and fascinating gentleman. His influence on design will be felt forever. There's no doubt in our hearts that centuries from now amazing spaceships will soar, future cities will rise and someone, somewhere will say "that looks like something Ralph McQuarrie painted."'

Andre Villas-Boas has got the old tin-tack by Moscow Chelski Chelsea FC after less than a year in charge at Torpedo Stamford Bridge. This less than three hours after the best football journalist in the world, Henry Winter on the Torygraph, confidentially predicted that he wouldn't be chucked out into the gutter with all the other turds just yet on Sky Sports' Soccer Supplement. Nice goin' Henry, what do you do for an encore? Chelsea's decision comes on the back of Saturday's 1-0 defeat by West Bromwich Albino and a run of just three Premier League wins in their last twelve games. The thirty four-year-old Portuguese only took over as manager in June 2011. Former Chelsea midfielder Roberto di Matteo has been put in charge as first-team coach on an interim basis until the end of the season.

Meanwhile, in the only - properly - important football news of the day, Newcastle United's substitute Big Shola Ameobi rescued a dramatic point for The Toon in a bad-tempered derby with the ten-man Mackem Filth at St James' Park. Which was nice. Nicklas Bendtner's penalty, after Mike Williamson needlessly fouled Michael Turner, had put the Black Cats ahead in a blood-and-thunder first-half that saw six players booked. Blunderland were then forced to play for more than half-an-hour with ten men after Stéphane Sessègnon stupidly lashed out at Cheik Tioté elbowing him in the chest. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though, still, unsellable) Magpies dominated the second-half, with Demba Ba hitting the bar and then, later, having a penalty saved by Simon Mignolet. They looked to be running out of time until yer actual Shola poked home from close range. It was Big Shola's seventh goal in Tyne-Wear derbies against The Great Unwashed, only the legendary Jackie Milburn having scored more. After the final whistle the Mackems' captain, nasty little shin-kicker Lee Cattermole, was shown the red card for whinging at the referee over some perceived sleight or other. Or maybe, like most sensible people, Mike Dean just doesn't like him very much. Earlier thuggish, oafish bonehead Cattermole had set the tone for much of what was to follow when he was booked inside a minute of the game starting for a ghastly late, two-footed tackle on Tioté which left Newcastle's Ivorian enforcer in a crumpled heap on the floor. Alan Pardew's men pushed hard for an equaliser in the second-half but blew a golden opportunity when Fraizer Campbell gifted Newcastle a penalty of their own for a foul on Ameobi. Demba Ba missed from the spot after eighty three minutes, only for Shola to spare his blushes in stoppage time. Mingolet, who had made several fine saves during the match (particularly one from Hatem Ben Arfa) was also on hand to stop Williamson from winning it for United with virtually the last kick of the game. Former Newcastle and Sunderland midfielder Lee Clark said on BBC Radio 5Live: 'I think both sets of fans can be proud of what their teams have done. Ameobi has come up with the goods again in a North East derby, but Sunderland had to work very hard in the second half after they were let down by Sessègnon.'

And speaking of footie, could an engineer have a look at the fire alarm at the BBC's new Salford base after Saturday's Football Focus on BBC1 was rudely interrupted by a blaring klaxon right in the middle of a previous of Sunday's North east derby. We've had mobile phones on Match of the Day before - infamously - but nothing quite as loud as this, with host Dan Walker having to cut to a pre-recorded feature about AFC Wimbledon while the problem was 'sorted out.' Even more disturbing than the possible fire was Walker's suggestion that pundit and former Arsenal and England defender, the simean-featured Martin Keown would 'get his hose out.' I always thought Football Focus was a family show. It's not the first time this has happened at the BBC's new Salford base, apparently. BBC Radio 5Live – also now based at BBC North – has twice been forced to switch to its emergency tape (a Richard Bacon interview with Michael Palin, in case you were wondering) after the alarm went off in recent months. The BBC's sports news bulletins started broadcasting from Salford on Monday. Let's hope they don't suffer any further alarms. Word has it the fire detector might be overly sensitive to dust, but with building work continuing this may be an on-going problem. Other industry 'insiders' were. allegedly, less than impressed. 'In any proper broadcast environment the fire alarm is a visual cue, not an audible one. It's pretty embarrassing,' the Gruniad was told.
For today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, resisting the urge to feature Radiohead's 'No Alarms and No Surprises' (I'm saving that one for a special occasion) please be upstanding for his majesty, The King.

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