Tuesday, March 20, 2012

It's Not Always Gonna Be This Grey

The BBC's Director General, Mark Thompson, has told staff he will leave the corporation this autumn. With nearly eight years in the job, he has been the BBC's longest-serving director general since the 1970s. His tenure has seen the BBC suffer several awkward scandals including the Daily Scum Mail-generated Sachsgate affair, and a series of budget cuts and staff redundancies. But, he has also presided over much on-screen successes including Strictly Come Dancing, the revival of Doctor Who, Sherlock and The Frozen Planet. Thompson was appointed in May 2004. He is responsible for the BBC's services across television, radio and websites and for a global workforce of twenty thousand. His departure was not unexpected. In January, Lord Patten, who runs the BBC Trust, said the corporation was engaged in 'sensible succession planning' to find a replacement. Writing to staff on Monday, Thompson paid tribute to their efforts, and called the BBC 'the best broadcaster in the world. It's been a great privilege helping you to keep the BBC in that top spot over the past eight years,' he added. No specific date has been set for his departure - but Thompson said he would remain at the corporation until coverage of the 2012 Olympics and the Queen's Jubilee has been completed. 'We can address the exact date of the handover once an appointment is made,' he said, 'though I have made it clear that I want to be guided by the wishes of the Trust and of my successor, whoever that may be.' The time for obituaries will, of course, come later but, personally, this blogger was never much of a fan of Thompson. He seemed to spend most of his tenure trying desperately to please those parts of the media and the establishment - on both the left and the right - who never have a good word to say about the BBC anyway. So, you know, why bother? He did some good things and those were, rightly, praised at the time and will be so again in future when he goes. But his utterly cowardly and spineless betrayal of licence fee payers interests in the behind-closed-doors deal he did with the current government on the 2010 licence fee settlement will not be forgotten or forgiven in a hurry. That shoddy and wretched capitulation, instead of putting the corporation's case to the country, led the way to the disastrous Delivery Quality First fiasco Thompson's least finest hour - a series of strait-jackets from which the BBC will do very well to survive. Of course, the Gruniad Morning Star celebrated the news by arse-licking Thommo whilst, at the same time, still managing to stir up trouble. They're really unique at being able to do that.

Whitechapel finished its third series with a final consolidated average audience of 6.68 million and average timeshift of 0.90 million per episode - the former up 0.16 million on the disappointing 2010 series. Expect a fourth series to be commissioned within a very short space of time. Meanwhile, Prisoners' Wives ended its six-episode run a series average of 5.27 million and average timeshift of 0.90 million. That's probably going to be just about enough to guarantee it a second series if the production wish to do one.

The University of Manchester has won University Challenge for the third time in seven years. The four-man team beat Pembroke College, Cambridge in the final by one hundred and eighty points to one hundred and thirty five, their lowest score of the series. The trophy was presented to the Manchester scholars by the Duchess of Cornwall, who told host Jeremy Paxman she was the show's 'greatest fan.' The win means Manchester is only the second university to have won the contest more than twice. Teams from the university won it in 2006 and 2009. Last year's winner Magdalen College, Oxford has won the competition four times since the series began in 1962. The Manchester team was led by smarty-pants (albeit, very entertaining) English literature student Tristan Burke from Ilkley with Michael McKenna, from Lytham St Annes, Luke Kelly, from Ashford and Paul Joyce, from Chorley. The team's score of three hundred and thirty points against Newcastle University in the quarter finals was the highest tally of this year's contest. Manchester has made it to at least the semi-finals every year since 2005. One hundred and twenty teams applied this season for the, always jolly entertaining, BBC2 show.

Harry Hill has reportedly changed his mind about quitting his ITV series TV Burp. Despite the fact that this current series has seen the format seem desperately tired and in need of a good rest. The Sun reports that Hill has changed his mind and agreed to continue making TV Burp after all. ITV had previously announced that his series was coming to an end after Hill decided to quit after claiming to find it a 'drag' to constantly watch television programmes to find material for his show. The Sun goes on to claim that Hill's decision to continue with TV Burp came after Simon Cowell personally intervened. Cor, is there anything that man can't do? Apart from produce listenable pop records, of course. The tabloid newspaper quotes an alleged - and curiously anonymous - 'friend' who said 'TV Burp is a key part of ITV's Saturday night schedule — and without it there was a fear that other shows could be hit, like The X Factor. Cowell has a good relationship with Harry since the funnyman is working on The X Factor musical. ITV bosses personally asked him to intervene.' So, let me get this straight, okay? This 'friend' of Harry Hill's, when speaking to a national newspaper describes Harry as 'the funnyman'? Seriously? Yeah, this is another one of those wholly made up quotes of exactly the kind that the documentary Starsuckers exposed the tabloid being guilty of, red-handed, in 2009, isn't it? Harry Hill's TV Burp first launched on ITV in 2001 and quickly became a popular fixture of the broadcaster's Saturday evening line-up. Hill's mocking of programmes such as EastEnders, Coronation Street and Downton Abbey has entertained audiences of up to seven million viewers although recent audiences have struggled to hit the five million mark. The Sun claims that a new series of TV Burp will be broadcast this Autumn.

And now, just in case you missed it last time, Otters Who Look Like Benedict Cumberbatch.
This story, incidentally, has been picked up on by a number of the nationals, including Metro, the Sun and, slightly more worryingly, the Independent. Because, of course, there was no real news worth reporting today, was there?

Ant and/or Dec have 'played down' tabloid reports that they've fallen out with their Britain's Got Talent boss Simon Cowell. Ooo, are things not rosy in Hitsville any more? A story in the Mirra - another newspaper this blogger would trust about as far as he can comfortably spit - claims that the duo were 'annoyed' when Cowell turned up two hours late at BGT auditions and that the 'rift' has 'festered' because the full-of-his-own-importance reality TV mogul has 'failed to apologise.' When Ant and Dec discovered that Cowell was late over taking 'an extended bath. the newspaper claims, they were apparently 'unimpressed with his rudeness.' Although, very impressed with his cleanliness, no doubt. 'They know he goes in for power games and posturing, and they hate it. Ant and Dec feel they are on a different level and should not be treated in that way,' said an alleged anonymous - and, quite probably fictitious - 'source'. The paper goes on to claim that the two parties have 'reached a truce' after finally reaching an agreement on a second series of Cowell's flop game show Red or Black? but there are, allegedly, 'still tensions between the trio.' However, spokespeople for Ant and Dec, Cowell and Britain's Got Talent itself have all 'rubbished' the story, insisting that Cowell's well-known habit for arriving late for events and filming was 'taken in good humour.' 'Ant and Dec know Simon starts filming late and have joked about it. No-one has fallen out,' said a representative for the ITV talent show. Ant and Dec's own statement - presumably to be spoken by two spokespeople simultaneously since there's two of them, reads: 'All three are good friends and have a fantastic working relationship.'

Meanwhile, still on the subject of the cheeky chappies doon Th' Bigg Market, it was almost exactly seven years ago today, that this was the headline in the Daily Lies. Happy days.
MasterChef winner Shelina Permalloo has set her sights on hosting a cookery show. The 2012 champion, who dedicated the victory to her late father, said that she wants to follow in the footsteps of Nigella Lawson with her own programme. Course, what Shelina has to remember in that regard is that Nigella, well, she's certainly got her knockers. Shelina told the Mirra: 'It would be amazing to have my own cookery shows and cookbook championing Mauritian food. I'd love to be able to introduce it to more people in Britain.' Permalloo credited her mother for her MasterChef victory, saying: 'I owe it all to my mum. Mum is superwoman and worked really hard as a nurse. When she was on night shift she would prepare food in advance so we could still have a proper dinner. My first memory of cooking is as a four-year-old with mum, sifting through rice and lentils, taking out the stones and dirt. Mum would give me all the odd jobs to do and I loved it. As we were born in the UK, mum tried to give us an affinity with the island and we spoke Creole. Whenever I feel poorly or homesick all I want to eat is my mum's cooking. It's comfort food to me.' Shelina added: 'I used to make meals out of anything. Growing up we didn't have much so I knew how to be frugal. Garlic, chili and coriander pretty much make anything taste good.'

Jason Donovan has claimed that Take That's Gary Barlow would secretly 'love' to take part in Strictly Come Dancing. The Australian former soap star and singer, who recently finished third in the talent show, said that his friend and fellow musician Barlow is a closet wannabe dancer. Donovan told the Evening Standard: 'Gary loves his sequins and spray tans. I think secretly he fancies himself as a dancer on Strictly.' However, Donovan admitted that he can 'guarantee' Barlow 'would never appear on the show,' probably due to his commitment as a judge on The X Factor. So, in other words, this is a colossal non-story and a complete waste of the paper that it was written on. So, no change there, then. Donovan said that he would 'love' to do a duet with Barlow, saying: 'You never know, but ours is a friendship, not a professional relationship. You've got to be careful that the two don't end up overlapping.' Donovan also credited his stint on Strictly Come Dancing with reviving his career. He admitted that he now hopes to launch his new record, 'land a job in the West End' and be sure that he will move confidently on stage rather than 'standing there looking like a complete turd.'
A retired police officer has told the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics that the press 'jeopardised' the Ipswich serial murder probe in 2006. David Harrison, who carried out surveillance of a suspect for Suffolk Police, said the Scum of the World hired ex-special forces soldiers. He said they carried out their own surveillance and that could have resulted in police losing track of him. The inquiry is currently examining the press's relationship with the police. Harrison, a retired Serious and Organised Crime Agency investigator, said he was deployed to help Suffolk police keep a suspect - who was later cleared of involvement - under surveillance in December 2006. But he said the Scum of the World employed their own investigators to follow the police team. He said that the Sunday Mirra also picked up the suspect and tried to lose their police trail. Lord Leveson said: 'In a free society journalists are entitled to go where they want. But how difficult does it make it for the inquiry if a journalist takes a suspect off to interview?' Harrison said if the suspect had been the real killer, and the press had enabled him to lose his police surveillance team, the investigation could have been hampered if he had disposed of evidence or committed further offences while 'out of control. If our surveillance had been weakened by having to try and avoid other surveillance teams looking for us, if we had lost the subject, he may have gone and committed further murders because we were dealing with something else,' he added. Steve Wright, fifty three, was jailed for life in 2008, for the murders of five women who worked as prostitutes. John Twomey, chairman of the Crime Reporters Association, denied that there was any 'inducement' involved in taking out police officers for lunch in expensive restaurants. Lord Leveson said he was not being 'puritanical' but he asked Twomey if there was not a 'perception' that such lunches could be perceived as 'an inducement.' Twomey, who has been the Daily Scum Express's crime reporter since 1987, said:'"Police stations are usually grim and inhospitable places and, like most people, detectives want to get out of the office and a pub or restaurant is just more convivial and more convenient.' He claimed that more expensive restaurants tended to be 'less public' and he added: 'They tended to be less crowded and the chances of being overheard were minimised.' Twomey claimed that taking contacts out for lunch was 'common among business, political and defence correspondents' and he added: 'It doesn't mean you're knocking back four hundred pound bottles of champagne.' Except if you're Champagne John Yates, of course. He, by his own admission, sometimes does. Twomey was also asked about gifts the CRA gave to senior police officers Lord Condon, Lord Stevens and Peter Clarke, on their retirement. Twomey said Clarke in particular was 'recognised' for his work in the fight against terrorism and he said: 'It's acknowledged in police circles the role that Peter Clarke played in those emergencies in the first decade of this century and [the gift] was a small token of our regard.' Twomey said the CRA had forty seven members, all of whom had been nominated by two existing members. He said the CRA did not have a code of conduct but he said: 'Now is the time for careful thought and it may be the time for us to draw up a code of conduct, a statement of principles. But it will take some thought because we want it to be enduring.' Twomey said he always checked out stories to make sure they were true before mentioning them to the Express newsdesk. He told the inquiry some police contacts had stopped talking to the press after the negative publicity Scotland Yard received after the first investigation of Stephen Lawrence. He said there could be 'tensions' with the newsdesk and he said: 'You just have to trust your own judgements. You would never go ahead with any story that would possibly jeopardise apprehending a criminal or a prosecution,' said Twomey who claimed that his paper had a much 'tighter budget' than other Fleet Street titles. And we're supposed to, what, feel sorry for you? He said the 'bread and butter' for a crime reporter usually came from information from officers at sergeant, inspector and superintendent level, rather than more senior figures. Twomey said he had lunch with Scotland Yard's chief press officer, Dick Fiasco, 'once or twice a year' to discuss various issues. He said usually whatever was discussed was on a non-reportable basis. Twomey said: 'I always found Dick Fedorcio very proper and very professional and very loyal' to the Metropolitan Police. Twomey was also asked for his opinion about Elizabeth Filkin's recommendations to the Met Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, about police-press relationships. Twomey said he took 'a dim view' of her suggestion that all police officers should have to make a note of any meeting they had with a journalist. He said: 'That would have a freezing effect. Officers would be less likely to talk to you.' You say that like it's a bad thing, pal. But Lord Leveson intervened and said he could see merit in Mrs Filkin's recommendation, as long as it was followed 'sensibly.'

Why does it always seem to be Top Gear that somehow attracts the headlines, dear blog reader? Have you ever wondered that? Well, usually, it's because the newspaper reporting such stories is the Gruniad Morning Star with their sick hippy Communist agenda, basically. Or, if it's not them then it's the Daily Scum Mail try to stir up some crap to make the BBC's life a misery. However, the latest story comes from that other bastion of total factual accuracy, the Daily Torygraph, who are clearly feeling left out of things. At least, this is according to the Gruniad themselves who seem rather peeved they didn't get the story first. Anyway, what this all boils down to is that a freelance cameraman whose company does some work on the show has reportedly 'pulled off a deal' to buy a TV studio that was recently refurbished with £3.7m of taxpayers' money – for a bargain basement knock-down price of one hundred and fifty grand. This has, apparently, 'got Norwich politicians up in arms.' Ooo, you don't wanna see Norwich politicians up in arms, dear blog reader. A sight to see, so it is. The studio, the former headquarters of Anglia Television (from which came Sale of the Century), was acquired and spruced up at a cost of £3.7m by East of England Development Agency and Norfolk county council. It was subsequently sold to Jonathan Thursby, whose company Extreme Video is involved in the filming of Top Gear, for a six-figure sum. One presumes because there were no other potential buyers on the horizon. There's no direct suggestion from the Torygraph story, of course, that anything improper or illegal has taken place. Or, indeed, that Top Gear is, in any way, a part of this story to which their name has been folded in to make it a bit more juicy. No, they just let a bit of good old fashioned sly innuendo carry that message.

Desperate Housewives actress Nicollette Sheridan has received no satisfaction in her six million dollar claim of wrongful dismissal against Disney/ABC after jurors failed to reach a verdict. Jurors said that with little tangible evidence the case came down to 'a matter of credibility.' With the jury split eight to four in favour of the actress – one short of the nine needed to make a decision – Sheridan's lawyer Mark Baute claimed the deadlock amounted to defeat for the show's producers. Which it possibly does. In every way except a legally binding one. 'The jury didn't buy the story of a fifty billion dollar conglomerate,' Baute said, adding that his client - 'strong as an ox and pretty as a princess' – is determined to press on with her claim. A retrial is set for 19 April. Sheridan, forty eight, did not comment on the mistrial. The defence lawyer Adam Levin countered that 'almost all' Sheridan's claims were dismissed. When she was initially fired from the hit show she complained of discrimination on grounds of age, sexual orientation and gender, and lodged a battery claim against Desperate Housewife creator Marc Cherry. None of those allegations stuck. 'Now we're down to wrongful termination, and we're confident we will prevail,' Levin said. Regardless of the case's outcome, Sheridan's career in Hollywood is almost certainly over. She hasn't worked for two years and lacks agency representation. Her lawyer conceded that doors are now closed to her for further work. The two-week trial offered the world a behind-the-scenes look at the drama – an apparent hotbed of disputes over money and prestige, accusations of forgotten lines and outright cattiness among the cast. At trial, Sheridan claimed that the decision to kill off her character was motivated by revenge after she alleged that the show's creator struck her in the head during a September 2008 script dispute. 'It was shocking. It was humiliating. It was demeaning,' Sheridan told the court. On the stand, creator Marc Cherry countered that it was nothing more than a tap on the head given as direction in a scene. In court, the actress claimed ABC had not only failed to investigate her complaint but that studio and network executives had instead created a paper trail to cover up for Cherry and his 'one billion dollar Desperate Housewives money machine.' 'It's all about the Benjamins for management,' Baute told jurors, 'not about a woman getting hit in the head.' After a battery claim against Cherry was thrown out late in the trial, jurors were left to decide a claim for wrongful dismissal and $5.7m in damages. To kill off a major character during the run of a successful series was 'highly unusual', witnesses for Sheridan testified, and especially so since the actress had been paid one hundred and seventy five thousand dollars an episode for the duration of the season. The removal of Sheridan's character, Edie, from Wisteria Lane, witnesses said, 'amounted to malice' – a claim they said was supported by the exaggerated manner of Edie's demise involving strangulation, a car crash and, ultimately, electrocution by a downed power line. Sheridan called an expert to testify that her character's death was 'virtually unprecedented' in network television. After her dismissal she was still required to turn up for work under the terms of her contract but only appeared once more – as a ghost. However, lawyers for ABC claimed that Edie's death had been planned months before, in May 2008, and had been approved at the highest levels of the corporation. But the studio did not produce e-mails supporting their position. Instead it showed a montage of forty eight deaths on the show, including that of a rat, to bolster its case that 'death on Wisteria Lane was not uncommon.' Disney lawyer Levin said there was a word for the actresses' 'complicated story of conspiracy, perjuring witnesses, backdated documents and photographs', desperate. The court heard that the actress had demanded as much money as more famous co-stars like Teri Hatcher and Eva Longoria – but when Sheridan forgot her lines, Hatcher became so angry that production was temporarily halted. Cherry testified that Sheridan 'told me that she thought Teri Hatcher was the meanest woman in the world.' Bad blood and bitterness is not limited to the ABC hit. An industry observer suggests that the Sheridan case and its scheduled retrial is only the first of an unusually litigious year in show business: in May, the creators of the video game Call of Duty are set to sue maker Activision over four hundred million smackers in profits. Then comes a seventy million dollar battle between reality TV mogul Mark Burnett and his manager. Britney Spears' former manager Sam Lufti is suing the singer's mother for defamation and producer Joel Silver is suing Goldman Sachs over a thirty million dollar film-financing deal.

Ricky Gervais sitcom pilot Derek will be screened on Channel Four in April, it has been announced. The Office creator and full-of-his-own-importance egotist is hoping that the nursing home-centred comedy, which also stars Karl Pilkington in his first acting role, is commissioned for a full series. However, BAFTA is billing its screening in London, on Tuesday 27 March as 'a one-off comedy drama.' And, one well-worth avoiding by the looks of it.

Freddie Flintoff has completed his Sport Relief challenge, surpassing his goal of breaking twelve Guinness World Records in twelve hours. After which, once imagines, he may well have drank twelve Guinness's. And they'd've been well deserved too. The former England cricket captain began his task on Monday morning, travelling between various London locations as he attempted the records. Flintoff finished the challenge by popping fifty two party poppers in one minute, bringing the grand total of Guinness World Records to fourteen. 'It's been an emotional day and it didn't start off too well this morning. I was too heavy for the bungee and I couldn't drive. But it was no secret that the one I really wanted was the pedalo - so I am thrilled I got that,' he said at the end of the day. 'Steve Harmison joined me for part of the day and he helped me get two records. It's been a fantastic day, I've set fourteen records and the best bit is it's all been to raise money for Sport Relief.' Among Flintoff's successful records were eating thirty eight peas with a cocktail stick in thirty seconds, drinking a hot chocolate in 5.45 seconds and getting the most Facebook page 'likes' in an hour, of which he received over fifty two thousand. While he failed at several attempts, including his final task of duct taping shrill, squawking harridan Alex Jones to a wall on The ONE Show, Flintoff achieved his twelfth record at 6.10pm and continued on his efforts, eventually reaching the final record count of fourteen. Highlights of Flintoff's challenge will be shown on the Sport Relief night of TV on BBC1 and BBC One HD on Friday.

Greedy, talentless horrorshow (and drag) Alesha Dixon has revealed that she is 'happy' with her decision to switch judging Strictly Come Dancing for Britain's Got Talent, admitting that she found the BBC series 'reserved.' Well, there's gratitude for you.

Sky's chief executive Jeremy Darroch ordered a news story to be temporarily taken down from the Sky News website last week after an executive producer complained that it had 'upset' Formula 1 teams, it has emerged. The Financial Times reports that Darroch decided to intervene after the story, documenting a controversial deal between F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and two teams, was posted by Sky News on the eve of the launch of Sky's first Grand Prix broadcast on the expensively assembled Sky Sports F1 channel. Citing - nameless - 'people familiar with the decision', the newspaper claims that Sky Sports F1 executive producer Martin Turner had contacted Sky's bosses from Melbourne, where his team was preparing to cover the opening Australian Grand Prix this weekend, to flag up that the article was upsetting some F1 teams. Darroch is then said to have ordered Sky News to take down the story, subject to a review. This went ahead on Monday by head of Sky News John Ryley, after which the article was reposted in the afternoon with few changes, except for the replacement of some sections quoting from confidential documents. An alleged 'source' allegedly told the paper: 'It was an oversight that the article appeared without those Sky colleagues for whom it might have caused a problem being made aware.' They said that the story's removal was 'a pause for thought.' In a statement, a Sky spokesman said: 'The piece was withdrawn for further review. We stand by the story and, following that review, took the decision to re-publish on Monday.' However, the situation has raised further questions about the independence of Sky News itself, following a wide-ranging review of the broadcaster as part of the failed bid by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp to take full control of BSkyB last year. After media regulator Ofcom said that the merging of News Corp and Sky would reduce the plurality of media sources in the UK, News Corp offered to spin off Sky News as a separate company with guaranteed funding for ten years. This offer was subsequently withdrawn by News Corp, and the Sky bid was ultimately scrapped following the phone hacking affair at the company's UK newspaper publisher News International. But it has still raised questions about the independence of Sky News, the loss-making broadcaster which is almost wholly dependent on Sky for finance. Sky has spent heavily on acquiring the TV rights to all Grand Prix each season from 2012 to 2018, including the creation of a brand new presentation team and the launch of its first channel dedicated to just one sport.
However, it is understood that seven of the twelve teams in Australia this Sunday were 'upset' at the Sky News story, which cited a leaked report showing that Ecclestone and F1 owners CVC had attempted to broker a deal with Ferrari and Red Bull ahead of the sport's public offering. All of which makes Jenson Button's victory - in a McLaren - in the subsequent race even more pleasing. It is alleged that the two teams were offered shares and voting rights on the F1 board to persuade them not to launch a breakaway league in the motorsport. Ferrari, Goldman Sachs and CVC have all declined to comment on the Sky News report.

Various complaints against Big Fat Gypsy Weddings have been dismissed by Ofcom. The media regulator was investigating whether the use of the words 'bigger, fatter and gypsier' was appropriate in the reality TV show's recent advertising campaign after the Advertising Standards Authority received more than three hundred complaints. According to the Gruniad Morning Star, Ofcom found that the controversial adverts on TVs and billboards are not offensive or racist and cleared the Channel Four show of any breach of the British broadcasting code. They also dismissed many complaints from the documentary Gypsy Blood viewers that the programme had broadcast cruelty to animals after a scene showing a dog being trained to kill baby deer. Ofcom also dismissed these complaints, arguing that the documentary was broadcast after 10pm, the scenes were only short sequences and that all the scenes, however shocking, were all 'justified within the factual context of the episode.' Channel Four's commissioning editor, Nick Hornby, has previously defended Big Fat Gypsy Weddings following criticism from the gypsy community, insisting that the programme is 'fair and accurate.'

The Travel Channel has been rebuked over repeated breaches of broadcasting regulations in its viewer competitions, and warned that it faces a 'significant sanction' if further instances occur. A whistleblower contacted Ofcom to claim that the cable and satellite channel, licensed to broadcast in the UK and Ireland since 1993, was guilty of 'unfair conduct' in its competitions dating back to the 1990s. The unnamed complainant alleged that between 1997 and 2008, and occasionally after 2008, the Travel channel had selected winners for its premium rate phone-in competitions, rather than picking them at random. It was claimed that Travel Channel International, operator of the channel, did this because it wanted to promote the channel to cable and satellite TV platform holders. The complainant said that by ensuring winners lived in areas relevant to individual TV operators, the Travel Channel could show its value to local audiences, a point particularly key during times when it was in negotiations over new carriage deals. This meant that anyone who entered the competitions but did not live in TCI's favoured areas had 'no chance' of winning. The whistleblower also claimed that TCI 'totally dismissed' any entrants via its website or postal address. The complainant supplied Ofcom with an example of a viewer competition in 2002 which offered a four-night city and resort break in Nemacolin Resort and Spa in the US as the prize. It was alleged that TCI had searched the list of entrants via premium rate service telephone calls for a winner who lived in a cable area covered by a TV platform holder with which TCI was negotiating a new carriage contract. After being contacted by Ofcom, TCI expressed its 'surprise' at the claims because it believed that no PRS entry routes had been used in Travel Channel competitions since 2003. However, Ofcom pointed out that one of the e-mails made available to the regulator following a search of TCI's records referred to 'phone entrants.' After searching its records again, the Travel Channel admitted that on three separate occasions between May 2004 and July 2007 there was evidence of 'improper winner selection.' The channel said that winners were picked by a member of staff pointing 'at random' at a row on a spreadsheet of details of entrants with correct answers. It claimed that 'the process of choosing a winner from among the pool of correct answers was influenced by the wish of the Travel Channel affiliate department to have a higher representation of winners from countries outside the UK.' TCI added: 'We can only reiterate that these very regrettable episodes, in which strictly random procedures were not adhered to, pre-dated [the later procedures], which since August 2007 we are confident have accorded all entrants an automatic equal chance of winning.' But Ofcom criticised the Travel Channel for allowing competitions to become 'imbalanced' and favour 'some entrants over others.' The regulator said that evidence of 'widespread abuses' in the area of PRS came to light some years ago, leading to a massive £5.7m fine levied on ITV in 2008, and have 'caused considerable damage to the reputation of the industry and undermined trust that has taken some time to be re-established.' Even though the complainant's allegations about TCI picking winners to help its carriage negotiations could not be substantiated, Ofcom said that the three confirmed cases represented a 'severe compliance failure' from TCI. However, the regulator ruled out imposing a sanction on TCI over the breaches, partially because of the length of time and patchy records presented by TCI meant that it was unable to conduct a full and fair investigation. In addition, on the basis of the evidence put forward by TCI, Ofcom took into account that the broadcaster had not made major revenue from the use of PRS in the three admitted breaches, and the entrants had not been caused undue 'financial harm. More generally, we noted that the Licensee had apparently not sought to use PRS in competitions, other than in two isolated cases, for a number of years,' said Ofcom. 'Ofcom also noted the licensee's regret and that it had taken steps to remind staff of their responsibilities under the code and the licence.' Despite ruling out a fine at this stage, Ofcom warned the Travel Channel that it will face 'a significant sanction' if further instances of compliance failure around PRS viewer competitions are reported in the future. In a statement to Ofcom, TCI said: 'The number of disadvantaged people was relatively small because Travel Channel's UK viewing share is less than one tenth of one per cent. But this is not to seek to condone or minimise what happened.'

ITV's new drama Leaving has cast Helen McCrory and Callum Turner in lead roles. The three-part series - from Public Enemies and Garrow's Law writer Tony Marchant - was first announced in January. Leaving will focus on the relationship between disillusioned twenty five-year-old Aaron (Turner) and unhappy forty five-year-old wife and mother Julie (McCrory). When the pair begin working together at a Cheshire country house hotel, they share an intimate moment which takes them both by surprise and must face the consequences of their actions. McCrory's recent credits include the role of Narcissa Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and BBC4's Jean Shrimpton biopic We'll Take Manhattan. She and Turner are joined by Deborah Findlay, Nick Dunning, Charity Wakefield and Bart Edwards. Amelia Young, Sean Gallagher, Gregg Chillin and Celyn Jones will also star. Juliet Charlesworth will serve as producer, while Gaby Dellal will direct. Leaving is produced by Red Production Company (who make Scott & Bailey and Exile) for ITV, with filming currently under way in Manchester and Cheshire.

Dennis Waterman has attracted controversy after apparently suggesting that it is 'not difficult for a woman to make a man hit her.' Which, one imagines, won't have gone down particularly well with his legion of - mostly elderly female - fans on New Tricks. On which he signs the theme song, by the way. Just thought I'd mention this. Filming an upcoming episode of odious Piers Morgan's Life Stories for ITV, the actor discussed his marriage and divorce from Rula Lenska. Of his eleven-year marriage, Waterman admitted that he had twice 'slapped and punched' the sixty four-year-old, but told Morgan: 'She certainly wasn't a beaten wife, she was hit and that's different.' Interesting theory. According to the Mirra, Waterman claimed: 'It's not difficult for a woman to make a man hit her.' Depends on the sort of man he is, surely? However, recalling the incident, Waterman said that he was 'very, very ashamed' of his behaviour: 'We were going through a horrible time and arguing a lot. The problem with strong, intelligent women is that they can argue, well. And if there is a time where you can't get a word in, and I lashed out. I couldn't end the argument. Something must have brought it on. When frustration builds up and you can't think of a way out. It happened and I'm very, very ashamed of it.' Admitting that he had 'drunk too much' to recall exact details, Waterman said that he 'must have punched her one time' when Lenska had ended up with a black eye. 'I'd never done it before or since,' he added. 'But if a woman is a bit of a power freak and determined to put you down, and if you're not bright enough to do it with words, it can happen. And it did happen in my case.' The chief executive of domestic violence charity Refuge, Sandra Horley, has criticised the actor for his comments, telling the paper: 'I am appalled by Dennis Waterman's comments about his violence towards Rula Lenska, which trivialise the abuse he inflicted on her. No-one can make their partner hit them. However angry or frustrated Dennis felt, he could have chosen to deal with those feelings another way but he chose violence. He alone is responsible for his behaviour.' Horley added: 'It doesn't matter whether he hit her once, twice or a dozen times - no man is entitled to hit his wife. Domestic violence is against the law. At Refuge we do not define domestic violence by the number of assaults but by the effect on the victim. Once a woman has been hit, she lives with the fear it could happen again and research shows it almost always does.' Waterman, who confirmed that his current partner Pam Flint recently became his fourth wife, said that he is 'quite Victorian' in his attitude towards women: 'It's been suggested that I'm chauvinistic but I don't think I am, I think there is a place for women at home.' Dennis, a tip, mate. When you're in a hole, it's probably a good idea to stop digging. Violence seldom solves anything worthwhile. Although, for inflicting Up The Elephant And Round The Castle on an unwilling public, I reckon it's just about acceptable now and then.

Rupert Penry-Jones and Endeavour star Shaun Evans will lead the cast of ITV's new suspense thriller The Last Weekend. The series is a Mick Ford (adaptation of Blake Morrison's best-selling novel. Episodes' Genevieve O'Reilly, The Trip's Claire Keelan, Hugh Mitchell and Swedish actor Alexander Karim have also signed up for the project. The Last Weekend follows the story of two couples with a shared history on holiday in Suffolk over a bank holiday weekend. Evans plays a working class primary school teacher, who made friends with the sporty and privileged Ollie (played, of course, by sporty and privileged Penry-Jones) at university. The men's competitive edge, a resurrected old bet and returning sexual tensions result in 'a horrendous and catastrophic outcome' for both couples. Executive producer Sally Woodward Gentle said: 'The Last Weekend is a brilliantly written, evocative portrayal of modern male jealousy. Superbly crafted and tightly structured, Mick has brought Morrison's claustrophobic thriller to life with exquisite menace.' ITV's head of drama Laura Mackie added: 'Producers Carnival are brilliant at delivering classy, high-quality drama and The Last Weekend will add to our strong slate of contemporary serials.'

New images of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, have been captured by NASA using a new time-lapse photographic technique. By combining hundreds of stills taken from the International Space Station, they have produced the first 'moving' images of the spectacle. In this clip from BBC News, NASA Earth Scientist Melissa Dawson explains how she happened on the technique almost by accident, when looking over other material from the ISS.
Rupert Murdoch's prime ministerial lobbying was not confined to Margaret Thatcher, it would seem. The BBC's Sanchia Berg has discovered a file at the National Archives - never previously reported - which reveals an approach by Murdoch to the then Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1976. Murdoch was anxious to bust tight wage controls in order to placate troublesome print unions. His Sun, then selling 3.64m copies, was within two hundred thousand of overtaking the largest-selling paper of the time, the Daily Mirra (back when it used to be a proper newspaper instead of the comic it is today). Eager to produce more copies to challenge the Mirra, Murdoch wanted to install new high speed presses. But the unions were demanding more money. Murdoch was unable to pay the extra cash because of government wage restrictions introduced in 1975 in order to curb inflation. The TUC had agreed with the government that no-one earning eight thousand five hundred smackers or less per year could get a rise of more than six quid a week. So, in what appears to have been a hastily arranged meeting, Murdoch went to Downing Street to see Wilson on the evening of 4 January 1976. Wilson, as canny an operator as Murdoch, did not accede to the request and Wilson also felt it necessary to put on record his own account of the meeting 'to avoid any possible misunderstanding.' He dictated a note two days later, addressed to his private secretary, Nigel Wicks, in which he said that Murdoch had asked for his advice. According to Wilson, he pointed out to Murdoch that he didn't deal with these matters, and advised him to talk instead to the Department of Employment. Murdoch had not wanted to hear that. According to Wilson's note, Murdoch 'gently tried to suggest' that the secretary of state for employment, Michael Foot, was 'no friend' of the newspaper industry. Meaning, actually, that Foot was no friend of Rupert Murdoch. Wilson's response was to say he couldn't get involved. And the employment department also told Murdoch they couldn't make an exception for him. Undaunted, after the meeting, Murdoch sent a note to Wilson in which he thanked Wilson 'for making the time to see me this evening.' He set out his problem again, in writing, saying that unless the issue was resolved it could mean 'turning away orders.' And he concluded by saying: 'Your good offices in this matter will be greatly appreciated.' The note was signed, 'your sincerely, Rupert.' The matter, by all accounts, didn't affect relations between the press baron and the Prime Minister. A short time later - on 9 February, according to a handwritten note from Wilson - he had lunch at the Sun (probably with the then editor, Larry Lamb). Murdoch was also there, having flown overnight to Britain from the US. Evidently, the question of how to bypass the pay limit was not raised, though there had been ample opportunity. What this Murdoch-Wilson meeting appears to show is that the media magnate was an equal opportunities lobbyist - he sought to influence Prime Ministers regardless of the party they represented. It was his political-commercial modus operandi. At the time, the Sun, which had always broadly supported Labour, was moving away from them. It had refused to back Wilson in the October 1974 election by sitting on the fence with an election day headline: May the best man win - and heaven help us if they don't.
As for Wilson, he surprised the nation by resigning just a month after that Sun lunch. In circumstances which have never been fully explained. There is some evidence that Wilson was bullied out of office by 'the establishment', security services and military, who are believed to have circulated slurs that Wilson worked as an agent for the KGB. Several books suggest that document evidence for this exists including The Pencourt File by Barrie Penrose and Roger Courtiour, Smear!: Wilson and the Secret State by Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsey and The Wilson Plot: How the Spycatchers and Their American Allies Tried to Overthrow the British Government by David Leigh. To mark the thirtieth anniversary of Wilson's resignation in 2006 documentaries and docudramas which examine this interpretation of events were transmitted on Channel Four and BBC TV.

A millionaire's student daughter accused of driving looters around during the London riots was 'not acting under duress,' a court heard. Laura Johnson was seen putting a box on the seat of the car she was driving, Inner London Crown Court heard. The former grammar school pupil is accused of driving a getaway car for three male accomplices, who went on the rampage in London. The Exeter University student claims she was forced to drive the car under duress by three young black men who were not the 'sort of people you say no to.' Dressed in a white blouse, black mini skirt and boots, Johnson spoke yesterday only to confirm her name as she stood in the dock with her co-accused, a seventeen-year-old man who cannot be named for legal reasons. Also in court were her parents Lindsay and Robert, who run direct marketing firm Avongate from their home. Johnson, twenty, of Orpington, south-east London, denies five counts of burglary and three counts of handling stolen goods. She is accused of stealing five thousand smackers worth of electronic goods during the disturbances, last summer. 'The prosecution say that any talk of duress is no more than a red herring in this case,' Sandy Canavan, prosecuting, said. 'This is a young lady who exercised extraordinarily bad judgment that night. She knew what she was doing, she did it for whatever reason seemed good to her at the time, but not under duress.' The court heard that on the night of 9 August, a man called Raymond Johnson was driving past a retail park, near the O2 leisure park in Greenwich, south-east London, when he noticed people carrying items out of several stores. The court heard Mr Johnson, who is not related to the accused, saw a woman in a black car and told police he saw people loading things into it before she drove off. He called the police, followed the vehicle and even took a picture of the naughty shenanigans on his mobile phone, the court heard. The female driver, he told police, did not appear distressed. Canavan said: 'The white female driver of the car, we say that's Ms Johnson, went over, picked up the Goodmans box and put it in the front seat of her car. He remembers seeing three black men running backwards and forwards to the car, putting things in it.' On his way back from Chingford he went back to the retail park and spotted the car again, but this time it had been stopped by police. Mr Johnson approached the officers, just as they smashed Miss Johnson's windscreen, to stop her driving off after revving the engine, the court was told. In the car police found two LCD TVs and a third TV, a microwave and alcohol and cigarettes. The accused student had told police three boys jumped into her car and ordered her to drive, Canavan said. In her defence case statement, Johnson also said there was 'talk of stabbing people, talk of a gun, and one man had been playing footage on a mobile phone of someone being tortured.' Canavan said: 'The prosecution say, if what you are saying is true, the time to have said it is when you were safely with the police. Getting out and helping yourself to the Goodmans box discarded by one of the other individuals is hardly the action of someone who is being forced to drive around.' The case continues.

Tulisa Contostavlos's rumoured Internet sex tape features her, ahem, 'interactions' with ex-boyfriend Fazer, according to messages posted on Dappy's Twitter account. And, if anybody reading this doesn't know who any of these people are, then just be thankful, dear blog reader. Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss. The X Factor presenter's cousin and N-Dubz band mate appeared to write in an explicit tweet that he and Fazer have been involved in threesomes. 'JUST SO EVERY 1 [sic] KNOWS ME AND FAZER HAVE F...CKED [sic] MANY BITCHES 2 GETHER [sic], SO I AM CLEARLY STATING THAT THE D..K [sic] IN T'S ALLEGED SEX TAPE IS FAZERS,' read the first post. Innit. And if anyone can work about what word 'f...cked' is supposed to be, answers on a postcard. A separate tweet minutes later added: 'SECOND OF ALL, THAT WAS MORE THAN THREE YEARS AGO WHEN FAZER TOOK THEM PICS [sic]. THIS IS SIMPLY FAZER TRYING 2 [sic] GET TULISA BACK! NUFF SAID!' Well, clearly. However, both posts were deleted soon after. The six-minute thirty five-second recording was posted on a website named Not Tulisa and later on UK website pappzd.co.uk, before it was removed. Contostavlos's lawyers took swift action to ensure the video, which allegedly shows her performing oral sex, was deleted. Representatives for Contostavlos said that they would not be commenting on 'speculation about her personal life.'

From The North is delighted to hear reported that Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba is showing signs of recovery after the horrifying events of Saturday at White Hart Lane. And is further delighted that the odious bucket of scum who posted racially offensive comments about Muamba on Twitter whilst the poor chap was still fighting for his life after a heart attack has been found, according to a BBC News report, extremely guilty of a racially-aggravated public order offence.

Noel Gallagher and ABBA are among the artists releasing material for this year's Record Store Day. Gallagher will issue a limited edition EP of four songs by his solo project Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. Just two thousand copies of the twelve inch vinyl will be produced, featuring song only previously available as b-sides. ABBA will put out an rare remix of 'Voulez-Vous', while the BBC is issuing an LP of Doctor Who sound effects. The event takes place on 21 April. More than two hundred record stores in the UK and Ireland will take part, while three hundred and fifty exclusive releases have already been lined-up. The aim of the day is to promote local independent shops, which have suffered in recent years due to competition from supermarkets and online retailers. This year's event was launched by John Lydon, whose band Public Image Ltd will be releasing an EP of new material on the day. He said: 'The destruction of the music industry is because people can't buy records easily. A record is for life. A download is a lack of life. A poor substitute for a real wife!' Heh. Organiser Spencer Hickman said that the aim of the day was to celebrate the 'character and individuality' of independent retailers. 'There's nothing to beat the enthusiasm and atmosphere of a great record shop,' he added. Many of the exclusives being prepared for Record Store Day are being released on vinyl, appealing to collectors and audiophiles alike. Among the artists taking part are David Bowie, T-Rex, Elbow, Blondie, Bob Dylan and Arcade Fire. Several are putting out rare or unreleased material - including Richard Hawley, who will premiere new song 'Leave Your Body Behind You.' Mercury nominees Metronomy have recorded woodwind versions of their songs 'Black Eye Burnt Thumb' and 'You Could Easily Have Me.'

For today's Keith Telly Topping's 33 of the Day (on vinyl, of course), here's a record yer actual Keith Telly Topping bought at JG Windows in the Central Arcade in Newcastle in the long hot summer of 1976. Cost me about a month's pocket money, so it did. But it was worth it for one of the wisest and most perfect songs ever written.

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