Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A Cheap Holiday In Other People's Misery

The BBC's coverage of the Diamond Jubilee Concert was seen by more than fourteen million viewers who didn't have anything else to do with their time on Monday night, peaking at almost seventeen million for the Paul McCartney and fireworks-laden finale, according to the latest official overnight data. This was the biggest TV audience for a single programme since last year's wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The concert, featuring performances from Macca, Sir Elt and yer actual Stevie Wonder (along with various other artists that, in ten years time, you'll probably be asking 'what did they sing again?'), averaged 14.68m (a fifty seven per cent share of the available audience) on BBC1 between 7.30pm and 10.45pm. The viewing audience peaked at 16.86m in the final moments, as Prince Charles paid tribute to his mum - only the second monarch to reach sixty years on the throne - before an, admittedly, dazzling fireworks show lit up Buckingham Palace. What can I say, dear blog reader? I admit it, yer actual Keith Telly Topping remains an utter sucker for a good firework display. ITV was unable to compete with such a ratings draw, with the Coronation Street double picked up 5.43m at 7.30pm and 5.39m at 8.30pm, two of the long-running soap's lowest audience in many years. Emmerdale was watched by 5.01m from 7pm. The documentary The Queen and I between the two episodes of Corrie had an audience of 2.1m from 8pm, and a screening of Bond movie Quantum of Solace attracted 2.69m from 9pm.

Yer actual Stephen Fry has spoken about the depths of his depression which has sometimes meant that he has 'anted to die' while recording episodes of Qi. If it's any consolation, Stephen, this viewer has never, once, felt the same whilst watching it. The comedian, actor and author acknowledged that he has lived a charmed life and had 'nothing to be unhappy about' – but noted that his illness did not recognise that fact. 'When we talk about depression we are not taking about being in a bit of a bad mood where a nice bit of poetry and nature can help, I am talking about being a de-energised lump,' he told the Hay festival. 'It is unreasonable for me to be unhappy. I have had one of the luckiest careers of my generation. There is no one I have not met, nothing I have not done. I am overpraised and overpaid. I have no reason to be unsatisfied with my life and all it has given me, indeed most of the time I am happy – but there are times when I want to slash my throat. I have done whole episodes of Qi where I have wanted to die. My lips are moving but I do not want to be.' He also has a loving partner, family friends and thirty Godchildren 'whom I adore.' But, like many people he suffers from a 'disease that will never go away.' In a groundbreaking event in aid of the Samaritans at the Hay Festival, Fry joined fellow comedian Ruby Wax and gardener Monty Don to talk about their personal experiences of depression. Fry, who suffers from bipolar disorder, is known for his wit and extensive general knowledge. He said employees should not be allowed to sack people for being depressed. Stephen, who is president of mental health charity Mind, pointed out that one in four people suffer from mental illness and called for more openness and less stigmatisation.

I draw your attention, dear blog reader, to an excellent - thoughtful - piece by New Statesman's Helen Lewis on the differences between American and British comedy attitudes to the jubilee; it comes after The Daily Show's resident comedy anarchist Jon Stewart did a rather spiffing lampoon of the whole shebang. And, particularly of CNN's odious, risible oily twat Piers Morgan sycophantically working himself into a spunky lather of deference about the Thames parade. Never, by all accounts, has a man been more impressed with the sight of a boat turning round. 'Had a British comedian tried the same gag over the weekend, on one of the many interminable live broadcasts over the Bank Holiday, I'm sure that huge sections of the press would have descended on them like vultures. Perhaps that's why none of them were booked to chat on the sofa with Eamonn Holmes and Sophie Raworth and the rest. Most of the British comedians who could sell out an arena were in attendance at the Queen's Jubilee concert, and there was a real sense that anything edgy would have gone down with a lead balloon. Perhaps that's a measure of changing public taste: Britain overwhelming supports the monarchy, and we love Her Majesty in particular (what a change from the times when you couldn't move for tasteless Princess Diana jokes).'

The business secretary, Vince Cable, and the lack of culture secretary, the vile and odious rascal Hunt, are at odds over the future of UK media ownership in an open clash which is likely to be a central feature of the findings of Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into press standards and practices. Cable is insisting that ministers should remain in charge of deciding media takeovers, but the vile and odious rascal Hunt, burned by his controversial handling of the News Corp bid for total control of BSkyB, has said he 'recognises' the case for ministers to be taken out of the process and decisions handed to a non-political body. The disagreement within the coalition is likely to be aired when Eton Rifle David Cameron appears before Leveson on 14 June and his Liberal Democrat deputy, Nick Clegg, gives evidence the day before. Cable has, like Clegg, called for a legal definition of media plurality in the Enterprise Act so that no newspaper can own more than twenty five per cent of the market, but the vile and odious rascal Hunt - still clinging on to his job by his fingertips after his boss appeared on TV over the weekend to claim that black was white - has claimed the issue of defining ownership is 'complicated.' He didn't seem to think it was too complicated when he was giving James Murdoch the small a right good brown-tongued texting, of course. It seemed pure dead easy then, so it did. The vile and odious rascal Hunt has asked Ofcom, the media regulator, to 'provide evidence' to the Leveson inquiry on this issue by next month. Brian Leveson himself has said that he regards these issues as 'plumb in the middle' of his inquiry's terms of reference. Judging by his remarks so far, he is leaning towards removing politicians from responsibility from media takeovers entirely. The developments came as the Labour party deputy leader, Mad Hattie Harman, disclosed that she will use a Commons debate in Opposition time to demand that the vile and odious rascal Hunt's handling of the BSkyB takeover be referred to Sir Alex Allan, the government's independent adviser on the ministerial code. Cameron announced - within minutes of the vile and odious rascal Hunt completing his evidence to Leveson - that he would not be referring the minister's conduct to Allan. The chairman of the Commons public administration select committee, Bernard Jenkin, who is Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, intervened to say that his committee believed Allan should have powers to initiate an inquiry rather than wait for a referral by the prime minister. Jenkin said his committee was likely to revisit the issue when parliament returns, opening the possibility that Allan will be asked to give evidence on whether he thinks he should have been able to conduct an inquiry. Allan has so far refused to answer media requests for interview. The coalition dispute over media policy emerged during little reported exchanges at the Leveson inquiry. The vile and odious rascal Hunt said that he had tried to create a structure for his decision on the BSkyB bid that gave him no wriggle room 'so that my political discretion was zero.' Leveson asked: 'If you're giving so much weight to independent regulators at every stage and you're removing your discretion to a very large degree, if not entirely, why not just give the whole decision to independent regulators? That's what we do in competition law. It used to be in competition law that those decisions were made also by secretaries of state and we removed that and gave that to independent regulators.' The vile and odious rascal Hunt replied: 'I do have some sympathy with that view, because even though the decision I took was totally impartial, I always felt there were going to be elements of the public that would never believe it was. I still believe it's perfectly possible for politicians to set aside their views and take decisions in a quasi-judicial impartial way, but I do think that you have to try very hard, because you know that some of the decisions you make could have an impact on future relationships and you have to set all that consideration aside.' In contrast, Cable said: 'I think there's everything to be said for having elected officials, councillors or MPs, as ministers, making decisions in public interest cases.' He went on: 'There is a very clearly prescribed process which the politicians have to follow, they are subject to legal advice at every stage. I wouldn't be comfortable with simply abandoning this quite complex arrangement for something that seeks artificial comfort in a purely – well, bureaucratic or purely judicial mechanism.' Cable did argue that media ownership rules should be clearer so that politicians are working in clearer tramlines. In his witness statement, he said: 'I believe the plurality test is necessary but currently too imprecise and therefore easily open to challenge. It would help, I believe, if it were possible to give greater precision to the concerns (which surfaced in both the BSkyB and Channel Five takeovers) over cross-media ownership. For example, legislation or ministerial guidance could specify a percentage – perhaps twenty five per cent – of combined media markets beyond which a test of plurality (and, indeed, competition) should be applied. However, a narrow definition of media (the written press; TV) may not capture fully the degree of influence exerted, and the true lack of plurality, in, say, news and associated commentary.' The vile and odious rascal Hunt also called for a regulatory system that reflected changing media. He said: 'The business model of the press is slowly dying on its feet as the world becomes electronic and people consume their news on iPads and iPods and so on, and advertising, which is so important to the press model, is less easy to raise in those electronic media and it's less easy to get people to pay large sums of money for subscription.'

The BBC has apologised to a single mother after she complained that a recent appearance on Newsnight left her humiliated. Shanene Thorpe appeared on the BBC2 news strand on 23 May to discuss her life as a single mother, and was interviewed by political editor Allegra Stratton, who was hired late last year from the Gruniad Morning Star. Thorpe claims that the footage had been 'edited to make it look like I was an unemployed scrounger, questioned why I didn't live with my parents and made no mention of my job with Tower Hamlets Council.' A petition calling for the BBC to 'apologise for portraying me and my family in this way' has so far received more than twenty five thousand signatures and Thorpe has since approached the corporation to make a formal complaint. In her petition, Thorpe notes that Newsnight editor Peter Rippon called her to apologise, but adds 'I don't think it's enough. I still want a public apology and a full explanation of how this was allowed to happen,' she writes. 'I'm ready to meet the team behind the show in person – so I can tell them my side of the story and make sure this doesn't happen to anybody else.' A BBC spokeswoman said the Newsnight team had apologised following Thorpe's formal complaint. 'Newsnight did contact Shanene Thorpe to hear her concerns after the broadcast and following receipt of her official complaint, we have responded apologising for her experience and for not making her situation clear,' she said. Thorpe now has twenty working days to decide whether to accept the apology.

The RSPCA has supported Channel Four over its decision to broadcast the slaughter of calves, which sparked fifty nine complaints from upset viewers. The footage of slaughterman walking up beside day-old calves and shooting them aired around 9.30pm on Tuesday in the first episode of Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket. The factual series, Jimmy Doherty's first for C4, addressed the issue of killing male dairy calves because there is no market for them. As a solution, Doherty made the case for the calves to be reared to produce British veal. Both C4 and the RSPCA have robustly defended the decision to broadcast the footage based on the importance of the issue. A C4 spokeswoman said: 'While the scene makes for uncomfortable viewing, we feel it is important to show the reality of this practice to offer viewers a rounded perspective of the issues the programme touches on. The practice is carried out throughout the country because many dairy farmers currently have no other option but to shoot their male dairy calves as there is no demand for them. The programme went out after the watershed, was preceded by a clear warning and the animals were killed humanely by a qualified expert.' The RSPCA worked with the programmes producers to ensure that the issue was highlighted. David Bowles, RSPCA director of communications, said: 'Animal lovers are rightly angry when they see lorry loads of young calves being shipped abroad. However, what many people do not realise is that nine times more calves are killed on farm just days after being born. They are the lost animals of the dairy industry. We would much rather these calves reared for veal in the UK where legally they have to be given a proper diet and bedding.' The next two episodes will look at the production of sausages by using offal and pig cheeks of free range pigs and the possibility of using free range hens who are too old to lay eggs for chicken kiev meat.

Sir Paul McCartney has confirmed that he will end the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games on 27 July. Speaking on BBC Radio 5Live he said 'I've been booked' and added that he would be 'closing the opening.' A total cast of fifteen thousand people will take part in the Olympic and Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies, to be watched by an estimated four billion people worldwide. The full line-up of the opening ceremony is yet to be announced. A performance by the former Beatle has long been rumoured to be part of the opening ceremony, and in January he disclosed he was in talks about taking part. Sir Paul wrapped up the proceedings of Monday's concert to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, with a bass guitar specially made for the occasion. The opening ceremony is intended as a celebration showcasing the best of the host nation. The Beatles were declared the biggest-selling singles act since charts began sixty years ago in a Radio 2 countdown this week. Sir Paul told the 5Live that 'on certain occasions' he still gets nerves before performing.

The planet Venus is set to move across the face of the Sun as viewed from Earth. The more than six-and-a-half-hour transit, which starts just after 22:00 on Tuesday is a very rare astronomical phenomenon that will not be witnessed again until 2117. Observers will position themselves in North West America, the Pacific and East Asia to catch the whole event. But some part of the spectacle will be visible across a much broader swathe of Earth's surface, weather permitting. Skywatchers in UK, for example, will catch the end of the transit at sunrise on Wednesday. Venus will appear as a tiny black disc against our star, but no-one should look for it without the proper equipment. Looking directly at the Sun with the naked eye, or worse still through an open telescope or binoculars, is a totally bloody stupid thing to do and can result in serious injury and even blindness. It is recommended people attend an organised viewing event where the transit will be projected on to a screen; or they can visit one of the many institutional Internet sites planning to stream pictures. Venus transits occur four times in approximately two hundred and forty three years; more precisely, they appear in pairs of events separated by about eight years and these pairs are separated by about one hundred and five or one hundred and twenty three years. The reason for the long intervals lies in the fact that the orbits of Venus and Earth do not lie in the same plane and a transit can only occur if both planets and the Sun are situated exactly on one line. This has happened only seven times in the telescopic age: in 1631, 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874, 1882 and 2004. The phenomenon has particular historical significance. The Seventeenth and Eighteenth century transits were used by the astronomers of the day to work out fundamental facts about the Solar System.

One of the world's oldest football leagues is to introduce 'secret shoppers' to spy on officials and players who swear during games, its chairman has said. The Northern League, formed in 1889, could then name and shame the worst offending clubs and provide financial bonuses for those who keep it clean. The league, which has forty six clubs from Alnwick in Northumberland, to Northallerton in North Yorkshire, has led a number of high-profile campaigns against swearing which, allegedly, puts off families from watching. Next season the league will send mystery guests or secret shoppers to monitor games - despite the opposition of certain members opposed to 'snooping' going on at matches. League chairman Mike Amos said: 'If you go to a Premier League game with fifty thousand people there and the players and management are effing and blinding, you can't hear it, and so in a sense, it doesn't matter. But if you are at a game with one hundred people in the ground, you can hear. There are still people in 2012 who do not like swearing, and it can be heard all over the ground. People say to me "it's a passionate game" and it is, but it is also a disciplined game.' What a reet load of old effing toot. Amos said the laws of football allow a referee to send off a player or manager who uses offensive language, but few do. Rightly. Because it would be bloody stupid if they did and you'd have a riot at every match. Amos, who has been league chairman for sixteen years, said the FA could stamp out the issue if they took a stand, but it seemed reluctant to do so. A previous attempt to tackle swearing by introducing a zero tolerance policy failed to win the governing body's backing, after it was initially praised by the FA. 'All of us who go to the footie have heard tirades of foul-mouthed abuse directed at referees and officials and the officials have run away,' he said. 'That's how bad it has got. We are not going to persuade the referees to act without the FA's backing, so we have to persuade the clubs and their personnel not to do it.' League bosses already know the worst offending clubs and the chairman said those with managers who swear from the technical area also had a problem with players using bad language. 'If the managers are disciplined, then the players tend to be,' he said. The Northern League has announced a two hundred thousand quid sponsorship deal with the dehumidifier manufacturer Ebac, which may allow bosses to reward the best behaved clubs. Amos said: 'We have to get it through to the managers that the crowd is a few feet behind them when they are in the technical area. If they are swearing like that on a main street on a Friday night they would be arrested, so what makes it acceptable at a ground?'

Sixty beacons were lit along Hadrian's Wall on Monday night to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The beacons stretched along the World Heritage Site from west to east starting at Ravenglass in Cumbria, to as far as South Shields on Tyneside. Here's the scenes as one of beacons was lit at Housesteads Roman Fort in Hexham, Northumberland from ITV News.

Today's Keith Telly Topping's 45(s) of the Day is the first one in a while to feature the old 'same riff, different song' thing. Starting with this
And then carrying on with this
Regal.

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