Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Riding Along On The Crest Of The Wave

Let us start with the Olympics, dear blog reader. I know, big surprise, huh? But, let's face it, it is, undeniably, The Biggest Show In Town this fortnight so your only alternatives are to embrace it and go with the flow or, you know, become a sour-faced grumpy old killjoy whinging about the manifest unfairness of life that everybody else is getting excited about something and you're not. The Morrissey Conundrum, as it's also known. In the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, the British team won a grand total of one gold medal, and fifteen medals in total. And, to be honest, nobody seemed too bothered about that. That was reckoned to be about our place in the world. Thirty sixth on the medal table, sandwiched between Ethiopia and Belarus. The following year, National Lottery funding was injected directly into elite Olympic sports for the first time. The return was instant and highly noticeable. In the Sydney Games of 2000, the British team won eleven golds - the first time Britain had won more than ten in a single games since Antwerp in 1920 - and twenty eight medals in total. Athens in 2004 saw a similar return - only nine golds this time, but thirty medals in total, the country's highest figure since 1928. That was the last games before the Olympic Committee awarded the 2012 games to London in July 2005. Investment in Olympic sports in the UK immediately sky rocketed in preparation for the country's first games since 1948, and again the return was both immediate and spectacular - the British team won nineteen golds and forty seven medals in Beijing in 2008, better than even the most optimistic of administrators expected and the country's best haul in a century. As clear as message as you could ever have to odious scum politicians of all parties - you know, the very people who are usually so keen wrap themselves in the flag and want to have a share of the glories of people whom they have, often, done absolutely nothing to help and, indeed, everything to hinder - if you want success through sport which will reflect well upon your country nationally and internationally, you've got to be prepared to pay for it. And, not just a little bit either. The medals target set for London, therefore, was 'more than Beijing.' Not unreasonably. On Tuesday lunchtime, Britain equalled their total of nineteen gold medals from 2008 after Alistair Brownlee's hard-fought triumph in the triathlon. His brother Jonny took bronze. Victory for twenty four year old Alistair was Britain's first Olympic triathlon title and he finished the race in Hyde Park - in front of an estimated crowd of one hundred thousand people - draped in a union flag in 1:46:25, with his brother Jonny, twenty two, third on 1:46:56. Spain's Javier Gomez came an impressive second between the brothers from Leeds. Johnny Brownlee was in contention for silver for a while, but was penalised fifteen seconds for boarding his bike too soon in the transition between the swimming and cycling stages and had to take it at the end of the penultimate run lap. That cost him any realistic chance of a fraternal one-two, but he dug in over the last two and a half kilometres for a gutsy third place. At the finish he collapsed across the line and was given immediate medical treatment in the shelter of the main stands, being taken away in a wheelchair to putting the medal ceremony temporarily on hold. But Alistair said that his brother was 'fine' and had just 'suffered from a tough race. It feels a bit underwhelming because Jonny has just collapsed,' Alistair said of his historic achievement. 'It feels fantastic and the race was unbelievable. The crowds, I don't think I've ever come across anything like that. My ears were stinging - it was amazing. I'm massively proud. It's been talked about so much that we haven't won triathlon gold and favourites don't win, so the pressure was stacked up but to get two of us on the podium you couldn't ask for any more. As much as I said it was just like any other race, it's the Olympics so it wasn't. I was so excited to start and I was like a kid at Christmas when I woke up this morning.' Both Brownlees came out of the fifteen hundred metres Serpentine swim in a lead group of five which also included Gomez, with a third Briton, Stuart Hayes, just a few seconds back. Hayes sacrificed his own medal chances to, effectively, pace-set for his two team-mates in the cycling. The group of five built a lead of around twenty seconds after the first bike lap of seven but were then closed down as a larger group came together with four laps left. All the big guns were in that lead pack coming into transition two, meaning the battle for medals would come down to the ten kilometre run. The brothers went off hard, taking Gomez with them as a small gap immediately opened up, and for the first two laps around the lake the three stayed together. The younger Brownlee was the first to drop off, and as his brother wound the pace up relentlessly from the bell Gomez eventually capitulated. Soon afterwards, Britain picked up another medal, this time a silver as Nick Dempsey came second in the Men's RS:X Windsurfing. In Beijing, Nick had finished, agonisingly, fourth and in Athens he had taken a bronze. In mid-afternoon, Britain's best gold total since the London Olympics of 1908 came about when they won their twentieth courtesy of the dressage team of Carl Hester, Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin. And, you know, three dancing horses as well who all deserve their share of the adulation. Hester's Uthopia, Bechtolsheimer's Mistral Hojris - better-known as Alf - and Dujardin's Valegro have now proved, on the biggest stage, that they are three of the best. Then we went to the Velodrome - if anything symbolises the flowering of British sport in the last decade it's the way in which British cyclists has become genuine icons of the era. As noted, we've got on our collective bikes. First up was Laura Trott, at twenty, already an Olympic gold medallist in the team pursuit and, after a stunning time trial won the Omnium (the cycling version of the heptathlon, effectively), now a double gold medallist. The overnight leader in the multi-discipline event, Trott dropped back into second place behind the American Sarah Hammer in Tuesday's opening session. But storming rides in the last two events, the scratch race and five hundred metre time trial, relegated Hammer to silver. So, tragically, no Hammer Time in the Velodrome. Pity, actually, this blogger was so looking forward to a big-balloony-trousers revival. Laura scored eighteen points, Hammer finished on nineteen and Australia's Annette Edmondson took the bronze with twenty four. Next was the final chapter of one of the genuinely great sporting rivalries of the last twenty years, Victoria Pendleton - in her last event before retirement - and Anna Meares in the women's individual sprint. The first race of the final was spectacular, Pendleton taking it on the line by one thousandth of a second. But, within moments, that same odious jobsworth prick of a judge who'd disqualified Victoria and Jess Varnish on the opening night, found another picky bollocks excuse to reverse the result. There was hell on in the Velodrome - seriously if, at that point, somebody had jumped out of the crowd and punched this wanker, pure dead hard, right in the mush till it bled buckets, no one would have been in the least bit surprised. Fortunately, perhaps, this didn't happen though it took the medal ceremony for Laura Trott to calm everybody down a bit. It was inevitable at that point that Meares would win the second race, which she duly did, with some ease to take the gold medal. It was a real shame that such a mean spirited, fucky, small scoundrel should have ruined what was, potentially one of the golden moments of the entire Olympics. And, let it be said, a real shame for Meares - one of the great cyclists of all time - that she should have won a gold medal which will, frankly, be tainted by the circumstances in which it was achieved. Defeat by her fiercest rival was an unhappy end to Pendleton's illustrious career on the track, but the six-time sprint world champion has the consolation of taking keirin gold away from London 2012 a few days ago. Meares, in contrast, came into the final with only a bronze from the team sprint to her name at London 2012, but the twenty eight-year-old left with Australia's first gold medal in the Velodrome of these games. The two riders have enjoyed some epic duels on the track in the past and their first cat-and-mouse encounter did not disappoint. The Australian stalked Pendleton around the track and, although the British rider held her off in a tight final lap to pip her to the line by the width of a tyre, she was adjudged by race officials to have come out of her lane as she did so. Twats. Cowards, and twats. So, as one great Olympian left the stage, it was time for another to do likewise. Sir Chris Hoy, five gold medals spread over three Olympics already under his patented hot pants, was in the final of keiran. This time, there was to be no joyless judging and rank numskullery. Chris claimed a British record sixth Olympic gold medal, with a trademark surge to victory. Having won gold on the first night of the track cycling programme in the men's team sprint, it was fitting that his triumph was to be the perfect finale for Britain's all conquering cycling squad. Hoy's six golds take him past rowing great Sir Steve Redgrave's five, and, with a silver from Sydney 2000 as well, he equals Bradley Wiggins's record total of seven medals. Hoy, the defending Olympic and four-time world champion, hit the front with a lap to go and while he was momentarily overtaken by Germany's Maximilian Levy on the back straight, he came roaring back on the inside to win by a bike length. Levy, the silver medallist at the world championships in April, had to settle for second again, with Teun Mulder of the Netherlands and Simon van Velthooven of New Zealand crossing the line together for a dead heat for third. Each was awarded a bronze medal. Which was nice. The thirty six-year-old Scot is unlikely to carry on for a fifth Olympics in 2016 - although he has indicated that he's hoping to take part in the Commonwealth Games in 2014 in his native Scotland - but he is already assured of his status as track cycling's greatest ever sprinter. Britain won seven of the ten track cycling events at the London Velodrome. It was also fitting that it was Chris Hoy's medal (a twenty second gold) which took Britain's overall 2012 haul to forty seven, the same number as they won in Beijing but with five days of competition still left. This most vocal of London 2012 audiences emphatically underlined the British team's domination of the last six days in the Velodrome: Ten events, seven golds, a silver and a bronze. And the only medal missing was in the women's team sprint, the event which saw Pendleton and Jess Varnish harshly disqualified when a place in the final was theirs. Most experts said that Britain's cyclists could never repeat what was achieved by them in Beijing. Most experts were massively wrong. 'What has been achieved today is the result of a shared commitment made by five hundred and forty one athletes, representing twenty six sports, to compete as One Team GB, and to do so in a manner that would make our country proud,' said Britain's chef de Mission Andy Hunt. 'It is the result of years of sacrifice and struggle, underpinned by the selfless contributions of coaches, teammates, parents, volunteers, administrators and the British public. We congratulate the athletes of Team GB on reaching this remarkable milestone and offer our thanks to everyone who has supported them.' The day ended with a bit of Spanish argy-bargy and reet rive on in the hockey as Britain's men's team joined the women in the semi-finals thanks to a feisty 1-1 draw, and some unexpected joy in the Olympic Stadium, with Andrew Osagie producing the run of his life to qualify for the eight hundred metres final and then, high jumper Robbie Grabarz taking an equally unexpected bronze.

Anyway, here's something of a round-up of some of the action you might have missed on Day's Ten and Eleven of London 2012 if you were, like yer actual Keith Telly Topping, watching Public Image Limited drop an atom bomb on the Newcastle Academy on Monday night and spending much of Tuesday recovering. (Christ, it was good! See below.) Britain's Jason Kenny added individual cycling sprint gold to his Olympic team title on another glorious day for Britain on the Velodrome track. In athletics, however, it was a rather disappointing day in the Olympic stadium with Dai Greene missing out on a medal in the final of the four hundred metres hurdles, finishing fourth as Felix Sanchez won Olympic gold. Greene - during an interview with the BBC in which he had a face like a smacked arse - put his underperformance down to being 'too tired.' Oh, that explains it, then. Another man who massively underperformed,on Tuesday, was Phillips Idowu who was eliminated from the men's triple jump. The 2008 silver medallist recorded 16.47m with his first jump before stuttering on his second run-up and registering a no jump. That left him outside the twelve qualification spots going into his final jump - and Idowu could not improve his place despite his effort of 16.53m. Idowu arrived in the Olympic village on Monday after missing the British athletic squad's training camp in Portugal in rather mysterious circumstances. 'I knew I would be rusty because it's been a while, conditions were difficult because of the wind and I knew that would be a factor, but that wasn't me out there today,' said Idowu. 'The crowd have been great I'm upset that I let them down. All year I've been tagged as a medal favourite and I haven't got the chance to go out there and do it.' In women's boxing, Nicola Adams guaranteed herself a medal after beating Stoyka Petrova to reach the semi-finals. Anthony Joshua and Anthony Ogogo made it four guaranteed medals for Great Britain in the boxing competition by winning their quarter-finals on Monday (Luke Campbell had already done so the day previously). German diver Stephan Feck crashed out of the men's three metre springboard competition after landing on his back during the second preliminary round. Fortunately, he wasn't injured. Beth Tweddle won a medal at last in the final Olympic appearance of her gymnastics career - taking bronze in the uneven bars final. Algeria's Taoufik Makhloufi became the ninth athlete to be excluded from London's Olympic Games for 'not trying' - but he was later reinstated after the Algerians whinged. Britain's Rachel Cawthorn made it through to Thursday's final of the women's kayak single (K1) five hundred metres. Cawthorn won her heat and was second in her semi-final to progress through to challenge for a medal at Eton Dorney. American judoka Nicholas Delpopolo was expelled from the games after he failed a drugs test. He claimed - brilliantly - that he had 'unwittingly' eaten marijuana-laced food. As excuses go, one has to stand up and salute one which is right up there with 'the dog ate my homework' and 'it was like that when I found it.' Kirani James claimed Grenada's first Olympic gold in history as he won the men's four hundred metres. Former world champion Liu Xiang's Olympic misery continued when the Chinese athlete crashed at the first barrier in the one hundred and ten metres hurdles heats for the second Olympics running. Liu fell at the first hurdle before hopping down the track where he was embraced by his fellow competitors, including Britain's Andy Turner, and helped from the track in obvious discomfort. Liu was an icon at the Beijing games four years ago but managed just a few strides in the heats on that occasion before pulling up with an Achilles injury. The former world record holder suffered similar injury problems going into London. He had his right Achilles taped before the race but American hurdler Aries Merritt said that Liu appeared to be fit. 'I spoke to him before the competition and he was well,' said Merritt. 'It's a shame it happened to Liu. I don't think anything was wrong before the race. He looked okay. You make a mistake, you're out of the game. It's all about making the least amount of mistakes.' Liu, who won gold in Athens in 2004, had looked like he was returning to his best form at the World Championships in 2011, where he finished second.

Incidentally, for the - at the last count twenty seven - people who've landed up on this blog in the last couple of days by typing the words 'Anna Meares bum' - note the grammatical error! - into Google (why they've ended up here, God only knows) you're all sick and wrong. And will, like as not, come to a bad end. Although, admittedly, as bums go, it is a very nice one.
Right. Glad we got that sorted out. Next ...

Dai Greene's 'disappointing' fourth-placed finish in the men's four hundred metres hurdles - because he was 'too tired', apparently - was watched by just under twelve million viewers on BBC channels, the biggest Olympics audience of Day Ten. The race - which was won by the Dominican Republic's Felix Sanchez - was watched by a five-minute peak of 11.6 million viewers on BBC1, a 42.8 per cent audience share at 8.45pm on Monday, with another three hundred and forty nine thousand on BBC Olympics One. BBC1's evening Olympics programme averaged 9.3 million viewers between 7pm and 10pm, giving a smart led-in to the 10pm news bulletin, which had 6.4 million viewers between 10pm and 10.40pm way above the slot average. BBC3's evening programme had an average of seventy hundred thousand viewers between 7pm and 11pm for a mixture of Olympic hockey (seeing Britain's women qualify for the semi-finals despite a defeat by the Netherlands), women's football and boxing, peaking with 1.8 million viewers in the five minutes from 10.10pm. Elsewhere, a total of 5.3 million viewers watched Beth Tweddle win her first Olympic medal with a bronze in the uneven bars. The artistic gymnastics event had a five minute peak audience of five million viewers on BBC1 at 3.15pm, with another two hundred and seventy one thousand viewers on BBC Olympics One. Cyclist Jason Kenny's gold in the men's sprint had a five minute peak with his first race with seven million viewers at 5.45pm, 6.6 million people watching BBC1 and four hundred and thirty five thousand tuned into BBC Olympics Five. Earlier in the afternoon, a total of 2.2 million viewers watched Great Britain win its first showjumping gold medal in sixty years. The team's dramatic jump-off against the Netherlands was watched by a five-minute peak of 1.8 million viewers on BBC3 at 4.50pm with another three hundred and eighty thousand tuned into BBC Olympics Two. ITV bounced back, slightly, from the pants-down hiding it received over the previous few days - including both its worst ever weekend and worst ever week in terms of audience share – with a triple helping of soaps. Emmerdale was watched by 5.9 million viewers at 7pm with Coronation Street watched by 7.2 million and seven million at 7.30pm and 8.30pm respectively. The network's 9pm documentary The Hit Factor: The Stock, Aitken and Waterman Story drew but 2.3 million viewers (including ITV+1 viewers). EastEnders aside (6.2 million at 7.30pm) BBC2's most-watched show was Horizon: Eat, Fast and Live Longer, watched by 2.2 million viewers, between 9pm and 10pm.

Aussie-baiting continues as something of national sport in the UK at the moment. Which is funny, if only because it's not something we normally get much of a chance at indulge in. Except, lately, when it comes to the cricket, of course. Having concluded that it was probably a bit de trop to mention yet again how many medals Britain have got compared to the - genuinely pitiful - Aussie haul at London 2012, squealy-voiced Hazel Irvine adopted an even more patronising approach of comparing the Aussies to the Kiwis. 'Just look,' she told BBC viewers on Monday afternoon. 'The New Zealanders are in fourteenth place [in the medal table] with three golds while Australia are ten places lower with just one gold.' Burn. But, don't get too depressed all those of you down under. Apparently, you've now won a second gold medal to go with your first. So, it won't get lonely. Australia's performance - or lack of it - at the Olympics has not only prompted something of a national inquiry in the Aussie press (gleefully reported by the BBC here) but, also, a 'review' of their underperformance in one of their traditionally very strong areas, swimming, rank and utter sour grapes and, best of all, the news that 'thousands of Australians have started a campaign to change the way their national television station broadcasts the Olympics. They say that so far Channel Nine has shown nothing but Team Australia's successes and not much of anything else.' They can't have been showing very much at all in that case, can they? All right, I'll stop now, I've had my fun and, besides, it's likely that yer actual Keith Telly Topping's cousins in Queensland will stop talking to him if he carries on with much more of this malarkey. And, we wouldn't want that. Not when The Ashes is but ten months away!

Usain Bolt has admitted that he is 'baffled' by the level of bureaucracy he has encountered at the London 2012 Olympics. The sprinter - who won Sunday's men's one hundred metres final in an Olympic record time of 9.63 seconds - told journalists after his victory that the regulations 'don't make any sense' to him. Bolt, who said that he was prevented from bringing warm-up equipment including a skipping rope and stretching mat into the Olympic stadium at Stratford, explained: 'It has been different from Beijing. There are lots of rules, weird, silly rules that don't make any sense to me. I tried to wear my tie into [the Olympic Park]. They said, "No." I said, "Why?" "Because of the rules," they said. Then I wanted to bring my skipping rope in and they said "no," because it's "the rules." These rules just don't make sense to me.' Nor to anybody else, Usain. That's why they're The Rules. That's just life, mate. Bolt even claimed that he had been warned to abide by the track's rules as he warmed up moments before the one hundred metres final, recalling: 'I was about to run in the final and a guy was telling me to line up, to "stay in a straight line."' Sebastian Coe, chairman of LOCOG, has promised to investigate Bolt's claims. 'Skipping ropes are not expressly banned,' Lord Coe confirmed. Interesting use of the word 'expressly' there, you'll note. And completely pointless, too. Something is either banned, or it isn't, there's no middle ground. 'I will look at this, I presume the skipping rope was a warm-up aid. I think some of it has been slightly lost in the translation. Every venue is different, there are different protocols.'

Some people may have doubted Usain Bolt was still the daddy, but the Americans, it would seem, never did. While two billion people around the world watched the event live on TV, the US broadcaster NBC chose to show it later. Presumably to give Tyson Gay and twice-banned drug cheat Justin Gatlin enough time to catch up.

Seven Cameroonian athletes have 'absconded' whilst in Britain for the Olympics, officials say. Oh God, nobody tell the Daily Scum Mail, we'll never hear the end of it. The seven, including five boxers, are suspected of having decided to stay in Europe 'for economic reasons,' Reuters reports. A reserve goalkeeper for the women's football team, Drusille Ngako, was the first to disappear, the agency quoted Cameroon's Olympic mission as saying. In June, an Ethiopian torchbearer, Natnael Yemane, aged fifteen, also disappeared. He went missing from a hotel in Nottingham. 'What began as rumour has finally turned out to be true,' Team Cameroon mission head David Ojong said, in a letter sent to the Cameroonian sports ministry. 'Seven Cameroonian athletes who participated at the 2012 London Olympic Games have disappeared from the Olympic Village.' Ngako was the first to disappear while her teammates left for Coventry for their last preparatory encounter against New Zealand, he said. Her disappearance was followed by that of swimmer Paul Ekane Edingue and five boxers eliminated from the games. Thomas Essomba, Christian Donfack Adjoufack, Abdon Mewoli, Blaise Yepmou Mendouo and Serge Ambomo, disappeared on Sunday from the Olympic village.

Pole vaulter Holly Bleasdale has accepted a marriage proposal, hours after the disappointment of her sixth place Olympic finish. Bleasdale, from Lancashire, said that she had been 'heartbroken with how it went' in Monday evening's competition. However, writing on the social media site Twitter later, the twenty-year-old announced that her boyfriend Paul Bradshaw had proposed to her. He then responded that she had said yes, making it the 'best day ever.' Bleasdale, from Euxton, near Chorley, is the British record-holder in pole vault and had been tipped to do well at London 2012. Following her third consecutive failed attempt at 4.55m in the final, the vaulter, who trains with Blackburn Harriers, she said 'could have performed well this year. I am trying to look at the positives, and to finish in the top eight in my first Olympic final is pretty good, but I am just heartbroken with how it went,' she said. However, following the proposal, she later tweeted that she had had an 'epic day.' Aw, bless 'em.
Police investigating corrupt payments have arrested a journalist and a police officer as part of Operation Elveden. A thirty seven-year-old journalist was arrested at his home in North London on Tuesday morning. A twenty nine-year-old police officer was also arrested at his home in Sussex. Both men were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to corrupt and conspiracy to cause misconduct in a public office. They are being held in custody at separate London police stations. The Metropolitan Police's Operation Elveden was set up to investigate alleged inappropriate payments to police and public officials by journalists. A Scotland Yard spokesman said: 'Today's arrests are the result of information provided to police by News Corporation's Management Standards Committee. Documents were handed over by News International on 20 June 2010. The investigation is being supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. They relate to suspected payments to a police officer and are not about seeking journalists to reveal confidential sources in relation to information that has been obtained legitimately.' Both men were arrested at the crack of dawn, presumably being dragged from their beds by a knock on the door from The Law. Some forty three people have been arrested as part of Operation Elveden, being run in conjunction with Operation Weeting, which is looking into phone-hacking and other nefarious skulduggery, shenanigans, malarkey and doings.

The Church of England has sold its almost-two million quid shareholding in News Corporation after judging that billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch's firm has not brought about 'sufficient change' since the phone-hacking affair. Whilst the amount of shares sold will not overly concern the sixty billion dollar News Corp business, the identity and profile of the seller may worry its chairman and chief executive Murdoch. In a statement on Tuesday, the Church Commissioners and the Church of England Pensions Board said that they offloaded the shareholding - worth £1.9m - on the advice of the Church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group. The EIAG had warned the religious body that News Corp had not shown 'a commitment to implement necessary corporate governance reform' across the business. As a result, none of the three national investing bodies of the Church of England now holds shares in News Corp. The announcement comes just a day before News Corp unveils its results for the second quarter of 2012. The Church said that it first raised concerns with billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch and the News Corp board after the phone-hacking scandal at UK newspaper the disgraced and disgraceful Scum of the World broke in July 2011. The controversy resulted in the closure of the scum Sunday tabloid after a string of shocking revelations, and also prompted a judge-led inquiry into UK media standards and ethics. The Church said that, after a year of dialogue between News Corp and the EIAG, it 'was not satisfied that News Corporation had shown, or is likely in the immediate future to show, a commitment to implement necessary corporate governance reform.' Andrew Brown, secretary of the Church Commissioners, said that the hacking scandal had 'raised some serious concerns' amongst the Church's investing bodies about the shareholding in News Corporation. 'Our decision to disinvest was not one taken lightly and follows a year of continuous dialogue with the company, during which the EIAG put forward a number of recommendations around how corporate governance structures at News Corporation could be improved,' he stated. 'However the EIAG does not feel that the company has brought about sufficient change and we have accepted its advice to disinvest.' The Church established the EIAG in 1994 to advise the religious body over ethical investment policy. Between April 2011 and March 2012, the EIAG held meetings with forty companies 'prioritised for engagement,' one of which was News Corporation. Despite News Corp recently announcing plans to split into two companies and billionaire tyrant Murdoch's decision to resign as director of beleaguered publisher News International, the EIAG was 'unconvinced' by the 'appetite for reform' at the firm. Alongside banning investment in companies involved in military products and services, pornography, alcoholic drinks, gambling, tobacco, human embryonic cloning and high interest rates lending, the Church is also now vigilant on issues of poor corporate governance in its investment targets. Despite the News Corp shareholding being relatively small, the Church of England is a major investment player. It has three national investment bodies - the Church Commissioners for England, the Church of England Pensions Board and the CBF Church of England Funds - and together they hold a broad range of assets worth in excess of eight billion smackers.

Just under half of the blue plaques currently shortlisted to go up in London are being scrapped due to funding cuts. The homes of The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein and Monty Python's Graham Chapman are among those that will miss out. The scheme sees commemorative plaques attached to residences that famous personalities have lived in. English Heritage, which runs the scheme, said the cull was due to a thirty two per cent cut in government funding. It added that the decision to scrap some plaques was 'a matter of regret.' There are forty names on the shortlist who will still receive a plaque, with some due to be honoured this year. A spokeswoman for English Heritage said it still had to get various permissions from home owners and local authorities - but that proposals usually get the go-ahead. Those who will receive a blue plaque in the future include Ava Gardner, David Niven and Peter Sellers. Others who will miss out include cellist Jaqueline du Pre and Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov. The spokeswoman added that the shortlist would not be cut down any further. In a statement, English Heritage said a panel had 'reassessed' the existing shortlist and that factors such as 'a limited association' with London and the pre-existence of other plaques were taken into account. The panel noted that du Pre already had four plaques in London and that there was a private plaque for Epstein in central London, adding that it may be more appropriate to honour him further in Liverpool rather than London. The panel felt it was too soon to single out Chapman for commemoration ahead of his Monty Python colleagues. All of whom are, of course, still alive. There are numerous other plaque schemes in London, including various council schemes, trusts and societies. English Heritage said it hoped that 'where appropriate, alternative forms of commemoration may be found.'

Sky Movies is to launch a new channel dedicated entirely to James Bond later this year. Launching in October in both standard and high definition, Sky Movies 007 - d'ya get it, eh? - will make use of Sky's recent deal with MGM to show the entire collection of Bond movies. In April, the satellite broadcaster secured rights to all twenty two official Bond titles from EON Productions, from Dr No in 1962 to the last Bond film, Quantum of Solace. It had secured the rights from ITV, and the deal included to two non-EON produced titles - the 1967 Casino Royale spoof Bond film and Never Say Never Again. Sky initially indicated that the films would be shown on Sky Movies Showcase, but it has now decided to create a new channel dedicated to the British spy. All twenty two Bond films will be shown on Sky Movies 007, in SD and HD, and without any adverts. This mirrors Sky's recent strategy with Sky Sports F1, the firm's first channel dedicated to just one sport that followed a blockbuster rights deal to Formula One.

Big Brother has released a statement confirming its permanent withdrawal of Facebook voting with immediate effect. The reality show's broadcaster Channel Five has offered to refund viewers with purchased but unused votes. Rumours first circulated earlier in the week when Broadcast reported that voting on the social networking site had been suspended ahead of next Monday's Big Brother final. Richard Desmond's broadcaster became the first to introduce such a voting scheme last year, but faced criticism when complaints to Ofcom suggested there were 'technical problems' during the 2011 final. Channel Five's full statement reads: 'It is with sincere regret that we have had to permanently suspend the Facebook voting application for Big Brother 2012 from Thursday, August 2. Please note that viewers are eligible for a refund for any unused Big Brother votes that they have. In order to facilitate these refunds we have e-mailed those affected via the e-mail address registered to their Facebook account. However, in some cases, security settings have prevented us from contacting those affected. If you have unused BB votes, and you have not received an e-mail from us, all you have to do is complete and return the refund form to the e-mail address below and we will match up the details you provide with those in our records. Votes will be refunded at the same rate of purchase and will normally be processed within twenty eight days of us receiving your form. Any affected viewers who have not claimed using the form below or responded to our e-mail by Tuesday 4 September, will have the value of their unused votes donated to the NSPCC.'

Controversial short-term loan company Wonga.com has, reportedly, struck a deal understood to be worth quite a lot of yer actual wonga, as it happens - perhaps as much as one million smackers - to sponsor the second series of ITV's flop game show Red or Black? The new series, which is hosted by Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, will be broadcast on ITV on Saturday nights for seven weeks from later this month. Wonga's sponsorship of the high-profile programme, which will use the slogan 'Straight talking money', immediately came under fire from Labour MP Stella Creasy. Creasy, who has described such firms as as 'legal loan sharks,' tweeted on Wednesday urging people to contact Ant and Dec's official Twitter account and e-mail the general inquiry e-mail address of their agent to protest about the sponsorship. 'Wonga is wronga until there's caps on the cost of credit,' she tweeted. Wonga has come in for much criticism from Creasy and other opponents of high-cost lenders, which entice consumers with large advertising budgets spent on extensive TV, press and outdoor campaigns. Last month the Advertising Standards Authority received eighty two complaints about the way Wonga markets and targets its advertising, but cleared the company of any wrongdoing. Darryl Bowman, head of marketing at Wonga.com, said that the Red or Black? was the perfect platform for pushing its 'straight talking' message and getting more customers. 'We're pleased to be supporting such a big show which, like our service, has been a hit with a mainstream audience from the beginning,' Bowman added. 'We're excited about bringing our "straight talking" take to Saturday nights. This sponsorship will be another great way for us to continue raising awareness of our brand and services.' 'Wonga is a well-known brand and the sponsorship of Red or Black? is fully compliant with Ofcom regulations,' said an ITV spokeswoman. oh. So, that's all right, then. It is not known how much Wonga paid for the deal, which includes broadcast, online and mobile sponsorship, but last year's show was sponsored by pizza company Domino's for one million knicker. The first series of Red or Black?, which is a co-production between ITV Studios and Wee Shughie McFee, the sour-faced Scottish chef off Crossroads's production company Syco, was not the unqualified success both sides had hoped for and ITV had confidently expected. With live filming at Wembley arena, big-budget stunts, a host of guest stars and potential to win one million smackers a night – there were four winners out of seven episodes – the show was one of the most expensive ever to be broadcast on TV. However, Red or Black? completely failed to live up to expectations with the audience dropping significantly after the first night, leaving programme makers with the job of cutting production costs and changing the format before getting the green light for a second series. ITV confirmed details of the new-look show in March with new elements including the need for more skill and judgment to win – after the decision that simply choosing red or black did not provide enough jeopardy and tension for viewers – pre-recording the show and changing how prize money is paid out.

Pioneering astronomer and physicist Sir Bernard Lovell has died aged ninety eight. Sir Bernard, who was born near Bristol and studied in the city, was the founder of University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory. Jodrell Bank and the surrounding Cheshire countryside is dominated by the Lovell Radio Telescope, which was conceived by Sir Bernard. Professor Brian Cox, who knew Sir Bernard well, said that he was 'an inquisitive scientist all the way.' A book of condolence has been opened at the observatory's Discovery Centre. Sir Bernard was born in Oldland Common in Gloucestershire in 1913 and studied at the University of Bristol before joining the University of Manchester's Department of Physics in 1936. During World War II he led a team developing radar technology, for which he was later awarded an OBE. Following the war, he returned to the university and set about planning the observatory. His iconic seventy six metre telescope was completed in 1957. Within days of it becoming operational, it tracked the rocket that carried Sputnik One into orbit. The structure remains the third largest steerable telescope in the world and plays a key role in global research on pulsating stars, testing extreme physics theories including Einstein's general theory of relativity. The telescope and his other contributions to radio astronomy led to him being knighted in 1961. A spokesman for the university said Sir Bernard was 'warm and generous.' He added that the astronomer had 'retained a keen interest in the development of science at Jodrell Bank and beyond.' The spokesman said: 'Indeed he continued to come in to work at the Observatory until quite recently when ill health intervened.' Sir Bernard was also an accomplished musician, a keen cricketer and an internationally-renowned arboriculturalist who created an arboretum at Jodrell Bank. He is survived by four of his five children, fourteen grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren. Professor Cox, who met Sir Bernard after joining the University of Manchester in the 1990s, said: 'I remember once I went to his house and immediately he said "Ah Cox, tell me about this muon" [a sub-atomic particle]. He knew that I was doing particle physics and thought back to the last time he had thought about such things - he'd been thinking about astronomy for decades - and that's what he wanted to talk about. That was him - all his life, he was a scientist. He was a pioneer of radio astronomy and almost invented the subject. He built the leading telescope and that radio study of the sky has contributed a vast amount to our understanding of the universe.'

The composer Marvin Hamlisch, who wrote the scores for films and shows including The Sting and A Chorus Line, has died in Los Angeles aged sixty eight. Family spokesman Jason Lee said that Hamlisch died on Monday after a brief illness. Hamlisch wrote more than forty film scores including his Oscar-winning score and title song for The Way We Were. In total he won three Academy Awards, four EMMYs, a Tony and three Golden Globes. A news release from his publicist said he had been scheduled to fly to Nashville, Tennessee, this week to see a production of his hit musical, The Nutty Professor. Hamlisch's scores for Broadway included A Chorus Line, which received the Pulitzer Prize, as well as They're Playing Our Song, The Goodbye Girl and Sweet Smell of Success. His prolific output for films included original compositions and musical adaptations for Sophie's Choice, Ordinary People, The Swimmer and Three Men and a Baby. He scored the early Woody Allen films Take the Money and Run and Bananas. Most recently, he worked on 2009's The Informant!, starring Matt Damon and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Romantic drama The Way We Were (1973), which starred Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, won Hamlisch Oscars for best original dramatic score and best original song. His adaptation of Scott Joplin's music for The Sting won him a third Oscar. He also co-wrote the hit song 'Nobody Does it Better', sung by Carly Simon, for the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. Hamlisch was a graduate of New York's Juilliard School of Music and Queens College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree.

West Ham United have conceded defeat in their bid to sign Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws' Andy Carroll. Despite the clubs agreeing terms over a proposed two million quid loan deal, the twenty three-year-old striker has told the newly promoted Premier League club that he has 'no intention' of joining them. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though still unsellable) Newcastle retain an active interest in Carroll but will not pay over the odds for the man they sold for thirty five million notes in 2011. With the start of the new season less than a fortnight away, Carroll's future looks increasingly unclear. The England international continues to train with the Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws squad as he seeks to overcome a minor groin injury. It remains to be seen whether he plays any part in Thursday's Europa League qualifier against FC Gomel at Anfield with Liverpool going into the match with a 1-0 advantage from the first leg. UEFA rules allow a player to represent one club in the Europa League qualifying round and another in the group stages. That means Carroll could play for Liverpool during qualifying and still potentially play for Newcastle, who have secured a place in the play-offs. Newcastle remain confident that if Carroll leaves Anfield he is interested only in returning to Tyneside.

US rower Henrik Rummel has denied having a massive chimney on as he and his (ahem) coxless four team were given their bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Doesn't look even remotely coxless to this blogger, like, but never mind. A user on the Reddit messageboard had posted the photo of the offending stiffy with the comment: 'One US rower was particularly excited by his Bronze medal,' prompting a response from Rummel himself. 'This is me and I swear it's not erect!' Rummel claimed under the Rummelator username. 'I don't know why it ended up in that position but there you go.' That's his story and he's, err, sticking to it. Another user responded: 'Dude, when you win a medal in the goddamn Olympics your penis can be however you want. You earned it.'
Olympic gold medalists Jessica Ennis and Bradley Wiggins were among the guests at a secret Stone Roses gig in London on Monday night. Pete Reed also attended the intimate show, which was hosted by Adidas at East London's Village Underground. Jimmy Page, Paul Weller, Bobby Gillespie, Wretch Thirty Two (err .. .whom?), For Example, Boy George and Rupert Grint were also present for the set from the band. Frontman Ian Brown was even heard to tell the crowd: 'We've got the Queen of England in here tonight: Jessica Ennis! And the King: Bradley Wiggins!' The Stone Roses confirmed the gig on their Facebook page on Monday morning and randomly gave away a number of tickets to Londoners who had bought passes for their Heaton Park shows back in June. Meanwhile, The Roses are expected to release a new CD in 2013 after an alleged 'source' allegedly revealed that Brown and John Squire have been working on ideas for 'over a year.'
Meanwhile, Tour De France winner Bradley spent much of the night partying with the Goddamn Modfather his very self Paul Weller, giving them an opportunity to compare their similar haircuts in a number of photos. Posing together, thirty two-year-old Bradley wore a smart navy blue suit; with a white shirt and skinny tie while fifty four-year-old Paul chose to wear stylish grey trousers, brown shoes and a light blue sweater. Yer man Weller is clearly a fan of The Modfather's Apprentice too. After the cyclist took the gold medal at the time trial at the London games last week, Weller tweeted his congratulations. He said on his official Twitter page: 'Gold for Brad Wiggins! Huge congratulations from all at Paul Weller HQ.'
Finally, dear blog reader, a proper top tip. If anybody gets the chance to see PiL on their current tour, grab it, they really are on staggeringly good form. It was especially nice to hear them play a whole slab of stuff from Metal Box ('Albatross', 'Death Disco', 'Chant'). And, the version of 'Religion' at the end was apocalyptically good. So, for today's Keith Telly Topping's 33 of the Day (in a tin canister) here's yer actual Johnny and friends. Mad! As! Toast!