Sunday, September 23, 2012

Week Forty: It's Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware

Yer actual Professor Brian Cox his very self came up against one of the wonders of the universe which even he could not explain, when he appeared in the latest episode of Doctor Who. The popular pop star turned atomic physicist and broadcaster was called upon to try and help when mysterious black cubes start to fall from the sky. But he was left unable to answer the events in Saturday's episode of the BBC TV series, called The Power of Three and said it would take a better man than him to sort it out. Another cameo role was taken by entrepreneur Alan Sugar-Sweetie. Who once produced the ninth most popular hi-fi system on the market. And then the second most popular satellite dish - when there were only two satellite dishes to chose from. And then owned Stottingtot Hotshots. When they were rubbish. Foxy Coxy - The People's Scientist according to various tabloids - said: 'I have been a Doctor Who fan for a long time - from Pyramids of Mars and The Hand of Fear onwards, with the great Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen. I am also a huge fan of Matt, so it was a tremendous honour to be part of one of the great institutions of British television.' Lord Sugar-Sweetie appear in a scene in the BBC Wales-produced series where he asks his apprentices to try and sell the mysterious objects, with predictably pretty poor results. He said: 'I have watched Doctor Who for over forty years and I was flattered when they approached me to make a cameo. It's an honour to be appearing in such an iconic programme, not to mention the street cred it gives me with the grand-kids.' And, just in case you missed it, get yourself over to iPlayer, it was another cracker.

For the fourth week running Doctor Who gave risible odious ITV game show flop Red Or Black? a thorough, trousers down hiding in the overnight ratings on Saturday. The BBC's popular, long-running family SF drama pulled in an overnight audience of 5.5m - by a distance the BBC1's best figure of the evening. This was down on last week's season high audience of 6.6m but, exactly the same figure as the episode two weeks ago and up two hundred thousand on the corresponding episode from last year. Against it, the Ant and/or Dec fiasco (and drag) was watched by a mere 3.5m (3.7m including ITV+1). Later, after The X Factor, the night's second episode of the wretched Red Or Black? was watched by just 3.1m crushed victims of society, being given yet another beating, this time by BBC1's Casualty (four million). The drop in Doctor Who's figure compared to last week probably says more about its lead-in programme than anything else. Last week, it was Strictly Come Dancing, this week it was back to Total Wipeout (which had an audience of 3.2m). It's also, of course, worth remembering that the last Doctor Who episode which had a 5.5m overnight audience - Dinosaurs on a Spaceship - timeshifted over two million additional viewers to end up with a final, consolidated figure of 7.6m. Without ITV+1, The X Factor last night averaged 7.9m, easily the highest audience of the night for any programme but down from an audience of over ten million this time last year. Even including +1 figures, the average across the hour was 8.2m providing yet more oxygen for the current tabloid obsession of portraying The X Factor as 'a show in crisis.' The X Factor had a fifteen minute peak of 8.7m around 21:45. The Jonathan Ross Show (two million) continued to take its weekly punching from Match of the Day (3.4m). BBc2's highest rated shows were, as usual, Dad's Army (1.9m) and Qi XL (1.3m). Channel Four will be pleased with the 1.9m who watched David Tennant's Comedy World Cup.

One of Britain's most bafflingly popular sitcoms, Are You Being Served?, used the setting of a fictional London department store to lampoon the class system of the 1970s and 80s. Now, a quarter of a century later, the same ingredients are to provide the latest instalments in television's ongoing love affair with period drama. Both the BBC and ITV are betting millions of pounds on the hunch that viewers will fall in love with two rival costume dramas, set more than a century ago in the grand era of the first department stores. The plots will be based around shopping, corsets, social class and sexual passions on the shop-floor. The first episode of the eight million quid BBC series, The Paradise, based on an Emile Zola novel and scripted by Bill Gallagher, who made his name with the gentle Sunday night hit Lark Rise to Candleford, will be broadcast on Tuesday. The eight episodes tell the story of a fictional store in a North Eastern town, which opens in 1875. Characters range from garrulous female shop assistants to an imperious staff supervisor played by Sarah Lancashire. The scheduling of the series for a Tuesday night reflects a desire to garner Sunday night-style ratings midweek. Danny Cohen, controller of BBC1, told the Observer: 'There isn't only one place for period dramas, Sunday nights. The people who watch them don't leave the country on Monday morning. We want to experiment, evolve.' But with ITV's Downton Abbey once again dominating Sunday nights, he admitted it was 'definitely a factor' in the decision to make Tuesdays a big drama night for BBC1 in future. 'It's not going to harm us, being first,' he added. Cohen said he decided to rush The Paradise straight onto the screen after seeing the first rough cuts two months ago. 'What we know is that audiences love period drama, all ages do.' The early autumn launch of The Paradise has infuriated ITV executives, who last week unveiled their own ten million smackers offering, Mr Selfridge, to a selected audience. A start date for the series has not yet been decided. The series is based on the true story of Harry Gordon Selfridge, a self-made American retailer from Chicago, who pioneered the building of Selfridges in London's Oxford Street in 1909. As in Are You Being Served?, department stores are seen in both productions as a way of bringing together a range of social classes which might not otherwise meet and interact, in particular the shop staff and wealthy upper classes. Lindy Woodhead, an expert on the history of retailing and the author of Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge, the book on which Andrew Davies based the scripts, said : '[Davies] was right to see that they are really workplace stories, and completely fascinating. I think people loved suddenly to be able to shop in these glamorous places.' According to one senior ITV executive, the BBC's early scheduling of The Paradise was a clear spoiling tactic. 'They surely decided, come hell or high water, we'll get there first,' said the executive. 'The BBC is ramping up its competitive urges. To them it's a game. For us it's business.' George Entwistle, the new director general of the BBC, attempted to defuse the row, telling the Observer: 'The Paradise against Mr Selfridge? Scheduling rows come and go. I don't think it is serious. The truth is we only hear when schedulers fall out. A great deal of sensitive scheduling is going on all the time; we both have a lot of very good programmes. Sometimes we collide.' Woodhead said: 'I am a little saddened to see The Paradise so clearly brought forward. But I suppose imitation is the best form of flattery. I will be watching on Tuesday – good luck to them.'

Here's your next lot of Top Telly Tips, dear blog reader.

Saturday 29 September
And so we reach the end of a road well-travelled in the last episode of Doctor Who until Christmas, The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat's The Angels Take Manhatten - 7:20 BBC1.
New York's statues are coming to life (yes, including the big one), and with Rory in grave danger, The Doctor and Amy face a race against time (and space) to locate him. Luckily, an old friend has come up with a novel way to guide them and, to save her father into the bargain. Alex Kingston returns as River Song in Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill's final adventure in the series which they have graced for the last two and a half years. With guest star Mike McShane. Matt Smith his very self is, of course, also present.

Stephen Fry hosts the latest Qi XL - 9:00 BBC2 - an extended version of the episode shown on Friday 28 September. Just in case you've been living on, I don't know, Mars or somewhere for the last decade, the BBC describe Qi as 'a peculiar panel quiz' which isn't a bad description, per se, but rather hides the light of the most intelligent, often funniest and definitely most Reithian show on TV under a Garry Bushell. In this episode we find out out how much Rob Brydon, Phill Jupitus, regular panellist Alan Davies and debutant New Zealand comedienne Cal Wilson know about journeys.
In Armando Iannucci's political satire The Thick Of It - 9:45 BBC2 - Nicola (Rebecca Front) boards a train to Bradford for a party event, accompanied by a TV news crew, and Malcolm (the brilliant Peter Capaldi) tries to take advantage of the situation by escalating his plan to remove her as leader of the opposition. However, co-conspirator Olly (Chris Addison) is stuck in hospital - and persuading Ben Swain (Justin Edwards) to join the bloodless coup d'état proves infuriatingly tricky. Guest starring Miles Jupp.

Sunday 30 September
Edith's big day finally arrives, but will her enthusiasm convince the family that Strallan's age doesn't matter? You'll have to watch Downton Abbey - 9:00 ITV - to find out, dear blog reader. Which most of the country seems to be doing. Meanwhile, Mrs Hughes anxiously awaits her results, Anna makes a breakthrough to help Bates, and Mary takes matters into her own hands to secure the estate's future - but the personal cost could be high. Costume drama, starring Laura Carmichael, Robert Bathurst, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt and Michelle Dockery. And loads of other people.

Or, there's Andrew Marr's History of the World - 9:00 BBC1 - in which the massive-lugged journalist and broadcaster tells the story of the first empires, which laid the foundations for the modern world. Conquerors such as Alexander of Macedon rampaged across the Middle East and wars were fought all the way from China to the Mediterranean in a blood-soaked frenzy of conquest and glory. Because, frankly, it was the only way they could get a chimney-on. It's, pretty much, still the way with would-be rulers of The World, isn't it? But, in the wake of this destruction came enormous progress and cultural development. So, it wasn't all merciless killing, then. Just, mostly. In the Middle East, the Phoenicians invented the alphabet, and one of history's most powerful ideas emerged - the belief in just one God. In India, the Buddha offered a radical alternative to empire-building - a way of living that had no place for violence or hierarchy and was open to everyone - and Greece saw the birth of democracy, arguably the greatest political system of all.

A former chat-show host seeks funding to make a TV quiz programme - and tries to convince the Dragons that her game could be a hit by getting them to play it in Dragons' Den - 9:00 BBC2. Other entrepreneurs looking for investment include a twenty two-year-old student with a remarkable amount of enthusiasm for the car-parking industry, a father and son whose blunt negotiating style perplexes the panel, and a man with an innovative approach to hair-washing. Presented by Evan Davis.
Monday 1 October
The death of a teenage tennis star occupies the team when it is suggested her suicide jump two years earlier was anything but in New Tricks - 9:00 BBC1. They soon find several people with motives for her murder, including her coach Nick and agent Anthony, but it seems the one with the most to benefit from the girl's demise was her great rival Fawn Brammall - a shy and subdued player who proves difficult to question. Meanwhile, Gerry wonders if he did enough to encourage his own daughter's sporting ambitions and Brian hatches a plan to turn his dog into a movie star. Detective drama, guest starring Tamzin Outhwaite and Alexei Sayle. Dennis Waterman sings the theme song. Badly.

Tonight also sees the return of Monroe - 9:00 ITV - the not-particularly-original medical drama, starring yer actual James Nesbitt as Gabriel Monroe, a gifted neurosurgeon whose abrasive personality often places him at odds with those around him. Yes, just like House, in other words. Only with Jimmy Nesbit instead of Huge Laurie. The second series of the drama begins with Monroe preparing to operate on a patient with a potentially life-threatening condition - a decision which leads to conflict with new boss Alistair Gillespie (Between the Lines and Drop The Dead Donkey star Neil Pearson, absent from our screens for far too long). Meanwhile, Jenny Bremner returns to work after maternity leave, only to discover her power within the hospital has greatly diminished. With Sarah Parish, Tom Riley, Lisa Millett and Tracy-Ann Oberman, and guest appearances by Jody Latham, Steve Evets and Karla Crome. Good cast, let it be said. And Nesbit is, as usual, terrific in in. It's just a shame it's such an obvious homage to another show.

Nigella Lawson - she has her knockers, of course - demonstrates how to prepare a range of straightforward-yet-sumptuous Italian dishes, including her recipe for roast chicken with saffron orzotto in Nigellissima - 8:30 BBC2. She also creates a duo of desserts - coffee ice-cream and a chocolate olive-oil cake - and a pasta dish with courgettes that is ideal for late-night snacking.

Tuesday 2 October
In Ian Hislop's Stiff Upper Lip: An Emotional History of Britain - 9:00 BBC2 - the writer and broadcaster explores how the British have expressed their feelings throughout history, and considers the ways in which the nation has been shaped by its people's relationship with their emotions. He begins by looking back at Nineteenth-Century Britain, where he believes the idea of a 'stiff upper lip' first came to prominence, and explores the attitudes of figures including James Boswell and Mary Wollstonecraft to sentiment and rationality. He also contrasts the characters of Admiral Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, plays cricket on the Champs-Elysees, and reveals why the bulldog became a national symbol. As previously noted, this blogger is a big fan of Hislop at the best of times thanks to his 'national treasure' role on Have I Got News For You. But, they last few years have seen him producing a series of fine, thoughtful, interesting documentaries for the Beeb. This is, merely, the latest.
A wealthy customer's erratic spending concerns the staff but pleases Moray - although when Sam helps the woman out, her grateful thanks lead to a misunderstanding that threatens his career and the store's reputation in the second episode of The Paradise - 9:00 BBC1. Miss Audrey is tasked with leading the Miss Paradise Pink promotion. However, when she gets flustered, she turns to Denise for help, giving the new shop girl an opportunity to really shine in the boss's eyes. Period drama, starring Joanna Vanderham, Sarah Lancashire, Olivia Hallinan, Stephen Wight and Emun Elliott.

Film-maker Peter Bach embarks on a personal journey by making a promise to sculptor Barry Flanagan, who at the time was suffering from the dreadful motor neurone disease, from which he eventually died in 2009 in The Man Who Sculpted Hares: Barry Flanagan, A Life - 10:45 BBC4. Bach agreed to travel the world and bring back footage of strangers near the artist's famous - and numerous - public works, and then film him watching it. The mission takes him across Europe and the US, and is both a celebration and an homage to Flanagan's work.

Wednesday 3 October
Actress Celia Imrie always knew that she came from a long line of aristocrats on her mother's side but has resisted finding out any more about her illustrious heritage, fearing her ancestors will turn out to be stuffy and boring. In the latest episode of Who Do You Think You Are? - 9:00 BBC1 - she finally sets out on that journey and is quickly proved wrong as she traces her family back to the Seventeenth Century, uncovering stories of political intrigue and impotence. She discovers one ancestor who broke all the rules and ended up in the Tower of London, and explores the extraordinary legacy of another who was accused of plotting to kill a king.

In Best Possible Taste: The Kenny Everett Story - 9:00 BBC4 - Oliver Lansley stars as the maverick DJ and comedian in a dramatisation of his life, focusing on the entertainer's struggle to achieve personal and professional fulfilment. The programme explores Everett's relationship with wife Lee (played by former Coronation Street actress Katherine Kelly) and features some of his most famous comic characters, including Cupid Stunt and Sid Snot. With Simon Callow, James Floyd and Adam Garcia.
Charmian gets used to her role as a single mother in Melbourne, but tragedy strikes when eldest son Nicky is killed in a car accident in the final episode of Mrs Biggs - 9:00 ITV. Distraught, but determined to remain strong, she uses his death as motivation to pursue one of her dreams. Meanwhile, Ronnie descends into a life of debauchery and one of his Brazilian conquests reveals she is pregnant with his child. Realising this could be the ticket to a legitimate right to remain in Rio, he asks Charmian for a divorce, and she agrees - on the understanding they will reunite at a later stage. However, as Ronnie grows increasingly distant, she is forced into making a life-changing decision. Recording with The Sex Pistols, probably.

Thursday 4 October
Hunted - 9:00 BBC1 - is, judging from the trailer, a rather decent-looking [spooks]-like espionage thriller, starring Melissa George as Sam Hunter. A crack operative for an elite private intelligence and security firm, Sam only just survives an attempt on her life during her latest mission. Realising she has been set up, she takes a year out to recover and retrain - although when she eventually returns to work, boss Rupert Keel is reluctant to take her back. However, despite his doubts, he soon realises he needs his best agent for a new operation, and before long Sam is infiltrating a family headed by a powerful millionaire with a criminal past - all the while pursuing her own agenda of finding which colleague ordered the hit twelve months earlier. Adam Rayner, Stephen Dillane and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje co-star.

Tony Blackburn presents an edition of Top of the Pops - 7:30 BBC4 - from 1 September 1977, featuring music by Hudson Ford (hippies!), Elvis Costello (sans, at this stage, his Attractions), Joe Dolan, David Essex, The Steve Gibbons Band, Elkie Brooks, The Dooleys, Nazareth, Yvonne Elliman, The Jacksons, Mink de Ville and Candi Staton.
Laconic - occasionally funny - Yorkshire comedian Alun Cochrane, popular Irish stand-up Ed Byrne and one-liner specialist Gary Delaney join regulars Hugh Dennis, Andy Parsons and Chris Addison for Mock The Week - 10:00 BBC2 - the satirical current affairs quiz, hosted by Dara O Briain.

True CSI - 9:00 Channel Five - sees dramatised reconstructions, eyewitness accounts and details from police records are used to explore crimes and the techniques employed to apprehend those responsible. A woman's body is found bound and gagged in an abandoned school, and with no other evidence to follow, investigators pay close scrutiny to a shoe-print discovered at the scene.

Friday 5 October
The pro-celebrity contest Strictly Come Dancing returns for its tenth season - 9:00 BBc1 - as Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly host the first of this weekend's two live shows. Victoria Pendleton, Louis Smith, Michael Vaughan, Kimberley Walsh, Nicky Byrne, Richard Arnold, Dani Harmer, Johnny Ball, Jerry Hall, Sid Owen, Colin Salmon, Fern Britton, Lisa Riley and Denise Van Outen are the famous faces who have signed up for the challenge, but only six will dance tonight. They perform either a waltz or a cha-cha-cha, watched over by ever-critical judges Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood, as well as new panellist Darcey Bussell. However, the celebrity hoofers can breathe easy (if such a thing is possible after leaping around a dance floor for two minutes) for although the experts will be giving their opinions, there will be no public vote or elimination this week. Continues tomorrow.

Katy Brand, Sue Perkins and David Mitchell join regular panellist Alan Davies to answer Stephen Fry's obscure questions about people whose names begin with 'J' in the latest Qi - 10:00 BBC2.

Mr Blue Sky: The Story of Jeff Lynne and ELO - 9:00 BBC4 - looks at the life and career of singer-songwriter yer actual Jeff Lynne, from his early days in the Birmingham rock scene to his success with Electric Light Orchestra during the 1970s and stint as a member of the Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and George Harrison. Featuring contributions by the artist his very self, along with his friends and colleagues Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Barbara Orbison and Eric Idle.

And, so to the news: Jason Manford has admitted that he didn't feel comfortable hosting The ONE Show. The comedian, who quit the series in 2010 following a particularly sordid sex-text scandal, explained that he never intended to stay in the job longer than a year. 'It wasn't me really. I miss the team and Alex [Jones], but for a comic it was quite constrained harder than I thought it would be,' Manford told the Mirra. 'It was good experience. But when I flick it on and see Matt [Baker] and Alex I think, "These two are better." They look right. I felt like I was wearing my dad's suit and was a little bit constrained. My mind as a comic works at a different speed to other people's and you just say what you think and try to get a laugh. I don't think it would have been a long-term thing anyway. I would have done the year and got out.' Manford revealed that he now plans to limit his TV exposure as he focuses on his stand-up career. Which is probably just as well given that his last two ITV formats have been flops. 'Stand-up is my favourite thing because it is so direct and you get an immediate response,' he said. 'There is no director, there is no-one in your ear telling you what to do, there is no Ofcom, nothing like that.'

Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville will play the character of a homeless man in the TV adaptation of David Walliams' children's book, Mr Stink. The novel has sold more than two hundred and fifty thousand copies, and was shortlisted for the Blue Peter best book of the decade award. In the story, a lonely twelve-year-old girl befriends the eponymous Mr Stink, and invites him to live at the end of her family's garden. Filming for the BBC1 comedy will begin next month. David Walliams will also make an appearance in the programme, playing the Prime Minister. The cast also includes Harish Patel who has had parts in the comedy movie Run, Fat Boy, Run and Keith Lemon: The Film. So, there's a couple of things you really want on your CV. BBC1 controller Danny Cohen has described the story as a 'heart-warming, nose-clenching and funny tale which will appeal to viewers of all ages.' It has already been turned into a stage play, in which the audience were handed a scratch-and-sniff booklet to accompany the action. The TV adaptation is expected to hit screens around Christmas.

The chief whip did swear during a confrontation in Downing Street - but not at police, alleged 'sources' allegedly say. So, in other words, the minister lied when he earlier denied having sworn during the incident. Andrew Mitchell earlier apologised to police for 'failing to show officers respect' after being prevented from cycling through the main gate last week - but he continues to deny using the word 'pleb.' The BBC has been told he swore 'in frustration at the situation.' Cabinet minister Ken Clarke has defended Mitchell, who he said was 'a reasonable and courteous man.' He's a Tory minister so, that's, clearly also a lie. The row broke out on Wednesday after Mitchell was told by officers to get off his bicycle as he left Downing Street and go through the smaller pedestrian gate. Soon afterwards, the MP for Sutton Coldfield said that he did 'not accept that I used any of the words that have been reported' but did not go into specific details. Meanwhile, an alleged 'friend' of Mitchell, alleged 'quoted' by the Sunday Telegraph, says that he minister was 'frustrated' by the row, and admits that he 'lost it a bit' but was 'not accusing anyone of lying.' Although, it very much sounds like this alleged 'friend' actually is doing exactly that. The alleged 'friend' alleged added: 'He realises there may be differing versions of what was said but he is adamant he did not use the words he is reported to have used.' On Saturday, Clarke, a minister without portfolio in the cabinet, said: 'I have known Andrew for a long time and he is a perfectly reasonable, courteous man with the same high regard for the police services as anyone else. He obviously had a flare of bad temper on this occasion and has rightly apologised. I do think this should be allowed to set the matter at rest.' Labour has urged for 'greater clarity' after Mitchell denied he called the officer 'a pleb,' but did not comment directly on his behaviour. Shadow Policing Minister David Hanson said: 'The truth needs to be got at.' The Liberal Democrat president, Tim Farron, described Mitchell's alleged outburst as 'utterly, indeed beyond, unacceptable.' The row broke out after reports of the encounter emerged in the Sun on Thursday. The newspaper claimed he swore at the officer at the gates and told the PC to 'learn your fucking place' and 'You don't run this fucking government.' BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw says the officer in question has backed up the Sun's account of the event and the language - including the word 'pleb' - which Mitchell continues to deny using.

Double Beijing Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington has said she will not be competing in Rio in 2016. Which will come as no surprise to anyone who saw her - and most of the rest of the British swimming squad - not competing at the 2012 Olympics in London.

The award-winning education journalist Mike Baker has died. The fifty five-year-old former BBC education correspondent had written about his struggle with cancer in a widely-read and candid blog. Baroness Estelle Morris, the former education secretary, paid tribute to his 'perceptive and wise' coverage of changes in education. 'There are fewer better examples of all that is good in public service broadcasting and journalism,' she said. Head teachers' leader Brian Lightman said he would be 'sorely missed by school and college leaders. His informed commentary and incisive analysis of educational issues were a "must read" for the profession.' Universities Minister David Willetts described Mike Baker as 'knowledgeable, independent, fair-minded and a master at conveying complicated details to a mass audience. Most of all, he never lost sight of how education can liberate individuals to realise their full potential. He approached his recent illness with the same inquiring spirit evident in his journalism, and he provided searingly honest accounts of his experiences in his award-winning blog. The whole education world will miss him terribly.' Mike was one of the most respected education correspondents. He retired from the BBC five years ago after twenty seven years. In that time he became one of the most familiar voices in the education field, recognised as a well-informed and insightful commentator. Twice winner of the education journalist of the year award, Mike had covered the upheavals in schools and universities for the BBC from 1989 to 2007 - from the days of Margaret Thatcher through to Tony Blair. For the BBC's audiences on television and radio news, he guided a path through the complexities of successive waves of education reform. For his colleagues, Mike was known for his generosity and his deep knowledge of his subject. Whether it was reporting from teachers' conferences on rainy Easter bank holidays or on policy announcements from Downing Street, he could be relied on to translate the jargon and interpret the implications. He was also tenacious. When the Six O'Clock News once dropped one of this stories, he went into the gallery while the programme was on-air and persuaded them to reinstate it. Education ministers were ready to admit that sometimes Mike knew more about their policies than they did. 'I recall on one occasion, reading Mike's analysis about one of our policies which we were getting a bit confused and commenting that he had made sense of if all for me!' said Baroness Morris, education secretary during the Blair years. 'His brand of professionalism sought to explain and probe not merely to score points or to sensationalise. That's why he had a reputation of being trusted, respected and admired. More than that he was a decent human being and a thoughtful and generous colleague. He was such an honest journalist and when I was an education minister, I always took any policy criticism from him seriously because I knew it would be based on sound knowledge and good judgement.' David Blunkett, another former education secretary, said: 'Mike Baker was not only one of the nicest journalists I ever met, but one of the most thorough and reliable. He mixed a total commitment to his love of education with a journalistic eye for detail but complemented this with his academic ability and therefore knowledge in depth. This enabled him to be able to distinguish between trendy clap trap, and genuine educational innovation and newsworthy development. He will be sorely missed.' Mike's expertise was acknowledged in honorary degrees and visiting fellowships in the UK and the US - and he was also the author of books about education. Mike has been one of the first television correspondents to write a regular column for the emerging BBC News website - long before anyone had coined the word 'blog.' After leaving the BBC he had been part of the Teachers' TV team, developing niche broadcasting and online video packages when it was still relatively unexplored territory. His website became his own news channel, sending out his own analysis of the permanent revolution in education, and his online column for the Gruniad won him the Best Online Education Commentary award at a ceremony in the House of Commons last December. His diagnosis with lung cancer in April 2011 then became the start for his last and least expected journalistic assignment. 'It was a difficult decision whether or not to write this cancer blog. I am not used to writing publicly about anything so intensely personal,' he wrote at the outset. The blog followed his progress through different types of conventional and unconventional treatment, his reluctant hospital visits and the way that it had focused his perspective on what mattered in life. It also ranged across a number of his other interests - from cycling to woodwork, to the vagaries of supporting Ipswich Town. And it became a gathering place for people who had known him over decades - from teachers, union leaders, vice chancellors to those who had been students with him at Cambridge in the 1970s. A constant theme in his unselfish accounts of his illness was the importance of his family - his wife Chrissy and daughters Louise and Rachel. The BBC News education team said: 'Mike was a wonderful and much-loved colleague whose kindness and good-humour did not disappear under pressure. Mike's expertise, judgement, knowledge and journalistic skills earned him enormous respect in and outside of the BBC. He made many friends here who will sorely miss him.' Fran Unsworth, Head of BBC Newsgathering, said: 'Mike's thoughtfulness, his intelligence, his commitment to the highest standards of journalism and his gentlemanly good manners made him a distinguished correspondent and a much loved colleague throughout his long BBC career.'

People from across the UK reported seeing bright objects in the night sky on Friday evening and Saturday morning, thought to be meteors or 'space junk.' Coastguards in Northern Ireland took calls from people who saw the objects from Coleraine on the North coast, to Strangford Lough in the South East. The lights were seen as far North as Caithness in Scotland as well as in Wales and Norfolk in East Anglia. Experts said the sightings could have been a fragment of satellite debris, burning up on entry to the atmosphere. The lights have also been reported in the Midlands, parts of North-East England and in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Brian Guthrie in Grangemouth near Edinburgh, who watched the objects pass through the sky, said it appeared to be something 'pretty large breaking up in the atmosphere. I've seen shooting stars and meteor showers before, but this was much larger and much more colourful.' Coastguards in the Shetland Islands received what they believe is Scotland's most northerly sighting of the meteor at around eleven o'clock on Friday night. They were called by a member of the public who had seen a bright white light in the sky over the Stacks of Duncansby in Caithness. One person who contacted the BBC said it was 'kind of a mass of light, gold light. Everything moving in unison. It wasn't diverging. I thought it was a plane at first. It was quite low on the horizon and moving much slower than I'd expect to see a shooting star, but it was amazing.' Another said the sight was 'like Independence Day' - a reference to the film about an alien invasion of Earth. Diane Martin from Rainworth in Nottinghamshire said she saw 'a bright yellow and orange ball' and considered calling the police before her husband checked the Internet and found other people had seen it. There's something wonderfully Twenty First Century about that. See something odd, check the Internet first, then ring the bobbies. She told the BBC: 'We only saw the one. It was quite low as well. It wasn't that far away to be honest. We thought something was actually going to come down in the actual village. It was travelling from east to west. It was coming down but it was going across more than it was going down.' Durham Constabulary said they were 'inundated' with calls from dazed Mackems who were 'concerned' as to the sightings of 'unidentified flying objects' lighting up the night sky. In Wales, sightings were reported between Cardiff and Swansea in the South, Aberystwyth in Ceredigion and Criccieth in Gwynedd. Howard Parry spotted a 'stream of light' while looking out to sea from his caravan in Llanrhystud in Ceredigion. 'I thought first of all it was a plane going down. The best way I can explain it is that it looked like a train with all different carriages on it. It lasted about twenty five to thirty seconds. I've never seen anything like it - it was really, really bright,' he added. Chris Butler, of Tonypandy in the Rhondda, said he saw 'a triangle of orange lights' which 'didn't look like a typical meteorite.' He added: 'It looked similar to aeroplane lights but it looked really huge so it obviously wasn't a plane.' Dr Tim O'Brien, associate director of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, told the BBC it was difficult to know the cause of the phenomenon. 'It's hard to say exactly, whether it was a chunk of rock coming in from outer space, burning up in the atmosphere, or a bit of space debris we call it, space junk, which is basically man-made stuff from a spacecraft that's burning up in the atmosphere. [The object was] probably eighty miles up or so, high up, moving very fast, actually, eighteen thousand miles an hour, probably.' Colin Johnston, from Armagh Planetarium in Northern Ireland, said the lights were unlikely to be part of a meteor shower. 'There are actually several small, faint, meteor showers scheduled across September but they're so unspectacular, not many people actually bother looking for them. I think that this spectacle tonight might not be associated with that. I think it's something just by chance has happened to come in tonight, some piece of actual space junk floating around the universe for billions of years has just picked tonight to fall in across our skies, or a satellite that's been up for some years has decided to burn up,' he said.

And, on that thought, here's Billy Bragg on the very subject in today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day.

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