Saturday, April 17, 2021

Against Strange Maladies, A Sovereign Cure

Another week, another bloggerisationisms update here at yer actual From The North, dear blog reader. Containing, as it does, all of the usual rubbish for your consideration. But, plus point, at least it's free. Or, if not free, then at least extremely cheap. Onward, ever onward .... 
The BBC has confirmed that it received one hundred and nine thousand, seven hundred and forty one whinges from members the public over its coverage of the Duke of Edinburgh's death. All of whom, seemingly, having nothing better to do with their time or energy. The corporation cleared its schedules to cover the news when Prince Philip died last Friday, at the age of ninety nine. That night's episode of EastEnders and the MasterChef final were replaced by news programmes broadcast simultaneously on both BBC1 and BBC2, while BBC4 was taken off-air completely. For what it's worth, this blogger had no problem whatsoever with the BBC1 coverage - it was a major news event and it needed to be covered, only a brain-damaged moron or the victim of some cruel medical experiments would fail to acknowledge that; and, although he would have preferred BBC2 to have been left to carry any non-royal-death-related programming available, this blogger fully understood the horns of the dilemma the Beeb faced knowing that, whatever they did some abject smears of no importance at the Daily Scum Mail, the Daily Scum Express and the Torygraph were going to criticise them anyway. The one thing he did have a problem with was the closing down of BBC4's schedule for the night and replacing it with a caption informing potential viewers that they should retune to BBC1, immediately. What, exactly, was achieved by that decision is entirely beyond this blogger's comprehension. The BBC said, rightly, that the Duke's death was 'a significant event which generated a lot of interest both nationally and internationally.' It added: 'We acknowledge some viewers were unhappy with the level of coverage given and impact this had on the billed TV and Radio schedules.' Which is putting it mildly; some viewers (just over one hundred thousand, seemingly) weren't merely upset, they were bleeding apoplectic. 'We do not make such changes without careful consideration and the decisions made reflect the role the BBC plays as the national broadcaster, during moments of national significance,' the BBC continued. 'We are grateful for all feedback and we always listen to the response from our audiences.' One or two people even believed them. The corporation's fortnightly complaints report was published on Thursday. The figure makes the coverage of Prince Philip's death the most whinged-about piece of programming in BBC history. BBC1 moved the MasterChef final to 14 April, so viewers were - eventually - able to find out who had won the popular amateur cookery series (see below). The BBC was, of course, not alone in adjusting its schedule to reflect Prince Philip's death, with ITV and Channel Four both also broadcasting extended news coverage. However, many viewers turned away from such programming as the day wore on, with ITV's Friday night audience declining by a whopping sixty per cent in comparison to the previous week, according to overnight figures. BBC1's audience also dropped by seven per cent week-on-week during the coverage about Prince Philip, while BBC2, unsurprisingly, lost two-thirds of its audience. The most-watched programme on a single channel that evening was Channel Four's Gogglebox, with 4.2 million overnight viewers. At least a portion of whom, one suspects, were not regular viewers but were, simply, relieved to have something - anything - to watch that wasn't about the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. The BBC put a dedicated form on its website later that evening to allow viewers to whinge about the extent of the TV coverage, in recognition of the volume of complaints which it had already received up to that point. The form was subsequently removed the following afternoon, after the number of whinges began to fall, the corporation claimed. For a not insignificant number of viewers, replacing the final of MasterChef with programming celebrating the life of Prince Philip was the wrong decision. Although, quite how many more would have complained if the BBC had done the opposite is the unanswered question (but, we can probably have a decent guess at the manifest shitstorm that would have caused). What is interesting is how many older viewers were amongst those who complained. Proving that not everyone in this country over the age of fifty has, like the Daily Scum Mail and the Daily Scum Express, their collective tongue rammed so far up royalty's collective chuff that there's no room for anyone else to get in there for a right good lick. And this blogger says that, as previously discussed, as someone with no great love but a reasonable amount of (sometimes grudging) respect for at least some of the royal family (Prince Philip included). Traditional 'linear' TV has been a reliable friend to many during months of lockdown and, whilst younger viewers have embraced streaming services and video on demand around twenty million of us are still watching freeview TV at peak-time each evening. Schedules, even in an age of YouTube, iPlayer and Netflix, still matter to many. It is also worth reflecting that, in these days of online complaints forms, it is easier to register a whinge than it ever was in the era of trying to get through to the BBC switchboard or writing a stern letter of dischuffment over some nonsense or other. Indeed, in a sign that the BBC is destined to be criticised by all sides no matter how hard it tries, one hundred and sixteen people - with, definitely, nothing better to do with their time - reportedly whinged to the corporation that the BBC was making it too easy for whingers to whinge. Not all the whinges were about the extent of the BBC's coverage, let it be noted. Almost four hundred people whinged that Prince Andrew had been featured in programmes surrounding his father's death despite his close association with the late financier - and convicted sex-offender - Jeffrey Epstein and the Prince's stubborn refusal to answer questions posed to him by the FBI about what he may or may not have got up to with underage girls. A further two hundred and thirty three people whinged - ludicrously - that BBC presenters were not wearing 'sufficiently respectful clothes,' with complaints that not all newsreaders were wearing black - an echo of the (wholly media-manufactured) controversy over the burgundy tie worn by Peter Sissons when he announced the death of the Queen Mother in 2002. Plus ça change, dear blog reader, plus c'est la même chose.
A former Nando's worker has become the latest winner of the BBC's popular cookery series MasterChef. Tom Rhodes was crowned champion after cooking a five-course lunch for lockdown heroes and serving up a dish at renowned restaurant Le Gavroche. The thirty one-year-old from Newcastle saw off competition from fellow finalists Mike Tomkins and Alexina Anatole. The final had, as previously noted, been extremely postponed following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh on Friday. The rescheduled show, broadcast on Wednesday evening, saw the final trio fight to impress hosts Gregg Wallace and John Torode with three signature dishes. But it was Rhodes' Japanese-infused starter, main and dessert which proved victorious, making him the long-running programme's seventeenth winner. Complimented for 'a style bordering on minimalism' by Wallace, Rhodes served a trio of oysters for the starter, including a beer-battered oyster with a Japanese sour plum mayonnaise. For Torode, it was Rhodes' main of reverse-seared ribeye steak topped with beetroot pickled in a Japanese seaweed and a wasabi leaf that was 'modern' and 'really very clever indeed.' His dessert of a lemon tart topped with black olive meringue also received universal praise from the hosts. Cos, let's face it, who doesn't love a nice bit of tart? 'What he's absolutely brilliant at is European-style of cookery, with Japanese flavourings,' Wallace said. Before adding 'cooking doesn't come any tougher than this.' Probably. Speaking after filming ended, Rhodes said that he would one day 'love to write a cookbook and have a cookery school. During the competition, I have realised my love for developing recipes and cooking for other people outside of my friends and family, so would love to do more of this after the show,' he said. First broadcast in 1990, MasterChef is one of the BBC's longest-running factual series and has inspired the popular spin-off MasterChef: The Professionals (and, the somewhat embarrassingly wretched Celebrity MasterChef too). The latest series was produced under coronavirus restrictions, with many of the series' traditional assignments adjusted to allow for social distancing. While viewers found out who won this week, Rhodes himself has had to keep his victory a secret since the end of last year, when filming concluded. He told BBC Breakfast on Thursday that the only other people who knew the result were his parents who were both sworn to secrecy. 'You've seen the clip last night where I rang my mum on screen,' he said. 'They've found it more difficult to keep secret than I have.' Rhodes said taking the trophy (which, presumably, he's also had to hide for the last four months) was 'a dream come true' and confirmed his further ambitions to become a food writer and maybe even open his own restaurant one day. This blogger, who lives in the same city as the winner, would like to see this happenstance if only because he once ate in, he presumes, the same Nandos in which Tom used to work and found the gaff a bit bland. Let's face it, Th' Toon needs all the good restuarants it can lay its hands on right about now. Tom said that he was able to practise his winning dish two or three times before the final, but has not cooked it again at home since. 'I'm waiting until I can cook it for somebody and I've got a lot of requests for that so far,' he said. When possible though, he plans to celebrate with 'a really good pizza' and 'maybe a bottle of red.' 
Large-toothed Scouse funster John Bishop allegedly 'got told off' by 'BBC bosses' (that's 'executives' only with less syllables for those who are hard of thinking) after revealing details about his Doctor Who role. Mind you, this breathlessly exciting 'news' was, admittedly, brought to us by that bastion of truthful, accurate and vitally important reportage Bang Showbiz. So, it's probably an idea to take it with not so much a pinch as a cellar-full of salt. The Liverpudlian actor had taken part in an online workshop for drama students and revealed that his upcoming character was also from the city. Which was so surprisingly, as most viewers probably imagined he was going to be playing a Martian, didn't they? This, the bullshit gossip website claims, 'was enough for producers to call him up.' Appearing on The Graham Norton Show this weekend, John further revealed: 'I'm the new companion to The Doctor. I'm allowed to say that, but that's about it. I did a thing for some drama students in Liverpool, a big Zoom thing and it was a Q&A just talking about acting, how you get into it, how you get into stand-up comedy. One of the questions was, "Can you tell us anything about your character in Doctor Who? Where does he come from?" I went, "Well where do you think he comes from? Have a guess!" I'm not Tom Cruise, I can act as long as the character happens to look and sound a lot like me. So, I just mentioned that the character was from Liverpool which then, somewhere on a Doctor Who website, someone picked it up - "There's a new character and he's from Liverpool, the story's based in Liverpool." Then the BBC phoned me up and said, "You've broken the cardinal sin, you've told them something about Doctor Who." And I went, "I haven't told them anything! Anybody who looks at me knows he's from Liverpool, let's be honest!"' During the same Zoom event An Evening With John Bishop, the actor also revealed that he had to turn down the role originally 'due to scheduling issues,' before the pandemic changed things and he was able to film alongside Jodie Whittaker. He explained: 'I met Chris Chibnall and he had this idea and this character. He'd seen me in a few things and he wanted to know if I'd be interested in Doctor Who. I was flattered but the problem was I was on tour when they were meant to be filming. So although I fancied it, I had to say no. And then the whole COVID thing happened. Lockdown arrived so I made a phone call and fortunately they had moved their filming dates. It now fits in perfectly - I'm doing Doctor Who up until July and then I go on the road again in September.' So, there you go, dear blog reader, John Bishop has also revealed that production on the next series of Doctor Who will be concluding until July. Let's see if he gets into any further bother with 'BBC bosses' over that. Over you, Bang Showbiz.
And, now, dear blog reader ...
Washes Whiter. Nicholas Baker's tremendous 1990 history of advertising on British TV is now available for viewing on both iPlayer (first episode only) and YouTube (episodes two to five). A superb collection of nostalgia (from its delicious pop-art titles to the vintage adverts themselves) and social history (notably its discussion of feminism in advertising which takes up two entire episodes). If you've never seen it before, you should have. Put that right, forthwith, you've no longer go any excuses not to. 
MacBeth (1971). 'Things without all remedy should be without regard. What's done is done.' Roman Polanski's blood-soaked horrorshow has aged remarkably well as an example of how to do Shakespeare as a gore-fest and Ken Tynan's script is genuinely politically subversive. Includes full-frontal nudity too (Hell, it was the Seventies) so, you know, double-delight. A plank of wood in the shape of Jon Finch as the titular character is about as interesting as a geet hard eye-watering smack in the knackers with a wet plimsoll but the rest of the cast (Francesca Annis and Martin Shaw most notably) are great. Even the late Keith Chegwin's Fleance is watchable. The Third Ear Band's score is suitably eerie and the location filming, including much use of Lindisfarne, Bamburgh, St Aidan's Church and North Charlton Moors near Alnwick, has never made Northumberland look ... well, wetter, actually. And bleaker. Polanski, famously, blamed production difficulties and going over budget on the 'lous weather.' You chose to film in the North East, pal, whose fault was that?
MacBeth (2006). 'By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.' Geoffrey Wright's Australian adaptation of the same text avoids many of the traditional pitfalls of modernist Shakespeare adaptations as, although it uses a modern-day Melbourne gangster setting it largely maintains the gorgeous language of the original play. And, the casting of The We'yrd sisters as a trio of feral Goth schoolgirls (Miranda Nation, Chloe Armstrong and Kate Bell) is properly strange.
Bad Samaritan. Probably not a line on national heartthrob David Tennant's CV that he brags about over-much. Christ, it's a bad movie.
Prodigal Son. 'I'm going to be killed by a millennial. What a twist!' Back after two months in limbo and with excellent use of 'Ça Plane Pour Moi' in the opening scene. Plus, From The North favourite Alan Cumming going almost as deliciously-over-the-top-and-down-the-other-side as Michael Sheen does on a regular basis in the show. What's not to love?
The Big Short. 'Truth is like poetry. And most people fucking hate poetry.'
Watergate. Paul Mitchell and Norma Percy's superb, enthralling, ground-breaking 1994 five-part BBC series, narrated by Fred Emery and featuring exclusive interviews with many of the key participants including Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Dean and Jeb Magruder as well as former President Gerald Ford is currently being repeated on BBC4 (and available on iPlayer). Still the most magnetic thing about the documentary remains that crazed loon the late Gordon Liddy, sitting in front of his massive gun collection (reportedly, registered in his wife's name since, as a former felon, he wasn't eligible for a licence) talking with pride and not a small amount of glee about his nefarious skulduggery. All in the name of Richard Nixon, the only bloke involved in the whole malarkey not to end up with a criminal record. As Variety's Jeff Silverman wrote on first broadcast, the mini-series 'brilliantly chronicles the events - and their inevitability - that led to the national nightmare [of] Watergate. Funny, tragic, pathetic and probing, docu-dramatically stares down Watergate's smoking gun and makes its ultimate conclusion perfectly clear: Nixon's the one. Still. Now more than ever.'
Stan & Ollie. 'I'm never getting married again. I'm just going to find a woman I don't like and buy her a house.' A poignant, sweet, respectful and wholly good-hearted biopic of the beloved comedy duo. Great performances from Coogan and John C Reilly and a handsome recreation of 1950s Britain (both the best and the worst, thereof).
The Favourite. 'Must you rub it in? A man's dignity is the one thing that holds him back from running amok.' 'Sometimes, a lady likes to have some fun!'
Tom & Jerry: The Movie. As several movie critics have seemingly taken great delight in sneering to anyone that will listen, no it's not as good as the Fred Quimby/Hanna/Barbera 1950s shorts (nor, indeed, the Chuck Jones animations from a decade later). But it's still got Tom getting hit in the face with a steam iron, when is that ever not funny?
Picnic At Hanging Rock. 'Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place.' Still one of this blogger's desert island DVD choices. And it always will be.
Some desperately sad news, now, the actress Helen McCrory has died at the appallingly young age of fifty two. From The North favourite McCrory was best known for her roles in the films The Queen, The Special Relationship and the Harry Potter franchise and TV series including Peaky Blinders. Her husband, Damian Lewis, confirmed her death via Twitter, saying that McCrory had died 'peacefully at home.' Lewis said: 'I'm heartbroken to announce that after an heroic battle with cancer, the beautiful and mighty woman that is Helen McCrory has died surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family.' He added that his wife had 'died as she lived. Fearlessly. God we love her and know how lucky we are to have had her in our lives. She blazed so brightly.'
Born in London to a Welsh mother and Scottish father, McCrory spent a year in Italy before studying acting at The Drama Centre. Her film roles included portraying Cherie Blair in Peter Morgan's The Queen and The Special Relationship in 2006 and 2010 respectively. She also played Narcissa Malfoy in the final three films of the Harry Potter franchise and appeared in the James Bond movie Skyfall. On television, she had a leading role as the Shelby matriarch Polly Gray in the BBC's popular period crime drama Peaky Blinders and appeared in series including Doctor Who (magnificent as the villainous Rosanna Calvierri opposite Matt Smith in The Vampires Of Venice), Inside Number Nine, Fearless, MotherFatherSon and His Dark Materials. Her CV also included appearanced in Interview With The Vampire (her screen debut), The James Gang, Charlotte Gray, Does God Play Football, Normal For Norfolk, Fantastic Mister Fox, The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death, Their Finest, The Fragile Heart, Witness Against Hitler, Spoonface, Anna Karenina, In A Land Of Plenty, The Jury, Dickens, Lucky Jim, Life, Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This, Penny Dreadful and Have I Got News For You.
Last year, she appeared in two of From The North's fifty favourite TV productions of the year, the BBC's Hugh Laurie-fronted political drama Roadkill and ITV's Quiz. McCrory was also an accomplished stage actress and was nominated for an Olivier for her stage role as Rosalind in As You Like It at Wyndham's Theatre in 2006. McCrory and Lewis led fundraising efforts to provide hot meals for NHS staff during the Covid pandemic. Their work saw almost one million knicker in donations to the Feed NHS scheme and partnerships with chains including Leon and Wasabi. McCrory served as an honorary patron of the London children's charity Scene & Heard. She was appointed an OBE in the 2017 New Year Honours for her services to drama. McCrory is survived by Lewis, whom she married in 2007 and their two children Manon and Gulliver.
In 1967 the National Youth Theatre in London performed the first new play it had ever commissioned, with eighty performers arranged on a set depicting a football stand. The play would be revived with new casts eight times over the next twenty years and, again, at Wilton's Music Hall in London in 2017. It was televised twice - in 1967 and 1975 - and entered many a school curriculum. The play was Zigger Zagger and its writer was Peter Terson, who has died aged eighty nine. The story of teenager Harry Philton and his friend the titular character, who draws Harry into a band of rioting football fans, has as its timeless theme the poverty of choices faced by a young, working-class male. Terson continued his exploration of this subject the following year with his next National Youth Theatre play, The Apprentices (starring Barrie Rutter), in which exploited young men turn cruelly and violently on each other. Possibly no writer has done more to democratise drama in Britain. Earlier in his career, as a young resident playwright at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, brought in by its director, Peter Cheeseman, Terson plunged into the theatre's dedication to regionalism, supported by post-war civic investment. Faithful to Cheeseman's commitment to local documentaries about his audiences' working lives, Terson's scripts included The 1861 Whitby Lifeboat Disaster (1970). After the success of Zigger Zagger, he struck a wonderfully rich seam with three plays about a trio of Yorkshire miners at leisure, played by Brian Glover, Ray Mort and Douglas Livingstone. The first of these, commissioned by BBC Radio, was The Fishing Party (1971), in which the trio are bullied and exploited by a ruthless Whitby landlady who assures them they will have 'contact with a lavatory on all floors' at their lodgings. It won a Writers Guild award and was subsequently televised - as were the following two - as part of the BBC's Play For Today strand. The second, Shakespeare Or Bust (1973), centred around a canal trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Antony & Cleopatra which ended up with Antony (Richard Johnson) and Cleopatra (Janet Suzman) coming to their narrowboat to put on a performance after the three are unable to get tickets for the theatre. The third, Three For The Fancy, set at a country livestock fair, followed in 1974 and the trilogy was at the heart of a celebratory retrospective at the British Film Institute in 2012. Peter was born in Walker, Newcastle upon Tyne - just a few streets away from the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House as it happens - to Peter Patterson, a joiner and his wife, Jane. He left school at fifteen, worked in a drawing office and briefly attended the city's technical college. After national service with the RAF he trained as a teacher at Redland College in Bristol (1952 to 1954) and there met a fellow student Sheila Bailey, whom he married in 1955. He later changed his name, after becoming a professional writer, because he thought Peter Patterson was 'a bit of a mouthful.' Ten years teaching PE and history followed; he later admitted that 'I wasn't very good and the boys saw through me, but were very supportive.' Already writing, he had 'enough rejection slips to paper the walls' until in 1964 Cheeseman read, liked and produced A Night To Make The Angels Weep at the Victoria. Set in the Vale of Evesham, where Terson then lived, the play told dark stories of rustic people whose lives are disoriented by the relentless tide of progress. Unschooled in stagecraft but with a flair for dialogue that combined naturalism with unforced poetry, Terson relished the Vic's theatre-in-the-round set-up, which dispensed with the need for sets to negotiate. His next play, now as resident playwright at the Vic, The Mighty Reservoy (1964), was about a new reservoir built threateningly close to a village, whose keeper believes that an act of sacrifice is necessary to avert a tragedy. In 1965 he adapted the story Jock-At-A-Venture, by Arnold Bennett, into a play, Jock On The Go, which was seen by Michael Croft, founder-director of the National Youth Theatre and that led to Zigger Zagger. Terson continued to write through the 1970s and 1980s and his play Strippers was produced in his home city, Newcastle and in the West End, making the connection between asset-stripping of old industries and the housewives who bared all to make up for the pay packets their men had lost. Always committed to work that was accessible to non-traditional theatre-going audiences, in the 1990s he turned to writing large-scale community plays, working regularly with the director Jon Oram of Claque Theatre, formerly The Colway Theatre Trust and attracted by the instinct that many people with stories to tell had no way of telling them. His plays, of which more than eighty were performed in his lifetime, were, according to Oram, always works in progress right up to opening night and Terson recognised that amateurs took decisions differently from professionals. 'If they said the sense of a line in their words rather than his, then he would shout out "that's better" and keep the words in,' said Oram. 'He'd see something in someone and develop it in the script.' Terson also made sure he knew of what he was writing, on one occasion buying an authentic caravan, learning to harness a horse and setting out on the road, as he prepared to write about Romany life. When a genuine Romany challenged him to a fight, he accepted and reportedly lost two front teeth. The resulting 'documentary play' for BBC Radio, The Romany Trip, was broadcast in 1983. On another occasion he went to Butlin's at Minehead to do karaoke before writing about a holiday camp in Sailor's Horse (1999), a community play involving a cast of hundreds. His final produced play was Campers (2001), written for Edensor School in Stoke, about racist attitudes and two very different campsites - one a luxury French holiday site and the other a refugee camp in the Balkans. His TV work included a couple of Armchair Theatre plays (The Ballad Of The Artificial Mash and The Heroism Of Thomas Chadwick), The Last Train Through Harecastle Tunnel, Mooney & His Caravans and an adaptation of The Apprentices for The Wednesday Play and But Fred, Freud Is Dead for ITV's Sunday Night Theatre. There were also contributions to Sextet (The Gregorian Chant), Full House (The Dividing Fence), Scene (The Ballad Of Ben Bagot), episodes of Village Hall, Crown Court and Sally Ann and the TV movie Atlantis. In Belgium a Flemish adaptation his play The Mighty Reservoir reached more than five hundred performances by the MMT, a theatre in Mechelen and was subject of an adaption by Belgian Television. Terson continued writing until the onset of Parkinson's disease forced him to stop. He is survived by Sheila and their children, Neil and Janie, five grandchildren and a great-grand-daughter.
And finally, dear blog reader, the From The North headline of the week award goes to the BBC News website's 'World's Biggest Rabbit' Stolen From Owner's Garden. Police are reported to be looking for a very strong man dressed as a carrot ...