Saturday, September 05, 2009

Week Thirty Seven: The BBC R Great (It's "Official")

We come, dear blog reader, upon the latest batch of Top Telly Tips (with a few bits of Top Telly News thrown in for good measure). Let there be rejoicing and good cheer throughout the land (and beyond). Or, you know, whatever gets you through the night.

Friday 11 September
The Hairy Bikers' Food Tour of Britain - 5:15 BBC2 - follows the nation's best known chopper-riding bearded cooks as they visit a different county across Britain in every episode, sampling the best of local ingredients and meeting the people keeping regional culinary traditions alive. Tonight, the enthusiastic and likable pair of Wor Si King (mate of mate of mine, Si, have I mentioned that previously?) and his pal Davey Myers explore North Yorkshire. There, they cook a particular local favourite in Scarborough, select the finest catch from Whitby Harbour and discover a White Rose specialty, Black Porkies. Finally, they face a cook-off against top Helmsley chef, Andrew Pern. Whose dish will best define the taste of North Yorkshire? Smashing little series, this - an example of a food show that features something more than crass food fascism for the masses. Simon and Dave have, quite literally, got on their bikes to produce a show that takes all of the tasty goodness from a series of different genres - cookery, travelogue, comedy, rural - to produce a charming programme that's easy on the eye and light on the stomach.

Saturday 12 September
In The Football League Show - 12:25 BBC1 - Manish Bhasin introduces goals from every Football League match in the country, with extended highlights from the biggest games of the day. There's a top-of-the-table Championship clash as Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though seemingly unsellable) Magpies - pictured to the right in 1969, the last time we actually won anything - visit Welsh Wales and Cardiff City. Expect Michael Chopra to stick in about six against his old club. Still, at least for ten days I was able to chant We! Are! Top-of-the-league!, something us lot haven't had much practice at since the mid-90s. It was quite fun while it lasted. Meanwhile, promotion favourites The Smoggies of The Boro welcome Mad Roy Keane's somewhat under-performing Ipswich Town to The Riverside. In League One, two sides with recent Premier League pedigree Charlton and Southampton clash in a game that was a Championship fixture last season. Plus Mark Clemmit brings his access all areas inside reports. And Steve Claridge talks a right load of old bollocks. For hours. As usual. It's good to see the BBC discovering (after a decade of indifference) that there is life outside the Premiership. My only complaint about this, really, is why on earth is it on so late?

Sunday 13 September
Back and still as good as ever, Waking the Dead - 9:00 BBC1 - features yet another cold case for Boyd and his team. This time, the grumpy manic-depressive copper decides to re-investigate an unsolved crime when Gemma, a girl who was brutally raped by two men twelve years earlier, tries to kill herself. But with no new evidence, where can he start? I highlighted how good Trev and Sue were last week so it's only fair I use a bit of space this time to talk about their excellent supporting cast, Wil Johnson, Tara Fitzgerald and the recently departed Félicité Du Jeu (who, admittedly, did sometimes pull a face like a smacked-arse at the most dramatically inappropriate moment. But, she'll be missed. Albeit, not as much as Claire Goose and Holly Aird.). Fitzgerald, in particular, brings all of that twenty-fags-a-day husky-voiced sexuality that we remember so well from The Chamomile Porn to her role. Keith Telly Topping still preferred Holly Aird, though. Is that so very wrong of him? Johnson, who's been around since the show started, seldom gets as much of the limelight as he once did in some of the earlier episodes (Final Cut, Cold Fusion and, the series finest ever two-parter, False Flag for example) but he's a reliably still and moody actor who can bring a scene alive with just a disapproving look to camera, particularly when he's in a two-hander with Trevor Eve. Like I say, this a truly outstanding drama full of a great actors working with clever and complex scripts. Who says TV always dumbs down? Not only that, but waste-of-space Alison Faceache Graham in the Radio Times never has a decent word to say for the show so, on general principle, that's one very good reason to make it your favourite TV show in the history of the medium. And, remember, if you're into crime drama then you're spoiled for choice tonight with Agatha Christie's Marple on opposite Waking the Dead. My mother - a far bigger Christie expert than I - now considers Julia McKenzie (after just one performance) to be 'almost as good as Joan Hickson, but not quite.' Which, trust me Julia is very high praise indeed.

Still on their quest to show us all what we'll soon be missing if we're not careful, Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine head to the ends of the earth in search of animals on the edge of extinction in Last Chance to See - 8:00 BBC2. Last week we saw how Stephen ended up breaking his arm, which was as painful for the audience as I'm sure it was for him. On tonight's journey across Africa towards the war-torn Congo (you know, that's where they drink all the Umbongo®™), the intrepid travellers (and their hard-working camera crew, of course) encounter chimpanzees, gorillas and elephants, but are there any northern white rhinos still alive in the wild? The news doesn't appear to be good. But there is some hope in a remarkable project which is under way to save the black rhino in Kenya. Not an especially pretty endangered animal, the rhino, admittedly. The tiger and the panda have it large over rhinos in terms of 'ahhh, bless' factor. But, endangered is endangered and the programme wants to push its 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone' message in relation to all of nature's creatures, no matter how ugly.

Still with the animals, Joanna Lumley: Catwoman - 7:00 ITV - is the second in a two-part special in which Lady Joanna Lumley of Nepal investigates our fascination with cats. From everyday companions to Pets as Therapy, cats can really enrich our lives. But over the last century, some of us have begun trying to change them to suit our needs. Joanna meets breeders who have created the tiny-legged Munchkins and crossed domestic cats with big cats. Which is, surely, again all laws of God and Man? Plus she spends time with Hollywood legend Tippi Hedren, who rescues big cats from people who bought them thinking that they would make good pets before realising they had a four hundred pound man-eater roaming around their gaff. And, she goes to Namibia to meet cheetah conservationist Dave Houghton. I'm very much a cat person myself. I love how completely mercenary they are as creatures - feed them and they'll stick around but the second that food source dries up, pfft, they're outta here. It's an interesting fact (and, inevitably, one I learned from Qi!) that in America there are more people who claim to be cat owners than there are actual cats! This is because when your cat disappears for a few hours it is not, in fact, off on a hunting expedition for mice, rather it's three doors down the road being fed by its other 'owner.' Most cats are said to also carry a parasite thought to have a long-term - and irreversible - effect on the human brain. 'Toxoplasma gondii' is believed to turn men into grumpy, badly-dressed loners with borderline autism and women into promiscuous, abandoned sex-kittens (albeit with the ability to multi-task). Half of the British population may already be affected. And, I managed to get through the preview of both episodes of this show without cracking a single 'Joanna Lumley stroking her pussy' one-liner. D'oh. So close.

Monday 14 September
Daredevils - 9:00 Channel 4 - is a series of films exploring what compels some people to risk their lives in order to push themselves to the physical and mental limits of human capability. In The Human Bird, we meet one Jeb Corless who aims to fly down the Matterhorn in Switzerland whilst wearing a winged Teflon suit, before pulling a parachute at the very last minute. Corless attempts dangerous feats such as these because of his self-confessed death wish - he suffers from counterphobia, a 'pathological desire to confront fear'. Brave man or damn fool? It's a worthwhile question - doesn't this chap remember what happened to Icarus when he tried something similar?

In the second series of Masterchef: The Professionals - 8:30 BBC2 - the legendary double Michelin starred chef Michel Roux Jnr and vegetable expert (and Masterchef veteran) Gregg Wallace - he's the bald one, if you weren't sure - are joined by Michel's trusted Sous Chef Monica Galetti, as they hunt for a young chef who can make it to the top of the culinary world. In this heat four cooks face a nail-biting elimination round. Although, actually biting their nails isn't recommended if they want to make it to the top in the kitchen jungle. That sort of dirty habit tends to put potential employers off. Anyway, they have to earn the right to cook for Michel by demonstrating their culinary expertise with a skills test of spatchcocking a poussin (honestly) and a palate test of making lemon curd. The BBC are really milking the Masterchef franchise for all it's worth at the moment. Which, I've got to say, I really don't mind as, over the last year or so, it's become one of my great TV guilty pleasures. This one looks suitably different - John Torode's not around for a kick-off - but it still features the husky-voiced goddess that is India Fisher as narrator of the action. And that can never be a bad thing. Someday, dear blog reader, Keith Telly Topping will tell you all the story of the day he had breakfast with India in the less-than-salubrious surroundings of the Airtel Plaza in Van Nuys, California. And he has a picture to prove it as you can see to the left. S'cuse the outrageous sideburns (mine, not India's). What can I tell you? I was going through my Elvis-phase. Thangyovrrrrymussh.

You have to wonder who on earth came up with the format for Wogan's Perfect Recall - 5:00 Channel 4. In this show, crotchety old TV has-been (albeit still radio God) Terry Wogan hosts a teatime game show in which four contestants battle for the chance of winning a huge cash prize. However, the game has a twist (as you kind of knew it would): each round has the same answers, but different questions. What, you mean like what is a) Ecuador's currency, b) a state in Venezuela, c) the French word for sugar? Easy. Sucre. Next ... You have to wonder if Wogan's looked at the bearded scum of Satan Noel Edmonds or Jasper Carrott having such success with mind-numbingly banal shows of this type and thinking 'I could do that.' Well yes, Tel, I'm sure you can carry it off with some aplomb and wit and, in fact, dignify crap like this with your very presence. Doesn't make it a good idea, though. If reading the news is money for old rope then what, exactly, is presenting Wogan's Perfect Recall?

Live From Studio Five - 6:30 Five - is, as the name suggests, Five's new early-evening magazine show. It's also Five's, blindingly obvious, attempt to recreate the success of The ONE Show. The crucial difference is that whilst The ONE Show has a couple of reasonably personable hosts and the cream of the showbiz guest-corp, by contrast this is hosted by three utter nonentities in TV terms; giggling ex-Arsenal star (and ex-England flop) Ian Wright, Melinda Messenger and Kate Walsh. The programme features a look at the day's news alongside location reports, celebrity interviews and gossip. Yeah - just like The ONE Show, in fact. So, you can watch this or you can watch the programme whose template it's borrowed. A bit like 'do you want to listen to The Beatles or Herman's Hermits? Oh ... let me think...'

Tuesday 15 September
The Choir: Unsung Town - 9:00 BBC2 - began last week and looks set to have the same sort of water-cooler impact as The Choir did last year. Choirmaster Gareth Malone has started two successful choirs - for adults and children - in the housing estate of South Oxhey near Watford, but he believes that they won't become 'real' choirs until they can perform technically challenging classical music and sing in Latin. So, he arranges for both his choirs to sing at concert performances alongside highly accomplished musicians in front of demanding audiences. At first, many members in his choir feel it's an impossible task for a new choir to perform at this level. So, how will they get on? Gareth does seem to be a very nice chap and he presents these shows with a genuine sense of enthusiasm (see earlier comments on The Hairy Bikers on how a bit of enthusiasm, even for a subject that the average viewer isn't all that interested in can go a very long way).

And, speaking of cookery programmes ... as we seem to be just about every week on From The North. Britain's Best Dish - 5:00 ITV - is a national cookery competition masquerading as a teatime television show. This week, we are in the East of England, where some talented amateur cooks will be showcasing their own version of classic dishes, including breast of lamb with mint stuffing (nah - don't like mint), venison with red onion and red wine, sticky toffee pudding (aw, yeah! Hope whoever is making that wins) and a luscious lemon tart. Who will impress judges John Burton Race, Jilly Goolden and Ed Baines enough to make it through to Friday's regional final? The country's only ex-cricketer who isn't involved in Strictly Come Dancing - or working for Sky on The Ashes - Mark Nicholas hosts. Well, except Geoffrey Boycott. He's, similarly, unemployable it would appear.

Tonight on Lost Land of the Volcano - 9:00 BBC1 - we get the second part of the exploration series combining stunning wildlife cinematography with high-energy adventure. Sort of David Attenborough meets Vin Diesel if you like. David Diesel. it has potential. Anyway, a team of scientists and filmmakers have made their base camp on a remote extinct volcano at the heart of the tropical island of New Guinea. Are they sure it's extinct? Cos, you know, there things have a habit of blowing their top at the most unexpected moments. Just ask the people of Pompeii. Oh, sorry, you can't, they were buried under thirty foot on ash and molten lava. Their aim - the scientists and filmmakers, this is, not the people of Pompeii ... they're all dead - is to search the thick jungle for the weird and endangered animals that hide there. Isn't Stephen Fry doing that as well? He's a much more bankable property than 'some scientists and filmmakers - that you've never heard of.' Somebody hasn't thought through the nuts and bolts of this show, clearly. Now they are pushing deeper into the rain-forest, and enlist the help of a tribe to find and film the extraordinary Birds of Paradise as they perform their courtship displays.

Wednesday 16 September
In Swine 'Flu: The Survivor's Guide - 9:00 BBC1 - Jeremy Vine, Sophie Raworth and Fergus Walsh (a trio formidable to all of those with a hypochondriac disposition) travel through the UK and the world (what, all of it?) to expose the myths and the dangers of Swine 'Flu. Who's most vulnerable? How do you avoid it? Plus, can the NHS cope? And, how many of the people who claim to have had it so far are, in fact, telling the truth? I went to the doctors the other day. 'Flu?' he asked. 'No, I came on the bike,' I replied. He examined me before concluding 'can't find anything wrong with you. It must be the drink.' I said I'd come back when he was sober. I'll be over in the corner munching Tamiflu®™ if anybody wants me.

The Secret Millionaire - 9:00 Channel 4 - is one of the genuine cult hit TV shows of the last few years and proof that, when Channel 4 get it right, they really do get it right. In this series, millionaires goes undercover in a deprived area in the hope of changing someone's life with a generous gift of their own hard-earned money. Tonight, entrepreneur Liz Jackson lost her sight at the age of twenty six but was determined to make something of her life and now has her own highly successful telemarketing business. She plans to spend eight days living undercover in South London, meeting not only people living with disabilities, but also those who help others to live with theirs.

Sometimes the idea behind a new series is obvious, sometimes it's less so and sometimes it's downright opaque. Who on earth, for instance, is Farmer Wants a Wife - 9:00 Five - supposed to be aimed at? In this, former Eternal singer and current footballer's wife Louise Redknapp aims to help some lonely farmers to find their perfect woman. Arable farmer Derek must choose a girlfriend from a shortlist of four lovely ladies. He whittles his options down to two - bubbly Canadian Karla and level-headed Sarah. But which of these aspiring farmer's wives will win Derek's heart? So, again, I ask the question, who is this for? Farmers? Agricultural workers in general? I mean, I'm all for Five going to niche audiences, I think that's a noble endeavour. But, I've a feeling this is another case of some bright-spark in their Think Tank department having a idea that looks good quite on paper but translates into a ratings of about six.

And, finally, if you're looking for a decent movie tonight, Sky1 are showing one of the finest ever made, Cameron Crowe's homage to his teenage years Almost Famous at 9:00. A funny and touching coming-of-age movie, based on Crowe's own experiences as a teenage rock journalist in the early 1970s. Fifteen-year-old William Miller (extraordinary performance by Patrick Fugit) escapes from the clutches of his delightfully batty and overprotective mother (the great Frances McDormand) when he's hired to write an on-the-road think piece about second division rock band Stillwater for Rolling Stone magazine. Joining the group on tour, William struggles to meet his looming deadline as he's sucked into a chaotic world of parties, drugs and clashing egos, falling under the spell of self-styled band aid the divine Miss Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) and the band's charismatic lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup). The haircuts are typically awful, the soundtrack is peppered with great songs from the period and Philip Seymour Hoffman contributes a scene-stealing cameo as William's mentor, rock journo Lester Bangs. A beautifully evocative, entertaining and affectionate portrayal of growing up in an era before rock 'n' roll was hijacked by the be-suited marketing men. And, if you watch this and enjoy it, seek out the director's cut version, Untitled, which is if anything even better.

Thursday 17 September
Tonight sees the second part of The Love of Money - 9:00 BBC2 - the BBC's series on the global crash which examines the boom years before the bust. With testimony from many of the key decision makers, including Gordon Brown and Mervyn King, and featuring an exclusive interview with US federal reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, it charts how the financial bubble grew and grew until it could grow no more and the only way was sort of inward. Rapidly. The programme explains how we changed our attitude to risk, learned to live with debt and, above all, how various world governments stepped back from regulating any of this malarkey. At the heart of the story is Greenspan himself who, ironically, retired from his post in 2006 just before the shit hit the fan.

In Trust Me I'm a Dealer - 6:30 BBC2 - antiques expert Paul Martin helps various members of the public make a decent return on their savings. In each episode he takes cash off one set of contributors and sets out on a nationwide adventure to buy, restore and sell objects in order to deliver a healthy profit to them so that they can achieve a lifelong dream. In this episode, Paul is in Peterborough visiting Bev Lindsey and her sisters, who would love to give their mother a once in a lifetime holiday in Madeira. Keith Telly Topping has both been there and, indeed, done that, dear blog reader. Twice, as it happens. It's very nice - they make rather good wine and I particularly recommend to Bev's mom the Monte Palace Tropical Garden for somewhere nice and quiet to spend a pleasant sunny afternoon. Do not, however, eat at The Beatles Boat restaurant in Funchal harbour, as mentioned on this blog the other day, it's horribly over-priced.

I talked about Clever v Stupid - 8:30 BBC3 - last week in outright amazement that such a hideously offensive concept ever made it past being some wacky idea pitched in an 'after a three whiskey lunch' meeting amongst BBC3's bright young things. In this, Matt Edmondson presents a game show in which a team of academically brilliant people, the 'Clevers', take on a team who some might think are a bit 'Stupid' in challenges that test creativity, emotional intelligence, physical dexterity and practical skills. I think what I find most offensive isn't so much the use of the word 'stupid' but, rather, the crass justification for its use (that 'some people' might possibly believe it). Then again, if I was asked to go on a TV show and was told that I was going to be on the 'stupid' team, I'd tell the producers where to go and shove their headphone so, I guess, the fact that each week four people agree to do so does, kind of, say something about something. In tonight's episode a team of supermarket staff (so, all supermarket staff are 'stupid' seemingly. At least, according to 'some people' it would seem, so that makes it all right) take on a musical prodigy, a doctor of pharmacology, an Oxford biologist and a mathematical genius, determined to prove to anyone who has ever called them stupid that the customer is not always right. Well, how's about instead of going on a deliberately provocative and meanspirited TV show to prove this, rather they tell the person calling them stupid that they aren't and then punch their bloody lights out? Radical suggestion, I know. That's Keith Telly Topping, always full of radical suggestions and the like. Usually involving at least a degree on manic ultraviolence.

We conclude today's blog update with the latest batch of Top Telly News: And, we'll kick-off with a sad one. The author and playwright Keith Waterhouse has died quietly in his sleep at the age of eighty, a spokeswoman announced yesterday. Waterhouse made his screenwriting debut on the classic 1961 film Whistle Down The Wind. But he remains best known for the 1959 novel Billy Liar - which was made into a critically-acclaimed film starring Tom Courtenay in 1963 (and, subsequently, a rather decent TV series starring Jeff Rawle in the 1970s). Waterhouse was a newspaper columnist and playwright with works including Mr and Mrs Nobody and the 1989 West End hit Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. The play's original star was Peter O'Toole, who returned for the revival ten years later at London's Old Vic. Waterhouse was also one of Britain's most prolific authors, with more than fifty books, plays and television scripts to his credit. His twice-weekly column appeared in the Daily Mirror for sixteen years, winning him three awards for Columnist of the Year - in 1970, 1973 and 1978. He also wrote the popular 1970s television series Budgie and Worzel Gummidge - returning to pen Worzel Gummidge Down Under in the 1980s. Waterhouse's work brought him a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature and, in 1991, he was made a CBE. He will be greatly missed for a wry Northern humour and witty turn of phrase.

Viewers and listeners seem to be rallying around the BBC, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published early today. It shows rising levels of trust in the broadcaster and increased public support for the concept of the licence fee. The results challenge claims that the BBC's growth has a 'chilling' effect on consumer choice, made last month in a speech by that self-important little toerag James Murdoch, the European chief executive of News International. His comments opened up a debate about the future of the corporation, which is protected by its guaranteed licence fee while other media organisations are facing sharp falls in revenue. Murdoch criticised what he called the 'expansion of state-sponsored journalism' on the BBC's website, but today's poll suggests public respect for the BBC's output is growing. An overwhelming majority, seventy seven per cent, of those who expressed a preference thought that the BBC was an institution people should be proud of – up from sixty eight per cent in an equivalent ICM poll carried out five years ago. Most respondents, sixty three per cent, also believed that it provides good value for money – up from fifty nine per cent in 2004. Since the previous poll the BBC has come under fire for the standards of its journalism, following the Hutton inquiry and during the various scandals involving fake phone-in competitions on high-profile programmes. But public confidence in the corporation's output has grown. Asked if the BBC is trustworthy, sixty nine per cent now say yes, against sixty per cent in 2004. Only twenty six per cent disagreed. Of course, with regard to these things it is always noting that fifty eight point three per cent of all statistics are made up on the spot to prove a point.

Jonathan Ross will return to host the British Comedy Awards on ITV this December, it has been claimed. According to the Sun, the long-time host of the ceremony will be paid fifty thousand pounds to front the awards. Ross was replaced by Angus Deayton on last year's show in the wake of the scandal surrounding his and Russell Brand's prank telephone calls to actor Andrew Sachs. An insider said: 'Angus was okay - but it wasn't the same as with Jonathan. It's great he's back on a show we know he loves doing.' At last year's ceremony, Brand dedicated his Best Live Stand-Up award to Ross, whom he called the 'king-maker' of the comedy awards.

American celebutante, Kourtney Kardashian has said that the vial of cocaine her sister Khloe pulled out of her purse on her new reality series was genuine. In a scene of Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami, the younger Kardashian sister complained about the prevalence of drugs in the city and said that people thought she was a 'coke whore.' She then took out a container supposedly filled with the substance during an ongoing radio interview. Khloe said: 'I have never done coke, I'm just not into that stuff. Look what I found at my store! It's like coke, I don't know, but what do you do? Do you like snort it through here?' As she mimed snorting the substance, she added: 'I'm so high! It's not mine, it's just cocaine!' Her TV producer then told Khloe that she was 'dumb and stupid' for bringing drugs into a radio station, adding that possession of the substance was a felony. Kourtney told Metro: 'It was found on the floor of one of the changing rooms in our store. One of our employees found it. She had never seen cocaine before and a customer started walking in so she threw it in her purse and one thing led to another.' Yeah, that sounds like a perfectly rationale explanation.

Top-rated BBC1 drama New Tricks ended its sixth run with an impressive 7.7m on Thursday night. The final fifteen minutes of the episode peaked with just a shade under eight million. ITV's The Bill continued to moderate rebuild its audience, with 3.6m tuning in, up another two hundred thousand on last week’s efforts and half a million more than the low of 3.1m it hit a fortnight ago. BBC2 kicked off the hour with just under 2.6m for Mock the Week between 9pm and 9.30pm.

New set-top box technology means it will be possible to record television viewing habits of individuals, rather than entire households. Pay-TV technology firm NDS and market research company TNS Media Research have launched the new service, which allows viewers to enter their first name via a remote control. Any guests watching television with them can also be entered. The service has been dubbed RPDi, which stands for Return Path Data individual. It is aimed at digital TV operators who want to enhance their data collection services by capturing details viewers, rather than just household level data. Gideon Gilboa, senior product marketing manager for advertising solutions at NDS, said: 'Operators are turning to set-top box measurement because it allows them to truly understand the behaviours of their subscribers, providing rich data not available from traditional measurement methods. This includes niche channel viewing, time-shifted TV and interactive usage. With RPDi customers can have the best of both worlds - rich STB data and strong individual level reporting to improve their business decisions and advertising sales.' Keith Telly Topping understood about four words of that. And he is, let's remember, somebody does have a vague clue about how ratings and AI figures are compiled. Put it down to him being woken up at 6am for the second day running by his smoke detector going off. It's obviously trying to tell him something (and, 'you've got a fire' doesn't appear to be it).

ITV and BBC1 suffered their worst ever month of ratings in August, while Channel 4 clocked up its poorest score for twenty five years, as viewers turned off lacklustre summer schedules on the main networks. Overnight ratings figures show that ITV pulled in an average all-day share of just 15.1 per cent for the whole month, eclipsing its previous worst figure of 16.1 per cent in July. Meanwhile, BBC1 also had its worst monthly all-time share, at 19.5 per cent. Channel 4, excluding its +1 timeshift service, had an all-time share of 6.47 per cent for August. Five recorded an audience share of 4.9 per cent, up marginally on the same month last year. The unconsolidated live ratings figures exclude timeshifted, or recorded viewing. Insiders have attributed ITV's poor performance to its schedule of more low-key summer programming as well as being forced to screen two peak-time UEFA qualifier matches – under contractual obligations – that didn't feature any UK teams. The Champions League game between the Greek side Panathinaikos and the Spanish team Atlético Madrid drew just 1.5 million viewers between 7.30pm and 10pm on 19 August. And the Super Cup clash between Spain's Barcelona and the Ukrainians of Shakhtar Donetsk pulled in 1.9 million in the same slot last Friday. ITV's August figure would have been even worse if it was not for the return of The X Factor, which achieved overnight ratings of 9.9 million viewers for the launch of the sixth series on 22 August. There was some good ratings news for ITV elsewhere in August, with ITV2 pulling in its second best ever monthly multichannel share of 2.8 per cent. ITV3 stood at 1.8 per cent. A BBC spokeswoman confirmed the BBC1 figure, saying that it was down on August last year when the channel had the huge boost of the Beijing Olympics. The poor ratings for Big Brother helped put a dent in Channel 4's performance, although their spokeswoman said its family of channels helped boost its figures overall. For anybody who was still watching Big Brother, incidentally, you'll know that Sophie won. Mr Smith. For everyone else in Great Britain, Sophie won. Apparently.

Russell Crowe challenged an Australian newspaper columnist to a cycle duel after she mocked a picture of him smoking and eating on a bike ride. The piece, in Sydney's Daily Telegraph, was headlined 'smokes and fatty foods the fitness regime for Rusty.' The Gladiator star then called the paper to challenge journalist Annette Sharp to a twelve-mile race through the city. Video of the early morning duel showed Crowe speeding along with Ms Sharp struggling to keep up. Crowe is shown telling Sharp she is a better cyclist than Australian film director Baz Luhrmann. 'He holds the record for the worst cycling tourist we've ever taken for a ride - you are twice the man Baz Luhrmann is on a bicycle.' The Telegraph had mocked Crowe last week after he was photographed taking a break from a bike ride with his personal trainer to smoke a cigarette, eat tacos and drink a soft drink. The paper reported that Crowe's spokesman had called the next day and said: 'Get on your bike. Russell wants you to go riding with him.' At one point during the pair's cycle trip, Sharp fell off her bike. After their duel, she wrote: 'I was sliding exuberantly down the track when, with a thump, I came off the seat and landed painfully on the crossbar. This was surely it - his victory moment. His victory moment, with me sprawled in the dirt. Yet he was gracious, concerned - the perfect gentleman as he rolled up my trousers to check my knee.' She added: 'When you make a living throwing stones you expect that one day someone is going to lob one back. This was that day.'

Martin Kemp has reportedly credited a revolutionary surgery technique for helping him survive two brain tumours. The EastEnders actor and Spandau Ballet bassist, who is about to embark on a world tour with the recently reunited band, spoke about how he was left devastated after being diagnosed with a tumour just two years after he had one surgically removed in 1995. According to Contactmusic, he said: 'The first tumour was the size of a squashed grapefruit and doctors could cut my skull to get to it. After two years, doctors said it was growing and wanted to cut it out. But my wife didn't want me to have the operation because it would leave so much collateral damage. She found a doctor who said it could be attacked with radiation, with an early form of Gamma Knife technology. Within six months of treatment there were signs it was dying and today there is nothing left of it.'

The Radio2 DJ Ken Bruce has criticised BBC executives for giving radio shows to TV stars who are not up to the job in what may be seen as an implicit criticism of his own station. Bruce said radio executives had 'lost their gifts as talent spotters,' adding that too many famous faces were 'parachuted into a prime radio slot with no experience of, or particular aptitude for, the medium.' The Radio2 mid-morning host refused to name names, but BBC Radio – and Radio2 in particular – has become home to many big TV names including the likes of Dermot O'Leary, Davina McCall, Paul O'Grady, Emma Forbes, Alan Carr and most famously, Russell Brand. 'I have great admiration for people who do fast-moving live television, but an awful lot of television is just stand up, smile and you really often don't have to think for yourself,' Bruce said in an interview to publicise his memoir, Tracks of My Years, which was published yesterday.

Piers Morgan is planning to interview Noel Gallagher, rumours suggest. Noel will talk to Morgan about the events leading up to his departure from Oasis, reports Showbiz Spy. A source said: 'Noel and Liam haven't been shy in having a public rift, but there is much more happening behind the scenes than anyone can even imagine. Piers is the perfect interviewer to get to the heart of what's been going on.' The interview is expected to be broadcast as part of Piers Morgan's Life Stories when it returns later this year. But, this is truly dreadful. The whole point about Morgan's tawdry excuse for a chatshow is that it's supposed to feature vacuous nonentities to whom the audience can feel, rightly, morally superior. Now somebody I actually have a modicum of respect for may be going on it? Keith Telly Topping doesn't mind admitting, dear blog reader, that he is somewhat conflicted.

'So, what has Magic Mr Moffat got lined-up for the new Doctor, Keith Telly Topping'? I hear you all bellowing. Will these voices in my head never cease? The Daleks - at least, according to rumour. The Doctor's most persistent of nemeses are alleged to be back in an episode of the upcoming fifth series, penned by Mark Gatiss. The story - airing as either episode two or three of the new run - is said to see The Doctor and companion Amy arrive in London during World War II. Well, if it's as good a script as the last time he and Rose were there, Keith Telly Topping will not be complaining. According to a variety of reports (some of them more believable than others, admittedly), the pair then come face-to-face with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and discover that he is using an army of Daleks in the fight the Nazis. The metal monsters have apparently been painted with green battle colours and equipped with Union Jack flags on their helmets. The Daleks were last seen in the series four finale as part of creator Davros's ultimately foiled plan to destroy all of creation.