Friday, December 04, 2009

Clocked In, Logged On, Laid Off

Sad news to start off with. One of Keith Telly Topping's favourite actors, the great Richard Todd, has died at the age of ninety, after a lengthy battle with cancer. Todd - a war hero in his own right - was best known for his performances in two of the finest World War II movies, The Dam Busters (1954) and The Longest Day (1962). In the latter he played his own, real-life commanding office, Major John Howard, helping to hold the vital crossing at Pegasus Bridge near Caen after D-Day. Born in Dublin in 1919 the actor, whose full name was Richard Andrew Palethorpe-Todd, grew up in Devon and began acting on stage in 1936. With the outbreak of the second World War, however, he volunteered, serving with distinction in both the Infantry and the Parachute Regiment's Sixth Airborne Division. Todd was one of the first British soldiers to parachute into France behind enemy lines on 6 June 1944 as part of Operation Overlord. A spokesman for his family said he died peacefully in his sleep on Thursday at his home near Grantham in Lincolnshire. After attending the Italia Conti school of acting in London during the late thirties, where a teacher advised him to 'bring it up from the genitals, dear!' – something which, he said with charismatic humour, was 'beyond my dramatic range' – Todd first appeared with the Welsh Players, a precarious touring group. He then helped to found the Dundee Rep. Just before the Second World War, he appeared at the Regents Park open air theatre. After the war, he returned to stage acting before getting a part in a rather mediocre film, For Them That Trespass (1949), which was followed by a seven-year contract with the Associated British Film Corporation, at that time the main British rivals to Rank. Todd appeared as Walter Raleigh, alongside Bette Davis in The Virgin Queen in 1955, made The Sword and the Rose (1953) for Disney, the title role in the massively successful A Man Called Peter (1955) and Saint Joan (1957) for Otto Preminger. But he was always happiest when filming in England, refusing the lead role in The Guns of Navarone (1961) and being unable to accept the part of James Bond – despite being Ian Fleming's first choice – because of other commitments. In 1953, he appeared in a highly regarded BBC adaptation of Wuthering Heights, as Heathcliff. Nigel Kneale, who wrote the script for the adaptation, said the production came about purely because Todd had turned up at the BBC and told them that he would like to play Heathcliff for them. Kneale had to write the script in only a week as the broadcast was rushed into production. The spokesman for the Todd family said that Richard 'had been suffering from cancer, an illness that he bore with his habitual courage and dignity. His family were with him throughout.' The director Michael Winner, who worked with Todd in the 1978 thriller The Big Sleep described him as 'a splendid person and a very good actor. Richard's was the most wonderful type of British stiff upper lip acting,' he said. 'He was a good friend and wonderful to work with, utterly professional, very quiet, just got on with it.' Made in 1954, The Dam Busters told the story of the development of the bouncing bomb used to destroy the Ruhr dams in Germany. Todd played Wing Commander Guy Gibson, leader of the famed 1943 mission, Operation Chastise. The actor, who was made an OBE in 1993, was last seen on screen in a 2007 episode of ITV drama Heartbeat. In later life, he experienced personal tragedy when two of his sons, Seamus and Peter, both committed suicide. His sons' deaths obviously affected Todd profoundly. He admitted to visiting their adjoining graves on a regular basis. He told the Daily Mail, 'It's rather like something that happens to men in war. You don't consciously set out to do something gallant. You just do it because that is what you are there for.' Todd's other movies include the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Stage Fright. He also appeared in - and was quite wonderful in - Kinda, a particularly memorable 1982 Doctor Who story, featuring Peter Davison's Doctor. In 1950, he was nominated for the best actor Oscar for his work opposite the future US president Ronald Reagan in The Hasty Heart. It was around this time that he first worked for the Disney studio, an association that led him to be named a 'Disney Legend' in 2002. Todd would later make light of his roles in movies like The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, The Sword and the Rose and Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue - selected as the Royal Film in 1953. 'My image was all daring deeds, until my swash began to buckle a bit,' he remembered. He is survived by his son, Andrew and daughter, Fiona.

Louis Walsh has admitted that he respects X Factor star Danyl Johnson as a performer but not as a person. And, as you can see from the photo evidence to the right, dear blog reader, Johnson seemed to take that rather badly. The Irish judge told the Independent that he does not expect Johnson to win the ITV competition because he is not 'likeable' enough. Walsh commented: 'He did the best first audition we saw. Brilliant. No matter what you throw at him, he'll take it on. Vocally, he's prepared to take risks and he's not afraid to move around. But I don't think he's gonna win - he'll be second or third. I don't like him as a person, but as a performer he's great. He's got this bad vibe - he came in a bit sure of himself. Unlike everybody else, he's been around the block, singing in karaoke competitions around London and he's picked up a lot of habits from that. He has confidence but it's all front - I don't think deep inside he's that confident. Any other year he could have been a potential winner but this year, he's got a lot of competition and Joe [McElderry] and Olly [Murs] are more likeable.' Walsh also predicted that McElderry will triumph in the final, adding: 'In the studio he'd record incredibly well. He's the one to beat. In fact, he's gonna walk it.'

Merlin - which I know is very popular but which Keith Telly Topping considers too far up its own arse to fully satisfy - will return to BBC1 next year for a third series, it has been announced this week. The fantasy series, which stars Colin Morgan as a young wizard, has been something of a moderate Saturday night ratings success since its debut in 2008. The BBC's controller of drama commissioning Ben Stephenson said of the show: 'With its mix of magic, adventure and humour, Merlin is perfect Saturday evening family television, and we are thrilled that Shine Television will be creating a new series for BBC1. I'm looking forward to seeing what adventures our popular young wizard, and his friends in Camelot, will go on in series three.'

Alesha Dixon has said that she hopes she has proved herself in her first year as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing. Mmmm ... Nah, not really.

Channel 4 formats River Cottage and 8 Out Of 10 Cats are set to be produced on almost half of their 2009 budget when they return to the channel next year. The broadcaster is also thought to be asking producers to reformat other long-running brands on massively reduced budgets - or to face having them cancelled in favour of cheaper alternatives. Channel 4 reportedly 'invited' RDF Media to cut costs on Wife Swap just weeks before it axed the show as part of its 'creative renewal initiative.' One major industry figure told Broadcast magazine: 'There are shows that work for them where they literally can't pay what they used to. Deals made in 2005 and 2006 look out-of-kilter.' But newer series like The Secret Millionaire and Deal Or No Deal are not said to be facing cuts at anywhere near the same levels. The head of one major independent producer said: 'They aren't nailing us on major new shows, but they're taking a very aggressive stance on things they can "afford" to drop. It's a win/win situation for C4.' Another producer reportedly added: 'Channel 4 is saying, "Let's take the big brands and make them cheaper, and sucker people into watching them for a bit." It will buy them a bit of time but it's not showing good faith in viewers.' Producers are also alleged to be anxious about devaluing brands. RDF Media chief executive David Frank said: 'I'm wary of producing cheaper versions of shows that are important for us, because it could undermine those brands in the long term.'

Absolute Radio has revealed that David Baddiel and Frank Skinner will reunite for a series of exclusive podcasts and live shows based around the 2010 World Cup. The Fantasy Football League duo will broadcast daily from South Africa throughout the duration of the tournament. The shows promise to be a mix of chat, analysis and news from the event. The podcasts will kick off in the run-up to the World Cup as soon as the current football season finishes and the duo will also be inviting fans to join in the banter in a series of live radio shows. Skinner said of the news: 'I'm incredibly excited about Absolute Radio sending us to the World Cup in South Africa. I fully expect to have three lions on my shirt and another couple chasing the Land Rover.' His oppo, Mister Bladdibub added: 'I absolutely refuse to go to South Africa until they comply with The Specials' demand and free Nelson Mandela. What? When?'

BBC2 is piloting a new entertainment show fronted by the very excellent Rob Brydon and produced by Talkback Thames. The Rob Brydon Show is being billed as a mixture of comedy, entertainment and music and would mark a significant departure for the comedian, who is usually cast in traditional sitcoms such as Gavin & Stacey and played the host of a spoof panel show in Annually Retentive. The format is still reportedly being 'ironed out' and the BBC declined to reveal details for the pilot, but it is understood to be a 'showcase of the best of today's talent' that will feature an ensemble cast and celebrity guests performing in front of a studio audience. A proper, old fashioned variety show in other words. About time we had one of them. The show is being piloted at Television Centre on 9 and 13 December and is being looked at by entertainment controller Mark Linsey for a potential 9pm or 10pm slot. If it gets the green light, the show would help push Brydon as a major talent for BBC2, following Graham Norton's move to BBC1 earlier this year. I hope that one works out for Rob - he's a nice guy and a very funny man to boot, it's about time he had his own starring vehicle.

Channel 4 has commissioned Shameless for an eighth series, probably for broadcast in early 2011. The new run will see the series extended from sixteen episodes to twenty two after it was cut by C4 last year. The Stage quotes the series' creator, Paul Abbott, as saying: 'I genuinely love the idea of us taking Shameless further - to be ambitious and to pull off stuff that we haven't yet. That excites me beyond belief. Shameless is the show I'm most proud of being associated with. There has never been, and still isn't, anything remotely like it. That matters to me.' The show's seventh series is due to air on Channel 4 from January 2010.

Stephen K Amos has suggested that there is not enough diversity in TV comedians given the countless black and Asian comics on the live circuit. BBC2 have this week confirmed that Amos will front a new six-part show combining hidden camera conceits and audience participation with sketch characters and stand-up comedy. Amos told the Guardian: 'All you have to do is look at the clubs - where there's a breadth of black and Asian comics - and then look at TV. Those faces aren't there. And when you look behind the scenes, those faces aren't there either.' Yeah, the lad's definitely got a point, it has to be said. However, when asked about growing up as a black gay man in 1970s London, Amos added: 'Being defined as a black, gay comic? I'd hate to see that in print.' Well, you have now, Stephen!

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts has announced the addition of two new categories to its annual awards. Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress have been created and the Comedy Performance category will divide in two to recognise both Female and Male Performance in a Comedy Programme. Additionally, the ceremony has moved to a new summer date, Sunday 6 June, at The London Palladium. 'We are delighted to be introducing these changes for 2010,' said chairman of the television committee John Willis. 'As a Committee, we annually review all categories to ensure the ceremony is relevant to, and reflects, the industry's output, and these additional categories do exactly that. Moreover, our move to June provides a more distinct place in the awards calendar for Television and allows more time between them and February's Orange British Academy Film Awards for our members, industries and viewers.' 2010 will also see the introduction of a new system available to BAFTA members voting in both Television and Craft Awards to view all entries online.

GMTV staff are reported to be heading into Christmas fearing that 'swingeing cuts' will be made across the company in the new year. ITV director of factual and daytime Alison Sharman is currently overseeing a 'root and branch' review of GMTV's operations, which is expected to result in cutting ten per cent of the business's costs each year. Well, you could start with blabbermouth Kate Garraway for a kick-off. Her dress allowance must account for at least five per cent of GMTV's annual budget. ITV bought out Disney's twenty five per cent stake in GMTV last Thursday and chief operating officer John Cresswell, director of television Peter Fincham, Sharman and GMTV chairman Clive Jones led a staff meeting shortly afterwards announcing the company-wide review. Cresswell said the outcome was expected by Christmas or New Year, and that any staff whose jobs are at risk will go into consultation immediately afterwards. He said measures could include merging GMTV's studio facilities with ITV's. Jobs within ITV and ITV Studios may also be affected by the takeover. In an e-mail to staff members, ITV said: 'Clearly there will be areas of duplication across [ITV and GMTV].' Where direct duplication of roles is identified, a 'fair selection will be undertaken to select the best candidate,' the e-mail said. Meaning, presumably, that anybody who hadn't told lies about one of the show's guests in a magazine article was more likely to be kept than someone who, for example, had. Mentioning no particular names of individual staff, of course. Bectu broadcasting division supervisory official David Beevers said roles in human resources, finance and IT were most at risk. GMTV staff are concerned the consultation is being held off until 2 January when planned changes to GMTV's redundancy scheme will come into force, reducing its financial liability and ensuring it complies with age regulations.

Virgin Media has apologised for 'a multi-region outage' of its cable TV service in the Midlands, which was caused by 'a router failure.' Reports surfaced on Wednesday evening on Digital Spy's Virgin Media TV and Phone forum about the loss of television services in areas across the region. Responding on its official Twitter feed, the cable operator immediately apologised for the outages and promised that its engineers were dealing with the problem 'at the highest priority.' A subsequent message posted at 8.50am on Thursday on Virgin Media's website said: 'Customers in the Birmingham and Solihull areas may currently be experiencing a loss of their broadband Internet, digital TV, and telephone services. Our engineers are now investigating this issue. Virgin Media apologises for any inconvenience caused.' Virgin Media later confirmed that the outage was caused by 'a router failure' in the Birmingham area, but claimed that most subscribers should now have their TV service back.

Sky1 has embarked on a major restructuring of its commissioning team which has resulted in the departure of commissioning editor for factual entertainment and specialist factual Emma Read. Director of programmes Stuart Murphy is to create two new roles - head of entertainment and head of factual and features - because he wants a uniform structure across the business. The respective roles of Elaine Pyke, Lucy Lumsden and Sarah Wright as head of drama, comedy and acquisitions will not be affected and there are currently no plans to appoint a head of daytime television.

Brass Eye creator and media satirist Chris Morris's new comedy film about a group of jihadis has been shortlisted for competition at the Sundance Film Festival. Four Lions, which depicts a group of British Muslim men at a militant training camp, is one of the movies in the world cinema narrative shortlist. Morris, whose spoof about paedophilia prompted huge controversy in 2001, has written and directed the movie. Older blog readers may remember that this prompted one of the most unintentionally hilarious media moments of all time when the then-Home Secretary David Blunkett publicly criticised the episode and his spokeswoman, when asked by a newspaper if Blunkett had 'seen' the episode in question replied 'no, not yet.' Think about it. Anyway, the Sundance event takes place in Utah from 21-31 January. A total of one hundred and thirteen films from the US and around the world will be screened at the annual event. Among the movies in the main competition is Sympathy For Delicious by director Mark Ruffalo, starring Orlando Bloom and Juliette Lewis. Morris's film, fully-funded by Film Four, was initially rejected by the BBC and Channel 4. Morris has said that the film shows 'the Dad's Army side to terrorism' and reveals its 'farcical, human dimension.' The satirist's series of Brass Eye, which first aired on Channel 4 in 1997, caused another furore when it invented a drug, Cake, which various exceptionally stupid celebrities like Phil Collins and Paul Daniels were duped into solemnly warning the public against its dangers. Who can ever forget that fat fool Bernard Manning looking all serious as he faced the cameras and told the viewers 'if anybody offers you Cake, tell 'em to fuck off!' Morris first shot to fame with Armando Iannucci's legendary spoof of news and magazine shows, The Day Today, which was screened on BBC2 in 1994.

BBC1's gamble of scheduling an alleged comedy at 7.30pm failed to pay off on Wednesday night when the spectacularly bad opening episode of the circus sitcom Big Top was watched by just 3.3m viewers. The first of the six-part sitcom, starring Amanda Holden, Tony Robinson and John Thompson, was little match for a double-length episode of Emmerdale, which attracted 7.6m over the hour from 7pm, according to overnight figures.

Meanwhile, Amanda Holden has claimed that appearing on Britian's Got Talent has changed people's opinions on her. Not their opinion of her ability with comedy is Wednesday night is anything to go by, but, anyway ... The BGT judge said that the show had helped her to ditch her image as 'a maneater.' Holden was famously involved in a rather torrid-sounding affair with Neil Morrissey, whilst she was still married to the comic Les Dennis, something which seemed to obsess several British tabloids for about six months a decade ago. Speaking on Sky1 show Angela & Friends, Holden said: 'I think doing Britain's Got Talent - you can't hide behind it. That's me. I know I cry all the time, but that's just all the hormones. I am a minx, but people can see that I'm not this man-eating girl that I was portrayed as, when I was married and had an affair and all of that. That gave me really bad form as a person. It was not about who I was, it was about what I had done.' When asked how she got the job on the panel, the actress added: 'I think my name just happened to be in the producers' room, because I was supposed to host something else. I heard that Cheryl Cole basically wet her pants and decided that she couldn't do it. [Simon Cowell] told me that wasn't true, but I definitely wasn't first choice.' The photo, to the right, is the second time this week we've featured an illustration of Amanda's bottom on this thread. Which, I think, is quite fitting since this appears to be the second time this week that she's, publicly, talked out of it.

Former Coronation Street actor Danny Young has emerged as an early bookies' favourite to win the next series of Dancing On Ice. Young, who played Warren Baldwin on the ITV soap, currently has odds of four-to-one with Paddy Power. He was first tipped to be part of the line-up last month. Gary Lucy, best known for his role as Will Fletcher in The Bill, is another hotly-tipped competitor with odds of six-ot-one. Meanwhile, Hollyoaks' Kieron Richardson and Boyzone singer Mikey Graham follow with odds of eight and ten-to-one respectively. Sir Paul McCartney's ex-wife Heather Mills is currently seen as a less likely winner. Dancing On Ice's next batch of celebrity contestants have not yet been - officially - confirmed. The show will return to screens in January.

The second season of Twin Peaks will be released on DVD in the UK on 22 March 2010. The first year of the cult 1990s TV show created by David Lynch and Mark Frost has been available for several years but the UK has so far been excluded from any DVD releases of the twenty two-episode second run of episodes. Stars including Kyle MacLachlan and Sherilyn Fenn returned for the series, which also featured appearances from Heather Graham, Billy Zane and - mmeorably - David Duchovny (in drag). According to Modernhood, retailer HMV has sent e-mails to customers offering the opportunity to pre-order the box-set. It is not clear what extras - if any - will be included on the set, but the package includes six discs and will be sold with an recommended retail price of £49.99. Damn fine. Even if it did end of a sodding great (unresolved) cliffhanger!

Key daytime suppliers will reportedly be 'hauled into the BBC' for yet another lesson on avoiding 'TV fakery' following the Reef Television scandal over Sun, Sea And Bargain Spotting and other shows. Meanwhile, blog readers will note that Keith Telly Topping is utterly refusing to even dignify this week's 'get Top Gear' article which you may have seen in various scum newspapers on the grounds of sheer ludicrousness and because of the rancid stench of 'agenda' that clings to the story liike a shroud. Next, I fully expect the Sun or the Mail or the Guardian sporting a front page 'exclusive' which accuses the BBC of TV fakery because they can reveal that David Tennant isn't, really, a nine hundred year old Time Lord with two hearts who travels through space and time in a dimensionally trascendental craft.

A TV lie-detector expert has been given a suspended twenty four-week prison sentence after he was caught lying to police over a speeding ticket. Bruce Burgess, who does polygraph tests on The Jeremy Kyle Show, was caught by a speed camera breaking the 30mph limit in Hampshire on 31 August this year. Burgess, sixty five, of Charles Babbage Close, Chessington, lied to police saying that he was not the driver. Burgess admitted perverting the course of justice at an earlier hearing. The jail sentence was suspended for twelve months and he was also ordered to carry out one hundred and eighty hours of community service by Portsmouth Crown Court. Plus a further five years for not smacking Jeremy Kyle in the mush when he clearly had the opportunity to do so. I mena, on general principle, you know? Burgess was also fined two hundred and fifty smackers for the speeding offence and given three points on his driving licence which caused him to be disqualified for a year.

The woman who is alleged to have had an affair with Tiger Woods has reportedly cancelled a press conference which she had scheduled for today. Tabloid reports have accused Rachel Uchitel, thirty four, of sharing 'a romantic relationship' with Woods, although Ms Uchitel has denied the allegations. Does anybody else think that the word 'uchitel' sounds like a particularly nasty fungal infection of the genitals? Just me then? Anyway, Ms Uchitel had been preparing to address the media through her lawyer in Los Angeles. Speaking to The Associated Press, her attorney, Gloria Allred, said that the news conference had been cancelled because of 'unforeseen circumstances.' No further information was given. I imagine that has cost someone a tidy penny. I mean, hiring the hall of the conference alone. Why, what did you think I meant? Allred had previously claimed that she would 'make a statement about Ms Uchitel's relationship with Tiger Woods' at the event.

Lily Allen reportedly wants to quit the music business to become a shopkeeper. The singer is said to be dissatisfied with the industry which made her famous and, particularly, annoyed by illegal music downloads. Ah, okay. Good luck with the shop, chuck. Hope it doesn't go the same way Woolworths did