Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sweet Hope & Charity

We start this evening, dear blog reader, with what can only be described as an utterly shameless plug. Well, at least, it is if you're in the vague North Tyneside area. (In other words this isn't, necessary, applicable to From The North readers in, for example, California. Or, indeed, Manchester for that matter!) Yer Keith Telly Topping's good pal and buddy and sometime writing partner, the legend that is BBC Newcastle's Alfie Joey (the housewives choice) will be hosting an evening of light variety, a Grand Charity Concert at Whitley Bay's very lovely Playhouse Theatre tomorrow evening, 6 August, starting at 7:30. Tickets cost £7.50 and you can book by telephone on 0844 2772771. Or, you can book online, here. Sounds like a splendid evening's entertainment. Nice shirt, by the way, Alfster.

To more serious matters. On 12 January 2010 a massive earthquake hit the Caribbean island of Haiti causing devastation on an almost biblical scale. As so often happens in such circumstances, within days of the tragedy, in an attempt to raise money for the victims, the music industry got itself involved. X Factor mogul Simon Cowell arranged to record a charity single, a version of R.E.M's 'Everybody Hurts.' The then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, agreed to waive VAT on the single and R.E.M. themselves gave up their rights to any royalties. The song was recorded by a collection of pop groups and singers including Take That, Westlife, James Blunt, Kylie Minogue and Mariah Carey together with several who had strong links to Mr Cowell and his TV shows - including Alexandra Burke, Joe McElderry, Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle, JLS and Cheryl Cole. It was release was under the collective name Helping Haiti. Proceeds from the single were split between the Sun's Helping Haiti fund and the Disasters Emergency Committee. The single was released on CD and as a digital download on 7 February 2010. To be honest, it wasn't really all that good, musically (it was certainly an inferior version of the song to the original, for example). Many of the vocalists featured weren't suited to that particular song but, by the same token, that didn't really matter. I don't imagine for a second that most of those who bought the record were planning on playing it more than a few times, it was the cause which was the important thing. A few media commentators, perhaps rather cynically, went against the vein of public opinion and suggested that at least some of the artists taking part were likely to be doing so not out of any genuinely empathy with the cause but, rather, to get themselves a bit of publicity, something which is often suggested whenever a charity record - for pretty much any cause - is made. It might be right, it might be wholly spurious but the suspicion is usually raised by someone each time one of these type of recordings is made. In this particular case, it must be noted, this perception wasn't helped by some desperately stupid comments made by some of those taking part. (For example the singer Mika ludicrously claiming that 'I have a collection of Haiti paintings in my flat, so it's a place close to me.' Or X Factor winner Joe McElderry's statement 'It's been highly documented and affected so many people - it's a worthy cause to get on board with.' My italics. To be fair of course Alexandra Burke did, indeed, go to Haiti to see the conditions for herself. Although how much 'help' she actually provided via this trip, per se, is open to question.) There was, also, another age-old question which, again, some always commentators ask whenever a charity record is released, concerning why people need to be 'bribed' to give their money to a charitable cause with a CD or a download when they could simply donate directly to a charity and cut out the middle man. Surely, the cause is the cause, this argument runs - if you feel that it's worth giving to then you shouldn't need to get a CD in return? Nevertheless, all such cynicism aside, the single was a huge success selling approximately two hundred thousand copies in its first two days in the United Kingdom making it the fastest-selling British charity record of the Twenty First Century. And, the money that it generated undoubtedly did some good. So, whether one likes the idea of charity records or not, there's no doubting the fact that the successful ones (Band Aid being the most obvious example) can certainly make the world, if only briefly, a better place. Good. That's all wholly laudable. Fast forward now to late July 2010 and after heavy monsoon rains in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, at least three thousand people have been killed in the ensuing floods, many more thousands have been rendered homeless and, it is estimated, millions of people have been, or will, be affected by what has been described by the BBC's reporter Orla Guerin as 'the worst natural disaster of the decade.' So, the obvious next question to ask is where, exactly is the Helping Pakistan single? What made Haiti more deserving of some pop star aid than Pakistan? Is the fact that there hasn't been a sudden rush by some B-list celebrities to create a charity record for this particular cause anything to do with David Cameron's recent comments suggesting that Pakistan is a haven for terrorists? Is it to do with the country's Muslim religion? Is it anything to do with the fact that The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent aren't, currently, on air and, therefore, Simon Cowell has no obvious new talent to push? I don't know the answers to any of these questions but I think they're worth asking. I know there have been some very cynical jokes floating around the Internet about a planned charity version of 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.' (Not funny, guys). But, this is a serious query. I thought, at the time of its release, that the makers of the Helping Haiti single had made a huge rod for their own backs by rushing, so quickly, to highlight one particular disaster. Just a few weeks after the Haiti earthquake there was an even bigger one in Chile which was nowhere near as widely reported by the Western media. So, guys, what you gonna do spend the rest of your life making a charity record every time there's a humanitarian crisis? In which case, you're going to be pretty busy. Again, the question was asked earlier in the year, and should be asked now, if Haiti got a charity record, why didn't Chile or Pakistan? Is it because the makers of charity singles realise that the public only have so much goodwill towards deserving causes to give out and that 'charity fatigue' can sometimes set in if they're constantly being asked to give? I haven't got answers to any of this, I'm just asking a question that's troubled me for some time - who decides which natural disasters are deserving of more help - and publicity - than others?

Speaking of Joe McElderry, the diminutive South Shields singer is reportedly meeting with Disney executives next week. Apparently they need someone to play Mickey Mouse at EuroDisney and they immediately thought of Joe.

The BBC has commissioned a new drama from Andrew Davies. Davies has written screenplays for a number of the BBC's period dramas and has now penned an adaptation of Winifred Holtby's novel South Riding. The three-part series focuses on a Yorkshire community in the 1930s and stars Anna Maxwell Martin, David Morrissey, Penelope Wilton and Douglas Henshall. The BBC's controller of drama commissioning Ben Stephenson said: 'Following on from Small Island and A Passionate Woman, we continue to reappraise the BBC's approach to period drama. There are no cosy clichés here - this little known novel paints a raw and real portrait of a rural community bustling with humanity and humour.' The novel had previously been adapted as a film, in 1938, and as a well-remembered TV series by Yorkshire Television in 1974. The BBC also revealed details of two other new shows, including a new project produced by Shameless creator Paul Abbott. Exile, written by Danny Brocklehurst, sees a son returning to examine the history of his family. The three-part series becomes an investigative crime drama when an old scandal is discovered. Meanwhile, Five Daughters writer Stephen Butchard has penned a new ninety-minute drama called Taken, which focuses on child trafficking in Britain. Stephenson said: 'BBC Drama allows original writers to do their very best work and the story going forward is about putting writers and authorship first in order to deliver audiences the range of varied and ambitious drama they expect. Andrew Davies, Danny Brocklehurst and Stephen Butchard's new work represents the range of high quality and imaginative drama that pushes the bar of what mainstream is on BBC1.'

Strictly Come Dancing professional Artem Chigvintsev has been forced to return to America after being threatened with deportation, it has been reported. The Russian-born dancer, who was scheduled to be one of three new professionals appearing in the next series of Strictly, was allegedly told that he could not stay in the country while working long hours in two different jobs. In addition to Strictly, the Latin champion was required to work thirty eight hours-a-week on West End musical Burn The Floor, but Home Office regulations only permit him to work twenty, according to the Sun. The paper adds that an assistant producer at Strictly told Chigvintsev's agent: 'The UK Border Agency have told the BBC once the visa is issued Artem's sponsor will be the BBC and he can work twenty hours-a-week on Burn the Floor. For us, Artem cannot go over twenty hours at all for fear of being deported. We cannot stress how important this is. Strictly is so high-profile in the UK that we cannot put a foot wrong.' Burn The Floor producers reportedly turned down the BBC's request to let him go from the production, prompting the channel to send Chigvintsev back home to America to re-apply for a work visa. A source said: 'It's embarrassing for the BBC. They basically had to do this to stop Artem being deported.' However, the BBC is believed to have denied claims from Burn The Floor's creator, Harley Medcalf, that it acted in an 'arrogant' fashion and tried to 'bully' the musical's producers into releasing Chigvintsev, insisting that it had behaved 'appropriately and transparently.' Chigvintsev previously appeared on US television as a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance and as a professional on Dancing With The Stars. The BBC is now thought to be looking for a replacement dancer to stand in for Chigvintsev during the opening shows of the upcoming series, which begins next month.

Carol Mendelsohn has described Justin Bieber's upcoming appearance on the season premiere of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation as 'explosive.' The executive producer told MTV News that the sixteen-year-old was a perfect fit for the show and had filmed his role as troubled teen Jason McCann in only one day. 'I got a call that Justin really was a fan of CSI [and] that's all I have to hear, and so it was just perfect timing. Justin was looking to make his dramatic acting debut. We had an incredible role for a young actor in [our season premiere], so it just seemed like the perfect marriage,' she explained. 'There was one day that Justin had available and that was the day he came to [the set] and filmed his four scenes for the premiere. We will introduce his character in the premiere in September and then it will be a character arc and we will see him again playing Jason McCann again in February.' Mendelsohn added that she thinks Bieber was 'the perfect choice' to play the character of Jason. 'He's a troubled young man, raised in the foster care system, whose hard-luck life has left him scarred and angry. When we first meet Jason, we meet him at a community centre where he's giving a testimonial in honour of a man who takes Jason and his older brother in when they had no-one else, and that man is now in jail and Jason's brother is out for revenge and looking for payback,' she said. 'And the CSIs are looking for the brother and Jason is caught in the middle. At the end of the episode, we're left with the question: Is Jason a good kid stuck in a bad situation or is Jason a bad kid hiding behind his cuteness? You can see why Justin was such a perfect choice to play this role. It's an explosive story.'

Robert Webb is to present a comedic review of social networking sites and the online world. Channel 4 will broadcast four thirty-minute episodes of Robert's Web, which will see the Peep Show and That Mitchell & Webb Look star scour the Internet for tweets, uploads, groups and celebrity websites. Speaking about his first solo TV project, he joked: 'Channel 4 have wanted to make this show for some time but Gary Internet is never available, so they've settled for me.' Meanwhile, Channel 4 commissioning editor Nerys Evans said: 'The explosion of social networking commentary on the news provides a fertile ground for weird and wonderful comic material. We’re thrilled that Robert will host this show for us, bringing his smart satirical take on the nuggets he finds.' Robert's Web will be scheduled alongside award-winning sitcom Peep Show when it returns next year for its seventh series, making it the longest-running comedy in the channel's twenty eight-year history.

Noah Wyle has revealed that he is a fan of Doctor Who. The actor - who played John Carter on NBC medical drama E.R. for fifteen years - told io9 that his mother had knitted him a long scarf when he was a child, resembling the one worn by the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker. 'I still have it,' he laughed. Wyle suggested that he would pass the scarf down to his seven-year old son when he was old enough to watch the BBC science-fiction series. 'He's not quite hip to Doctor Who yet,' he explained. 'I'm waiting, he's almost ready.'

Neil Morrissey is relaunching his sitcom career in a new BBC3 pilot next week, it has been confirmed. The Sun reports that the actor, who is best known for playing Tony in the 1990s comedy smash Men Behaving Badly, will star in The Inn Mates. Morrissey will portray a gay sperm donor tracked down by one of his IVF offspring - played by Joe Pasquale's son, Joe Tracini - who blackmails him into being a real father to him. Writer John Warburton said: 'Getting Neil was a brilliant coup. The main characters are Joe and Neil as well as a group of twenty-somethings struggling with a quarter life crisis.' The Inn Mates, which also features former Coronation Street stars Johnny Dixon and Poppy Jhakra, premieres next Monday at 9.30pm on BBC3.

Leading actors have attacked plans to axe the UK Film Council as part of a cost-cutting drive by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. More than fifty actors have written a joint letter to the Daily Telegraph saying the move will damage the 'backbone' of Britain's film industry. They cite the council's funding as crucial for films such as In the Loop, This is England and Gosford Park. The council had an annual budget of fifteen million pounds to invest and employed seventy five people. Signatories to the letter include James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Bill Nighy, Pete Postlethwaite, Timothy Spall and Sir Ian Holm. The joint letter reads: 'We all owe any success we have had in our acting careers, to varying degrees, to films supported by the UK Film Council. But it is not out of personal gratitude that we are dismayed that the UKFC is facing the axe; it is because we fear the impact on the British film industry as a whole. It is our camera crews, lighting experts, set builders and a whole host of other skilled people who give our film industry such an edge. Their expertise and experience, which the UKFC has done so much to foster, is the main reason why so many top Hollywood directors choose to make films here in Britain. We should think long and hard about getting rid of one of the major factors behind a great British success story.' The council was set up in 2000 and has put more than one hundred and sixty million pounds of Lottery funding into about nine hundred films. As he announced the plans, Culture Secretary oily little Jeremy Hunt said that he wanted to establish 'a direct and less bureaucratic relationship with the British Film Institute.' He says this would support front-line services while ensuring greater value for money.

Malcolm McDowell is to return to CBS crime drama The Mentalist. The actor confirmed to TV Guide that he will reprise his role as church leader Britt Stiles in the upcoming third season. 'I'm obviously some kind of dastardly serial killer type,' he joked. 'But I like fencing with Simon Baker.' He added: '[Stiles is] a charming, charismatic, deadly character, but he's wonderful because he is so smooth. He is like Teflon and whenever he's attacked he just smiles and deflects everything.' He also praised the acting ability of series star Baker, calling him 'very, very skilled. I didn't realise quite how good of an actor he is until I worked with him,' McDowell admitted.

Tony Siricio is to make a guest appearance in the new season of NBC's supernatural drama Medium. The actor will play a mobster in the season premiere, reports the New York Post. When Sirico's character is murdered, he returns in a ghostly form and teams up with psychic Allison DuBois (Patricia Arquette) to catch his killer. Sirico previously played gangster Paulie Gualtieri for eight years on HBO drama The Sopranos.

Fearne Cotton has revealed that she frequently challenges the judges' verdict on Must Be The Music. The host of the wretched Sky1 talent show said that she was not afraid of confronting the panel, which features Paxman's chum Dizzee Rascal, Sharleen Spiteri and Jamie Cullum, when she disagreed with their comments. 'I've leapt on to the stage to say I disagree quite a few times. I have to be passionate about it as you don't want to mess with our judges!' she said. 'But sometimes you can't control it once you've got to know the people involved, what they've been through and how good they are. The judges got harsher as the auditions went on as well.' Speaking about the difference between MBTM and other talent shows, she said: 'The fact that there are no rules [is the big difference]. You can be a band, a solo artist, a musician who doesn't sing, young or old. And the chance to perform your own songs is a huge pull for acts who want to get their music out there. I've never seen such raw talent in so many varied ways as on this show.' She added: 'We are looking for genuine talent. Someone who doesn't need to be told how they should be to get noticed, who doesn't need to be re-styled, or sing someone else's song to get in the charts. I'm looking for pure, natural talent.'