Monday, September 13, 2010

Orange, and Purple, and Blue ...

Yer Keith Telly Topping very much enjoyed BBC4's Newcastle night on Sunday evening, dear blog reader. Not merely for geographical reasons, although that was, undeniably, a factor in his appreciation. But, also, it was because anything that annoys sour-faced, full-of-her-own-importance waste-of-space Alison Graham in the Radio Times, as BBC4's current Planet North strand apparently does, is well-okay in this blogger's book. I thought the Byker Wall documentary was perhaps half-an-hour too long, although it was very well made. I also enjoyed Michael Smith's documentary for the most part, and he said some very interesting things which mesh with my own opinion on the way that the city is often perceived - by both outsiders and, indeed, by us what do live there and all that. But, for me, the highlight of the night was that little half-hour Newcastle On Film clip show. That was beautiful. I had so much fun trying to identify all the places which it featured that no longer exist!

My God, how much more orange is Christine Bleakley going to get on Daybreak before the nation's TV sets start to spontaneously explode in protest? Her boat-race looked uncannily like the paint job on a 1973 Austin Allego during this morning's episode. Even the Mirror's noticed. When she and Lampard go out of the razz of an evening they must look like a pair of flaming Oompa-Loopmas. At this rate of progress through all the colours of the rainbow, by the end of the week she'll have, surely, reached ultraviolet.

Three actors have been confirmed for guest roles in the upcoming sixth series of Doctor Who. The website for the talent agency Alphabet Kidz reports that child actor Jamie Oram has been cast as Harry in the fourth episode of the 2011 series. Oram has previously appeared in a number of commercials, but this will be his first role in TV drama. Actor Daniel Mays will also appear in the episode as Harry's father. Mays is, of course, best known for his devilish role as the Satanic Jim Keats on the third series of Ashes To Ashes and will also be appearing in the forthcoming BBC SF drama Outcasts. Harry's mother will be played by Emma Cunniffe, who has previously featured in episodes of The Bill and Casualty and appeared alongside former Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston in the 2002 drama Flesh and Blood. A casting call on Spotlight describes the character of Harry as 'a troubled young boy who has a nervous disposition.' Production on the episode - apparently titled What Are Little Boys Made Of? - is currently ongoing in Cardiff. This, presumably, is the episode written by Mark Gatiss as the other episode currently in production - Neil Gaiman's - is alleged to be episode three of the next series. Unless, of course, someone's got their wires crossed and this is the Gaiman episode. which had the working title The House of Nothing but which Gaiman noted would almost certainly be made under another title. As with most things related to Doctor Who, time will tell. It usually does.

Simon Cowell has reportedly been offered a rumoured twenty million pounds by ITV in an obscene attempt to keep The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent on air given the current financial climate in this country. A 'source' allegedly told the Daily Telegraph that 'senior figures' at the network hoped to secure the fifty-year-old music mogul's allegiance until 2013, after he recently expressed a desire to end his association with both of his hit programmes to concentrate on the upcoming American version of The X Factor. 'The desire is to pin down three years,' the newspaper claim that the 'insider' stated. 'This could have been sorted out six months ago. We need to know what we're doing otherwise we will commission alternative products. We can't be eighty per cent certain of The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent. It appears we have this sort of dance-around most years.' Cowell is currently understood to be on a six million pound annual deal with ITV.

Meanwhile, ITV's new management team is reportedly preparing to introduce major jobs cuts as part of a five-year masterplan to revitalise the broadcaster. Adam Crozier, ITV's chief executive, and Archie Norman, its chairman, are understood to be looking to reduce the number of employees at the broadcaster's South Bank offices, reports the Independent. 'Sources' described by the newspaper as being 'close to the company' claim that up to half of the one thousand four hundred staff based at the offices could be cut over the next few years. Further cutbacks are also expected among ITV's two thousand six hundred employees around the UK and Europe. Last year, twelve hundred ITV staff were made redundant under a cost-saving programme masterminded by the previous chairman, Michael Grade. A source claimed that the new round of job cuts were part of the board's strategic transformation plan designed to make savings, but also to bring in fresh talent. 'There comes a point when you need to change the culture internally, to change the view inside, and sometimes that can only be done by bringing in new faces' the source said. ITV is also investing heavily in new programming and content to build on the success of The X Factor and Dancing On Ice. In conjunction, the firm's new online managing director Fru Hazlitt is working on building up the presence of and catch-up service ITV Player to compete with the BBC. Numis media analyst Lorna Tilbian said: 'We expect big job cuts from Archie Norman - it's very much his style - and it's what he did at Asda where he was so successful. The only way forward for ITV is to cut costs, build up content and hope that eventually the government will trim back the licence fee going to the BBC, because it is squeezing out all other commercial operators.' Norman and Crozier are further thought to be considering a move out of ITV's South Bank tower and its Grays Inn Road buildings as part of the strategy review. 'The tower is spread over twenty one floors which makes communication in such a people business difficult,' said a source. 'Longer-term we will be looking to move to somewhere more practical.' If you're cutting the number of jobs suggested here, could this blogger humbly suggest a phone box might be about the right size. Investors are said to have 'reacted well' to the transformation plan, but Norman has warned that it will take five tough years to genuinely turn around the broadcaster's fortunes. Course, one easy way of saving money, and not laying off lots of people is to not pay Simon Cowell twenty million quid. Just one other option that you might like to consider, gentlemen.

Paul O'Grady, meanwhile, wants to judge Britain's Got Talent. That's if it still exists if Cowell decided to ditch it. The fifty five-year-old presenter - who was a panellist on the show's pilot episode in 2005 alongside Cowell, Piers Morgan, and Fern Britton - admits he would be delighted to join the programme full time. He said: 'I'd love to do the show now. I've always got on really well with Simon Cowell and his mum Julie, who used to be a dancer.' The Liverpudlian host thinks he would be 'tough' on contestants but would hate to upset anyone unnecessarily. He added: 'I'd be a tough judge, but not cruel. I'd say, "Polish up your act or go get a job in a shop."' Yeah, I think you'll find, Paul, that is being cruel. Earlier this week, Cowell hinted he would not be returning to either Britain's Got Talent or X Factor - massive three-year deals with an almost broke ITV notwithstanding - as he is busy with his US TV commitments. He said: 'At the moment you are going to see me doing one show next year - and not one in England. I have a contract for this year and that is it.' The music mogul also advised the panellists on his two shows not to take their jobs for granted. He added: 'No-one is safe. No-one should feel they have the show guaranteed, including myself. I haven't decided if I am doing Britain's Got Talent.'

FOX is reportedly developing a remake of the British sitcom Outnumbered. The network has greenlit a pilot for the new series from writers Barbara Wallace and Thomas R Wolfe, according to Deadline. The project will be 'inspired' by the UK original, created by the great Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin. FOX previously attempted to adapt Outnumbered during the 2007-08 development season. A pilot was produced, written by Larry Levin and starring Ken Marino and Brooke Bloom, but it did not receive a series commission. Because, like just about every US remake of a British sitcom, it was shite. Wallace and Wolfe will executive produce the new remake, alongside Peter Chernin, Katherine Pope and Jimmy Mulville. The pilot will be produced by FOX, Chernin Entertainment and Hat Trick Productions, the producers of the original.

Anton Du Beke has allegedly been partnered with Ann Widdecombe in the latest series of Strictly Come Dancing 'as a punishment' for his part in last year's race row. According to the Sun who, of course, would know, 'show bosses' deliberately paired the forty four-year-old ballroom professional and awful host of Hole In The Wall with the battleaxe MP after he caused controversy for describing his previous partner, the lovely Laila Rouass' as 'a Paki.' A 'source' is alleged to have told the newspaper: 'Of all the female dancers to end up with, Anton would have been dreading Ann. She's about a foot shorter than him and hopeless at dancing. He would have wanted someone sexier, like Pasty Kensit, so this is a real slap in the face for him. But I think, if he's honest with himself, he kind of deserves it as he caused a real problem last year.' However, Du Beke himself insisted that he is happy to compete alongside Widdecombe. 'I've got the most wonderful partner in Ann and I'm very excited,' he said. A BBC spokesperson failed to comment on the reasoning behind the pairing, saying only: 'Anton is a very experienced dancer and great teacher - perfect for Ann.' Oh, I'm looking forward to this season of Strictly so much. Once Paul Daniels gets the heave-ho in week two or three, of course.

Living TV has reportedly ordered a pilot show from ITV Studios which will follow the eccentric adventures of German fashionista Harald Glööckler.

The Scottish government has reportedly launched a review into a new public service broadcaster to compete with the BBC. Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop has appointed an independent panel to look into funding a digital network comprising TV and Internet channels. The panel will be chaired by former BBC Scotland news boss Blair Jenkins, who previously headed up the Scottish government's broadcasting commission. It has been asked to report its findings in January. Hyslop, said: 'After more than fifty years of opt-out television services, a dedicated Scottish digital network would completely transform our perspective. There is unanimous support for the network in the Scottish Parliament and recognition of its potential to develop Scotland's broadcasting sector, provide more high-quality programmes for Scottish audiences and create much-needed competition for the BBC.' You forgot to add a 'hoots, toots, och-aye' there, Jimmy. The panel also includes former Herald editor Charles McGhee, Downing Corporate Finance investment director Judith Mackenzie, Stirling University media professor Neil Blain and David Wightman, a former member of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission. The commission previously concluded up to seventy five million pounds of public money should be spent on a new, high-quality Scottish TV channel to fill 'a missing piece of the public service jigsaw.' So, a return for The White Heather Club, then?

The BBC's Merlin returned to screens to a healthy audience on Saturday night, according to overnight ratings figures. The Tears Of Uther Pendragon: Part 1, the first episode of series three which saw Merlin saved by the Dragon Lord, averaged 5.58m viewers between 7.25pm and 8.10pm. Saturday night's opener was five hundred thousand viewers up on last year's premiere for the family drama - despite airing against The X Factor this time around. Louis Walsh's spat with Pixie Lott on this week's auditions round was seen by a total of just a fraction under eleven million viewers - 10.45m on ITV and a further four hundred and fifty thousand on ITVHD from 7.45pm - holding more or less exactly the same audience as last week's episode. Strictly Come Dancing's launch show was less popular with viewers, with an average of seven million viewers. However, the audience did climb steadily from 5.94m at 6.25pm to a peak of just over eight million at 7.15pm.

The launch of ITV's period drama, Downton Abbey, this month 'reminds viewers the network is capable of a richer mix, beyond talent searches, soaps and gritty drama' according to the Gruniad Morning Star. 'We are immensely proud of having made this, it takes us into a world ITV drama doesn't usually take us to,' they quote Peter Fincham, the director of television, as saying. Fincham emphasises it is an original piece by Julian Fellowes, in the Gosford Park mould, not a remake (which appears to be a dig at the revival of Upstairs Downstairs, coming soon to Fincham's old stamping ground, BBC1), or an adaptation of a classic novel. But the producer, Carnival Film & Television, tempted ITV into investing, in the depths of last year's advertising recession, by agreeing to substantially help fund the seven million pound, seven-part project itself. Carnival was purchased two years ago by America's NBC Universal, filling its coffers with cash to invest. The Sunday night series is also, the paper concluded, 'a timely illustration of one solution to the problem of affording top-end drama, a live issue at the Edinburgh International Television festival, where the BBC director general Mark Thompson and screenwriter Paul Abbott warned that change had to come.' Gareth Neame, who runs Carnival, says that, contrary to reports, there are no big American players eager to stump up co-production money for British period pieces – in contrast to the global appetite for SF and family drama, exploited by Primeval and Torchwood. 'There are very few outlets, a lot of countries in the world have no interest in our history,' he says. But he adds: 'I am very optimistic it will travel.' Filmed on location at Highclere Castle, Hampshire, the drama, set in 1912, has an eighteen-strong core cast headed by Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville. 'The world they inhabit is recognisable – electricity, motor cars, trains, telephones. It is not Jane Austen,' says Fellowes, a chap whom yer Keith Telly Topping has always had a bit of time for quite apart from his excellence as a writer. 'We chose a time when the destabilising of it is just around the corner.' The hope is that this venture will become a returning series, and scripts for a second run are in development. For that it will need upmarket audiences - five million plus – and buckets of critical acclaim.

Archive material of BBC children's presenters in the 'broom cupboard' is being made available to the public. The BBC has released clips and photos to celebrate the twenty fifth anniversary of the studio, which helped launch the careers of Phillip Schofield and Andi Peters. But, let's not be too harsh on them for that. The launch of the broom cupboard, in 1985, marked a revolution in the BBC's approach to young viewers, with rolling presentation. Puppets Gordon The Gopher and Edd The Duck also became firm favourites. Toby Anstis, Josie d'Arby, Andy Crane and Zoe Ball also appeared as presenters in the set - which got its name because of how cramped it was. The broom cupboard was actually a small booth in one of the vision mixing galleries at Television Centre. Most of the time, the presenters' links were shot live and would introduce the start of each programmes, which included shows such as Jackanory, Grange Hill and Byker Grove. The countdown clock at the beginning of taped programmes could often be seen on a monitor at the side of the booth, while children's drawings were stuck to the back wall. Presenters would also read out letters from viewers, while Schofield became notorious for singing the theme tunes to programmes like Ulysses 31 over their opening titles. Among the footage which has been released is a technical glitch which resulted in presenter Debbie Flint having to fill in for several minutes until Schofield came to her aid. The BBC is also celebrating the sixtieth anniversary pf the founding of its dedicated children's department this month.

The much reported musical instrument which caused the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall (and Brian Blessed as well) to cry with laughter last week has its roots in a bizarre device created in the Sixteenth Century, its creator has revealed. Last week the Prince and Duchess were caught on camera doubled up with laughter as they watched Henry Dagg, a performer, play 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' on a so-called 'cat-organ.' Ah, it's been such a long time since I saw a member of the Royal Family laughing, uproariously, at cruelty to dumb animals. Well, Prince Edward aside, of course. The instrument, reminiscent of a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch featuring tortured mice, in fact harks back to an apparently real contraption, in which howling felines were 'played' for the entertainment of Prince Philip of Spain. The instrument, which from some angles looks a little like a harpsichord, has two rows of eight stuffed toy cats. Each one squeaks a different note, giving the organist a range of two octaves and the ability to murder virtually any song. Many marvelled at the eccentric contraption and Mr Dagg has been inundated with offers to perform at events. He spent most of the weekend in various radio and television studios reprising his act. Terry Jones, who created Monty Python's 'mouse organ' in 1970 by bashing sixteen white mice with a mallet, joked yesterday that he would be suing Mr Dagg. Jones said: 'We are going to sue him for pinching the joke and we feel very, very aggrieved by someone stealing our mouse organ gag. Legal proceeding are in progress.' At least, he's a comedian, so we presume he was joking. He added: 'In all seriousness, I have a lot of time for Prince Charles and I am glad the cats are still delighting the Prince.' In his turn, Jones appears to have borrowed the idea from an even earlier sources. Mr Dagg has revealed that the origin of the cat organ goes back far beyond Monty Python and is merely a modern version of a far earlier attempt to amuse a prince. Some claim that during a procession in Brussels thrown in honour of King Philip II of Spain, in 1549, a bear rode a chariot and played an organ where the tails of twenty howling cats were bound to the keys. The musical bear and the tortured cats were, a chronicler said at the time, the only thing that raised a smile from the melancholy prince. For God's sake nobody tell Simon Cowell about this or he'll probably want one on Britain's Got Talent. About one hundred years later Athanasius Kircher, a German Jesuit renaissance man operating in the fields of medicine, oriental studies and geology, invented what he called the Katzenklavier, a cat organ. The instrument consisted of a keyboard, with seven to nine cats held in cages corresponding to the approximate pitch of their mewling. Above each tail was a nail. Hit the key and the cat shrieked a note on a scale. It is uncertain whether Kircher's Katzenklavier – designed to give psychiatric patients a jolt rather than to amuse – was ever actually produced.

The advisory panel examining ways to establish a new generation of local TV services is expected to deliver an interim report to the culture secretary, oily Jeremy Hunt, by the end of the month. Led by Nicholas Shott, the head of UK investing at Lazards, the panel has been deluged with submissions and is currently consulting widely in its quest to find a sustainable broadcast model, which could be rolled out across at least part of the country. Last week, the panel visited newspaper groups and other interested bodies in Scotland. On Thursday they are invited to several existing local TV operators, including Belfast's NvTv and the Community Media Association. Claire Enders, the founder of media consultancy Enders Analysis and a member of the panel, said they expected to deliver an interim report by the end of September and their final proposals by the end of the year. 'We are making patient progress, but there are long, intractable issues,' Enders said. 'We are doing our best to go through all the business models. We are leaving no stone unturned. We are aware of how keen the minister is. But one of the obvious things about the UK is that our conurbations are not appropriate for local television, they are not big enough. We will get somewhere, which advances the minister's agenda, but it will not be earth-shattering stuff.' Hunt has been an enthusiastic proponent of creating a new generation of local TV services since he became the shadow culture spokesman. In his first speech on media policy after becoming culture secretary in June, Hunt confirmed that the new coalition government was scrapping Labour's plan to replace ITV regional news with consortiums funded by the BBC licence fee or another form of public subsidy. He also announced plans to deregulate local cross-media ownership rules and push ahead with new local TV services with the appointment of Shott to lead the advisory panel. One key difficulty is the availability of broadcasting spectrum to make local or city TV a reality, since mobile operators are expected to take precedence in an auction of transmission frequencies freed up by digital switchover.

Prostitute Jenny Thompson, who slept with footballer Wayne Rooney, has been linked to I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! in a tabloid newspaper. Thompson, who was at the centre of a tabloid scandal last weekend, has apparently been targeted by the reality show to 'spice up' the series. A 'show rep' is alleged to have told the Daily Star (so, that probably gives you, dear blog readers, and idea of how much credence to give this report): 'Watch this space. We'd love to get her on the new series. Everyone is fascinated by the Rooney story. I'm sure everyone would love to hear more from Jenny.' Given that this lady is not, in actual fact, a 'celebrity' or anything even remotely like it, but rather, a sex worker I'm wondering if there might not be something in the Trades Descriptions Act to mess up this carefully laid 'plan.' That's if there's even a smidgen of truth in the Star's story. Which is highly unlikely given their track record over this kind of thing. Of course, it's important to remember that prostitution, in and of itself, is not a crime in this country. But solicitation is. And so, very definitely, is pimping. Just something for the Star and for ITV to have a think about whilst they're working out how, exactly, they intend to 'use' this young lady. The report goes on to suggest that the twenty one-year-old may be joined in the jungle by Vernon Kay's sex-text partner Rhian Sugden and one of Ashley Cole's rumoured sexual partners. I must admit, I'm A Whore ... Get Me Out Of Here! would be a far more accurate title for the show. I mean, previously, regardless of what happens next year.

Mel B's widely-reported split from her film producer husband is nothing more than a publicity stunt, a 'source' has claimed. According to Now, Stephen Belafonte announced that his marriage to the former Spice Girl had come to an end in an alleged attempt to draw attention to her upcoming reality show It's A Scary World. 'The split was nothing but a sham devised to get Mel and Stephen in the headlines to create hype for the series,' an 'insider' is alleged to have told the magazine which specialises in tittle-tattle about the criminally untalented. 'Mel masterminded the whole thing. Everyone was shocked when they saw that story, especially as it was supposed to have come directly from Stephen. It left friends with raised eyebrows. Mel wants this show to be a success. She'll do whatever it takes to keep herself in the spotlight - and now everyone knows about the series.' The 'source' also allegedly assured the magazine that the couple's marriage was as strong as ever, despite their tendency to row. 'Mel and Stephen do fight a lot - that's nothing new. They're a perfect match because they have the same unconventional philosophies about marriage and commitment. They're both short- tempered and love drama.' The spouses were recently spotted out together mere days after expressing their intention to seperate, while the thirty five-year-old singer further confused matters by writing on Twitter that she and Belafonte 'just had the best couples' massage ever. We both are oily lavender messes right now.'

Jim Davidson has said that modern comics are 'an awful, jealous, socialist bunch of cunts' after a night out at the Comedy Store. According to Chortle, the fifty six-year-old comic 'snuck into to the London venue's topical Cutting Edge night on Tuesday,' but 'found the night "dreary" and full of "self-indulgent bollocks."' The hated tax exile and right-winger also complained that all the stand-ups on the bill 'liked to knock anything that was more famous, successful, richer or better than them.' And, true to his reputation, Davidson referred to comic Paul Sinha not by name, but as 'the Indian poof' when he wrote about his night out on his website. Similarly, Mick Ferry was referred to as 'Stan Ogden' – in honour of the Coronation Street character last seen in the soap twenty six years ago – Steve Gribbin was 'a very sweaty Liverpuddlian' [sic], while the great Mitch Benn was 'the size of Giant Haystacks,' the Eighties wrestler. Davidson did enjoy one moment, he claimed, when Ferry teased a Finnish girl in the audience. '[He] proceeded to rip the shit out of her and her country,' Davidson - a self-confessed wife-beater - wrote. 'Hmmm, not quite as politically correct as I thought – this could be good.' However, the four-times-divorced and tragically unfunny comic who now finds himself virtually unemployable in Britain these days and lives in Dubai (I don't know, these bloody foreign nationals, they come over here, they take our jobs ...) soon tired of the entertainment and said: 'I laughed as much as I could but then retired to the bar to drink as much as I could. Afterwards I chatted briefly to the Indian poof who reluctantly said a few words and showed me his teeth – I think he was smiling. The older and funniest one, I forget his name, something Coyote [Martin] was quite pleasant. Stan Ogden and the duo of Northerners would have nothing to do with me. I'm really glad I'm not part of this awful, jealous, socialist bunch of cunts.' As Chrotle note, Jimbo me auld cock sparra, the feeling is entirely mutual.

A woman who phoned Virgin Media for technical support after her Internet stopped working was kept on hold for twelve hours, it has been revealed. Tanya Davis had already been cut off twenty times when trying to get through to the company, and agreed to be put on hold at 11pm to speak to a technical support manager. I think I'd've given up and gone to bed aobut about the fourth attempt and sorted it out in the morning, personally, but, never mind. Davis told the Sunday Mirror: 'After I'd held for an hour or so my partner took over and I lay down on the sofa. All we could hear was songs on a loop. The most annoying was probably Britney Spears' 'Oops, I Did It Again'!' Surely, Blondie's 'Hanging on the Telephone' would've been a more appropriate choice, Virgin? 'Then we decided to go to bed and left the phone off the hook, joking we would probably still be on hold in the morning. I couldn't believe it when Britney was still blaring out the next day.' I imagine when you get your phone bill in, you might regret that decision, hen. The twenty six-year-old called back and got through to a UK call centre - only to be put on hold again. She added: 'When I eventually spoke to a supervisor in the UK and told her what had happened she said, "Oh my God, seriously?"' A Virgin Media spokesman said: 'We're conducting an investigation as to why Ms Davis was on hold for so long as we have processes that prevent this happening. As a gesture of goodwill, we have credited her account with thirty pounds.'