Friday, September 17, 2010

A Postmodern Sentimental Journey

'The Manchester accent doesn't exactly lend itself to television. Nobody in London will know what's going on!' Tony Warren was just twenty three years old when he created Coronation Street in the autumn of 1960, back when the world was very, very young. Before most of you lot were born, I expect, dear blog reader. Hell, before even I was born and yer Keith Telly Topping sometimes feels like Methuselah round here. A child actor, turned writer, Warren was working on adaptations of WE Johns' Biggles stories for Granada and was, frankly, bored to death and desperate to move on and write something 'relevant.' He scripted the first episode of his new drama series, under the working title of Florizel Street, overnight after he'd been challenged to by his boss, the maverick Canadian producer Harry Elton, when Warren had thrown a girly-strop in Elton's office about how stifled he felt writing for Ginger and Algy. Although, as he would later admit, he'd had that opening episode - and many others - in his head for years because it was a reflection of his own life and the lives of his family and neighbours. A critical summation of a childhood spent at his grandmothers house, sitting under the table listening to his mother and his aunts bitching at each other and being supportive in equal measure. Granada - the company which was supposed to exist to reflect the lives of the people in its region - after turning their collective nose up at the very idea of a drama about life being grim ooop north, and with some arm-twisting from the far-sighted Elton, eventually, somewhat reluctantly, employed Warren - at a salary of thirty quid a week - to develop it into a thirteen-part series. One that, within weeks of its initial broadcast, would become an on-going serial such was its extraordinary impact. Fifty years, and nearly seven and a half thousand episodes later, it's still with us. Oh Manchester, so much to answer for! Warren's vision was of something which would 'explore the driving forces behind life in a working-class street in the north of England.' He populated it with characters whom, he hoped, 'would be the heroes of everyone who'd ever walked across a yard at midnight and sat on a frozen lavatory seat.' In creating the backdrop of Weatherfield as a bleak fictitious district of North Manchester loosely based on Salford, Warren was working in similar thematic territory to many contemporary theatre and cinema excursions of the period. Things like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Billy Liar and, even more specific to Manchester, A Taste of Honey. Giving audiences who had never been within a hundred miles of the world of the working classes - literally or metaphorically - a glimpse of earthy realism. Of 'the dirt beneath the fingernails,' as Warren put it. A world of staleness and decay, yet also one of pride, solidarity, ethics and not a little dignity. A world of complexities. And one with all the sorrow, the anger, and the humour which would soon become a series of clichés in the hands of lesser talents. However, this was a bold risk. Nothing remotely like it had been done on television before - working class voices were seldom heard on British TV in 1960. That was a place where 'everyone spoke as if they had lovely homes in the Thames Valley.' A place of comforting unchanging harmony. A place with no broken windows and no dog shit. 'Don't think of it as a comedy or a drama,' Elton reportedly told his formidable boss, Sidney Bernstein when trying to pitch Flroizel Street. 'Think of it like Dickens.' It's hardly surprising, therefore, that those early episodes of Corrie have subsequently been compared, quite rightly, to the - in theory, far more serious - groundbreaking television work of David Mercer, Dennis Potter, Alan Plater and Alun Owen. Not faux kitchen sink drama which pretended to present concepts like realism and naturalism as new toys to play with, but the real deal. Cobbled streets. Draughty, coal-fire heated houses. Outside lavatories. Warren took an early decision to swap around the housing plan and place the Barlows at number three for the simple reason that 'Ida Barlow would never live next door to a public house.' This was a world where a mother misplacing two bob, as Elsie Tanner does in opening episode, is an incendiary queue for a domestic incident of volcanic proportions. A world where the only escapes are through football, or rock and roll. Or, in the case of the young Kenneth Barlow, the intelligence to get away to university and never look back, in anger or otherwise. But, sometimes breaking away is harder than you can imagine. For everyone else, there are only dreams. And a wistful nostalgia for a time in the past that may not even have existed. As A Taste of Honey's author Shelagh Delaney - three years younger than Warren - noted in a bittersweet Ken Russell BBC documentary made that same year and just a few streets away (Shelagh Delany's Salford), 'everyone knowing everyone else's business.' With Coronation Street's casting under the direction of Margaret Morris and Josie Scott, things fell into place with quite remarkable ease. The cast itself was made up of elderly unknowns, many in the twilight of obscure careers in rep and radio, and an equally obscure young element, virtually all of them from genuine north-west backgrounds (though William Roache broke the geographical mould - he was from Ilkeston). Warren knew several of the actresses he wanted, having worked previously with the likes of Doris Speed, Violet Carson and Pat Phoenix during his acting days. Thus three of the most important characters in the history of British television - Annie Walker, Ena Sharples and Elsie Tanner - could almost be said to have been specifically written for the actresses who played them. Warren's world was full of extraordinary strong female characters. Powerful women, dominant in a de facto matriarchal society, who seemed to touch the psyche of a nation. Earth mothers. Wise women. The ones who held their families together from breaking apart at the joins. The ones who ignored the verbal - and sometimes physical - abuse of their often ignorant shits of husbands; who raised their kids the right way; who put food in their bellies even if money was too tight to mention. Or sometimes non-existent. The women who worked till they dropped, often for no pay, and who when they collapsed, exhausted, into their beds at night aspired only to life being just that little bit better. That little bit easier. For them and for their children. The fact that the writer who created some of the greatest female characters ever on British television was, himself, gay is a telling one. The first episode of Coronation Street was broadcast live on Friday 9 December 1960 from the Granada studios to most ITV regions (ATV Midland and Tyne Tees refused to take the programme at first, but both quickly backed down when it became apparent that something really rather special was taking place here). The Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman would later remark that, in Coronation Street, Warren and his follow writers had produced a modern day version of The Pickwick Papers. And, indeed, Charles Dickens would probably have been right at home writing for a cast of characters like Ena Sharples, Albert Tatlock, Elsie Tanner, Martha Longhurst, Harry Hewitt and Minnie Caldwell, nursing a glass of stout in Annie Walker's Rovers Return, arguing about the minutia and trivialities of life in their living rooms or walking along the Street's cobbles to Florrie Lindley's corner shop for a packet of tabs. Credit must also go to Bernstein, who initially saw Tony Warren's script not as Hitchcock said drama should be – 'life with the boring bits left out' – but pretty much the opposite. Persuaded by his brother, Cecil, and by Elton's boundless enthusiasm for Warren's ideas, Bernstein eventually saw the logic and the potential in the format. Even the weather, noted Cecil, was on their side. The opening episode was broadcast on a wet, dank and miserable night across the north of England which suited the mood of the piece, perfectly and kept millions in their home to watch and be hooked by it. 'You can always rely on Manchester for that!' But, Corrie was not a universal critical success at first - although it pretty much was a commercial one. Ken Irwin, the critic for the Daily Mirror, wrote a review of the first episode which was to haunt him for the rest of his life. 'The programme,' he noted 'with its dreary signature tune and grim scenes of a row of terraced houses and smoking chimneys ... is doomed.' A much more intuitive TV critic for the Guardian, however, predicted that the series would 'run forever.' And, so far, he's not looking like being wrong. BBC4's The Road To Coronation Street - broadcast on Wednesday night - very evocatively dramatised Warren and Elton's fight to get the programme made in the first place, against major opposition from within Granada. To cast it and to bring Warren's vision to life and to the nation. In short, Daran Little's play was a thing of beauty. The dialogue sang: 'I don't care what they do in St Helens, no one puts soap next to bacon in Salford,' Warren tells the director, Derek Bennett, as they race towards the set. Even better: 'This is a woman who's buried children, watched her man beg for work and still gets down on her knees every night to pray,' Lynda Baron's Violet Carson says about the character she is to play. 'There's no powder or rouge touching this face. If it's good enough for God, it's good enough for Granada.' The Road To Coronation Street was a warm and insightful piece of work. A little masterpiece in its own right, and a worthy celebration of what, fifty years after it began, remains a British television icon and the recurring drama by which all others will ultimately be judged. 'Edna in wardrobe thinks this could run as long as The Archers,' Carson tells Doris Speed as they prepare for their first scene in the opening episode. 'Ye Gods, I hope not!' Thankfully, Edna in wardrobe was right.

There will be no increase to the TV licence fee in 2011 after the BBC Trust displayed their usual collective lack of anything approaching backbone and offered to freeze it at £145.50 for the next two years. Culture secretary oily Jeremy Hunt, of course, said that he was 'pleased' with the proposal and stated the government had decided to implement it next year. Chuckling all the way to the Bank of England, no doubt. A decision about any proposed increase for 2012-13 will be taken at a later date, he added. If fully implemented, the two-year freeze will create an estimated one hundred and forty four million pound shortfall in the BBC's budget. Under the terms of the current multi-year settlement, the BBC is entitled to increase the licence fee in 2011 and 2012 but has offered to wave this right. In a statement, the Trust, having presumably got up off the floor after being curled up in a little ball pleading with the Daily Scum Mail not to hurt them anymore, said 'the exceptional pressures that the current economic climate is placing on licence fee payers' as the cue for the move. Cowards. Wretched craven cowards. The Trust asked BBC bosses in June to analyse the corporation's budgets and assess whether short-term savings could be made. Earlier this month the executive reported back, saying any alterations to the current arrangement would require on-air changes. Or, in other words, less money to spend on yer actual programmes. You know, the stuff people watch. Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the Trust and chief apologist for it, accepted that a freeze in income would 'not be pain-free' and that the decision 'was not taken lightly.' Just, you know, under pressure from a few scummy right-wing newspapers, and a scummy left-wing one as well. However, he said the Trust was satisfied 'the BBC can manage the impact while continuing to deliver the range of programmes and services that the public loves.' Hunt added that he had 'made it clear that the BBC needs to take proper account of the current economic climate. This move, which comes with the Trust's assurances that it will not significantly impact on the quality of services provided to licence fee payers, will be welcomed by the public.' Once again, as ever in these matters, this blog will be watching developments closely and will - as this remains, for the moment anyway, a free country - comment on any effects, either positive or negative, that this wretched and cowardly decision has on a service that this country should be proud of. But, because of stunts like this, more often than not, isn't.

And, still the bad news continues: Piers Morgan has reportedly signed a new two-year deal with ITV. The Sun claims that the contract, said to be worth £2.6m, will cover twelve new episodes of Piers Morgan's Life Stories. The new deal will reportedly also see Morgan host six other shows similar to Piers Morgan On..., although he will allegedly not return as a judge on Britain's Got Talent. The contract comes shortly after American news channel CNN confirmed that Morgan will replace Larry King on the network. There really is something desperately wrong with this world's priorities that, on the day when the BBC have to start slicing over a hundred million quid off the budgets for, you know, EastEnders, Top Gear, Doctor Who, Strictly, [Spooks], Panorama, The One Show and Qi, Piers Morgan is being handed a cheque of this size. And, if Jeremy Hunt isn't disgusted by that then he sodding well should be. 'ITV are mad-keen on Piers and he has told them he can fit in his Life Stories show around his new CNN gig,' a 'source' allegedly claimed. Whilst, seemingly, speaking in that strange sort of tabloidese that nobody in real life actually uses. 'He can't do Got Talent though, so he's had to give that up, but I think he knew he probably wasn't going to get asked back next year anyway. But he will be doing America's Got Talent, so he'll still have his fair share of idiots.' Well, let's be thankful for small mercies. Meanwhile, an ITV 'insider' reportedly said: 'We're delighted to have secured Piers for another two years. Unfortunately he will not be around to do Britain's Got Talent but this gives us a good opportunity to refresh the panel.'

Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams will perform their new single 'Shame' on the first weekend of Strictly Come Dancing live shows. The duo will appear on the Saturday 2 October, which will feature the fourteen celebrities dancing either a cha-cha-cha or a waltz. Williams and Barlow performed together for the first time in fifteen years at the Help For Heroes charity concert last weekend. Executive producer Moira Ross said: 'Having Robbie and Gary performing on our first live weekend is a fantastic way to kick off this series. With all fourteen celebrity couples either dancing a waltz or a cha-cha-cha, it's going to be an exciting start to the show.'

Jay Hunt's ability to face down her critics and deliver a clear vision to producers won her the role of Channel Four chief creative officer according to Broadcast magazine. The appointment was announced this week after a long period of negotiation. Hunt will take up her new role surprisingly quickly, in January. She has had an often bumpy ride from the media - and, specifically, the Daily Scum Mail - while running BBC1, dealing with high-profile issues such as the Jonathan Ross-Russell Brand affair, but her ability to stay focused and stick to her principles is thought to have impressed C4 chief executive David Abraham. A source 'close to the appointment process' allegedly told the magazine described her as being 'fearless and feisty,' and said that her competitive streak would be important in helping Channel Four 'punch above its weight.' Hunt is known as one of the industry's most decisive controllers, a quality that characterised her short stay at Five in 2007, and a Channel Four 'insider' said: 'What the producers want is clarity. Jay is super clear about what she wants and when she wants it, and that's what Channel Four has been crying out for.' Sources at the company also, apparently, indicated that she had the ability to 'square the circle' of matching PSB content with mainstream appeal, although there have been suggestions that her appointment is 'a safe one.' Asked directly whether Hunt had the skills to match Channel Four's remit to challenge viewers and offer fresh perspectives, Abraham said: 'The Jay Hunt of Channel Four will not be the Jay Hunt of BBC1 or BBC Daytime. She should be judged on results.' It is thought Channel Four did consider making a potentially more edgy appointment from the programme-making community, but that channel management experience emerged as a prerequisite. Hunt's experience of ordering shows that command large audiences is also thought to be attractive, given the commercial pressure Channel Four will face in the post-Big Brother era. The acting CCO, Julian Bellamy, went from being perceived as an outsider in the race to being a genuinely strong contender right until the conclusion of the process. He is now likely to leave the broadcaster in a few weeks, with Abraham likely to work closely with commissioners until Hunt arrives. It's interesting that, largely because of some strange scheduling decisions, Hunt's departure from BBC1 is currently being rather celebrated on a bunch of message boards by a certain section of TV fans as a great thing. Quite why they expect the next BBC1 controller to be more to their tastes - let alone, be someone who would commission Sherlock, for example - is another matter entirely. Jay's commissioning record (all right, Big Top aside - everybody's entitled to one dreadful mistake in their life) and 'vision' were never a problem for this blogger and I could put up with the odd daft bit of scheduling (putting on Doctor Who before Over The Rainbow for one, obvious, example). You know that age old truism, be careful what you wish for, it might just come true. It applies as much to television as it does to every other aspect of life.

Comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb are to launch their own independent production company in a bid to secure greater creative control over their future projects. That Mitchell and Webb Company will be a joint venture between the double act and Big Talk Productions, with the company's chief executive, Kenton Allen, and managing director, Matthew Justice, taking up board positions. The new firm will 'exclusively create and produce' all new Mitchell and Webb programming, although it will not affect the pair's existing projects, including Channel Four's Peep Show, produced by Objective. The company will be backed by Big Talk's business, development and production resources, and BBC Worldwide will get first look at distribution rights for new content. Allen first struck up a relationship with the comedians when, as the BBC's creative head of comedy, he helped turn their radio sketch show into BBC2's award-winning That Mitchell And Webb Look. The duo want to take greater creative control over future work, as well as securing a bigger slice of any financial return, Allen said. They are currently working on a one-hour comedy drama and are keen to produce online content, where they feel there is more scope to experiment. 'We're tremendously heartened to be fighting alongside Kenton Allen and Big Talk in this terrifyingly hostile new media environment,' the pair said in a joint statement.

Christine Bleakley has reportedly been told to 'sit closer' to Adrian Chiles on Daybreak. Producers are alleged by a tabloid newspaper to have told Bleakley never to sit more than six inches away from her co-presenter in a bid to spice up the on-screen chemistry between the pair. This is from the Daily Star mind, so it's probably all lies. However, both hosts have apparently complained of neck and back pains from constantly leaning in towards each other while they present the ITV breakfast show. A source said: 'Poor old Christine has had a real pain in the neck since this latest rule. She’s finding it really hard to stick so close to Adrian, and even though they’re the best of pals it still feels awkward to her to stay glued to his side.' It's funny, actually, because I was watching Daybreak yesterday and I looked at Christine and, once my eyes had adjusted to the sunburst of orange that was assaulting them, I did think 'ah, yes. Pain in the neck.' Anyway ... 'The cast and crew have been joking about health and safety and saying they’ll both end up with repetitive strain injury, but producers won’t give in. If they see any more than six inches opening up between them, there will be trouble.' It comes after reports that Chiles has also been told to smile more when hosting the programme.

There is to be an increase in the number of hours of consumer and current affairs for BBC Daytime, as well as more UK-originated drama and new commissions according to its controller. The announcement, by Liam Keelan, is part of Daytime's ongoing commitment to more distinctive and original programming. Over the last twelve months, there has already been a one hundred and forty per cent increase in consumer and current affairs, and more money being directed to UK-originated drama. Keelan said: 'Over the next year we're going to be bringing our daytime viewers almost one hundred more hours of current affairs, social issues and consumer affairs, as well as nearly doubling factual and drama events from three or four to at least six each year in the same vein as The Week We Went To War and the award-winning Land Girls (see left). 'As the sole provider of UK-originated drama in daytime, I'm thrilled to be able to continue our commitment to this. And today I'm genuinely delighted to be able to announce these new commissions which I know will resonate strongly with our audience. A series of programmes are also been commissioned to mark Census Week in March next year. A new drama, Thirty Two Brinkburn Street, is the story of two generations of the same family in 1931 and 2011 told over five episodes. Meanwhile, new factual series, Making Britain Count, looks at how Britain changed across the Twentieth Century using the census. Daytime will also be celebrating the work of police officers across the UK with the new commission Britain's Bravest Cops. This week long special will coincide with the Police Federation's 2011 Police Bravery Awards.

Casualty has been named as the longest-running prime time medical drama in TV history by the Guinness World Records 2011 Edition. The programme, which recently began its Twenty Fifth series, was also named as the longest-running emergency medical drama. With over seven hundred episodes broadcast since its launch in 1986, it surpasses other dramas such as ER, Grey's Anatomy and its own spin-off Holby City. Speaking about the recognition, the show's executive producer Belinda Campbell said: 'It is an absolute thrill to be able to call Casualty the world's longest-running prime time hospital drama. It's a great testament to the hard work and expertise of the casts and crews over the years that Casualty is now its Twenty Fifth year and still in such fantastically good health.'

James Roache has revealed that he studied old episodes of Coronation Street to prepare for playing his father Bill. Roache played the Corrie veteran in BBC4's The Road to Coronation Street - see review above. He is also currently appearing in the ITV soap as Ken Barlow's grandson, alongside his half-brother, Linus. 'I watched old clips of daddy,' he told the Sun. 'It will be very strange watching it with him.' He added: 'He was very dashing. It's the Roache genes.' The twenty four-year-old praised the one-off drama's cast, which included Jessie Wallace, Lynda Baron and Celia Imrie. 'It was such a privilege,' he said. Meanwhile, Jessie Wallace her very self - who was quite simply astonishing as Pat Phoenix in The Road - has admitted that she is not looking forward to EastEnders' switch to high definition filming. The thirty eight-year-old, who returns to the BBC soap after a five year absence next week, suggested that the move to HD was 'cruel' on the cast. She told Woman's Own: 'They should keep it for wildlife, not people. My make-up will look so thick. Shane Richie had a hair poking out of his nose the other day. I said, "You wait until HD - all the mums will be trying to pluck it out of the screen!"'

Any cuts to the Welsh language channel S4C's one hundred million-per-year budget would be illegal, it has been claimed. The advice of Clive Lewis QC, which has been obtained by Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain, indicates even a voluntary return of funds would be against existing legislation. Under the Broadcasting Act, S4C receives an inflation-linked increase in funding each year. It is understood S4C has been asked to look at making budget cuts of between twenty four per cent and forty per cent over the next four years. Lewis said there was no legal mechanism for the channel to return any of its funding. 'It is very clear from counsel's opinion that should your government wish to impose any cuts on the S4C budget you would have to introduce primary legislation to do so,' Hain said in a letter to Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan and warned that he would seek a judicial review if the government's spending review made any cuts to S4C's budget. A Wales Office spokesman said Hain's letter had not yet been received. He said no cuts to the channel's budget had yet been agreed - and would not be until after the spending review in October. He added that it had always been accepted that a change in the law would be required were S4C's funding to be cut. Arfon Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams said: 'We welcome the fact that some in Labour have come to understand the very real threats that we in Plaid have been campaigning against for months now. As far back as May this year Plaid said that any cuts in S4C would be unlawful because an act of Parliament determines the channel's funding. Since then we have been campaigning along side others to protect this vital service. S4C said in a statement that the responsibilities and duties of the S4C Authority - the body overseeing the channel - were laid down in law and included specific demands regarding the protection of its public funding.'

Candice Bergen is to play a recurring role in the upcoming seventh season of House. Entertainment Weekly reports that the actress will play the mother of Doctor Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) in multiple episodes. Bergen previously played Shirley Schmidt on Boston Legal and starred in the 2009 film Bride Wars. She also won five Emmy awards for her role in Murphy Brown between 1989 and 1995, and was Oscar nominated for her performance in 1979's Starting Over. Her first appearance on House will air in November.

At the same time, one of Candice's former Boston Legal oppos, John Larroquette, has been cast in the seventh season of CSI: NY. Entertainment Weekly reports that the popular actor will appear in several episodes as Deputy Chief Ted Carver. Described as 'savvy and hard-nosed,' Carver will clash with Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) when a sniper begins targeting New York citizens. Larroquette previously played Carl Sack on Boston Legal and has also appeared in episodes of House, The West Wing and Chuck.

The network that gave us Prison Break is heading back to prison. FOX has reportedly picked up Alcatraz, the JJ Abrams-produced drama about the San Francisco Bay island. The project, which was recently taken out to the networks, has received a pilot commitment by FOX which is already working with Abrams on SF drama Fringe. Alcatraz is described as 'a show about mysteries, secrets and the most infamous prison of all time: Alcatraz.' Lost executive producer Elizabeth Sarnoff wrote the final script, while Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt (Kyle XY) wrote earlier versions. Both, along with Abrams are credited as co-writers on the pilot. Abrams' Bad Robot company is producing along with Warner Bros TV. This is the third consecutive year a spec submission from Bad Robot has landed a major commitment after interest from multiple networks following Fringe and Undercovers, went to series on FOX and NBC, respectively.

Tim Curry has reportedly turned down an appearance on Glee. Fancast suggests that the actor has decided not to appear in the upcoming tribute to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Curry played Frank-N-Furter in the original movie but his spokesperson said: He will not be doing [Glee].' Meat Loaf and Barry Bostwick, who played Eddie and Brad Majors in the film, have already signed up for cameos in the episode and Susan Sarandon, who starred as Janet Weiss, has also admitted that she would like to appear in the show.

Huntwatch, Part Two: The government has asked the BBC and Channel Four to draw up proposals that would see them take over the responsibilities of the UK Film Council. Oily Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt - remember him? - 'shocked' the film and TV industry in July (though, not this particular blogger) when he abruptly announced the organisation was to be scrapped as part of the government's austerity drive. No alternative proposals for administering the National Lottery funds were put forward at the time, and at last week's The Media Festival Arts, BBC creative director Alan Yentob said: 'The question is which organisation has the skills to operate these funds. Is there an organisation that can be remodelled without putting in extra resource? The BBC is definitely involved in this discussion.' A spokeswoman confirmed that the BBC 'had been asked by the government to take part in a consultation to look at plans for the future of film funding in the UK.' The government has also approached Channel Four and it is currently putting together proposals about how it could take on the funding and core functions of the UKFC, including supporting new talent. Also speaking at the festival, Hunt criticised the UKFC for spending twenty four per cent of its funds on administration, arguing that this three million pounds per annum should be given more directly to film-makers. He added that his two priorities were 'to support culturally-valuable films that do not make money' and 'to ensure there are more big British hits.' He also stated that he was concerned 'about the number of films that were backed but never released and the fact that [while] three years ago, five of the top twenty European film-makers were British, that's gone down to one. The package we will announce will solve both of those problems.' He forgot to add 'we hope.'

The BBC appears to have given up on its battle to persuade Sir Alex Ferguson to end his boycott on giving post-match interviews to the corporation. The Manchester United manager is facing escalating fines from the Premier League under new rules which forces all league managers to speak with broadcasting rights holders, which include the BBC and Sky. However, Ferguson appears to have absolutely no intention of ending his boycott and The Scum are said to be prepared to pay any fines, which could amount to more than sixty thousand pounds for the season. Speaking yesterday on BBC 5Live, the station's controller Adrian Van Klaveren said that he could not see Ferguson changing his position, which dates back to a 2004 Panorama documentary on his son Jason's dealings as a football agent. Van Klaveren also revealed that any approaches made by the BBC to persuade Ferguson to change his mind have always gone through intermediaries. 'I have made sure that efforts are taking place through people who know him,' he said. 'Those have been going on in recent months in order to persuade him [and] it would be good to share his thoughts with our listeners. We know how many of our listeners really care about Manchester United. [But] he has made his decision and is standing by it. It's very hard to make somebody do something when there are a certain level of sanctions. I recognise the position [the Premier League] are in.' The position that the Premier Legaue are in, it should be noted, is one of their own making. Next month, the Premier League board will discuss the opening level of fines to be levied against Ferguson, who has an estimated personal fortune of twenty two million pounds. Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker recently expressed his belief that 'the amount of the fine' will be crucial in potentially changing Ferguson's mind. Personally, I'm not even close to being Mr Ferguson's greatest fan - I find him something of a crass bully, albeit an undeniably great football manager - and I loathe the club that he manages with a passion but I'll back him all the way on this one. How dare the Premier League seek to tell anyone who they must talk to? If I was Sir Alex, firstly I'd be seeking legal representation on the grounds that any attempt to make him either speak to someone he doesn't want to or pay a fine for not doing so is an infringement of his basic human - and legal - right to privacy. And, secondly, I'd be having a very strong word with my club's owner as to why, seemingly, they - along with nineteen other spineless, greed-hungry chairmen and owners - allowed the Premier League to bulldoze such a crass 'rule' through in the first place. Unfortunately this is, once again, an timely example of the current state of English football - a once proud sport that is now run by a bunch of cowboys and get-rich-quick merchants who know, or feel, nothing for the traditions and integrity of the game. Foreign asset-strippers or, in the case of the English ones, sellers of dodgy sports gear and mucky mags. I'd also advise Sir Alex to take a leaf out of The Prodigy's book and say 'fuck 'em, and Their Law.' Which, actually, thinking about it, might be the kind of thing he'd really rather enjoy.

A man from Birmingham has reportedly been sentenced to five and half years in jail for his part in a major fraud against cable TV operator Virgin Media. Last week, Mohammed Ali was convicted of selling modified cable TV set-top boxes that can receive free channels, reports the Register. Three other men were also found guilty of the fraud, including Umar Manir, who was handed an eighteen-month jail term and ordered to pay compensation to Virgin Media. Shaukat Ali, was given a twelve-month suspended jail sentence and ordered to do two hundred and fifty hours Community Service, while Subhan Ali had fled overseas and was found guilty in his absence. The men were arrested in 2008 after police raids in the Sparkbrook area of Birmingham uncovered two thousand illegally modified set-top boxes, along with substantial quantities of cash. Their conviction was part of Virgin Media's campaign to stop set-top box and modem fraud in the UK. The company is now updating its network security to stop users from being able to receive TV and Internet services for free. 'Later this month, we will introduce a new encryption process in Birmingham, which is already rolling out across other parts of the UK now,' said Virgin Media's head of fraud and security Malcolm Davies. 'This will protect our existing customers and make it impossible for others to take our services unless they pay for them legitimately.' In March, Wolverhampton Crown Court sentenced Jagdeep Bhogal and Manminder Singh to twenty six weeks imprisonment each, suspended for two years, for trying to defraud Virgin Media. The two men, who were found guilty of selling unlocked and unauthorised media viewing cards on eBay, were ordered to do two hundred hours Community Service and pay over seven hundred pounds in costs.

Overheard in the office today: When it was suggested that Eliza Doolittle's new single 'is catchy.' 'Yes, but so are warts!' Harsh, but true.

Sweden's Left Party has defended its decision to book a stripping performer for one of its open meetings last weekend. The 'burlesque dancer,' who performs as Miss Cookie, stripped down to her knickers with stickers bearing the socialist, feminist party's logo over her nipples at the Rock the Arse Off the Right event in Järna near Stockholm, The Local reports. Now, why the hell don't we ever have political events like that in this country? It might persuade a few more people to vote. Or, you know, at least bellow 'get yer kit off, darlin,' anyway. Despite some attendees reportedly leaving in protest, Södertälje councillor Staffan Norberg said: 'As burlesque and circus and cabaret, which I think it was marketed as, I think it is okay. If you don't like burlesque and lack a sense of humour and satire, then this was not the right place to be.' Plus, of course, it was done in the best possible taste. He further suggested that the theme of the performance was 'the stripping away of the superficiality of the right wing to reveal only the left.' Conceptual. He added: 'I thought that there was a political message. But broadly, naturally.' Naturally. Miss Cookie herself told Dagens Nyheter: 'I think that a woman has the right to use her body for humour. There was also a man in the show who stripped down to reveal a naked upper-body and was thus more naked than I, but no one is upset about that.' Oh, I'm sure someone, somewhere is. Do pretty much anything in life and you can usually find a few tuts of disapproval nearby.