Friday, October 08, 2010

Drama Queens

Yer Keith Telly Topping's current TV industry hero, BBC drama boss Ben Stephenson has told Broadcast magazine that he and BBC3 controller Danny Cohen are seeking a 'serious single drama' for the digital channel. The one-off drama would complement BBC3's factual output and would not be a regular or returning series. Stephenson told Broadcast that he was looking for a 'very serious authored drama, about a subject that isn't returnable or serialised, that goes to the heart of what a young audience is interested in.' He added that BBC3 could produce such a drama every eighteen months. If a drama were to be commissioned it could be on similar lines to the BBC's The Wednesday Play strand of the 1960s which produced hard-hitting one-off films such as Cathy Come Home which tackled homelessness and resulted in the foundation of the charity Shelter. The Wednesday Play later became Play for Today on the BBC in the early 1970s and ran until the mid 1980s. 'We are happy with the direction, but I think what Danny and I are looking at is finding a BBC3 equivalent of some of the "state of the nation" pieces we do on BBC1, like Five Daughters and Asylum. We want something that is important and serious, similar to what Danny has done with docs on the channel.' The BBC have worked hard in recent years to turn around the image of its digital channel which was once an easy target by various scum tabloids to criticise. The reputation of BBC3 has improved significantly recently with more factual output and newer dramas including Lip Service.

Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole have reportedly blamed each other for the fallout over Gamu Nhengu's X Factor exit. According to the Mirror, Cole 'feels like a scapegoat' and believes that she was 'just following instructions' in not sending the Zimbabwe-born singer through to the live finals. Since the Judges' House auditions, it has been revealed that Nhengu may not be able to stay in the country due to visa issues. A 'source' whom the paper describe as 'close to the Girls Aloud star' commented: 'Cheryl has found to her cost how ratings come first and your personal reputation second. She feels she was just following instructions and now is being cast as the villain of the piece.' However, 'sources' that, the Mirror claim, are 'close to Cowell' insist that the decision to axe Nhengu was not related to the visa problems or producers of the show. 'It was [Cheryl's] choice and her choice only. All this is completely her own doing,' said an insider. Oh, it's all going pear-shaped in paradise, isn't it?

Meanwhile, Cher Lloyd has been accused of making the life of a former fellow school pupil 'a misery.' Ophelia Blakeway told the Sun that the X Factor finalist bullied her for two years when they both went to Dyson Perrins High School together between 2006 and 2008. 'I want people to hear the truth about what Cher was like,' Blakeway said. 'Everyone is making her sound like an angel but she caused me a lot of pain. I've had problems ever since. I'm still trying to get over depression. I had counselling, I cried, I was self-harming. It's not nice because I have the scars.' The seventeen-year-old told the paper that she was bombarded by 'verbal torture' from Lloyd, who she claims called her names including 'a bitch.' Blakeway, now an accountancy student and part-time receptionist, continued: 'My mum left me when I was three. It was always a weak point and [Cher] said I must have been a disappointment to my mum. She would say, "She's abandoned you," and "Who would want to raise a girl like you?" It would be in front of my friends and hers.' She added that Lloyd had 'been in a lot of fights' and had 'control' over a group of friends who were scared of her. 'She walked over and ripped at my hair - grabbed hold of it because I had a bun,' Blakeway said of an encounter in a PE changing room with the singer. 'I was so shocked. She yanked it so my head went down as if it was a warning to say she had power. I backed off and she called me a waste of space. She looked me up and down, with a threatening stare.' Blakeway then alleged: 'She told me if I ever looked at her or told anyone, she would hit me. I said I wouldn't be in her way anymore. After that I missed all the lessons I had with her. It got me behind at school and I had to catch up when I got to my GCSEs.' Blakeway told the paper that she had made her father and teachers aware of the incidents, but claimed that Lloyd was 'careful not to be caught red-handed. What people are saying about her being fragile is nonsense. She's stubborn and strong,' she added. It was previously reported in several newspapers that Lloyd herself was the victim of bullying at school and had been suspended following a fight. All of this comes just a couple of days after another X Factor finalist, Katie Waissal, had a former work colleague copper's narking some trivia about her past to the tabloids, in this case the Daily Lies, presumably, for a wad of moolah. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Twenty First Century.

A married TV star's ex-wife is claiming that she had an affair with him after he remarried, it was revealed at the High Court yesterday, according to the Daily Telegraph. The celebrity, who cannot be named by order of the court, denies the claims and has made his own allegations of blackmail. Mr Justice Tugendhat, sitting in London, was explaining for the first time in open court why gagging orders imposed on the ex-wife at private court hearings last month were justified. The judge said: 'It is correct that the claimant is a married TV star and that the defendant is his ex-wife. It is also correct that the defendant has claimed she and he had a sexual affair after the claimant remarried. But the claimant, in his witness statement, denies the allegation. In the present case there is an allegation that blackmail is involved.' Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart first granted the personality, referred to in court as 'AMM,' a temporary injunction on 21 September restraining his former partner, 'HMX,' from publishing information which he claimed to be private. Mr Justice Tugendhat, at a hearing on 4 October, ordered that the injunction should be continued, subject to some variations of its provisions. Both hearings were in private. yesterday the judge said in an open judgment the gagging and anonymity orders were 'necessary in the interests of justice.' He said: 'There is credible and uncontradicted evidence from the claimant that the defendant has threatened to disclose information about his private life, in particular about his sexual life, which the public has no right to know, and which the defendant has no right to publish or disclose. There is credible and uncontradicted evidence before this court that publication of such information by the defendant would be highly damaging to the private life of the claimant and to that of other persons whose private lives would be interfered with. Damages would not be an adequate remedy.' Mr Justice Tugendhat said that he had heard no argument 'that it would be in any way in the public interest' for information about the celebrity's identity to be disclosed. His right to private and family life under article eight of the European Convention on Human Rights was a factor 'weighing strongly in favour of the anonymity order.' Another factor was 'the public interest in preventing and punishing blackmail.'

Alleged comedian, although this blogger is yet to meet anyone that finds him in the least bit funny, Jack Whitehall's agents have rubbished claims that their client stole another comic's material and used it on a recent episode of Mock The Week. Scottish stand-up Stuart Mitchell alleges that he was the victim of 'a classic case' of joke theft when a gag similar to his was used on the BBC2 show last week. However, Whitehall's agents point out that Whitehall had been using the gag on-stage for well over a year – almost as long as Mitchell has been performing – and say that their client has never even heard of the twenty seven-year-old Glaswegian. On Mock The Week, Whitehall joked about being heckled by a student at the University of Warrington who shouted: 'Mate get on with the jokes, I came here for the comedy.' Whitehall's retort was: 'No, you came here because you screwed up your A-levels.' Which, as usual for Jack Whitehall's alleged comedy, is about as funny as cancer of the scrotum. Mitchell, who alleges that stealing gags is widespread on the open-mike circuit, claims that he first came up with the gag in February of last year, when he was on a stand-up course run by Scottish comedian Charlie Ross. 'There seems to be a selection of "star" comedians at the moment who are under pressure to generate material and I think a writer has clearly seen me perform either in Scotland or in England. It is soul-destroying when you work hard writing material and someone else uses it on stage – especially on television. Although this is common on the open circuit I was truly shocked to see this on Mock the Week. I have no idea if my material has been passed on by a writer.' However, Whitehall's representative claim that he has been performing the gag for a long time. Certainly, it featured in his - terminally unfunny - 2009 Edinburgh show, and was specifically mentioned in various reviews his shows received last August. His agents, Chambers Management said: 'Jack Whitehall wrote and started performing the joke he did on Mock The Week recently well over a year ago and has never seen or heard of the comic making these accusations. Many promoters would support the fact that Jack has been doing this joke for at least a year and probably nearer two. The comic you refer to is making an incorrect and defamatory statement which is hugely damaging to our client.' Oooo. Court case! Meanwhile last night's Mock The Week featured yet another appearance by the terminally unfunny, smug horrorshow Whitehall in which he was, as usual, terminally unfunny and smug. At least the episode was enlivened by a very good stand-up routine from Miles Jupp whom I hadn't previously come across, and some fine moments from the great Ed Byrne. I particularly enjoyed a one-liner during Scenes We'd Like To See in which he talked about what a lovely sound leather-on-willow is, before adding 'Sue Barker has just walked into a tree!'

Mary Lynn Rajskub has reportedly signed up to appear in Modern Family. TV Guide says that the actress, who had a worldwide cult following for her role as Chloe in 24, will guest star in the comedy later this season. She is expected to play the high-school girlfriend of Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), who had not yet revealed his true sexuality at the time. Rajskub has also had guest roles on shows including Royal Pains, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Flight Of The Conchords and Gilmore Girls.

Lie To Me actor Brendan Hines has revealed that his character, Loker, will stand up to Cal Lightman (Tim Roth) in future episodes. The actor told the Los Angeles Times that Loker will be looking to leave the Lightman Group throughout the new season. 'I'm looking for a new job and fed up with [Lightman's] behaviour,' he said, presumably concerning his character's feelings rather than his own. 'There's some stuff that happened [between] the end of season two and the beginning of season three, that's just piled on to the crap he put me through. He's got to really work hard if he wants to keep me.' Hines explained that Loker's recent promotion to vice president will not improve his relationship with Lightman. 'He just expects a lot more of me and is a lot more intolerant of me when I can't perform as quickly as he would like me to,' he said. Hines also dismissed the idea that Loker will begin a relationship with Torres (Monica Raymund) 'What happened with Torres was great, but I think it was maybe a one-night-only kind of thing,' he claimed. 'We haven't revisited that yet in season three [but] I would like to, because it's incredibly fun to play.'

The BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, has seemingly won a reprieve from being sold by the government after it said it is has 'no commitment' to offloading the business. Last year, the then-Labour government included BBC Worldwide in the portfolio of assets it was considering selling and urged the corporation to 'look more widely at the options for greater financial and operational separation, including a sale or partial sale.' The decision to include Worldwide – which makes money from a string of global television channels and by selling merchandise and programmes and formats, such as Strictly Come Dancing, to foreign broadcasters – in the portfolio of assets was a surprise to the BBC. However, sources said that under the new coalition government – which has announced the sale or partial commercialisation of other assets such as the Royal Mail Group – BBC Worldwide is 'off the hook.' A Treasury spokeswoman said: 'There is no commitment to sell BBC Worldwide. There is no equivalent [asset] list any more.' Last year the BBC director general, Mark Thompson, fired a warning shot across the government's bows over the selling of Worldwide when he warned that any sale could lead to the company becoming 'an empty vessel.' He also said that Worldwide would 'only be worth a fraction of its present value' if it was sold off and stripped of the BBC brand and that 'the right question to ask is neither how to chop it back but how to develop and exploit it.' BBC Worldwide this year reported record profits – up more than a third to over one hundred and forty million pounds in the year to the end of March. It has also been mooted as an asset that the BBC could use against raising money to help close its pension deficit, which is thought to be between one-and-a-half and two billion pounds, although it remains to be seen what the Pension Ombudsman thinks. In the past the BBC itself has considered plans for the partial sale or stock market flotation of BBC Worldwide. Last month the BBC Trust gave the go-ahead for the sale of a majority stake in the BBC Magazines business, which publishes titles including the Radio Times and Top Gear Magazine. The BBC finance director, Zarin Patel, said it was a 'tempting' way of pulling more money into its coffers but said there were concerns about losing control of the BBC name. Analysts have valued BBC Worldwide at more than two billion pounds, which means that if the BBC sold a twenty five per cent stake it could raise in excess of five hundred million pounds.

Michelle Williams and Brendan Cole have criticised the Strictly Come Dancing judges for their negativity. Williams was awarded twenty four points for her cha-cha-cha on last weekend's show, but the panel were generally disappointed with the Destiny's Child singer. Len Goodman told the pair that their dance featured 'a fatal combination' of 'long legs, short skirt and bad technique.' Speaking about the comments on It Takes Two, Williams said: 'It was very surprising. I think at this point I don't want to hear it again. I want to move forward and try to get some better feedback. The crazy thing is that before we danced, I could have swore I said that I wasn't classically trained. But I think some people had some glue in their ear and didn't hear that and expected me to come out and be better than Brendan or the other professional ladies.' She continued: 'I'm not expecting anyone to kiss my tush and I'm not expecting, "You're great," when I wasn't. But compliments about the glitter, the legs or something!' Her professional partner, Cole, added: 'It was all positivity, no negativity. After three weeks of dancing you expect a little bit of both. I think that's where the disappointment was. She's only been dancing for three weeks. It was a bit harsh.'

David Tennant has admitted that he was nervous about filming sex scenes for his new drama Single Father. Speaking on Absolute Radio, the actor explained that he was embarrassed about shooting the romantic moments with his co-star Suranne Jones. 'Whatever you might think, filming a sex scene is never an erotic and charged experience,' he said. 'Not that Suranne isn't lovely.' Tennant continued: 'Those scenes are always a little bit embarrassing to do. And there was a bit in this, for plot reasons I won't go into, and actually I don't think it made the final cut, but there was a whole sequence with them going, "No, sorry, we can't see your arse. Go again! We've got to go again, we've got to be able to see his arse. Come on, once more!"' Tennant, also revealed that working on the show made him feel a bit old, explaining: 'I have a grown-up daughter in the show who has a little toddler. And of course I was trying to rationalise this, but the character is exactly the same age as me. So it's all possible. I have now reached middle age. That's it.'

British comedy has the edge over the Americans because we are less puritanical, the Family Guy actor Seth Green has claimed. The actor, who also played Dr Evil's son, Scott, in the Austin Powers films and Oz in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, says the British attitude means comedians can be rude while maintaining an air of innocence that would not be possible in his native States. In an interview to promote Family Guy, on which he voices the son, Chris, Green said: 'In the UK, the comedy over there is so much more advanced in its rudeness and yet innocent in its portrayal. There's this sense in the UK that everyone has a bit of folly in their youth. You might see a girl on Page Three and then she's meant to become respectable at a point in her life. I think that that allows for a more ribald kind of humour on television because no one takes it so seriously, whereas we're more puritanical in the States. The notion of topless women or swearing on television is so offensive because it's implied that it will literally crumble the structure of our family values. I just find that to be so funny.'

Blade Runner director Ridley Scott is returning to the work of the late Philip K Dick to executive produce a BBC TV adaptation of one of the American SF writer's novels. Howard Brenton, the playwright and [spooks] writer, is adapting Dick's Hugo award-winning dystopian novel The Man in the High Castle into a four-part BBC1 mini-series. Set in the 1960s in an alternative scenario where the Axis forces defeated the Allies in the war, the drama will be co-produced by Scott's independent production company Scott Free Films. South Shields-born Scott's movie credits include Blade Runner, the acclaimed futurist movie loosely based on Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Alien, Thelma & Louise, American Gangster and Gladiator. Scott's glittering career began in the early 1960s as a BBC designer and director, working on series such as Adam Adamant Lives! and Z Cars before he gravitated to Hollywood. The series is a co-production with Headline Pictures and Electric Shepherd, the production arm of the Philip K Dick Estate. 'I've been a lifelong fan of Philip K Dick,' said Scott. 'He is the master of creating worlds which not only spark the imagination but offer deeper commentary on the human condition.' A number of Dick's novels and short stories have been made into films including Total Recall and Minority Report. The BBC is co-developing the project alongside RTL subsidiary FremantleMedia Enterprises, which will hold the international distribution rights.

Ofcom has announced that take-up of digital television services reached 92.7 per cent of UK households in the second quarter of this year. According to the media regulator's Digital TV Progress Report for the three months to 30 June, 'penetration of digital TV' was up 0.7 per cent on the previous quarter and up just under three per cent year-on-year. By the end of the quarter, over eight in ten of all TV sets in Britain had been converted to digital, while the remaining twenty per cent continued to receive analogue signals where they were still available. Consumers are also increasingly converting their additional TVs, as seventy one per cent of all secondary sets had been upgraded to digital signals by the end of June.

The return of Stargate Universe and Fringe to Sky1 on Tuesday evening for new seasons rated poorly according to overnight figures. Stargate Universe, the third entry in the franchise, was back on Sky1 for its second season at 9pm with a mere two hundred and forty thousand viewers. The series was averaging just over half-a-million viewers over the course of its first season. The return of FOX series Fringe at 10pm on Tuesday was also some of disappointment for the satellite broadcaster. According to figures across its second series on Fringe it was averaging nearly four hundred thousand viewers for Sky1. The third season on Tuesday, though, premiered with two hundred and twenty six thousand viewers. Consolidated figures, which will be avaialbe next week, are likely to show a rise in figures for both series.

Bones actress Michaela Conlin has revealed that she would love the characters of Brennan and Booth to get together. Speaking to Give Me My Remote, Conlin joked that her character, Angela, will set the pair up. 'Angela's just going to have to push them physically into bed at some point,' she said. 'Just push them both on to the sheets and lock the door.' Conlin also revealed that she has enjoyed playing a pregnant version of Angela this season. 'That's been pretty fun,' she said. 'We have done some really fun stuff with that, with the hormones raging within the lab. So that will be really fun to see. She's a little irritable. I can't say too much!'

The Parents' Television Council - an American right-wing pressure group full of loud and interferring busybodies similar to our own dear MediaWatch ... and equally mocked and reviled - has criticised last week's episode of the series Glee. The episode, Britney/Brittany, featured a number of Britney Spears songs and some short cameos from the pop star. The PTC has described the episode as 'the worst show of the week.' In a post on its - absolutely hilarious - website, the council criticised 'the pandering tribute to toxic teen role model Britney Spears' and added that it was worse than some other television shows because more children are likely to watch. The group, which criticised the 'skimpy outfits' in some of the performances, added that the episode amounted to 'an endorsement of narcotics abuse, public masturbation, and school-sanctioned burlesque.' Crikey. Sounds pretty watchable, then. The PTC also 'slammed' (that's American tabloidese for 'criticised' only usuing less syllables) the focus on Spears, saying: 'Perhaps most troubling is the deification of a troubled pop star into a symbol of empowerment and self-esteem. Considering her stints in rehab, her very public breakdowns and her questionable parenting skills, there is absolutely no way Spears should be considered a role model.' So ... I'm guessing, not a fan, then? 'The producers of the show can spare us the old song-and-dance about fallen celebs turning their lives around.' Well, actually, they didn't spare us that and the Britney/Brittany episode picked up the highest ever ratings for an episode of Glee as over thirteen million viewers tuned-in to watch. Which is fabulopus news because, let's face it, there's nothing funnier than some pinch-faced, chip-on-their-collective-shoulder right-wing thugs ranting into the wind and nobody listening. Can't ever get too much of that.

A man who harassed the BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce by sending her 'love messages' has been detained in hospital under mental health laws. Messages from Peter Oakey referred to Bruce as 'my beautiful firebird,' Basildon Crown Court heard. Bruce, was said to be 'distressed' by cards signed 'your kingfisher and loving husband,' sent by Oakey, fifty one, from Brentwood, Essex. Judge John Lodge ordered Okaey to be detained in hospital. Psychiatrists who carried out tests said that Oakey was mentally ill and suffering from 'persistent delusional disorder.' He had 'delusions of passion' and believed that Bruce loved him and he loved her, the judge heard. Judge Lodge said that he was satisfied Oakey was suffering from a mental disorder and that the 'nature and degree' of the illness made compulsory hospital treatment appropriate. Oakey's representative, Maria Dineen, said it was 'rather inappropriate' to call him a stalker as he had never expressed any desire to harm Bruce. He had also never attempted to meet her, asked to meet her or followed her. Oakey felt that doctors were part of a 'covenant' against him, the court heard. Prosecutors said that Oakey had a history of 'conduct of a similar nature' dating back to 2002. He breached restraining orders several times and between February and May 2009 sent more flowers and cards addressed to Bruce at BBC Television Centre in London. He had previously appeared in court after writing 'offensive' messages to a number of shops - including Boots and Sainsbury's - a church, a hospital and a doctor's surgery, Judge Lodge was told. Bruce had made a statement saying that Oakey's behaviour left her 'upset, disturbed and distressed,' the court heard. Cards to her were inscribed with the words, 'I love you Fiona, my beautiful firebird.' Bruce made a statement in 2008 in which she said, '[It is] causing me great upset and I find [it] sinister and disturbing.'

Emmerdale actor Danny Miller, who plays Aaron Livesy in the ITV soap, has revealed that he has received hate mail from angry fans. In the soap the actor plays gay teen Aaron who is currently dating Jackson (Marc Silcock). However, in real life the actor is straight and is dating his co-star Kirsty-Leigh Porter - who plays Roz Fielding. 'I got a couple of nasty letters. I suppose a lot of people would have thrown them in the bin but I did feel for these people. They were gay lads and they'd built up an image of what I'd be like in real life and they were gutted when that fantasy was crushed,' Miller told the Sun. In the latest episode of the drama Aaron and Jackson were involved in a dramatic train crash with also involved Paddy (Dominic Brunt) and Marlon (Mark Charnock). The crash has left Danny's boyfriend Jackson fighting for his life.

Guto Harri, Boris Johnson's communications chief, has been linked with a role running S4C, while the culture secretary, the vile Jeremy Hunt, has 'raised eyebrows' after suggesting that Welsh-language programming could run on channels such as ITV. Harri, a former political correspondent at the BBC, is understood to have been openly discussing his interest in potentially taking the helm of S4C, although a formal process to find a new chief executive is not yet under way according to the Gruniad Morning Star. One 'source' told the newspaper that they believed Hunt, who has the power to appoint the board of the broadcaster's governing body, the S4C Authority, may look to combine the chairman and chief executive role at least for an interim period. It is not clear if Harri, who is said to have received welcome feedback from the members of the Welsh media industry he has sounded out, is set on formally putting his name forward. Harri worked at S4C earlier in his career and was one of a number of the Welsh political and media establishment who attended the Ryder Cup over the weekend. Hunt, claim the newspaper, was 'heard by several sources' discussing off-the-cuff possibilities for delivering Welsh-language content at the golf event at Celtic Manor. One idea allegedly raised was to offer English programmes with dubbed Welsh voiceovers that could be accessed via red-button services. A second concerned moving Welsh-language programmes directly onto existing English language channels for broadcast in Wales. Hunt is understood to have floated the idea of potentially airing Welsh-language content after ITV's The X Factor, in Wales. The comments, whether genuine considerations or not, suggest Hunt's Department for Culture, Media and Sport, is open to what the Welsh media industry would consider radical options such as working with ITV and BBC Wales to secure the delivery of Welsh-language TV programming. S4C's senior management is currently putting the finishing touches to a report that will this week be submitted to the DCMS with details of the impact of a twenty four per cent cut to its one hundred million pounds annual grant. And, in a worst case scenario, a forty per cent reduction. Early last month, the vile Hunt delivered what was desscribed as 'an ultimatum' to executives at S4C giving them four weeks to draw up a viable financial plan. Or, he'd hit them with a baseball bat just like Robert De Niro in The Untouchables. Allegedly.

Factual broadcaster Discovery Networks UK is replacing Discovery Knowledge with a dedicated history channel in November. Discovery History's schedule will include a range of presenter-led programmes about ancient civilisations such as Greece and Rome, as well as the two world wars. Its predecessor, Discovery Knowledge, aired a mix of history, archaeology and engineering themed programming. The new channel, said a network spokesman, was a 'redefinition' rather than a replacement, and that the change of name was to make it clearer to viewers that the channel now had more of a history focus. Discovery History has already commissioned a raft of UK history programmes including George Cross Heroes, produced by Dangerous Films in association with Empire Media, Ultimate Castles with Dan Snow, from Ballista TV and Parallax Film Productions and Wartime Secrets with Harry Harris, from Mandrill. It will also introduce a number of expert historical presenters including Lord Ashcroft, Snow and Harris to provide new insights on important periods of history. Discovery describes the channel as 'the only UK channel dedicated to factual history.' Which is, technically, true as rival network UKTV broadcasts some contemporary and scripted content on Yesterday and the History Channel shows the documentary Ice Road Truckers. 'We have a strong line-up of compelling storytellers launching on the channel, and we will be showcasing this talent in a marketing campaign that shows the strength of the new channel to viewers,' said Simon Downing, head of marketing communications at Discovery Networks UK. Discovery History debuts on Sunday 7 November and is available on Sky channel 522 and Virgin channel 217.

Gross, sickening egotist and drag Piers Morgan has promised that his new CNN talkshow will 'kick some ratings butt.' Could somebody please let the PTC know that a foul-mouthed uncouth full-of-his-own-self-importance Englishman is heading in their direction. I'm sure they'll have something to say on the matter and want to, you know, organise a picket or something.

India has condemned what it describes are 'racist and bigoted' remarks by a New Zealand television presenter who made fun of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit's surname. TVNZ breakfast show host Paul Henry broke into laughter a number of times as he mispronounced the surname - which sounds closer to 'Dixit' in English. He told viewers Dikshit's name was 'appropriate because she's Indian.' New Zealand's government has apologised for the remarks, describing them as 'culturally insensitive and vulgar.' Sheila Dikshit brushed off Henry's remarks but said they were 'not appropriate.' India's foreign ministry summoned the New Zealand high commissioner on Thursday and registered a strong protest against Henry's comments. 'It is shocking that such bigoted views have been aired by a representative of a mainstream media organisation of a multi-ethnic democracy like New Zealand,' India's foreign ministry said in a statement. 'These remarks are totally unacceptable to India and should be condemned by all right-thinking people and nations.' High Commissioner Rupert Holborow said that he 'regretted the deep hurt caused by the comments of the media commentator.' Henry's ignorant comments were broadcast last week on the state-owned channel TVNZ, but took a few days to be noticed in India. In the footage, Henry mispronounces Dikshit's surname several times - apparently deliberately. He added: 'I've known about her for a while and I've been laughing ever since.' His on-air colleagues pointed out that he was pronouncing the name wrongly on several occasions. On Tuesday, TVNZ suspended Henry for two weeks for questioning whether the country's Indo-Fijian Governor General, Anand Satyanand, was a 'proper' New Zealander. 'Is he even a New Zealander?' Henry asked Prime Minister John Key on Monday. The channel said that Henry had 'well and truly crossed the line' with his comments about Satyanand. It has not yet commented on his remarks about Dikshit. Henry has something of a reputation for controversial comments. He once described the Scottish singer Susan Boyle as 'retarded' and accused a female guest from Greenpeace of having a moustache. In the interest of fairness, it should also be pointed out that on last night's episode of Mock The Week, English comedian Andy Parsons' also made fun of Dikshit's name. Albeit his line, 'Delhi's Chief Minister is called Sheila Dikshit. That's funny, isn't it? An Indian called Sheila,' is a touch less disrespectful and a damn sight more amusing.

According to the Daily Telegraph Lady Thatcher will not receive an apology from Sir Nicholas Hytner, who has staged a play at the National Theatre in which a character says that the former prime minister deserves to be sodomised. And, I'm not going near editorialising that story with a barge pole.

A set of self-confessed alcoholic Scouse wife-beating junkie John Lennon's fingerprints has been seized by the FBI from a New York memorabilia dealer. Dealer Peter Siegel told the BBC the card was to be auctioned at a one hundred thousand dollars minimum bid. The prints were taken at a New York police station in 1976 when Lennon applied for permanent US residence. An FBI official told the BBC the bureau believed the card was government property and was investigating how it had ended up in private hands. Siegel, co-owner of Gotta Have It! in New York City, told the BBC that the shop had heard from the FBI when it began publicising an auction of eight hundred and fifty pieces of rock-and-roll memorabilia tied to the seventieth anniversary of Lennon's birth on Saturday. On Wednesday, an FBI agent returned with a subpoena demanding the item. After a round of calls and faxes between the government, Siegel and his lawyer, the dealer handed it over. 'This really has nothing to do with John Lennon per se,' FBI Agent James Margolin told the BBC. 'It has to do with a government document.' Siegel said that the card's owner, a music and trade show promoter, had acquired it at a convention 'about twenty years ago.' The owner will now have to decide whether to try to get the card back, Siegel said. 'I don't think it's going to be worth his while,' he added. 'They wanted it back and there was no way they were going to say "Okay, keep it."' The card bears the name John Winston Ono Lennon and lists his address as The Dakota Apartment Building on West Seventy Seconnd Street in New York, in front of which Lennon was shot and killed by obsessed fan Mark Chapman four-and-a-half years later. Lennon's one-time immigration lawyer Leon Wildes told the New York Times that some of Lennon's paperwork had been stolen from him in 1976, including a fingerprint form. In 1991, Sotheby's auction house sold a similar card for four thousand dollars. A Sotheby's spokesman said at the time Lennon had made and autographed an extra copy for a policeman, so the piece sold then was not an official document.

Staff at BBC Midlands Today have passed a vote of no confidence in management amid claims of widespread bullying and intimidation at the Birmingham television operation. A crisis meeting attended by officials from the National Union of Journalists led to no confidence votes against acting editor Mark Hayman and Head of Regional Programmes Cath Hearne. The furore comes six months after journalists on the BBC early evening regional news programme had complained to BBC English Regions Controller David Holdsworth about systematic bullying of staff. Now a walkout has been threatened if the alleged intimidation is not stopped forthwith. If not sooner. Already two journalists, including Jeff Berliner, have lodged claims for employment tribunals. It is also understood that presenters such as Nick Owen and Suzanne Virdee have been told to cut down their on-air banter in a new approach to newsreading. Meanwhile, one programme director, Mel Parmer, is said to have had a heart attack after suffering from stress. One - anonymous - employee said: 'Morale is at an all-time low, we are all very despondent. Bullying has been drip, drip, drip for months – there is a very vindictive atmosphere. Senior reporters and producers are not being allowed to get on with their jobs. People are being moved out and others, with less experience, are being brought in. The programmes are suffering. The viewing figures for Midands Today are said to be holding up well, but in fact they are not as good as they used to be. We are all devastated by what happened to Mel – the whole newsroom is shocked to the core. Back in March we wrote a letter to David Holdsworth outlining the problems with bullying but nothing was done. We had to take a stand with a vote of no confidence. The next move would be a localised walkout, but a lot of people are very frightened for their jobs.' Cath Hearne was appointed Head of Regional Programmes in the West Midlands in February 2009. She said at the time of her appointment following her move from a similar role in Hull: 'It's a big job based in England's second city and I'm really looking forward to working with the team which has a fantastic reputation.' But less than six months later she was at the centre of a row involving former Radio1 DJ Liz Kershaw, who was dropped from BBC Coventry and Warwickshire's breakfast show. In response to an e-mail sent by Hearne detailing the changes, Kershaw responded with her own e-mail in which she said: 'Watch your back Cath. Beware the Ides of March etc. Could be your turn next.' A BBC spokesman said 'We do not comment on staffing issues.'

To celebrate National Poetry Day, the Gruniad Morning Star's Dave Simpson has talked to a diverse group of musicians about the joys of setting verse to music. Checked it out if you want to read more about Paul Weller's love of a bit of Shelley, Mike Scott's appreciation of WB Yeats or Jah Wobble's fascination with William Blake.

Johnny Depp surprised the pupils of a London primary school today, dressed as his Pirates Of The Caribbean character Cap'n Jack Sparrow. Depp, who is currently filming the fourth instalment of the Disney franchise On Stranger Tides at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, visited a local school after a pupil had written to ask for Captain Sparrow's help in organising a 'mutiny' against the teachers. The author of the letter, nine-year-old Beatrice, said: 'Johnny Depp walked in dressed as Captain Jack. There were gasps and screams. He pulled my letter out of his pocket and said he was going to frame it. Then he called me down and gave me a hug.' Sounds like a very articulate nine year old, this chick. She added: 'He said the pirates were going to take over the school and only eat candy and our teeth would turn black and fall out. But he said we shouldn't mutiny against the teachers because there were police outside and we might get in trouble.' Depp reportedly performed for the pupils for fifteen minutes before returning to set.

A Taiwanese farmer has created two Michael Jackson scarecrows in a bid to protect his rice harvest. Jackson fan Lee Ping-Hsing dressed one wooden frame in a sequined glove, black fedora and brogues and the other in red Thriller jacket and trousers, Reuters reports. Both have been set in classic Jackson dance poses. Lee said: 'During harvest, my dad would go to the fields every day and chase the birds away. And I thought, since Michael is good at "grabbing his bird," I'm inviting him to grab ours. I was yelled at by my grandfather, who said Jackson's spirit could come and haunt us, but I think it would be nice if Michael could come over.' Lee revealed that he will now make a third Jackson scarecrow for his father's farm in Changhua county.