Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Food For Thought

Let's start off today's latest update, dear blog reader, with some ratings figures. The Top Twenty most watched programmes on British TV for week ending 24 October 2010:

1 The X Factor - ITV- 14.68 million*
2 Strictly Come Dancing - BBC1 - 10.56 million*
3 Coronation Street - ITV- 10.32 million*
4 Eastenders - BBC1 - 10.19 million
5 Downton Abbey - ITV - 9.40 million*
6 Piers Morgan's Life Stories - ITV - 8.15 million*
7 New Tricks - BBC1 - 8.03 million
8 The Apprentice - BBC1 - 8.02 million*
9 Emmerdale - ITV - 7.68 million
10 Countryfile - BBC1 - 7.20 million*
11 Merlin - BBC1 - 6.82 million
12 [spooks] - BBC1 - 6.35 million
13 Whitechapel - ITV - 6.21 million
14 Holby City - BBC1 - 6.06 million
15 Antiques Roadshow - BBC1 - 5.78 million*
16 The Cube - ITV - 5.51 million
17 Harry Hill's TV Burp - ITV - 5.33 million
18 Waterloo Road - BBC1 - 5.32 million*
19 Casualty - BBC1 - 5.18 million
20 Have I Got News For You - BBC1 - 5.16 million
Those shows with an asterisk next to them indicates that the total audience quoted also includes HD figures. There's few surprises here although, do note that [spooks]'s timeshift was in excess of a million viewers this week. That's the sort of figure which, until just a few months ago, nobody apart from Doctor Who (and, occasionally, Top Gear) was getting. Now, it's fairly common place. I've said this before but it bears repeating, the way we now consume TV is changing, dear blog reader. Rapidly.

It was terrific to see Bill Bailey back in the UK and back on TV on The ONE Show last night, taking about his forthcoming six week residency in the West End. Following a sell-out tour of the show in Australia and New Zealand, the comic and musician is to take a residency with his new live show, Dandelion Mind. Having previously performed there with his award-winning live show Part Troll in 2004, Bill will return to London's Wyndhams Theatre on Charing Cross Road on 2 November, where he will perform six shows a week through until 4 December 2010. Featuring Bill's trademark musical interludes, observations and stories of the road, Dandelion Mind will be based, loosely, on the theme of doubt (or, will it?!), as we follow Bill from his real-life saga of being trapped by the ash cloud to his barely contained rants about celebrity, television, creationism and Michael Winner. He demonstrates new instruments, both ancient and modern, he sings an Internet love song about Twitter, a lament about punk heroes, Iranian hip-hop and plays a mean folk-bouzouki. Thomas the Doubter gets a new look, and Darwin's curious obsessions and the myth of intelligent design are all worked over in Bill's own unique and surreal style. He revisits the music of his youth with a brand-new French Disco re-working of Gary Numan's 'Cars,' played in his own inimitable way, and maybe some Wurzels-based remixes of slammin' German techno. Just your normal Bill Bailey gig then.

Annoyingly, there will, again, be no Qi: XL edition for the third Saturday running on 13 November for the episode House and Home because of an evening of Neil Diamond and a Goodies documentary on BBC2. Well, that's just fantastic, that is.

Two years on from the divine Gail Trimble it appears as though University Challenge has found itself yet another freakishly brilliant pin-up babe! Natasha Simonova, the Russian-born, US-raised captain of the Christ's College, Cambridge team who defeated Edinburgh in a very impressive second round match has that same Trimble-like fascination which all smart girls tend to produce in shy, monosyllabic, nervous-around-female-type chaps. Or, so yer Keith Telly Topping understands. Anyway ... I do confidently expect that, sadly, like Gail before her, Natasha (reading English literature) will get a - slightly sinister - degree of attention from the tabloids if Christ's keep winning and more than her fair share of green-eyed insults from a few pond scum inhabiting some of the darker corners of the Internet. All for being cursed with a shade of intelligence. Take absolutely no notice of the glakes, Natasha, and good on yerself for - along with your team mates - reminding us all that knowledge is not only power, but it can be far more than that. Something to actually take pleasure in.

The first part of yer Keith Telly Topping's beloved MasterChef: The Professionals final was a ninety minute orgasm of pure food pornography, dear blog reader! Check out yer Keith Telly Topping's old mucker Mietek's blog for much pictorial evidence of this. The penultimate episode of the series saw the three surviving chefs, Geordie John, Durham David and Big Fat Cuddly Scouse Claire - all of whom come over as decent, likeable, hard-working and talented - facing some of the hardest challenges the show has ever devised. Cooking, as someone once said, doesn't come any tougher than this. Firstly, they were taken to The Langham Hotel, the winner of the 2010 Tea Guild Award for the The Best Afternoon Tea in London. For their first challenge, the three finalists had to match the perfection required in the culinary world's most feared discipline - pastry. Each chef had to recreate one of Pierre's most famous and intricate signature pastries and then to serve them to the man himself. Helping Pierre judge the outcome was the Langham Hotel's head pastry chef, Cherish Finden, and James Petrie, the pastry chef at Heston Blumenthal's three Michelin-starred The Fat Duck. Having survived that (and with Claire emerging as an early leader), they then returned to the Masterchef studio to use their new-found skills and prepare a hopefully elegant trio of desserts for Gregg and Michel to, quite frankly, get The Horn over. Gregg's little face, in particular, was like a kid let loose in a massive cake shop! Particularly when Dave presented him with a banana bread roll-style recipe of his mums devising which he had refined into something really rather special indeed. Then, as if that wasn't enough, the three finalists then travelled to Denmark for a challenge which pushed them to their culinary limits - cooking at Noma. Chef Rene Redzepi has propelled his Nordic foraging-based cuisine to the forefront of international gastronomy. The chefs received a quick master-class in Noma's innovative philosophy, before they each had to prepare a perch dish for Rene himself and his sous chef, Sam. As well as having their performance judged by Rene, the finalists also took charge of the restaurant kitchen and served lunch to a bunch of highly discerning local diners - including, of course, Gregg and Michel. 'I'm not really much of an artist, and that's art,' noted John when he was shown what his starter should look like. 'But, I'll give it a go!' Poor sweaty Dave on the other hand - nervous at the best of times - had a look on his face like he'd just shat in his own pants. There was an amusing moment when Rene told David that the sauce for his main course had to be cooked separately and then added later. 'What, in front of the customer?' asked David, with again that brown-trouser look. 'No, you take it out the back and do it outside. Of course in front of the customer!' said Rene demonstrating an almost Monica Galetti-style sarky wit. But, all three of them came through the experience with their reputations enhanced. 'That may be the most beautiful plate of food I've ever seen,' said Gregg when presented with John's mixed-vegetables starter. Finally, it was back to the studio kitchen again where David, John and Claire had to demonstrate what they had learned from their time in the land of the ice and snow. 'You have two hours to cook two extraordinary, glorious plates of food,' Michel told the three. Claire's two dishes were red mullet, fennel purée and salad with lemongrass broth served on a bed of crab, followed by rump of hogget, lentil ravigote, kidney and sweetbreads, stuffed baby artichokes. The former gave Michel 'a tinging thing in my throat' to such an extent he started wittering on about 'umami.' All that Gregg could managed was 'That was stunning!' in the way that yer Keith Telly Topping does when looking at a poster of Eliza Dushku. Claire's second dish, however, was a bit less successful, mainly because the hogget was slightly undercooked. Claire, needless to say, chose to focus on the negatives and looked close to tears whilst Michel tried his best to convince her that she should be proud of herself. David presented lamb loin with broccoli and wild garlic and then wild salmon, beetroot and sauce vierge and caviar dressing. 'This is how food should be presented at the highest level,' noted Michel, adding, 'it's "that" far away from being a great dish.' John's two dishes were pan-fried scallops with peas, crisp bacon and quails' eggs and roast duck breast with rainbow chard, liver and sausage-meat faggots. And, whaddya know, John buggered up his timings yet again! Running theme for the series, that. But for not shelling the peas on his starter - spotted by Michel - and some presentation issues in the main course, however, he'd had a good day too. 'It tastes great,' noted Gregg. And so the finale is on tonight - another ninety minute extravaganza. If I had to put money on one of them right now, it'd probably be Claire but the race really is too close to call.

Of course, having that on BBC2 between 8:30 and 10pm meant that yer Keith Telly Topping was forced to timeshift [spooks], recording it to watch later. Still, at least I'm not the only one doing that these days, it seems (see above). Of course, typically, it only went and turned out to be another stonking episode. As Lucas is plunged further into the depths of his murky, sordid and - as it turns out - deadly past, the sinister Vaughn takes his manipulations to a who new level. Meanwhile, Ruth is approached and followed by a council official (a terrific guest turn by Trevor Cooper - a long-time favourite of yer Keith Telly Topping ever since his days as Colin Devis in Star Cops in the 1980s) who is convinced that he's stumbled upon a dead drop. She initially keeps her distance from him, but when her curiosity gets the better of her she ends up trapped in a dangerous situation. And, all this goes on as Lucas and Harry come face-to-face in the pursuit of the truth. But, for Lucas what is truth and what is elaborate fantasy. Complete with a trio of outstanding performances by Peter Firth, Richard Armitage and Nicola Walker, this was [spooks] reminding us that it still - even after nine years - has the ability to shock it audience and play manipulative games with their loyalties. And all with a climax suggesting that Lucas really has reached the point of no redemption. 'Lucas North is dead.' Season finale up next. can't wait.

James May has admitted that Top Gear is no longer a show about cars - not that it has been for many years - and appeared to express his frustration that he and his fellow presenters Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond play 'characters' and that the trio's technical expertise is often sacrificed in favour of increasingly calamitous set-ups and challenges. May told the latest issue of Radio Times: 'When I started, Top Gear was a car show about cars.' Which is probably just about true although even then, in 2003, it was already largely a show about three reasonably amiable and a bit useless middle-aged chaps cocking about in cars, which is a necessary difference, I feel. That's, largely, why yer Keith Telly Topping became a fan of it in the first place and I'm sure that's true of millions of other regular viewers. If it was just about cars, we'd've left years ago. 'I was interested in the technology,' continued Cap'n Slow, 'but also the sociology and the artistry of them. The shapes and the colours. That was something I've always been into. But it's a different programme now. It's turned into something else. It's really almost a sitcom now, so we are characters. And when we cock about and everything goes wrong and we laugh about it, sometimes it winds me up. I think, "Oh, for God's sake, can't we do something properly that will work, not that has to catch fire or fall over." But I think I'm probably alone on that.' Not alone, James. You usually find a few grumpy whingers turning up on the comments section whenever the Gruniad Morning Star or the Daily Scum Mail do their latest, plankish 'Top Gear story of the week.' Which, this week will, likely, be this very story. And, indeed, whaddya know? They're usually fat, sweaty blokes with beards in their forties who haven't got a girlfriend. Which would also include yer Keith Telly Topping - albeit, sans beard - but, personally, I prefer Top Gear just the way it is. So, you know, exception that proves the rule and all that. However, as so often with this kind of story it appears that, actually, May's comments have been taken out of context, somewhat. The Radio Times article itself is, actually, and not unexpectedly about James' new series, Man Lab, and how traditional skills that most men could manage with their eyes closed forty or fifty years ago - like changing a plug, putting up shelves and doing a bit of gardening - appear to be on the decline. As the Torygraph notes, May partially blames this trend on 'the culture of being moronic' which grew out of lads' magazines such as Loaded, Nuts and Zoo. At the same time, women, he notes, have become more accomplished. 'I think women are getting a bit bored with blokes being useless. I don't have a worry about women because I keep reading that not only are they better at school, they are now better at parking, better at navigating. We know that women are good at everything.' In Man Lab, James aims to teach men more demanding skills, including how to land an aeroplane and defuse a bomb. In a humorous way. But, crucially, and this is something the Torygraph picked up on which none of the other papers reporting this story seem to have, he actually uses the 'Top Gear is a sitcom now' comment as a way of distancing the show from the previously mentioned 'moronic culture' angle largely because 'it's really almost a sitcom now ... and ultimately we do know what we're talking about.' However, James held up co-presenter Jezza Clarkson as a prime example of a man lacking practical skills. 'He's one of the most hopeless men I've ever met. He bought a pair of binoculars once and I had to attach the next strap for him.' The forty seven-year-old went on to insist that there are occasional flashes of technical expertise on the BBC motoring show, but conceded that the programme would be nowhere near as popular with the audience if the presenters did not play up to their characters. 'Ultimately we do know what we're talking about and we do let that be known occasionally,' he added. 'Very subtly, every now and then, you think, "Actually, they do love their subject and they do know a bit about it."' May concluded: 'If I played the real me with my slightly secretive love of really nerdy things and staring at things for too long, that wouldn't make a very good Top Gear because, well, it would make a very late-night Top Gear for people who were interested in taking cars apart.'

James Nesbitt has been cast in The Hobbit. The forty five-year-old Irish actor, best known for roles in television dramas Cold Feet, Murphy's Law, Occupation and Jekyll, will play the dwarf Bofur in Peter Jackson's two-film adaptation of the classic JRR Tolkien novel. Mind you, he will be playing Bofur with a Belfast accent because, well, that's the only one he can do. In a statement, Jackson said: 'James's charm, warmth and wit are legendary as is his range as an actor in both comedic and dramatic roles. We feel very lucky to be able to welcome him as one of our cast.' Bofur is described as a 'disarmingly forthright, funny and occasionally brave dwarf,' and accompanies Bilbo and Thorin on the Quest of Erebor in the original book. Not Irish, though. It was also announced that newcomer Adam Brown has been cast as fellow dwarf Ori, the part that Bill Bailey had, supposedly, auditioned for. Jackson commented: 'Adam is a wonderfully expressive actor and has a unique screen presence. I look forward to seeing him bring Ori to life.' Nesbitt and Brown join a number of other actors who have previously been confirmed for the project, including Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Aidan Turner and Rob Kazinsky. Sylvester McCoy has also declared his involvement.

Downton Abbey scriptwriter Julian Fellowes has defended himself against accusations that he plagiarised plotlines in the hit ITV period drama. Readers of the Daily Telegraph newspaper recently claimed that scenes in the 24 October episode bore a resemblance to parts of the novel Little Women and the 1942 film Mrs Minerva. One viewer described the episode as having 'the finest example of coincidence I have ever heard and seen.' The claims also follow criticisms of the series in the media, which prompted Fellowes to hit out at what he describes as a 'permanent negative slant' towards the show. Something, seemingly, not shared by the vast majority of the nine million people who are watching it ever week - including this blogger, as it happens. Nevertheless, speaking to the the Independent on Sunday, the Oscar-winning screenwriter said: 'All we get is this permanent negative nit-picking from the left. You just want to say "relax!"' hang on. From the left? Where the hell did that come from, matey? I wasn't aware the Torygraph was an organ of Communism? 'It's a show that might not appeal to the left. I mean, why is it that it's the Independent on Sunday ringing me up about this? There are plenty of shows on television I don't like but I don't go on about them.' Well, you just have, but never mind. When it was pointed out to him by a slightly bemused Independent journalist, Matthew Bell, that the series had received criticism for alleged historical inaccuracies from several sources - including the Daily Scum Mail - Fellowes conceded it was not a question of politics. 'You're quite right to pick me up on that,' he said, 'it's perfectly true.' He went on to express bewilderment at a column by the parodist Craig Brown last week, in which he derided Fellowes' interest in the etiquette of whether to tip a soup bowl forwards or backwards and described Fellowes as seeming 'almost laughably socially insecure.' Fellowes did admit that he had read Little Women and seen Mrs Minerva, meaning some of the scenes could have stuck in his mind. 'Who can say what is lodged in one's brain?,' he said. 'I am not conscious of lifting either, but it doesn't mean [the viewers] are wrong.' Since its premiere in September, Downton Abbey has proved a major hit for ITV on Sunday nights. The broadcaster has already commissioned a second series. Despite the success, Fellowes confessed to being left 'depressed' by the criticism, which includes accusations of a string of historical inaccuracies, such as a TV aerial being shown on a house. 'The real problem is with people who are insecure socially, and they think to show how smart they are by picking holes in the programme to promote their own poshness and to show that their knowledge is greater than your knowledge.' The lad's got a point, of course. But then that is, after all, what people pay their TV licence fee for. To watch TV shows and decide whether they like them or they don't. If they don't, it's a bit churlish to call them on it, frankly. They've paid for that right after all. Personally, yer Keith Telly Topping has greatly enjoyed the two episodes of Downton Abbey he's seen so far. If that quality drops, then I'll say so - on this blog - and, to be honest, if Julian Fellowes doesn't like he knows where he can stick his 'depression.'

Philip Schofield has confirmed that ITV have commissioned The Cube for a third series. The game show's second series is currently being broadcast on Sunday nights immediately before The X Factor results show and, last week, it attracted over five million viewers. Answering a viewer's question about another series on Twitter, Schofield responded: 'Brilliant ratings, new series will be recorded in the new year.' The presenter previously revealed that a celebrity edition - featuring Dame Kelly Holmes and TV host Jenni Falconer - will be broadcast on 21 November.

ITV has confirmed that the tenth series of I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! will premiere on 14 November. The reality show launch will see another batch of celebrities heading down under and hoping to follow in the footsteps of last year's victor Gino D'Acampo. The network teased that the show's team 'have pulled out all the stops to make sure this is the biggest and baddest series yet.' It was also confirmed that the Ant and Dec-fronted series will be broadcast in HD for the first time.

Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh have clashed over Craig Bellamy for the second time on The Xtra Factor. Walsh goaded his show rival over the loss of his third act in the Groups category, repeating his previous accusation that Cowell has neglected the girlband. Speaking in the judges Q&A session with Konnie Huq, Walsh asked: 'One question Simon, are you sorry that you didn't give them more time? Because you seemed to spend more time on One Direction. If you did it all over again, would you spend more time with Belle Amie?' An angry Cowell responded: 'You lost an act last week didn't you?' Walsh quickly replied: 'You've only got one act left.' Growing more annoyed, Cowell said: 'It's quality not quantity.' However, the Irish music judge persisted with his line of questioning: 'Would you spend more time with the girls?' Cowell answered: 'I'd spend less time with you.' Quality heckle, mate!

In an update from the BBC press office, the excellent Miranda Hart's eponymous sitcom will return to BBC2 on Monday 15 November at 8pm. Episode one of Miranda's second series finds Stevie with her work cut out trying to stop Miranda spending all day in her pyjamas with a packet of biscuits for company since Gary departed for Hong Kong taking with him her last chance of any relationship, no matter how unlikely that was.

The BBC is to celebrate Ronnie Corbett's eightieth birthday with a new one-off show. The comic will appear alongside newer sketch performers in the show, entitled The One Ronnie. Little Britain stars Matt Lucas and David Walliams have been confirmed as guests, while the BBC promises work from 'a selection of the best writers in the business.' The show is being recorded later this month, and is expected to air on BBC1 over Christmas. However, Corbett is not always enamoured of the new generation of comedians – particularly stand-ups. In a recent interview, he said: 'There are many around who do not really have a feel for comedy. They can say outrageous things, have clever thoughts and deliver some funny angles. They are not genuinely funny. They walk on, stand at the microphone, deliver and walk off again. They are not interested in a particular style of performance.'

Producers working on Channel Five shows are alleged to have been asked to avoid using commercial music in their programmes to bring down royalty payments. Money is due to the collection organisation PRS for Music for any public performance of music, whether live or recorded, and from radio and television broadcasts and online. The move is understood to be part of the new Channel Five owner Richard Desmond's move to make cuts of around twenty million pounds from the broadcaster's budget. It also means that viewers will be spared any further series of the wretched Don't Stop Believing. So, you know, bonus. Senior executives have already been culled - not literally, obviously - and voluntary redundancies have lead to between sixty and eighty job losses as part of the cost-cutting drive. One 'source' allegedly told the Gruniad Morning Star: 'People are being asked not to use commercial music on any Channel Five shows as they don't want to pay PRS. All publishing rights have to be assigned to Channel Five.' Another 'source' added: 'It makes things rather difficult for us.' However, a Channel Five spokeswoman denied that the broadcaster was trying to avoid paying PRS for Music: 'Channel Five plan to commission more original music as they have excellent contacts in the creative industry. There are no plans to avoid the use of commercial music entirely and it is not a case of not wanting to pay PRS for Music.' In addition, the newspaper alleges that 'new rules' have been imposed by Desmond's Northern & Shell, which have led to a sixty-day hold up on many payments to Channel Five suppliers. Last week, as widely reported, Northern & Shell paid an outstanding bill of nearly one million pounds to Shine for Don't Stop Believing. Shine had threatened to take legal action after the payment was delayed. It is understood that some Northern & Shell staff have also been asking independent production companies about the possibility of DVDs of Channel Five shows being cover-mounted on its newspapers as part of production deals. One 'source' allegedly claimed that in some instances Northern & Shell was not offering extra money for the cross-promotion. Channel Five and Sky News are also in discussions about a replacement for the newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky. It is expected that Matt Barbet, the former BBC newsreader who has been proved a success for Channel Five, will front one of the channel's news bulletins, while the other will be fronted by a new female presenter. The Gruniad suggests that a number of 'glamorous' women have been suggested by Channel Five as news and weather presenters. But Sky News wants to ensure news credentials are not compromised. One source claimed: 'Channel Five seems keen to hire someone glamorous. Put it like this, they're not after a seasoned war reporter. Unless they look like Jordan of course.'

More than a quarter of British people believe that watching TV is among the most important ways to socialise with loved ones, according to new research. A YouGov survey for the British Video Association found that twenty six per cent of people consider watching TV or Blu-ray discs with friends or family to be an important social interaction. The research also revealed that seventy three per cent of the two thousand respondents surveyed now spend between one and six hours every day enjoying home entertainment. Half of those questioned said that they have invested in technology for their living room in the last two years to achieve a 'home cinema' experience. That included twenty eight per cent purchasing a high definition television set, twenty per cent buying a games console and seventeen per cent subscribing to a cable or satellite HD TV service. Among those who made the investment, twenty seven per cent said that they did so for the superior sound and picture quality, while ten per cent felt that it is cheaper than going out. 'Improvements in home entertainment technology over the last few years have increased the appeal of that cinema experience in our own living rooms,' said BVA director general Lavania Carey. 'With the World Cup earlier this year also giving HDTV a big boost, we expect to see more people than ever staying at home to enjoy HD, 3D and Blu-ray as a way to beat the winter blues.' According to research recently published by Ofcom, UK viewers watched an average of three hours and forty five minutes of television every day in 2009, up by around three per cent on figures in 2004.

And, finally for today the latest splurge of yer Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day. This one is, actually, the first record yer Keith Telly Topping ever actually went out and bought with his own money. From JG Windows in the Central Arcade when I was eight. And, you know what, I still stand by this one. 'Meanwhile/I was still thinkin'...' Here's Marc - complete with pink loon pants - doin' the business on Top Of The Pops. Note, also, Elton John's appearance on paino.