Friday, December 24, 2010

It Was Christmas Eve, Babe, In The Drunk Tank

The tram seen decimating Coronation Street during the ITV soap's fiftieth anniversary week may become a museum exhibit next year. It is hoped a section of the vehicle will be displayed at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry. 'We were approached a couple of weeks back as to whether we would like to have the tram,' museum director Tony Hill told the Manchester Evening News. 'As yet we have not finalised a delivery date,' he is quoted as saying. An audience of thirteen million tuned in to watch the specially built tram plummet off a viaduct following a gas explosion on 6 December. 'As the icon of the fiftieth anniversary programming we felt it appropriate to have it,' Mr Hill went on. Located close to the Granada Studios where Coronation Street is filmed, the Museum of Science and Industry is nearing the end of a nine million pounds refurbishment. Earlier this month ITV announced filming will move from the Granada complex to Trafford Wharf, near Salford Quays, in 2013.

EastEnders star Samantha Womack has admitted that filming her upcoming baby plot has been a 'horrific' experience. Dark scenes in the New Year's Eve edition of the BBC soap will see the tragic Mitchell sister discover that her newborn son James has died. She then shockingly swaps him with Kat and Alfie Moon's new baby Thomas. 'It's been the most horrific four weeks of my life,' the actress told Inside Soap. 'I couldn't stop crying when we were filming the scenes where Ronnie finds her dead baby. I couldn't switch off when I returned home each day.' The thirty eight-year-old continued: 'What Ronnie has been through is such a crushingly awful thing to even pretend might happen to you. I actually felt ill having to portray it. We used an expensive silicone doll, and it was so lifelike it upset a lot of people on set. We had to stop and take a break because it was too much.' However, Womack admitted that she fears how fans will react to more devastation for the 'damaged' Ronnie. 'I love EastEnders and the fans enjoy it because it's hardcore and bleak at times,' she said. 'But I also worry because this is such a traumatic storyline. New Year can be a difficult time for some people, so I really hope this is taken in the spirit in which it's intended - which is about producing dramatic television. I've watched the episode where James dies and it really is very powerful, with strong performances from everyone. Producers are happy with it - I just hope it doesn't upset viewers.' She added: 'Ronnie is the most damaged character I've ever played - she never gets a break, does she? I have no idea what direction she'll be going in after this storyline is over.'

The BBC rejected accusations today that a drama about the nativity contained an 'anti-Jewish' libel after a leading rabbi complained about the portrayal of one its characters. This follows yesterday's story in the Daily Express that some Christian nutter had whinged about aspects of it. The BBC can't do right for doing wrong, it would seem. Jonathan Romain, a prominent figure in the progressive movement Reform, said the BBC was 'spoiling the season of goodwill' by including a scene that showed a rabbi denying shelter to a pregnant Mary. It shows the mother of Jesus trying to flee a hostile Bethlehem crowd and a rabbi refusing her the haven of his synagogue, letting her escape through a back door instead. Romain, who sits on a panel that advises the BBC on religion and is a former chair of Reform's Assembly of Rabbis, said many Jews would be aghast that amid a story central to the beliefs of millions of Christians 'an anti-Judaic aspect has been twisted into the narrative. The Gospels tell us there was no room at the inn, not that a rabbi kicked Mary out of a synagogue,' he said. 'Having survived Mel Gibson's anti-Jewish Easter onslaught The Passion now the season of goodwill has been spoiled.' It would be tragic if a thirty-minute television programme undid years of inter-faith dialogue, he added. The BBC rejected his suggestion that the scene constituted an anti-Jewish libel, saying there was 'absolutely no truth' to claims the rabbi was depicted in a negative way. A spokesman said that throughout The Nativity, written by EastEnders and Life on Mars' Tony Jordan, the rabbi was seen as an integral part of Mary and Joseph's life. 'When Mary returns from her cousin Elizabeth's unmarried and pregnant there is a universally hostile reaction from villagers, including, Joseph and Mary's parents. The rabbi is the only person who shows Mary compassion allowing her to avoid the angry villagers by offering her a route to safety.' Romain responded by saying the overall effect was 'very unpleasant – a hostile Jewish crowd, a baying mob. The BBC claim the rabbi was helpful whereas actually he was curt and only grudgingly let them out the back after Mary's mother pleaded on bended knees.' This year Jordan – who spent four years working on the script, researching the theological and historical aspects of the story – said the challenge was to retell the nativity in a way that would 'still surprise and move you.' Despite a welter of bad publicity from some hostile newspapers keen to stir up trouble, Christians have largely reacted positively to the drama. It won praise from the Roman Catholic archbishop of Westminster, who said while there was 'some clear dramatic licence' there remained 'an overall fidelity, not only to the Gospel accounts but also to traditional imagery.' The Evangelical Alliance called it 'an utterly moving piece of television.' More than four million viewers have been tuning in to the drama each evening, which concluded last night.

Mark Thompson's annual Christmas e-mail to all BBC employees included the following paragraph what the Director General considered to be some of the corporations highlights of 2010: 'It's been one of our best ever years on the air and I can't begin to do justice to the highlights. But for me, history, science and culture stood out across our services, from A History of the World in 100 Objects, to Wonders of the Solar System and Bang Goes the Theory, to the Germany Season on BBC4 and the best Proms I can remember. In Drama, we welcomed Sherlock, Accused, and a new Doctor Who to our screens, and marked the twenty fifth anniversary of EastEnders with a fantastic live edition. Last weekend we saw two tremendous finals: Strictly Come Dancing and The Apprentice, two of the BBC's most loved shows. Great to see so many brilliant network programmes coming from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too.' Some very good choice there. Moving on to other matters, Thompson managed to avoid using the phrase 'screwed with our pants on' to described the licence fee settlement, merely noting: 'Looking to the future, there is no doubt that the licence fee settlement which we agreed in October is tough, but it gives us six years of financial certainty and real protection for our editorial and operational independence. Putting Quality First has now been strongly endorsed by the Trust and we can go forward into 2011 with confidence and clarity about our direction and a determination to focus even more than now on producing output of the highest quality, originality and distinctiveness.'

The BBC has had to withdraw a proposed DVD release of The Curse of Steptoe - the Jason Isaacs and Phil Davis drama about the stars of Steptoe And Son - following complaints from a member of Harry H Corbett's (extended) family. The film had already been re-edited twice to try to counter relatives' grievances, but the cut which made it on to BBC4's Legends Of Comedy compilation was still not to their liking. Now, following a fresh complaint, the BBC Trust has confirmed that it has ordered the discs to be recalled from the shelves. The brother of Corbett's late second wife, Maureen Blott, first claimed that the biopic was inaccurate and unfair when it was originally broadcast on BBC4 in 2008. The corporation's editorial complaints unit ruled that the drama had been wrong to suggest that Maureen's relationship with Corbett possibly contributed to the breakdown of his first marriage - to the actress Sheila Steafel. And it ruled that programme-makers were also wrong to suggest that Steptoe And Son came to an end because Corbett became a father and lost interest in the sitcom. It ordered edits to the show before it was repeated a few months later. However, the new version still attracted family complaints that Harry and Maureen's relationship was 'just a casual one.' Following this, another re-edited version of the programme was broadcast and then released on the DVD, but Mrs Corbett's brother again complained that it was unfair to his sister because she and the actor 'are portrayed as not living in a loving, permanent relationship.' The BBC did print a statement on the DVD sleeve stating that 'some events have been invented or combined together,' but the governing body has now, seeming, decided that this is becoming more bother than it's worth and has ordered the withdrawal of the title. Although, as of yesterday, the DVD was still freely available - for just a tenner, at that - at Fortunately, some of us had the foresight to record the original BBC4 broadcast.

Rupert Murdoch's close links to the Conservative party were thrown into the spotlight today by the Gruniad Morning Star after it emerged that the lack of culture secretary, the vile and odious Jeremy Hunt, held a private meeting with the tycoon's son, James, at which no civil servants were present. The meeting took place on 28 June, shortly after News Corp said it had made an offer to buy the sixty one per cent of BSkyB it does not already own. James Murdoch is chairman of BSkyB and chief executive of News Corp in Europe and Asia. Hunt's relations with the Murdochs are now under fresh scrutiny since he was handed official responsibility for ruling on News Corp's bid to take full control of BSkyB. The business secretary, Vince Cable, was forced to relinquish control of the decision after he was foolishly recorded by Daily Telegraph journalists posing as constituents and boasting that he had 'declared war' with Rupert Murdoch. A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: 'I can confirm that this was an informal first meeting between Jeremy Hunt as secretary of state and James Murdoch, and there was no written agenda or briefing. Officials did not sit in on the meeting.' Hunt has previously said publicly that he does not object to the takeover. So, he's obviously the perfect impartial person to put in charge of the decision about whether of not the takeover gets the go ahead. Referring to Hunt's meeting with Murdoch the Younger, the Labour MP Tom Watson said: 'It seems unprecedented that such a high level and legally significant meeting would not have civil servants present taking notes. I will be asking the chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee to ask Jeremy Hunt to explain himself to us as soon as possible.' Civil servants normally record details of meetings between ministers and commercial interests to keep colleagues up to speed with discussions that are taking place across government. It has also emerged that civil servants took no minutes of a second meeting between Hunt and BSkyB's chief executive, Jeremy Darroch so time later. According to documents released after a Freedom of Information request from the Gruniad Morning Star, an unnamed civil servant told Hunt before the meeting on 21 July that Darroch was likely to ask about changes to media regulation. 'Key things which [BSkyB] would like from government' he wrote, included 'reform of communications act competition framework (as part of our proposed communications act review).' The government is planning a new communications act later this parliament, which could sweep away strict rules on media ownership that prevent companies creating local monopolies. It is not unusual for cabinet ministers to hold routine meetings with companies that are affected by their policies but it is highly unusual for the meetings not to be minuted by a third party source to avoid the appearance of dodgy dealing. The meeting between Darroch and Hunt was held at a sensitive time, however, as News Corp had tabled an eight billion pound bid for BSkyB on 10 June. Hunt also attended a dinner hosted by News Corp on 20 May, within weeks of coming into office, with his aide Adam Smith. That followed a speech James Murdoch made at University College London arguing for robust legislation to protect copyright. Hunt is due to receive a report by the regulator Ofcom on whether News Corp's proposed takeover of BSkyB threatens 'media plurality' by 31 December. It was ordered by Cable in November after he decided to intervene on public interest grounds. Hunt will now consider Ofcom's findings before announcing whether to refer the bid to the Competition Commission for further investigation next month after parliament returns from its Christmas break. Rupert Murdoch was one of the first visitors to Downing Street after David Cameron became prime minister in May this year. On 12 July the communications minister, Ed Vaizey, had lunch with Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, at its Wapping headquarters. An official from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport wrote beforehand: 'News International will argue that government has no role in trying to compete with commercial enterprises.' Brooks was likely to argue that 'the BBC's free news web pages deny commercial media in the UK from making money from online media.' News International executives have complained publicly that the BBC's news website undermines their drive to force consumers to pay for access to their own news websites. The official added that Brooks might raise 'the British Library's stated intention to provide free public access to the news archive.' Sources close to News Corp say it had far more contact with officials and ministers in the Labour government than it does with the current administration. But, nobody particularly believes them. It is also understood, claim the newspaper, that News Corp executives found it difficult to secure a meeting with Cable, who rebuffed repeated requests to meet the company. Well, if he really had 'declared war' on them, now they know why! BSkyB shares, meanwhile, have leaped higher as experts said Vince Cable's embarrassing own goal has increased News Corp's chances of gaining clearance for its Sky takeover. Ah, capitalism. Isn't it just delightful?

Six people are on the shortlist to be the next chairman of the BBC Trust, according to two insiders who have seen the document and grassed them up to the Financial Times. Lord Patten, the former Conservative party chairman and the last governor of Hong Kong, is the clear favourite, they claim. But Sir Howard Davies, director of the London School of Economics, might be preferred if the BBC were to be subject to more stringent reforms, the anonymous pair suggested to the newspaper. The other four candidates are Richard Lambert, a form­er editor of the Financial Times and now director-general of the CBI employers’ group, Dame Patricia Hodgson, a former BBC policy director and current principal of Newnham College, Anthony Fry, an investment banker and Richard Hooper, former deputy chairman of Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator. Interviews will take place on 28 and 31 January in front of a panel including Jonathan Stephens, permanent secretary of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Lord Browne, the former chief of BP and Stewart Purvis, a former Ofcom official and editor-in-chief of ITN. They will reduce the list to two names to be recommended to the vile and odious Jeremy Hunt, the lack of culture secretary. It is within his power to accept neither and choose an entirely different candidate. That's if he isn't too busy that day giving Rupert Murdoch's sphincter as good lick, of course. 'There is no business big-hitter on the list,' said one person whom the newspaper suggest is 'closely involved' with the process. 'I can see Jeremy saying, "These are not the kind of people we want, but I think I can persuade so-and-so to do it."' Sir Stuart Rose, soon to step down as Marks and Spencer chairman, was one of several business figures mentioned in earlier reports of the selection process. According to a consensus of four leading media figures interviewed by the FT, the main challenges for the next trust chairman will be to appoint a director-general – to succeed Mark Thompson – who will shape the BBC for charter renewal in 2017, and to determine how the broadcaster can exploit its valuable commercial rights without making an impact on rivals.

Christina Hendricks has expressed an interest in playing the superheroine Wonder Woman. The Mad Men actress admitted that she would love to take on the iconic role during an appearance on the US talk show Rachael Ray. 'I heard that rumour too - I don't know where it got started but I love it!' she said when asked about reports of her playing the comic book character. 'I've been wanting to wear that outfit my whole life! I'd love to [do it]. That would be such fun. Let's put it out there!' A new Wonder Woman TV series is reported to be currently being developed by Boston Legal's David E Kelley.

A Labour MP has accused the ITV talent show The X Factor of discrimination against trade union members. John McDonnell said 'camera-friendly' female violinists were hired for shows on the condition they were not members of the Musicians' Union. The MP condemned the move in a Commons motion, saying: 'A successful show like The X Factor should be setting a good example and paying its musicians a decent wage.' Show staff allegedly sent an e-mail to music colleges earlier this month asking for a number of 'camera-friendly, confident female violinists' to perform live. McDonnell's motion said that 'this not only discriminates against trade union members, it also discriminates on the grounds of sex.' And uglies too, to be fair. We've got rights too, you know.

Doctor Who was the most-watched programme on the BBC iPlayer in 2010, a year that saw the catch-up service exceed a record-breaking 1.3 billion requests of TV and radio shows. The corporation's video-on-demand service also reported a record high of one hundred and forty one million streams of programmes throughout November, with each month of the year seeing at least one hundred million plays of catch-up content. Overall use of the iPlayer is up by thirty two per cent year-on-year. Matt Smith's first episode of Doctor WhoThe Eleventh Hour - was the most requested individual show with 2.2m plays, followed by the opening episodes of Top Gear's fifteenth series and the debut of BBC1's new drama adaptation of Sherlock. BBC Radio 5's coverage of England's World Cup match against Slovenia was the most listened to programme with three hundred and seventeen thousand streams. Daniel Danker, the general manager of programmes and on-demand for the BBC, said the reach and functionality of the service would continue to grow in the run-up to the Olympics. 'In 2011 we will bring BBC iPlayer to even more licence fee payers, dramatically increasing our investment in BBC iPlayer on mobile and TV, and laying the foundation for an incredibly interactive London 2012 experience,' he said. The growth of the iPlayer, which launched three years ago, has been helped by the increased range of platforms it is available on including games consoles, mobile phones and Internet connected TVs. The service is used mainly by the under-fifty five age group. More males use the service but the BBC said the gender split is gradually becoming more even. Each TV user requests an average of four programmes per week and streams around an hour of content. Those that use the iPlayer to catch-up with radio programmes request around five shows and stream an average of three hours of content each week. The list of shows (requests in millions at the end)
1 Doctor Who (The Eleventh Hour) - BBC1 - 2.241m
2 Top Gear (Series 15, Episode 1) - BBC2 - 1.68m
3 Sherlock (A Study In Pink) - BBC1 - 1.403m
4 Top Gear (Series 14, Episode 7) - BBC2 - 1.255m
5 Outnumbered (Series 3, Episode 1) - BBC1 - 1.157m
6 EastEnders Live - BBC1 - 1.130m
7 Live at the Apollo (Series 5, Episode 6) - BBC1 - 1.076m
8 The Apprentice (Series 6, Episode 3) - BBC1 - 1.050m
9 Doctor Who (The End of Time Part 2) - BBC1 - 1.015m
10 Russell Howard's Good News (Series 2, Episode 3) - BBC3 - 982,000
11 Mock the Week (Series 9, Episode 3) - BBC2 - 944,000
12 Mock the Week (Series 8, Episode 5) - BBC2 - 940,000
13 FILM: The Incredibles - BBC1 - 904,000
14 FILM: Pirates of the Caribbean 2 - BBC1 - 870,000
15 Gavin and Stacey (Series 3, Episode 6) - BBC1 - 839,000
16 FILM: Legally Blonde - BBC3 - 807,000
17 Junior Apprentice (Episode 1) - BBC1 - 795,000
18 Tracy Beaker Returns Full Circle (Episode 1) - CBBC - 776,000
19 World Cup's Most Shocking Moments - BBC3 - 730,000
20 Madness in the Fast Lane - BBC1 - 720,000
In addition to The Eleventh Hour, every other episode of Doctor Who's 2010 series achieved an iPlayer audience of more than one million hits, with four episodes topping one and a half million viewings (The Beast Below, The Time of Angels, Amy's Choice, The Lodger).

Matt Smith said revealed that one saucy Doctor Who fanette nearly got more than they bargained for when his grandfather helped to deal with Matt's fan mail one day. He told Graham Norton that his mother normally deals with the huge amount of the mail he gets since being cast as the Time Lord. Matt said: 'Most of it is quite nice but my grandad helped one day and opened a letter that was rather suggestive and detailed what might happen if I visited the fan. He wrote back saying "Matt can't make it, but I can!"' The actor, who is a guest on Norton's BBC1 Christmas Eve show, said that playing the part was 'a privilege' but admitted it had taken its toll on his relationship with his girlfriend, Daisy Lowe. He said: 'She says it's not like having a boyfriend because I'm never there.'

The BBC has responded to complaints from viewers who complained about the quality of the camera work during this year's Royal Variety Performance. The network confirmed that complaints had been received following the broadcast of the annual event last week - in particular focusing on 'poor quality' camera work during the performance by Britain's Got Talent winners Spelbound. 'We apologise if some viewers found the camera work on this year's Royal Variety Performance less than satisfactory,' a statement said. 'We endeavoured to make the visual style sympathetic to the nature and pace of each particular performance which, in the case of Spelbound and some of the other music numbers, is often quite fast.' The broadcaster's response continued: 'The creative team on the Royal Variety - producers, director, lighting and camera team - are the best in the business and we can assure you that they all worked very hard to make the performances as exciting on TV as they were in the theatre. We're sorry if their visualisation of the event didn't meet everyone's expectations.' The event, which also featured performances from Take That and Cheryl Cole, was watched by an average of 8.34 million viewers.

Nicola Roberts has admitted that she hated being a judge on Britain's Next Top Model. Speaking to Company, the Girls Aloud singer explained that she found it difficult to give constructive advice without sounding nasty. 'I did a bit of judging for Britain's Next Top Model and I hated it,' she said. 'I could see the girls getting upset and I remembered what it was like when I was in their position. You can't be bitchy or flippant - I find it difficult to criticise,' Roberts continued. 'I mean, who am I to judge?' Who are any of us, come to that, Nic? Judge not, lest ye be judged. Matthew 7:1. I'm sure that Christian nut-case who was so big of the hate for The Nativity the other day will be along in a moment to give you a lesson in what that really means. It'll probably involve an inquisition before very long, I'm guessing.

A series of reports by BBC World News America anchor Matt Frei and correspondent Matthew Price on the impact of January's earthquake in Haiti has won an Alfred I duPont-Columbia University Award. The American awards honour excellence in broadcast journalism. As they travelled through and beyond the capital of Port-au-Prince, Frei and Price investigated the effectiveness of international relief efforts and revealed the breakdown of law and order as looting increased. They also reported on the grief and devastation caused by the disaster which killed more than quarter of a million people. Rome Hartman, World News America executive producer, said: 'We're grateful for this recognition of Matt and Matthew's fine work, and extremely proud of the standard of coverage and storytelling that they and the BBC set.' World News America, which airs weeknights on BBC America and BBC World News, was recently ranked in the top five most influential TV media brands with US opinion leaders, despite having been on air for just three years. The BBC’s international news website, which launched its American edition earlier this year, was also placed in the top ten most influential web sites in the US, above The Huffington Post and CBS News.

A North Carolina TV station went off the air for about an hour after a woman walked into the lobby of its studio and held a gun to her head during the evening news broadcast Tuesday night. The woman, later identified as Wendy Cosby Naidas, was upset about her dire financial situation, The Associated Press reported. The gun was unloaded, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police said. The WSOC-9 station was locked down and employees were notified to evacuate the building via email after the woman refused to leave, holding the gun to her head, as security approached her. Nobody was taken hostage of injured, WSOC-TV's general manager Joe Pomilla told the AP. 'I think the experience was more about protecting our employees,' Pomilla said. 'It's one of those things I'm thankful we had the security procedures in place. Fortunately, we came out of this unscathed and that's the most important thing. 'She never pointed the gun at any individual other than herself,' Pomilla added. Naidas was taken to a hospital for a mental evaluation to determine if charges will be filed against her, police spokesman Bob Fey said.

Annie Lennox has axed plans to play live in a festive TV special to promote her new CD A Christmas Cornucopia. The former Eurythmics singer told the Daily Record that her ambitious ideas would not have been able to materialise due to a small budget. In other words, it was going to be crap.

Shaun Ryder has said that the moment has passed for he and Stacey Solomon to record a cover of 'Fairytale of New York.' The I'm A Z-List former Celebrity ... co-stars were rumoured to be releasing a reworked version of The Pogues' and Kirst MacColl's 1987 msterpiece. However, perhaps thankfully, Shaun told the Digital Spy website: 'You wouldn't touch a song like that usually, you just wouldn't touch it. It's a classic tune, right? But because it was Stacey [and] me and we'd just come out of the jungle. On the spur of the moment when you got asked you say "Yeah," but it had to be done the day that we said yeah. And if it wasn't it's just not going to happen - so it's just not going to happen.' Asked whether he would really take actor and fellow jungle buddy Nigel Havers out on tour with him, Ryder added: 'That's happening. Nige is definitely going to come to a few shows. He can come on the tour bus and have a beer. I didn't expect to go in that place and end up having some new friends and I have.'

And, speaking of 'the best Christmas record, ever' (copywrite, the NME), that brings us, by an inevitable logic, to yer actual Keith Telly Topping's 45(s) of the Day for Christmas Eve and to that very seven inch piece of black plastic with a hole in the middle its very self. And, here's Shane, Kirsty and the boys performing it on Top Of The Pops in 1987. Stunning, jaundiced, immaculate poetry. 'I could've been someone/Well, so could anyone!' But, not content with just that, dear blog reader, in a buy-one-get-one-free special for Christmas (although you'll have to queue up cos everyone wants one), dear blog reader, here's the second-finest Christmas record of all time. And, certainly, the one with the best bassline! And, here's Siouxsie, Budgie, Steve and the late John McGeoch bringing a vision of Goth to the Visigoths on Rockpalast on German TV in 1981. 'In Israel/Will they sing Happy Noel?'