Monday, January 03, 2011

Monday's Child Has Learned To Tie His Bootlace

A highlight of Monday morning's Test Match Special covering the - wet and spasmodic - first day of the fifth Ashes test occurred when Jonathan Agnew read out a tweet from the actor Sam Troughton (Much in Robin Hood, of course): 'The sprinkler dance was performed at the Capulet Ball during the RSC's production of Romeo and Juliet last night,' noted Sam. 'Come on boys!' Sam, and you'll probably know, dear blog reader, is not only a member of a noted theatrical family (his father David, grandad the great Patrick, and uncle Michael) but, also a more-than-decent cricketing one as well. Sam's brother, Jim the current Warwickshire's vice captain, was - briefly - an England one day international a few years ago whilst their great-grandfather, Henry Thompson Crichton, was also a first class cricketer for Warwickshire before the first world war.

The Open University is this week celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the broadcast of its first educational lecture on BBC television. Since the ground-breaking first transmission, broadcast on BBC2 on 3 January 1971 there have been more than seven thousand TV and four thousand radio programmes as part of the collaboration agreement between The Open University and the BBC. Broadcasts began with late night lectures, providing visual tutorial aids for students enrolled on the new distance-learning courses from the Open University. Around twenty five thousand students signed up for courses in the OU's first year. The institution now has around two hundred and fifty thousand students, including twenty thousand overseas. Open University Professor Michael Drake, who took part in the early recordings, recalled the various challenges involved with the broadcasts. He said: 'Each programme took one day. We rehearsed once then recorded it with no stopping because of errors.' The late night lectures transferred to the early hours after video recorders became more widely available for students to record the programmes. And, as Mietek Padowicz has noted, 'the world has the Labour Party and the BBC to thank for scientists looking like the mandolin player from Lindisfarne telling us about quantum physics on a blackboard aided by the occasional animation and cut out.' And, for genius parodies like this. Since the 1990s, the partnership has also evolved into prime time programming on radio and TV, including award-winning series like Coast, Bang Goes the Theory, Rough Science, Seven Ages of Britain, James May's Big Ideas and Olympic Dreams. An estimated three hundred million people tuned in to OU/BBC programmes in 2009-10 alone. Dr Sally Crompton, the head of the university's Open Broadcasting Unit, said: 'The Open University's partnership with the BBC provides a unique way to combine academic expertise and high quality production. TV, radio and online content brings education to millions of people and, while it has evolved from late night programmes to mainstream television, it is still central to what the OU does, making learning accessible. Through our partnership with the BBC, we stimulate people's curiosity, open up access to new learning opportunities, transfer knowledge across a wide range of areas and we look forward to working together in the future.'

I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity ... winner Stacey Solomon has outlined her future career plans within the entertainment industry. The X Factor finalist revealed to the Sun that she dreamed of becoming a TV presenter, but also hoped to put her vocal talents to good use. Well, yer Keith Telly Topping understands that Asda are currently looking for someone to make announcements about their special offers over the tannoy, Stace. Mind you, you'll have to learn English first, because - tragically - most people don't speak Essex.

BBC Breakfast presenter Sian Williams has warned that she may quit the programme rather than move to Manchester when the show relocates next year. Which, one is sure, the people of Manchester will be rather happy about - that's one more home for somebody local. Filming of the flagship morning broadcast is due to switch from London to Salford sometime in 2012. But its presenter said that she is considering leaving the show, rather than uprooting her family when it moves. The forty six-year-old, who was born in London to Welsh parents, has a son in the middle of studying for his A-levels, while her widower father lives in the south-east of England. Would it help, I wonder, if the people of Manchester promised to clear up before you arrive and only speak when they're spoken to? Just wondering. Williams, who has been married to fifty eight-year-old TV producer Paul Woolwich since 2006, also claimed that the breakfast slot may struggle to maintain the calibre of its guests because of the unwillingness of major stars to travel to the north of England to appear on the sofa. Her colleagues Bill Turnbull and Chris Hollins have already expressed reservations about the impending move. She said: 'I haven't made a decision yet. It's a very personal thing for each of us on the programme. We've got until the end of March to decide and I need to sit down with my family and talk it through. My two younger children are four and nineteen months, so they're portable, and my eldest is nineteen and at university. My husband is freelance and incredibly supportive. He says: "We'll think of everyone, and if we're moving, we’re moving." But my son Alex will be doing his A-levels, so I have to consider him. I also have to think about my dad, because he lives in Eastbourne.' Jeez, anybody would think they were asking her to move to Jupiter. It's only a hundred and fifty miles away. Three hours, by car, if that. Proposals to move the breakfast show – watched by an estimated 1.8 million people most mornings – to Salford are part of the BBC's plan to spread the broadcaster's staff across the UK so as to reflect their commitment to rationalisation. But Williams said that the response of her children to any changes would be uppermost in her decision-making. 'I've always tried to do jobs which allow me to spend enough time with my children,' she told the Scum Mail on Sunday. 'I'm also very aware of what it must be like for them having a mum on television. Both my older boys went to the local comprehensive in North London – one is still there – and I know it could be horrendous for them. I don't want them to feel embarrassed by me, so I run everything I do past them.' While Williams was born in London, she has maintained a strong connection with Wales. Her mother and father were from Llanelli and Swansea respectively, and generations of her family were farmers in South Wales. Earlier this year, she appeared on the BBC Wales Coming Home programme, in which she discovered she had been the first person from her family to be born outside Wales in three hundred and fifty years. She told the programme: 'When I started this journey, I felt Welsh, but I couldn't really understand why. Then I look at my family tree and every single person beyond me is Welsh going back hundreds and hundreds of years. Now I think, actually, it's not about where you're born, it's about where generations of your family come from. I can now proudly say I'm Welsh, it doesn't matter that I was born in Paddington, I'm Welsh, yes I am, and very proud of it I am too.' As a famous Mancunian once said, sweetheart, 'it's not where you're from, it's where you're at!' She added: 'I find it quite upsetting in a way – all the generations over hundreds of years of Welshness and I was born in London, the first person in four hundred years to be born in England.' But, she said she could still be open to a move to the north of England – despite reservations about the impact the move could have on the programme. She said: 'I love the area – I worked in Manchester for years and it's a great news patch. I can see the BBC's strategy – if you have twenty four thousand employees, you don't want them all working in London. And Breakfast is a fantastic programme to work on.' But she warned: 'There are things we'll have to do differently in Salford. There are certain people who at the moment are more accessible and they won't be in the future – politicians, celebrities, opinion formers. Will we get Will Smith on the sofa in Salford? It would be naive of me to say: "Oh yes, it'll be fine. It won't be as easy as it is now."' Of course it will. Most alleged 'celebrities' will walk a hundred miles on broken glass to get their boat-races on TV and the chance to plug their latest worthless contributions to society. Everyone knows that. I'll tell you what, if I was a resident of Manchester I'd be effing outraged at crap like this coming from a supposedly educated person. And if I was a BBC executive I'd be reminding Sian Williams about what happened the last time some pretty girl who could read an autocue started getting ideas above her station and making demands about this, that and the other to the BBC. Just check what's on opposite you on ITV, Sian, and think yourself bloody lucky that you have a job at all.

Jayne Torvill has picked David Beckham as her fantasy contestant for Dancing on Ice. According to The Press Association, the skater said: 'I think David Beckham should have a go. He could use it to raise his profile!' Along with dancing partner Christopher Dean, Torvill has been training the latest group of celebrities for the competition. Dean said: 'This year's going to be good, we're going to see some amazing stuff.' Torvill added: 'You never know when they get in front of an audience and the cameras how they're going to respond, but already we're seeing one or two starting to shine from the group. Others are struggling a little bit more, but having said that, in their own personal journeys, they've improved even in the few weeks that they've been training.'

TV executives in the US have simplified the central storyline in ITV's hit period drama Downton Abbey due to fears that it will not be understood by American audiences. Which is pretty patronising - albeit, probably, not without some common sense behind it. The programme's plot - in which a distant relative stands to inherit the estate - will be downplayed and the series running time cut from eight to six hours when it is broadcast in the US next week. Downton Abbey focuses on the inner workings of the English aristocracy, specifically a legal device called the 'entail,' which determines how an estate should be divided up. In the show, written by Lord Snooty Julian Fellowes, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) learns that his heir has died on board the Titanic and the next-in-line is Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), a middle-class third cousin whom he has never met. However, US broadcaster PBS feels that the nuances of the British aristocratic system will be lost on American viewers. What, and you mean they're not on British viewers who grew up on a council estate? Jesus, have everybody taken the stupid pill this week, or what? 'We thought there might be too many references to the entail and they have been cut. It is not a concept people in the US are very familiar with,' said Rebecca Eaton, executive producer for PBS. 'American audiences are used to a different speed when it comes to television drama and you need to get into a story very quickly. We also wanted to get to the point where Matthew Crawley arrives on the scene much faster than in the British version. He is a pivotal character and his arrival brings with it drama and conflict. In the British version he doesn't arrive until episode two. In our version he is there in episode one.' Despite the cuts to the broadcast version of Downton Abbey, the entire series will be released in the US on DVD, billed as The British Original. Which makes it sound like a type of cheese, frankly. Downton Abbey was the surprise drama hit for ITV last year, drawing almost eleven million viewers for its final episode. The broadcaster has already commissioned a second series.

Davina McCall has 'opened up' about her teenage addiction to heroin. The Got To Dance and Million Pound Drop presenter, who became dependant on the Class A substance as well as cocaine and ecstasy in her youth, claimed that she had little knowledge of the impact that heroin would have on her life when she first experimented with it. What you mean the 'fucking up your life, turning you into a nasty, deceitful thieving little bastard in search of your next fix and then, one day, making you turn blue and die' sort-of-thing? You should've just listened to a few Lou Reed records, Dav, he'd've filled you in on the details. She told the Daily Scum Mail: 'Nobody told me the truth about drugs. The problem with heroin is that once you have tried it once, I guarantee you will have it again. And nobody told me that. I tried it once and thought it was nice and a few months down the line I tried it again and it just got better and better until I became addicted. That is why you just mustn't do heroin.' Well, that and the fact that chances are if you do, it will ruin your life. The forty three-year-old also spoke of her turbulent upbringing, which saw her raised by her grandfather and his second wife - whom she classes as her 'mum' - after her biological mother abandoned her at the age of three. Referring to her family's reaction to the start of her presenting career at MTV, she explained: 'I always had a feeling in my heart that my mum had not been as big a part of my childhood as I'd wanted her to be, and I thought that getting this job at MTV was going to prove to her that, you know, I was somebody. Having my own show was the thing I thought would make my mum go, "Yeah, well done," but it didn't make me feel like that inside, and I thought, "God, I've got to fill that hole, somehow." I've had to come to terms with myself and realise that, however flawed I am, I'm okay.' McCall previously revealed that she had tried to warn her own daughter off drugs by describing heroin as 'fantastic but frightening.' No, no, no, no, no, Davina, hen. 'Fantastic but frightening' is how you describe the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. 'Expensive, lethal if it's pure, even more lethal if it's impure and full of rat poison, and the addiction from which is a bitch to get rid of,' is far more accurate.

Daybreak's entertainment presenter Kate Garraway has ditched her winter wardrobe and posed topless for a series of 'saucy shots' to help promote, an initiative from Care International UK. The forty three-year-old posed wearing nothing but body paint - the image of a five pound banknote covering her back from the tops of her shoulders all the way down to her bottom - as part of the campaign. The charity in question, uses donations to provide loans for entrepreneurs in developing countries. Garraway was joined on the shoot by fellow TV presenter, Live From Studio Five's Kate Walsh - a former Apprentice contestant. Walsh, though, seemingly wasn't brave enough to go bare naughty nekked for the charity, keeping her clothes on and posing in black jeans and a tight white t-shirt instead. One can understand why she might be a bit shy in front of the cameras. After all, she's not used to being looked at by lots of people since Live from Studio Five's only got an audience of about eight.

The Oscar-nominated actor Peter Postlethwaite has died at the age of sixty four, a spokesman has announced. Journalist and friend Andrew Richardson said that Postlethwaite died peacefully in his sleep in the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital after a lengthy illness. In 1994, he was nominated for an Oscar for In The Name of the Father. He received a best supporting actor nod for his role as Giuseppe Conlon, who was wrongly convicted of involvement in the IRA's Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings and subsequently died in prison. Richardson said that the actor, who also starred in films including The Usual Suspects and Brassed Off, had carried on working in recent months despite receiving treatment for cancer. Peter, who was born in Warrington in 1946, began his acting career at Liverpool's Everyman Theatre. He returned to the Everyman in 2008 to play the lead in King Lear, a role he had always wanted to take on. He starred alongside his friend Daniel Day-Lewis in In The Name of the Father, the pair having previously worked together in repertory theatre during the 1970s. Peter, who was once described by Steven Spielberg - with whom he worked in films including The Lost World: Jurassic Park - as the 'the best actor in the world,' shot to fame thanks to the 1993 movie, based on Gerry Conlon's autobiography Proved Innocent. From a devout Catholic family, Peter had originally planned to be a priest. The youngest of four children, he then did a short stint as teacher before eventually following his passion for the stage at the age of twenty four, training in drama at the Bristol Old Vic. Subsequently, he toured pubs and village halls in a nomadic theatre group with his then girlfriend, Julie Walters. His early roles included a spell at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool where he worked with other future luminaries Bill Nighy, Alan Bleasdale and Jonathan Pryce. At the dawn of his career, the head of Bristol Old Vic drama school had advised Peter that with a face 'like a stone archway' he couldn't go wrong in terms of getting character roles. Peter himself would later concede that he owed much of his success to that 'carved-out face.' Rarely short of work from the moment he left the school in 1970, Postlethwaite grew from being a jobbing actor into a widely admired star — although, with typical modesty, he declared after a string of high-profile screen successes that he was 'not a bankable name, not an A-list.' In the 1980s, Peter joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, and at one point was introduced to the Queen following a performance of Taming Of The Shrew. Following that meeting, he remarked: 'My mother always thought that acting was a phase, she assumed I'd go back to teaching at some point. But when she saw me with the Queen, she finally accepted that I was serious about it.' Peter's screen work began on TV with bit parts in Coronation Street, Going Straight, Crown Court, Between The Lines, Minder and Casualty before more substantial roles in Tumbledown and, in the cinema, in Terence Davies' Distant Voices, Still Lives. He worked steadily, taking small roles in Hollywood movies like Last of the Mohicans (again, with Day-Lewis), Alien 3 and Franco Zefferelli's Hamlet, before landing the career-changing part of Giuseppe Conlon. His portrayal of Conlon, whose son Gerry was one of those wrongly convicted of the Guildford Four pub bombings and who, through being 'Irish and in the wrong place at the wrong time,' became part of the Maguire Seven, earned him an Oscar nomination. Another memorable role - as Keyser Söze's lawyer in The Usual Suspects - followed, before he played the priest, Father Laurence, in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. Other hits include the classic Brassed Off and Steven Spielberg's Amistad. Peter modestly laughed off Spielberg's famous quote about him, saying 'it sounds like an advert for lager and it's only one man's opinion.' One of his more notable roles on Tv was as the villainous Obadiah Hakeswill in ITV's Sharpe series, which starred another old friend, Sean Bean. Peter said that this was one of his favourite roles and that he and Bean played so well off each other directly because of their mutual friendship. Bernard Cornwell, the author and creator of the Sharpe series, specifically wrote Hakeswill's character in later novels to reflect Postletwaite's performance. Peter would also co-star with Bean in the football movie When Saturday Comes. In 2004, the actor was made an OBE in the New Year's Honours for his services for drama. At the time he said it was 'a complete shock.' Postlethwaite was also a committed political activist. A keen environmentalist, he retained a strong sense of socialist principle and questing idealism. He marched against the war in Iraq, supported the Make Poverty History campaign and starred in the 2009 film about global warming, The Age of Stupid. At the premiere, he reportedly promised the then Energy and Climate Change minister, Ed Miliband, that he would return his OBE if the government gave the go-ahead for new coal-fired units at Kingsnorth power station. Peter once said he had been politically motivated throughout his career: 'When we were back at The Everyman, everything had to relate to the community, it had to say something about people's lives. That never changed for me, that's why I said no to a lot of roles. In works like Brassed Off or In The Name Of The Father, we were trying to say something, we were trying to convey a message.' Peter had continued to work until recent months despite receiving treatment for cancer, an illness he had first been diagnosed with in the 1990s but had been given the all-clear. An intensely private man away from the screen, Peter once said the number one passion in his life was his family. He leaves behind his wife Jacqui, whom he married in 2003, and two children, Will and Lily. Tributes to the late actor have poured in since the announcement of his death. His former girlfriend Julie Walters praised him for being 'the most exciting, exhilarating actor of his generation,' according to BBC News. She added: 'I saw him in Coriolanus and it was the most terrifying, wonderful performance I have ever seen. The audience were privileged to see it.' Stephen Fry wrote on his Twitter page: 'The loss of the great Pete Postlethwaite is a very sad way to begin a year.' Also on Twitter, Simon Pegg described Postlethwaite as 'one of our finest actors.' Lord Prescott wrote that Peter's performances in Brassed Off and The Age of Stupid in particular 'had a real effect on me and our government.' Bill Nighy - who began his career alongside Postlethwaite in the early 1970s - said that the actor was 'a rare and remarkable man. I was honoured by his friendship - he is irreplaceable.'

And, after that sad news, finally in today's Keith Telly Topping's 45(s) of the Day, we've got another one of those old 'two records sharing the same riff' things all over again. With this.And, this. Boogie.