Friday, February 25, 2011

I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now, When I Was Younger

Some awfully sad news to start off with, dear blog reader. I terribly sorry to have to inform you that James Corden will reprise his role as Craig Owens in the sixth series of Doctor Who. Well, bollocks, that's just made a bad day even worse! Corden made his debut in last year's episode The Lodger which saw The Doctor move into his flat. And actually, to be fair to the over-rated unfunny glake, he was quite good in it. A previously-revealed trailer for the upcoming series featured a glimpse of the interior of a timeship which featured in that episode. The BBC show's official website states: 'He became firm friends with the Doctor and we're now looking forward to seeing that friendship renewed!' You might be, pal, personally I could well do without that. Though, again, if Gareth Roberts were to write all of Corden's dialogue (not just in the series, I mean in real life as well), then it's possible he mightn't be quite so annoying as he is at the moment. Speaking last year, Corden commented: 'There's been no talk of my return. I'd love another adventure - it would be great! I'm sort of disappointed I didn't get to go in the TARDIS.' It has not yet been confirmed which episode Corden will return in or if Daisy Haggard will reprise her Lodger role as Craig's girlfriend Sophie.

Meanwhile, arguably the single sickest press moment of the week for once didn't come from one of the tabloids. Instead it was the Torygraph's Damian Thompson managing to use the death of Nicholas Courtney as the starting point for a bit of crass, thuggish right-wing BBC bashing. A quality newspaper, dear blog reader. Allegedly.

So, here's a curious thing ladies and gentlemen of the blog. The new series of MasterChef started last week - you might have noticed! - and, inevitably, a few dozen malcontents on the Internet wasted little time in telling everyone that wanted to listen (and, indeed, everyone that didn't) just how much they disliked the new format. Fine. Changes of format often attract some negative comment to begin with - I'm a Doctor Who fan I, of all people, know that. TV viewers, generally, are a pretty conservative bunch (small c) and are often highly resistant to change in their favourite shows. But, anyway, the opening episode of the new series of MasterChef, nevertheless, was watched by about five million viewers, a million up on the corresponding episode of last year. And, indeed, a figure that the previous series only bettered twice in its entire sixteen episode run (for its final two episodes). That clearly surprised much of the media, whose reviews had been almost uniformly hostile to the show because, they seemed to believe, that was what 'the public' was telling them. A day later the second episodes got an audience of around four and a half million. That was to be expected, most shows audiences go down a bit for episode two. Remember, this is still about two or three hundred thousand more than the corresponding episode from the last series. But, now the press had an angle to work with. The Daily Record, for instance, ran this extraordinary piece, the Mirra ran this one, whilst Metro had this one. With its ludicrously over-the-top headline and using a few random quotes picked up from Twitter - of all places - as, supposedly, some kind of 'proof' of fans 'slamming' the show. As though Twitter is now the single final arbiter of the success or failure of All Things. The Mirra even dragged out some nonsense story about a woman who'd won one of the previous versions of MasterChef, twenty odd years ago, and got her to give them some quotes about how it had changed. As though that has any relevance to the show as it is now. Of course, as John Walsh in the Independent wrote, much of this criticism was faintly ridiculous. How on earth can one 'dumb down' a cookery show? It's already dumb, that's why many of us rather like it! So, anyway, six days later, episode three, quite unexpectedly goes back up to an overnight audience of 4.93m just a few thousand shy of the audience for the opening episode and, again, just to reinforce this point, because it is important, about eight hundred thousand higher than the audience for the corresponding episode last year. So where, you might wonder, are all of the tabloid stories about many of the 'deserting' MasterChef fans suddenly deciding to return to the fold? Nothing. Not an effing sausage. Because, as we know, hell hath no fury like a British tabloid newspaper forced to admit they've got something wrong. The Gruniad Morning Star was about the only paper to even mention the ratings for episode three and even they managed to turn a positive story into a negative one by noting that the Manchester United game on ITV got more viewers. You really couldn't make this up. Metro, even a day later in their review of episode four were still pushing the party line that the current series is a rating disaster: 'There has been much talk of whether the now decades old cookery show should be axed recently after a drop in viewing figures.' What, you mean the same viewing figures that are higher than last series, Christopher Hooton? Are those the 'dropping' viewing figures you mean? And 'much talk' where, exactly? Certainly not within the BBC who, frankly, couldn't be happier with the ratings for the new series. As previously noted, there are lies, there are damned lies and there are statistics used by newspapers when it suits them and then quietly ignored when it does not. Episode four on Thursday, incidentally, had an overnight audience of 4.78m. Over four hundred thousand higher than the corresponding episode last series. Will we see a story in the newspapers about that, dear blog reader? I wouldn't count on it.

In other ratings news, Marchlands managed to fend off the steady challenge of MasterChef on Thursday evening. ITV's supernatural drama averaged 5.61m in the 9pm hour against MasterChef's 4.78m on BBC1. A further two hundred and fifty four thousand viewers watched Marchlands on ITV+1. That's probably, across its four episodes, ITV's steadiest performing new drama since Whitechapel at the start of 2009.

Today has been - as noted above - a sad one for yer actual Keith Telly Topping. First off he had a very nice lunch with Mama Telly Topping at Mangoes in town. Chicken Thai Curry, very civilised. That's not the sad bit, incidentally, just in case anyone was wondering. The downside came in that, somewhere between there and home, he only went and managed to lose his baseball cap - the Next Action Hero one that he picked in the States at a convention nearly a decade ago. See right, during one of yer actual Keith Telly Topping's periodic - err ... regular - 'enormous' phases. Shot on the Isle of Capri, that photo. Anyway, the cap was minging and had some rather nasty-looking stains on it that came from Keith Telly Topping knows not where(!), but he had a lot of sentimental attachment to that cap! (It was actually a freebie, a promotional item from, I think, a movie that never ended up getting made.) Ah well, them's the breaks! Keith Telly Topping does have others. Mind you, he'll also have you know that the tee-shirt in that photo (also picked in the US, in this case a gift from a former girlfriend) is starting to show signs of wear too.

Anyhow today would also, of course, have been the sixty eighth birthday of that 'Scouser of distinction' Mister George Harrison. If he hadn't died in 2001. Let us, therefore, have a moment of quiet reflection, for one of the most under-rated songwriters in popular music. And to play the mono version of 'Long, Long, Long', followed by pretty much anything from All Things Must Pass. But, especially, 'Behind That Locked Door.' Ah. Yeah. Now, all of a sudden, 2011 doesn't look quite as bleak as it did five minutes ago. Oh, I suppose we'd better have his finest pirate moment as well. Yar!

Richard Hammond would love to have Angelina Jolie as a guest on Top Gear - but admitted he would turn into a gibbering wreck in front of her. The Hollywood actress has never appeared on the BBC2 motoring show though Richard reckons she might be a good competitor in the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car challenge. 'I'd like to see Angelina Jolie just because she's lovely - I'd be really embarrassed, I'd be terrible, I'd just be hiding all the time,' he said. 'I'd be sick with nerves because she's really beautiful and I'd be scared.' Richard, who is hosting the Carphone Warehouse Appys in London on 11 April, revealed he doesn't have much say with the celebrities that come on the show. 'I'm not massively involved in that part of the show, to be brutally honest. It helped when Jonathan Ross came off air because all the big celebs came to us, hence Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz suddenly turned up,' he added. His favourite guest, he said, is acclaimed actor Michael Gambon, who has appeared twice. 'It's always lovely seeing Michael Gambon. Top bloke, genuine enthusiasm,' Richard recalled. 'He pitches up at the track before everyone else, standing around and looking at the cars, I think he's a real enthusiast. Really good company and a great actor.'

And so to the continuing adventures of Carry On Follow That Camel, which has been so amusing dear blog readers over the last few days (if yer Keith Telly Topping's e-mail bag is anything to go by). Celebrities taking part in the Red Nose Desert Trek fundraiser have added another twenty eight kilometres to their total. The team faced temperatures of one hundred and eighteen degrees Fahrenheit on day four in North Kenya's Kaisut Desert. BBC Radio4 presenter Peter White returned to the group yesterday after he needed urgent medical treatment for the blisters on his feet. White previously said that he intended to finish the one hundred km journey 'come hell or high water.' The rest of the group had bruises and blisters treated in a special foot clinic before setting off on the fourth leg of their journey. Big cuddly Lorraine Kelly said: 'When I looked at my feet this morning I thought that my big toe had doubled in size - but it was just a huge blister on the top of it. Every step I take feels like I'm slamming my foot down on the ground. But we're all determined to give it every last ounce of energy and knowing that there's so much money being raised is helping to keep us going.' Dermot O'Dreary revealed that the trek is 'much harder' than he imagined it to be, and Nadia Sawalha said that 'every step is painful.' The group are heading towards a camp to meet people who need treatment for conditions that are causing them to lose their sight.

News Corporation is said to be 'close to reaching an agreement' with the Office of Fair Trading over its bid to acquire total ownership of BSkyB, according to the Financial Times. Citing 'people familiar with the process,' the paper claims that Rupert Murdoch's company is 'much nearer than previously reported to satisfying objections that combining full ownership of BSkyB with its other assets would reduce the diversity of news provision in Britain.' The report says that details of the remedy - said to be 'structural rather than behavioural' - could be announced as soon as next week. In other words, it implies that News Corp will surrender control of Sky News. If an agreement is accepted by the lack of culture secretary, the vile and odious Hunt, a fifteen-day consultation period will follow. It would almost certainly mean News Corp avoiding a six-month review by the Competition ­Commission. There was a noticeable sniff of surprise from the BBC's Newsnight presenter, Gavin Esler, when he mentioned the BSkyB story when showing the FT's front page at the end of Thursday night's show. I must admit, I'm not surprised. The second that the vile and odious Hunt got put in charge of making the decision, this outcome, sadly, looked pretty inevitable.

We've already got Britain's Got Talent, so what do ITV intend to make next? Children's Got Talent it would seem. Well, sort of. Born To Shine is a new ITV series and, according to its first press release 'is looking for YOU! Are you top of the league, super-talented, the best in the business and a star in the making? We are looking for talented youngsters, across a range of singing, dancing and musical skills, for a new ITV show Born to Shine this summer's exciting new series featuring a mix of live performance, celebrity challenges, guest stars and public voting. If you are between the ages of ten and fourteen we want to hear from you for an exciting opportunity to perform live to the nation. This will be your opportunity to shine in your skill as well as the ultimate challenge; teaching a celebrity to make your moves. You'll be up against stiff competition with other super-talented young stars each with their own celebrity protégé all hoping to get through to the final stages of the competition.' Oh, great.

A new Channel Four documentary will apparently follow the lives of seven dwarfs who star in a Snow White panto. The Sun reports that the as-yet-untitled show, which follows the cast as they work and live together, was filmed at Christmas and will be broadcast on the channel in the autumn. 'They were a great bunch of people, with a real sense of fun,' a source said. 'But there are lots of tears, tantrums and breakdowns.' One of those featured, actress Laura commented: 'I want people to enjoy us working hard and having fun - but also to understand some of the problems we face.' The programme's executive producer Nick Curwin added: 'The series will break through panto stereotypes to show dwarf actors facing the challenges of ordinary life head-on.'

Production of Two and Half Men has been halted after remarks by the US sitcom's star, Charlie Sheen. Sheen criticised the programme's producer in a radio interview on Thursday. The decision was based on the 'totality of Charlie Sheen's statements, conduct and condition,' Warner Bros Television studio and the CBS network said in a joint statement. Production of the show had been postponed since late January after Charlie Sheen, the son of former President Martin Sheen, entered rehabilitation for reported drug and alcohol abuse. The actor's publicist had said earlier on Thursday that Two and a Half Men would resume production next week when Sheen had finished his rehab. But the he said no, no, no. Apparently. The statement by CBS and Warner Bros Television was issued after Sheen phoned into a US radio programme to criticise the programme's co-creator Chuck Lorre, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous. The actor - one of America's highest-paid stars - was taken to hospital in Los Angeles with severe abdominal pains late last month before entering rehab. He filed for divorce from his third wife, Brooke Mueller, in November, citing irreconcilable differences. In late October 2009, Sheen was accused of causing damage to a hotel room in New York. After hotel security reported he was disorderly, the actor voluntarily went with authorities for a psychiatric evaluation.

More than half-a-million older and disabled people have been helped to switch to digital TV under the BBC-administered Digital Switchover Help Scheme, it has been announced. This week, the five hundred thousandth Switchover Help Scheme customer had their digital TV equipment installed, around two and a half years after the switchover began. The scheme, open to anyone aged 75+ or eligible disabled, offers practical help in upgrading home receiver equipment to digital before the analogue signal is switched off. Easy-to-use digital equipment is installed at the properties of anyone who opts into the scheme, backed by twelve months of aftercare for one TV in their homes. To date, Wales, the majority of Scotland, and the West, South West and North West of England have made the switch to digital TV. The switchover process is due to reach completion by the end of 2012, when it is predicted that one million people will have been assisted by the scheme. Peter White, chief executive of the Switchover Help Scheme, said: 'Digital TV is now an everyday convenience for most of us, but for a minority of older and disabled people switchover is a struggle which could mean they lose access to some of the TV services that they value. So we are pleased that we've been able to provide end-to-end support for so many eligible people who've come to us. It has only been achieved with the help of our service provider Eaga plc, communications partners Digital UK and the support of literally hundreds of organisations and volunteers across the UK. Switchover is picking up pace and we will continue to focus on delivering a consistently high standard of service.' Anglia and Central will be the next UK areas to enter switchover in March, followed by Yorkshire in August and the Meridian, London, Tyne Tees and UTV regions during next year.

The chairman of the right-wing current affairs channel, FOX News, Roger Ailes, has been named in court documents as the, previously anonymous, executive who allegedly tried to persuade a fellow boss at News Corporation to lie to federal investigators over a crucial Washington appointment. The New York Times reported court documents had become available which, for the first time, name Ailes as the executive involved in the allegations. The claims were initially made in November 2007 by Judith Regan, one of Rupert Murdoch's rising stars in News Corporation until she was dismissed the previous year in a row over her decision to publish a book with OJ Simpson. In her unfair dismissal claim against her former employers, Regan claimed that a News Corporation senior executive had tried to secure her silence during the process to vet Bernard Kerik as the US head of homeland security. Regan had been having an affair with Kerik, and she alleged in her lawsuit that the unnamed executive had wanted her to keep quiet about it during the vetting procedure in order to protect Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who had appointed Kerik as New York police commissioner and was Kerik's main supporter. Giuliani was, at the time, considering a run for the White House in 2008 and the revelations could, it was suggested, have 'rubbed off adversely' on him. The identity of the executive has long been a topic of speculation in New York media circles. Now, according to the New York Times, the mystery is solved as Ailes is named in a separate court case in 2008. The court documents reveal his identity and, even more sensationally, say that there is a tape recording of Ailes's conversation with Regan in which he seeks to secure her co-operation. However, there are no transcripts of the conversation. Ailes, a hugely controversial figure in the News Corporation firmament whom critics say has turned Fox News into a mouthpiece of the right-wing Tea Party movement, has been a friend of Giuliani's for more than twenty years. As mayor, Giuliani officiated at Ailes's wedding. News Corporation hastily settled with Regan after she brought her 2007 lawsuit, to the tune of almost eleven million dollars. When asked for a comment, News Corporation said the case was closed.

Since 2002, FOX News commentator the repulsive and odious Glenn Beck has dominated the US news channel rating. Disregarding a recent - and very funny - thirty nine per cent drop in his annual audience he still commands 1.8 million viewers each night on FOX. Which is worrying enough in and of itself but that's not the point of the story. With such a strong audience it would be difficult for Rupert Murdoch to end the career of Beck, yet that is exactly what some Jewish groups are asking for after Beck likened Reform Judaism to radical Islam. It was such an outrageous statement that even Beck himself announced last Thursday that he had indeed made a mistake, he had not researched the topic adequately and he - rather grovellingly - apologised. 'I made a mistake on Tuesday and I want to make sure you understand I was wrong on it and I apologise on it,' were Beck's words as he opened his radio show on Thursday. Beck has established a reputation for being conservative, not to mention his particularly controversial views. In 2009 Beck described President Barack Obama as 'a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.' Singled out for much criticism has been the Islamic community who it would seem according to Beck are seeking to undermine American culture. This week's apology to the Jewish community was a backtrack on his statement he made which likened Reform Judaism to radical Islam, both of which were branded by Beck as political mechanism, rather than religious doctrines. 'Someone called me "ignorant" for it and it's a good description of what I said,' ended Beck's apology.

Speaking of foxy foxes, a fox has been discovered living at the top of London's tallest building. According to the Press Association, the animal spent two weeks in the Shard skyscraper, currently under construction next to London Bridge railway station. The fox, dubbed Romeo by his captors from Southwark Council, is thought to have been living off builders' leftovers. Romeo was taken to the Riverside Animal Centre in Wallington, South London for a check-up and has since been released in nearby Bermondsey. The centre's founder Ted Burden said: 'We explained to him that if foxes were meant to be seventy two storeys off the ground, they would have evolved wings. We think he got the message.' Les Leonard from Southwark Council said that his rescue mission was 'definitely not your typical call out.' He added that his team had to scale the last thirty four floors of the building on the outside as only some of its exterior glass panels have been fitted.

Kylie Minogue has revealed that she is intrigued by the dresses worn on TV documentary My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. The singer explained that she is 'fascinated' by the Channel Four show because of the huge frocks the women wear when they get married. Minogue told the Sun: 'I'm fascinated by how they have to be bound up to stop the dresses cutting in and how they move. That is me! At some point there may be a Kylie homage! An outfit can look show-stopping, but it's going to be something I wear one hundred times on stage and it has got to let me breathe.'

Radio 2 DJ sensational Tony Blackburn, the housewives choice, may be a household name and a braodcasting legend but it seems that when it came to getting a Tesco credit card the computer said 'no.' At least, according to the Daily Scum Mail. The supermarket apparently ran Tony's application through credit checkers Experian which came back with no record of the existence of one T Blackburn. Maybe they believed he really did get lost in the jungle on I'm A Celebrity ...? 'It's crazy,' notes Tone, 'as far as they are concerned I am a non-person.'

The latest Keith Telly Topping's 45(s) of the Day is a tribute to one of my favourite bands and possibly the finest group of the 1970s, Rockin' Rodney Stewart and his fabulous Faces. Formed out of the ashes of The Small Faces, they made good-time, boozy-boys-in-the-backroom music like few others before or since and became a virtual blueprint for just about every set of white boys with guitars to follow for the next couple of decades at least. Take it from me, kids, if you want to know what a rock and roll band is supposed to look like, have a look at The Faces. If yer lead guitarist doesn't want to be Rockin' Ronnie Wood then you might as well give up and play rumba instead! And they were - as John Peel always said - one of the best live bands you have ever seen. (Or not seen, if you didn't.) Peelie used to often cite a gig they played in Sunderland in 1973 the night that the Mackems won an FA Cup semi-final as the single greatest concert he'd ever experienced. This clip of 'Cindy Incidentally' from Dutch telly the same year, gives you a flavour. God, Ronnie Lane looks plastered! Mercifully, there is plenty of great footage of The Faces at their very best. Here, for example, is Rod, Ronnie, Ronnie, Mac and Kenny on yer Keith Telly Topping's actual eighth birthday (true story, dear blog reader!) live on the BBC's Sound For Saturday and 'Stay With Me'.They also had a softer side as well, as detailed, magnificently, in Ronnie Lane's glorious 'Ooh, La La', one of yer keith Telly Topping's desert island records if ever there was one. Of course, while all of this was going on, they were also backing Rod on his solo releases. And, memorably larking about and playing football on Top of the Pops when they should've been playing the fade out of 'Maggie May'! (And, yes, that is, indeed, John Peel miming the mandolin solo played on the record by Lindisfarne's Ray Jackson!) Sadly, by 1974 it was all over. Wonder whatever happened to Rod.