Thursday, March 10, 2011

Guilty Secrets - Part The Second: MasterChef. Again

This season's long-waiting 'experimental' episode of House arrived this week in the shape of Bombshells. And, very good it was too. It was, essentially, a series of dream sequences punctuated by a not-bad plot in which Cuddy faces some potentially sobering news which propels her to reevaluate her priorities. Not only in life but, more tellingly, in love. Whilst House is uncharacteristically distracted by his concern for his girlfriend's well-being, his team are in the process of treating a teenage patient whose worsening symptoms and suspicious body scars indicate more than just a physical illness. Sensing a teen with a troubled emotional and mental state, Taub turns to the patient's personal life for clues and uncovers disturbing home videos which could put the lives of his peers in danger. Meanwhile, Cuddy remains hopeful that House will be fully present when she needs him most, through a series of dreams. These included a My Two Dads-style sitcom, a (terrifyingly good) post apocalyptic zombie nightmare for House, a clever rewrite of the final scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and even a stunning Bob Fosse-style musical song and dance routine choreographed by Mia Michaels. All providing glimpses into Cuddy's life and her true feelings about her relationship with House. And, the ending was something touched with genius.

'Nine very exciting cooks' took part in what Gregg Wallace considered to be a 'harrowing' episode of MasterChef on Wednesday. Most of the viewers probably found it anything but harrowing. Hugely entertaining, in fact. As usual. The first half of the episode saw all of them sent off to a trio professional kitchens in groups of the three to see whether they still thought they could stand the heat of making a career out of all this cooking malarkey. At the Sanderson Hotel restaurant - specialising in delicious-looking modern Malaysian cuisine - sweaty Polly, Mad Tim and Jackie (who looked totally astonished - and clapped her hands to her face - when she was told that they were going to a professional kitchen, so she's clearly never watched the show before!) were given the task of cooking tuna tartare, nasi goreng and barbecue chicken. Pol was consistent, Jackie had a shaky start but ended up 'lovin' it' but Tim had a total nightmare and, tellingly, only at the end of his time in the kitchen realised that you could actually cook more than one meal at a time in the same wok. At Mayfair's Corrigan, Kennedy, Sara and Tom all had a bit of a 'mare to a greater or lesser degree when cooking ox cheek with caramelised snails, John Dory in red wine with razor clams and ballantine of squirrel with hazelnuts, respectively. Kennedy was, as he admitted, 'in a mess!' Sara recovered from a horrible start but the suspicion remains that, inventive as her cooking is, she might be slightly too delicate a flower for the pressures of the job. As noted when she confessed 'I'm not used to shouting!' That's part of the job, hen. A major part as well. Meanwhile, in the Brassiere Joel in Westminster sexy Alice, the gospel according to St James the Carpenter and Gregg's pretend-mommy Annie were cooking up roast duck and plums (ooo, err), stuffed rabbit with artichoke salad and scallops with polenta gnocchi. Alice was quietly confident, James had a bad start but rapidly improved and Annie struggled with her mushroom but got it right in the end. Back at MasterChef HQ, a fiendish round devised by noted Michelin chef Alexis Gauthier, lay in store for the unwary nonet. 'Unless you unlock your sense, you're never going to unlock your creativity,' Alexis explained before telling the contestants to put on blindfolds and start fondling meat. And, amazingly, they trusted him. The last time yer Keith Telly Topping tired to get someone to do something like that, he had visions of being a key part of an embarrassing court case. Invent a meal in an hour from three items chosen whilst blindfolded. Tragically, 'safe words' were not discussed. Yes, ladies and gentlemen this is MasterChef and not It's a Knockout! First up was St James the Carpenter who had little short of a blindfold blinder, turning lamb, kale and rosemary into a plate of spicy sausages. Which wowed even Alexis who said that he'd never have even dreamed of doing something like that with those ingredients. 'I like sausages' noted St James, not unreasonably. 'If you like sausages, you cook 'em!' he was told. Sara's attempts to marry squid and Thai aubergines with chilli were less successful. Whilst James had clearly understood the theory of the exercise, John Tordoe considered that Sara's dish was 'technically, not quite right' and, subsequently, it was clear that she was massively relieved to make it through to the next round. Kennedy, his throbbing finger from last episode still much in evidence, alas, had another shocker, managing to burn both his duck and his sweet potato harsh browns. Picking duck which he believed to be chicken was a poor start. 'One goes quack' explained Mr Tordoe, unhelpfully. But amusingly. 'It's not been your best day on MasterChef' added Gregg with somewhat staggering understatement. Tom, however, was having a good day, and so was Annie whose duck dish Gregg admitted he could find no fault in. Hardly surprisingly, really, after his oedipal outpourings of attachment to Annie in the last episode. Jackie's baked monkfish didn't set the judges imagination alight but it was just about enough to get her through. If anybody needed a moment of inspiration after his disasters in the professional kitchen it was Tim. He picked Dover soul, Kale and coriander, admitted he didn't have the faintest idea what he was going to do with them and, then, came up with something which, against all odds, had all three judges shaking their heads at how he'd pulled it off. 'I still don't know if he's brilliant or mad,' noted Gregg. Polly's steak, sweet potato and rosemary saw her, by her own admission 'playing it safe' - not for the first time in the competition. And the judges seemed to know it. The texture was lacking they said and, as John noted, 'it's not really singing to me.' He also observed that, in an hour, he'd expected something a bit more creative than, effectively, steak and mash no matter how nicely cooked it was. The biggest surprise was Alice whose duck and lemon thyme dish simply failed to impress right across the judging panel. She looked shocked, appalled and, promptly, burst open the waterworks. She, Kennedy and Polly were given the task of cooking off with one of them destined to go home. Polly's lip wobbled, visibly, when she heard that she was one of those chosen. Alexis asked them to cook one of his signature dishes - slow baked trout with fried carrots and a lime soy reduction. Alice, cooked her dish reasonably competently and then fluttered her eyelashes at John and Gregg who crumbled like wet cardboard before her Bambi eyes. Kennedy, meanwhile, produced possibly the greatest comeback since Lazarus after two shocking rounds, producing a not entirely flawless but still very good attempt at the dish. Drama queen Pol got 'a bit twitchy', stamped her foot at one point and, generally, acted like a proper little madam. It was no great surprise that she was the one given the elbow at the episode's climax. Which is, ultimately, a bit of a tragedy since it means yer actual Keith Telly Topping will be unable, when talking about her cooking utensils in future, to use the phrase Pol's Pot. Blast. I was looking forward to that as well. For the first time since the second episode of the current series, MasterChef's overnight audience dropped rather than remained steady or increased, with an average audience of 4.4m across the hour. That's approximately one hundred thousand higher than the corresponding episode from last year's series. It's also double the audience of Jamie's Dream School (2.2m) on Channel Four at the same time. And about forty times the audience for OMG! With Peaches Geldof on ITV2 (one hundred and thirty two thousand). Tottenham Hotshots goalless draw with AC Milan in the Champions League on ITV was watched by 5.9m.

BBC America has announced the US broacast date for the premiere of the new series of Doctor Who. The channel will host the series launch on Saturday 23 April at 9pm ET, reports Entertainment Weekly. The episode will be the first of a two-part series opener, written by Steven Moffat, which will be set primarily in the US. An official synopsis of the premiere reads: 'The Doctor (Matt Smith), and his companions Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), find themselves on a secret summons that takes them on an adventure from the desert in Utah - right to the Oval Office in 1969.' The British broadcast date for the opening episode is still the subject of much cloak-and-dagger-style speculation although 23 April is looking increasingly likely for that too.

Lost's Terry O'Quinn has joined the cast of Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry's new pilot. TV Line reports that the former Lost star has been cast as chief antagonist Del in new ABC drama Hallelujah. Del is described as 'a charming and corrupt millionaire' with a stronghold over the titular town of Hallelujah, Tennessee, which is being destroyed by good and evil forces. The cast also includes Jesse L Martin (Law and Order), Arielle Kebbel (Gilmore Girls, The Vampire Diaries) and Frances O'Connor (Mansfield Park).

Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi's security forces detained and beat up a BBC news team who were trying to reach the strife-torn western city of Zawiya earlier this week. The three were 'beaten with fists, knees and rifles,' hooded and 'subjected to mock executions' by members of Libya's army and secret police. The men were detained on Monday and held for twenty one terrifying hours. Government forces are in a fierce fight to wrest Zawiya from rebel control. Government artillery and tanks have pounded the city, thirty miles from the capital Tripoli, over the last four days. The BBC team showed their BBC identification when they were detained at an army roadblock on Monday. They had been seeking, like many journalists, to get around government restrictions by reaching the besieged city. The three of them were taken to a huge military barracks in Tripoli where they were blindfolded, handcuffed and beaten. One of the three, Chris Cobb-Smith, said: 'We were lined up against the wall. I was the last in line - facing the wall. I looked and I saw a plain-clothes guy with a small sub-machine gun. He put it to everyone's neck. I saw him and he screamed at me. Then he walked up to me put the gun to my neck and pulled the trigger twice. The bullets whisked past my ear. The soldiers just laughed.' A second member of the team - Feras Killani, a correspondent of Palestinian descent - is said to have been singled out for repeated beatings. Their captors told him they did not like his reporting of the Libyan popular uprising and accused him of being a spy. The third member of the team, cameraman Goktay Koraltan, said they were all convinced they were going to die. During their detention, the BBC team saw evidence of torture against Libyan detainees, many of whom were from Zawiya. Koraltan said: 'I cannot describe how bad it was. Most of them [other detainees] were hooded and handcuffed really tightly, all with swollen hands and broken ribs. They were in agony. They were screaming.' Killani said: 'Four of them were in a very bad situation. There was evidence of torture on their faces and bodies. One of them said he had at least two broken ribs. I spent at least six hours helping them drink, sleep, urinate and move from one side to another. After the shooting incident, one man who spoke very good English, almost Oxford English, came to ask who we were, home towns and so on. He was very pleasant, ordered them to cut off our handcuffs. When he had filled in the paperwork, it was suddenly all over. They took us to their rest room. It was a charm offensive, packets of cigarettes, tea, coffee, offers of food.' Finally the men were set free and are now back in London. A Foreign Office spokesman said: 'We were aware of the incident and have been in contact with the BBC throughout, facilitating contacts to ensure the safe release of those detained. We condemn the abhorrent treatment of the team. This is yet another example of the horrific crimes being committed in Libya. The regime had invited journalists to Libya to see the truth. This truth is even more glaring today than it was before. As we have made clear there will be a day of reckoning for these abuses.' A senior Libyan government official later apologised for the BBC team's treatment. But the BBC said in a statement that it 'strongly condemns this abusive treatment. The safety of our staff is our primary concern especially when they are working in such difficult circumstances and it is essential that journalists working for the BBC, or any media organisation, are allowed to report on the situation in Libya without fear of attack,' said the statement from Liliane Landor, languages controller of BBC Global News. 'Despite these attacks, the BBC will continue to cover the evolving story in Libya for our audiences both inside and outside the country.'

Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, the owner of the Sun and The Times, could face future inquiries into its power and influence over the UK's media, if proposals floated by the Ofcom chief executive on Wednesday are adopted by ministers. Ed Richards told the BBC that the existing law only allowed for a 'plurality review' when a merger situation arose, meaning that there was no way to break up a media company deemed to have become dominant through organic growth. Speaking on Radio 4's Media Show, Richards said there was no way to resolve 'a real plurality problem' which emerged when there was 'no specific merger to allow us to look at it.' Critics have argued that News Corporation's proposed eight billion pound takeover of Sky raises long-term plurality concerns, because Sky's rapid rate of growth means that the enlarged group will be become progressively more powerful. Richards said that it was necessary to have a dynamic system in which a plurality review could become triggered because of a 'change in audience levels or viewing share' – although he would not offer any specific threshold figures. In theory, that would allow the enlarged News Corp – or any other media group – to be subject of an Ofcom inquiry in the future that could lead to enforced disposals, or other measures designed to promote a range of media voices. Last week, the vile and odious rascal Hunt used the plurality rules to insist that News Corp 'spin-off' Sky News into a separate company in which its stake is capped at thirty nine per cent once it is able to conclude the buyout of BSkyB. On Tuesday night Richards made a speech on the topic to the Cambridge Union, where he said that Ofcom had 'reservations about the risk of future concentration of power in UK media across the industry.' He added that he believed 'the plurality regime as it currently stands is deficient because it fails to provide protections from developments such as organic growth in market shares or market exit.' The proposal would have to be endorsed by ministers – who, the Gruniad claim, are 'understood to be sympathetic' – and it could be interpreted as an attempt to soothe the anxieties of the four newspaper owners that have opposed the News Corp/Sky merger proposal. The four – the owners of the Daily Torygraph, Daily Scum Mail, Daily Mirra and the Gruniad Morning Star – all fear that News Corp could use its economic power to 'bundle' Sky television with the digital edition of News Corp's newspapers in ways they cannot match. Ofcom's research concluded that the combination of News Corp's newspapers and a fully owned Sky News would easily be the largest private owned news provider with a twenty two per cent share of news consumption reaching fifty one per cent of the population at least once a week. However, News Corp was still behind the BBC with a thirty seven per cent share of news consumption and an eighty one per cent reach.

The BBC has said that it will not make any decision on investment in 3D programming until mid-2012, after claiming that the current buzz around 3D television is 'just hype.' Publishing its new technology strategy, the corporation refused to make any firm commitment to 3D broadcasting, largely due to concerns that the technology may 'fail to deliver/take off. Much of the current hype has come from the success of recent movie titles and the imminent release of these on Blu-ray,' the strategy document said. The report also noted that there is currently uncertainty over how 3D programmes should be produced and distributed for television. This issue, it said, was not as much of a problem for the 'smaller but better funded number of players in the movie industry.' The BBC has agreed a partnership with Sony to produce 3D coverage of this summer's Wimbledon to be screened live in cinemas. Last November, a 3D film of Strictly Come Dancing was also shown in cinemas for Children In Need. However, the strategy document said that these 'experiments' were merely designed to 'explore the creative potential of the new format, evaluate the different technology options and help us contribute to the standardisation process.' Rather than invest in 3D, the BBC intends to place greater focus on making high definition production and distribution an 'integral and seamless' part of its operation. The BBC's wait-and-see strategy for 3D will come as a blow for the major television manufacturers, who have invested heavily in marketing 3D sets to consumers. Sky has attracted around seventy thousand subscribers to its new 3D TV channel since it launched in October last year, but the general lack of 3D content continues to be a problem. The situation was also compounded in February after Buckingham Palace ruled out the possibility of televising Prince William and Kate Middleton's royal wedding next month in 3D.

Kate Winslet has revealed that she is ready for another challenging movie role. The actress, who won an Oscar for playing war criminal Hanna Schmitz in The Reader, explained that she is eager to try another difficult project. She told Vogue: 'In the last few years, I've allowed myself to acknowledge the fact that I do really need my job. I need that outlet. And so, not only did I feel good and ready, I felt good and ready to be destroyed by a role again.' The thirty five-year-old accepted her next role ten months later as the main character in television series Mildred Pierce. 'I just really couldn't focus on anything other than getting off this train that was moving at an unbelievable pace,' she explained. 'I just waited until the dust had settled and I was ready to engage with - it sounds so wanky - my creative side again.'

The oldest of America's space shuttles, Discovery, has brought its remarkable twenty seven-year career to an end. The orbiter landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after a twelve-day - and final - mission to the International Space Station. Discovery is destined now to go to a museum. NASA's two other reusable space planes will follow it into retirement in the coming months. The landing at Kennedy occurred just before midday local time on Wednesday. On its final flight, Discovery delivered a new store room and a sophisticated humanoid robot to the ISS. The ship's crew also performed two spacewalks to carry out maintenance tasks on the exterior of the platform. The final act in Discovery's career was initiated with a two-minute, thirty one-second burn from its thrusters. This dropped the ship out of orbit and into a re-entry path that took it across the Pacific, over Central America and the Gulf, before a last sharp banking manoeuvre and a touchdown on Kennedy's Runway Fifteen. 'Houston, Discovery for the final time - wheels stop,' Commander Steve Lindsay radioed to Mission Control in Texas. 'Job well done,' was the reply from astronaut Charlie Hobaugh, who was acting as the Capcom, in Houston. 'You were able to take Discovery up to a full three hundred and sixty five days of actual time on orbit. I think you'd call that a fleet leader, and a leader of any manned vehicle for time in orbit.' Already, NASA is looking forward to the next mission. In just a few hours, the shuttle Endeavour will roll out of Kennedy's vast Vehicle Assembly Building to go to the launch pad in preparation for its final voyage into space next month. The Atlantis orbiter will close the shuttle programme with a flight in June or just beyond. The plan then is for US astronauts to be transported to the ISS on Russian Soyuz rockets, perhaps until the middle of the decade. A number of American companies should be in a position by that stage to sell launch services to NASA on a range of new vehicles. Such matters, though, are secondary on what is undoubtedly a day of high emotion. Eileen Collins was the first woman to pilot a shuttle, and commanded Discovery in 2005 on the 'return to flight' mission after the Columbia disaster. 'The shuttle-in-general's biggest achievement, I believe, was building the International Space Station, which is pretty much ninety nine per cent complete - and Discovery was part of doing that,' she told BBC News. 'But also Discovery took up the Hubble Space Telescope and also visited the Mir space station, and did many satellite deploys and spacelab missions prior to the space station. When you look at the shuttle programme as a whole, we have learned not only to fly space shuttles to low-Earth orbit and re-use them, but we've learned about the environment of space and how to make future spacecraft better through the mistakes that were made in the shuttle programme. So overall I think the shuttle was a huge success.' Endeavour's scheduled lift-off date is 19 April. It will deliver a flagship scientific experiment to the ISS known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. This seven-tonne instrument will sit on the platform's truss, or backbone, to conduct a survey of cosmic rays. Researchers hope this study will reveal new insights into the make-up and origin of the Universe. Endeavour will be commanded by astronaut Mark Kelly, whose wife, Congresswoman Gaby Giffords, is still recovering from a bullet wound to the head sustained during an assassination attempt in January.

Today's Keith Telly Topping's 45(s) of the Day is our second batch of guilty secrets. Starting, way back in the 1950s, with a classic Lerner and Loewe song from My Fair Lady as sung by the great Vic Damone. And as - memorably - used in the opening episode of Mad Men. And, to be honest, I'm not entirely sure why that should constitute a 'guilty secret' for anyone. Except possibly for the fact that yer Keith Telly Topping saw The Clash live. Three times. So, you know ... maybe there is a reason. Moving quickly on, Percy Faith, whose orchestra provided the backing for the previous guilty secret is, of course, best known for this.As - memorably - used in, well, A Summer Place, obviously. But, also half-a-dozen other movies and even an episode of The Simpsons too. Powering into the next decade, now, here's another one that's not really all that 'guilty' to be honest. A Joe Meek production and a little pop classic in its own right.As alluded to by Tom Baker in the final episode of Genesis of the Daleks. True story. Spank those tom-toms, Honey! Next, great movie - so great in fact that, as recently as Monday, House was busy ripping it off (see above!) - and a great song.To be brutally frank with you, dear blog reader, the only real reason that next one qualifies as a 'guilty' secret at all is because of that thoroughly naff cover version by Bananarama in the 80s. The original - and Mariska Veres' smoky vocals - are pure class.The next one, yer Keith Telly Topping is entirely unashamed to admit, often makes him cry like a big soft girlyman. Because it's beautiful, sad, bitter and yet also tinged with honest regret. And Marc's little voice is just epic all over it. Memorable video an'all.And, finally, yer Keith Telly Topping reckons we need a touch of 'Britain's top light entertainer (and singer)' to remind us that great songs can usually survive even the oddest of arrangements. 'Stand back love, I'm in charge!'Tomorrow on Keith Telly Topping's 45(s) of the Day, the ultimate guilty secret. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's favourite Girls Aloud singles!