Sunday, March 13, 2011

They Make Us Feel Indebted For Saving Us From Hell, And Then They Put Us Through It, It's Time The Bastards Fell

There's a quite superb piece by Matthew Engel in Saturday's Financial Times on the subject of the BBC. Yer Keith Telly Topping quotes, briefly, from the final paragraph: 'One hesitates to mention this with the BBC in its current mood but such people might do their job for nothing. And they are more important than ever. Commercial radio has been allowed to ­abandon its public service obligations; local news­papers are falling to bits; when the snow is falling, and the traffic is snarling, and the schools are ­closing, the BBC is the one place to turn locally. Just as it has been nationally for every big event since the 1920s. The nation is lucky to have it. We would be ­luckier still if it were braver, more confident in its own skin, less afraid of being criticised if Huw Edwards wears a daffodil on St David’s Day, less obsessed with buildings and process, and more obsessed with that most elusive of broadcasting commodities: brilliant programmes.' Word, my brother.

Julie Hesmondhalgh has praised the storylines that Coronation Street writers give Roy and Hayley Cropper. The actress, who has played transsexual Hayley since 1998, told the Press Association that their unusual character quirks drive the scriptwriters to be more inventive with their plots. She explained: 'Because nobody else would have them, the scriptwriters have got to be a bit imaginative with us - they can't just keep splitting us up and sending us off and having affairs and having children and things. They've got to be a bit more imaginative, so it's great - it works out good for us.' Hesmondhalgh added: 'I really, really, really hope Roy and Hayley stay together. I've said this before, but despite how unusual they are as people, they are the most conservative couple on the Street really. And you need that. You need a couple of people who just love each other and stay together through thick and thin.'

The BBC - no money to speak of notwithstanding - have commissioned a second series of Brendon O'Carroll's sitcom Mrs Brown's Boys, which had been causing something of a stir of late. To be honest yer Keith Telly Topping is not a huge fan of it himself - he finds it a bit crude for his sensibilities - but he knows from talking to colleagues around the office that it has a decent-sized, and very vocal, following who clearly love it. And, anything that gets the kind of wax-exploding-in-the-ears reviews that one's been getting - from glakes - has got to have something going for it!

As alluded to on yesterday's blog, Steve Coogan's local radio alter-ego Alan Partridge will feature on BBC1's Comic Relief marathon next Friday. Writer Armando Iannucci confirmed over the weekend that the fictional TV personality and radio host will appear for a special episode of award-winning Internet series Mid-Morning Matters. The fact that Radio Times had already blown the gaff was a bit of a giveaway, of course. Armando told followers: 'Thanks for all your delightful comments on Alan. We've done one more, going out on Comic Relief, BBC1 next Friday.'

Lord Patten's appointment as the chairman of the BBC Trust has been approved by a Commons committee. The lack of culture secretary the vile and odious rascal Hunt said that he welcomed the committee's conclusion and would now recommend Lord Patten for the job. Patten, addressed the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in a pre-appointment hearing on Thursday. He will replace the current Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons who leaves on 30 April after a four-year term - and not a moment too soon, frankly. The committee's report recommends that Patten gives up some more outside interests to enable him to carry out his role at the BBC 'should that become necessary.' Questioned by MPs on the committee, Patten said that he had given up several jobs already, including positions on the Global Leadership Foundation, the International Crisis Group and Medical Aid to Palestine, to make time for the BBC role. But Patten said he would remain a member of the Advisory Board of BP and chancellor of the University of Oxford. When he announced that he was leaving the position last year, Lyons said the growing workload for the part-time position had made him 'increasingly concerned' that it was squeezing out other demands on his time. During the MPs' questioning, Patten, a former Cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative party, rejected a suggestion by MPs that he would be seen as 'a party stooge.' He said that he would give up the Tory whip in the Lords but remain a Conservative Party member if confirmed as BBC Trust chairman. During the hearing he said that he was a big fan of Radio 4 but did not watch EastEnders. The committee said it was 'surprised' that Patten's knowledge of the BBC's output on television and radio was limited. 'However, having questioned Lord Patten, we consider him a suitable candidate for the post and we look forward to working with him in the future,' the MPs' report added. Chris Patten, the son of a jazz musician, attended a Roman Catholic day school in Ealing, before winning a place at Balliol College, Oxford. Shortly after leaving university he was offered a BBC traineeship but he turned it down, preferring to take a job in the US working with the Republican Party. He went on to become environment secretary, the last governor of Hong Kong and an EU commissioner. The BBC Trust is the governing body of the corporation, but it says on its website: 'We make sure BBC managers are doing their jobs properly, rather than managing the BBC itself.' Patten brings some limitations from his background. 'I'm sixty six, I'm white and I'm reasonably well-educated,' he told MPs, summing up why he preferred Radio 4 and BBC4 to Radio 1 and BBC1. Many will applaud his championing of cultured and civilised values, this blogger included. But the BBC Trust - in theory at least - is supposed to represent all licence-payers, including the millions who prefer EastEnders and the celebrities he says he's never heard of. And, more pertinent to this particular week, the millions who listen to local radio but don't give a buggering stuff about 5LiVE. As the BBC's media correspondent Torin Douglas notes, 'On some mornings, Lord Patten may have to steel himself to get up to Chris Moyles rather than John Humphrys.'

Meanwhile, according to the Gruniad Morning Star, the BBC will 'retaliate' against cuts in its budget this week by claiming that its contribution to Britain's economy grew 5.6 per cent to top eight billion pounds last year, delivering well over two pounds of value for every pound in fees from television licences. As Lord Patten prepares to take the chair of the corporation, the BBC will step up its efforts to justify the licence fee, arguing that far from being a drain on taxpayers, its activities in commissioning programmes, buying services and supporting creative activities act as a net positive for the nation's finances. A study by the accounting firm Deloitte to be publishing next week will conclude that the BBC's UK activities generated over eight billion pounds of 'economic value' in the last financial year, up from £7.7bn the previous year. And its net contribution – taking account of a simulation of activity that would replace the BBC if licence fees were scrapped – has grown to five billion, up 14.9 per cent compared with the results of similar research a year ago. Licence fee income is around £3.6bn per year. In spite of efforts to broaden activities away from the south-east, the BBC remains highly London-centric – Deloitte found that sixty nine per cent of the BBC's gross economic contribution remained in the capital, although benefit to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all increased. The BBC is trying to reduce its south-eastern focus: by 2016, half of network TV programmes and forty per cent of radio spending are due to be made outside London, partly through a move of five departments to Salford. Although, if they do go ahead with this plankish nonsense of cutting back local radio spending, that will obviously be reflected in the figures. Patten has warned that the BBC faces severe challenges. He told a select committee that he anticipates 'huge fusses' over cutbacks. Under a settlement agreed with the Treasury, the BBC has promised twenty per cent cuts to all departments over the next four years. Licence fees are to be frozen for six years and the BBC is taking over the Foreign Office's funding for the World Service. In an unguarded comment last year, David Cameron sparked criticism by describing the BBC's squeeze as 'delicious.' Not half as delicious, it must be admitted, as watching the oily little twat squirming in his seat when Matt Baker asked him 'how on earth do you sleep at nights?' on last week's ONE Show, though. That was worth the licence fee on its own. The BBC employs seventeen thousand people. Senior news executives revealed last week that covering uprisings in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt had stretched the corporation's budget on foreign news to such an extent that resources at annual events – including the Oscars, the Cannes film festival and European summits – were being trimmed.

James Thornton and Charlie Baker have won Let's Dance For Comic Relief 2011. The Emmerdale actor and his comedian partner topped the public vote ahead of Russell Kane's Beyoncé homage with their tap dance routine to Fred Astaire classic 'Puttin' On The Ritz'.

The writers of a hit Australian sitcom have accused the BBC of ripping off their ideas. John Clarke and Ross Stevenson say BBC4's new comedy Twenty Twelve, about the logistical build-up to the London Olympics, bears 'marked similarities' to their show The Games. The, if you will, mockumentary – which starred Kath And Kim's Gina Riley, among others – was one of the top-rated comedies ever shown on the ABC, and ran for twenty six episodes from 1998. Clarke and Stevenson say they even pitched a British version of their show to Twenty Twelve's producer Jon Plowman five years ago, when he was head of comedy at the BBC, and handed over DVDs to writer John Morton – whose previous credits include the Chris Lynham sitcom People Like Us. They says that they were surprised to see the BBC show, starring Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Hynes and Olivia Coleman, going ahead 'without our participation or permission.' The new six-part series, narrated by David Tennant, starts on Monday and even features a cameo from London 2012 organiser Sebastian Coe. Writing on the ABC website, Clarke and Stevenson said: 'In 2006, shortly after London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games we spoke with producer Rick McKenna who had experience in overseas markets with Kath And Kim. Rick McKenna travelled to London and met with BBC comedy head Jon Plowman. At a later date Jon Plowman introduced Rick McKenna to writer John Morton with the prospect that perhaps we might consider [him] as one of the writers on the project. John Morton was lent DVDs of The Games. At the time he acknowledged he had never previously seen nor heard of the show and was impressed and keenly interested. After many phone conferences, meetings and almost four years of e-mail exchanges, Mr Morton and Mr Plowman have now apparently made a satirical series for the BBC about the organising committee of the London Olympics without our participation or permission. In other words, it seems that in 2008-9 Morton had already had the idea he'd never heard of and was so excited by, and he was interested in obtaining episodes of The Games only so he could check out how someone had created his original idea in Australia, twelve years previously. We have suggested that once Mr Morton finds out that repressed memory is not an Olympic event, perhaps he could return the DVDs.' However, the BBC denies anything untoward took place. In a statement to the comedy website Chortle, the corporation said: 'Twenty Twelve is an original and distinctive comedy series looking at London as it counts down the last one thousand days before the 2012 Games begin. It is written by John Morton who created People Like Us and Broken News for the BBC. Its comedy is delivered through a distinctively British sense of humour. We have investigated the complaints made in relation to The Games and have found no evidence to support the allegations of copying. No use has been made of any material deriving from The Games and we are confident that the allegations are without foundation.' In a promotional interview to promote Twenty Twelve, Plowman said: 'When London got the Olympics it seemed like a fantastic opportunity for comedy and therefore something that should be done. So we asked John to have a go at this subject and he's gone at it in a rather brilliant, nuanced way.'

Channel Four sitcom Friday Night Dinner lost viewers on Friday night as news bulletins saw their audience increase on the day of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Starring Simon Bird, the show's third episode was watched by 1.06m at 10pm, with a further one hundred and sixteen thousand viewers on Channel 4 +1, pipping Law & Order's one million viewers for Channel Five. Executive producer and writer Robert Popper recently declared himself 'delighted' with the ratings for Friday Night Dinners, which premiered to a combined audience of over two million three weeks ago. Meanwhile, BBC News had an above average audience of 5.26m, and ITV's News at Ten was also higher than usual with 2.77m. At 8.35pm, a BBC News Special was watched by 3.69m viewers on BBC1, broadly in line with Qi's recent repeat performances in the time slot.

RTL chief executive Gerhard Zeiler has dismissed speculation that The X Factor maker FremantleMedia could be sold. RTL, Europe's largest broadcaster, reported an 8.7 per cent increase in revenues to €5.6 billion in 2010, delivering a record one billion pounds in pre-tax profits, up forty four per cent year-on-year. However, the company incurred a loss of fifty seven million Euros relating to the disposal of Channel Five, which was sold to Richard Desmond for £103.5m last summer. FremantleMedia endured a mixed 2010, with revenues up seven and a half per cent to €1.27bn, but earnings before interest, tax and amortisation down almost ten per cent. In a conference call with journalists, Zeiler rejected the prospect of a sale of FremantleMedia or any of its subsidiaries, such as Talkback Thames. 'To squash every silly rumour we will not sell FremantleMedia, not one hundred per cent, not ninety per cent, not one per cent, and we also not sell Talkback Thames. This is the core of our business,' he said. 'We had a change in the chief executive position, Sara Geater took over [at Talkback Thames] and we are very happy with what she has done at the helm there and we are quite excited with the new development slate.' Zeiler noted that RTL had completed various acquisitions for Fremantle last year, including a 62.5 per cent stake in Radical Media, the branded entertainment firm behind the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster and Britney: For the Record. FremantleMedia also became the majority shareholder in Ludia, the Canadian developer of video games based on TV shows, such as Hell's Kitchen and American Idol. In a statement, Zeiler said that RTL would continue to pursue targeted acquisitions for FremantleMedia in 2011, while also investing in 'new programmes, new channels and in our rapidly growing new media activities.'

Quentin Tarantino has sued his neighbour Alan Ball, claiming that the True Blood creator's pet birds are stopping him from working on his next movie. TMZ reports that the Inglourious Basterds director has filed a suit in the Los Angeles County Superior Court after Ball installed an 'exotic bird menagerie' in his home for his macaw birds. Tarantino has said that the 'blood-curdling' and 'obnoxious pterodactyl-like' noises coming from the animals are disrupting his ability to write scripts. The filmmaker noted that he has attempted to resolve the dispute with Ball amicably, but his neighbour hasn't done anything to 'eliminate the macaws' daily cacophony.' There's got to be a Kill Bill joke in there somewhere, dear blog reader, I just have to find it!

For the latest Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, yer Keith Telly Topping is reminded of a time when he was still working of the civil service and was in one of those dreadful 'meetings about meetings' that the civil service in the UK specialises in that seem to go on for days and in which nothing ever gets decided. Yer Keith Telly Topping worked in a Job Centre and, during this period, probably because some daft schoolkids were on holiday and had nothing better to do with their time, the office had received a few anonymous telephone bomb threats. They all turned out to be hoaxes, of course, but each time the office got one everyone would have to clear the building just to be on the safe side. So, anyway, in this meeting that subject came up and led on to a completely pointless conversation about public safety in the event of panic. Someone suggested that in the if another such call was received, rather than a panicked voice coming on the office tannoy saying 'We've had a bomb threat, everybody out!' - which might potentially startle the public - we could, perhaps, instead play a specific piece of music. One which the staff would recognise as being a bomb alert and could then gently usher everyone out of the building without any mass stampede. A particularly dry chap called Ritchie who was also attending this meeting found this vastly amusing. 'If we do that,' he said, 'it's got to be Suspect Device by Stiff Little Finger?' Tragically, the suggestion was not adopted as office policy.
Such a pity! 'It's gonna blow up in your face!'