Thursday, March 31, 2011

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Show Off Their Tattoos On MasterChef

Wednesday night saw yet another series of hilarious hijinx on yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved MasterChef. 'They've survived some tough tests to get this far,' husky-doyen of the voice-over India Fisher told the audience, as she described the final six contestants' next challenge amid the dreaming spires of New College Oxford. 'Where people are taught to question and criticise.' So, definitely the right show for them, then. Because the Bright Young Things (one hundred and fifty of them, plus fifteen senior fellows and tutors) were about to get a taste of what Tim the Mad Professor, Gregg's-pretend-mummy Annie, The Gospel According to St James the Carpenter, stroppy bossy mouthy Jackie, Can't Think of a Nickname Tom and Riviera Sara could throw at them in a 'Formal Hall', a three course formal dinner with silver service. Gregg Wallace didn't say 'cooking doesn't get any tougher than this' but, if he had, for once, we might have agreed with him. John Tordoe and Gregg ramped up the pressure with a series of bits of totally unhelpful advice. Like 'you're got seven hours to prepare but, it'll go in the blink of an eye.' And other cliches. Tim and Annie got given the starter - three types of salmon, a confit with lemon and dill, pastry coated cured salmon rolls with chutney and a salmon mousse with chives and peppercorn. 'Dinner hasn't been late in seven hundred years and that's not going to change tonight,' said Tim confidently although when they had to redo the first thirty dishes because he found a shard of glass in the peppercorn, you did start to wonder a bit. On the main course were the decidely odd couple pairing of St James and drama queen Jackie who had a big task preparing loin of rabbit and rabbit and mushroom risotto. It was a big task made even harder when Jackie started confusing matters by baffling James with mathematics. Come on James, mate, you're a carpenter, you know all about angles and fractions, surely? 'Don't get panicky, just get fast,' said John - again totally unhelpfully - but, it was inevitable that they'd find themselves behind the clock and need a bit of help. Only, Jackie didn't seem too pleased to have any help, and took a right hissy-strop whilst, in Gregg's words, 'running round like a headless chicken.' He eventually got so pissed off with her that he withdrew Tom and Sara and sent them back to what they were doing whilst Jackie had another little rant at the camera about her not really being 'a bossy-boots.' From the evidence of the editing on the last three or four episodes it's clear that the producers want the audience to find her a really unlikeable person. Nobody else has been shown arguing back when told that they're doing something wrong. And, if that's what the producers want, then this blogger, at least, is happy to comply. The Gospel According to St James the Carpenter, meanwhile, was up to his elbows in risotto with a spoon that looked like an oar. He picked up on the metaphor, noting, 'I could row for this college, never mind cook for it!' After that comedy diamond, finally, there was Tom (who was, for some strange reason, off lurking in the freezer for a while) and Sara who made a desert of blackberry parfait, blackberry and apple pie and brandysnap tweels. Now, I don't want you, dear blog reader, to think of yer actual Keith Telly Topping as a snob nor nothing. Heaven forbid. But, my God, some of the students had all of the personality of a housebrick. Particularly that prat in the white blazer who said everything was just, like, rilly marrrrvelous. I'll bet he's running a bank in about five years time. Either that or working in the No. 10 communications office and looking forward to a nice comfy seat in the shires with a majority of fifteen thousand. Frankly, if that's the future movers and shakers of this country then it might be time to emigrate, dear blog reader! Although, to be fair, one American young lady student did produce the highlight of the episode by being, I think I'm right in saying, the first person ever to use the words 'crusty awesomeness' outside of an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the history of television. The exercise, beautifully shot - particularly that closing timelapse bit of cinematography of sunset over the dreaming spires - frankly didn't tell us anything which we don't already know. Except that somebody on the production team really doesn't want us to like Jackie. But, actually, we kind of knew that already as well. So, it was back to MasterChef HQ for an invention test, two dishes - one main course and one desert. We opened with a shot of Gregg and John (the latter wearing a really tasty Edwardian jacket, seemingly from the Urban Pimp collection) staring earnestly at the cameras. Are we going to get a 'cooking doesn't get any tougher than this' now? Na. Still nowt, I'm afraid. Of course, there was a twist as helping them judge this round was the great Michel Roux jr who strode into the kitchen in his whites like Jesus entering the temple to chuck out the money lenders. It was a sight to see, dear blog reader and I mean a sight to see. Typically Jackie pulled her usual drama queen trick of looking all aghast because, clearly she's never watched this show before and doesn't know that somewhere around the quarter final stage Michel usually puts in a, very welcome, appearance to sort out the men from the boys and the women from the girls. So, first up was the Gospel According to St James who delivered two excellent dishes; his own take on mussels mouliere with lobster tails - only, without mussels but with clams instead. Which, to be honest, is a bit like those odd times when yer actual Keith Telly Topping goes to the local Chinese takeaway and gets prawn sweet and sour but asks 'can you do that with curry sauce instead of sweet and sour, please?' The desert was a cherry and amaretto tart with butterscotch sauce. Gregg Wallace gave James one of those looks like he wanted to kiss him. On the mouth. And, then have his babies. Asked how much he wanted to stay in the competition James showed off a new tattoo on his tit, the MasterChef symbol. A nice touch which brought smiles to the faces of all the judges. Albeit, a bit crawly! But, we'll let him off that minor bit of sycophancy because he's been jolly entertaining thus far in the competition. James said: 'I decided to get the tattoo done when I reached the final ten on MasterChef, just before we went to Scotland. As you can see I have a lot of tattoos, and they all mean something important; I thought reaching the final ten was pretty huge, and worthy of staying with me forever.' Next up was Jackie, who had no tattoos to show off but, instead, delivered aubergine parmigiana with walnut pesto followed by chocolate mousse with hazelnut and some fancy gold-leaf decoration. And a short lecture to camera about how unfair it is that she doesn't cook desserts and here she was being judged by the king of the dessert, Michel Roux. Me heart bleeds for you. 'She sometimes struggles to keep her cool' noted India in voice-over and there were definite signs of that again when all three judges found Jackie's desert to be good looking but, because of the thick pastry, too stodgy. (Mind you, all that aside, personally I'd've eaten it in one go and asked for seconds and possibly thirds.) Then there was Tim, who cooked two faultless dishes, vanilla barley lobster risotto and, bizarrely, goatscheese vanilla cheesecake with figs. The elaborate construction of the latter sadly collapsed and Tim noted that whilst it might not be visually appealing he hoped it still tasted good. 'It's gonna have to taste good looking like that,' said John, curling his lip. But, once again, the mad professor managed to pull it off drawing praise from all three judges ('inventive and delicious' noted Gregg, impressed). Then there was Sara. She was asked what food means to Italians and she noted, with a cheeky grin, that it's 'better than sex.' 'That had better be one hell of a lobster,' said Gregg with a wink pointing to what she was preparing. I really like this lass, and she again produced the goods with a lobster and clam stack with potatoes and a frangipane tart with a calvados sauvignon. Oh baby. Better than sex? That desert would've had Barry White moaning in ecstacy. Then, it all started to go wrong for the final two contestants. Tom's fillet of lamb with sweetbreads was simply overcooked and Michel refused to even touch the sweetbeards which, he said, resembled 'a lump of coal.' Tom's dessert of chocolate honeycomb and pistachio mousse was marginally better - although only marginally - and probably, ultimately, kept him in the competition although he was clearly upset at what a bad day at the office he'd had. Finally, there was Annie. She made lamb with fondant potatoes and Jerusalem artichoke purée and caramel parfait with chocolate ganache. Both of which simply fell flat on their face. It was heartbreaking because, up till now, she had barely put a foot wrong in eight episodes. One could tell that both John and Gregg were gutted. 'Good luck with the judging,' said Michel beating a hasty retreat. Tim, Sara and James' progress was assured, Jackie, despite many flaws, also got through and, in the end so did Tom who promptly burst into the sort of tears we thought we'd seen the last of when Alice left last week. It was contagious and Jackie and Sara joined in. The men, Tim and James, stood there stoically, thinking manly thoughts. Annie, whose desert was over-dramatically described by John Tordoe as 'a big chunka chocolate,' was the one to leave. Though they really dragged out the suspense of the ending a bit too much for my own - particular - tastes. This followed a tiny moment which, I'm sure, MasterChef conspiracy theorists will pour over in great detail during the coming week. There was a seemingly throwaway comment from Annie just before the final judgement (intriguingly left in by the editors, whereas one would normally imagine that there must be a lot of comments of this kind most weeks which are all meticulously edited out). She said something along the lines of she had gone back to the freezer at one point and somebody had left the door open and that was why her pudding hadn't set so disastrously. This was followed by several brief shots of her sitting alone looking thoroughly (and, perhaps, justifiably) pissed off. One wonders to whom that venom was, specifically, directed. If it was directed at anyone, of course. Because yer actual Keith Telly Topping is, perhaps, guilty here of reading too much into a ten second sequence. Don't ask me, I'm just a licence fee payer. By the time it came to the final sound-bites Annie had recovered herself and was both stoical and very gracious in defeat. But it was a fascinating - and perhaps revealing - little peak into what goes on in what is, clearly, a highly competitive environment. Next time, we have that particularly sour-faced trio of restaurant critics (without, even, the sarkiness of Jay Rayner to puncture their own towering sense of self-importance). So, that'll be good!

Speaking to the Digital Spy website after her elimination from MasterChef, Annie Assheton admitted that the dish she made for guest judge Michel Roux was 'a bit of a disaster' but revealed that she was 'devastated' that she had to leave the competition. 'I just regret that hour and a half so much,' she said. 'I've recooked those dishes in my head one hundred times and I keep imagining what I might have done differently. There are many things I should have done differently!' However, Annie continued that she had enjoyed her time on the show, adding: '[What] really surprised me [was] the level of camaraderie within the group. I made some really good friends.'

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's long-awaited and much-anticipated long-weekend-away in Harrogate this coming Friday is now off, dear blog reader, due to an illness in the family. So, instead, he'll be sitting at home this weekend scowling a lot and muttering at the telly. So, no change there then.

The BBC has released a new, extended trailer for the next series of Doctor Who. The sixty-second clip has been unveiled exclusively online and received its first television airing at 8pm on BBC1 immediately before Waterloo Road. A brief teaser trailer was also previously released online. The new trail provides the first official look at guest stars Hugh Bonneville and Lily Cole and also reveals a number of new foes for The Doctor (Matt Smith). The show's new series will begin in April, kicking off with two-part adventure The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon. A two-minute prequel to the episodes is also available to watch online.

Vandals have uprooted fence posts and a gate near the Isle of Man home of Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson. The posts were then thrown from the cliff on to rocks below the beauty spot of Langness. Wire fencing has also been cut away from around the perimeter of Jezza's holiday home. The peninsula became the subject of controversy after ramblers complained that Clarkson had diverted a footpath. He claims that there had never been any public right of way across the land. The row is currently being dealt with by the High Court and no final ruling has been made.

The News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, was asked by the chair of a Commons committee late on Wednesday to provide details of payments made by the Sun newspaper to police officers. The request to the paper's former editor, who now runs all of Rupert Murdoch's UK newspapers, follows evidence given by John Yates, the acting deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police, to the home affairs select committee on Tuesday. Keith Vaz MP, the chairman of the committee, wrote to Brooks on Wednesday asking her for information on how many officers were paid for tips or stories, the amounts they received and when the practice stopped. Brooks edited the paper for six years from 2003 and was previously editor of its Sunday sister title the News of the World. Eight years ago, Brooks told the culture, media and sport select committee that 'We have paid the police for information in the past.' She was appearing with then News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who later resigned after it emerged that one of his journalists had used a private investigator to hack into voicemails left on the mobiles of members of the royal household. Questioned on Tuesday about Brooks's admission, Yates told MPs that the Met is 'doing some research' into her remarks. It is not clear if Scotland Yard has ever questioned Brooks about the payments she referred to. In his letter of Wednesday, Vaz reminded Brooks: 'In March 2003, whilst editor of the Sun newspaper, you gave evidence to the culture, media, and sport committee. You stated that the newspaper had paid police officers for information.' Paying police officers is a criminal offence. Yates said during separate evidence he gave to the culture committee last week that 'possible offences' might have been committed. Vaz asked Brooks to reply by Tuesday, when the committee will question the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, as part of its ongoing inquiry into the phone tapping saga. Yates and Starmer are currently engaged in a public row about the original 2006 police investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World. Yates insists that Scotland Yard was told by the CPS to adopt a narrow definition of the offence which made it difficult to obtain convictions, a claim which he has repeated four times before two parliamentary committees. Starmer denies this.

The lack of culture secretary, the vile and odious rascal Hunt, expects to return his final verdict on whether to approve News Corporation's eight billion smackers takeover of BSkyB around 26 April, but admitted that the plurality review system 'may not be as robust as it should be.' The vile and odious rascal Hunt, who earlier this month recommended regulatory approval as long as News Corp spins off Sky News, said that he expects to announce the final decision as soon after parliament returns from the Easter break on 26 April. 'I hope we'll have it shortly, probably now, just after the parliamentary recess, but we are going through all the consultation responses we received and we're going to do this as quickly as we can,' he said, speaking on BBC Radio 4's The Media Show on Wednesday. The vile and odious rascal Hunt has faced criticism for allowing the News Corp-BSkyB merger – including from an alliance of media owners – and he admitted that there needs to be a strengthening of the grounds for which a plurality test can move to a full investigation. He said that there needs to be 'mechanisms similar to competition law' that might allow intervention regardless of if a merger was taking place, a view also previously raised by Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards. 'What no one wants to have in a free society is a situation where any one person has too much control of our media and what I think this process has exposed is that the system may not be as robust as it should be,' the vile and odious rascal Hunt added. However, the vile and odious rascal Hunt also gave an assurance that if the takeover proved to have a major negative impact on the commercial landscape then News Corp, owner of News International titles including the Sun and The Times, would face regulatory investigation. 'Even if right now [it] doesn't cause competition concerns if in five years time the situation was to change, and this is a very fluid marketplace, all the competition remedies are there,' he said. 'Irrespective of my decision, competition law will mean that if News Corporation were to become too dominant in the media market the Office of Fair Trading could trigger an investigation by the Competition Commission and with no reference to politicians at all the Competition Commission has some very radical remedies at its disposal.' The vile and odious rascal Hunt also said that there needed to be a better system for looking at issues of impartiality in BBC coverage. 'If you talk to MPs in parliament there are lots of people who aren't happy and I would like to have a better mechanism whereby when these issues come up they are better able to be addressed,' he added.

Paul O'Grady has admitted that he enjoys doing his chat show because he is a 'nosey so-and-so.' The presenter will return for a previously-confirmed second series of ITV show Paul O'Grady Live on Friday 15 April. 'The reason I love doing the show so much is because I'm nosey,' he said. 'It's always a joy to meet someone you've always really wanted to meet and you're thinking, "Ooh, I'm dying to chat to this one." Especially when you've grown up with these people, because they are so familiar to you, they're like one of the family. And I still get ridiculously over-excited when I meet my heroes.' Recalling an interview with Coronation Street actress Barbara Knox, O'Grady confessed that he 'went to pieces' when meeting her for the first time. 'I can't help it,' he said. 'It took me five years to persuade her to come on, so that was a dream come to true to interview her last year. It was the same with Bette Midler because I'm a huge fan. I mean, aren't I a lucky old so-and-so, really?' On the return of the show, he added: 'I'm really looking forward to being back behind my desk. We've got some fabulous guests lined up and I'll be having a good gossip and getting up to my usual antics!'

A London-based artist has created a series of paintings based on the original television test card to mark the countdown to completion of Britain's digital TV switchover. Colin Moore, who works from the Tile Kiln studios in Archway, decided to mark the end of analogue TV signals in Britain by referring back to the 1960s and '70s. His paintings feature images of test cards, which were typically broadcast at times when the transmitter was not active. The artworks are designed to celebrate London's switch to digital in time for the Olympic Games next summer. Used since the earliest television broadcasts, test cards acted as placeholders for the calibration and alignment of images on screen. The most famous test card was Test Card F, featuring a colour image of Carole Hersee, the daughter of BBC engineer George Hersee, playing noughts and crosses with a rather sinister looking doll. As most channels now broadcast twenty four hours a day, the cards are rarely used anymore. Discussing his artistic tribute, Moore said that he was excited by the 'graphic possibilities' of test cards, but also 'overwhelmed by a feeling of nostalgia' for the early days of TV. 'As we enter the digital TV age it's a good time to reflect on our ubiquitous companion,' he said. 'Of course, now were screwing the forty-inch flatscreens to the wall like works of art and we're creating our own BBC with the help of iPlayer and watching it where and when we want on our laptops. We are shopping, gambling, voting with it now. So I guess these paintings are an attempt to answer the question, what is TV, "the blue flickering light" as Jack Kerouac called it, which bathes the walls of every living room in the civilised world?' The UK's digital TV switchover will reach completion in late 2012, with Wales and the majority of Scotland, along with the West, South West and North West of England already having made the switch to digital. This week, the switchover began in the Anglia TV region, bringing Freeview to thousands more homes in Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire.

A BBC Bristol and Somerset radio presenter, Peter Rowell, who was reported to have missing earlier this week has been found 'safe and well' in Cumbria according to BBC News.