Monday, April 25, 2011

So No One's Hurt, We Might Have Made It Through. But Now There's Nothing Left Except The Memories Of You

Isn't it really nice to see a bit of truth and honesty coming direct from the Beeb these days in relation to their commissions?Steven Moffat has described the upcoming Neil Gaiman-penned episode of Doctor Who as 'magical' and 'mad.' Talking to Entertainment Weekly, the showrunner refused to divulge details about the episode's plot but promised that fans would not be disappointed when it finally airs. 'It's called The Doctor's Wife. I can't say very much actually because the whole gimmick behind that show - and it's a very clever gimmick - will be unveiled in the opening minutes,' he explained. 'I literally can't talk about it without giving it away, which I don't want to do. It's a lovely, magical, mad episode.' Asked if he felt that Gaiman struggled to adapt to Doctor Who's unique scripts, Moffat answered: 'He would bring his own estimate of that. I think everybody - and I don't think Neil would argue with this - everybody who comes onto the show gets a fright at just how difficult it is. You assume you know it, until you try to write it. Then you realise it really is a monster. I've written an awful lot of them now and I still find it shockingly difficult. I think everyone who comes on has that moment of "I didn't think I'd be working this hard."'

Moffat has also revealed that Martin Freeman refused to join The Hobbit until it was certain that he could remain on Sherlock. Freeman was offered the role of Bilbo Baggins in the Tolkien adaptation in October of last year, but he initially turned it down to continue his role on Sherlock, in which he plays John Watson. However, the shooting schedule for The Hobbit was ultimately accommodated around that of the BBC drama so that Freeman could play both roles. 'We are lending Martin Freeman to The Hobbit, let's get that the right way round!' Steven said, when asked if he was stealing Freeman back from the Lord of the Rings prequel. Moffat went on to state that Freeman was entirely committed to Sherlock. '[Freeman] wouldn't have been in The Hobbit unless Sherlock could be accommodated,' he added. 'It's not exactly a small deal these days, Sherlock.'

Time Team's visit to Bamburgh - seen on Channel Four on Sunday - was a little different to the normal filming experience, as the team were visiting an ongoing long-term research project, rather than leading their own excavation. The Bamburgh Research Project was set up in 1996 by a small group of archaeologists who were interested in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria. Since then, it has grown from a weekend hobby to a substantial research excavation that aims to bring to light thousands of years of occupation of a fascinating site. Bamburgh is an extraordinary place, a natural rock fortress, occupied for thousands of years that has played a pivotal role in Northumbrian history. One of the great strengths of Time Team is its ability to bring together a tremendous body of resources with some of the best experts in their various field. This was the aspect that most appealed to the local archaeologists, allowing them to see the site through fresh eyes in a number of different ways. 'I have wanted to visit Bamburgh for many years as I read several years ago that a new research project had started, and that some new archaeological work was underway,' noted Mick Aston. 'Bamburgh has a vast Norman and later castle, and this is the most obvious feature, but for me it is the earlier pre-Norman aspects of the site which are the most interesting. Bamburgh was the fortress capital of the Bernician Anglo-Saxon kingdom, one of the groups, who with the people of Deira (roughly Yorkshire) were known as the Northumbrians. Brian Hope-Taylor, a great charismatic archaeologist of the Twentieth Century, had excavated here but his work was never published and little has been done since. Bamburgh is merely one part of a vast early medieval landscape in northern Northumberland which includes the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, the Farne Islands and such inland sites as Yeavering, where a great Northumbrian palace was also excavated by Hope-Taylor. Not only was I able to visit Bamburgh as part of this Time Team special, but I managed, at long last, to get to Inner Farne, to see the site of St Cuthbert's hermit cell (Seventh Century), where I also saw puffins, for the first time in my life (I had been becoming convinced that they were extinct). Graeme Young and his team have achieved some important results at Bamburgh. Anglo-Saxon archaeology is not easy to deal with - people built with timber, wattle-work and thatch, used little pottery (presumably using wooden, horn, and leather vessels) and had little in the way of metal or stone equipment. All of this makes the archaeology of these people very difficult to find. But at Bamburgh, because it was a royal site, there are metal-working and industrial areas, slight traces of timber buildings and pieces of jewellery and carved stone work. But what impressed me most were the inter-relationships between the sites around. Bamburgh was the royal centre, with probably an important church housing the relics of St Aidan (the parish church is Norman with a large crypt), and only a short boat trip away (even quicker by Time Team helicopter) was the cathedral and monastery on Lindisfarne, where Christianity finally came to the Northumbrians in the Seventh Century, and where Cuthbert, the greatest northern saint, was based. Here is the connection to Durham, where I am a visiting professor, for Cuthbert is buried in Durham Cathedral; he is one of the few Anglo-Saxon churchmen in England whose remains we still have.'

On Sunday night BBC2's drama United had a more-than-respectable audience of 3.2m. Meanwhile over on ITV Coronation Street and Lewis both had audiences of 5.9m viewers. A very low rating for Corrie by its usual standards but we've come to expect that from Easter Sunday episodes - even without the ITV+1 addition, it would've been just above the soap's record lowest overnight audience. Lewis dropped 0.6m compared to last week. I wonder how many media outlets will be reporting that Doctor Who's overnight was higher than either of these? I'm guessing not that many! When asked about a few hysterical media reports about Doctor Who's six and a half million audience, Steven Moffat noted on Twitter: 'For those who asked the overnights are good, but not commenting on the ratings cos we don't know what they are yet.'

Despite some very unhelpful comments - before the drama had even been shown - from Matt Busby's son about non-existent hats which, it turns out, actually did exist, United proved to be a terrific, poignant, occasionally very funny drama. Beautifully acted by a mostly young cast (I particularly admired the performances of Sam Claflin as a splendidly magnificent Duncan Edwards and Philip Hill Pearson as a cheeky, waggish Eddie Snakehips Colman) and directed with considerable flair by Doctor Who veteran James Strong. David Tennant turn as Jimmy Murphy, United's driven coach was a brilliant portrayal - quite apart from the discombobulation of a Scotsman, best known for playing a Mockney Gallifreyan, pulling out a terrific Welsh accent from his locker. His prematch motivational team talk, before a game against Charlton Athletic was a joy. 'Anyone in today from Doncaster? What about Salford, any Salford lads in? What about Barnsley?' The young players cheer when their home towns are mentioned. He then asks if there's anyone in from Charlton, which gets a big stamping of studs on wooden floor. 'Good, because I bloody hate Charlton,' says Murphy. 'Apples and pears, jellied eels, pearly kings. Shut up, you south London sods!' At the heart of Chris Chibnall's poignant drama, of course, was the air tragedy that claimed the lives of eight of the Busby Babes. It was beautifully done – powerful, haunting and very human. And if you didn't shed a tear, then you're harder than yer actual Keith Telly Topping, dear blog reader. And, that's unlikely to be fair cos I'm pure dead hard me, like. Jack O’Connell has footballer written through him like a stick of rock. He grew up wanting to be one. He had trials with Derby County as a child. His grandfather, Ken Gutteridge, actually was a pro, and later a manager. O’Connell played Bobby Charlton, a man who knew a bit about goal scoring. Told largely from Charlton's perspective, the film retraced the events of the 1958 Munich air crash, when twenty three passengers were killed as they returned from a European Cup game in Belgrade. It was a powerful, moving film, less about football to be honest than about the tragedy of young life cut short, the arbitrary cruelty of disaster. Co-starring a superb cast which also included Dougray Scott, Melanie Hill, Tim Healy, Dean Andrews and David Calder, it also explores the painful 'what if' scenarios that pepper the Munich tragedy. What if the Football League had delayed the team's next fixture at Wolves, giving them longer to return home? What if the plane hadn't refuelled in snowy Munich? What if the flight had been abandoned before the third takeoff attempt, when the wheels hit slush? What if chance had taken another course? 'Why us?' Charlton asks Jimmy Murphy in the film. 'Why did we survive?' In fact Charlton's survival probably hinged on his seating position on the plane. After the second failed take-off, some of the players moved to the back, believing it to be safer. It wasn't. After careering off the runway the aircraft struck a nearby house, tearing off the wing and part of its tail, which caught fire. Charlton, sitting next to Dennis Viollet, remained further up. They were blasted out of the aircraft in their seats onto the snow. (The film opens with a shot of them unconscious on the ground.) Coincidentally, O’Connell's grandfather knew Viollet. 'They were pals,' he says proudly. 'I’ve got a T-shirt from him, that Viollet passed on to my granddad.' O'Connell wasn't able to meet Charlton when preparing for his role but he spent hours watching YouTube footage of him. 'His body language told me a lot,' he says. Like what? 'That he was very humble. Not eccentric. Warm. That's what the accounts of him were. That he was a nice man to be around.' For those who have watched O'Connell develop as an actor, that growing maturity is one of the most exciting things about him. He is best known for playing Jack-the-Lads: a scamp in This Is England, self-destructive Cook in Skins. But if you were lucky enough to catch him in last year’s Dominic Savage drama, Dive (he played a teen dad), you'll have seen something else. He was a revelation; nuanced, understated, wise beyond his years. Perhaps, in fairness, others had already noticed it. Michael Caine reportedly shouted 'star of the future!' at him when they shared a scene in 2009 film Harry Brown. On the evidence of United, old Charlie Croker's got it right again.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said in his Easter sermon that corporate prosperity without fulfilment is an 'empty thing' and that people should seek happiness, not prosperity. Which is all very well for him to say given that the Church of England is the largest landowner in Britain. How about a bit of wealth distribution of yer own, Bish?

Yer Keith Telly Topping has to confess that he wasn't all that struck on the latest episode of Bones, the pilot for a potential spin-off series, The Finder. Deep in the Florida Everglades, Brennan and Booth investigate a set of remains. The location makes it FBI jurisdiction. The body includes a glass eye, and Brennan determines the serial number is discernable. The victim, Sam Nozik, worked as a security guard for a local museum and video footage captures him handling an Eighteenth Century treasure map from the Santa Esperanza. With the victim identified, Booth calls on an old rival, Walter Sherman, to help them find the map. Walter agrees to use his quasi-magical 'Finder powers' (Booth’s words, not Brennan's) to find the map, also offering to prove his skill to Brennan by finding something she had lost. She suggests a seventh grade science fair medal which she won but which then disappeared. Walter will find the map, but Brennan and Booth are on their own to catch the killer. When Walter also takes a liking to Brennan (notably after he senses Booth's interest), Booth is quick to get Brennan back to the lab. Walter enlists the help of his associates, Leo, his legal counsel, and Ike, his pilot and bartender to help him find the map (and later), the killer. They weave their way through a pawn shop, a tattoo parlor, a marina, a church and the museum as they try to determine who killed Sam and Brittany Stephenson. The episode felt awkward, as pilots often are, but this was particularly hamstrung by having to also be an episode of a long-running (and very popular series). Thus, Brennan, Booth, Cam, Angela and Jack were in a total of about six scenes between them and Sweets was missing in action entirely. Six Feet Under's Geoff Stults, The Green Mile's Michael Clark Duncan and British actress Saffron Burrows (sporting a very cod-Cockney accent which I think could become hugely annoying very quickly) were all personable enough in an undemanding plot. Whether The Finder as a series has the potential to become a drama with as much depth, charm and wit as Bones is another matter. Although, it's probably worth remembering that when it started, Bones didn't look all that promising either.

Michael Sheen's extraordinary exercise in live theatre came to an end last night after seventy two hours. Sheen's 'crucifixion' scene was the grand finale to his three day performance of The Passion in Port Talbot. Sheen returned to his home town to star as a Christ-like character in the marathon theatre production. On Saturday he ate a 'last supper' of beer and sandwiches at a social club where there was a performance by rock band the Manic Street Preachers. The setting for Sunday's crucifixion scene was a roundabout. As well as starring in The Passion, Sheen also co-directed the production which had a core cast of fifteen professional actors from the local area. By the time the first main part of the play was performed on Aberavon Beach, organisers estimated up to six thousand people had gathered to watch. On Saturday, there were sequences in Llewellyn Street, the Castle Street underpass, Aberafan Shopping Centre, the Seaside Social and Labour Club in Sandfields and nearby Abbeyville Court. John McGrath, artistic director of National Theatre Wales, said he was delighted with the response to the play. 'It's absolutely fantastic - the whole town understood it and got the bug. And they've rushed out again after finding their home town all over the nation's front pages - it's a real sense of celebration,' he said. 'It's exceeded everybody's expectations - it's caught the mood of the moment and has even been on the news in Australia. It's created a real sense of pride among people in this town.' On Easter Sunday, the production returned to Aberavon Beach as part of the finale. A trial was performed on Civic Square before a procession from Station Road, with the final scene, 'the cross,' at Aberavon seafront. Passion plays developed during the Middle Ages to tell the story of the trial, suffering and death of Christ. Sheen, known for his screen portrayals of figures such as Tony Blair, David Frost, Kenneth Williams and Brian Clough, has said he was inspired by the community spirit of the Passion plays he had watched at nearby Margam Park as a child. Written by Welsh poet and novelist Owen Sheers, the Easter production was the last and largest of a series of National Theatre Wales 'moving productions' in its first year. McGrath said: 'We've followed the sequence of events quite faithfully in making a new story based on The Passion, making it work theatrically and as a community event.'

Two Only Fools and Horses regulars have paid tribute to the show's creator and writer John Sullivan, who died over the weekend at the age of sixty four. John Challis and Roger Lloyd-Pack, who played Boycie and Trigger in the classic sitcom, followed their co-stars David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst in speaking about Sullivan's passing. Speaking on 5Live on Sunday, Challis said: 'It was a terrible shock for us this morning because it's the thirtieth anniversary of Only Fools and Horses, and John has been part of our lives all that time. It's been an absolute joy and privilege trying to interpret the writing which not only made you laugh but also made you cry. And he could look at everybody's experiences, even the most tragic experience in people's lives - and still make you smile at them, and make you think things aren't so bad. It's a great loss.' Lauding his creative talent, Lloyd-Pack added: 'He was a craftsman and those lines didn't just fall out. He chiseled them and honed them. And they were very particular.'

James May secured a place in model railway history at the weekend by successfully running trains on the Tarka Trail. May's second attempt at getting three model trains to travel the nine miles between Barnstaple and Bideford was achieved on Saturday. The pressure was on for James as a team of fourteen German model train enthusiasts, from the Miniatur Wunderland, the world's biggest model railway exhibition in Hamburg, had travelled to North Devon in order to take on May and fellow TV presenter Oz Clarke, with their own three engines. Although the German team, who did the reverse route from Bideford to Barnstaple, won with their first train entering Barnstaple station at 4pm on Saturday, May's fleet were not far behind with his first engine getting to Bideford at 5.15pm. James was optimistic from the start with much of the track having been laid along the nine mile stretch of the Tarka Line on Friday, which was heavily protected by overnight security. He said: 'One of the great things about this project is that it is pioneering work – really anything could happen – and it is the technology that I am particularly interested in. I would love to see this happen every year, particularly if we can get more and more people on board. This year we have five people to each train and Buffers Model Railway have been great with all the volunteering and support.' By 7am at Barnstaple Railway Station there was already a good turnout of supporters eagerly awaiting the race to begin with Oz Clarke arriving in time for the first train to leave at ten. The spectators included all ages and some had come as far as the Lake District, not to mention some German supporters. The Mayor of Barnstaple, Ian Roome, was at the town's station when the German train arrived. He said: 'It is great to see an event being such a success and I hope it is something we can really expand on. I would love to see this every year.' Two of the German team, Sebastian Drechsler and Gerrit Brun were thrilled with the success of their engines. However, they admitted feeling the pressure of James being just behind them all the way, although that didn't stop them finding time for an ice cream break. Sebastian said: 'It has been really exciting and it was touch and go as our first train's gear box smashed as we entered Barnstaple Station – it was lucky we didn't chance a second ice cream.' As James's first train, the Intercity engine, entered Bideford station there were cheers all round but it wasn't over yet as the Flying Scotsman was experiencing problems at Yelland. Luckily the other two trains did arrive at Bideford, with the modified hydrogen powered engine arriving at 6.20pm and May's own engine, the Flying Scotsman, getting in at 8.30pm. May and Clarke were filmed entering the station with the Flying Scotsman and emotions were clearly running high. Both men commented how symbolic the moment was in the world of technology and how the successful race should definitely be repeated. The production company hope the programme - an episode of James' popular Toy Stories series - will be televised as a 2011 Christmas special.

For today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, we have a story of a - probably homoerotic - ménage à trois which culminates in a teen-suicide. So, a nice cheery little tune for Easter Bank Holiday Monday here, dear blog reader. Let Paul Weller tell you more of this sorry tale.