Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Twenty Two Days Of Christmas: A Reggae Christmas (An 'Ting).

'Soon it will be Christmas. And, as usual, I've come to have a good laugh at your expense!' Forget turkey or family arguments, is there anything more Christmassy than the sight of Stephen Fry in mutton chops, bellowing in best General Melchett fashion at a mucky-faced urchin or pushing his unwanted advances onto a widow? The new, superb Dickensian comedy series The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff (written by Mark Evans who previously did Radio 4's very similar Bleak Expectations) kicked off on Monday night with a festive special. The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff was a splendidly rambunctious (and bonkers) comedy adventure set in the gibberingly silly Dickens-Victoriana twilight world of people with silly names and even sillier hats.
Jedrington Secret-Past is a fine and up-standing family man and owner of The Old Shop of Stuff, Victorian London's most successful purveyor of miscellaneous oddities. If you're looking for a twin-set of kippers and slippers for your mother-in-law on Christmas Eve this is the very place to go. They do a roaring trading in Home Tunnelling Kits, too (although, somewhat inevitably, Navvies are not included). An impressive ensemble cast is led by Robert Webb as kind-hearted chap Jedrington and The IT Crowd's Katherine Parkinson who plays his loyal wife Conceptiva. 'I've been drawn into drug addiction,' she confides in passing. 'First it's treacle, later on it's going to be gravy. But it's all right, after this I go on to be a rich lady and, although I do dabble in prostitution, from now on it's an easy ride in terms of having substances on my skin.' Best of all, though, is yer actual Stephen Fry going so far over the top he's down the other side as the villain of the piece, the thoroughly evil lawyer Malifax Skulkingworm. With a flinty heart, a great cackling 'Mwah-ha-ha' laugh and an expendable hat. He informs poor Jedrington that the shopkeeper owes his client (ie him) a massive debt which Jedrington's never heard about, inherted from a grandfather he never knew existed. Until payment is made, Skulkingworm imprisons Jedrington's entire family (not to mention his shop) in London's most notorious debtors prison, The Skint. But what is behind Skulkingworm's sinister plan and what does it have to do with an old lady whom he visits in Sadspinster Street each Christmas Eve? He's a bad 'un is that Skulkingworm, despite his protestations that it is 'my cruel, yet handsome, client laughing, not I.' He tells Jedrington's children that their father is no more: 'There was a very dreadful accident involving a giant vat of soup and a very naughty horse ... If it's of any consolation to you, it was quiet funny to watch!' Webb's partner David Mitchell (as the completely mental Jolliforth Jollington), Celia Imrie, Una Stubbs and Pauline McLynn also appear. As does the fabulous Johnny Vegas as The Artful Codger - who, apparently, didn't pass his exams to graduate from urchin school and, instead, become a proper grown-up ne'er-do-well, vagabond and 'great dong-nobbler.'
You're probably aware by now, dear blog reader, that 2012 is the two hundredth anniversary of yer man Dickens' birth. And, that the Beeb have promised a whole load of the man's goodly works on your telly-box in veritable celebration, thereof. But, this offering jam-packed with witty allusions to his most popular characters (I particularly enjoyed the Oliver! parody 'Consider yourself our lunch'), it carries on the tradition of honouring the author himself. 'By the Manliness and Repressed Victorian Emotions Act of 1838, it is illegal for a man to cry! You're nicked, mate.'

Speaking of grumpy old misery guts, Jezza Paxman has refused to have a Christmas tree with him on the Newsnight on set. BBC Breakfast hosts Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams revealed on Monday morning that Paxman demands any festive decorations be removed before he presents Newsnight from the same studio. Turnbull is quoted as saying: 'As soon as we're off air it's whipped out of the way,' while Williams commented: 'Jeremy doesn't want a tree in the studio. Bah humbug!' The Gruniad Morning Star immediately did yet another story about Jeremy Clarkson just in case. Meanwhile, an alleged 'source' allegedly told the Sun: 'Jeremy doesn't want his Newsnight set turned into Santa's grotto. We think it's hilarious, as do the Breakfast crew. But that's Jeremy all over.' Paxman has previously demonstrated his authority when rebelling against being forced to read a weather forecast during Newsnight. As this clip from Have I Got News For You (ironically, presented that week by the other Jeremy) demonstrates. Or, there was the time he was just angry with life.

Steven Moffat appeared on BBC's Breakfast on Tuesday to chat about his two festive 'blockbusters', Doctor Who and Sherlock. Speaking of the Doctor at Christmas, he said: 'It's the right and proper thing, he's the ideal hero for Christmas Day, he's as close as a hero can come to actually being Santa Claus!' Talking about the storyline for the Christmas Day special itself, Moffat added: 'There's a slight flavour of Narnia in this one, yes - it's not the same story at all by any means. Last year we pretty much did A Christmas Carol beat-for-beat, but this time it's just a sort of flavouring of that really. The Doctor ends up in debt to someone, his life is saved by someone, and a few years later he returns to save their Christmas because these children have just lost their father - of course being the Doctor he just endangers them terribly, but that's sort of what he'd like.' Inevitably the subject of the proposed Doctor Who movie came up, to which Moffat re-iterated: 'It's an imaginary film. David Yates - a very brilliant director - was talking off the cuff and slightly off-message. We're not going to do a film of the nature that he described, which would be rebooting the story and having a different Doctor and being in a different continuity - that would never happen, that would be insane and that would be insulting to the audience. I hope one day we will do a film, maybe even soon, but it will be very much an offshoot of the television series with the same Doctor and all that.' Moffat also confirmed that he would be writing any such proposed movie. Meanwhile, The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe guest stars Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir talk about their experience filming the episode in the latest BBC behind-the-scenes clip.

Online film service Netflix has struck a deal with BBC Worldwide to offer shows including Doctor Who, Top Gear and Little Britain. The deal, which includes the rights to stream shows including Torchwood, [spooks], Miss Marple and Fawlty Towers (but, probably not Don't Scare The Hare) will give Netflix users the chance to watch the programmes from six months after they have been broadcast on television. The deal, the latest in a string of content agreements struck by Netflix, comes as the US video service prepares to launch in the UK and Ireland early next year. 'BBC programmes are a big favourite of our over twenty million streaming members in the US, Canada and Latin America,' said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix. 'We are incredibly proud to make these high-quality programmes available to Netflix members in the UK and Ireland.' Financial terms were not disclosed but the deal is non-exclusive. BBC Worldwide has similar digital licensing agreements in place with services provided by Virgin Media, BT Vision and BlinkBox, the Tesco-controlled video-on-demand service. 'UK audiences have really grasped the experience that online viewing can bring, and our programming has proven to be particularly popular with this digital audience,' said Steve Macallister, managing director of sales and distribution at BBC Worldwide. Lovefilm, the Amazon-owned video service which is one of Netflix's arch rivals in the UK, does not have a deal with BBC Worldwide.
The Scum of the World allegedly obtained Sir Alex Ferguson's medical records and used them to justify a tipped-off story about the Manchester United manager's health, a former reporter at the paper told the Leveson inquiry. Matt Driscoll claimed on Monday that 'blagging', or impersonating a third party, was used to secure the confidential information after receiving at tip that Ferguson might be suffering from ill health. 'It was clear that something might be up,' Driscoll said, 'but then I just couldn't get any further forward on it. I had to go to my sports desk and say "I really don't think we can get any further forward with this."' The reporter, who won eight hundred thousand smackers from the title after winning an unfair dismissal case in 2008, added: 'My sports editor said "Leave it with me, I can see what we can come up with." That same day I got a call from the sports editor: "You're absolutely right, the story is true, I've got his medical records with me at the moment."' The former journalist added: 'I was told that sometimes you'd get a situation where if an investigator sent a fax to a GP or a hospital saying "I'm his specialist, I need these details" it was incredible how often that would just get sent straight back.' He said the paper had agreed not to run a story. 'It was put to Alex Ferguson that we wouldn't use this information and in the end it was mentioned to him that [we'd] keep it quiet and out of the public domain and because of that he then started co-operating with the paper. A few weeks later he gave us some stories to use in the paper.' Driscoll emphasised he did not believe it was the sports editor who had 'blagged' the information. He said 'there were specialist people at the News of the World who did that sort of stuff.' He added: 'Information is a tradeable commodity. [It enables the paper] to say "we've got information, we won't use it as long as you co-operate," which is the kind of deal that was being done there.' It's also, effectively, blackmail, mate. Which is illegal. Driscoll was signed off work with stress-related depression in July 2006 and dismissed in April 2007. He was awarded just under eight hundred grand, following the December 2008 ruling, which included an amount towards his legal costs, after the employment tribunal found there was 'a culture of bullying' at the Scum of the World. Manchester United said Ferguson is 'aware' of what was said at the Leveson inquiry but has no comment to make on it. 'We are not saying anything,' said a spokeswoman.

The BBC has admitted to hiring a notorious private investigator who was convicted of supplying newspapers with illegally obtained private information about celebrities and public figures. The corporation said it had commissioned Steve Whittamore, whose targets have included the parents of murdered schoolgirls Milly Dowler and Sarah Payne, on one occasion in 2001. His brief was help to track down an unnamed convicted paedophile who BBC journalists working on an unknown programme believed was planning to travel to Britain, and the public broadcaster says his work was justifiable. The BBC said: 'In this case a private investigator was commissioned in 2001 to track down a convicted paedophile who was believed to be returning to the United Kingdom. The BBC has provided the details of this matter to Ofcom who confirmed that they are satisfied with our explanation that this was warranted in the public interest and they are not taking any further action.' The corporation refused to release more detailed information, but it is thought to be planning to give full details of the case to the Leveson inquiry. Mark Thompson, the BBC director general, expects to be called before the inquiry in the new year. Whittamore was at the heart of a network of corrupt officials and 'blaggers' responsible for obtaining information such as ex-directory phone numbers, car registrations and criminal records. In 2005 he pleaded guilty to breaches of the Data Protection Act and received a two-year conditional discharge. Until now it was thought that Whittamore's clients were limited to thirty two newspapers and magazines, from which three hundred and five journalists made in excess of seventeen thousand requests for information. But after questioning from Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, the BBC has admitted to being a customer of the private investigator on one occasion. Logs kept by Whittamore – and held by the Information Commissioner's Office in the wake of his prosecution – are understood to show the words 'airline check' and 'one hundred and fifty pounds' recorded against the corporation's name. It is believed to be the only reference to the BBC using the private investigator, information which has now been shared with Ofcom. There is no evidence that Whittamore acted illegally in this instance - not that this will stop journalist lice like the Gruniad Morning Star and the Daily Scum Mail from using this to stir up trouble. Case in point: a spokesman for the Information Commissioner's Office is quoted by the former as saying: 'Unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data, such as airline passenger records, without the consent of the data controller is a criminal offence under section fifty five of the Data Protection Act 1998. This includes the practice known as "blagging" where an individual obtains someone's personal information, usually by deception.' There is also a public interest defence against such breaches of the Data Protection Act, cited in this instance by the BBC. Earlier this month the BBC revealed that an internal review had cleared all of its journalists of any illegal practices, but conceded that private investigators were 'sometimes' used. The subject was discussed at the BBC Trust meeting on 24 October and its minutes noted that 'the BBC does use private investigators occasionally, most commonly for surveillance or security services (to ensure the safety of journalists or to check the safety or carry out a "recce" of a location where filming is taking place) and to obtain the whereabouts or identity of individuals who are the subjects of significant public interest programmes.'

Steve Jones has reportedly been axed as host of The X Factor USA. 'Insiders' allegedly claim that only a 'miracle' will save the Welsh presenter from being dismissed from the FOX talent contest, a prospect which is said to have 'devastated' the thirty four-year-old. Oh dear. How sad. Never mind.

Ofcom, the media regulator quango - elected by no one - has set down rules on psychic TV services which ban the casting of spells and other 'occult-related practices' including Satanism, and offer guidance on the correct use of chicken bones and crystal balls. Ofcom, is of course more used to handing down its pointless and moronic rulings relating to Gruniad Morning Star readers whinging about Jeremy Clarkson or issues related to Frankie Cocozza's behaviour on The X Factor. But, on Tuesday, it published guidance to deal with a new wave of personalised live TV adverts offering viewers psychic television services. Rule 15.4 relates to 'explicit prohibitions' on certain 'psychic practices.' Television advertisements, it states, 'must not promote psychic practices or practices related to the occult. Psychic and occult-related practices include ouija, Satanism, the casting of spells, palmistry, attempts to contact the dead, divination, clairvoyance, clairaudience, the invocation of spirits or demons and exorcism.' Ofcom said the use of chicken bones, crystal balls, tea leaves and other props was 'not in principle problematic' but said that they should never be used to 'imply a prohibited psychic practice or practice related to the occult.' It said that the use of 'spirit guides' were also allowed subject to the same limitations. The media regulator said personalised astrology, horoscopes and tarot card readings were only acceptable if they were clearly labelled as 'entertainment' and must never predict specific events, such as births, deaths, marriages – or new jobs. 'Advertisements for personalised and live services that rely on belief in astrology, horoscopes, tarot and derivative practices are acceptable only on channels that are licensed for the purpose of the promotion of such services and are appropriately labelled for entertainment purposes only.' The regulator added: 'Psychic readings cannot stray beyond the carefully circumscribed area of entertainment and should never be presented as reliable, substantiated or offering anything other than a form of entertainment.' It remains to be seen how the guidelines will be viewed by the psychic and fortune-telling industry – and whether or not they saw it coming.

The family of a murder victim have accepted an apology from TV presenter Matthew Wright about the police investigation into his death. Wright has apologised on air and in a letter to Liam Aitchison's parents about comments made during a newspaper review on Channel Five's The Wright Stuff. Ofcom, which has received about two thousand two hundred complaints, has launched an investigation into the programme. Liam's family said they had since spoken with the presenter. Two men have appeared in court charged with Liam's murder. The sixteen-year-old was found dead in a derelict building in the Steinish area on the outskirts of Stornoway on Lewis earlier this month. When the launch of a murder inquiry was reported in the newspapers, Wright caused controversy when he put on a Scottish accent and said 'there's been another murder,' copying a phrase from the Scottish detective series Taggart. A panelist on the show pointed out that it was the first murder in the Western Isles for forty years and Wright repeated the Taggart phrase. Wright later apologised on air for his comments, saying it had not been his intention to 'belittle' the death. The presenter said that those campaigning for people to complain to Ofcom should 'grow up.' He later made a second on air apology. Liam's family have issued a statement through Northern Constabulary ahead of a memorial service in Stornoway on Tuesday. They said: 'We have spoken with Matthew Wright and have accepted his apology for comments made regarding Liam's death. We would like now to draw a line under the whole Wright Stuff incident and ask people to focus on the process of justice for Liam.'

Sir Bruce Forsyth is expected to continue hosting Strictly Come Dancing in 2012, 'sources' have suggested. The veteran entertainer has presented the BBC contest since its first series in 2004, but there has been lingering speculation that he would be forced to step down due to his age. Strictly 'insiders' have apparently 'staved off' the rumours once again by saying that Forsyth - who turns eighty four before next year's series - is still welcome on the programme. 'Bruce has had a great series and Strictly is his as long as he wants it,' a 'source' told the Sun. 'We are working on the assumption he'll be back.'

A sixteen-year-old boy has reportedly died after masturbating forty two times without stopping in Rubiato in the Goiás region of Brazil. That's not the remarkable thing, though. The really remarkable thing is that somebody appears to have actually counted them. His mother told a local newspaper that she already knew about his son's 'addiction' and that she had planned to see the doctor about his urges, but the decision came too late. The young man reportedly began to masturbate at midnight and spent the whole night compulsively touching himself. As you do. At school, his classmates allegedly commented on the boy's problem and some are said to have asked to connect a webcam in his bedroom for 'observation.' Dirty little beasts. They further said that the boy's attraction to women was 'extreme.' In his room a large amount of pornography was found, including photographs and videos of nude women that were saved on his PC. Sometimes, there just no punchline necessary.

And so to yer actual Keith Telly Topping's Twenty Two Days Of Christmas. Here's something from one of the greatest Christmas LPs ever, Joe Gibbs' Reggae Christmas. Irie, irie!
Not forgetting a word from yer actual Santa Yellowman.