Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss

George Entwistle has been named the new director general of the BBC. Entwistle, who is currently the director of BBC Vision, will take over from outgoing director general Mark Thompson on 17 September. Announcing the appointment outside Broadcasting House, BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten said: 'George is a creative leader for a creative organisation.' The BBC Trust said that Entwistle would be paid an annual salary of four hundred and fifty thousand smackers. It is a smaller figure than the six hundred and seventy grand earned by Thompson, bearing out Lord Patten's repeated assertion that the next head of the BBC would have a smaller salary than their predecessor. In his current role Entwistle oversees the division responsible for commissioning, producing, scheduling and broadcasting all of the BBC's TV content. 'I'm delighted that the chairman and Trustees have decided I'm the right person for the job and I'm very excited about all that lies ahead,' he said. 'Mark Thompson will be a tough act to follow but it's a privilege to be asked to lead the greatest broadcasting organisation in the world.' Entwistle - who will be celebrating his fiftieth birthday this weekend - was selected by a panel at the BBC Trust, the governing body of the BBC, led by chairman Patten. Speaking at a news conference announcing the appointment, Patten said the Trust had 'unanimously decided' to hire Entwistle. 'George had a lot of the attributes that we hoped a director general of the BBC would have,' he said. 'At the heart of them is the ability to give leadership to a great creative organisation. While it's possible to do that if you haven't had a background in making programmes, there's greater credibility if you have, and he's got a great reputation as a cultural leader.' Asked by the press whether the salary was higher than anticipated, Lord Patten said: 'It's higher than some of you guessed but I can't help it if you guessed wrong. It's actually less than anyone else in the sector, or what the heads of several newspapers are paid.' The lack of culture secretary the vile and odious rascal Hunt - the individual who has done more to undermine the BBC over the last few years than anyone else - told the BBC's Media Show that Enwistle faced two key challenges. Three if you could having to deal with the vile and odious rascal Hunt on a daily basis. 'The first is how you make sure that the BBC maintains its position as the gold standard for quality in British and global broadcasting, whilst managing the licence fee settlement. The second thing is coping with the technology revolution. By the time this director general ends his term of office, we will be in a totally different place as far as the broadcasting technology works. I think that's been one of Mark Thompson's major achievements - with innovations like the iPlayer, the BBC has been a leader in technology. But I think that's going to be a very, very big challenge.' Thompson, who was rumoured to have singled out Entwistle as his preferred candidate, said it was a 'brilliant appointment. George has shown himself to be an outstanding leader with an intuitive understanding of public sector broadcasting,' he said. 'He has a formidable track record as a programme maker and in recent years has also shown his calibre as a leader. I wish him and the BBC every success in the years to come.' Thompson will stand down from his post after the Paralympics, having spent eight years in the role. He is the BBC's longest-serving director general since the 1970s. His tenure has seen the BBC suffer several - mostly Daily Scum Mail manufactured - scandals including the Sachsgate affair, and controversy over the tone of the coverage of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee last month. The corporation has also seen a series of budget cuts and staff redundancies in recent years. Yet Thompson has also presided over successes including Strictly Come Dancing, Frozen Planet, the revival of Doctor Who and Sherlock and the launch of the BBC iPlayer. The new director general's first priority will be to prepare the BBC for the review of its Royal Charter. The current charter, which expires in 2016, sets out how the BBC should be funded, what it does and how it is managed.

Tim Vine has signed up to host a new quiz show for ITV. The popular comedian will front the new family-based game show, currently under the working title of Don't Blow the Inheritance. The format of the show will see different generations of a family working together in order to win big prizes. So, Family Fortunes, in other words. Producers described the show by saying: 'The older generation (parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles) battle to build their Inheritance Prize Fund up with thousands of pounds ready to pass on to the next generation (children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces). However the younger generation team mate can only take the Inheritance Prize Pot home if they don't "blow it all" at the end of the game! It's down to the younger generation to answer the final questions correctly so they can keep the cash rather than blowing all of mum, dad or granny's hard work!' This fiasco will be made by Twelve Yard, the company behind shows such as Eggheads and Who Dares Wins. The show will be recorded at the end of July, to be broadcast later this year. Hopefuls can apply to be on the show by visiting the ITV website. The hosting slot will be Vine's first role on TV since quitting BBC comedy Not Going Out after six years in May. Vine previously hosted Channel Five's launch night in 1997, as well as the channel's quiz show Whittle. He also fronted Channel Four's Fluke.

Shane Meadows has reportedly stopped work on writing and pre-production of This Is England '90 to focus on his long-awaited Stone Roses documentary. The BAFTA-winning director also confirmed that his film marking the Madchester band's reunion should be completed by Christmas. 'I was hoping to get it out by Christmas,' he told BBC News. 'But over this weekend alone we were going to shoot one hundred and eighty to two hundred hours of footage. We've got thirty five cameras out there - I feel like I'm making Titanic at the moment. I want to get it out by Christmas. That's the dream.' Of shelving plans for his latest This Is England TV series, Meadows explained: 'The mad thing for me is, I was supposed to be doing This Is England '90. That was the one I was looking forward to the most because I was going to get to use the Roses' music. And the only thing that could have superseded me doing that was the Roses themselves reforming and asking me to make that film. It was kind of like whatever I'm doing, I'll put down because that's like the job of the world for me.'

The amount of money spent on UK independent TV productions fell by eight per cent in 2011, a new report says. Proving what most people with half a head kind of knew already - that most TV companies don't have a pot to piss in at the moment. Overall, there was a one hundred and ten million quid reduction in expenditure, according to trade association PACT, which surveyed the independent production sector. The main reductions came from the BBC and ITV, which spent thirteen per cent and twenty one per cent less on independent shows respectively. However, the sector was boosted by international sales, which increased by thirty two per cent in 2011. Demand for UK productions like Sherlock, [spooks] and Downton Abbey meant overseas revenues grew from four hundred and ninety five million quid in 2010 to six hundred and fifty two million knicker in 2011. It is the fourth consecutive year the four main television networks (BBC, ITV, Channel Four and Five) have reduced their commissioning spend, because of factors including reduced advertising revenue and the savage BBC budget cuts. By contrast, cable and satellite broadcasters boosted their investment in independently-produced shows. Their expenditure increased from one hundred and thirty million notes to one hundred and sixty three million in 2011, marking a return to pre-recession levels. Overall, the independent production sector grew by 2.3 per cent. 'While domestic commissions have certainly suffered through our recession, the overseas markets can't get enough of British productions,' Debbie Manners, chair of PACT, said. Chief Executive John McVay added: 'The growth in exports in recent years is nothing short of an economic boom and it just goes to show our sector's adaptability. The response to domestic recession also shows the continued importance of our agreed terms of trade, which has ensured a competitive and successful market.'

Paul McGann recently told the Independent that he hasn't watched the new series of Doctor Who: 'I don't have a television. So, I don't watch anything. But I know Matt Smith and I saw him the other day. It's in safe hands, the kid's obviously brilliant, a really, really good choice to take it on.' The actor is due to appear in a couple of rather good looking dramas on TV in the coming months, alongside Martin Clunes in A Mother's Son for ITV, and in Ripper Street for the BBC.

Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator at the heart of the phone-hacking scandal, has been ordered to reveal who allegedly instructed him to intercept voicemails. The supreme court ruled on Wednesday that Mulcaire must pass previously secret details about phone-hacking to Nicola Phillips, the former assistant to Max Clifford. Five senior law lords at Britain's highest court threw out Mulcaire's claim for privilege against self-incrimination, ending a twenty-month legal appeal by the former private investigator over his 'legitimate legal interests.' Mulcaire must now pass potentially incriminating details – including who at the Scum of the World allegedly instructed him to hack phones, the journalists he is alleged to have passed intercepted messages to, and how victims were allegedly targeted – to Phillips. Judge Lord Walker said on Wednesday that questions of privilege against self-incrimination arose when an individual allegedly embarked on an offence which could be both a criminal action and a civil action. He said the issue for the supreme court was to decide whether the content of allegedly intercepted voicemail messages amounted to intellectual property. He added that it was also up to the supreme court to decide whether conspiracy to intercept voicemail messages was a related charge that was likely to feature in any future court cases. The private investigator had earlier challenged two rulings by the high court, on 17 November 2010 and 25 February 2011, and the court of appeal, on 1 February 2012, which found that the hacked voicemails were confidential, commercial and/or personal information and covered by section seventy two of the Senior Courts Act. Lord Walker said in the judgment: 'The supreme court unanimously dismisses Mr Mulcaire's appeal. Section seventy two of the [Senior Courts Act] excludes his privilege against self-incrimination: the proceedings brought by Ms Phillips are "proceedings for rights pertaining to intellectual property" and the conspiracy proceedings to which Mr Mulcaire would expose himself on disclosure of the information amount to a "related offence."' The unanimous ruling was handed down at the supreme court by Lord Walker, Lord Kerr, Lord Clarke and Lord Dyson. Mark Lewis, the solicitor for Phillips, said after the ruling that the disclosure of the information would take everything further on. He described the ruling as a precedent and said other potential civil litigants could now apply for the same information. Mulcaire's solicitor, Sarah Webb of the law firm Payne Hicks Beach, said they had not yet decided whether to launch a further appeal. Mulcaire, who was not in court for the verdict, said in a statement: 'I am pleased that the supreme court has recognised that my right to refuse to answer questions which may incriminate me is more extensive than the court of appeal decided. As I made dear from the outset, I will comply with the supreme court's ruling to answer questions in Ms Phillips's case. The supreme court's decision, which is narrower than that of the court of appeal, will also determine whether there are any other cases where I have to give potentially incriminating answers to requests for information. I will consider with my lawyers what the wider implications of this judgment are if and when I am asked to answer such questions in other cases.'

FOX has strongly denied claims that its TV show Glee breaches the trademark of a British comedy club, according to legal papers filed at the high court in London. Billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch's Hollywood film studio is fighting a legal bid by the Birmingham-based founder of comedy night The Glee Club to take the hit TV show off the air in the UK. Mark Tughan, who runs the comedy nights, wants Fox to pay him 'a seven-figure sum' in damages. He claims the film studio is infringing his trademark The Glee Club, which he registered in the UK for merchandise and entertainment services in 2001 – eight years before the first episode of Glee aired on US television. Tughan's Comic Enterprises Limited puts on comedy and live music nights under the name The Glee Club in Birmingham, Nottingham, Cardiff and Oxford. Twentieth Century Fox has vowed to fight the 'audacious' legal claim. Documents received by the high court in London on 14 June show that the studio vowed to continue broadcasting the popular series in the UK. Glee is midway through its third season on Sky 1. Murdoch's film company said in its court filing that it was 'not aware' of the Midlands-based comedy night or its trademarks. It said in its court defence: 'It is admitted that [FOX] threatens and intends to continue and repeat the acts complained of. It is fully entitled to do so because the said acts are entirely lawful.' The studio also claimed that the comedy night – which launched nearly twenty years ago – had not suffered as a result of Glee's popularity. Tughan maintained on Tuesday that he had 'a strong case' against FOX. 'FOX is making a big mistake if they think they can bankrupt me and make me go away,' he said. 'I am confident I will win this.' The trademark dispute, which first came to light in September last year, is likely to head to a high court showdown this year. It was heard briefly at the patents county court in London this year before being moved to the high court. Glee debuted in the UK on E4 before the rights to the show were bought by Sky in 2011.

Former Doctor Who executive producers Beth Willis and Piers Wenger are to be re-united as the former assumes the role of Deputy Head of Drama in September at Channel Four. Wenger, who is now Head of Drama for the broadcasting company since leaving the BBC last year, said: 'Beth is a hugely talented creative individual with a track record in shaping some of Britain's most iconic drama series. I'm delighted that she is joining the Channel Four drama to start work on a new generation of shows.'
If it was 'unfortunate' that Sir Terry Wogan played 'Rock the Boat' on his BBC Radio 2 show in the wake of the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster, then the error was compounded when he joked that the BBC was 'sinking' and he would be first to leave, 'never mind the women and children.' The BBC Trust's editorial standards committee, responding to seven complaints from listeners - who, seemingly, didn't have anything better to do with their time than to stir up trouble over such an utter inconsequence - about the 22 January broadcast, said it was 'surprised' that the BBC did not apologise on-air on the day. It said the presenter's 'characteristically self-deprecating' remark was not intended to cause offence but ruled that it breached BBC editorial guidelines because there was a 'real risk' of it doing so. To professional offence-takers, at least. Wogan opened his live Radio 2 show with the song 'Rock the Boat' – the 1974 hit by The Hues Corporation – nine days after the Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of the Tuscan island of Giglio. What, too soon? Thirty people are now known to have died in the disaster with two more passengers presumed dead, but at the time eleven people had been confirmed dead and rescuers were searching for survivors. Wogan said after the song: 'Frankly if I had my time over again, and given the boating tragedy in Italy, I mightn't have picked that as an opening song.' He added, chuckling: 'Rock the Boat, argh, Captain Coward.' He said later, in an exchange with the newsreader Alan Dedicoat: 'I don't know about you Deadly but I'll be the last to leave the BBC. Not sinking is it? Me first. Never mind the women and children, I'm not even Italian.' The editorial standards committee said in a report on Tuesday that Wogan's remarks were 'characteristically self-deprecating, joking about his own lack of bravery rather than the victims of the tragedy itself. In this context the committee did not believe there had been any intention to cause offence.' But it added: 'The committee, however, did conclude that there was a real risk of causing offence and in this context the guidelines had been breached. The committee expressed surprise that the BBC did not apologise on-air on the day.' The BBC apologised privately to listeners who complained at the time but did not make an on-air retraction because it said it 'ran the risk of creating confusion and/or further offence by airing the subject again.' The BBC Trust said in its report: 'The editorial complaints unit investigated the complaint in relation to the BBC's editorial guidelines concerning harm and offence. They agreed that the choice of song and the presenter's remarks had been inappropriate and ran the risk of causing offence.' The complaints unit concluded that the breach had 'not been so great as to warrant a public apology taking into account various factors' and no further action was necessary.

If anyone wants to know how difficult it can be to sell a house in London right now, just ask Andy Coulson, the disgraced former Downing Street spin doctor and ex-Scum of the World editor. According to a much-raking piece by some louse of no consequence in the Gruniad Morning Star, he has just dropped the price he is asking for his house in Forest Hill, south London, by one hundred and seventy five thousand smackers. The five-bedroom detached Victorian house was put on the market this year for £1.625m but the estate agents are now marketing it at £1.45m. It's not the first time they have reduced the price – after getting no takers when they put it up for sale at the original price, they dropped it to £1.485m but dropped it again at the end of last week.

John Constable's The Lock has become one of the most expensive British paintings ever sold, fetching £22.4m at auction at Christie's in London. The full price of twenty two million four hundred and forty one thousand two hundred and fifty smackers for the 1824 masterpiece depicting Suffolk rural life places it joint fourth on the list of most-expensive Old Masters. That's a lot of bread, dear blog reader. In fact, it's probably worth noting that the cost of a Constable has gone up considerably in recent years. News International used to buy them for just a few hundred smackers. Allegedly. Anway, George Stubbs's Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a Trainer, a Stable-Lad, and a Jockey, fetched the same sum in 2011. The Lock had been housed in Madrid's Bornemisza Museum. Its owner, Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, said it was 'very painful' to sell the work but that she had to because she had 'no liquidity.' Well, you've got twenty two million knicker worth of liquidity now, your Baronessship, so that should soften the blow. Museum trustee Sir Norman Rosenthal has resigned in protest at the sale, criticising the baroness - known as Tita - for putting one of its prize exhibits up for sale. In his resignation letter, the former exhibitions director of London's Royal Academy said the decision #represents a moral shame on the part of all those concerned, most especially on the part of Tita.' A former Miss Spain, the baroness is the fifth wife and widow of Swiss industrialist Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. The Lock was part of the huge private art collection he left behind when he died in 2002. While most of it was sold to Spain, two hundred and fifty artworks are still in the baroness's private collection and have been loaned to the country free of charge for the past thirteen years. Announcing the sale of the Constable painting in May, the baroness said she needed to sell because of the current economic crisis. 'It's very painful for me, but there was no other way out,' she told the Spanish newspaper El Pais. 'I need the money, I really need it. Keeping the collection here is costly to me and I get nothing in return.' Francesca Von Habsburg, the baroness's stepdaughter and another museum board member, has also expressed disapproval over the sale. 'The baroness has shown absolutely no respect for my father and is simply putting her own financial needs above everything else,' she told the Scum Mail on Sunday. The first owner of The Lock was James Morrison, who bought the painting at the 1824 Royal Academy exhibition. The son of an innkeeper, Morrison became one of the wealthiest British merchants of the Nineteenth Century and a prolific art collector. The Lock remained in the possession of his descendants until 1990. The top end of the art market has escaped many of the problems faced by the wider global economy, with new records consistently being set for individual artists. Last month Joan Miro's 1927 work Peinture (Etoile Bleue) sold for more than £23.5m, a record for the Spanish painter. In May Edvard Munch's The Scream became the most expensive art work ever sold at auction, selling for $119.9m in New York. The top price for an Old Master was reached in 2002 when Sir Peter Paul Rubens' painting The Massacre of the Innocents sold for £49.5m.

Peter Crouch is rumoured to be filming a chat show pilot for Sky. The lanky Stoke City striker's project will be entitled On the Couch with Peter Crouch (good title!), according to the Sun. Beady Eye front man Liam Gallagher is rumoured to be appearing on the pilot. Well, that should certainly be a meeting on minds. 'Peter is a smart guy and takes on the role of a chat show host well,' an alleged 'source' allegedly said. 'He has a long list of people who he considers heroes, in comedy, music, food, you name it. The idea is he will go and visit people at their homes or workplaces and chat to them in a quirky way. It's more Ruby Wax than Michael Parkinson as it's supposed to be more of an entertainment show.' The alleged 'insider' allegedly also praised Crouch's 'good command of the English language' and listening skills, saying that they are 'vital ingredients for this kind of show' and 'not something many footballers have.' Filming is tipped to begin within the next few days to take advantage of the football close season.

A man has been arrested after a Premier League footballer was allegedly subjected to racist abuse on Twitter. Newcastle United's defender Danny Simpson claims he was targeted on the social networking site on Monday. Northumbria Police arrested and bailed an eighteen-year-old man on suspicion of malicious communications. A Newcastle United spokeswoman said that the club would not tolerate racism 'and will take the strongest possible action against those responsible.' Absolutely right.

Eric Sykes, one of Britain's best-loved comedy actors and writers, has died at the age of eighty nine, his manager has said. 'Eric Sykes, star of TV, stage and films, died peacefully this morning after a short illness,' said Norma Farnes. 'His family were with him.' Sykes found fame in a series of TV sitcoms from the 1950s, including Sykes And A... alongside Hattie Jacques who played his sister in both that series and its later sequel, Sykes. Sir Bruce Forsyth paid tribute to Eric, calling him 'one of the greats of comedy in this country. He was universally loved here,' the entertainer continued. 'He was just one of the funniest men ever.' As usual, most lazy bastard journalists couldn't be bothered to do any 'real' work and speak to many people who knew Eric when they could just trawl Twitter for comments they could quote. Stephen Fry, inevitably, was one of those targeted: 'Oh no! Eric Sykes gone? An adorable, brilliant, modest, hilarious, innovative and irreplaceable comic master. Farewell, dear, dear man.' Whilst Mark Gatiss said: 'The wonderful Eric Sykes has left us. A giant of comedy and a gentleman - funny to his very core.' Comic Robin Ince paid tribute to 'the last link to many of the most important early post war comedians' and 'a great entertainer.' Tall, lean and lugubrious, Eric Sykes starred for many years in his own television series, Sykes And A... It cast him as the inoffensive inhabitant of Twenty Four Sebastopol Terrace, constantly beset by the problems of domestic life. The comedian's suburban adventures and gentle offbeat humour first went out on television in 1960 and delighted audiences of up to twenty million. Sykes the performer never minded such a large audience. But Eric Sykes the person was far more of a recluse. He was born on 4 May 1923 in Oldham, the son of a millworker. His mother died while giving birth to him and his father remarried a year later. At school Eric excelled in art. But his family could not afford to send him to college, so he became a store keeper in a cotton mill. Wartime service gave him the chance to shine in several Royal Air Force entertainment shows, as well as a role in the Normandy landings. Ever modest, Sykes maintained he had bluffed his way into those wartime shows. 'They asked if I had theatrical experience and I thought, I'd been to the theatre three times before the war.' Nonetheless, after World War II, he decided to make his living writing comic scripts. His first break came when he managed to sell one to Frankie Howerd for ten pounds. Before long he was writing regularly for radio. Sykes started his career writing material for comedians including Tony Hancock and The Goon Show. One of the programmes he wrote for was Educating Archie, on which he worked with Hattie Jacques, Max Bygraves and Hancock. By the 1950s he had become the highest paid scriptwriter in Britain. He offered simple, innocent humour devoid of malice, writing for such big stars of the day as Peter Sellers and Professor Stanley Unwin. But he also wrote for the surreal, cult comedy The Goon Show. He was brought on board in 1954, partly to help ease the workload of the show's co-creator, Spike Milligan, who had recently suffered a breakdown. For a time the duo worked together in a single office above a grocer's shop at 130 Uxbridge Road, Shepherd's Bush. Sykes and Milligan later jointly formed Associated London Scripts with Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, and Johnny Speight a writers' agency which lasted for well over a decade until being dissolved in 1967. When The Goon Show left the airwaves in 1960, Eric and Spike continued their partnership on its various TV spin-offs. Even after Milligan's death in 2002, Sykes demanded that his receptionist answered the office phone by saying: 'Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes' office.' 'I know he's dead but we shared offices together for fifty years,' Sykes told Metro earlier this year. 'He passed on ahead of me. He was going to do it before me, to see what it was like, for my benefit.' Following his big-screen debut in Orders are Orders in 1954, Sykes went on to appear in more than twenty films. These included Heavens Above!, Monte Carlo or Bust, Absolute Beginners, The Spy with a Cold Nose and Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines. He stepped into the spotlight with his own TV shows including Dress Rehearsal in 1956, Sykes And A... in 1960 and its sequel Sykes, in 1972. In the latter two, he and Jacques developed a popular partnership as a bumbling brother and long-suffering sister living in Sebastopol Terrace. Another of Sykes' best-known productions was in a virtually silent slapstick film called The Plank. The 1967 short saw him and Tommy Cooper play a couple of accident-prone workmen and is regarded as a landmark of visual comedy. It proved so popular that it was remade for television in 1979. Along with Milligan and the Monty Python team, Sykes was credited with bringing a more off-the-wall slant to mainstream British comedy. On TV, Sykes, which retained the same characters from the earlier show saw the titular comedian move to Twenty Eight Sebastapol Terrace, an end-of-terrace house. It was a piece of comic innocence, located in a sort of permanent 1950s, Ealing Studios world, with only the occasional contemporary reference to give away its 1970s setting. The shows, co-starring Jaques as his 'identical' (but very differently proportioned) twin, gave rise to some of television's most enduring comedy sequences. They included a memorable five-minute monologue where Sykes got his toe caught in a bath tap. 'I always say to young people, you can have the best script, be the funniest man, but if they don't laugh - you're not a comedian,' he said in 2006. Sykes also appeared in the controversial Johnny Speight 1969 sitcom Curry and Chips alongside Milligan, who was blacked up to play an Irish-Pakistani factory worker. Sykes' television roles dried up after a sitcom set in a golf club, The Nineteenth Hole, made for ITV in 1989. But his career was far from quiet. He had appeared in a string of supporting roles on the big screen over the years and continued his film work with The Others, alongside Nicole Kidman, and as caretaker Frank Bryce in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. His final film appearance was in the British coming-of-age comedy Son of Rambow. He also enjoyed renewed acclaim on stage, appearing in plays by the likes of Ray Cooney, Moliere and Alan Bennett. That came despite struggling with hearing loss for most of his life, as well as gradual eye failure, which left him almost deaf and blind by the 1990s. Former BBC head of comedy Jon Plowman paid tribute to Sykes as 'a warm man, a kind man, a warm family man. We won't see his like again,' he said. 'He was a wonderful improviser. His genius was both as a scriptwriter but also someone who could do stuff off the cuff. He was classless and funny and warm.' Sykes had been hard of hearing since his early thirties. His trademark horn-rimmed spectacles were in fact a sophisticated hearing aid, enabling him to sense vibrations. Doctors were surprised he could hear anything at all. But Sykes always attributed this medical mystery to the protective spirit of his dead mother, named Hattie like his famous co-star. 'I still think she's here, I owe her so much - there have been miracles in my life,' he told audiences at the Hay Festival six years ago. Despite his deafness and later blindness, Sykes continued to perform on stage and screen well into his seventies. He wielded a Zimmer frame like an offensive weapon to great comic effect in Alan Bennett's 1987 play, Kafka's Dick. He also took the role of Professor Mollocks in the BBC's grandiose 2000 adaptation of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy. Sykes referred to himself as a solitary unit. His Canadian wife Edith and his four children were used to leaving him alone. Yet he was never able to resist the lure of a private joke and called comedy a calling. 'You don't decide to be a comedian,' he said. 'I don't ever stop. Even when I'm in the bath or shaving, my brain is going like an express train, thinking up funny things.' Much modern era of comedy failed to entertain him - 'why do they have to swear all the time?' he famously asked - although he professed to greatly enjoy Eddie Izzard's surrealist routines. Izzard, Noel Fielding and Ross Noble are perhaps the most obvious inheritors of Sykes' style of humour. His comic vision of the world helped to guide British humour in a markedly zanier direction and his influence is certain to endure. Sykes was made an OBE in 1986 before being elevated to a CBE in 2004. In 1992, he received lifetime achievement honours from the Writers' Guild and the British Comedy Awards. Sykes and wife Edith celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary this Valentine's Day. The couple had one son and three daughters.

The US National Ocean Service has declared that mermaids do not exist. Part of the US government, the scientific agency made the statement as a result of people enquiring about the fictitious half-human half-fish sea creatures. The Animal Planet cable network in America on 27 May broadcast a tongue-in-cheek 'mocumentary' about the possible existence of mermaids called Mermaids: The Body Found. Afterwards, the National Ocean Service received questions from people who had watched the show not realising that it was fictional and they'd been had. 'No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found,' the agency recently stated. 'Why, then, do they occupy the collective unconscious of nearly all seafaring peoples? That's a question best left to historians, philosophers and anthropologists.'

So, there you have it, dear blog reader, apparently Mermaids don't exist. Except, possibly, those featured in today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, of course. Here's The Goddamn Modfather his very self.