Friday, December 07, 2012

Solid Gold

The BBC has completed its effort to digitise programme listings from old copies of the Radio Times magazine. The BBC Genome project is designed to help the organisation identify shows missing from its archive. Most of the BBC's early output was not recorded and many later tapes were destroyed. See this piece that yer actual Keith Telly Topping wrote a few years ago, for some of the grizzly details. The project will be used to create an online database allowing, where possible, the public access to old broadcasts - or at least available photos, scripts and other materials for missing shows. The scheme was given its name because the corporation likens each of it programmes to 'tiny pieces of BBC DNA' which will form a 'data spine' once reassembled. The project has involved scanning in the pages of about four and half thousand copies of the Radio Times. They date from its first issue in 1923 to 2009. For later dates records generated by the iPlayer catch-up service are used. The BBC archive development team has identified about five million programme records involving over eight million contributors. That compares with roughly one million shows listed in the current archive database - the numbers are not completely comparable as the listings do include repeats. The data must also be 'treated with care' as the magazines only reveal what the BBC planned to broadcast and, obviously, do not include late changes to the broadcast schedules. Information is also missing for the first nine months of broadcast before the magazine was launched in 1923. Other records - such as newspaper archives - will be used at a later point to fill this gap. The researchers hope the project will lead to shows being recovered if the public realises they have audio or video recordings of missing programmes. 'Clearly not all the material will exist out there anyway just because lots of the programmes in the early days weren't even recorded - they were just broadcast live,' said project manager Helen Papadopoulos. 'Lots of things were also recycled or disposed of. Part of it is to recover some of the lost programmes but it's really about having a comprehensive history of the BBC and its schedules.' Part of the digitisation effort was outsourced to a French team which scanned in the magazines' pages and then used optical character recognition software to extract the information. It used specially designed software to make sense of the Radio Time's changing layouts so that the information could be presented in a uniform fashion in a database where it could be checked and validated by Papadopoulos and a small team of workers dedicated to the project. The work was originally due for completion by August 2011, but proved more complicated than envisaged because the team had not accounted for issues raised by listings showing stations broadcasting different material at the same time. Examples included when BBC Radio 4 split its schedule to put the news on its FM radio frequency, but Test Match Special on long wave. Other one-off issues also had to be checked. 'One of the last few files that we checked showed that there was a whole day of listings missing - the date was Tuesday 28 January 1936,' said Papadopoulos. 'It was the King's funeral and so we kept thinking our suppliers had somehow missed all the listings or that there was a page missing from the Radio Times for that issue. But when we went back and looked at the magazine it said something to the effect that "The King's funeral arrangements would be announced over the microphone."' The BBC Genome database will initially be restricted to the corporation's staff, but the project team said that if all goes well it could be accessible to the public online by the end of 2013. It will then feed into another scheme called Project Barcelona, which plans to offer BBC archive content via an online shop. The BBC Trust has still to decide whether to allow the latter to go ahead. Other broadcasters may be concerned about the disruptive effect that providing so much content online would have on the market.

The BBC has gone for a bit of old-school backstage showbiz razzmatazz in its star-studded promo for the BBC1 festive schedule. For the second year running the BBC has eschewed the usual montage of clips from upcoming Christmas shows – leaving that to ITV, instead – and opting again for 'stars larking about.' Opening with more than a nod to The Hour, It's Showtime features Rob Brydon as a flustered producer, with Sarah Alexander as his more clued-up, clipboard wielding colleague, trying to corral Auntie's vast galaxy of all the stars in the firmament (and, firmament is the term I meant) to get the programmes to air. Various cuts of the TV trailer, which has been created by agency RKCR, feature David Walliams, Miranda Hart, yer actual Matt Smith, the cast of Call the Midwife, Strictly Come Dancing's Craig Revel Horwood, Pudsey the dog and Shrek blowing kisses. Thankfully, It's Showtime does not reach the puke-factor-dialled-up-to-eleven levels of last year's effort, nor repeat its alarming parade of appalling Christmas jumpers. However, with hindsight the most jarring thing about the Christmas 2011 'Consider Yourself' promo was not the dodgy jumpers – but the sight of Shane Richie, presumably included to plug the ill-starred revival of Jim'll Fix It. Goodness gracious.
Now, here's some rumoured news that might have a few million men of a certain age getting all hot and sweaty. An alleged shortlist of candidates to replace Jake Humphrey as BBC F1 anchor has reportedly been drawn up. Former BBC Moto GP anchor and The Gadget Show host Suzi Perry, current BBC F1 pitlane reporter Lee McKenzie and BBC Radio 5Live's Mark Pougatch are said to be in contention to succeed Humphrey, who is taking up a new job fronting BT Vision's Premier League football coverage. The Daily Torygraph reports that 'BBC bosses' are 'favouring a female anchor' to work alongside existing pundits David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan. The divine Ms Perry is believed to be the front runner, although McKenzie is said to be 'held in high esteem' within the F1 paddock and previously anchored the show when Humphrey was working at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the London 2012 Olympics. Chris Evans, who had previously been linked with the role, is no longer thought to be in contention due the potential for conflict with his existing commitments at BBC Radio 2 and The ONE Show. He is also said to have been reluctant to travel to races which the BBC did not have live as part of its F1 rights-sharing deal with Sky. The final decision could be made as early as next week.

Self-styled 'PR consultant' Max Clifford has denied 'damaging and totally untrue allegations' of historical sexual abuse after he was released on bail by the Met Police. Anyone who knew him would have 'no doubt that I would never act in the way I have today been accused,' he claimed in a statement he made shortly after his release. He was speaking as he left a Central London police station following questioning by detectives. Clifford was arrested at his home in Surrey on Thursday morning. Officers from Operation Yewtree - set up in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal - made the arrest but said that it is 'not connected' to the allegations made against the late BBC presenter. Clifford, speaking on the steps of Belgravia police station, told reporters that it was alleged two offences had taken place in 1977. 'These allegations are damaging and totally untrue,' he said. 'On a personal level, they are very distressing for myself, my wife and loved ones. Anyone who really knew me all those years ago, and those who have known me since, will have no doubt that I would never act in the way I have today been accused.'
Police have arrested another journalist in connection with alleged illegal payments to police and public officials for stories following the provision of information from News Corporation's management and standards committee. The thirty eight-year-old woman was arrested at 6.30am on Thursday morning (roughly an hour before Max Clifford was getting woken from his slumber by the big boot of the fuzz on an entirely unrelated matters) at her home in Sussex. She was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to corrupt contrary to the Criminal Law Act 1977 by officers working on Operation Elveden, Scotland Yard said in a statement. The journalist was released on bail before lunchtime to return on a date in March 2013. She is the fifty third person arrested under the Operation Elveden, the investigation into allegations of inappropriate payments to police and other public officials. Scotland Yard confirmed that the arrest was the result of information provided to police by News Corp's management and standards committee. The Met said the arrest 'relates to suspected payments to public officials' and is not about seeking journalists to reveal confidential sources in relation to information that has been obtained legitimately. Although why they felt the need to say that when, frankly, it's nobody else's business is another matter entirely.

Brian Leveson said that he was 'watching developments' in the UK 'with interest' following the publication of his report into the culture, practices and ethics of the press last week, although he declined to comment further during a speech at a conference in Sydney. He said: 'It is because I treat the report as a judgment and judges simply do not enter into discussion about judgments they have given. They do not respond to comment, however misconceived; neither do they seek to correct error.' In a wide-ranging talk about privacy and the Internet, Leveson told an audience at the University of Technology's Communications Law Centre conference that new laws were 'likely to be needed' to protect people's privacy on the Internet. 'While legal norms are in many respects capable of application to the Internet, it is likely that new ones and new laws will need to be developed,' he said. There had been a historic failure since the start of the 'penny press' in the 1800s, he said, to develop limitations on 'incursions into privacy' by the media. 'It might reasonably be said that it is difficult to assume that any such limitations might evolve in so far as the Internet is concerned. It is much more plausible to assume that any such limitations will require some type of intervention.' He cited the recent example of the name of a Tory peer being wrongly published on the Internet, following the BBC2 Newsnight programme which incorrectly alleged that an - unnamed - Tory grandee was linked to a historic child abuse scandal. While Newsnight did not broadcast the individual's name, 'those on the Internet were not so restrained,' Leveson said. He added that this highlighted the difference between 'the established media' and the Internet. 'The established media broadly conforms to the law and, when they do not, they are potentially liable under the law.' Yes, because phone-hacking, bribery and corruption and perjury, they're all perfectly legal, aren't they? 'In so far as the Internet is concerned, there has been, and for many, there remains a perception that actions do not have legal consequences,' he said. 'Bloggers rejoice in placing their servers outside the jurisdiction where different laws apply.' Well, this one doesn't, yer Brianship. Straight up. It's one of our guiding principles here at From The North - speak the truth but do so within the law as it currently stands. Leveson acknowledged there was 'no reason in principle' that individuals who tweet in breach of court orders, including privacy injunctions, cannot be traced by their Internet service providers and rendered subject to legal proceedings. Leveson said some form of privacy protection on the Internet was 'desirable' because there was 'a real danger of harm being done and, in some cases, harm which is both permanent and disproportionate.' He said: 'There is not only a danger of trial by Twitter, but also of an unending punishment, and no prospect of rehabilitation, via Google.' Leveson said 'it ought to be possible to map out an approach to rights and responsibilities which can be either a bedrock or, at least, a touchstone for the coming years' in technological developments. Leveson criticised 'certain sections' of the mainstream press, which had, perhaps due to commercial pressures including the advent of the Internet, 'started to push against ethical boundaries and in some instances have pushed too far – so much is clear from the background to my inquiry.' He cited the recent holiday in France of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when topless photographs of the Duchess were published. 'I say nothing about the recent Australian intrusion into her private life, while she was in hospital,' he said. Although, in 'saying nothing' he, actually, said something. Odd, that.

Miranda Hart has promised 'a few kisses' in the third series of Miranda. The sitcom will return for a third run on Boxing Day with a Christmas-themed episode, moving from BBC2 to BBC1. Hart revealed in a press release that the series will contain a number of celebrity appearances and some new characters. 'The first two episodes are quite slow moving establishers compared with previous series and they set up what happens from episode three onwards,' she explained. So, that's TV shorthand for 'the first two episodes are crap but stick with it because it gets better, later,' essentially. 'There are two new regular characters, quite a few kisses, a couple of celebrity cameos. And that's all I am saying!' Gary Barlow, Raymond Blanc and Emma Kennedy have been revealed as some of the famous names who will appear in the third series. Executive producer Jo Sargent added: 'We were so excited to see what this series had in store and Miranda Hart has exceeded expectations with hilarious new material. The whole production has worked so hard to produce something we are all extremely proud of. We were as keen as the audience is to catch up with Miranda and her friends and have loved being part of the process of bringing the stories to life on screen.'

Sky has reportedly commissioned two new thirteen-part series for 2013. Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio will return to television with a new medical drama, which has the working title Critical, according to Broadcast. The series is said to focus on the 'golden hour' - the crucial period immediately following a serious injury when treatment can save lives. A science fiction drama is also apparently in the works from The Deep writer Simon Donald. In addition, the report claims that the broadcaster is considering adapting Scandinavian crime drama The Bridge for UK television. The potential remake - to be written by Ben Richards (whose last series, Outcasts, was such a massive and expensive flop) - was first announced in May and could enter production in early 2013. US cable network FX is already developing a pilot for its own remake of The Bridge starring Diane Kruger, Annabeth Gish and Matthew Lillard. And, we ask again, does nobody have any original ideas in TV these days?

BBC Worldwide is understood to be exploring 'strategic options' for Lonely Planet, including seeking an outside investor or even a potential sale of the guidebook publisher, which it values at about eighty five million knicker. The BBC's commercial arm, which took full control of Lonely Planet in February last year, is understood to favour pursuing the sale of a stake in the business. One source said they believed that there has been interest from investors in the US. TripAdvisor and Expedia investor Barry Diller would make for a good fit for the BBC, but it is not known if he is involved in talks. It is thought that Diller's vehicle IAC, which also owns search engine Ask Jeeves, was interested in Lonely Planet when co-founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler decided to sell an initial seventy five per cent stake to BBC Worldwide in 2007 – a deal which prompted widespread criticism from the corporation's commercial rivals. 'Lonely Planet is a fantastic brand which has seen tremendous success over recent years and we're not going to comment on speculation about its future,' said a BBC Worldwide spokesman. 'It is thought that BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten is keen on the idea of reining in BBC Worldwide's expansionist ambitions,' claimed some louse of no importance at the Gruniad Morning Star in a spectacularly spiteful and agenda-soaked piece. Patten is understood not to have been happy by the scope of non-TV investments made by outgoing BBC Worldwide chief executive John Smith. The BBC Trust would have to approve any deal involving the sale, or part sale, of Lonely Planet – as it did with the original acquisition. Financially Lonely Planet has been a difficult investment for BBC Worldwide, which paid £130.2m for the business in two stages, 2007 and 2011. Earlier this year the BBC revealed it had written down the value of the business by fifty million quid over five years. In July, BBC Worldwide said it valued the business at eighty five million smackers. Smith has previously said Lonely Planet has 'a solid underlying performance' while refusing to comment on whether after five years of ownership it is profitable. 'It is the value of the brand that is the key thing,' he said earlier this year. BBC Worldwide kept full control of Lonely Planet when it struck a one hundred and twenty one million knicker deal to offload its magazine division to private equity firm Exponent last year. The BBC has been dogged by criticism ever since it invested an initial eighty eight million notes to take a seventy five per cent stake in Lonely Planet in 2007. Rivals including Time Out founder Tony Elliott were angered at the expansion into areas not directly connected with BBC programmes. According to the Gruniad, an alleged 'source' alleged said that the integration of Lonely Planet with BBC Worldwide programming and content has been 'difficult' – even hampered – by the criticism of the acquisition, which has left the business 'somewhat isolated.' Allegedly. The corporation took full control of Lonely Planet, founded in a Melbourne kitchen in 1972 before growing into arguably the world's best-known travel publisher, when the Wheelers exercised an option to sell their remaining twenty five per cent stake to BBC Worldwide for £42.1m last year. When rumours emerged in 2009 that Lonely Planet was the 'top of the list' of assets reviewed for potential sale by the BBC Trust, the corporation issued a denial saying it was 'not up for sale, full stop.' In the same year the former BBC Trust chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, ordered BBC Worldwide to come up with a three-year action plan, which included the sell-off of some assets, and to concentrate on 'things consistent with the BBC's public purposes.' BBC Worldwide has done a lot to grow the business, expanding Lonely Planet's digital operations, presence in magazines and improving its position in the US market.

And, speaking of the Gruniad Morning Star another piece in the slime bucket of puss was that one of their columnists had 'snuck into' Kudos's twentieth birthday bash at King's Cross restaurant Caravan on Thursday night to hear co-founder and chairman Stephen Garrett 'reminisce about the early days of the [spooks] and The Hour maker.' In particular Kudos's fruitful creative relationship with the writer Tony Jordan – and the long gestation period for drama projects. Garrett recalled that Jordan came up with the prescient multi-channel idea for a drama thematically linked to a comedy on a second network ... in 1994, when there wasn't a lot of multi-channel TV. 'Fast-forward more than a decade and Echo Beach and Moving Wallpaper were eventually broadcast on ITV1 and ITV2' claimed the Gruniad. All lies, of course, Echo Beach and Moving Wallpaper were both broadcast on ITV only during their initial run in early 2008. Still, what do you expected from the Gruniad, accuracy? Yeah. Right. The report goes on to claim that Garrett also told of turning up to check on the progress of a Blackpool brain-storming session back in the day involving Jordan, Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah – the creative team that would eventually deliver Life On Mars – to find an empty room with a whiteboard, on which someone had written enigmatically 'suck carrot in hell.' A drama idea that has still not been commissioned, Garrett joked.
Downing Street claims that 'BBC bosses' have 'acknowledged' that Evan Davis's argumentative interview with George Osborne on Thursday's Today programme could have been better conducted – allegedly after No 10's chief spin doctor complained about the on-air confrontation, which saw the two men repeatedly speak over each other. Craig Oliver, Downing Street's director of communications, texted several BBC news executives on Thursday morning to express his 'displeasure' at Davis's repeated interruptions. Craig, mate, listen - you're only one licence fee payer. Millions of others thought it was fine. The interviewer frequently declined to allow the chancellor to develop answers in a dispute over whether it was 'fair' for the government to say that the deficit was falling. It is claimed that Oliver was contacted by a - suspiciously unnamed 0 BBC executive who 'acknowledged' that the interview 'could have been better handled.' The BBC said that it had 'responded informally' to Oliver - hopefully 'go screw yerself, Tory boy!' or words to that effect - that it had 'reviewed the interview', and that there was 'no question of any kind of reprimand' for Davis. Davis himself, responding to a suggestion from Tom Newton Dunn, the Sun's political editor, that he had been 'told off', tweeted that was not the case: 'There is some confusion around just now, but just to clarify: I have not been told off for the way I interviewed the chancellor today.' An inaccuracy in the Sun? Gosh, what are the chances? The argument used by Oliver, himself a former BBC news executive, is that while robust questioning of politicians is entirely legitimate, it was unfair of Davis to ask questions and then immediately withdraw them just because the presenter did not like the first half sentence of the answer offered. Personally, this blogger think's such an attitude is entirely acceptable when dealing with slimy, full-of-their-own-importance vile and odious rascals like yer man Osborne. Osborne's post-autumn statement Today interview was notable for its hostility. Davis tried to get Osborne to acknowledge that the budget deficit would have risen had it not been for the decision to include £3.5bn of anticipated fourth generation mobile licence sale receipts - but the chancellor repeatedly said it was not possible to pull out one item from the budget forecasts in that way, arguing it was a 'red herring to do so.' A, clearly unimpressed, Davis said that he had asked 'a simple, simple question' of fact, but when Osborne repeated his answer, Davis said his refusal to do so was 'extraordinary.' Osborne insisted that he was responding and said that it was a 'desperate attempt' by the Labour party to argue that but for one item the deficit would have risen not fallen – to which Davis replied: 'Mr Osborne, everyone was surprised.' The Today presenter carried on with a related question, but when Osborne indicated he would offer a similar answer again, Davis abruptly switched tack, saying 'don't waste our time giving us a non-answer' and tried to move on. At that point, an exasperated-sounding Osborne said: 'I'm sorry. You can't ask these questions and then before you've even allowed me to answer,' but Davis interrupted again. When Osborne finally responded Davis could be heard apparently sighing in the background.

A team of former NASA executives have launched a private venture to send two people to the Moon for $1.4bn. Golden Spike Company says it will use existing rocket and capsule technology, and will aim for a first launch before the end of the decade. The firm is one of many new private firms hoping to follow the success of Space X, which has ferried cargo to the International Space Station. The US became the first and only country to reach the Moon in the 1960s. But costs and waning interest have prevented any other lunar mission. President Obama cancelled a planned NASA return to the moon, saying the US had already been there and, indeed, done that. Golden Spike, run by former NASA associate administrator Alan Stern, says it is looking into offering voyages to the governments of other countries - such as South Africa, South Korea and Japan - expecting interest for scientific research or national prestige. 'It's not about being first. It's about joining the club,' he said on Wednesday. Not being first is good. Ask Buzz Aldrin. Anyway: 'We're kind of cleaning up what NASA did in the 1960s. We're going to make a commodity of it in the 2020s.' The firm says it expects to make about fifteen to twenty launches in total. Golden Spike is full of space veterans: the board chairman is Apollo-era flight director Gerry Griffin, who once headed the Johnson Space Center. Advisers include former a space shuttle commander and manager, former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson, engineer-author Homer Hickam as well as Hollywood directors and former House Speaker, space policy enthusiast and right-wing nut-job Newt Gingrich. However, Harvard University astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who tracks launches worldwide, told the Associated Press that many of the new space firms will fail before anything is built. 'This is unlikely to be the one that will pan out,' McDowell said, citing Golden Spike's hefty price tag.

A shopping centre has sacked its Santa Claus after complaints that he was 'rude and grumpy.' The Maine Mall in South Portland got rid of the man portraying Santa after being told that he wouldn't let one child sit on his lap. The AP reports that Jessica Mailhiot and her six-year-old daughter, Chantel, were told by Santa that she 'wasn't allowed' to sit with him after they turned down the opportunity to buy a twenty dollar photo. The girl also added that when she asked Santa for an American Girl doll, he replied that she'd get an 'American football' instead. When Jessica posted a story recounting the experience online, many others also shared examples of the in-store Santa's rudeness, leading to his eventual dismissal. The Maine Mall is currently on the lookout for a 'jollier' Santa and hopes to have him installed in the grotto within a few days.

Now, here's a cock and bull story to have you chuckling, dear blog reader. A cartoon penis has 'caused outrage' in Slovakia after being broadcast on television. The offending appendage appeared on a blackboard in the background of a TV news item, Metro reports. Headteacher Maria Frankova was being interviewed in her classroom in Poltar about an upcoming teacher's strike. The programme's editors and producers failed to notice the chalk drawing, which featured a man with a penis for a nose, and the image was broadcast to the nation. The station only became aware of the, ahem, cock-up after the switchboard was inundated with complaints from angry viewers. One complaining viewer named Miroslav Spak said: 'I don't know whether this was a secret message from the teachers to the government or whoever, but it should have been wiped off the board. There are enough dickheads in politics without creating more.'
On Thursday evening, dear blog reader, yer actual Keith Telly Topping his very self attended Uncle Scunthorpe's latest Record Player event at the Tyneside, a double-bill of early seventies chill'dness (apt, considering the weather we've been having this last week) featuring John Martyn's Solid Air and Neil Young's After The Goldrush. And proper laid-back, so it was. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping particularly enjoyed a lengthy (and rather intense) discussion with young Christian about what was the best Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Gifted and Black LP! As you do. So dear blog reader, here and here are today's Keith Telly Topping's 33(s) of the Day.