Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Who's Watching The Watchers?

Mrs Brown's Boys was the most watched television programme live on Christmas Day for the second year running, according to initial overnight data. The first of two festive specials of the Brendan O'Carroll sitcom was watched by an average overnight figure of 7.61 million, giving the show a thirty two per cent share of the available audience from 10pm to 10.30pm. Overall figures for live TV viewing this year were sharply down on previous years, an increasing sign that the way in which audiences consume television is changing, and changing rapidly. Far too rapidly it would seem for several national newspapers who ran the usual hysterical stories about viewers switching off in disgust over ... something. Immigration, probably, that seems to be the only thing which produces disgust in people these days (at least, according to the Daily Scum Mail. Well, that and house prices). The Gruniad Morning Star, on the other hand, used the opportunity for a further good hard lick of Netflix's wrinkly scrotum (as is their want). 'The slump in audience numbers is a further sign of the fragmentation of TV viewing,' wrote John Plunkett. 'As well as the proliferation of channels in the digital era, the last few years have seen the rise of online providers such as Netflix, maker of Kevin Spacey's House Of Cards and on-demand viewing via personal video recorders and platforms such as the BBC iPlayer.' Quite what the hell House Of Cards (the second series of which appeared on Netflix ten months ago) had to do with Christmas Day terrestrial TV viewing habits is another question entirely. But then, this is the Gruniad Morning Star we're talking about, and they always talk Middle Class hippy Communist drivel. BBC1 had seven of the top ten most watched programmes while ITV had three - as usual, the channels shared The Queen's Christmas Broadcast, the combined audience of which across both channels made it the most watched programme of the day (something else about which the Daily Scum Mail had plenty to say). Mrs Brown's Boys also topped the ratings last year, but it dropped from the overnight of 9.4 million viewers it attracted in 2013, while second-placed EastEnders also saw its traditionally high Christmas Day overnight audience fall, to a decent but hardly Earth-shattering 7.55 million. ITV had three shows in the top ten, according to the figures from the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board, with Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Downton Abbey in seventh, ninth and tenth places respectively and, also, all significantly down on the overnight audiences they attracted on Christmas Day 2013. The Queen's Christmas Broadcast attracted 5.71 million on BBC1 and 2.11 million on ITV, while a further four hundred thousand watched a repeat of the monarch's message - in which she didn't abdicate - at 17:00 on BBC2. The Queen used her broadcast to highlight the importance of reconciliation between people, speaking of the impact of the Scottish independence referendum and recalling the moment German and British soldiers put down their weapons and met on Christmas Day in 1914 for a game of football. As has long been the case there was a strong preference to watch the broadcast on BBC1, attracting more that double the figure who tuned into ITV. Elsewhere on BBC1, 6.98m overnight viewers saw Louis Smith win Strictly Come Dancing Christmas at 5pm. Call The Midwife attracted 6.83m at 7.45pm, while Doctor Who's Last Christmas achieved 6.34m overnight viewers and Miranda's penultimate episode was watched by 6.67m. The Doctor Who episode had an audience appreciation index score of eighty two. Last year, of course, more than four-and-a-half million people either recorded that year's Doctor Who special - The Time Of The Doctor - and watched it during the following week, or downloaded it from the BBC's iPlayer, increasing its viewing figures hugely and it wasn't the only Christmas Day programme to achieve a massive timeshift. To demonstrate that point, in the first four days after Christmas Day this year, video on demand timeshift figures reported on Tuesday, saw an increase in Last Christmas's audience of approximately 1.75 million additional viewers to those who watched the episode live, taking its audience, at that stage, up to 8.08m. And, that's without adding in any iPlayer viewers, who are counted separately. So, it's highly likely that when the final and consolidated figures for the Christmas period are released in early January, some of the top ten positions will be shuffled around. Changing times and technologies does not mean Christmas Day programmes are becoming less popular, of course. It merely means - as this blogger mentioned on his appearance on local radio last week - that audiences now watch when they want, rather than gathering around the TV as was traditional for many years. In recent years, live viewing figures for Christmas Day have continued to decline, as viewers use on-demand services such as iPlayer and the ITV Player, video on demand services like Sky+ or watch online. Downton Abbey's much-trailed two-hour episode was ITV's biggest programme of the day outside of the two soaps - 5.51m watched from 9pm as the Crawley family celebrated Christmas. Earlier in the evening, Paul O'Grady: For The Love Of Dogs got a damned good hiding when placed opposite Doctor Who, being watched by a mere 2.97m. On BBC2, a selection of festive comedy repeats led the schedule. Morecambe & Wise In Pieces topped the channel's ratings at 6.15pm with 2.03m, while 1.24m watched Dad's Army at 7.45pm and 1.37m saw Blackadder's Christmas Carol at 8.15pm. University Challenge performed well too, securing 1.52m at 7.15pm. Channel Four's festivities began with a film, Arthur Christmas, which had an audience of 1.43m at 6pm. Then, 1.13m stayed with the channel at 8pm for Frozen At Christmas. Meanwhile an extended Alan Carr: Chatty Man was watched by 1.09m at 9pm. On Channel Five, a showing of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang brought in 1.17m from 3.30pm, while Chas & Dave's Xmas Knees Up was watched by eight hundred and thirteen thousand geezers at 7pm. BBC3 was the best-performing multichannel at 9pm, securing 1.00m for Shrek Forever After. BBC1, which traditionally dominates Christmas Day TV, had a twenty nine per cent share of the overall peak-time viewing, between 6pm and 10.30pm, well ahead of ITV's twenty three per cent. 'It's fantastic to see millions of viewers choosing BBC1, with the top five most popular shows on Christmas Day,' said the channel's controller, Charlotte Moore. 'Audiences tuned in for an incredible range of quality programmes from drama, comedy and entertainment; with Mrs Brown's Boys taking the top spot for a second year running.'

As you probably know, dear blog reader, if you were watching Last Christmas - either live, via your TiVo box or online - yer actual Jenna Coleman is to continue playing the part of The Doctor, if you will, friend Clara Oswald for another series of the show. There had been uncertainty about the future of the former Emmerdale actress, who joined the show in 2012. Most of it caused by a series of stories in the Daily Mirra which, first of all, claimed that she was leaving, then that she wasn't. So, ultimately, they were right. And wrong. Both, in fact. Jenna has starred alongside two Doctors - first Matt Smith and now Peter Capaldi. 'It's wonderful,' she said. 'I get a whole other series of stories with The Doctor and I couldn't walk away with the story being unresolved.' She added: 'There is so much more to do. I think they've finally just reached a point where they really understand each other. The arrival of [Capaldi's] Doctor has just kind of dropped this whole bombshell and allowed the dynamic to totally change, so I think just when Clara was feeling more comfortable in the relationship, it has suddenly thrown something new up.' Capaldi his very self added: 'I'm thrilled. Jenna has just been fantastic and such a pleasure to work with.'
BBC1 also came out on top in the Boxing Day overnight ratings thanks to Still Open All Hours and the first terrestrial showing of Marvel's Avengers Assemble. The opening episode in a new series of the updated Sir David Jason sitcom attracted 5.69m viewers from 6.30pm, while Joss Whedon's comic book action movie pulled in 5.28m at 8.30pm. David Walliams's The Boy In The Dress was seen by 4.80m at 7pm, and wasn't quite as rotten as this blogger feared it would be, before EastEnders topped the night across all channels with 7.41 million. A packed Match Of The Day - including yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved, though unsellable Magpies getting a Christmas stuffing off The Scum - rounded off the night with 3.24m. Horrible, wretched, way past its sell-by date Birds Of A Feather's return could only attract a mere 3.95m overnight viewers for ITV at 9pm, a massive drop on the kind of overnight audiences it was pulling in a year ago for its first ITV series. So, perhaps there is a baby Jesus after all. Bradley Walsh's Christmas Cracker had 2.77m prior to that. A festive offering of Through The Keyhole (down the plughole, more like) interested 2.74m sad, crushed victims of society at 9.30pm on what was, overall, a very disappointing night for ITV who seldom perform well on Christmas Day but usually mange to pull something out of the bag for Boxing Day. Not this year. On Channel Four, the mid-season finale of Agents of SHIELD was watched by five hundred and eighty thousand, an encore showing of the Bear's Wild Weekend episode with Ben Stiller took eight hundred and seventy thousand and The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year amused 2.11m (10.1%). That awful Wood woman's twee and simpering musical That Day We Sang got 1.99m at 9pm on BBC2, while a repeat of the comic's horribly piss-poor Midlife Christmas brought in 2.38m an hour earlier. This blogger resigned from the general public in protest, dear blog reader, though I don't think it did much good. he latest Christmas University Challenge special claimed 1.55m at 6.45pm. Channel Five's line-up of festive comedy favourites saw a Rob Brydon live show appeal to four hundred and seventy eight thousand, a Morecambe and Wise performance from 1973 bring in eight hundred and three thousand and Tommy Cooper's 1974 Christmas Special interest six hundred and ninety nine thousand. Elsewhere, Sky1's murder mystery Agatha Raisin And The Quiche of Death drew an audience of three hundred and twenty seven thousand at 8.30pm and BBC4's debut of the the first two episodes of the Swedish adaptation of Wallander, Faceless Killers got three hundred and ninety thousand and three hundred and seventy six thousand at 9pm and 9.55pm respectively.

The first of the two-part Top Gear Patagonia Special was seen by an average overnight audience of 4.7 million on Saturday night on BBC2. At least a portion of whom, one imagines, were professional offence takers and Middle Class hippy Communist lice tuning-in to see if they could find something to whinge, loudly, about. Shown at 8.30pm, the first of a two-part special saw Jezza Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May drive three classic V8-engined sports cars throughout Argentina and Chile. With explosive results. The show peaked with 5.11 million viewers at 9.15pm. It was sandwiched between Operation Grand Canyon With Dan Snow and a repeat of Christmas Day's episode of James May's Toy Stories, which were watched by 1.57 million and 1.69 million, respectively. BBC2's evening ended with 1.25 million for the Qi XL Christmas episode and five hundred and ninety thousand for Harry & Paul's Story Of The Twos. On BBC1, Pointless Celebrities topped the evening's ratings with average viewing figures of 5.04 million from 6.45pm. The night continued with four million watching The National Lottery: Win Your Wish List at 7.40pm, followed by 3.85 million for Bruce's Hall of Fame at 8.30pm. A repeat of Mrs Brown's Boys was seen by 4.45 million at 9.40pm, while Live At The Apollo drew 2.48 million at 10.35pm. Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 dominated ITV's schedule, attracting an average audience of 3.1 million from 7pm. ITV's evening ended with 1.74 million Darcy Oake: Edge Of Reality at 9.50pm. Mission: Impossible 2 was seen by nine hundred and eighty thousand on Channel Four from 7.10pm, while The Fifty Funniest Moments 2014 picked up 1.05 million at 9.30pm. Channel Five attracted viewing figures of 1.21 million for The Haunting of Radcliffe House at 9.35pm. It was preceded by Chas & Dave's Xmas Knees Up! with six hundred and ten thousand and The Dog Rescuers With Alan Davies with six hundred and thirty three thousand. BBC3's showing of Shrek was seen by eight hundred and twenty six thousand at 7pm, followed by six hundred and seventy seven thousand for Donkey's Carolling Christmas-tacular at 8.25pm.

Still Open All Hours was also Sunday's highest rated show with 6.39 million viewers. Figures for the second episode of the David Jason-starring comedy were up by seven hundred thousand compared to the first episode on Boxing Day. It was followed by 4.88 million for Antiques Roadshow at 8pm and 5.68 million for the beginning of a new series of Last Tango In Halifax at 9pm. Featuring highlights from The Arse versus The Hamsters, Sheikh Yer Man City versus Burnley and yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies giving the Everton a reet good twankin', Match Of The Day was seen by 3.39 million at 10.30pm. The second part of the Top Gear's Patagonia Special was seen by an average audience of 4.84 million on BBC2 at 8pm. Sunday's episode concluded with several minutes of footage showing the production team's convoy being escorted out of Argentina by police and, at one point, being pelted with stones and eggs by an angry mob of Argies who were clearly aal stroppy and discombobulated. Over a number plate, apparently. The episode concluded, amusingly, with an homage to the famous final scene of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid. Speaking of Top Gear, there's a - surprisingly balanced and, seemingly, factually accurate - piece by Harriet Alexander on the story behind the 'allegedly controversial' Patagonia special which you can check out here. Makes quite a change from the shrill, politically agenda-soaked wank you normally get on the subject from the Gruniad Morning Star. Racing Legends: Barry Sheene drew 1.47 million at 9.05pm. ITV's evening kicked off with 2.95 million for Unbelievable Moments Caught On Camera at 7pm, followed by 3.78 million for All Star Family Fortunes' Christmas Special at 8pm and 3.37 million for All New It'll Be Alright On The Night at 9pm. Down the Christmas Plughole rounded the evening off with 1.18 million at 10.15pm. The return of The Hotel secured 1.53 million viewers for Channel Four at 8pm, while the Homeland season four finale was seen by 1.31 million immediately after. Channel Five's coverage of The World's Strongest Man attracted seven hundred and twenty seven thousand at 7pm, while Can't Pay? We'll Take It Away followed with four hundred and fifteen thousand at 8pm. Most Shocking Celebrity Moments 2014 secured an evening high for the channel of seven hundred and eighty two thousand at 9pm. With 1.15 million viewers, BBC3's 8pm showing of Shrek 2 was among the most popular multichannel shows.

The Daily Mirra - who, of course, have, in no way, spent the last year engaged in a rather sinister and seemingly political agenda-based campaign against Top Gear. Oh no. Very hot water - claim that Jezza Clarkson appeared to 'mock' Top Gear's recently upheld Ofcom ruling of racism in the second episode of the popular driving and entertainment show's Patagonia special. Driving over a makeshift bridge in Argentina, Jezza said to Richard Hammond: 'That is a proud moment, Hammond, but ... is it straight?' This, the Mirra claim, 'echoed' the remark which got the show into hot water in last year's Burma special. So, seemingly, Top Gear can't do right for doing wrong according to the Mirra. Who, to be fair, at least seemed to get this story by watching the episode instead of, you know, hacking people's phone. That, in and of itself, might be regarded as a step in the right direction.
Mapp & Lucia topped the ratings outside soaps on Monday, overnight data reveals. The BBC1 drama adaptation's first episode attracted an average overnight audience of 3.81 million at 9pm. Earlier, The Muppets entertained 2.70m at 6.30pm, followed by a Miranda repeat with 3.04m at 8pm. Darcey Bussell's Looking For Audrey documentary brought in 2.23m at 10.35pm on what was, all round, a quiet night. BBC2's repeat of Nature's Weirdest Events appealed to 1.95m at 6.30pm, followed by a rerun of Operation Grand Canyon with 1.62m at 7.30pm. Christmas University Challenge attracted 2.32m at 8.30pm, while new documentary Snow Wolf Family & Me was watched by 2.05m at 9pm. On ITV, Countrywise gathered 2.56m at 8pm. The Angus Deayton-fronted clip show Christmas Epic Fails was, every single bit as rotten as this blogger had expected, and was seen by a mere 2.50m at 9pm. Channel Four's Mini Cooper: For the Love Of Cars - shown immediately after a broadcast of The Italian Job - attracted seven hundred and fifty thousand at 8pm, followed by Eight Out Of Ten Cats Does Countdown with 1.75m at 9pm. On Channel Five, World's Strongest Man continued with a million punters at 8pm, while The Rock had an audience of eight hundred and fifty thousand at 9pm.
A bizarre selection of vexatious and ridiculous complaints to the BBC have been highlighted by the corporation including an alleged 'gay agenda' in Doctor Who and a 'bias against tall women' in the popular sitcom Miranda. A report from the BBC Trust has publicly named and shamed some of the more strange issues which a handful of viewers have written in to the corporation to whinge about. Around thirteen thousand complaints were made to the BBC directly in the past eighteen months, with many popular shows causing upset. To morons. One viewer accused Miranda Hart's self-titled comedy series of 'ridiculing' tall women, despite it being written by its six-foot-tall star. Three viewers - or, sick homophobic wastes of oxygen with an agenda smeared all over their no doubt ugly and sour faces, in other words - were 'concerned' with perceived 'promoting homosexuality' in the Doctor Who episode Deep Breath, in regard to the same sex relationship between the Silurian Madame Vastra and her human wife Jenny. Another viewer objected to the use of the word 'numpty' in Dragons' Den, used in one episode by Peter Jones. Ten people whinged about Jonathan Ross's return to the BBC following the Sachsgate incident. Meanwhile, The Great British Bake Off angered one viewer - or, one plank to be more accurate - for its use of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah, and actors in Last Tango In Halifax were criticised by one busybody with nothing better to do with their time for 'not paying attention while driving.' The BBC received thirteen thousand six hundred and eighty eight whinges between February 2013 and September 2014, with twelve thousand of them being taken through a formal process of review. A BBC spokesperson said: 'The complaints framework that the BBC Trust put in place in 2012 allows the BBC to close down, after an initial response, complaints that for example are hypothetical, use abusive language, fail to cite any evidence or breaches of the BBC's editorial guidelines. Only about ten per cent of complaints fall into this category and if complainants are unhappy they can appeal to the BBC Trust.'
Twelve Years A Slave actor Paul Dano will lead the cast of the BBC's forthcoming adaptation of War & Peace. The actor will star as Pierre Bezukhov in BBC1's upcoming version of the Leo Tolstoy classic, which will be broadcast in 2015. James Norton will also appear as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, alongside Downton Abbey's Lily James, who has already been confirmed to play Natasha Rostova. Norton said: 'I am thrilled to be entrusted with Andrei in this exciting adaptation. It's a privilege to bring to life one of Tolstoy's wonderfully rich and conflicted characters. And to get to work alongside talents such as Tom Harper, Andrew Davies, Lily James and Paul Dano is very exciting - I can't wait to get started.' Other cast members include Stephen Rea as Prince Vassily Kuragin, Adrian Edmondson and Greta Scacchi as Count and Countess Rostov and Jack Lowden as Nikolai Rostov. The Musketeers' Tom Burke will play Dolokhov and Aisling Loftus has been cast as Sonya. BBC1's channel controller, Charlotte Moore, said of the cast: 'War & Peace will be a major event drama on BBC1and it is only fitting that Tolstoy's epic masterpiece has attracted such a fine cast of actors to Andrew Davies' stunning scripts.' Original House Of Cards writer Davies has scripted the adaptation, which is a co-production between The Weinstein Company and the BBC. The series will be comprised of six hour-long episodes. Set in 1805 during Alexander I's reign, War & Peace follows five aristocratic families and Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812. Filming for the adaptation will begin in Russia, Lithuania and Latvia in January. A previous BBC adaptation in 1972 starred Anthony Hopkins, Alan Dobie, David Swift and, in a small role, Colin Baker.

The BBC has postponed a documentary based on the relationship between the Royal Family and the press in the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana. Reinventing The Royals was due to be screened on Sunday and is described on the corporation's website as a 'two-part series about the twenty-year battle between the monarchy and the media - the first family and the fourth estate - over personal privacy and public image.' According to the Radio Times, the documentary, presented by former Panorama editor and regular Gruniad Morning Star contributor Steve Hewlett, was pulled from the 9pm slot on Sunday's schedule after lawyers 'known to represent senior members of the royal family' had made contact. A statement from the corporation said: 'The BBC is delaying broadcast of the documentary Reinventing The Royals, due to be shown on BBC2 on 4 January until later in the New Year while a number of issues including the use of archive footage are resolved.' In an article for the Radio Times, Hewlett said that the documentary includes the first-ever television interview with Sandy Henney, Prince Charles's press secretary at the time of Diana's death in 1997. Hewlett claimed that Prince Charles hired Mark Bolland as a form of 'spin doctor' to help with his portrayal in the media. Anti-monarchy campaign Republic have said they will write to James Harding, the BBC's head of news and current affairs, to 'seek clarification' on why the documentary has been postponed. Republic's spokesman Graham Smith, said: 'The decision to delay broadcast of this documentary looks like undue pressure and interference that would not be tolerated if it were from Cameron or Miliband. At best the BBC might make a quick edit to avoid libelling someone - but delaying the broadcast so it can discuss the content of a documentary with its principal subject is unacceptable. The BBC has a responsibility to the public to show no fear or favour in its reporting. Prince Charles is in line to be Britain's head of state - he must be subjected to the same standards of media scrutiny as any politician. The BBC and other broadcasters are far too deferential to the royals. It's time they began to treat them in the same way they treat politicians and other public officials.'

Margaret Thatcher conducted 'a covert war' against the BBC, believing its corporation's news coverage was 'biased and irresponsible', previously unpublished files have revealed. A series of Downing Street memos show that 'an unstated objective' of a sweeping review, initiated by the then Prime Minister, of the corporation’s finances was to 'knock the BBC down to size.' Thatcher - a hateful and bitter neo-Conservative who is now extremely dead and, if there is any such thing as justice in the universe, hopefully, currently being roasted in the pits of Hell - favoured 'a series of radical moves' to force the broadcaster to become more efficient, including introducing television sets which only showed ITV and Channel Four, and forcing its stations to run advertising. She also held secret talks with a Conservative-supporting BBC controller who warned that the corporation was 'contemptuous of politicians' and increasingly saw itself 'as a state within the state.' Documents released by the National Archives show that Thatch held similarly strong views of the BBC's coverage in the mid-Eighties. A record dated 9 January 1985 of a meeting between Thatcher and Leon Brittan, then the Home Secretary, said: 'The Prime Minister reiterated her concern about the BBC's journalistic standards. News and current affairs coverage was too often biased and irresponsible; and some programmes on both radio and television were distasteful to the point of offending against public decency.' In March 1985 Thatcher's government initiated an inquiry, chaired by Professor Alan Peacock, on the financing of the BBC. It was billed as 'a wide-ranging review of the corporation's funding arrangements' and the future of the licence fee. However, a memo written by Peter Warry of the Downing Street Policy Unit reveals that some of the 'unstated objectives' in establishing The Peacock Review were to 'knock the BBC down to size, to force them to improve efficiency, and to prevent them from extravagantly expanding into everything from DBS to breakfast-time TV.' Brittan also believed that the review might 'expose the weaknesses' in the BBC's objections to accepting advertising on its television and radio stations, 'which relied heavily on the argument that journalistic standards and objectivity would be threatened.' Thatcher suggested the introduction of advertising 'on light music radio' programmes as early as September 1979, four months after she took office, according to a Downing Street summary of a meeting between her and Willie Whitelaw, one of Brittan's predecessors as Home Secretary. The idea came amid 'considerable concern' in the government about the BBC's spending, which by November 1979 was running at a deficit of fifty million smackers. 'The Prime Minister also suggested that people ought to have the option of not paying for a licence and only watching ITV,' the September 1979 note stated. 'This would put pressure on the BBC to be more competitive and it would be consistent with the Government's aim of giving people as much free choice as possible. But it would of course be necessary for the TV manufacturers to produce a set which could only be tuned in to ITV stations.' Channel Four began transmission three years later and in 1985 Thatcher told Brittan that she saw 'no reason' why people should not be able to buy sets that 'could only receive non-BBC programmes.' Professor Peacock's review ultimately ruled out advertising on the basis that the BBC would be 'driven into a ratings war to attract advertisers' and that programmes which were 'loved by many people might be scrapped because they did not attract top viewing figures.' Thatcher had told Whitelaw that she was 'concerned about the extravagance of some BBC spending.' But by November 1979, she had, seemingly, changed her mind. Prior to that, she had also proposed that a tax could be charged on every new radio sold, with the money used to help finance the BBC and an amendment so that people would not have to pay the licence fee if they only watched ITV. But her proposals did not get universal backing. Bernard Ingham, her press secretary (another wretchedly loathsome piece of stinking pond scum whose various comments over the years about the Hillsborough tragedy and who was responsible for it won't be forgotten or forgiven in Liverpool any time soon), wrote: 'The BBC's reputation worldwide rests in part on its integrity as an independent source of information financed without commercial sponsorship. To introduce commerciality could only, in my view, damage its reputation, particularly in the areas of news and current affairs.' And, in a memo to the Prime Minister, Whitelaw wrote: 'I know that there have been suggestions that the BBC should be funded at least in part from advertising. This would be extremely controversial and would be bitterly criticised by the BBC Governors and others in the broadcasting world as well as by some people in our party.' By November 1979, a memo to the Home Office suggested Thatcher had gone off the idea, at least in the short-term. It read: 'The Prime Minister has decided that - on reflection - it would be a mistake for the Home Secretary even to raise the possibility of the BBC's accepting radio advertising at this stage' but that 'she would not like to rule this out for all time.'

BBC1's police drama Happy Valley was the best TV show of 2014, according to Radio Times' team of critics. Mind you, given that this collective includes that perfectly horrible, know-nothing Allison Graham woman with her manifestly ugly views, that's not really the glowing endorsement it could have been in the hands of someone that actually knew what the frig they were talking about. Graham, the magazine's TV editor, called the Yorkshire-based programme 'bitingly raw' and said that its writer, Sally Wainwright, and lead actor Sarah Lancashire had 'never been better.' All of which proves that, like a broken clock, Allison Graham is, occasionally, right. But, not very often. Line Of Duty and Sherlock took second and third place in a BBC-heavy top ten. The Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon comedy The Trip To Italy - which was decent, but nowhere near as impressive as the previous series - came fourth, with Sky Atlantic's US import True Detective - this blog's own suggestion for the best show on TV in 2014 - rounding out the top five. 'The critics' top five shows that our love of quality crime and detective drama is alive and well,' said Tim Glanfield, editor of the Radio Times website. Yet he said it was 'nice' to see such 'left-field comedies' as Channel Four's Toast Of London and BBC4's Detectorists also featuring in the top ten. Set in West Yorkshire, Happy Valley saw former Coronation Street actress Lancashire play a police sergeant investigating a kidnap plot. Work on a second series is due to begin in 2015 and will be broadcast later in the year. Peter Capaldi's début as The Doctor saw perennial favourite Doctor Who merit inclusion in the list, in ninth place. Writer Huw Fullerton admitted the actor's 'more hostile, older Time Lord' had been 'a hard sell' but said it was now 'hard to imagine anyone else at the helm of the TARDIS.'

Alan Davies has 'hit out' (that's tabloidese for 'criticised' only with somewhat less syllables) at TV soaps for 'destroying sitcoms.' rather than hitting out at the real culprits for the lack of any decent comedies on British TV of late, comedy writers who seem incapable of coming up with good or original ideas. The Jonathan Creek actor, who starred in his own flop sitcom, Whites, a couple of years ago, claimed that soap actors were not given enough time to learn their lines and that the likes of EastEnders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale were being churned out in 'a factory.' Which is probably true but that's not something that began happening last week, it's been that way for decades. He told Radio Times magazine that soaps had come to dominate the TV schedules, leaving 'no space for quality sitcoms.' Speaking about his family's viewing habits, Davies said: 'Any soap gets turned off. Just the theme tune of EastEnders is enough. I hold soaps responsible for the death of the sitcom. All the best slots have been taken by the soaps.' Mind you, crap programmes about dogs don't help the situation either. Anyway, the Qi panellist added: 'The actors are doing their best in an impossible situation, with so many lines to learn in not enough time. They have my professional sympathy.' But he added: 'It's just a factory turning out not very good drama.' The comedian told the magazine: 'I get why people get hooked on them, but like anything mass-produced, you're not going to get as nice a meal in a fast food place as when a chef has time to prepare it properly.' Davies also criticised The Jeremy Kyle Show as 'appallingly exploitative.' But he did praise US drama Homeland and Channel Four reality hit Gogglebox, 'which I find addictive.' While the 1970s is still regarded as the golden age of the British sitcom, traditional-style sitcoms such as Not Going Out, Miranda and Mrs Brown's Boys have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years.

Very few actors can claim to have played Caligula, Jesus and The Doctor, but John Hurt, who has been made a knight in the Queen's New Year Honours List, is one of them. Over six decades, John's distinctive, gravelly voice and lived-in face have kept him in demand for lead and character roles alike. His portrayal of Kane, the astronaut who meets a particularly grisly death in Ridley Scott's Alien, has often been described as one of cinema's most memorable moments. But, John has also thrived in the theatre, performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company and staging Samuel Beckett's quietly devastating one-act play, Krapp's Last Tape, several times. An incisive character actor, John is often drawn to misfits and mavericks on the fringes of mainstream society, and his dignified portrayal of John Merrick in The Elephant Man earned him an Oscar nomination in 1981. John Vincent Hurt was born on 22 January 1940 in the Derbyshire colliery town of Chesterfield, the youngest of three boys. His parents later adopted a girl after their middle son died. John's father, originally a mathematician, had taken holy orders and, when John was five years old, his father became parish priest at Woodville on the Derbyshire-Leicestershire border. John's parents were reluctant to let him and his siblings mix with the local children, whom they considered 'common' and, although the family lived across the road from a cinema, John was never allowed to go and see any films. At eight, he was sent to board at a prep school in Kent, an establishment which he later described as 'so high Anglo-Catholic it was flying.' There, he played the part of a girl in a production of Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird, a tale of two children seeking happiness with the aid of a fairy. 'I felt an extraordinary feeling that I was in the place that I was meant to be,' he later recalled. But, the school also had a dark side: John later revealed he had suffered abuse at the hands of a senior master. When he was twelve, his father was appointed to a church in Grimsby and John was enrolled in a nearby school, where, by his own admission, he could be 'distinctly lazy.' Nevertheless, as a sporty youth, he captained the cricket, rugby and football teams and also took part in school plays. By the time he was fifteen, John claimed, he knew he wanted to be an actor. At his parents' request, he agreed to study for an art teacher's diploma instead and attended art school for four years. But a chance meeting with two 'wild Australian girls' in London persuaded him to apply to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art where, to his surprise, he was offered a full scholarship. He fell in love with French cinema while studying at RADA, once going to see Francois Truffaut's Jules et Jim every Sunday for seven weeks. 'In exploring this complex relationship between two men and a woman, it looked into areas that film-makers don't normally look into,' he explained. 'It was full of secret moments, and I think film is a brilliant medium for that sort of secrecy.' When he finally graduated, John walked straight into a small role in a 1962 film, The Wild & The Willing which earned him the princely sum of seventy five smackers a week. At the same time, he began performing on the London stage, and took minor roles in TV shows such as Z-Cars, Probation Officer and Gideon's Way. He also married a fellow actress, Annette Robertson, although the union lasted less than two years. It was while appearing in a London production of Little Malcolm & His Struggle Against The Eunuchs in 1965 that John came to the attention of the director Fred Zinnemann, who cast him as the scheming Richard Rich in A Man For All Seasons. While his part was not a major one, the success of the film - it won six Oscars - pushed him into the spotlight. Five years, later he was nominated for a BAFTA for Ten Rillington Place, based on the true story of Timothy Evans, framed and executed for the murder of his infant daughter by the serial killer John Christie. Evans was the sort of vulnerable character that would become a speciality for John, but he was simultaneously gaining the reputation of something of a hell-raiser, mixing with Peter O'Toole and Richard Harris and claiming to get through seven bottles of wine a day, although he later revised the figure down to a slightly more believable three. He was considered part of the firmament - a good actor, but not necessarily a great one - until he was offered the chance to play Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, an ITV adaptation of Crisp's scandalous autobiography. 'It was an absolutely stunning piece of writing; it screamed off the page,' John told The Times in 2000. 'It was a very risky piece for an actor - a television play about an effeminate homosexual who is also an exhibitionist. Many people told me it would be the end of my career - well, how often do you have to hear that?' Crisp himself was so impressed with the performance, that he called John 'my representative here on Earth. I told Mister Hurt it was difficult for actors to play victims, but he has specialised in victims.' John said that the TV play 'changed the business's perception of me' and acted as his calling card in Hollywood. John would reprise the role on the older Crisp in 2009's An Englishman In New York. Film roles soon came thick and fast. In 1978, he narrowly missed out on an Oscar for his role as the heroin addict Max in Alan Parker's controversial prison movie Midnight Express. Alien followed a year later. Famously, Ridley Scott kept the manner of John's grisly death a secret from the rest of the cast before filming. So, when a prosthetic alien punched its way through the actor's chest, amid copious quantities of blood and snots - six gallons per take, it was said - Veronica Cartwright, who played Lambert, actually fainted. Prosthetics featured heavily in John's next major role, too, but to a very different effect. His moving portrayal of the deformed Victorian circus freak John Merrick in The Elephant Man required seven hours in the make-up chair every morning and won him a second Oscar nomination. Other impressive performances included Winston Smith in the film adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 and the gleefully deranged Roman emperor Caligula in the BBC's acclaimed adaptation of I, Claudius in 1976. He also played Jesus in Mel Brook's The History Of The World, Part One and voiced the heroic rabbit Hazel in the successful animation Watership Down. Tragedy struck in 1983 when his partner of sixteen years, Marie-Lise Volpeliere-Pierrot, died after a horse riding accident. The following year, John married a Texan barmaid, Donna Peacock, with whom he set up home in Kenya. But when he returned to the UK in 1988 to film Scandal, he instantly fell in love with a young production assistant, Jo Dalton. They married in 1990 and had two children, Alexander and Nicolas, but she eventually left him, apparently exasperated by his bouts of drinking. A brief reunion with Donna was also scuppered by his taste for alcohol but, since cleaning up his act almost a decade ago, John has married for a fourth time, to Anwen Rees Meyers, a former actress and classical pianist who is twenty five years his junior. Over the decades John's workload has remained prodigious, although he takes fewer starring roles than in the 1980s. 'I've never sought out a particular part,' he once said. 'I've never done a Meryl Streep and said "I've absolutely got to work with a particular director" and taken a piece to them. I've never had that confidence.' He was utterly convincing as the Tory minister Alan Clark in a BBC adaptation of the philandering politician's diaries, and a memorable Control in the film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Children will know him as wand-maker Garrick Ollivander from the Harry Potter movies, but he has largely avoided big-budget Hollywood films, calling the process 'endless. They do shots from your point of view, from his point of view, from her point of view, from under your legs, from that corner, from the other corner, from different points of view, three sizes - until you are just bored stiff with the whole thing.' With more than one hundred films on his CV he has, inevitably, ended up in a number of turkeys - most notably in Michael Cimino's disastrous Heaven's Gate. 'I've done some stinkers in the cinema,' he admitted to the Torygraph in 2008. 'You can't regret it; there are always reasons for doing something, even if it's just the location.' He took a role on Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull solely for the experience working with Stephen Spielberg, but grew frustrated with singing the film's praises in publicity interviews. 'I don't suppose we could talk about the lack of enjoyment in making it?' he asked one journalist. In 2013, he appeared to great acclaim in Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary special, The Day Of The Doctor as The War Doctor, a hitherto unseen dark incarnation of the iconic character, who ditches his pacifist credentials to become a warrior during The Time War. He enjoyed it but it was one of John's toughest roles, as he told the Daily Scum Mail: 'There is a lot of quasi-scientific nonsense which doesn't stay in your head that easily and that meant entire weekends spent on solid learning.' As he approaches his seventy fifth birthday, the actor is still working as hard as ever, with upcoming projects including Warner Bros' revival of the Tarzan story. John was made a CBE in 2004 before being receiving a knighthood in the 2015 New Year's Honours. He also accepted the BAFTA fellowship in 2012, telling the audience he was 'very honoured. I know that film means a great deal to me, but I had no idea that I meant so much to film.'

American rock Goddess Patti Smith made a surprise confession at her gig at New York's Webster Hall on Monday night: she admitted that her secret love was for David Tennant. Patti, who was celebrating her sixty eighth birthday dedicated the song 'Distant Fingers' to David, telling the audience, 'I know I'm an older woman but I know so many things. Waiting for you, David Tennant,' she added, 'Because no-one plays Doctor Who like you. I would gladly face all those robots with your screwdriver.' Ooo err, missus. The concert also featured a rare stage appearance by former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe who opened the show with a six-song set. But, even that is not as utterly world shattering as discovering that Patti Smith is a - no longer closeted - Doctor Who fan. This blogger believes mountains have just tumbled.
John Carver and Steve Stone are set to be in charge for yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Newcastle's next two matches with Alan Pardew poised to become Crystal Palace's new manager. The two clubs appear to have agreed compensation for Pardew to succeed Neil Warnock, who was sacked on Saturday. Pardew did not take training at United on Tuesday and assistant manager Carver and first team coach Stone have stepped in. They will oversee Thursday's Premier League home game against Burnley and Saturday's FA Cup tie at Leicester. 'Crystal Palace have offered compensation at a level whereby Alan has now been permitted to speak to them,' said a Newcastle statement on Monday night. Pardew, has been Newcastle manager since December 2010 and is currently the fourth longest-serving manager in English football, after The Arse's Arsene Wenger, Exeter City's Paul Tisdale and Karl Robinson of MK Dons. The former Reading, West Ham, Southampton and Charlton boss steered Newcastle to a fifth-placed finish in the Premier League in 2012 - winning both the football writers and LMA manager of the year award in the process - and is currently under contract at St James' Park until 2020. United are ninth in the table ahead of a home game against Burnley on New Year's Day, having ended a run of three Premier League defeats with a 3-2 victory over Everton on Sunday. Some supporters on Tyneside had called for Pardew to be sacked earlier this season when Newcastle were in the bottom three at the start of October after failing to win any of their opening seven league games and a record of just five wins since the start of the 2014. However, a run which included wins against Moscow Chelski FC, Stottingtot Hotshots and Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws dramatically changed both the Magpies league position and the humour of many fans. Pardew has strong links with Palace having spent four years playing in their midfield from 1987. He scored the winning goal as the Eagles beat Liverpool 4-3 after extra-time in a famous 1990 FA Cup semi-final and played in the final and the subsequent replay against The Scum. Newcastle are unlikely to deviate from Mike Ashley's 'master plan' as they look to fill the gap left by Pardew's impending departure. The process of identifying the fifty three-year-old's replacement began along with the discussions over his proposed exit. Whoever slips into the St James' Park hot-seat in his wake will have to buy into the same model under which Pardew has operated during his time at the club. Press reports have suggested that Pardew decided to call it a day at Newcastle - who he has always been something of divisive figure, respected and broadly supported by some (this blogger included) but actively disliked by a sizeable proportion of the club's fanbase - after being told there would not be significant investment in the squad during the forthcoming transfer window, and fearing that key players, midfielder Moussa Sissoko among them, could be sold next month. The Press Association says that it 'understands' Pardew had been given assurances that the Magpies would remain extremely strong on that front and would not be allowing the likes of the France international, who has been linked with Paris St Germain and The Arse, to leave in January. Ashley, who remains on holiday in Barbados with chief executive Lee Charnley conducting affairs back on Tyneside, is unlikely to make a hasty decision. Former Netherlands defender Frank de Boer had been linked with the vacancy at Newcastle by various press outlets but de Boer's agent, Guido Albers, told BBC Sport that the ex-Ajax and Barcelona defender would not leave his current position as Ajax manager during the season. 'Frank will never leave in the middle of the season,' said Albers, who insisted there had been no approach for the forty four-year-old from the Tyneside club. 'Lots of clubs have approached Frank in the past but he has always insisted that he would not leave Ajax before the end of the season. But after the season is over? Anything is possible. Frank has so much experience, especially with developing young players. He has a vision. He will be good for the Premier League.' Former Palace and Dirty Stoke boss Tony Pulis, Hull City's 'professional' Geordie' Steve Bruce and Fabricio Coloccini have also been attracting interest on the betting markets, with the Independent claiming an 'exclusive' for their report of a possible player-manager role for the club's captain, Coloccini. Though, the Evening Chronicle had their own exclusive in claiming this report was, in fact, bollocks.

Of course, those behind the the sackpardew.com website are, no doubt, properly delighted by the turn of events over the last couple of days. To which one can, merely, note the old adage that one should always be careful what they wish for, because it might just come true.

And so we come to the final Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day for 2014, dear blog reader. Here's to 2015 and another year in which television continues to strive to be the art form that it can be rather than the business of compromise which is so often is. And, to take us there, here's half an hour of Orbital.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Last Christmas: Tangerines Are Not The Only Fruit (I, Myself, Like A Nice Juicy Pear)

'C'mon, it's Christmas. The North Pole. Who y'gonna call?!'
There are two very specific types of Doctor Who Christmas special, dear blog reader. There are those that The Special People hate with a sour, pinch-faced and mean-spirited vexation which can barely be described without resorting to words and phrases that are quasi-biblical in their curse-filled naughtiness. And, there are those that The Special People really hate with a mean-spirited vexation that can barely be described without resorting to words and phrases which are properly-biblical in their vast and sinister rancid bile. But then, nobody that actually matters much gives a stuff about what those silly clowns and daft planks think; so, let's just enjoy a jolly good laugh at their expense. Cos, trust this blogger, they're a hell of a sight.
And, now we're done ...
'That noise, I never realised how much I loved it.' Filming on the 2014 Christmas episode of Doctor WhoLast Christmas, was scheduled to start two weeks after the series eight World Tour Promotion, with both yer actual Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman her very self confirmed as returning to the production. With Paul Wilmshurst directing, production began on 8 September in Cardiff, Wilmhurst tweeting that it would likely take four weeks to complete to Steve Moffat-written story. A preview clip from the episode was shown during the BBC's Children In Need telethon in November featuring The Doctor, Clara, Nick Frost as Santa Claus and Dan Starkey and Nathan McMullen as his elves. In September, announcements were made concerning a number of the guest cast for the episode, including Michael Troughton, Natalie Gumede and Faye Marsay. Michael, of course, just in case you didn't know is the younger son of Patrick Troughton, and the brother of David Troughton. Michael will be best known to viewers 'of a certain age' as the hapless and much put-upon Piers Fletcher-Dervish, Alan B'stard's regular punching bag in The New Statesman. He recently returned to acting after a decade of pursuing other avenues (including writing a really very good biography of his late father).
'Last Christmas, I gave you my heart' George Michael sang in 1984. Which was nice (even if the video now looks truly risible what with the big eighties hair and the nasty, sneering, Thatcherite 'look at us, we've got loads of money' pretensions ... Not to mention Andrew Ridgeley, pre-nose job). Mind you, George spent another Christmas driving his Merc into the Hampstead branch of Snappy Snaps whilst snowflaked off his tits so, you know, it would appear to be a case of swings and roundabouts when it comes to Christmas at Chez Michael, one supposes. In the case of the Doctor Who episode Last Christmas, however, things are equally curious and discombobulated. Unlike many previous Christmas specials for the BBC's popular long-running family SF drama, this one can be regarded as episode thirteen (or fourteen, technically, since Deep Breath was a two-parter masquerading as a 'feature-length episode') of the recently completed series eight. Specifically, it's a lot less 'stand alone' than most of the Doctor Who Christmas episodes we've had in recent years - The Snowmen's key part in the developing 'Clara The Impossible Girl' story-arc, notwithstanding. That is not to say the episode doesn't work perfectly well as a stand alone, in and of itself. It does. But, it also continues to explore some previous narrative threads and that makes it a very different beast from, say, Voyage Of The Damned, The Next Doctor, A Christmas Carol or The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe. In fact, not since The Christmas Invasion back in 2005 has a Doctor Who Christmas episode been so clearly and obviously tied to the events of the previous episode(s) it followed. Last Christmas, in short, finds itself neatly balanced between the festive fluff-n-fun stand alones of previous years and a direct encore to the events of Death In Heaven a couple of months ago. The bridge between the two, as has been widely revealed in the episode's pre-broadcast promotional material, comes in the bigly-big form of yer actual Santa Claus his very self. In this case, a Santa played in a warm, blokey, rugby-playing way by that nice Saint Nick Frost fellow out of Shaun Of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End. And Paul, but well just have to try to forgive the chap for that last one. Frosty, a more than decent serious actor (as something like Money ably proved) as well as an acclaimed comedy one  - and, a particular favourite of this blogger since Spaced - melds these two diametrically opposed thematic elements together with considerable flair and charm. Exactly what you'd expect from the man who played Danny Butterman, frankly. He appears, along with the returning Clara, in the opening scene (at least a part of which you'll have, by now, no doubt seen). This is the catalyst for a story which is, for the most part studio-bound, doesn't rely on many locations and is one that makes full use of its sixty minutes run-time to get through a vast amount of plot. Probably more than enough for two episodes, in fact and, if there is a criticism to be made of Last Christmas, that's the worst this blogger can come up with. Stuff happens. Lots of it. Best you can do is to grab tight hold of something and hang on for the ride. Especially when, ahem, tangerine dreams are concerned. Or, a nasty attack of crabs, for that matter. Thank you, thank you, I'm here all week. Try the turkey.
The Doctor and Clara are quickly reunited and whisked off to the North Pole where they encounter a race of very creepy crab-esque aliens, The Kantrofarri, who are busy terrorising an isolated scientific research type establishment in classic Doctor Who 'base-under-siege' style which recalls not only The Thing and Ice Station Zebra but also, far closer to home, The Ice Warriors and The Tenth Planet. Then, Santa arrives again and the question is raised, by a not unexpected source, can any of this bizarre malarkey be real? What do you think, dear blog reader? It's a Doctor Who Christmas episode, anything can happen, and probably will.
'I'm back. Now, get inside the TARDIS!' Something which many viewers have noted in recent years is that one often isn't sure what we are going to get from an atypical 'monster of the week' style episode of Doctor Who. For the simple reason that, well, there's no such thing, basically. For every disappointing, 'it looked so good on paper' Fear Her or Nightmare In Silver, there is usually a bone chilling Blink just around the corner. And, each Robot Of Sherwood-style over-the-top comedy romp is often balanced by a properly x-rated 'send the kids to bed, now' Listen or Mummy on the Orient Express, to take examples from the most recent series. Again, it's the old conundrum that one of Doctor Who's most celebrated aspects is the ability to play at different genres week-on-week and, sometime, juxtapose them to astounding effect - again, from the recent eighth series, the placing of, say the deadly serious Listen as the meat in a comedy-of-the-absurd sandwich surrounded by Robot of Sherwood, Time-Heist and The Caretaker is a great example. Oddly, it's also one of the more annoying traits of The Special People when they're complaining that some aspect of the latest episode they are whinging about; this being 'it's not Doctor Who' when, in truth, again there's no such thing. However, even in an ever-changing world, some things can usually be relied upon to be consistent. One of which is that Doctor Who Christmas episodes - a few necessary 'behind the sofa' moments aside - can be counted on to provide entertainment at the lighter end of the scale. That is, until now. Because, the monsters in Last Christmas are, actually, terrifying. I mean, properly, bowel-shatteringly scary in the way that, say, the Weeping Angels were in Blink. Or, The Autons were in Spearhead In Space and The Cybermen were in The Invasion when this blogger a five, six or seven years old. The episode's shadowy and claustrophobic arctic expedition setting helps this enormously; there's a quiet, heart-pounding menace shrouding Last Christmas which, one imagines, will draw much acclaim and more than a few complaints from The Usual Suspects who just love a bloody good whinge. The nation's children will not, necessarily, be soiling their bed sheets in the early hours of Boxing Day morning - Last Christmas is not a twenty four carat horror episode like, say, Listen was - but, it definitely features some heart-stopping, shocking and sinister moments. We know that The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat enjoys nothing more than mixing in creepy and disturbing elements as part of his monsters' arsenal of terror and The Kantrofarri are no different. Fans will undoubtedly find some similarities with another Moffat creation, The Silence - last seen in the 2013 Christmas episode - but, in this case, the repetition of a central conceit works and works well. In part at least because these aliens come with an interesting twist that leads to some extremely emotional scenes between Clara and The Doctor in the second half of the episode. More on that later. Director Paul Wilmshurst, who was behind the camera on series eight's Kill The Moon and Mummy On The Orient Express - both of which, this blogger thought were great - successfully employed horror elements in his earlier Doctor Who work. Here, the references are even more direct than, say, Mummy On The Orient Express's debt to The Horror Express. In fact, rarely has Doctor Who so directly referenced at least one influence to the point that a character even points out the link specifically for the audience's benefit (well, and the other characters benefit too). When it arrives, it's a moment that manages to be simultaneously, knowing and funny and yet also oddly distracting for a moment. The equivalent of, for example, Professor Lightfoot in The Talons Of Weng-Chiang casually telling The Doctor as they explore London's sewers: 'I say old chap, this is just like Fu Manchu crossed with Sherlock Holmes with a bit of Jack The Ripper thrown in for good measure. Fancy a muffin?'
It will be interesting to see how younger viewers react to Last Christmas, an episode which plays like a straight mix of Miracle On Thirty Fourth Street and Alien (see Continuity, below). That said, yer man Moffat's script off-sets the genuine moments of tension and fear with plenty of generous slices of comedy gold. And, his well-paced plot has plenty of fun with a whole bunch of Christmas clichés, finding a good excuse to, for instance, dig out the production office's copy of Best Of Slade. Well, why not? Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit's Christmas, after all.
'I grew out of fairytales.' Of course, one of the thing fans were more curious about before the episode was even broadcast - obviously apart from the whole rather tiresome, and tabloid press-generated, 'will Clara return?' obsession - was the fact that Santa his very self was appearing in this episode. Which, bearing in mind what we've said previously about Doctor Who's much-admired ability to do, virtually, anything, to go, virtually, anywhere and meet, virtually, anyone, nevertheless sat awkwardly with some viewers as being (and trust me dear blog reader, yer actual Keith Telly Topping can barely believe he is writing the following) 'un-Who-like'. Not that, as previously discussed, twice, there's any such thing. So, what is he? A gosh-evil alien killer-Santa? A Cyberman-Santa sent from Gallifrey's far future to warn The Doctor of another impending universal apocalypse? Some bloke who got lost on his way to a fancy-dress party on Christmas Eve in Swindon with his two small mates? Or, could he be the real deal? Well, Steven Moffat had already told us that was, exactly, who he was and yet, as usual, there was always that nagging suspicion in the back of ones mind that the whole thing was bluff and evasion with a liberal dose of smoke and mirrors and more than a pinch of Morecambe and Wise. In fact, Santa's role in the story is so well thought-out and so well executed - and Nick Frost is such a talented and likeable actor - that Santa's presence shouldn't ruffle even the specialist of Special People feathers. But, of course, it will. Some things are as predictable and inevitable as Boxing Day hangovers.
'It's the North Pole and I own it!' One of the most impressive aspects of Last Christmas is its compact, tightly-constructed and self-contained nature. It has some necessary complexity, of course (its Moffat, the lad can't help himself!) but, by and large, it restricts itself to a handful of supporting characters - the most memorable being Faye Marsay's Shona, who adds a splash of seasonal melancholy, as well as a few great cheeky comedy moments - but, ultimately, it does what all the best Doctor Who episodes do: keeps its focus squarely on the relationship between The Doctor and his companion. The scenes between The Doctor and Clara are easily some of the strongest and most powerful and dramatic moments of the episode. Just when you might have been thinking that Moffat (Thou Shalt Worship No Other Gods Before He) had run out of ways to explore their relationship, he's managed to surprise us all yet again. And, of course, it goes without saying that Peter and Jenna sparkle like stars with the material they're given. Clara gets a lot of attention as the episode explores her state of mind following events of Death In Heaven. As for the rest of the cast, there will of course, always be a lot of pleasure among fandom at seeing Patrick Troughton's son but, although Michael is a welcome addition to the cast, as previously noted, it's Faye Marsay who steals the episode. Corrie's Natalie Gumede as Ashley the Polar Station’s head science officer and Emmerdale's Maureen Beattie were also very good.
'It's a lovely story, dear, but it's time to start living in the real world!' Like all the very best Doctor Who stories, Last Christmas provides a cunning contrast between the worldly mundane and rather frivolous, the 'small and twatty' in other words, with the fantastical world(s) of science fiction and Telefantasy. The episode's targets are big and broad, massive and hard. It also takes a moment or two to observe, casually, just how much fun it is giving its protagonists (and, via then, its audience). But even if The Moffat his very self is happily doing wheelies on his new bike on the imagery of this festive season, it's worth remembering that this bloke is a bit good (you know, many BAFTAs, and all that) and he hasn't forgotten the sombre events of Death In Heaven. Gallifrey's still uncertain fate is alluded to and Clara isn't suddenly reset into the role as 'default companion' just because it's Christmas Day and there are presents under the tree. On the contrary, Clara's grief for Danny is a key motivation for her behaviour and mood in much of the episode. Particularly, when Danny himself turns up. Didn't see that one coming, did you? 'We are just three passing ... roof people.'

Continuity: As noted, both The Miracle Of Thirty Fourth Street and Alien ('There's a horror movie called Alien? That's really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you!') are directly referenced, along with The Thing From Another World and Game Of Thrones on Shona'a 'perfect Christmas Day' list, whilst there are also allusions to Die Hard ('yippie-aye-ayeh!'), My Little Pony, A Christmas Carol ('God bless us, every one'), An American Werewolf In London and Inception (dreams within dreams), The X-Files and, obliquely, Sherlock (the 'do you really believe in Santa Claus?' bit). Plus, marvellously, a tiny. but beautifully formed, Hot Fuzz reference ('it's like an ice cream pain'). Then, there's the usual array of internal continuity references, To Turn Left, Deep Breath, Death In Heaven ('I never thought I was going to see you again', among numerous allusions, including a confession from both The Doctor and Clara that they ended the previous episode lying to each other to spare their feelings), CastrovalvaThe Doctor Dances, Time Of The Angels (the entire 'we're being hacked' sequence), The Impossible Astronaut, The Mind Robber, The Day of The DaleksThe Time Warrior ('maybe I could fetch you a cup of tea while I'm at it?'), A Christmas Carol (the sleigh-ride), Listen (the blackboard), Aliens In LondonThe Name Of The Doctor ('time travel is always possible in dreams'), The Caretaker ('Merry Christmas PE'), The Deadly Assassin, The God Complex (creatures that weaponise dreams to work against the dreamer) and Blink ('as The Doctor might say, "dreamy-weamy!"')
'Are we gonna be busy saving Christmas?' Dialogue: As usual, Moffat remembers to bring the funny when it's most needed: 'He's probably flirting with your neighbour. Or texting women of low moral character.' And: 'It's not often we get upstaged on a rooftop!' And: 'Happy Easter!', 'Brutal!', 'Cool exit line, though!' Last Christmas, in fact, is a Doctor Who dialogue-lover's perfect Christmas present. As perfect as Shona's list for a perfect Christmas Day. Take: 'Your mum and dad wanted me to get you a toy one, but sometimes, take a chance.' And: 'Here comes your earworm.' And: 'Time travelling scientist dressed as a magician?' And: 'We've got ghosts! It's a skeleton man and a girl in a nighty.' And: 'You know no one actually likes the tangerines, don't you?' And: 'You can't call her "human"'. 'It's not racist, she doesn't mind!' And: 'I need the toilet!' And: 'It's unsuitable for children under four.' And: 'Technically, a telephone kiosk.' And: 'Is it possible I'm about to work with someone who might be a dream?' 'If it helps, so am I.' And: 'Beardy-weirdy, how do you get all the presents on the sleigh?' 'Bigger on the inside!' Then, there's: 'This is where it gets really nasty.' 'Only now?!' And: 'Marginal for the Naughty List in '93!' And: 'How did you become an expert of what does and doesn't exist?' And: 'If this is a dream, how can we both be here?' And: 'There are some things we should never be okay about.' And: 'Why did I get "chocolate"? What's that about?!' And: 'We don't need all this touchy-feely stuff!' And: 'No, no. Line in the sand! Santa Claus does not do the scientific explanation!' And: 'No time for chatting, you'll only get attached. This isn't Facebook!' And: 'Do you know what I hate about the obvious? Missing it.' And: 'We're all being networked into the same nightmare.' And: 'I've always believed in Santa Claus, but he looks a little different to me.' And, probably the best line of the episode if not the entire series: 'You're a dream construct, currently representing either my recovering or expiring mind.' 'Yes. But, do you want a go?' 'Yeah, alright!'
'Moron! Numskull!' Last Christmas is the best Doctor Who Christmas episode since A Christmas Carol (and, the most suited to the holiday period at that). It nicely combines traditional elements of the series vast and complicated past with wild and free-form flights of the imagination. Plus a bit of Noddy Holder, cos you can never have too much of that at Christmas. This blogger, as usual, thought it was great, dear blog reader. He really did. He loved Shona's little dance and the sudden arrival of Santa's slinky army. He loved 'That is racist!', Santa's national health spectacles and the way he arrived on Rudolph. He loved the dream crabs turning to dust and 'it's actually basic physics!' and 'so, we don't know what's real and what isn't?' He loved Sam Anderson's totally unexpected appearance and 'I always protect your ego from the truth'. He loved Murray Gold's sweeping, magical score and the Repulsion-influenced scene in the corridor of Clara's imagination. And: 'I didn't die saving the world, Doctor, I died saving Clara. The rest of you just got lucky!' He loved the episode's ability to switch from touching to torrid and scary to thigh-slappingly hilarious, usually in the blink of an eye. He loved 'every Christmas is last Christmas' and he loved 'food has teeth too.' And, he adored 'You're a dream who's trying to save us?' Shona, sweetheart, I'm Santa Claus, I think you just defined me!' And: 'Shut up, Santa!' And: 'This is very Christmassy, isn't it?!' Then, of course, there was the final scene that, actually wasn't the final scene but, rather, a second-to-final scene, Peter and Jenna acting their little cotton socks off till you wanted to cry and hug someone. ideally one of those two. 'How was it? The sixty two years that I missed?' An improbable end for The Impossible Girl that, beautifully, proved to be one last brilliantly constructed dream sequence instead of a finale for a much loved character. So, the Daily Mirra did get it right after all. And, completely wrong as well. Good for them. 'Second chances. Don't even know who to thank!'
Last Christmas was clever and witty and all of the other things that one has come to expect from a Steven Moffat Doctor Who episode but it also had depth and heart and glorious humanity. All of which you, also, normally get from Moffat but, here, you got them twice. It was poignant and lyrical and, in places, properly touched with magnificence. A meditation on aspects of the human condition that would've done True Detective or The Fall proud. A piece of drama that stands alongside Happy Valley and The Missing as an example of the BBC doing what the BBC does best - despite all the amputations - educating, informing and entertaining. A Christmas gift to the nation from a dear old friend who's a bit mad and whom you're sometimes a touch embarrassed by but who has his (or her) heart in the right place, especially at this time of year. 'Complete and utter, wonderful nonsense' as Jackson Lake once noted. 'I'm The Doctor, not your mam!' Fifty one years and a month since An Unearthly Child, this daft little show about a mad man in a box continues to weave its magic and sprinkle its fairy dust on all of us. 'Use your imagination. Dream yourselves home.' The Doctor and Clara will return in The Magicians Apprentice. Is it nearly August yet?
The terrestrial TV debut of Skyfall led this year's Christmas Eve primetime ratings outside of soaps, according to overnight data. ITV's premiere of Daniel Craig's third outing as yer actual James Bond was watched by 6.33m at 8pm. BBC1's most-viewed evening programme outside of soaps was also a movie, Toy Story 3, with 4.73m from 6.30pm. At 8.30pm, Harry Hill's Incredible Adventures Of Professor Branestawm had an audience of 3.6m, with 3.2m watching the last episode of Not Going Out at 9.30pm. A re-run of a The Vicar Of Dibley festive episode had 2.85m at 10pm, while a repeat of the Mrs Brown's Boys 2013 Christmas special Buckin' Mammy was seen by 4.26m at 11pm. On BBC2, the second part of The Choir: New Military Wives was watched by to 1.94m at 8.30pm, while Julie Walters: A Life On Screen was seen by 1.74m an hour later. Earlier in the evening, 1.85m tuned in for a 7.15pm rerun of that awful Wood woman's 2000 Christmas 'special' (and, I use that word quite wrongly) Victoria Wood With All the Trimmings, while 2.38m watched guests including Martin Bell take part in Christmas University Challenge at 8pm. Gogglebox led Channel Four's Christmas Eve programming, as an audience of 2.04m tuned in for a clip-show episode at 9.30pm. Elsewhere, six hundred and thirty one thousand watched Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas at 7.25pm, with 1.03m tuning in for The Snowman & The Snowdog at 7.55pm. My Big Fat Gypsy Christmas attracted nine hundred and seventy eight thousand at 8.30pm. On Channel Five, a repeat of Britain's Craziest Christmas Lights drew six hundred and ten thousand punters at 7.20pm, and seven hundred and ninety three thousand watched The Dog Rescuers with Alan Davies at 8.25pm. A re-run of the compilation show Greatest Ever Christmas Movies was seen by four hundred and eighty three thousand at 9.30pm.

A repeat of The Royle Family was the most watched peak-time programme of a vastly underwhelming Tuesday evening outside of soaps, according to overnight data. The Christmas special - which was first broadcast in 2012 - was watched by an average of 4.22m on BBC1 from 9pm. It peaked at 4.46m towards the end of the episode. Earlier in the evening, 4.14m tuned in to Celebrity Mastermind, while a repeat of the Mrs Brown's Boys' 2012 Christmas episode was watched by 3.34m. On BBC2, the final of Masterchef: The Professionals was watched by an average of 3.59m viewers from 8pm, followed by 1.87m for the latest episode of the utterly wretched, unfunny and waste-of-space The Wrong Mans, with was about as entertaining as an afternoon of rectal surgery without anaesthetic. Meanwhile, ITV showed the latest episode of Wilderness Walks With Ray Mears to 2.13m at 7.30pm. As predicted last week, and this blogger takes considerable pleasure in having been so utterly right on this occasion, a mere 1.79m joined the Curiously Orange Christine Bleakley and Michael Scott for Roman Britain From The Air at 8pm, a - laughably - piss-poor audience for a prime-time show on ITV and apparent proof that awful Bleakley woman is, simply, toxic in terms of audiences these days. That was followed by 1.90m who tuned into Lottery Stories: Be Careful What You Wish For at 9pm on what was, all round, an utterly miserable night for ITV. On Channel Four, festive favourite The Snowman was watched by 1.09m at 7.30pm. The likes of Johnny Vegas, Rufus Hound and Spencer Matthews attracted an audience of 1.46m from 8pm for Celebrity Fifteen To One, while 1.85m watched Eight Out Of Ten Cats. Channel Five got festive with Michael Bublé's Christmas Songbook at 8pm, attracting a million punters and took 1.04m for Kids' Hospital At Christmas at 9pm.

Jamie Scott, a sous-chef from Arbroath in Angus, has been crowned the winner of this year's MasterChef: The Professionals. In the final challenge of the BBC2 series, the twenty six-year-old made a three-course dinner reflecting his career. He beat Brian McLeish, head chef at an Aberdeen restaurant, and Sven-Hanson Britt. Jamie, who currently works at Rocca in St Andrews, said: 'I want to cry a little bit I'm so happy.' He added: 'It's not settled in yet, I wasn't expecting to win. The blood, the sweat, the tears - it's hard to fathom how much emotion goes into cooking and I hope I've showed that.' Jamie, who lives in Arbroath with his wife Kelly, is the eighth winner of the show. He was praised by the judges on Tuesday's show for his passion for food and love of cooking. Judge Marcus Wareing said: 'Jamie is a fantastic chef that has a personality and a big, big heart. That goes a long way in food and this is reflected in his plates - you can see it. I know we have found a true champion, we've found one of the future chefs of the country.' Sour-faced Monica Galetti added: 'Jamie has always given us delicious food, food that he enjoys eating. I am going to be so happy to follow this chef's career.' The finalists had to complete tasks including preparing a Michelin-standard dish for twenty five acclaimed Michelin-starred chefs, inspectors and restaurateurs, and travelling to San Sebastian in Spain to cook for influential chef Andoni Luis Aduriz at his famous restaurant Mugaritz. Jamie started his career at fourteen as the most junior person in the kitchen of his parents' pub, and eventually worked his way up to running it. He was inspired by his mother, who was herself a chef. He hopes to cook on TV and publish a book, as well as opening his own restaurant, which would be 'modern British with personal preferences', including his love of Thai food and the classic French cuisine he learned to cook with his mother. For the starter on his winning menu he served crab with pickled cucumber and apples, served with savoury doughnuts filled with flaked smokies and cheddar cheese. His main course was glazed short rib of beef with beef dripping, fried croutons and onion, smoked beef sirloin, salt baked turnips and burnt shallot puree, served with watercress puree and a beef jus. For pudding he served lemon cake topped with Italian meringue with lemon macarons, almond crumb, lemon curd and salted almonds, with a basil sorbet.
Big Brother was the most complained about show of the year, according to figures released by the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom. A politically appointed quango elected by no one. Just thought I'd mention that yet again. The reality show received three thousand seven hundred and eighty four complaints, mainly about the behaviour of its eventual winner Helen Wood and her treatment of other housemates. Wood achieved 'a measure of notoriety' - in that uniquely Twenty First Century way in which people of little of no worth whatsoever become, briefly, newsworthy with those who have their sodding brains leaking out of their ears - when she reportedly had an affair with the England footballer Wayne Rooney. She admitted she had been 'out of order' on several occasions in the house but claimed that she was 'only defending' herself. Celebrity Big Brother was in second place in the most winged about list with eighteen hundred and seventy four complaints, many of those about the Hollywood actor Gary Busey. Soaps Emmerdale, Coronation Street and EastEnders, also feature in the top ten of most whinged about programmes. The majority of complaints about Coronation Street related to a kiss between the characters Todd and Marcus proving that, at least in sections of British society, homophobia is still alive and kicking. Most of the complaints about EastEnders were, slightly more understandably, about the storyline where Linda Carter, the Queen Vic landlady, was raped. The BBC defended the storyline as part of the soap's 'rich history' of portraying difficult storylines. In third place was the Channel Four documentary Cutting Edge: Going To The Dogs. It received eighteen hundred and five complaints about animal cruelty and endorsing criminal behaviour. Another Channel Four documentary series, the odious Benefits Street, received nine hundred and sixty seven complaints about the 'representation' - for which read demonisation - of those on benefits, endorsing criminal behaviour and the welfare of children. The X Factor was the sixth most complained about TV show, with three hundred and sixty whinges, mainly about content and voting. A Sky News report which saw Colin Brazier going through the belongings of some of the victims of the MH17 air disaster in Ukraine was also in the top ten. Two hundred and fifty people complained about the broadcast, for which the reporter grovellingly apologised.
Girls is returning for a fourth season, and Hannah Horvath is in for 'an insane shock' when it comes to her relationship. Creator Lena Dunham says that she is excited for fans to watch the upcoming episodes because the programme has 'tried taking the series to a new notch', as seen in the new extended trailer released on Sunday. The seven-minute video clip begins with a shot of Dunham, in character as Hannah, snacking on grapes and stating, 'Honestly I feel like I made the right decision, which is a totally new sensation for me.' Lena begins background commentary, saying, 'This season of Girls is the girls making smarter choices and realising that life is still hard.' She reveals that Hannah 'is in love with Adam and feels afraid about what will happen to their relationship if she leaves. And it turns out she's justified in that fear. So she goes off to school thinking "Okay, we're not officially broken up but we're not officially together but he loves me so much this will never change." And it turns out he's not thinking about her as much as she's thinking about him and he's actually using this break as a chance to explore new horizons. And that is an insane shock to Hannah and a blow to her ego and I'm not going to say she handles it maturely', Lena reveals, while a scene simultaneously plays showing the character giving the middle finger to someone off camera while mouthing 'fuck you motherfucker.' Girls returns to HBO on 11 January, the same night of the Golden Globes on NBC, which will see the series receive two nominations.
Two former Scum of the World journalists who were extremely jailed for hacking the phones of politicians and celebrities have been given the go ahead to sue billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch's publishing company for unfair dismissal. They can seek compensation for the loss of their jobs in 2011 following a decision by the president of the employment tribunals to dismiss an application by News Group Newspapers to have their cases struck out. Neville Thurlbeck, the paper's former chief reporter, and two former news editors, James Weatherup and Ian Edmonson, had all applied for an unfair dismissal hearing three years ago, but proceedings were delayed until the hacking trial, which also involved their former editor, well-known Crystal Tipps lookalike Rebekah Brooks, was over. In a preliminary hearing, Judge Brian Doyle directed the case to be referred from the London East employment tribunal to the regional tribunal. A third application for a hearing for Edmondson, who was very jailed for eight months for hacking offences in November, was adjourned until he is released from prison. Thurlbeck and Weatherup, who had pleaded extremely guilty to hacking, have been free since August after completing the required sentences handed out at the end of the trial although some may well feel that all of them should've done a damned sight more jail than they actually did. Weatherup and Thurlbeck both lost their jobs when the disgraced and disgraceful Scum of the World closed in shame and ignominy in July 2011 and, like other staff, were told they were in-line for redundancy payments, but less than two month later they were both sacked for 'alleged gross misconduct.' Thurlbeck was very arrested in March 2011 on suspicion of intercepting voicemails, while Weatherup was detained the following month. They were not charged until July 2012. Doyle ruled that it appeared that News Group Newspapers did not follow the due process of law. 'Reduced to their essentials, the claimants' complaints of unfair dismissal are that, prior to their summary dismissals on 2 September 2011, they had not been subject to any allegations by their employer that they had committed acts of gross misconduct. What they did, they assert, was part of the culture of the organisation. They had been anticipating dismissal by reason of redundancy, with a suitable redundancy package.' In his judgment, he added that both dismissals appeared to rely upon the management and standards committee set up by the parent company News Corp in New York to investigate hacking. Doyle found that Thurlbeck and Weatherup were not provided with reasons for their dismissal. 'It carried out no investigation into the matter and did not follow any procedure before dismissing the duo. Whatever the evidence of wrongdoing the MSC might have had in relation to the claimants, that evidence was not shared with the respondent at the time of its decision to dismiss, nor subsequently with the claimants,' Doyle found. News Group Newspapers had argued that the claims were 'vexatious' and 'an abuse of process.' A spokesman for the company said: 'Due to active legal proceedings, it is not appropriate to make any comments on this case.'

The singer Joe Cocker, best known for his cover of The Beatles' 'With A Little Help From My Friends', has died aged seventy. The Sheffield-born singer had a career lasting more than forty years, with hits including 'You Are So Beautiful' and 'Up Where We Belong'. His agent Barrie Marshall said that Cocker, who died after battling lung cancer, was 'simply unique.' Sir Paul McCartney described Cocker as 'a lovely guy' who 'brought so much to the world.' Sir Paul said: 'It's really sad to hear about Joe's passing. He was a lovely Northern lad who I loved a lot and, like many people, I loved his singing. I was especially pleased when he decided to cover 'With A Little Help From My Friends' and I remember him and [producer] Denny Cordell coming round to The Beatles Apple Studio in Savile Row and playing me what they'd recorded. It was just mind-blowing, totally turned the song into a soul anthem and I was forever grateful for him for doing that. I knew him through the years as a good mate and I was so sad to hear that he had been ill and really sad to hear today that he had passed away. He was a great guy who brought so much to the world and we'll all miss him.' The Beatles drummer, yer actual Ringo Starr, also paid tribute, tweeting: 'Goodbye and God bless to Joe Cocker from one of his friends, peace and love.' Cocker's close friend Rick Wakeman called Joe's rendition of 'With A Little Help From My Friends' 'sensational' and said: 'He had a voice that was just unique.' Wakeman told BBC Radio 2: 'The great thing is with someone like Joe is what they leave behind, and that will be with us for years and years.' Known for his gritty voice, Cocker began his career while working as a gas fitter by day and playing in rock and roll bands in Sheffield by night. Using the stage name Vance Arnold, he opened for bands like The Rolling Stones and The Hollies when they came to town. 'Ray Charles was the guy I learned my vocal style from to the point of absolute adulation,' he later said. Cocker's first single in 1964 was a cover of The Beatles' 'I'll Cry Instead' (with Big Jim Sullivan and Jimmy Page playing guitars). Despite extensive promotion from Decca lauding his youth and working class roots, the record was a flop and his contract with Decca lapsed at the end of 1964. After Cocker recorded the single, he dropped his stage name and formed a new group. There is only one known recording of Joe Cocker's Big Blues on an EP given out by The Sheffield College during Rag Week and called Rag Goes Mad At The Mojo. He went back to fitting gas heaters, but he kept playing live. In 1966, after a year-long hiatus from music, Cocker teamed up with Chris Stainton, whom he had met several years before, to form The Grease Band, named after Cocker read an interview with jazz musician Jimmy Smith, where Smith described another musician as 'having a lot of grease.' The group mostly played in pubs in and around Sheffield but eventually came to the attention of Denny Cordell, the producer of Procol Harum, The Moody Blues and Georgie Fame. Cocker recorded the single 'Marjorine' for Cordell in a London studio. He then moved to London with Stainton and Cordell set Cocker up with a residency at The Marquee Club in London. After minor success in the United States with 'Marjorine', Cocker entered the big time with a ground-breaking rearrangement of 'With A Little Help From My Friends' which, many years later, would be used as the opening theme for the TV show The Wonder Years. The recording features lead guitar from Jimmy Page and the single made the Top Ten on the British charts, remaining there for thirteen weeks and eventually reaching number one, on 9 November 1968. It was also a hit in America. 'With A Little Help From My Friends' demonstrated to the world how Cocker could breathe new life into a great composition. The song had originally appeared on The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's LP in a jaunty version sung by Ringo. But, after Cocker got his hands on it, it was a rousing, primal, tortured anthem of late-sixties solidarity. His howling performance at the Woodstock music festival in 1969, with his sweat-soaked curls flying as he rocked back and forth, made him a star in the US. Joe later recalled how Paul McCartney once told him his rendition was 'clearly the definitive version of the song.' He went on to have hits with 'Delta Lady', written by Leon Russell, a version of The Box Tops' 'The Letter', Julie London's torch song 'Cry Me A River' Billy Preston and Dennis Wilson's 'You Are So Beautiful' and Jimmy Webb's 'It's A Sin When You Love Somebody'. In 1969, Life Magazine summed him up as 'the voice of all those blind criers and crazy beggars and maimed men who summon up a strength we'll never know to bawl out their souls in the streets.' He was also well-known for his Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour of 1970 and 1971, which visited forty eight cities across the US. But the tour was a huge drain on Joe personally and as the 1970s went on, he gained a reputation for drug and alcohol abuse, often performing shambolic gigs. 'People told me I'd done terrible shows and I refused to believe them,' he later recalled. 'Then someone played me a tape of myself and I said: "You must have been messing with the tape to make me sound like that. I don't sing as badly as that." And then I realised it was me.' In another interview, he explained: 'If I'd been stronger mentally, I could have turned away from temptation. But there was no rehab back in those days. Drugs were readily available, and I dived in head first.' A low point came when he was deported from Australia during a tour in 1972 after being busted for drug possession and becoming involved in a brawl at his hotel following a gig. One story, possibly apocryphal, claims that, when police in Adelaide turned up at his hotel and asked if he had any marijuana, he politely replied: 'There's some around here somewhere. Help yourselves!' He turned a corner after meeting his American wife, Pam, in 1978. 'At the start of the 1980s, I re-focused myself - it was either that or end up killing myself with drugs,' he said. His duet with Jennifer Warnes, 'Up Where We Belong' - from the film An Officer & A Gentleman - hit number one and went on to win both a Grammy and an Academy Award in 1983. He was made an OBE in 2011. 'In America, I'd become a cartoon character, but my European fans were always loyal. Even when I was at my most crazed, throwing my shoes into the crowd at gigs, they stuck with me. That helped me to rediscover my focus,' he said. He calmed down and quit smoking in 1992. In a 2000 interview he said: 'I quit smoking cigarettes about seven or eight years ago. That's been the saving grace. That little "ooh-ooh" high-end falsetto was starting to get clogged up and I was having trouble with my breathing. I'll never completely come through all those years of drinking and smoking and stuff. But I know people who prefer my voice today to how I sounded back then.' Last year, his arena tour across Europe saw him achieve a number one CD in Germany with Fire It Up and give what was to be his final concert in Hammersmith in June. When not performing Joe who recorded twenty three studio LPs, lived on a two hundred and forty-acre ranch in Colorado, where he and Pam ran a diner named the Mad Dog Cafe. Joe is survived by his wife, his brother Victor, his stepdaughter, Zoey and two grandchildren.

Jeremy Lloyd, the screenwriter, author, poet, comic actor and co-creator of the popular BBC comedies 'Allo 'Allo! and Are You Being Served?, has died at the age of eighty four. He died in hospital on Tuesday after being admitted with pneumonia, his agent Alexandra Cann said, adding: 'Jeremy was a great wit and always a mass of original ideas. He had a wonderfully original mind and will be greatly missed.' Lloyd was married four times, including to Joanna Lumley for a short period in the early 1970s. Lumley wrote about their brief union: 'He was witty, tall and charming - we should have just had a raging affair.' Six months ago Jeremy married his fourth wife, Lizzy Moberly, whom he described as 'beautiful, clever and sent from heaven on a mission impossible.' He was appointed an OBE in 2012 for services to comedy and said that he was 'astounded' to gain the honour for simply doing something which he enjoyed so much. Jeremy worked with David Croft on the popular sitcom series Are You Being Served? set in the Grace Brothers' department store, which ran from 1972 to 1985. They had sold the idea to the BBC, which made a pilot but was not over-impressed and put the show into storage. It was only broadcast in 1972 as a filler when the Munich massacre disrupted programming during the Summer Olympics. The series which followed ran for thirteen years, attracting audiences of up to twenty million at its peak. The success of Are you Being Served? spawned the, far less successful, spin-off revival Grace & Favour as well as another vehicle for Molly Sugden, the wretched joke-free Come Back Mrs Noah (1977) both of which Jeremy worked on with Croft whom he had first met when they were both writers for The Billy Cotton Band Show in the late 1950s and who died in 2011. Are You Being Served? was partly based on Jeremy's own experiences of working in a London department store - Simpsons of Piccadilly - as a suit salesman. He recalled of his time there: 'I was fired for selling soft drinks in a fitting room and smoking too much behind the counter.' Regarded by some contemporary comedians as conservative and regressive, Jeremy's comedy was always democratic in its populism. All the world was on display; every character – from bitter old maids to merrily gay tailors – had a dignity and, often, the last laugh. Everybody watching at home could imitate the catchphrases and recycle the gags at work or in the playground the next day. In 2011, Lloyd wrote: 'Friends often tell me how much their grandchildren enjoy Are You Being Served? It doesn't matter that they were not even born when it was broadcast, or that they belong to a very different world. Laughter crosses boundaries of class and age. Humour is universal.' The fact that 'Allo 'Allo! was eventually broadcast in Germany would seem to have proved him right. 'Allo 'Allo! was an occasionally tasteless, often farcical but, also superbly slapstick comedy of the absurd set in Nazi-occupied France. Essentially a parody of resistance movies like Casablanca and, principally, the deadly serious television series Secret Army, it can be viewed as an exercise in vulgar, if good-natured, absurdity but it, too, was a huge success with audiences and was screened on the BBC from 1982 to 1992. Lloyd's other work included writing the music and lyrics for the children's character Captain Beaky for two LPs (1977 and 1980) set to music by Jim Parker and recited by various British celebrities. The title song, 'Captain Beaky', reached the UK top five in 1980 performed by Keith Michell - for which, frankly, all of those involved should have been punched, hard, in the mush until they apologised to the general public and promised never to do it again. The project generated numerous spin-offs, among them two books of poetry, a BBC television special, a West End musical and a pantomime. Earlier in his career, Jeremy who was born in Danbury, Essex in 1930, had been an actor and comedian and appeared in a number of British film comedies (including minor roles in both of The Be-Atles' movies with Richard Lester) and in TV series including The Rag Trade, Citizen James, Callan and Zero One. He also appeared twice in The Avengers, most notably as the eccentric chimney sweep, Berthram Fortesque Wynthrope-Smythe in the classic 1967 episode, From Venus With L♥ve. As an actor, Jeremy tended to be cast as an upper-class twit – thanks to his six foot four height, posh accent, blond hair and aristocratic charm. In fact, he was the son of an Army colonel and a Tiller girl who had once danced with Fred Astaire. Dispatched to live with an elderly grandmother in Manchester at the age of one and a half, many years later he told an interviewer: 'I occasionally saw my father but he used to introduce me to people as the son of bandleader Joe Loss. "You've heard of Joe Loss? This is my son, Dead Loss," he’d say. And he put me into a home when I was about thirteen. A home for elderly people, which was a wonderful experience.' Surrounded by retired colonels and vicars 'improved' Jeremy's accent: it went from Mancunian to Southern middle-class almost overnight. He remained estranged from his parents and his two sisters. On his father's death bed, the old man finally told his son that he was proud of what he had accomplished. Jeremy later claimed to be suspicious of his motives, however: 'I think [he said it] because he wanted me to get him a pack of cigarettes.' To support his grandmother, Lloyd did everything from digging roads to selling paint and that infamous stint working in Simpsons. Eventually he decided that he would like to have a go at writing comedy and turned up at Pinewood Studios with a script in hand. He was told that the American studio chief, Earl St John, never met anyone. Not one to take 'no' for an answer, Lloyd went to a telephone box around the corner, found the mogul's number and called him directly. St John, amused at being so boldly approached, invited him round for tea. To the surprise of everyone, the script turned out to be quite good and the film, What A Whopper, was eventually released as a vehicle for the singer Adam Faith in 1961. Jeremy began his TV career working on The Billy Cotton Band Show and Six-Five Special as well as providing jokes for Dickie Henderson before making his own film début in 1960 in School For Scoundrels. Jeremy's rise through the world of showbusiness is a story of 1960s meritocracy at its most dizzying in microcosm. At various times he wrote for Jon Pertwee, Morecambe and Wise, Bruce Forsyth and Lionel Blair. As an actor he turned up in numerous British comic films of the 1960s, usually as a tall gangly nice-but-dim chap, appearing in Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, Doctor In Clover (both 1965) and The Wrong Box (1966) opposite John Mills, Michael Caine and Peter Cook. As part of the Chelsea set that hung around with The Be-Atles, he made uncredited cameo appearances in A Hard Day's Night (as the chap dancing rather extravagantly with Ringo in The Garrison nightclub) and Help! (as a patron in the Indian restaurant scene). In 1974 he was cast as a British Army officer in Murder On The Orient Express. During the 1960s, he was engaged to the actress Charlotte Rampling and, briefly, was rumoured to be going out with Diana Rigg. Later, he also had some success in the US, with regular slots on the cult comedy sketch show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1969 to 1970) where his upper crust Knightsbridge accent was a fab-gear hit with Stateside audiences. He additionally wrote material for the show. The pay, he claimed, was 'poor' but the perks were great. He estimated that he received five thousand letters from women each week. He invited many to attend the show: 'One day the producer came up to me and he said, "It's all very well Jeremy, but you've brought forty two girls in today and they're better looking than what our casting agents have sent."' So, Lloyd was given the job of casting the show's dance section as well. From his time in the US, Jeremy was the subject of a persistent urban legend which claimed that he had been invited to a dinner party at the home of the actress Sharon Tate on the night that she and other house guests were horribly murdered by followers of Charles Manson. This eventually turned out not to be a myth at all. When the octogenarian Jeremy was interviewed by Emma Freud on BBC Radio's Loose Ends in December 2011, he verified that he had, indeed, been invited but had a prior stage engagement in New York that week. Jeremy's first marriage to the model Dawn Bailey lasted seven years from 1955. He was briefly married to Joanna Lumley whom he met on the set of the sitcom It's Awfully Bad For Your Eyes, Darling, but the marriage was dissolved after a few months. In 1992 he married the actress Collette Northrop.

Good news everyone; yer actual Keith Telly Topping's six monthly diabetes check-up was completed on Tuesday of this very week. His blood glucose level, which was seventy three at one point (which is, you know, bad) and which had been steady at forty seven for the last twelve months (which is, sort of borderline okay, certainly compared to seventy three) is now down to forty four (which is even slightly more borderline okay). Keith Telly Topping's weight is also the lowest that it's been in, well 'kin years if he's honest and his blood pressure is, similarly, at a more than acceptable level. Christmas present, number one, it could be suggested. Keith Telly Topping walked out of the surgery on one of the most miserable, cold, dank and dreary days of the year in which Tyneside looks exactly like the thorough shithole it is and switched on his MP3 player. The first song up was one which perfectly matched how he felt at that exact moment (well, the chorus did, anyway). Then, he went to do the Christmas food shop at Morrisons. And, that wiped the smile off his mush pretty damn sharpish ...

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping his very self has also been doing a whole heap of BBC local radio slots over the last couple of weeks on various subjects around the Christmas telly schedules and all that. Firstly, on 4 December he was featured chatting to Anne Leuchars on BBC Newcastle's Jon & Ann drive-time show which you can listen to here about thirty six minutes into the broadcast on the subject of repeats and the way in which we, as viewers, consume TV these days. On 18 December, this blogger was on the lovely Simon Logan's The Afternoon Show, here (from around two hours and fifty minutes and in three chunks either side of the three o'clock news) about the TV highlights of the year so far. And, on 24 December, he got up at the crack of dawn to do a down-the-line interview with Alfie Joey and Gilly Hope on Alfie & Charlie At Breakfast (With Gilly Instead of Charlie), here from one hour and forty minutes on this particular broadcast about the Christmas day schedules. Bear in mind, all Listen Again programmes on BBC iPlayer can now be accessed for roughly twenty eight days from initial broadcast. So, if you're reading this blog sometime from the middle of January onwards, chances are you'll have missed your opportunity!

And so, inevitably, to yer actual Keith Telly Topping's Christmas 45 of the Day. Here's The Greedies. Do, please, try not to catch salmonella poisoning on Boxing Day from all your leftover turkey sarnies, dear blog reader.