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.