Friday, January 31, 2020

Without Hesitation, Repetition Or Deviation

Many of this blogger's comedy heroes seem to be dropping like flies at the moment, dear blog reader. There was Terry Jones a few days ago and now, Nicholas Parsons is the latest to leave us. Although, at ninety six, it was hardly a shock. 'People ask how I've survived so long,' Nicholas once said. 'I was in The Blitz and there was stoicism in adversity. And humour. Humour sustained me.'
Nicholas Parsons' early acting experience as a comedy straight-man made him ideal as the unflappable presenter of one of BBC Radio 4's longest-running programmes, Just A Minute. For more than fifty years, Nicholas asked his guests to speak for sixty second (or, as long as they could) without hesitation, repetition or deviation on topics as diverse as burglars, Birmingham, biscuits in bed and, infamously on one occasion, Nicholas Parsons. Each week, Parsons tried, sometimes unsuccessfully, to keep a bevy of celebrity panellists in check including Clement Freud, Peter Jones, Derek Nimmo, Kenneth Williams, Sheila Hancock and Paul Merton. Always neatly coiffed and invariably immaculately dressed in blazer and flannels, Parsons' smooth voice on Just A Minute and, more particularly, his image on the popular TV quiz show Sale Of The Century, made him a dapper reminder of a bygone age and a ripe target for other comedians.
Christopher Nicholas Parsons was born in October 1923 in Grantham, the son of a doctor. His father's patients included the Thatcher family, although there is no definitive proof, as has been suggested, that Doctor Parsons delivered the future Prime Minister. Nicholas described himself in his autobiography as 'the unconventional child of conventional parents.' His early schooling was hampered by dyslexia and the insistence of his teachers that he should write with his right hand, despite being born left-handed. He was also hampered by a stammer which he finally managed to overcome. He had early ambitions to be an actor but his parents opposed the idea, his mother believing that showbusiness was fit only for 'drunks and low-lives.' Instead, a few strings were pulled through family contacts and he joined a shipbuilding company on Clydeside to train as an engineer. Thrown into a tough working environment, he was forced to resort to jokes and impersonations to win over the Glasgow shipbuilders who regarded him as a Sassenach posh boy. The experience helped launch his comedy career. Illness prevented him from joining the merchant navy during the war but, by this time, he had begun taking small parts in local theatres around the Glasgow area where he also did impressions. Moving to London, he worked in repertory, cabaret, on the West End stage and at the Windmill Theatre as a comic. He appeared in various radio shows including the popular Much-Binding-In-The-Marsh. In the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in many supporting roles in British films including An Alligator Named Daisy (1955), The Long Arm (1956), Brothers In Law (1957), Happy Is the Bride (1958), Carlton-Browne Of The FO (1959), Too Many Crooks (1959), Doctor In Love (1960), Carry On Regardless (1961), Murder Ahoy! (1964), The Wrong Box (1966) and The Ghost Goes Gear (1966). In the late 1960s, he portrayed David Courtney in the short-lived American sitcom The Ugliest Girl in Town.
His big breakthrough came when he began working as a straight man for Arthur Haynes, whose ITV show had made him, for a while, one of the most popular comedian in Britain. Parsons excelled as the authority figure in sketches during which Haynes, often in his nominal role as a tramp, railed against the establishment. Many of the scripts were written by Johnny Speight. Nicholas was so successful that Haynes began to perceive him as a threat and the pair parted company shortly after an appearance in New York on The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1960, Nicholas voiced the character of Tex Tucker in the puppet series, Four Feather Falls, produced by Gerry Anderson. During the late 1960s, Nicholas created and presented a satirical programme on Radio 4 called Listen To This Space, which by the standards of its time was rather avant-garde and he received the Radio Personality of the Year Award for his work on the programme in 1967. Just A Minute was first broadcast on 22 January 1967. Parsons had originally wanted to be a panellist but the BBC insisted his experience as a comedy straight man made him ideal for the position of chairman. 'As a good straight man,' he once said, 'you know how to throw out the lines so the comic will have a good springboard to come back. You also know how to take a joke at your expense.'
It remained one of the hallmarks of the show as Parsons, with varying degrees of success, dealt with panellists such as Williams, whose treatment of his chairman ranged from toadying sycophancy to outright torrents of furious abuse. Later a younger generation of comedians like Paul Merton and Stephen Fry kept the regular audience of two million listeners entertained while Parsons - who never missed a recording in the first five decades that he fronted the show - remained the butt of a series of gentle jokes. Sale Of The Century made him one of Britain's most familiar faces. Announcer John Benson's '... And now from Norwich, it's the Quiz of the Week' was the introduction to the Anglia game show which ran for twelve years from 1971. With its glamorous 'shop assistants' and the fixed grin of its host, the programme became one of the most successful television shows of its time, with up to twenty million viewers. Parsons robustly rejected suggestions that his appearance on the programme amounted to dumbing-down. 'I'm proud of the fact I helped create a huge success,' he said. 'You don't buck success.' However, he later admitted the programme had made his career take something of a dip because people assumed he was now merely a quiz master. Parsons continued his straight man role when he joined The Benny Hill Show in 1969 where he remained for three years. He later put himself at the mercy of Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in The Comic Strip Presents ... episode Mister Jolly Lives Next Door, in which he appeared as himself. This willingness to share the joke, appearing on television programmes like Have I Got News for You, a superb turn in the 1989 Doctor Who story The Curse Of Fenric as a country vicar haunted by his declining faith and a spell narrating The Rocky Horror Show on stage all helped Nicholas accrue a definite cult status and a surprisingly youthful fan base.
He was also successful away from the microphone. He set up his own production company which made short films for cinema, wrote two volumes of autobiography (1994's The Straight Man and 2011's With Just A Touch Of Hesitation, Repetition & Deviation) and made it into The Guinness Book Of Records in 1978 for the longest ever after-dinner speech, more than eleven hours. He was also a regular at The Edinburgh Fringe where his Nicholas Parsons' Happy Hour featured his own stand-up routine and a series of guests, many of them budding performers. However, his annual star turn at The Fringe was cancelled in 2019 after Parsons was admitted to hospital. He had been due to perform four sold-out shows. It followed a rare no-show on Just A Minute episode with what the BBC said at the time was 'a bad back.' It was only the second time he had missed a taping in the panel show's fifty two-year history.
'We are rogues and vagabonds waiting by the phone, there to hire for our talents' Nicholas was once quoted as saying. 'A bit like prostitutes.' He also noted that 'I get quite resentful when people ask me if I am going to retire. I am in a profession that retires you. If you are no longer hacking it, you won't be asked back, or the public won't come and see you. They will let me know soon enough if I am not doing what I should: I'd be out on the rubbish dump.' Parsons was fanatical about cricket, both as a player and supporter and spent a period as president of The Lord's Taverners. 'The saddest thing about getting old is seeing my cricket bat in the corner and wondering if I will ever play again,' he said. He also served as rector of the University of St Andrews and was a prominent supporter of the Liberal Democrats. He was invited to stand as a Liberal candidate for Yeovil in the 1970s, but he turned down the opportunity in order to remain in the entertainment industry. He married the actress Denise Bryer in 1954 and they had two children, Suzy and Justin. The couple divorced in 1989 and he subsequently married Ann Reynolds. He was once asked what drove him to continue working at an age when most people would have been happy to potter about in the garden. He said he did it because it was fun. 'You can't take yourself seriously. I learned that being a straight man. That's what I do on Just A Minute - laugh at myself and they make jokes at my expense. But that's what life's about, isn't it? Having fun.'
Huge Laurie has said that he and Stephen Fry 'often' discuss reforming their comedy double act, twenty five years after their sketch show, A Bit Of Fry & Laurie, ended. 'Actually we talked about doing it on stage for a long time, so long in fact we passed the date we'd set for ourselves,' he told Radio 2. 'We see each other a lot and we talk about it often.' The pair became TV favourites when the show ran from 1989 to 1995 and went on to co-star in Jeeves & Wooster. They forged hugely successful solo careers after going their separate ways, but Laurie told Steve Wright that a reunion is, possibly, on the cards. 'I think it might happen, yes, but I don't know why we're both being sort of coy about it - "No after you, no after you" - I don't know why we do that. Somebody's got to take charge, I think, and say, "I've booked us in, we're doing this. We've got a month to get ready."' The pair met at Cambridge in 1980 and did reunite for a special programme on Gold in 2010 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of their partnership. Huge Laurie can currently be seen in two new projects for writer and director Armando Iannucci - a film adaptation of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield and the SF TV comedy Avenue Five. Last year, Fry embarked on his first tour since he went on the road with Laurie in the 1980s. This time, he was speaking about his book Mythos, while he has just released the second series of a podcast, Seven Deadly Sins and appeared in the new series of Doctor Who (in which he was great).
This blogger's favourite quote of the year so far came from the very great Frank Skinner during an interview with the BBC's Paul Glynn. 'There's only one thing more embarrassing than the celebrities talking about politics and that's politicians talking about anything other than politics.'
Yer actual Keith Telly Topping thought Doctor Who, Nikola Tesla's Night Of Terror was great, dear blog reader. And, it was proof of what this blogger had always secretly believed; that AC/DC were much better than Scorpions.
This blogger also thought that Fugitives Of The Judoon was great. Mad-as-toast, too which is never a bad thing.
So, dear blog reader - remember that scene in Spyfall where the chap whom we now know to be The Master offered to show Graham a dossier he had compiled on The Doctor? This blogger wonders whether that's got anything to do with a certain plotline in the latest episode? Keith Telly Topping is over-thinking this, yes?
Oh, and speaking of the Godlike Genius that is Bradley Walsh, the bit in Fugitives Of The Judoon where a certain returning guest-star started coming on to Graham might, just, be this blogger's favourite moment of TV. Ever. Bar none.
It's the terror in Bradley's eyes that made it art!
Last week, this blogger also watched the first episode of Picard. Gosh, that was really rather impressive dear blog reader and, not at all what this blogger expected ... although, Keith Telly Topping is not entirely sure what he did expect, merely that wasn't it. This blogger is very much looking forward to seeing how that one develops.
This blogger had a mad-busy morning last Thursday on his day off; it went bus, post office collection office, post office itself (to pay the rent), Morrison's, a bus into town, Boots (in an effort to get something to soothe this wretched hacking cough which this blogger has acquired of late), M&S, the bank, other the bank, Poundland and, then, having a thoroughly excellent lunch on Stowell Street. Because, this blogger really deserve this Cantonese shredded beef with ginger and spring onion and fried rice.
This blogger enjoyed a fascinating discussion with a work colleague about the alleged 'I'll believe it when I see it' latest proposed (and alleged) takeover of this blogger's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies allegedly by a consortium allegedly involving Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This blogger noted that it says so much about the level to which Mike Cashley is loathed and despised on Tyneside that many people would, seemingly, prefer to see a member of one of the most repressive ruling royal families on the planet, with a human rights record slightly worse than Attila The Hun and who is (allegedly) heavily implicated in the arrangement of at least one (alleged) murder of a prominent dissident in charge of their club than, you know, 'the shit who owns Sports Direct.' 'Yeah,' said this blogger's colleague. 'That sounds about right!' Others, of course, are more conflicted by the issue. Or, at least, claim to be. Like the man once said, 'be careful what you wish for, it might just come true.'
And, finally dear blog reader, normally when this blogger returns to his gaff after a hard day's graft in the windswept mid-evening chill of a Tyneside January, Stately Telly Topping will be in total darkness - an unwelcoming, lonely and cold-looking place full of foreboding and dark secrets and that. One night this week, however, from half-a-street away this blogger could see the drum was lit up like a Christmas tree. 'Well y'bugger,' Keith Telly Topping thought to himself, 'some evil thieving fekker had burglarised the gaff and nicked all me gear.' Fortunately, the answer was somewhat simpler, this blogger had merely forgotten to turn the light off in the living room before leaving at the crack of dawn. The light must, therefore, have been on all day. A minor waste of cash admittedly but, infinitely preferable to having all of one's stash pinched by some wicked toerag.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

"Better Get A Bucket": The Very Naughty & Extremely Late Terry Jones

The extraordinary comic genius that was Terry Jones, founder-member of Monty Python's Flying Circus and director of three of group's celebrated movies, has died at the age of seventy seven, his family has announced. In a statement they said: 'Terry passed away on the evening of 21 January 2020 with his wife, Anna Söderström, by his side after a long, extremely brave but always good-humoured battle with a rare form of dementia, FTD. Over the past few days his wife, children, extended family and many close friends have been constantly with Terry as he gently slipped away at his home in North London. We have all lost a kind, funny, warm, creative and truly loving man whose uncompromising individuality, relentless intellect and extraordinary humour has given pleasure to countless millions across six decades.' Terry's writing partner of many years, Michael Palin, added: 'Terry was one of my closest, most valued friends. He was kind, generous, supportive and passionate about living life to the full. He was far more than one of the funniest writer-performers of his generation, he was the complete Renaissance comedian; writer, director, presenter, historian, brilliant children's author and the warmest, most wonderful company you could wish to have.' John Cleese added: 'It feels strange that a man of so many talents and such endless enthusiasm, should have faded so gently away. Two down, four to go. Of his many achievements, for me the greatest gift he gave us all was his direction of Life Of Brian. Perfection.' And, Eric Idle recalled the 'many laughs [and] moments of total hilarity' they had shared. 'It's too sad if you knew him, but if you didn't you will always smile at the many wonderfully funny moments he gave us.'
In 2016, Jones and his family revealed that Terry had been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia a year earlier and he became a public face of the illness - appearing at a BAFTA Cymru awards ceremony to highlight its effects and being interviewed in conjunction with Palin in 2017. With typical self-effacing humour, Terry merely noted that his frontal lobe 'has absconded.' Jeremy Hughes, the chief executive of Alzheimer's Society paid tribute, saying: 'We were lucky enough to work with Terry and his family when he joined us for our London Memory Walk in 2017 and his support really helped inspire others to unite against dementia. We are truly grateful for his aid in raising awareness and much-needed funds.' After huge success with Monty Python's Flying Circus in the 1970s and early 1980s - including the feature films Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Monty Python's Life Of Brian and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life - Terry went on to work on a variety of projects. With Palin, he created the successful series Ripping Yarns (1976 to 1979) and forged a post-Python directorial career with Personal Services, Erik The Viking and The Wind In The Willows (in which he also played the part of Mister Toad). He made a series of TV documentaries (specialising in medieval history), wrote nearly twenty children's books and contributed a string of comment pieces for the Gruniad Morning Star and Observer denouncing the 'war on terror.'
Terry Jones had a love of the absurd which contributed much to the anarchic humour of Monty Python's Flying Circus; influenced by Spike Millgan's recent Q5 series (1968) with its rejection of traditional comic cliches such as sketches actually having a proper ending, it was Jones's central clash with John Cleese's more circumspect attitude to experimentation that was at the heart of Python's immediate greatness. His style of visual comedy, marbled by a touch of the surreal, inspired many comedians who followed him.
Born in Colwyn Bay in 1942, Terry's grandparents ran the local amateur operatic society and staged Gilbert and Sullivan concerts on the town's pier each year. His family moved to Surrey when he was four but Terry always felt nostalgic about his native land. After leaving the Royal Grammar School in Guildford, where he captained the school at rugby, he went on to read English Literature at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. However, as he put it, he 'strayed into history,' the subject in which he graduated.
While at Oxford, he met fellow student Michael Palin whilst the pair were performing in an Oxford Revue. Jones also got to know Graeme Garden, who suggested that he and Palin join a team of writers and performers on Twice A Fortnight, a 1967 BBC sketch show which was something of a forerunner of not only The Goodies but also Monty Python itself. After university, along with Palin, Jones wrote and performed in a string of TV shows alongside other future stars of British comedy - including Cleese, Garden, Graham Chapman, Bill Oddie, Eric Idle, Peter Cook and David Jason - on The Frost Report, Do Not Adjust Your Set and - the rather less successful - The Complete & Utter History of Britain.
In 1969, Palin and Jones joined Cambridge graduates Cleese and Chapman - along with their Do No Adjust Your Set colleagues Idle and 'the American one,' the animator Terry Gilliam - on a new BBC comedy sketch show. After a remarkably short gestation-period and eventually broadcast under the title Monty Python's Flying Circus, it ran until 1974 (forty five episodes), with Jones largely writing his contributions with Palin. Seemingly chaotic, frequently surreal and formally daring, overcoming its initial audience of 'insomniacs, intellectuals and buglers,' Monty Python's Flying Circus would became one of the most influential comedies in TV history, revolutionising comedy formats, spawning scores of catchphrases and inspiring an entire future generation of comedians (or three). Jones's fondness for female impersonation was a key feature of the show, as was his erudite writing.
It was Jones who was the driving force behind abandoning punchlines at the end of sketches and developing what became the show's trademark stream of consciousness. This also took a lot of pressure off the writers, who no longer had to dream up a line to close a sketch. Chapman would often appear as The Colonel and declare a sketch over because it was 'silly.' Alternatively an armoured knight would sometimes wander on and hit someone over the head with a rubber chicken or a sixteen ton weight would drop out of nowhere, crushing someone (usually Palin) and providing a perfect deus ex machina closure. Jones also appeared naked, apart from a collar and tie, playing an organ as a form of punctuation between sketches. He made something of a speciality of playing middle-aged women, often one of the screeching harridans which populated the show. Along with many iconic characters including The Bishop, Ron Obvious, Harry Snapper Organs, The Spam Waitress, Arthur Two Sheds Jackson, Mrs Scum, Cardinal Biggles, Arthur Nudge's hapless victim, Ken Ewing (and his mouse organ), Simon Zinc-Trumpet-Harris, the 'two choc-ices please' man, Mister Dibley, Michael (not Bruce) Baldwin, the exploding Mrs Niggerbaiter, Mister Gulliver (who thinks he's Clodagh Rogers), Edward the frequently insulted Prince of Wales, the owner of the Whizzo Chocolate Company and Dino Vercotti.
However, Jones was becoming more interested in directing. He later told the Gruniad Morning Star: 'You not only act in the things - you've got to actually start directing the things as well. When we were doing the Python TV show, I was a real pain in the neck.' After the sketch-compilation feature And Now for Something Completely Different (1971), the troupe embarked on an original film, Monty Python & The Holy Grail and Jones got his chance to direct, in conjunction with Gilliam. He was very much signed up to Python's democratic instinct: 'If all six of us laughed at something, then we all felt, "That's okay, we can go ahead with that." And, for me, it was just a question of getting that on the screen, getting that moment of us sitting around the read-through, that moment where we all laughed.' Jones took over the next film, Life Of Brian, as solo director, with Gilliam opting to concentrate on the film's design. Backed by super-fan George Harrison's HandMade films (the celebrated 'most expensive cinema ticket in history') and released in 1979, the religious satire proved a major commercial hit as well as sparking global controversy amongst whinging planks. Jones made a memorable screen contribution as Brian's mother, The Virgin Mandy, squawking to the assembled worshippers: 'He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy!'
Terry remained bemused at the fierce opposition to Life Of Brian expressed by many religious nutters. 'It wasn't about what Christ was saying, but about the people who followed him,' he famously said. 'The ones who for the next two thousand years would torture and kill each other because they couldn't agree on what he was saying about peace and love.' Jones then directed 1983's Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life, on an even more elaborate scale, stitching together sketches, musical numbers and complex special effects scenes. The film also contains arguably Jones's most famous on-screen character: the obese and abusive Mister Creosote, who explodes after eating one final 'waffer-thin mint.' Thereafter, the surviving members reunited periodically following Chapman's death in 1989, most notably for a run of live shows at the O2 in London in 2014. With the Python team agreeing to make no more films together, Jones was free to branch out. He wrote the screenplay for - and appeared in - the cult 1986 film Labyrinth, starring David Bowie. Personal Services, a comedy based on the real-life story of suburban brothel-keeper Cynthia Payne was released in 1987. He followed this in 1989 with Erik The Viking, which starred Tim Robbins as a reluctant pillager and was based on Terry's own children's book, published in 1983. As well as Erik The Viking, Jones was able to indulge his own fervent interest in ancient and medieval history in a number of factual TV series, including Crusades (1995), Medieval Lives (2004) and Barbarians (2006), all of which he presented with genuine and infectious enthusiasm. 'My constant theme is that the medieval world is similar to ours in that the same people always take advantage of the same people,' Jones said. 'Humanity doesn't change all through the centuries.'
He also published two books on Geoffrey Chaucer - including Chaucer's Knight: The Portrait Of A Medieval Mercenary, which successfully debunked the notion that medieval knights were always paragons of Christian virtue and is a particular favourite of this blogger - and created the children's TV cartoon Blazing Dragons. That ran for two series between 1996 and 1998 and told the history of chivalry 'from the dragons' point of view.' Terry was also a prolific writer of children's books, including self-originated fairytales such as Nicobobinus. His screen CV also included his TV debut in 1966 as a writer on The Late Show, A Series Of Birds, Horne A'Plenty, Marty, Peter Cook & Co, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, LA Story, A Liar's Autobiography and a memorable appearance in The Young Ones (as the sozzled vicar who can't bury 'Arry The Barstard until he checks whether Rik has told 'the stiffy joke'). He also wrote sketches of The Two Ronnies, the teleplay Consuming Passions and the documentary series The Surprising History Of ...
'Comedy is a dangerous business,' Terry once noted. 'If people find something funny you're okay. But the moment you do something that's meant to be funny and someone doesn't find it funny, they become angry. It's almost as if they resent the fact that you tried to make them laugh and failed. Nobody comes out of a mediocre performance of Hamlet seething with rage because it didn't make them cry. But just listen to people coming out of a comedy that didn't make them laugh.' Jones became a vociferous opponent of the Iraq war and published a collection of his newspaper columns and other writings in the 2004 book Terry Jones's War On The War On Terror. His final directorial credit was the 2015 comedy Absolutely Anything, in which four of the five surviving Monty Python's Flying Circus members participated, but it received an unenthusiastic reception. During an interview at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival in 2017, Palin revealed that Jones was no longer able to speak due to his illness. Jones was asked in a 2011 interview how, out of all his various achievements, he would best like to be remembered. 'Maybe a description of me as a writer of children's books or some of my academic stuff,' he replied. 'Or maybe as the man who restored Richard II's reputation. He was a terrible victim of Fourteenth Century political spin, you know!' Terry was married twice: between 1970 and 2012 to biochemist Alison Telfer, with whom he had two children, Sally and Bill and in 2012 to Anna Söderström, with whom he had a daughter.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

"Here Will Be An Old Abusing Of God’s Patience & The King’s English"

'Now, suck your thumb till the hallucinations stop and, remember, they're not real bats!' Orphan Fifty Five, dear blog reader. Apparently, it has been subject to quite a bit of 'Worst! Episode! Evah!' style malarkey from, you know, The Usual Suspects. This blogger, on the other hand, thought that was great. So, no massive surprise there, then. 'This is not a way to resolve a family dispute. What happened to good old fashioned passive-aggressive discussion?'
Of course, the phrase 'apparently, subject to quite a bit of 'Worst! Episode! Evah!' style malarkey from, you know, The Usual Suspects' should almost always be followed by one significant question: 'So, what else is new?'
Now, from The Usual Suspects to ... err ... mugs.
The first episode of the new series of Doctor Who, Spyfall - which this blogger thought was great - had an official consolidated Seven Day Plus rating of 6.89 million viewers, according to figures released by the Broadcasting Research Audience Board. The conclusion of the story, shown four days later on BBC1 had 6.07 million viewers. The ratings were considerably higher than the initial overnight figure - the only ratings that you will ever see stories written about in the tabloids despite the fact that it's the equivalent of reporting the Premier League half-time scores as the final results - and made the two episodes the fourth and sixth most watched on the BBC for the week and the eighth and sixteenth most watched shows across all channels. For Spyfall, episode one 6.70 million watched the episode on a TV set. BARB four-screen dashboard shows an additional one hundred and one thousand punters viewed on their PC, forty nine thousand on a Tablet device and twenty seven thousand on a smartphone. Episode two had 5.91 million watching the episode on a TV set with an additional eighty five thousand on their PC, forty six thousand on a Tablet and thirty four thousand on a smartphone. The episodes both had an AI score of eighty two.
From The North's TV Comedy Line(s) Of The Week came from the latest episode of From The North favourite Qi, Quagmire. And, specifically, a round concerning the recent discovery of two thousand year old preserved butter in Ireland's picturesque Bog Of Allan. 'Why did people decide to bury their butter in the bog?' asked Sandi Toksvig, not unreasonably. 'To stop the British from stealing it?' suggested Aisling Bea. Then, there was the moment in a later round concerning the origins of the name for Quorn. 'Do you know where it comes from?' Sandi asked Alan Davies who, as a vegetarian, confirmed that he eats lots of it. 'In my case, mainly Sainsbury's' he replied.
And now, dear blog reader, it's time for another exciting edition of ...
Chris Packham: Forever Punk
A splendid, life-affirming and positive documentary, reviewed here, here, here, here and here.
Only Connect
Would I Lie To You?
How nice it was to see the Hartlepool Mail celebrating the start of the new series of Vera by joining in yer actual Keith Telly Topping's regular sport of location-spotting. The producers revealed that locations appearing in the opening episode included The Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in Britain, Gateshead Snooker Club on Durham Road, the Freeman Hospital and Retro Bar in Newgate Street, Neptune Service Station in Walker, Ridley's Ice Cream and Coffee shop in Blyth and Tanfield School in Stanley. Other locations due to feature later in the series include Orchard House in Alnwick, Sunderland city centre, The University Hospital in Hartlepool and Marsden Grotto in South Shields.
Check out the Screenrant website's fascinating piece on the Moffat and Gatiss series' references to various previous film and TV adaptations of Bram Stoker's novel.
Storyville: Jonestown - Terror In The Jungle
The Sky At Night
Lost Home Made Movies Of Nazi Germany
Primal Scream: The Lost Memphis Tapes
Arena: A British Guide To The End Of The World
Lucy Worsley's Fireworks For A Tudor Queen
Kill Your TV: Jim Moir's Weird World Of Video Art
The Limehouse Golem
Snow Cats & Me
Tony Robinson's History Of Britain
On a - somewhat-related - theme, this blogger always looks forward to the return for a new series of BBC2's Ski Sunday each January. Mainly because, when he is subsequently filling in his 'what I watched yesterday' AI questionnaire for GfK, if they ask this blogger what he, specifically, thought about the programme in question he can write 'it's gone downhill' and know that he is being factually accurate and not a whinging old fart or a member of the Ski Sunday fandom equivalent of The Usual Suspects.
This blogger had an interesting day on 7 January; he was still on later shifts at work so, for 'lunch' (which occurred around three o'clock) he went over to that Asian fusion gaff near work for something hot and sticky. This was aided by a fascinating conversation with Keith Telly Topping's mate Malcolm about World War II spies. Then, getting out of the joint at 7pm, this blogger walked up Benton Road in the teeth of a force ten hurricane (or, so it seemed) to get the sixty three rather than hang around for another twenty minutes for the sixty two. However, he is never - not never - doing that again. Walking into a mighty wind might be a worthwhile exercise for mime artists but it's certainly not one of Keith Telly Topping's great pleasures in life, that's for damn sure.
Yer actual Keith Telly Topping has been in some (metaphorical) toilets in his time, dear blog reader, but reckons that Four Lane Ends Metro Station at 7.20pm on a wet Wednesday in January might, just be the most depressing and soul destroying of them all. Therefore, when he says he really deserved this here lemon chicken with fried rice which he picked up on the way back to Stately Telly Topping Manor, trust Keith Telly Topping on that score. And, if you're wondering, it was cush.
Having a day off midweek - as this blogger did last week - obviously means needing to get everything one would normally do on a Saturday done on the day off instead; in this particular case, that involved a Thursday in town doing ... stuff. Including. let it be noted, having a spot of early lunch and trying out a - really rather good - new restaurant just off Northumberland Street. An unexpected bonus, that.
This blogger finished a pure-rock-hard nine to five-thirty shift on Saturday to discover that his beloved (though still unsellable) Magpies had earned a battling away draw at Moulinex (where away teams often get all blended) against the Wolverhampton Wanderings in the Premiership Socherball. Which was nice.
Having failed to make their dominance count in the first meeting with Rochdale, this blogger's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies made no mistake in their FA Cup replay, coasting into the Fourth Round at St James' Park on Tuesday evening. The outcome was hardly unexpected given the strong starting line-up and bench named by Steve Brucie (nasty to see him, to see him, nasty), but there were certainly some unexpected, 'I can't believe my eyes'-type events for almost thirty thousand fans present to witness. Mister Cashley made a rare visit to Gallowgate as United avoided any additions to their lengthy sick-list - and saw record signing Joelinton finally break his scoring duck with a first competitive home goal and only his second since joining The Magpies in the summer. On a night of broadly positives, there was a successful return from injury for Jamaal Lascelles, more valuable pitch-time for Matt Ritchie, a run-out for Jonjo Shelvey and an assist on his senior debut for teenager Tom Allan. Some generous defending by the League One visitors had allowed The Magpies to rack up an unassailable early lead by the half-hour mark. An own goal and a suicidal clearance by 'Dale goalkeeper Robert Sanchez that gifted Miguel Almirón a goal sandwiched by a quality Matty Longstaff's strike. A low-key second period was illuminated when Joelinton shook off his torpor to stick the ball past replacement custodian Jay Lynch, rounding off his side's first victory since the week before Christmas. Making his first start since returning from a lengthy injury, Ritchie's cross from the left was prodded into his own net at the Leazes End by Eoghan O'Connell in the seventeenth minute. Another Ritchie cross from left three minutes later found Matty Longstaff in front of goal and he had to time to take it down, turn and dispatch it past Sanchez. Six minutes later it was game over when Sanchez passed straight to Almirón - who had shot against a post when the tie was still scoreless - and he picked his spot to open up a three goal lead - the Paraguayan's fourth goal in his last five games in all competitions. Joelinton's goal arrived eight minutes from time when a neat pass from Andy Carroll released Allan down the right and his measured low cross was touched in by the Brazilian from six yards. An evidently relieved number nine then ran to embrace Brucie and his coaching staff on the touchline before being mobbed by his team-mates. Dale's consolation arrived in the eighty sixth minute when a short corner was played back by Aaron Wilbraham for Jordan Williams to hit a low shot from the edge of the box that beat Karl Darlow via a post. A fifth home goal almost followed in the closing seconds after Joelinton gained possession in the 'Dale box and set up Carroll, whose rising effort was tipped onto the angle of post and bar. Newcastle now face another League One side, Oxford United, in the Fourth Round. Victory over The U's would see The Magpies appear in the Fifth Round of the competition for the first time since Cashley bought the club in May 2007.
The Stately Telly Topping laptop had been running a bit slowly of late so, on Sunday, this blogger did a full system restore. Jeez, it took forever. And, after doing it, Keith Telly Topping needed to reinstall Chrome, Firefox, CClearer, his virus checker and a few other minor bits and pieces, which was something of a chore. Nevertheless, touch wood, the laptop has been running much quicker and has been having far less painfully slow episodes since that task was concluded.
In case any of this blogger's dear Facebook fiends missed it, Keith Telly Topping was subject to the bestest whinge he has ever encountered on Facebook on Sunday night. And it wasn't even Doctor Who-related which is, this blogger is sure you'll agree, something of a novelty these days. Someone - they shall remain nameless - whom this blogger doesn't think he'd ever had any previous direct contact with but who Keith Telly Topping must have fiended-up at some stage in the past - replied to this blogger's most recent of many I Really Deserve This postings with the following thought: 'Youre [sic] always bragging about what you've just eaten. Its [sic] REALLY boring!!!!' (This blogger thinks that it was the four exclamation marks at the end which made it art.) To which this blogger replied, nicely, that he was very sorry to hear this individual finds Keith Telly Topping's posts boring but there really is one very simple way of solving that issue and avoiding it ever happening again. 'Please feel entirely free to fuck off from this page and never come back,' this blogger advised the individual, before adding: 'Or not, it is a free country after all.' Needless to say both of these posts disappeared almost as quickly as they had arrived and Keith Telly Topping was soon one Facebook fiend the lighter. But, ultimately, much more contented for it. A case of 'I Really Don't Deserve Whingers' it would seem.
To be fair, it was probably the picture of the king prawn in garlic and ginger sauce with spring onions and boiled rice from the night before which was the straw that broke the camel's back for the chap. I mean, that's too much for most sensible people to take.
This blogger's old mucker Nick Cooper observed in the subsequent Facebook thread that the chap was obviously 'someone living in a takeaway desert and thus consumed with jealousy.' Perhaps. Nevertheless you know how, sometimes, one glances at a sentence and accidentally misreads one word in it which totally changes the meaning? That happened here. This blogger, briefly, thought Nick had written 'living in a takeaway dessert'! To which, Keith Telly Topping was about to reply: 'Ah, well that would certainly help to explain yon chappie's ire at all of the savoury dishes I've been posting.'
What a horrible day Tuesday of this week was though, dear blog reader; the 7.44am twelve was very late so this blogger missed the 8.01am sixty two connection in Byker. He got the next one twenty minutes later - which should've still got him into work more-or-less on time, albeit with little margin for error if there had been traffic issues. But all that soon became immaterial - whilst on the bus this blogger was gripped by the most dreadful stomach pains he has experienced in many a long year. It was so bad that he had to get off the bus at Four Lane Ends to use the public lavatories thereabouts. And, typically, he didn't have a twenty pee coin on him to pay for his entry into the hollowed sanctum so it cost him fifty pee instead. It never rains, and all that ...
Anyway trust this blogger when he tells you, dear blog reader, that you really don't want to know what happened in there. The world doesn't need that knowledge. Let's just say it wasn't at all pretty and that it involved - to be blunt - ejections from both ends of the spectrum. Presumably, you get the picture so we can leave it at that.
really didn't deserve that. It was so bad (and showed so little sign of clearing up in the short term) that, for the first time in four months, this blogger was forced to call in sick to work despite only being a twenty minute walk away. Fortunately, his manager, Danny, was very understanding.
The good news, after a hastily-arranged visit to the doctors, is that it wasn't anything too serious - gastro-enteritis or a nasty case of food poisoning, for example - merely the brilliantly named 'winter vomiting virus' (which, seemingly, also does an encore as the 'winter diarrhoea virus'). The doctor gave this blogger something to ease the stomach pain and reckoned that the Novovirus usually takes a day or two to clear up. Nevertheless that was, comfortably (or, actually, uncomfortably), two of the least pleasant hours in Keith Telly Topping's entire life - and he includes the time he broke his collar bone, the time he broke his foot, the time he tore his cartilage, being in a car crash and the break up of several (short term) relationships due to Keith Telly Topping being impossible to live with. Feeling as though one is on the verge of shatting oneself and puking all over the person sitting in front of you on the bus both at the same time trumps all of those with some ease.
Certainly, dear blog reader, the Stately Telly Topping Manor netties took something of a hammering over the course of the next few days.
By Wednesday, this blogger was starting to feel a touch better - albeit, the nausea still hadn't entirely died-down but, he followed his doctor (and the NHS website's) advice on being infectious for twenty four hours after the majority of the symptoms had subsided and gave it one more day before returning to work of Thursday.
A deal to show FA Cup matches via seven online betting websites is being investigated by the Gambling Commission, the industry regulator. The Football Association has been criticised after it sold the rights to the competition via a third party. The Football Association being, of course, an organisation that is keen to fine and suspend any footballer or club official found to have bet on any football-related activity. How ironic it is, therefore, that they seem to have no problem getting their collective kit off and hopping into bed with such people as these. Sanctions for bookmakers involved could include a warning, financial penalties or the revoking of licences. 'Our investigations into that matter are ongoing,' Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur told BBC 5Live. 'I understand why there are concerns and, to be clear, we already require gambling operators to market, advertise or engage in sponsorship in a socially responsible way. We are in touch with all operators in the deal to find out what they did to satisfy themselves.' A Gambling Commission spokesperson added: 'We expect gambling operators to ensure, when agreeing commercial deals relevant to sport, that such arrangements are consistent with keeping gambling safe.' Since the start of last season, bookmakers have been able to show FA Cup ties on their websites and apps. The seven gambling websites - Bet365, Betfair, William Hill, Coral, Ladbrokes, Unibet and Paddy Power - acquired the rights via the agency IMG, who agreed a deal with the FA. Who, in turn, didn't ask too many questions when they saw the size of IMG's cheque. Probably. In the FA Cup third round, twenty three matches were available to watch on Bet365 - all those that did not kick off at 3:01pm on Saturday, including this blogger's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies draw at lower league Rochdale. The matches were available to anyone who had placed a bet or put a deposit in their account in the twenty four hours before kick-off. Betting companies with streaming rights for FA Cup ties say they would allow the games to be streamed on a free platform elsewhere. In July 2017, the FA announced it was cutting its ties with gambling firms, but the deal with IMG was done in January 2017.
In other news, dear blog reader, Ollie (no, me neither) has, apparently, 'quit' Love Island after three days. Because, he has 'feelings for someone back home.' How will the nation cope with this devastating turn of events?
Billie Eilish has been chosen to sing the theme for the forthcoming Bond movie No Time To Die.
Stormzy (he is a rap and/or roll-type individual if you weren't sure) has claimed that there is 'no credible reason' to hate Meghan Markle. Which is jolly good to know although, that hasn't stopped the Daily Scum Mail from giving it their best shot.
Glastonbury Festival bosses must ensure that their toilets are 'cleaned more often' and also 'plan for hot weather better,' licensees have said.
Catastrophe actress Sharon Horgan has revealed that the head nun at her school called her 'the spawn of The Devil and a child of Satan' after she drew on a uterus in a biology book as a teenager.
A thirty seven-year-old Florida woman has been extremely arrested after allegedly trying to set off a homemade bomb inside a Tampa Walmart. Emily Stallard is facing charges of attempted arson, fire bombing and child abuse, among other alleged nefarious skulduggery and, if convicted, could face a shitload of hail. Stallard allegedly built a homemade bomb using a Mason jar filled with nails, denatured alcohol and a candle, according to WFLA. She was spotted in the store with her son by a security guard who deemed her behaviour 'suspicious.'
A Singapore woman has been jailed - for a week - after allegedly coaching her daughter to post false online sexual allegations against ex-husband during what has been described as 'a messy divorce.'
A woman has been extremely jailed over a 'drunken four-hour rampage' on an Etihad flight where she allegedly asked male passengers to join her in 'the mile high club.' Demi Burton had already 'shocked' two men by 'making crude comments about them having in-flight sex' during the eight-hour journey while she was, allegedly, 'intoxicated on red wine.' But when she was refused any more alcohol, Burton shouted: 'You may as well just land the plane now then,' before angrily raising her fists at cabin crew and 'going berserk.'
From The North's Headline Of The Week award goes to Idiot Burglar Rams Into His Pal Instead Of Jewellery Shop In Hilarious Fail. Albeit, this is from the Daily Lies so there's a better-than-even chance that the accompanying article is a load of made-up nonsense.
That was closely followed by the Huddersfield Examiner's Tears & Frustration As New Year Bid To Get Fit Becomes A Booking 'Fiasco'. Probably best not to bother, in that case. Just stay in your gaff and eat lots of chips instead. Bob's yer uncle.
Although the Irvine Times's Woman Admits Trying To Throttle Paul McCartney In Subway Store deserves at least an honourable mention in dispatches.
A large metal plate launched by an explosion at a chemical plant in Spain's Catalonia region killed a man two miles away. The man, named only as Sergio, was in his apartment when the one ton object struck, causing part of the building to collapse, officials have confirmed. A senior member of staff at the factory was also killed in the explosion, which seriously injured two others.
Biosecurity Queensland will 'go on a blitz' this weekend to 'crack down' on electric ants in Kuranda. Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said that the hunt for electric ants would be held on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 January. And, when found, that would be the end of their shit.
Next, some extremely sensible advice from The Be-Atles (a popular beat combo of the 1960s, you might've heard of them). If only they'd followed their own warning, of course, we might have been spared 'Rocky Raccoon'. And 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer'.
The actor Derek Fowlds, who has died this week aged eighty two, enjoyed long-running stardom on the small screen in popular TV shows ranging from children's programmes to sitcom and drama. To a generation of young viewers of a certain age, he was familiar as Mister Derek in The Basil Brush Show replacing the departing Rodney Bewes. For four years (1969 to 1973) he weathered bad jokes and puns from the waistcoat-wearing fox. During the first day of recording, it occurred to Fowlds: 'I've had ten years as a straight actor - what are people going to think?' However, he became a household name, adopting a slightly stern demeanour to keep the furry star in check, in response to constant interruptions, such as Basil rustling a bag of jelly babies and offering him one at a critical moment. Each week, alongside a series of sketches and a musical guest, came 'story time', in which Fowlds would read Basil a tale about one of his fictional ancestors. The Basil Brush Show was rare for a children's programme in featuring topical political jokes - and politics was at the core of Fowlds's next major TV success. The satirical sitcom Yes Minister (1980 to 1984), written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, was disarmingly realistic in its depiction of the machinations of government and the power wielded by civil servants. 'Its closely observed portrayal of what goes on in the corridors of power has given me hours of pure joy,' declared the then Prime Monster, Margaret Thatcher. Fowlds played Bernard Woolley, the private secretary struggling to keep the peace between the idealistic but inept new minister of administrative affairs, Jim Hacker (played by Paul Eddington), as he tries to shake up his department and Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne), the permanent under-secretary, speaking in wonk gobbledegook as he attempts to block change. Nervously steering a moderating course in the role - with Bernard's loyalties split between his political and civil service bosses - Fowlds then appeared with Eddington and Hawthorne in the sequel, Yes, Prime Minister (1986 to 1988), in which Hacker achieves his ultimate political ambition of running the country - and the writers revealed him to be a Tory. Both sitcoms were showered with accolades, including five BAFTA awards. Just a short time afterwards, Fowlds began a long run as the crotchety Oscar Blaketon throughout all three hundred and forty two million episodes and eighteen series of the feelgood Sunday evening period crime drama Heartbeat (1992 to 2010), set around the fictional North Yorkshire village of Aidensfield in the 1960s and based on the novels by Nicholas Rhea. Fowlds was joined in the original cast by Nick Berry, Niamh Cusack and Bill Maynard. As Oscar, Fowlds was initially the sergeant running the police station at Ashfordly, a neighbouring village. He based the character on his drill instructor in the RAF during national service days. 'I just cut my hair shorter, slicked it back and shouted a lot,' he said. In the seventh series, Oscar retired and briefly ran the village post office. Then he took over as landlord of the Aidensfield Arms pub while occasionally undertaking work as a private investigator, which satisfied his cynical, suspicious nature after so many years of police work. 'Oscar doesn't suffer fools gladly,' said the actor. 'I am more introverted than he is, far more wishy-washy, laid-back.'
Derek was born in Balham, to Ketha and James Fowlds. During the second world war when Derek was three his father, a sales rep, died of cancer, so he, his sister Babs and their mother moved to Berkhamsted, to live with his grandmother. At fifteen, he left the local Ashlyns school, where he first appeared on stage and joined a printer's firm as an apprentice while continuing to perform with an amateur dramatics company. After two years as a wireless operator in the RAF, he won a scholarship to train at RADA (1958 to 1960). Then he made his professional debut with Worthing repertory company. His West End roles included Father Penny in Robert Marasco's Catholic boys' school thriller Child's Play (Queen's Theatre, 1971), Anthony, son of a wartime general with a secret, in Ronald Mavor's A Private Matter (Vaudeville, 1973), various parts in Confusions (Apollo, 1976 to 1977, five one-act plays by Alan Ayckbourn) and John Smith in Ray Cooney's Run For Your Wife (Criterion, 1986). On TV, Fowlds starred as the sleuth Ambrose Frayne in Take A Pair Of Private Eyes (1966) and Peter Bonamy, facing life after a heart attack, in the sitcom Affairs Of The Heart (1983 to 1985). Other roles included Randolph Churchill in Edward The Seventh (1975), Oliver Davidson in the political thriller Rules Of Engagement (1989), Michael Coley in the 1991 series of Chancer and John Gutteridge in Firm Friends (1992 to 1994). His CV also included appearances in the likes of The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner, Hotel ParadisoDoctor In Distress, East Of SudanChips With Everything, Gideon's Way, Armchair Theatre, Cluff, Marriage Lines, The Man In Room Seventeen, Frankenstein Created Woman, Z Cars, Wink To Me Only, Theatre 625 (in Nigel Kneale's The Year Of The Sex Olympics), Fraud Squad, Doctor Finaly's Casebook, The Smashing Bird I Used To Know, The Liver Birds, Tower Of Evil, School For Unclaimed GirlsThriller, After That, This, Comedy Playhouse, The Doll, Clayhanger, Miss Jones & Son, Send In The Girls, Robin's Nest, Rings On Their Fingers, Minder, Cribb, Triangle, Strangers, Play For Today, Inspector Morse, Van Der Valk, Perfect Scoundrels, The Darling Buds Of May, Die Kinder, The Detectives and Casualty. Fowlds's autobiography, A Part Worth Playing, was published in 2015 in which he recalled how he started to act 'just for kicks. Growing up the thought of acting as a living never crossed my mind. I wanted to be a footballer or sportsman,' he said, adding he started acting in school plays. 'I enjoyed mucking about the stage,' he wrote. He told the tale of how in his first play a child, he got his sword stuck up another actor's skirt and 'I heard the sound of audience laughter for the first time in my life, and I was just knocked out.' Speaking to The Stage publication last year, he offered some advice to any budding actors. 'My advice to young actors today would be to work hard whenever you can, but also to have fun and, whatever you do, don't take yourself too seriously. Always remember that an acting career is a marathon, not a sprint, and I wish all of today's actors good luck with it.' Derek's first marriage, to Wendy Tory (1964 to 1973), ended in divorce, as did his second, to the Blue Peter presenter Lesley Judd (1974 to 1978). Jo Lindsay, Fowlds's partner of thirty six years, died in 2012. He is survived by the two sons of his first marriage, Jamie and Jeremy.
Now, a new semi-regular From The North feature, So Many Questions ... Number one. What's going on here, then?
Followed, inevitably, by So Many Questions ... Number two. Because, you just can't whack a good tasty bit of Quim, can you?
And finally, dear blog reader, please allow Keith Telly Topping to offer you all a movie suggestion for the weekend if you're looking for something to watch. Any one of these will do. Or, indeed, two or three of them. You know it makes sense.