Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Enough Is Enough

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping has been a deeply unhappy chap these last three months dear blog reader. You may have noticed this from the general whining and, overall, stroppy and discombobulated tone of the last couple of bloggerisationism updates. Sorry 'bout that, dear blog reader. A stupid, at the time seemingly innocuous, back injury occasioned by this blogger tripping over his own feet on the Stately Telly Topping Manor stairs whilst taking some rubbish out to the bins was diagnosed - remotely - by this blogger's medical staff as a simple torn muscle around the third vertebrae which, with rest and some industrial strength pain-killers would, eventually, put itself right. Except that, as of the time of writing, it hasn't. Not in the eleven weeks since The Incident occurred and, seemingly, not for the foreseeable future. Keith Telly Topping remains, sad to report, in more-or-less constant pain and, for the most part, immobilised and house-bound - this blogger is able to limp to the local supermarket and post office and back about once a week but, that's the limit of Keith Telly Topping's athletic activities at present. Some days are, admittedly, better than others and there are even odd moments - usually when he's just taken some codeine and is in bed, asleep - this blogger is even able to convince himself there is some light at the end of the tunnel (and that it isn't, as Half Man Half Biscuit once suggested, the light of an oncoming train). Work have been, this blogger is keen to note, broadly speaking patient and sympathetic about this lengthy absence. But, earlier this week, this blogger surrendered to the inevitable and offered his resignation in the knowledge that there is currently no end in sight to his enforced lay off. It's an age-old truism, dear blog reader, but it really is an ill wind that blows no one any good.
Anyway, the odd bout of tetchiness concerning the manifest unfairness life aside, this blogger remains determined to get his shit together, learn to walk properly again and, generally, shake himself from his pain-induced lethargy and depression which has made him like a bear with a sore arse to be around these last three months. It is, perhaps, somewhat fortunate the enforced social isolationism of this coronavirus malarkey has meant that apart from the Stately Telly Topping Manor postman and the check-out ladies at Aldi, this blogger has barely had any contact with any persons alive or dead during the entire period. Not a view you'll see voiced by many people in these strange and troubled times, dear blog reader, but this blogger likes being different.
In other Stately Telly Topping Manor-related news, this blogger is delighted to report that Freddie the Stately Telly Topping Manor freezer whose arrival three weeks ago was noted in the last From The North bloggerisationism update has been working well. And, over the course of two or three limps to local supermarkets, that fact has enabled this blogger to, if not fill Freddie up then, at least, make a start on giving him something to actually freeze. Which is nice.
Plus, of course dear blog reader, this blogger has really deserved all of these ...
Lordy mama, yes indeedy. If there is but one thing that this blogger is still able to do well, dear blog reader, it's pick up the phone to one or other of the takeaways local to Stately Telly Topping Manor and do the 'it's for delivery' thing. What can this blogger say in his own defence, dear blog reader? He would leave this place and limp along to the chip-oil for his daily exercise if he could. He would, but he's got this really bad back, see ... Catch-twenty two, if you will. Fine boo, that. Pretty poor movie adaptation, though.
Which, as if by design - which it actually was - brings us too ...
(Hey, this blogger doesn't just throw these things together, you know. Even when he is in pain ...)

The Bridge. This blogger had quite forgotten just how remarkable the first series of the Swedish/Danish crime drama was. Until good old BBC4 dug it out for a highly timely repeat.
Line Of Duty. Ditto. Bless the cotton socks of the person that invented iPlayer. Where, all five series of Jed Mercurio's masterpiece are currently available.
Prodigal Son. This was the first occasion in some considerable time that this blogger has watched all twenty episodes of a series, got to the end and then gone back and watched it all over again. This blogger still stands by the flaws which he alluded to in the last From The North update but, there's something properly intriguing about Prodigal Son. Speculating on how much coffee Michael Sheen had been drinking on an average morning on set, mainly.
Derren Brown: Twenty Years Of Mind Control. A combination of documentary, greatest hits clip-show and live prestidigitation, this celebration of the (self-deprecating) 'national treasure' demonstrated all of the techniques which From The North favourite Dazzling Dezza has used since he first appeared on our screens in 2000; misdirection, cold-reading, auto-suggestion, showmanship, illusionism, 'a health and safety nightmare' and effortless charm. It also featured this blogger's favourite line on TV this year so far - 'You are live on Channel Four so please swear as much as you like!' And, also, his second favourite: 'I have never met them, it's live and there's a plague, what could possibly go wrong?' Plus some smear of no importance at the Gruniad Morning Star felt compelled to have a whinge about it. So, on general principle, that's merely one more reason to love Twenty Years Of Mind Control the mostest, baby.
Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing. Because relaxation is good for bad backs. Apparently. And so is laughter.
Dave Gorman's Modern Life Is Goodish. And, whilst we're blessing the cotton sock of whomsoever invented iPlayer, the chap - or lady-chap - behind UKTVPlay also deserves a jolly good pat on the back.
The general outputs of BBC4, Sky Arts, Yesterday, Sky Nature, Crime+Investigation, Eden, PBS America and Sky Documentaries. Because TV in which you might - dangerously - learn something is never a bad thing; whatever the average scum tabloid may opine to the contrary.
The X Files.
Little Birds.
Qi. The - shortened - R series has now concluded but it was really good to see From The North favourite The Extremely Righteous Benjamin Zephaniah appearing in the final episode.
Doctor Phibes Rises Again. 'Every time we build a better mousetrap, Phibes has built a better mouse!'
The Be-Atles' (A Popular Beat Combo Of The 1960s, You Might've Heard Of Them) Anthology.
The Godfather, Part II.
The Sopranos.
And, of course, Would I Lie To You? Because, you know, some things never change.
And, because the trailers for all three have been cropping up about every five minutes on the various Sky channels, this blogger is rather looking forward to Lovecraft Country, I Hate Suzy and Two Weeks To Live.
On a somewhat related theme, this whole lockdown malarkey enforced due to the plague (not to mention back injuries and all that) have, reportedly, brought about a surge - that's a surge - in TV watching and online streaming. This is according to the media watchdog - and politically-appointed quango, elected by no one - Ofcom. Or, in the case of this blogger, just watching roughly the same amount of telly as he did before all this crap started. Swings and roundabouts, innit? Ofcom's annual study into UK media habits (to which this blogger did contribute) suggested adults - many stuck indoors - spent forty per cent of their waking hours in front of a screen, on average. What they do for the other sixty per cent of the time, they don't say. Probably contemplating the inherently ludicrous nature of existence, or something. Time spent on subscription streaming services also doubled during April. Though, not in Stately Telly Topping Manor, they didn't. At the height of lockdown, adults spent an average of six hours and twenty five minutes each day viewing ... stuff. Pfft. Lightweights. Screen time overall was up almost a third (thirty one per cent) on last year. People watched streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, for one hour eleven minutes per day and twelve million punters joined a service that they hadn't used previously. Three million of these viewers had never subscribed to any service before. The majority signed up to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, although Disney+ overtook Now TV as the third most popular paid-for streaming platform in the UK. Older viewers - yes, dear blog reader, just like yer actual Keith Telly Topping - who typically watch more traditional broadcast TV, increased their use of streaming platforms, too. One third of fifty five to sixty four year-olds and fifteen per cent of people aged over sixty five used subscription services in the early weeks of lockdown. The study, entitled Media Nations 2020, suggested that as lockdown measures eased towards the end of June, the uplift in streaming services held firm - seventy one per cent up on the same time last year. This figure also included people viewing more non-broadcast content on platforms like YouTube and gaming sites. And, more than half of UK adults (fifty five per cent) with new streaming subscriptions said that they will keep them and spend the same amount of time watching streamed content in future. However in July, Netflix warned investors that subscriber growth will inevitably slow, after it it added more than ten million subscribers in the previous three months, bringing the total of new subscribers to twenty six million in 2020. In contrast, Netflix saw twenty eight million new subscribers for the whole of 2019. 'Growth is slowing as consumers get through the initial shock of coronavirus and social restrictions,' the company said. As for the public service broadcasters - BBC, ITV, Channel Four and Channel Five - they achieved their highest combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing (fifty nine per cent) in more than six years in March, as people turned to trusted news services for daily updates on the virus. The BBC was, by a distance, the most popular source of news and information about Covid-Nineteen - used by eighty two per cent of adults during the first weeks of lockdown. Of course, in the age of information overload, our attention is the most precious resource for all broadcasters. These days we tend to devote ever more of it to screens. And that was before lockdown. The surge in screen viewing through the pandemic is - genuinely - extraordinary, if somewhat understandable. Cos, you know, what else are you gonna do if you're stuck in your drum all day, every day? Contemplating the inherently ludicrous nature of existence is only entertaining for so long. It is important to remember, also, that many of the companies or services that have turned us into screen addicts didn't exist a decade ago. Sadly for Britain's commercial broadcasters, all these eyeballs haven't turned into revenue, as advertising is in sharp retreat, for now at least. Before lockdown, the creative industries were growing several times faster than the rest of the economy, albeit powered by US companies. Never mind 'Eat Out To Help Out'; might 'Tune In To Help Out' be a slogan to boost Britain's path out of a deep and dark recession? Broadcasters' video-on demand services also received a boost in lockdown. Dramas Normal People and Killing Eve - both of which will feature strongly in From The North's end-of-year 'Best Of' list - helped BBC iPlayer attract a record five hundred and seventy million programme requests in May 2020 - seventy two per cent higher than in the equivalent month in 2019. Channel Four's on-demand service, All Four, generated thirty per cent more views among sixteen to thirty four year olds - suffering from severe Hollyoaks-withdrawal, probably - in the first two weeks of lockdown compared with the same period in 2019. And viewers spent eighty two per cent more time year-on-year watching ITV Hub. However, the boost to PSBs' linear audiences was short-lived as coronavirus interrupted production on soaps including EastEnders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale, as well as major sporting events like the Olympics and the Premier League and entertainment broadcasts such as the Glastonbury Festival. By the end of June and with lockdown easing, the amount of time viewers spent watching traditional broadcast content fell forty four minutes to three hours and two minutes per day. Except in Stately Telly Topping Manor where it remained considerably higher than that. Broadcast TV viewing is now comparably lower than it was in 2014 to 2017, although it remains eleven per cent higher than this time last year.
And, so to the - by now traditional - From The North 'death corner'. The singer and actor Trini Lopez has died aged eighty three, after contracting Covid-Nineteen, at hospital in Rancho Mirage, California. As well as starring in the 1967 second world war action movie The Dirty Dozen, Lopez scored a transatlantic hit with 'If I Had A Hammer' and designed a pair of sought-after guitar models for Gibson. Trinidad Lopez III was born in Dallas, to Mexican parents. His father was also an actor and singer. Trini's life changed after his father bought him a twelve dollar black Gibson acoustic from a pawn shop when he was fourteen. His father taught him to play the instrument, which led the teenage Lopez to perform in Dallas nightclubs with his first band - including The Vegas Club, owned by Jack Ruby - that usually didn't allow Mexican-American patrons. Buddy Holly saw Lopez at a nightclub in Wichita Falls and introduced him to Norman Petty, his producer in Clovis, New Mexico. Holly died in a plane crash six months later and Lopez briefly replaced him as singer of The Crickets. Trini shuttled between various record contracts for several of years but he earned a nightclub residency at PJ's in Los Angeles, where he was heard by Frank Sinatra, who signed him to his new label, Reprise. Trini's debut LP was recorded live at PJ's in 1963, featuring a range of songs that drew from US folk, rock'n'roll and traditional Mexican songcraft, including covers of Ray Charles's' What'd I Say?', Woody Guthrie's 'This Land Is Your Land' and a raucous 'La Bamba'. His version of Pete Seeger's 'If I Had a Hammer' outstripped the success of an earlier hit version by Peter, Paul and Mary, reaching the top three in the US, number four in the UK and number one in thirty six other countries; the LP sold over a million copies. Lopez had further US hits with 'Kansas City', 'Michael', 'Get Along Without Ya Now', 'Sally Was A Good Old Girl' and 'Lemon Tree', while 'I'm Comin' Home Cindy' was a minor UK hit in 1966. He had success in the Spanish-language market with The Latin Album. A rare Latino in the rock and folk world of the time, he would speak often of resisting pressure from record company executives to change his name and presumably appeal more to white audiences. Lopez received a Grammy nomination for best new artist of 1963 and by early 1964 he was so in demand that he and The Be-Atles (a popular beat combo of the 1960s, you might've heard of them) were co-headliners with Sylvie Vartan during an eighteen-day engagement at the Olympia Theatre in Paris. It was just before The Be-Atles were due to travel to the US, appear on The Ed Sullivan Show and, consequently, upend the careers of Lopez and countless others. 'The French newspapers would say "Bravo Trini Lopez! Who are The Beatles?"' Lopez later said in an interview. 'The last night we were there, reporters came to my dressing room. And they said "Mister Lopez, The Beatles are leaving tomorrow for New York. Do you think they’ll be a hit?" I said "I don’t think so."' So, good singer, decent actor, crap fortune teller. At the peak of his popularity Trini was asked by guitar manufacturer Gibson to design two models, The Trini Lopez Standard and The Lopez Deluxe, owners of which include Dave Grohl and Noel Gallagher. In the mid-1960s he was releasing as many as five LPs a year, though that slowed in the 1970s. While he continued performing, he released very little music until 2000, when he began recording again. He also starred in a self-titled TV variety show in 1969, which was part of a short, but interesting, acting career. His most famous role was as Pedro Jimenez in 1967's The Dirty Dozen, starring alongside Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Telly Savales, Donald Sutherland and many others. Lopez crossed over into acting, appearing in the comedy The Phynx and credits on television's Adam-Twelve. His nephew, Trini Martinez, was the drummer for the Dallas indie-rock band Bedhead.
Since the last bloggerisationism update, England snatched a riveting three-wicket victory from the jaws of defeat against Pakistan in the first test at Emirates Old Trafford thanks to a daring partnership between Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler. Chasing two hundred and seventy seven on a snakepit of a pitch, England looked all but beaten at one hundred and seventeen for five, only for Woakes and Buttler to counter-attack in a partnership of one hundred and thirty nine runs. Buttler was LBW reverse-sweeping Yasir Shah for seventy five with twenty one still required and the second new ball due. The promoted Stuart Broad took England to within four runs of victory, which Woakes got from an outside edge to end the match eighty four not out. It was Woakes who said on Friday night that England would draw on their experience of recent unlikely victories and this latest success followed the drama of the World Cup final and the Headingley Ashes test of 2019. Not only were they second favourites for most of the test, but conceded a one hundred and seven-run first-innings lead after errors in the field, poor tactics and a top-order collapse. They gradually battled back over the final two days, yet it was only when Buttler and Woakes were together that Pakistan's energy was replaced by trepidation.
     This was a classic finish to a gripping test, one that in another time would have had an empty Emirates Old Trafford bouncing. England were rightly criticised for their performance over the first two days - wicketkeeper Buttler's reprieves which allowed Shan Masood to make one hundred and fifty six, captain Joe Root's odd tactics and some really poor batting. But the way they battled in the second half of their first innings was brave, their bowling in Pakistan's second innings was tenacious and the match-winning Buttler and Woakes partnership was truly nerveless. They made light of a surface that was turning, spitting and rearing to help England to the second highest run-chase completed to win a test in Manchester. It was fitting that Woakes, so often an unsung hero, hit the winning runs, celebrating with a roar that echoed around the empty stadium. Buttler famously has an irreverent slogan written on the handle of his bat. It is an approach that served him well in a situation where he may have been playing for his place after the earlier keeping errors and a lean run with the bat. What made the sixth-wicket stand all the more remarkable was what had gone before. England had lost three for twenty after Naseem Shah got one to lift at Root, Yasir's fizzing googly took the glove of Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope had absolutely no chance in the face of an unplayable lifter from Shaheen Afridi. Buttler and Woakes decided that attack was the best form of defence. Buttler went after leg-spinner Yasir with drives, sweeps and reverse-sweeps. Woakes slapped the pace bowlers through the covers. The fifty partnership came in forty nine balls. Pakistan retreated and the pitch went to sleep. The previously metronomic Mohammad Abbas was ineffective. The strokeplay gave way to steady accumulation, tension rising as the scoring slowed. Buttler freed the shackles by heaving Shadab Khan for six, but was out in the following over. Broad swiped seven useful runs before his was out, then Woakes' edge to third man sealed an unlikely victory in the glorious Saturday evening sunshine. Pakistan had been in control for so long thanks to their determined first-innings batting, relentless bowling and enthusiasm in the field. The tourists showed togetherness throughout, their reserve players making noise from the balcony of the hotel which overlooks the ground. They took the initiative at the start of the day, extending their lead by thirty two runs in sixteen chaotic deliveries that concluded with the fall of the final two wickets. But Pakistan immediately seemed intimidated by Buttler. The field spread, pressure was released and runs were much easier to come by. Captain Azhar Ali burned his reviews in desperation before Yasir struck late to remove Buttler and Broad. Pakistan buzzed and chatted to the end, but ultimately lost a match that they should have won.
What a difference a week makes, however. The issue of bad light in test cricket 'needs to be addressed' according to Joe Root after bad light and rain utterly ruined the drawn second test at the Ageas Bowl, with only a day and a half's play possible across the entire match. Root said authorities should consider using a brighter red ball, bringing forward the start time, not being so rigid with when lunch and tea are taken and improving floodlights at test grounds. 'It is something that needs looking at higher up the chain,' he said. 'It is way above my pay grade but there are different things that may be able to be trialled to see if there are other ways we could do things in this country to avoid similar scenarios. It has been a huge talking point but it needs to be addressed somewhere somehow.' England reached one hundred and ten for four in reply to Pakistan's two hundred and thirty six before Root and Azhar Ali agreed on a draw which preserved the hosts' one-nil lead in the three-match series. Zak Crawley made fifty three and Dom Sibley thirty two but fell in consecutive Mohammad Abbas overs. Ollie Pope was out fifteen minutes before the close. The test was the ninth shortest in England in terms of balls bowled, although it was only the third draw in the past forty three tests in the UK. Only 134.3 overs - less than a day and a half's play - were possible in the match, the shortest test in England since 1987. Root said 'we've got protect the game as much as possible,' adding: 'You don't want to drastically change the game too much for potentially only an hour's bad light in a five-day game.' Under ICC regulations, umpires can take the players off for bad light when they deem it to be 'dangerous or unreasonable' to continue. The officials were criticised in Southampton, particularly on the first two days when play was stopped despite the light not seeming either dangerous or unreasonable or anything even remotely like it. Root, who said he did not blame the umpires, added: 'We are all for playing but don't want anyone getting injured or hurt because of light or wet ground.' Azhar said: 'It's tough. A spectator, outside the ground, will obviously want to see the game being played, but umpires and the other authorities will want to put player safety first because they are the ones under pressure and the ones who have to do it in the middle. I think they are doing a great job.' Frustrations have been voiced that there has not been more play - when the entire third day was lost there was a two-hour period when it felt like there could have been some action. For what it's worth, this blogger thought the umpires were a sodding disgrace throughout.
Anyway, dear blog reader, that concludes another - necessary - From The North bloggerisationism update, featuring all of the usual bollocks but, as ever, if not free then, at the very least, cheap. Stay safe and, if at all possible, do try to avoid tripping over your own feet and wrecking yourself. Take it from this blogger, life is much easier if don't do that.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

All These Things That I've Done

The latest From The North bloggerisationisms update kicks off with some, for once, good(ish) news. Marginally good(ish). Slightly good(ish).
As mentioned during our last bloggerisationisms update, the Stately Telly Telly Manor Plague House freezer chose a particular day a couple of weeks ago to konk right-out on this blogger after something like thirty years of faithful service. Thus necessitating the urgent purchase of a much-needed replacement.
On Saturday of this week, a couple of very nice young chaps from Argos arrived at the gaff with Freddie the new Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House freezer. And, they were kind enough to hump Freddie up to the top of the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House stairs without any complaint. This blogger thanked both the lads and wished them a jolly good day; or, what was left of it, anyway, since it was just after 3pm that they completed the delivery. 'We will do,' replied one, 'you're our last call of the day.' Keith Telly Topping - whilst thinking 'innit typical? Why couldn't I have been first?' - nevertheless, managed to find a positive in all this and changed that to: 'Well, have a good night, instead!'
    This here, then, is Freddie the new Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House freezer in all of his still packaged and 'this-way-up' glory.
And this is Freddie the new Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House freezer, stripped, plugged in, and starting to freeze like a good'un.
Of course, the arrival of Freddie the new Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House freezer will occasion a trip to one of the local supermarkets at some stage. So that this blogger can start to replace some of the approximately two hundred quid's worth of frozen food-stuffs which were ruined and had to be chucked in the bin when the previous (oddly nameless) Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House freezer went all tits-up. Which, for reasons that this blogger will get onto at a later stage in this bloggerisationisms update, may not be for a good few days yet. Or, maybe even longer. Nevertheless, once that has been done, it may mean a few less of those - highly popular - I really deserved this-type shenanigans. Like, for instance, this one.
Or this one.
Or this one.
Or, indeed, this one.
Which may, or may not, be a good thing, dear blog reader. Don't come to yer actual Keith Telly Topping expecting a quick answer on that score. Time will tell, dear blog reader. It usually does.
Therefore, from one age-old From The North truism, dear blog reader, to another one. It's that time again.
Prodigal Son. It's been quite a while, dear blog reader, since this yer actual Keith Telly Topping has done a complete - twenty episode - series binge-watch. By and large he really rather enjoyed the - much-trailed - Prodigal Son. For all its very obvious Silence Of The Lambs riffs, the drama benefits from some outstanding performances; Michael Sheen going so far over-the-top-he's-down-the-other-side most obviously, but also a nice solid role for the always excellent Lou Diamond Phillips and a twitchy-but-fascinatingly-nuanced turn from Tom Payne whom this blogger previously knew best from The Walking Dead. Nevertheless, it's not all praise; Prodigal Son is almost - almost but ,thankfully, not quite - fatally ruined by a couple of really significant flaws. Firstly, the fact that by-and-large every episode in the first half of the series appeared to be a slight variation on a single theme. Which, by about episode twelve was starting to really get right on this blogger's tit-end. Fortunately, they brought in a couple of marginally different plotlines to some of the later episodes proving that Manhunter and Silence Of The Lambs were not to be the only serial-killer movies the creators - Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver - had watched. (They've also seen Se7enZodiac and American Psycho, it would appear.) A far more serious flaw was the presence of the Christ-awful Bellamy Young, one of this blogger's least-favourite actresses. Someone whose over-emoted pouty facial expressions, mugging and shrill-voice usually conspires to stink up everything that has ever beentouched by her presence (the wretched Scandal, most notably). To be honest, she's not much better than distinctly average in this either. Though, trust this blogger, considering how low an opinion he had of her prior to watching Prodigal Son and the groan of despair which escaped his lips when she showed up in the pilot as what was going to be, obviously, a major character that's, actually, something approaching praise. Anyway, overall, the good far outweighed the bad and Prodigal Son been renewed for a second series. Hopefully, next year, they'll have watched a few more serial-killer films for additional inspiration.
Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels. One that took a bit longer for this blogger to get through than Prodigal Son but which, eventually, proved equally worthwhile. And, a few questionable plot elements aside, at the end of the day, Natalie Dormer in leather. What's not to love?
Doom Patrol. Still, by a distance, the best drama currently anywhere on TV. Their parody of The Avengers title sequence in the latest episode was a thing of joy.
The Beast Must Die.
Captain Clegg.
The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes.
The Manchurian Candidate.
The Planets.
Not Going Out.
Ripping Yarns.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Father Ted.
Anyway, dear blog reader, today's - indeed, pretty much every day's - general mood for this blogger summed up; a visual representation of 'bleak'.
Sad to report that this blogger's troublesome back injury remains, well, a right flaming pain in both the neck and the arse and, more specifically, the larger area between those two. Even the increased-strength pain-killers which had, at least, seen the blogger manage to have a few decent nights sleep seem to be less effective these last few days. As a consequence of which, this blogger is, once again, waking up tired, grumpy and depressed most mornings. 'Oh, sod this buggering bad back,' Keith Telly Topping snarled at his dear Facebook fiends earlier in the week. 'I'm not sure I can take another sleepless, pain-filled night like last night. I'm going to take a break from this place for a bit as I just don't have the patience or the will to try and converse civilly with people at the moment.' You will, this blogger hopes, excuse such disgraceful drama-queen antics and Keith Telly Topping so publicly feeling sorry for himself. This blogger isn't usually one for overly dramatic gestures - although fishing for sympathy is one of his favourite pastimes, he will admit. Nevertheless, this torn lumber muscle (or muscles, technically) really has thrown this blogger far more of a Curtly Ambrose-style bouncer than he would ever have anticipated when he stumbled on the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House stairs whilst taking out a bag of rubbish eight weeks ago. Keith Telly Topping believed that he'd be off his feet for, maybe three or four weeks and then back to strutting around like he rents the drum. Sadly, it hasn't proved to be anywhere near as straightforward as initially hoped.
And so we reach the latest episode of From The North's Death Corner.
     Peter Green, who died this week aged seventy three, was one of the guitar-playing greats of the 1960s British blues scene as well as being a truly gifted songwriter. He was the founder of Fleetwood Mac and, although he was with the band for less than three years, they became one of Britain's leading rock and/or roll acts during that time. Their singles of that period, including the Green compositions 'Black Magic Woman', 'Albatross', 'Man Of The World', 'Oh Well' and 'The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)', remain some of the most cherished releases of the era. The band was beginning to display major international potential by the time Peter quit in May 1970. Then, apart from a brief burst of activity in the first half of the 1980s, Green went missing from action until the late 1990s as he struggled with prolonged psychological problems seemingly caused by his use of psychedelic drugs.
   Some considered him a guitarist superior even to such rock and/or roll deities as his contemporaries Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page. Noel Gallagher described him as 'without question the best British blues guitarist ever,' while BB King said that Green was 'the only one who gave me the cold sweats.' John Mayall, leader of The Bluesbreakers, whom Green played for before forming Fleetwood Mac, said: 'Peter in his prime in the 1960s was without equal.' It was an instrumental from The Bluesbreakers A Hard Road (1967) which alerted Mayall to the breadth of Green's abilities. 'The Supernatural' was a strange, fractured piece written by Green on which he exploited various guitar tones and studio overdubbing techniques to create a sinister atmosphere of mystery. Fleetwood Mac was named after another instrumental Peter had recorded with Bluesbreakers' drummer Mick Fleetwood and bass player John McVie during some studio time Mayall had donated to Green. With a line-up of Green, Fleetwood, the guitarist Jeremy Spencer and bass player Bob Brunning, Fleetwood Mac made their debut at the Windsor Festival in August 1967. McVie replaced Brunning after their first few gigs.
Once up and running, Fleetwood Mac were soon enjoying success. Their eponymous debut LP was released in February 1968 and rose as high as number four in the course of spending nearly forty weeks on the UK album chart. It would eventually sell more than a million copies. Their single 'Black Magic Woman' reached the Top Forty, but would become better known when Santana had a hit with a cover of it in 1970. Fleetwood Mac released their second LP, Mister Wonderful, in August and went on their first American tour; while hanging out with The Grateful Dead in San Francisco they declined to sample the powerful LSD manufactured by The Dead's supplier of bespoke psychedelics, Owsley Stanley. But, in December they were in New York at the start of another thirty-date tour and this time succumbed to Stanley's product, which left them, according to Green, huddled in a hotel room enduring a collective bad trip. In the same month, 'Albatross' topped the British charts. The tune was remarkable for its lilting, oceanic quality, largely created by Green's dreamy arrangement of contrasting guitar parts, including those of the band's recently added third guitarist, the great Danny Kirwan. An acknowledged inspiration for The Beatles' 'Sun King' and much admired by The Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, 'Abatross' sold a million copies and added another nine hundred thousand when reissued and a hit all over again in 1973.
However, Green was in a troubled state of mind. He had begun to discuss his feelings of guilt at the band's rapidly burgeoning earnings and he wanted to give most of their money away (a sentiment which was not shared by his bandmates). Their single 'Man Of The World' was a shimmering beast of melancholy beauty, but its lyrics seemed - at least in part - to express Green's desperate feelings at his fragile mental state: 'There's no one I'd rather be/But I just wish that I'd never been born.' 'Man Of The World' went to number two in the UK; its b-side, Jeremy Spencer's wonderful Elvis parody, 'Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked in Tonite' was credited to Earl Vince & The Valiants - in reality Fleetwood Mac themselves showing the rock and/or roll side of their schizophrenic character. The next single, 'Oh Well' was their first to reach the US top one hundred as well as another massive UK hit. Again, Green's lyrics were playful but included more than a hint of menace: 'Don't ask me what I think of you/I might not give the answers that you want me to!' Growing success only seemed to worsen Green's condition, however. Further touring in the US had seen his consumption of acid increase and he sampled more of Stanley's concoctions when Fleetwood Mac supported The Dead in New Orleans. Green adopted a form of Buddhism-influenced Christianity and took to wearing white robes and a crucifix on stage. He became obsessed with giving away money and on one occasion donated twelve grand to Save the Children after watching a TV news report about the famine in Biafra. The crunch came when Fleetwood Mac reached Munich during a disastrous European tour in March 1970. Some wealthy German hippies took Green to their commune at a mansion outside the city, where he was plied with very hard drugs and spent hours playing improvised music. He had to be extricated by Mick Fleetwood and the band's road crew. His bandmates and manager Clifford Davis felt that he was never the same afterwards. Speaking to the BBC in 2017, Fleetwood said that he wished he had spotted the signs of Green's illness sooner. 'I wish we had been better equipped,' he said. 'Maybe we could have seen something that could've helped - not to keep him in the band, but to help this person through the beginnings of a very emotional ride that, really, he's still on as we speak. It affected his life in a very dramatic way,' he added. 'I don't think he was treated right for what turned out to be [an] illness.' Green left the band that May as his last single with them, 'The Green Manalishi', made the UK top ten. Green had written the song after waking from a nightmare not long after the Munich experience and its menacing, horror-movie soundtrack tone seemed to speak vividly of his state of mind. The title character of the song was, he claimed, a metaphor for money: 'The Green Manalishi is the wad of notes, the devil is green and he was after me.'
Born in Bethnal Green, Peter was the son of Joe Greenbaum, a postman and his wife, Anne. When Peter was ten, his brother Len gave him a guitar and taught him the rudimentary chords E, A and B7. He made rapid progress and became fixated on skiffle before gravitating to rock and/or roll and the Chicago blues of Muddy Waters and BB King. Hank Marvin of The Shadows became one of his favourite guitarists. By the age of fifteen he had dropped the latter part of his surname, having been taunted for his Jewishness at school. His first job was as a bassist in a covers band, Bobby Dennis & The Dominoes, after which he played with other nascent beat-groups, The Muskrats and The Tridents. An encounter with Eric Clapton persuaded him to ditch the bass. 'I decided to go back on lead guitar after seeing him with The Bluesbreakers,' said Peter. 'He had a Les Paul, his fingers were marvellous. The guy knew how to do a bit of evil, I guess.' In the autumn of 1965 Peter played a few dates with The Bluesbreakers when he deputised for Clapton, who had abruptly taken a holiday. In 1966, Green was recruited as lead guitarist by Peter B's Looners, whose drummer was Mick Fleetwood. Then Clapton abruptly quit The Bluesbreakers permanently to form Cream, whereupon Green took over. He overcame early hostility from strokey-beard-type Clapton fans by the expressiveness of his playing and earned the nickname 'The Green God.' The musician was humble about his skills, however. 'I didn't really know what I was doing on the guitar,' he later claimed to Guitarist Magazine. 'I was very lucky to get anything remotely any good. I used to dash around on stepping stones, that's what I used to call it.' After leaving Fleetwood Mac, whose rebuilt line-up would become one of the biggest acts in rock history, Green spent most of the 1970s in a dazed and confused state, living on a kibbutz near Tel Aviv, then back in Britain taking such jobs as a hospital orderly and a cemetery gardener. He had no permanent home, but often stayed with friends or family.
Diagnosed as suffering from drug-induced schizophrenia, he underwent electroconvulsive therapy. In 1977, during one row over royalty monies with Davis, Peter made threats about using a shotgun. He was committed for treatment at a psychiatric hospital and spent several months at the Priory clinic. He recovered sufficiently to get himself a record deal with PVK Records, where his brother Mike worked and met the American fiddle player Jane Samuels, whom he married in 1978. They had a daughter, Rosebud, but divorced in 1979. Solo LPs followed, with most of the songs written by Mike and there was further sporadic work for the rest of the decade. In the 1990s, Green was taken under the wing of Mich Reynolds, who had been married to Davis. With her brother, Nigel Watson and the drummer Cozy Powell, he formed The Peter Green Splinter Group, which released eight CDs between 1997 and 2003. They played live regularly, Green intermittently showing flashes of his old brilliance. In 2009 he formed Peter Green & Friends. Green was inducted into the Rock and/or roll Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 with Fleetwood Mac; at the ceremony he played 'Black Magic Woman' with a fellow-inductee, Carlos Santana. In February this year, Fleetwood organised a tribute to Green at the London Palladium, where stars including Pete Townshend, Mayall, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Gilmour, Gallagher, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Bill Wyman performed songs from throughout Green's career. He is survived by Rosebud and by Liam Firlej, his son from another relationship.
Singer Denise Johnson, whose rich soulful voice provided depth to the likes of Primal Scream and New Order, has died. The Manchester native, who came to prominence on Primal Scream's 1991 landmark Screamadelica LP, also featured on records of many of her home city's bands. She had been due to release her debut solo acoustic LP in September. A statement issued by her family said she had died 'suddenly after an illness.' Tributes have been paid to her on social media by some of the artists with whom she worked, including electronica act 808 State, who said that her voice 'sews so many memories together in many contexts.; In a statement, her family said that the singer had been 'ill in the week prior to her death, but told friends she was "much better" on Friday. The cause of death is not yet known, although she was discovered holding her inhaler on Monday morning.' Johnson was most well-known for her work with Primal Scream and for her formidable backing vocals, which saw her work with a host of stellar names, including Manchester legends New Order, Johnny Marr and The Charlatans. Away from music, she was a keen Manchester City supporter and also played the role of Mary in the BBC production, The Manchester Passion, in 2006.
     New Order, who were joined by Johnson on their most recent CD Music Complete, paid tribute to 'a beautiful person with a huge talent.' Her most regular collaborative work came with fellow Mancunians A Certain Ratio, with whom she sang for more than twenty five years. The band said that people should 'spend some time listening to her wonderful voice, remembering her loving nature and infectious sense of humour.' As a child, the first record Denise Johnson remembered listening to was the soundtrack to The Sound Of Music - and 'The Lonely Goatherd' in particular. 'The whole record fascinated me and made me want to sing,' she later recalled. After joining the school choir and working as a model, she ended up in a covers band playing soul classics in clubs around the UK. Before long, she was on stage at Wembley Arena, supporting US funk band Maze as the vocalist for A Fifth Of Heaven - with whom she recorded the underground soul classic 'Just A Little More' in 1989. From there, she went on to work on Screamadelica. Johnson was introduced to Primal Scream after performing with popular duo Hypnotone, but turned down the opportunity to tour with the band six times before finally accepting. She would later recall the period as 'five or so truly magical, hair-tearing-out, raucous years.'
    'There was a song Bobby Gillespie couldn't sing, which turned out to be 'Don't Fight It, Feel It',' she recalled. Her voice was also prominent on the hit single 'Come Together' and she sang backing vocals on both of the LP's most famous songs, 'Movin' On Up' and 'Loaded'. She toured with the band and also worked on their follow-up, 1994's Give Out But Don't Give Up - most notably her duet with George Clinton on the title song. The prominence and vitality of her vocals with Primal Scream meant she was in constant demand for much of the 1990s, working with Michael Hutchence, A Certain Ratio, Ian Brown, Beth Orton and Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr's project Electronic (most notably her superb contribution to their 1991 single 'Get The Message'). While her own solo music never had the success she would have liked, her voice gave character and depth to some of the biggest records of the Manchester scene - and she was well-loved and highly respected by those who worked with her.
In 2013, Alan Parker, who has died this week aged seventy six, received the BAFTA fellowship award 'in recognition of outstanding achievement in the art forms of the moving image.' Parker was praised for his energetic style, his keen visual sense and his storytelling skills and 'for resuscitating the movie musical.' He was also credited with having broken down the barriers between the American and British film industries and paving the way for fellow Britons - with Adrian Lyne, Hugh Hudson and Ridley and Tony Scott having come from advertising like himself - to pursue Hollywood careers. Although Parker directed only two bona fide British productions - Bugsy Malone (1976) and Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982) - in 1998 he was appointed chairman of the board of governors of the British Film Institute (and in 1999 first chairman of the Film Council. Yet, a little more than a decade earlier, Parker had made a television documentary called A Turnip Head's Guide To The British Film Industry (1985) in which he tackled 'the pomposity, stupidity, pretension and avarice of the film industry.'
Parker believed that British films were 'too parochial' and not commercial enough in concept, recalling that, as a child, whenever he visited his local cinema and the film opened with an image of a red London bus, he knew he was 'in for a lousy time.' Parker set out to change all that. Some of his attitudes derived from his working-class upbringing and the battles he had to advance himself. If any theme is to be found in his eclectic oeuvre, it is a consistent sympathy with the underdog. Alan William Parker was born during a wartime air-raid, on a housing estate in Islington. His mother, Elsie, was a dressmaker and his father, William, was a house painter. Alan became interested in photography at an early age, which led him, after leaving school at eighteen, to take a job as an office boy in the post room of an advertising agency. He then got work as a copywriter. 'The great thing about advertising, from a British point of view, is that it didn't have a kind of class distinction as other jobs had,' Parker recalled. 'If you were half bright, they gave you a chance. I was very fortunate that they gave me that chance.' One London agency he worked with was Collett Dickenson Pearce, where he first met David Puttnam and Alan Marshall, both of whom would later produce many of his films.
In 1970, Puttnam bought the rights to a handful of songs by The Bee Gees, which were incorporated into a story for a feature film, Melody. Parker, who wrote the screenplay, came up with a charming tale of two boys at a South London comprehensive (Mark Lester and Jack Wild) whose friendship is tested when a pretty girl (Tracy Hyde) enters their social orbit. It was beautifully directed by Waris Hussein and Parker did some second-unit direction for the film, as well as shooting the montage sequences. It remains one of this blogger's favourite movies of all time. Before making his feature film debut as a director, Parker made two shorts, Our Cissy and Footsteps (both 1974) and a TV drama, The Evacuees (1975), for the BBC. The latter, written by Jack Rosenthal, about the experiences of two young Jewish boys evacuated from Manchester to Blackpool during the blitz, won a BAFTA and an International EMMY. It was also proof of Parker's expertise in directing children.
This was consolidated with his first feature, Bugsy Malone, a slick musical with children playing American gangsters of the 1920s, one gang armed with cream cakes, the other with splurge guns. 'My script was a cinematic pastiche, with echoes and references to Astaire, Raft, Kelly, Cagney, Brando and Welles,' Parker recalled. 'It's not so much an homage as a collection of fond memories of double bills that I had devoured as a kid at the Blue Hall rerun cinema in Upper Street in North London.' The routines were well-staged and the 'gangsters' - including emerging talents like Scott Baio and Jodie Foster - talented and likeable. The film was a big hit in the UK but was less successful in America. Midnight Express (1978) was loosely based on the true story of Billy Hayes, a young American jailed for drug smuggling in Istanbul. The movie, relentlessly directed by Parker, graphically depicted how Hayes (Brad Davis) was beaten up and tortured in prison. There were sympathetic critics who interpreted the film as less about the Turkish prison system than about a general fear of otherness. Some years later, Oliver Stone, whose screenplay won an Oscar, apologised for 'over-dramatising' the story.
In contrast, Fame (1980), which again showed what Parker could do with song-and-dance routines, followed eight young people for four years at the High School of Performing Arts in New York. 'Something wonderful is happening to me, mama,' says one of the budding stars. 'I'm growing up.' For Parker, Shoot The Moon (1982), a divorce drama starring Albert Finney and Diane Keaton, was 'the first grown-up film that I'd done.' A robust dissection of modern marriage sympathetic to both sides of the battle, the film was convincing in its depiction of the minutiae of bringing up families. 'It was a painful film to make for me because there were echoes of my own life in it. It was about a break-up of a marriage and the children in the story were quite close to my own children in age.' Parker's own first marriage, to Annie Inglis whom he had married in 1966, ended in 1992. Although Parker considered the filming of Pink Floyd: The Wall 'one of the most miserable experiences of my creative life,' this surreal extended pop promo, starring Bob Geldof as a disintegrating rock star, did well at the box office. The causes of Parker's unhappiness were the constant clashes with that miserable old scrote Roger Waters, who wrote the screenplay and the cartoonist and illustrator Gerald Scarfe, who did the elaborate animation sequences.
Birdy (1984) seamlessly transposed the novelist William Wharton's post-second world war traumas to a post-Vietnam setting. It concerned the devastating effects the war had on two young friends, Al (Nicolas Cage), physically injured and Birdy (Matthew Modine), psychologically damaged, who believes he is a bird. Treated with sensibility and skill, the film contains some exceptional sequences, such as Birdy's dream of flying over Pittsburgh. Angel Heart (1987), a tense thriller - based on William Hjortsberg's novel Falling Angel - was set in 1950s New Orleans. The titular private eye, Harry Angel played by Mickey Rourke, is trying to locate a missing person for a particularly sinister client, Robert De Niro. His trail leads to voodoo rites and its link with sexuality, evil and darkness. The film's release was mired in controversy in the US, where censors gave it an X rating, normally reserved for pornography. After losing an appeal, Parker cut ten seconds from a sex scene between Rourke and Lisa Bonet and the film was reclassified with an R rating. 'I figured that a few celluloid feet of Mickey's ass was no great loss to the history cinema,' he observed. Again, it would be on any list of this blogger's favourite fifty movies.
Mississippi Burning (1988) was about a couple of contrasting FBI agents (Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe) in a small Southern town in 1964, investigating the disappearance of three civil rights workers. In Come See The Paradise (1990), the FBI were the bad guys helping to round up and imprison Japanese Americans during the second world war. Parker returned triumphantly to the musical with The Commitments (1991), based on the novel by Roddy Doyle, on the efforts of a ragtag group of Dublin musicians to launch a successful soul band. Laced with superb songs sung with passion and vibrant performances by a cast of virtual unknowns, it won BAFTA awards for best film, best director and best adapted screenplay. 'I wanted to do this film because I identified with the kids in the film,' Parker claimed. 'They came from the North side of Dublin, a working-class area and I came from the North of London, a very similar working-class area. I suppose deep down that the dreams and aspirations I had when I was a kid are very close to theirs.'
Parker's unbroken run of box-office winners was halted temporarily by The Road To Wellville (1994), a hit-and-miss satire about the health crazes at the turn of the Twentieth Century, mainly perpetrated by Doctpr John Harvey Kellogg (Anthony Hopkins fitted with large buck teeth). Parker had another success with Evita (1996), adapted from the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber stage hit. It turned out to be a glitzy entertainment, with wall-to-wall songs (well sung by Madonna in the title role) and sparse dialogue delivered in awkward recitatives (including Jimmy Nail). But whatever the quality of the content, the look was impeccable, as with all Parker's films. In fact, Parker often used the same team - directors of photography (Michael Seresin and Peter Biziou), editor (Gerry Hambling) and production designer (Brian Morris). Parker's second film shot in Ireland, Angela's Ashes (1999), based on the story of Frank McCourt's poverty-stricken childhood, failed to delve below the surface. Even more at fault for superficiality was The Life Of David Gale (2003), which followed a Texas University professor (Kevin Spacey), an advocate for the abolitionism of capital punishment, who finds himself on death row after being convicted of the rape and murder. The overwhelmingly negative critical reaction to the film convinced Parker to leave his filmography at fourteen features. He said in 2017: 'We have gone through the era of the producer, the director, now we are in the era of the studio executive. None of which bodes well if you've always had complete control of your work.' Parker was knighted in 2002. He is survived by his second wife, Lisa, whom he married in 2001, their son, Henry, four children - Lucy, Alexander, Jake and Nathan - from his first marriage and seven grandchildren.
Stuart Broad's five hundredth test wicket sent England on the way to completing a series victory over West Indies on the final day of the third Test at Emirates Old Trafford earlier in the week. Broad had Kraigg Brathwaite LBW to become only the fourth pace bowler and second England player after his frequent new-ball partner James Anderson to reach the landmark and would later take the final wicket to complete his third ten-wicket haul in tests. Brathwaite was the first man to fall, West Indies having resumed on ten for two chasing three hundred and ninety nine or, more likely, needing to bat out the day. Chris Woakes claimed five for fifty as England dodged the showers to bowl West Indies out for one hundred and twenty nine, win by two hundred and sixty nine runs and take the series two-one. After being beaten in the first test in Southampton, England have come from behind to win a three-match series for the first time since 2008 (and, the first time ever in a three test series in England). They also regained - and, indeed, now will retain in perpetuity - The Wisden Trophy and ended the series back up to third in the World Test Championship, behind India and Australia. In a congested schedule, an entirely separate England squad play three one-day internationals against Ireland in the next week before the first of three tests against Pakistan begins on 5 August.
West Indies, so competitive for much of the tour, remain without a series victory in the UK since 1988 and have now been beaten on seven consecutive trips to this country. This was not only Broad's moment to join an elite club - just six other bowlers have reached five hundred wickets in tests - but also further vindication after he so publicly voiced his displeasure at being left out of the first match of the series. Since returning, he has taken sixteen wickets at slightly under eleven runs each. In this match alone he picked up ten for sixty seven to go with the sixty two runs he scored in England's first innings. To still be so determined at the age of thirty four is typical of such a fierce competitor, whose one hundred and forty-test career has been characterised by spectacular spells and has included four Ashes wins. Broad's five hundredth test wicket came forty minutes in, after a brief break for rain, when Brathwaite was hit dead in front of middle stump by a full delivery. Broad was congratulated with a hug from his great friend Anderson, then raised the ball in the direction of the dressing room - the empty stadium denying the celebrations his achievement deserved. Fittingly, Broad returned to seal victory. The first ball of a new spell was nothing but a long hop, but Jermaine Blackwood gloved a pull down the leg side to a diving Jos Buttler to make Broad only the seventh England player to take ten wickets and score a half-century in the same test. Much of the talk around the England side during this series has been about the identity of their best fast-bowling line-up, particularly given the need to manage workloads and plan for the eventual retirements of Broad and Anderson. Despite having a better average in England than any of his team-mates, Woakes may have been left out of this match had Ben Stokes been fit to bowl, but he ended the series as the home side's second-highest wicket-taker behind Broad.
West Indies' cavalier approach made for some attractive strokeplay and regular chances for England to take wickets. Shai Hope miscued a pull at Woakes to Broad at mid-on and Shamarh Brooks' waft gave an inside edge behind, before Roston Chase was run out by Dom Bess' superb direct hit. Bowling with supreme control on a full length, Woakes had all of Jason Holder, Shane Dowrich and Rahkeem Cornwall LBW for his fourth test five-wicket haul. It is to West Indies' great credit they made the trip at all and even without Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer and Keemo Paul, who opted out because of coronavirus concerns, they have played their part in producing a compelling and fluctuating contest. Beginning with both sides taking a knee as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, the tourists were superb in Southampton, securing a memorable victory by chasing two hundred to win on the final day. But they have been beaten twice at Old Trafford, opting to bowl first after winning the toss on both occasions and they gradually ran out of steam - perhaps not surprising given they have spent all but one week since 9 June in the same Manchester hotel. However, in Brathwaite, Brooks and Chase, they have at least the basis of a solid batting line-up, while captain Holder, Kemar Roach and - when he's fit - Shannon Gabriel form a potentially fearsome pace attack. Their steady improvement in test cricket is well placed to continue. The next time the two sides play, it will be for the new Botham-Richards Trophy.
'The laminated book of dreams,' was how Bill Bailey jokingly described the plastic-coated Argos catalogue. But forty eight years on from its launch, the catalogue is finally coming to an end. Bill himself took to Twitter when the news was announced. The encyclopedia-like catalogues, the basis of many a child's Christmas wishlist, will no longer be regularly printed by the end of January 2021. The catalogue was first launched in 1972 and at its peak was Europe's most widely-printed publication, with only the Bible in more homes across the UK. Comedian Alan Carr famously picked the Argos catalogue as his book choice on Radio 4's programme Desert Island Discs. 'At least there's pictures,' he said at the time. 'I feel it would help me through.' But now Argos says that online shopping offers 'greater convenience' than flicking through its print catalogue and no further take-home editions of the catalogue will be produced. Instead, its products will be only listed and displayed online. The retailer has produced more than one billion copies of its bi-annual catalogue during its forty eight-year run, which quickly became synonymous with the brand. During its heyday, its pages featured the likes of Emma Bunton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In fact, some of the UK's best known z-list celebrities once graced the laminated pages of the retail bible. Strictly Come Dancing presenter Tess Daly modelled clothes for the company before she went on to a career in television. This Morning host Holly Willoughby also made an appearance in the late 1990s while she was still working as a lingerie model. Others who began their career within its pages included the actress Michelle Collins, model Lisa Snowdon and presenter Emma Willis. The catalogue became so popular that at one stage more than ten million copies were printed. However, that dipped to around three million copies when the now-final version was released in January this year. Customers shopping on smartphones and tablets now account for more than seventy per cent of all Argos online sales. The retailer said that it would still produce a print version of its annual Christmas gift guide. Steve Dresser, director at Grocery Insight, told the BBC that it had 'only been a matter of time' before the retailer made the shift to digital-only. 'Everyone uses the Internet for ordering nowadays and e-commerce is experiencing a stratospheric rise again,' he explained. 'Post-Covid Nineteen there is even less of a call for a catalogue. The reality is the march of technology and progression doesn't spare anything, not even the beloved Argos catalogue.' Last year, Argos made all its back catalogues available to browse online, letting consumers reminisce over everything from the 1974 hostess trolley (then priced at forty three quid) to the 1987 personal stereo (twenty knicker).
From The North's semi-regular Headline Of The Week award goes to the BBC News website for Coronavirus: Pubs 'May Need To Shut' To Allow Schools To Reopen. Correlation does not imply causation, dear blog reader. Or, does it?
Congratulations, however, also go to the Daily Mirra whose Woman Forced To Hide At Home After Lip Filler Fail Left Her With 'Baboon's Bum' Pout was a more-than-worthy runner-up.
Three Coldstream Guards are being investigated by police after they were reportedly involved in a punch-up with the Queen's footmen. The altercation was said to have happened about eight hundred metres from Buckingham Palace as a group of royal footmen were attending a leaving drinks party. And then, allegedly, it all kicked-off with kids getin' spared and aal sorts ...
Muslim pilgrims in Saudi Arabia took part in a symbolic stoning of The Devil on Friday, but maintained social distancing in a ritual that usually brings millions of worshippers from all over the world shoulder-to-shoulder. The ritual, at which pilgrims must hurl pebbles at a giant wall, has in the past been the scene of several deadly crowd accidents. In 2015, hundreds died in a crush at an intersection leading up to the site.
And finally, dear blog reader, in the least unexpected news of the year the Saudi Arabian-backed consortium has ended its bid to buy Newcastle United. As anyone as cynical as this blogger about the fortunes of his beloved (though, tragically unsellable) Magpies kind-of expected would happen from the moment the proposed takeover was first announced. The group, which included Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth-fund PIF, PCP Capital Partners and Reuben Brothers, had agreed a three hundred million knicker deal to buy the club from Mike Ashley in April. The deal was still being scrutinised under the Premier League's owners' and directors' test and it is understood PIF ran out of patience after the process has gone on and on and on. And on. The consortium said that it was 'with regret' that it had pulled out. Amanda Staveley, the British businesswoman behind PCP Partners, said she was 'upset' for the club's supporters. Though, not half as upset as the supporters themselves who are now that they find themselves, once again, stuck with the much-loathed Ashley with, seemingly, no Plan B on the table. 'It's awful,' she said, adding that there would have been huge investment in the area. 'We are devastated for the fans. We really thank the fans - I personally thank them for all their support.' Friday saw the Newcastle United Supporters Trust write to their members, pledging to 'once again attempt to engage in constructive dialogue with the Premier League to get Newcastle United supporters the answers they deserve.' Well, good luck with that. They have also released the text of a previous letter they sent to the PL - and the appallingly formulaic reply which it produced. As they rightly observe: 'A supposedly confidential process has been confidential only to football supporters, as disgraced broadcasters in the Middle East, UK broadsheet newspapers and many others have claimed to have spoken to Premier League "sources" about why this deal "should not go through."' For what it's worth, this blogger always had some moral problems with the idea of members of one of the world's most repressive human rights regimes taking over at St James' Park. However, the staggering hypocrisy of a number of MPs who have done their best to scupper the deal whilst, seemingly, having no problems whatsoever with successive British governments selling arms to the Saudis and the barely-hidden agenda of most of those opposed to the deal on entirely financial rather than human rights grounds does leave an extremely sour taste in the mouth. So, as usual, the people we've been most shafted in this protracted and, ultimately pointless, exercise have been the long-suffering supporters of the club. We get left with Mike Ashley - someone whom, according to the Premier League, at least -is a 'fit and proper person.' As Jimmy Greaves would regularly observe, dear blog reader, football - 'it's a funny old game.'