Monday, 29 November 2010

Have your votes changed anything?Television democracy gone mad

There is a fine line between relative taste and completely missing the point. Most people I would like to think, understand the notion that if you held a public vote for best song, you would vote for the song you like the most, not the one you wish to inflict on people because it's rubbish and you're just having a laugh. And yet because of the way most of these formats are set up, there is a super representation of people who have access to electronic devices such as mobiles and texting, too much money  and far too much time. The result is joke party contestants on programmes from X factor to Strictly to Britain's got talent seem to last far longer than they should, often at the expense of  more talented people, and sometimes come close to winning.

We cannot of course blame  the public entirely, when for example on X factor or BGT the judges panel passes through contenders who struggle to hold a note, are patently without talent, and sometimes, dangerously unstable, all in aid of taking the mick out of each other, it is hardly surprising when viewers take the hint and do the same thing. Then you have a programme like Strictly come dancing that , if you believe the stories, has asked a wide variety of  B list and A list celebrities of varying potential to dance, to be on the show. Some have wisely refused, others have jumped at the chance. To say that Strictly and X factor have always been about ratings is to ignore the origins, at one point they did in fact aspire to find new talent or the best amateur dancer. Now of course, in varying degrees, you have to wonder just how seriously they take the titles of the programmes any more.  

Lets first look at X factor, however much one disagrees with the taste in music of Simon Cowell, and his clear desire to freeze out all other styles from the mainstream of music, and I do disagree strongly, one had to admire at first his brutal honesty and desire to find new talent that might have otherwise struggled for years unnoticed. What has happened since of course, is that Syco productions have taken the format of talent show music and variety and turned the entire exercise into advert selling with an ultimate goal of  as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time regardless of the effect on the music and the alleged talent.  I shudder to think what the Queen imagines the Royal Variety performance will be from now on, but it certainly isn't anything as awe inspiring as it used to be. JLS, urban dance troupes and barely able to sing skinny women pretending to be Beyonce Knowles. The notion of the well rounded variety performer as we used to see as late as the the 1980's has given way to one trick pony acts and controversy courting jesters who are famous only because Simon Cowel and his bickering panel allow them to be. It was sometime last year when even the most innocent of souls stopped believing any denials from Cowell's mouth and started wondering when this freak show without pity would take the same door as Big Brother did.  The lack of courage to make choices by judges, the choosing of acts designed to annoy rather that help, the outright machinations behind the scenes that became ever more obvious, all combined to undermine what little credibility X factor  and BGT had.

BGT in particular has been sad, it has committed the double crime of destroying the classic and universally loved genres of comedy, juggling, animal acts, acrobatics and magic to name but a few and relegated them to the dustbin, preferring to promote alleged dance and cute or saccharine singers. Furthermore, the only demographic they seem to care about is that of the under 20's or even younger. If you own a telly, and you're over the age of 25, you can forget about hearing or seeing anything remotely interesting. As for the hard core geezers like me who at 50 are no longer of any interest to anybody in the mainstream top 40 world, I may as well exile myself to the Gold channels and listen to the pub acts who are a still out there grafting  and doing something that doesn't sound like it was produced in a factory by 90's R & B obsessed geneticists.

The other main problem with shows like this apart from the genres and antics, is the abuse of talent, regardless of actual ability. These poor bastards are deluded into thinking they are good, they are then milked of all potential for little or no money then discarded. Some of them are a bit brittle mentally to start and this only serves to further damage them. Hardly fair, hardly right, hardly legal . Meanwhile legitimate artists continue to pay dues to unions and guilds, try to get signed and on the whole get ignored by the mainstream, because they are not Olly Murs and they are not as easily led as an X factor or BGT lamb.

Strictly has it's own set of problems, it asked the question  how can we increase our viewer numbers? In answer they seem to have rightly decided to up the quality of their celebs to that of A list currently working people and iconic performers who may still have something to offer. They then went one step beyond (great tune that by the way)  and binned the few checks on the known problems with public voting , by reducing the value of the judges scores and doing away with the dance off. In addition to this, the culture of disrespect towards knowledge and quality and standards has spread like a cancer into the very fibre of Strictly. The judges are all over the place with thier scores, in particular Len and Alesha, how is that Gavin Henson AND Matt Baker could have both danced an 8? Len of course bemoans the lack of standards then ignores the massive faux pas when it suits him.  Our professional dancers are also to blame, now knowing they have to appeal to a less than knowledgeable public that votes less and less on talent and skill and more and more on sizzle and spectacular moves. That is when they're not outright being obtuse and voting for John Sergeant, that boxer from last year  or this year Gavin Henson or that dance disaster Ann Widdicombe. Strictly may retain ratings to some extent despite all the flaws, but that doesn't mean it's right to be happy when it's catering to the lowest common denominator. When did it become ok to accept the kind of behaviour that used to make Jeremy Kyle watchers socially unacceptable pond scum? When a judge, as last Saturday happened, was explaining why Scott was off that week, the crowd were beyond hostile, but Scott knew the criticism was right. When will the producers have the bollocks to tell the crowd to behave or they will be thrown out?

This unbridled rush to worship at the altar of the absolute correctness of anything the public votes for, no matter how ill advised or patently wrong, is what's destroying an otherwise interesting, entertaining and compelling format on both the Syco programmes and Strictly.

If we were to examine the shows that do offer genuine competition for amateurs or professionals that do what's marked on the tin, we find  Masterchef, the Great British Bake off and other such formats are successful if not as massively popular, precisely because, respected members of the profession in question  step in, guide, judge and teach. Enthusiasts the world over get to see the results as the programmes are sold to markets and speciality channels  that appreciate the content. Which brings me to the criticism that needs to be made the most. The BBC as a taxpayer supported institution cannot allow itself to lower the standards to such a point that we cannot differentiate it from ITV or whatever fresh hell Rupert Murdoch would have it become. Raymond Blanc's The Restaurant died a well deserved death because he allowed  in the 2nd to last series a pair of un reliable people to win and and in the last series , had contestants so poor  it was at times impossible to watch. But what really killed the show was crowning the most ineffectual poofs on planet earth as winners, one could not cook, the other could not run front of house and yet they won????. By way of apology, Raymond Blanc has come back with a few specials where he shows us some of his best recipes. You're forgiven Sir, but don't ever do that again please.

As for the private sector, in it's rush to embrace the lowest common denominator, they have alienated the vast majority of consumers and by extension the advertisers that go with them in favour of  telecoms who are eager to sell cheap phones and texting services to people who are barely wealthy enough to buy pot noodle or in fact in lots of cases, not allowed to vote in real elections yet . As and when they show some respect to hard working people with money and responsibility, their only rated shows won't be X factor and Corrie. The blatant ageism practised in particular by ITV completely ignores professionals, the middle class, the upper classes, intellectuals and anybody who has ever read a book or listened to music from before 2007. Bringing the BBC down to it's level won't save ITV, but it will ruin a perfectly good broadcaster.  Bottom line...adults of all tastes, education, cultures,colours and ages exist, they have money and they have a right the see themselves reflected on telly. 

If we want better behaved crowds, better informed public votes, a few things need to happen, regardless of musical taste or occupation targeted.

The public vote cannot and should not be the ultimate arbiter until such time as it is a genuine public vote representing the actual viewers tuning in. Both the voting methods and the manner in which the weight of viewership segments is distributed, need to be looked at. If you allow a narrow group of people to overpower the true results, you will always get the kind of situations where despite the vast majority of people liking the dog act or the acrobats, the one act  beloved by 14 year old girls with mobiles, will win as they alone are as obsessive and free to spend the time repeatedly texting in favour of their favourites.   The only people profiting from this are the telecoms, the promoters and the red tabs who feed on the frenzy. And even then, the public vote cannot be allowed to supersede the collective wisdom of people who genuinely know of what they speak and are in fact rewarding the most skilled performer  over the most sympathetic.

The opinion of judges who are drawn from the ranks of practised professionals in the industries in question, must be respected and given the weight that will guide the result towards crowning a winner who is most deserving on merit and getting rid of the worst of the lot early so the real competition can be all the hotter and interesting. Where is the motivation for person A to excel when person B merely has to make a joke or take their top off to stay in the competition? Where is the imperative for the professionals guiding the amateurs to stick to the required routines when they see colleagues taking liberties and getting away with it?

These programmes need to take measures early on to insure that participants are up the task, sufficiently grounded in whatever they are doing to at least not be entirely rubbish all the way through. How is this done you ask?

I would for example have two parts of Strictly. Part one where we have 40 or 50 prospects report to dance boot camp.... they would then be reduced to the final 16 through  a few rounds of basic dances and then we get on with the real series.  During the series, if two dancers then fall into the the bottom two, make them do a dance off and the judges should have the conviction of their beliefs and keep the better dancer. X Factor used to do that, except for the piss take people they accepted and the ringers they selected in advance. In the case of BGT where there are several categories, you really need to make more time and more room for the various types of acts or the programme really does become the wounded dying animal it has become. Then and only then will the public voting  format be anywhere near worth watching. Last thing... don't dumb down the criteria, regardless of if it's signing , modern dance or log rolling, how else will the public have any respect for performers and judges, if they aren't expected to know or appreciate the effort required to be the best whatever of that year?

I as an amateur cook for example appreciate and respect a programme that treats me like I should not accept 2nd best or just trying. A programme that takes me to the next level through the contestants, teaching me and making me aspire to be better than I already am is the template all such competitions should follow regardless of whether they choose to add an element of public voting or not. But if there is to be public voting, it should never be the kind of thing that corrupts a result to the point that the only people left watching are a bunch of bored teenagers with nothing better to do.

As Strictly and X factor come to a close and a number of new series are about to kick off, the industry needs to start thinking and acting in order to insure the current sad state of affairs does not continue. If the format of public voting "talent" shows is to survive, it will take the combined efforts of industry professionals and the networks to step away from the Holy Grail of "the public" is always right and restore some balance to the equation.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Robert Downey's Sherlock Holmes or Guy Ritchie takes the piss

He would have made a better Holmes
I wrote a review of the film Sherlock Holmes in December '09, before the BBC's excellent  Sherlock (reviewed here) aired and before we knew there would be a sequel to the odious pile of droppings in question. I include it now as I think it bears repeating. If it saves even one poor soul from buying the DVD or renting it, I have done my job.

And now let us go back in time, It's a few hours after I've been forced to sit through the film, lost my scarf at the show and only having just returned from a gathering of Sherlockians that would normally have been discussing Holmes, Doctor Who, Corrie, life and of course enjoyed the fine knosh on offer by our hostess. We Instead,  spent the evening wondering how we were going to explain to new recruits why the stories we read and study in no way resemble the dreck they saw and hope they decide to stay anyways. In case you're wondering, we got no new members worth keeping, one ruined a meeting and was asked to leave before it became a complete loss. Now close your eyes and go back, back back.........It's cold and I'm wondering where it all went so badly wrong.

I write this as a charter member for over 20 years of a Sherlock Holmes Society. Our lot was invited en mass to a preview screening of the new Holmes film by Guy Ritchie. Besides being a crass marketing attempt complete with bribery by posters, promotional material like cheap plastic cups and other assorted rubbish including recycled material from other films ( they gave us a key off some fantasy thing re-stamped Sherlock Holmes), the move was designed to get a good review from ANY Sherlockian. Well it is this Sherlockian's duty as a Sherlockian and lover of good films, to warn you  DO NOT GO see this aberration. Why you ask ? Where do I start????

Well lets start with the basic requirements of any entertaining film. It fails in every important way possible. It's badly cast,  badly acted, poorly written, overly violent for no apparent reason , the story makes little or no sense, lasting apx 120 minutes but feeling like 4 hours. It's called Sherlock Holmes, but resembles Holmes about as much as a fat hamster resembles a cheetah. It could have been called Indiana Bond v the Evil doer ninjas and not have changed a single word save a few names, it was that removed from even being slightly about Sherlock Holmes.  But since I was made to sit in plain view of the promo monkeys, I could hardly walk out at the 15th minute when I wanted to.  Had I left, I would not have seen the complete list of atrocities inflicted on movie goers in the name of Guy Ritchie's bank account and Robert Downey's ego. And so having been made to watch this, I will tell you in exquisite detail why it's 2 hours of my life I would have preferred watching repeats of old industrial films or having a root canal.

Oh Yes!
As a Sherlockian I can tell you it treats the core characters with as much respect as an illiterate bully looking for porn mags at the library. Holmes should have no difficulty paying the rent as he's quite wealthy. Holmes and Watson do not have gambling problems, Holmes is not a slob, Irene Adler is not a master criminal but an actress/singer. As for the whole Mary Morstan story, Holmes is the one who hooks her up with Doctor Watson in the stories. So for Holmes on film to be jealous and to make trouble is insane and clearly he can't use deduction on her as he already knows her.. Holmes and Watson never come to blows and Mrs Hudson is Scottish and not afraid of Holmes. One tiny detail... Holmes and Watson do not own a dog of any kind, let alone a dead ringer for a certain insurance selling bulldog. Oh Yes ! Can you say product placement? For the writers to take a few over the top episodes from the books and wrap them in rubbish does not  make for an alleged accurate portrayal with a twist. As for the costuming, it's a dogs breakfast of styles from 1840 through to 1925, Rachel Mcadams in particular is dressed so poorly for the period, it's clear this was never ever made as anything but a cash grab at horny teenagers who can't afford internet porn. There are more cockneys per square inch than there were in London at the time and there appear to be only a handful of upper class people and they are all without exception, Evil. London was not an eternal lunar landscape forgotten by the sun and the constant less than subtle reminders that Ritchie once made Lock Stock and two smoking barrels means the film was never more than a sad call for attention from a film maker who's last few films have been without exception, turkeys. 

So what's the story?

Holmes has to stop a megalomaniac from taking over the world through alleged Satan worship, but is in fact Kabbala. The baddie who dresses like a Nazi from 1933 and speaks like one, wants to create a new world
order. Where have we heard that one before? Oh yeah, Indiana Jones or was that WW2?

The greatest offence, as if what I already mentioned wasn't enough, is the clear use of Jewish iconography and objects to create a sense of evil and danger. My wife, one of millions who can read Hebrew, was shocked to see the following.

1- A passage supposedly from the Kabbala , a practice that was so deeply shunned at the time by Jews, it was cause for hoying out of the congregation. The passage purported to be about a ritual with animal parts was in fact a text about the elements of life and completely harmless.

2- At one point, the film casts evil intent on the character of some high nobles with the inclusion of a richly decorated ceremonial box. The box in fact is a Tzadakah box or charity box. You select a cause
to donate to and drop your change in to eventually give it to the charity  of your choice. To elevate such an object of good to symbol of evil and danger is the same as equating a breast feeding mother to
that of a murderer.

It gets worse

3- During the film there is a massive overly long, slow motion explosion. The music played is the same as is used in every WW2 special about the concentration camps. It was creepy and unsettling.

4- Lastly they plan to kill off most of the members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons by using a device to activate poisonous pellets that will send the deadly smoke into the House of Commons turning it into a gas chamber.

This film is flawed in so many ways, but the use of Jewish symbols and sacred items in combination with the gas chamber imagery  is beyond the pale. My wife's family only barely survived the camps. For Guy Ritchie to think this was ok to do, is sickening . As a Holmes film it fails, as an action adventure it's a complete mess from beginning to end, not having any particular hook or creation of tension onto likeable characters.  Lastly it is offensive to any person who knows their history .. I can only hope this film dies a quick death and Guy Ritchie is exposed for the insensitive piece of work he is.

My last word on this, if you want to watch quality Holmes stories,stick to ITV's Jeremy Brett. If you want explosions and action, perhaps Avatar might be worth seeing. But at all cost avoid this piece of dog's droppings . It's not worth the price of admission, even if you don't read Hebrew.

Looking forward to the John Lennon bio pic reviewed here, should be much better.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Strictly Come Dancing week 9: Sqeaky bum time

You can tell it's now 3 weeks away from the final and the pressure is beginning to hit hard at the real dancers. Pure talent alone is not cutting it and it's as important now to be able to convert the scoring chances as to make them. Strictly come dancing 2010 is lurching towards the finals in a most bizarre atmosphere I've seen in years.The things that separates the top 4 , Kara, Scott, Matt and Pamela are nerves and self confidence. We'll be finding out these next few weeks just how fast and how hard these dancers can go without loosing bits on the way. The other obvious thing is the tension and  fatigue creeping into every dancer, at some point even the best of them were going to crack and loose focus or energy for at least part of the time. Barring some disaster, ( where have we heard this before), all four should be there next week . Patsy, who is a contender to make it to make it to the finals or at least the show before, has the most to prove as she wants at all cost to stay out of the "public" bottom two.

As for the judges bottom two, one who's finally getting it and the other who thinks it's Britain's got talent, what can I say?  I'm shocked the trend is no nearer to petering out. And if Sunday sees another talented dancer leave while these two stay it will mean a complete branch and root review of the voting system as well as the manner in which contestants are chosen. If the public are intent on voting for something so far removed from actual dance, then the programme needs to remove the joke party candidates before the first night.

  Tonight's show while an hour long was finally getting to feel like some of the filler was beginning to show. The entire cowboy montage was too much and could have been filled as easily with a dance from the professionals or a song by the band. Here's a novel idea, we could have seen the judges dance! The x factor type filer was all the more lame as we had to endure the hamming of some people who are about as appealing as cold toast. Judging however, was as usual the mixed bag of honest critique and occasional moments of hallucinations. Once Alesha and then Len, not sure what happened but every so often they see something nobody else saw. Best moment had to be when Bruno nearly started dancing with Alesha who clearly wasn't having any of it. If there was one strong point throughout, it had to be the music. The band was on top form and even the musical choices were on the whole complementary to the dances intended for them.

And so without further ado, the ratings

Kara Tointon : Jive. What a happy dance number that was. Nice hip action  with lots of realy good kicks and flicks. No mistakes and she looked like a pro. I loved it.  Could she have on reflection given it more? Maybe, but if that was her dancing tired, what will she do when she's rested and ready??? Rating 9

Ann Widdicombe: Maybe this time the Titanic will stay sunk.

Rating:  joke long since past it's sell by date. 

Patsy Kensit: Argentine Tango.  Performing on a bad ankle, Patsy could have had more pure intensity, but given the fact she was on injured, the dance was moody sexy and bendy and she didn't miss a beat. This is the sort of performance you expect from troopers who are taking this seriously. Rating 7

Scott Maslen: American Smooth.  It looked good, it looked well executed, but all along you got the feeling he was holding back. Turns out he was thrown by a loss of step early and it affected the performance. That and the fact he was knackered from a schedule that had given him 2 days rest in several weeks. Any bad dancer under the circumstances would have died on the spot as well the dance itself is far harder than it looks, so hats off to Scott for making it look easy. Rating 7

Gavin Henson: Jive.   Let me be nice for a change to start. He moved, he realy tried dancing, HE HAD A GO. Had he danced like this in week one, he'd be respectable by now.  His moves were stiff and blocky often, his hip action  bad, there were timing issues. There was a moment when it looked like he was about to have a poo on the dance floor. An embarasing routine best forgotten  except for the fact he at least tried. Rating 3

Matt Baker: American Smooth. Elegant , smooth and romantic, his dance was punctuated by nice lifts and some wonderful fluid spins. Then he had to pull those faces. I know now it was part of the story but that element did not work. You can't blame Matt for the Choreography. Aside from the faces, one of the best dances of the night. Rating 8

Pamela Stephenson: Charleston. Best for last it seems, even the few acrobatics they did  were sort in line with the history of the dance, so no complaints from me. As a whole the routine was brilliant and joy to behold. Funny, amusing and great footwork with no awkward breaks, just what a Charleston should be. Rating 9

Bottom two prediction time, despite coming bottom two in the same order as the first night and every other night, in the judges table, Ann will likely stay up :(, Gavin However will probably be joined in the public bottom two by Patsy who does not deserve to be there. If we're honest, and pretend the two joker cards had been sent home already, it should be Patsy and Scott. Patsy because compared to the rest, she's not getting any better and Scott, because he was poor tonight and he knows it. I think  the public behind Scott are far more forgiving so he's safe, but Patsy hasn't got that kind of support and will likely be in the drop zone. If we get a fair result, Gavin will be heading home to family and full time rugby. What we get of course is anybody's guess.

See you all tomorrow night when we find out who is the least popular of the 7 left standing

Watch tonight's Strictly week 9 on the iPlayer

Leaving aside the elimination for a moment or two, the results show was rather fun to watch. Highlights include the verrrrry sexy dance by James and Ola , honestly, I felt like I was intruding, then the pros came out and did an ensemble piece featuring MORE women in skimpy outfits, who as it happens danced well, didn't notice the men if I'm honest. Our stars took the format of filler clip from last night and made it work finally, aside from Ann Widdicombe, the rest of them were brilliantly cast in bits that highlighted their personalities and adventures so far on the programme. Gavin, whom I often have less than kind words was perfect in the ode to the Full Monty. Much to my surprise, James Blunt wasn't making me want to slit my wrists, his song was finally out of the scary stalker rom-emo territory and was somewhat autobiographical. The kind of content I would have expected last night but did not get. Oh and thank you Strictly, we got Bruno and Craig in a dance if only for a few seconds, MORE PLEASE!  So next week is movie week, Ann will be doing Frankenstein before the villagers storm the studio with pitchforks and torches, one hopes.... the pitch forks that is. 

Bottom two according to the public?  50% right at least ..... Pamela and Gavin, but classy Pamela was sent home instead. Gavin himself admits he's "close to dancing now", he may even be good by week 25, pity it ends in 3. The biggest farce about this continues,  " Have your votes changed anything?" OH YES! Dancers leave while an entire part of the voting public turn a dance contest into a popularity and piss take competition. It's one thing to vote for Wagner on Yechhh Factor to protest the murder of music by Darth Cowell, but what did Strictly ever do but try to show proper dance can be healthy fun and enjoyable? I want to reward the good dancers, not sacrifice them to some skewered sense of  "good on you" for not being total crap and Howay the Lads! If Alan Shearer, long may he be praised, came on and danced so badly I wanted to gouge my eyes out, I would not vote for him, in fact if Alan Shearer was half as bad as the Horror from the House of Commons, he'd have had the good sense to remove himself in order to stop just such a farce. Just to prove I'm, not so viscerally anti Tory that I would not be horrid to a Tory, if Cameron himself was on and danced like Fred Astaire, I would want him to win, in fact. But any time people ascribe non dance reasons to vote for somebody, they rob the show of the reason it was put on the air.

Next year, IF the rules are changed, and the stars are better chosen I will watch, but as it stands, I'm very close to swearing off this just as I did BGT and X factor. I honestly don't care if it goes on to be a hit with people keeping the corpse of Marcel Marceau and Stephen Hawking in, while the near professional dancers are hoyyed off tot eh scrap heap.  BBC, PLEASE this is not ITV and you don't need ad revenue. Fix this or you will loose the support of the dance professionals and fans who thought it was a talent contest.

Watch the results show here

For more information on Strictly 2010 you can go to the Strictly Come Dancing home page

Friday, 26 November 2010

Know yourself and all things in moderation

These wise words may sound familiar to some of you and those who have classic history degrees are shouting at your screens right now. I titled the post like this for reason that will become obvious shortly.

It's Friday morning and day three of a full on flu, I can barely breathe, my throat hurts I have an earache and most of all, I am bored to tears! Normally I would have cooked several meals, I have lamb shoulder ready for Guinness stew, but no I can't even touch it at the minute. I would have been to the shops for food and maybe a new book. I even have three reviews pending  till I don't get tired from more than 20 minutes of writing.  in between bouts of sleeping, eating cream of wheat and drinking tea, I sit bolt upright being odd enough to not want to be at keyboard lest I write the madness down for all to see.  And yet I hear you say, you're writing now???! I've taken a hot bath and and I'm wide awake and the flu is lurking in a corner for now. Otherwise I wouldn't even bother.

And to the point of all this. I got an e-mail from somebody at the BBC early yesterday. Very nice man telling me how a problem currently rearing it's head will be sorted in December. Seeing as how he's never been too inaccurate, I believe him, but allowed myself a moan about how there wasn't anything on cept The one Show. Now regular readers will know I worship at the altar of the British Broadcasting Corporation, in particular BBC4 and the history and arts content. That day however, having scanned the TV schedule, I found nothing that seemed to catch my interest. That dear readers was the flu talking.

Right after seeing ginger twit Chris Evans trying on the chair Matt Baker had been in just the day before, I found myself watching a repeat of Top Gear, a good one, aren't they all? And stayed on BBC3 to watch ........Young hairdresser of the year.  Maybe that was the flu talking as well, but it wasn't half bad. I wouldn't let most of those people touch my hair, but hey somebody has to be a Guinea pig.  The eventual winner was a fair choice as she not only had proper personal fashion sense and did not wear the same weird hairdo all the time like the lost in space bird who dressed like an extra from Blakes 7 and  I CLAVDIVS . Her use of original ideas and creation of hair pieces showed skill and marked her as person who deserved to go up the ladder in the hair business. Then I did something I would never do normally, but having been made to watch a bunch of gardening shows by my wife on the iPlayer ( she's sick as well and so I let here choose too), I went straight to Autumn watch and stayed till Unsprung finished. I never ever watch this stuff, but it was fascinating, had I known these people were this interesting, I would have watched ages ago. Perhaps the fact we have three pots and a balcony planter  may have put me off in the past, but no more. It took me back to my scouting days and hanging out with my grandmothers as they pottered about in their respective gardens. I've even heard myself say we'll watch that Tichmarsh thing coming up later this week.

Yes know thyself and you will too discover a whole bunch of things you thought you'd hate. You know who else knows you? The iPlayer. Yep, it's got this canny way of finding out what you like, and just because YOU may not have seen it on the schedule, it will make sure it tells you later on. In my case I got several hours of brilliant telly I had missed for one reason or another. iPplayer knew I had been watching Ancient Worlds.. and suggested unto me the following feast of  history truffles. Nuggets of programming so rich and luxurious I could feel the addiction setting in.  First up I watched Delphi , bellybutton of the world  then God's and Monsters: Homer's Odyssey,  I followed this up with Greek Myths: Tales of travelling heroes. And for pudding I then watched Aristotle's Lagoon  .

Ancient Worlds, works well in telling the big threads of the story of civilization, it takes you on a journey across the old world to places seldom now visited and  explains in a concise well illustrated style designed to get the point as clearly as possible. The presenter Richard Miles, appears to stroll casually through history, but don't be fooled, it's a concise and accurate threading of the points which lead to cities, trade, empires and war. Great human and social tides are put in a context that show how they apply even to the modern story of man, except...this was the first time we as people had done so. In the latest ep The Greek Thing, Miles shows us a strange and contradictory blend of pride, cooperation and idealism that created the laboratory  that tried every known form of government in the space of only a few centuries.

Of the lot which were all exceptionally well made, The one that made me go to sleep substantially smarter was the Travelling Heroes one. In it Robin Lane Fox presents 35 years worth of research in a 90 minute film exploring the direct links between a group of South Eastern Greeks who travelled the Mediterranean trading & colonising and their special connection with the remnants of the Hittite Empire. These same Greeks learn to write from the Pheonecians in modern day Cyprus, and add yet more details to the life story of Zeus and his kin.  The previously known elements of the Olympian deities are filled in with entire chapters the Hittites still spoke of, and because it was an oral tradition, it made sense to these Greeks, it was their God's they were talking about. Clearly the story was far older than they ever had thought and like the Hittites before them, accepted the holy places as their own as well. Interestingly, the connection and linear flow of the mythology is so compelling and strong, that in later centuries, the Church feels to he need to either demonize these places or co-opt them. Even our notion of Heaven and Hell is rooted in the Hittite traditions, the narrative is so overpowering. While I was raised a Catholic and like the idea of the one G-d we get from the Jews, this much older story captures the imagination far more and finds echoes throughout the Christian faith, from saints to the notion of the Holy Trinity and immaculate conception. A particularly interesting side note is the realization, that Hebrew as old as it is, still owes it's development to the older Pheonecian and begs the question, of just how important the Pheonicians are to every culture in the region and just maybe if you draw a continuous line how many cultures were in actual fact not merely influenced, but logical continuations of the same people. It would certainly go a long way in explaining the strong similarities in some modern peoples and why they may prefer not to go too deep in their histories lest they find out they aren't as original as they though themselves to be.

Within the Slavic Pagan tradition, we have nearly blow for blow the same gods and goddesses, the same basic older and younger layers of power and the same notions of the deities being at odds with each other in constant struggle for the control of man's hearts and minds. As a Pole these older traditions have come down to us a children's stories and tales designed to scare us to sleep, but they are in fact the old ways, the ways that find their roots in the stories those Greeks found so long ago.

The other programme of the lot that was both eye opening and as detailed as a one hour film can be, was Delphi Bellybutton of the world. Better brush up on your French as there is a lot of it, but it's not a problem for me, any road there is a translation throughout the bits in French. Michael Scott dives in head first and tackles the basics like how Delphi worked, why the place was more than just a tourist trap for people wanting a reading and how it played a role in the distribution of information in the ancient world. And that my friends is in the first 10 minutes. Most programmes designed for beginners would have meandered for a good 40 minutes before getting to the point, Michael Scott assumes you know this and takes the least amount of time without losing the first timers. He then takes the rest of the hour and walks us through the rise and fall of Delphi, the various stages of Greek ascendancy and the final gasp of power under the Romans, before Christianity became the sate religion and the capital was moved East to Constantinople.From the first time to the last ever message from the Oracle, the maxims Know thyself and , all in moderation, fought the hubris and inconsistency of humanity that would always lead to the destruction of the state and the powerful if left unchecked. 

And to think I'd thought there was nothing on telly? Know thyself.... the motto of Delphi, even today it makes sense.

I'll add pictures later when I've had a kip and some more pills ....Don't wait for me, get on the iPlayer and watch these programmes before they go into the vault for another 6 months.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Turn Back Time- The High Street: WW2 Make do and mend

  Turn Back Time - The High Street: World War 2. More like make do and don't get killed, of all the eps so far, this was by far the best if only because it brought close to home to a lot of people the forgotten lessons of WW2  and the suffering and hardships of people away from the front. My family of course had little or no concept of this as they were in large part occupied by Germans and Russians, then just German, then just Russians ( our liberators, yay! ). Bombs fell a lot and nobody seemed too keen on feeding them or being nice to them. My wife's family was at first in the Jewish Ghettos then in the German death camps ... most did not survive. My own Father, grandfather and grandmother on my father's side spent most of the war in Siberia before the Russians in 1942 decided to let them fight the soviets old allies, the Germans. Before "liberation" they got nothing, they lived on berries, nuts, acorns and whatever they could catch and of course selling off what few possessions of value they were allowed to take when they were deported in 1940. After "liberation" they lived on my father's earning and about a rationed kilo of truly horrid bread for three for a week, local provisions were stripped for the front, so again  they went from nothing to next to nothing. We lost a few along to the way to starvation and the executions in the Katyn forest,  many who started the journey to Teheran and freedom, never made it. So pardon me if I'm not too impressed by the deprivation and home front tribulations of some merchants. That said, some of my family on my mother's side did get out early and lived through the rationing , the blackouts and the bombs. But in fairness, that part of our history never seems to bubble up as much as the total loss of everything we owned, the wholesale murder of our families and the surrealist experience of surviving the concentration camps and Siberia.

Poles who made it to Teheran in 1942 from Siberia
In fact before I say owt else, I suspect most of you have no idea what it means to grow up in a family where the after supper conversation around the table with older relations, regularly came round to family history which included highlights like stories about seeing your own father shot by Russians in the public square, or having your grandfather tossed down a well after he'd been murdered in cold blood by Nazis. Nothing changes your life like being forced to watch non-pulsed with a gun to your head as your Jewish friends and neighbours are taken away and shot, only to be yourself  sent to Ravensbruck shortly after. My father's second wife spent part of her 12th year of life being a courier in the Warsaw uprising as the Russians sat just outside the city waiting  for the Germans to wipe out the remaining non communist leadership.  Certainly puts such things as rationing, mending and vegetable plots in perspective doesn't it. My own life as a boy was an endless stream of what do you mean you're hungry? I  had to march 10 miles in the Polish winter etc...... and you couldn't argue with that could you? When we watched Katyn the film, my father had a running commentary of who was killed , how he and my grandfather were lucky to be arrested later and only allowed to live because they were believed to be spies. My own wife's Grandmother "filled in the details" of Schindlers list that were too gruesome for film.and both our families learned a healthy respect for our bullshit meter and the little bell in our heads telling us it's getting too hot to stay. I appreciate more than most whom and what  I have and why I should cherish it, and that sometimes earthly possessions are sometimes just stuff. I appreciate the horror of what the people of London and Coventry and countless other places on the planet went through, but most of my friends who aren't from a family like ours, just don't get it. They really can't wrap their heads around what it means to have history happen  TO YOU and have history so directly mould who you are. I would never wish any of this on another person, but it does my head in to see just how many people, even well meaning ones, for whom this is just an abstract thing you read about in books.

Tonight's story was as much news to me as it must have been to most people who hadn't bothered watching C4 these last few years. An important retelling in terms that most modern people would understand. So what did change on the home front. For one, suddenly there wasn't a lot around. 55 million tonnes of goods became 18 million tonnes of goods coming into the country. The war effort meant that much of what the country produced went to the troops and out of the country. As the war dragged on and the Phony War or Sitzkreig had only claimed Poland, the real fear and consequences started in earnest only in 1940. With the result that England was nearly invaded, from then on, the hard graft on the home front was very real and very harsh if you didn't cooperate and work together. The British government launches the Make do and mend culture complete with community gardens and the usage of the national loaf and mutton or rabbit to replace the ubiquitous porc. Rationing and ration books become a way of life complete with more frugal use of foods and less appreciated foods like fake banana and spam or corned beef. I myself like both, but in moderation  but would probably not be keen on the fake banana food flavouring. As times get tougher and the men in trade are called to the catering corps, the women and young people are yet again left behind , except for bakers who are still needed at home. Hard fines and jail time are the lot of profiteers and the ill will it causes could be the undoing of much community spirit. As for the ration for the week,  it  consisted of more and varied food than my father ever saw in Siberia in a month or my wife's Bubie ever saw in Bergen Belsen, it was well balanced but meagre. This was not a bad thing, you could supplement it with all the bread you can eat, get veg from the garden and eat rabbit . So if you wanted to, it wasn't the end of the world.

So how will our merchants be affected by this and how will they cope?

The Devlins bakery is transformed into a restaurant designed to serve community meals that satisfy and keep scarce resources better distributed.  Now I wanted to have a go at Caroline, I really did, but she really got herself together this time. Even her National loaf, also  known at the time as Hitler's secret weapon as it was so unpleasant, was not as bad it could have been and she muddled through. Small but important detail about the national loaf , you didn't sell it fresh, it had to be a day old so as to last longer, but that was skipped over, why I don't know. Not withstanding the taste or the consistency, as it was whole wheat, Britain ended the war as one of the healthiest people on earth. Mrs. Devlin, If anything,  displayed the Dunkirk spirit that got Britain through the war the best. Her own children were among the most hard working of the lot and seemed to not complain one bit. More on the Devlins in a bit.

Simon the black smith traded in his toy shop for the basic hardware shop and Gill now offered to mend old clothes and refashion them into new garments. Together they took the initiative to go round the town and collect old tat and transform it back into useful items. I've banged on before,  elsewhere about how the greens of today haven't invented the wheel with recycling. This last gasp of the Ironmonger was to be his best and most satisfying, as his trade would be made redundant with the advent of mass produced goods on a global scale. Gill the dress maker took in many orders for alterations and converted a lot of people to the idea of giving clothes a new life. For the record, during the war Shepton Mallet collected 18tonnes to build a tank. Ever wonder where all those fences fine gates and other bits of less pretty iron work went to? Yep fighting the Gerries. We collected  fat, rotting veg, and all sorts. 

The other real stars of this ep were the Butchers and  the Grocers. Before I get to the Sergisons, let's talk about the Father and son butchers Andrew and Michael. They had to serve mutton, two year old sheep to people who'd got used to  porc and younger lamb. 1,5 pounds per customer, that was it. Now some customers  took on the era and gave it shot as social history, but others turned their noses up at rabbit and thought mutton too nasty. Andrew however turned the tables by making all the things people wanted from mutton and just as good, his best effort was the macon or muccon.. mutton bacon ok!  after a few locals tried it, it turned out to be more than a bit tasty. As things went, the only slightly sour note tat was hit was when the older men went away to serve in the catering brigades, normally hard working Michael turned into bit of a knob. This poor Scottish woman Ann Davidson, comes in to run the shop and not only does she get attitude from Michael but has her abilities questioned by punters, most of whom were women.

And now Carl Sergison and his wife Debbie. What a piece of work these two are. Having hidden some stock from the previous era, they then started to sell it on in private at double profit. in total padding the till by an additional 30£. But in the process setting off a cycle of distrust and recrimination that had it been real wartime would have cost him his business at the very least. They compound this by raiding the community veg garden and using it as their free goods cornucopia of profits.  It's people like this that make you seriously consider going communist. What they were practising was profiteering and illegal. Such people as Carl would have been sent to prison and their shops handed over to people who could do the job properly.The Chamber of Commerce fined them £100 or about £4500 in modern money. Carl seems not to have taken the lesson to heart and is more and more the vile money hungry bad guy of Dickensian novels. Fair shares for everybody just doesn't seem to be in his rule book.What he was treasonous , but he just considered he was taking care of his family even if it meant others went without. During war this is the kind of thinking that gets you locked up and rightly so. Debbie, who gives Geordies  a bad name, then squabbles with Caroline and her husband over using un-eaten bread for the same day, preferring "fresh" baps. As I said , the bread during that era was actually already slightly stale before it was allowed to be sold, and she wanted fresh. NOW who isn't getting the point of the exercise.

Which brings us to the centre piece of the the ep, the communal meals that Caroline organizes with the other merchants to pool resources were a brilliant idea. It went along with the community kitchens that served in some places up to 60,000 meals a day. It was easier to make a massive wodge of food that was tasty and nutritious in one place than in several. Over the ep , several age groups try out the fare, from spam and various kinds of carrot and swede mash... yum by the way, make it myself often , to rabbit stew and sheep's tongue with date and raisin pud  for the people old enough to remember the war. What was nice to see  was that as people got to appreciate the community kitchens more, they stayed long past the meals to chat and give each other support. Even the old art of queueing for something other than concert tickets, got people talking to each other in a way they hadn't in donkeys years.

Just as the Sergisons are truly not getting the point of the exercise, there is an air raid drill that reveals a lot more than just nerves and brings a few back to a realization of just how dangerous things are in the second war and that maybe they ought to after all cooperate. I'm not entirely sure Carl got it, but had he been there when one of 200 bombs fell on the town in the war, he might have been a bit less eager to be such a banker. My father's own recollections of air raids was the hit and miss nature of the beast, leaving one building intact but another completely shattered. Perhaps if they had taken out a building with a few fake casualties, it might have got the point across to some people a bit more forcefully. It does bring Caroline and Debbie closer and the women bond again. One gets the sense it's the closest Debbie was going to come to an apology.

As moral grew a bit strained and low, the street gets a dance to pick up spirits and we see some lovely frocks and the leg painting ( the full fashion look)  that imitated the look of real stockings with the sexy black seam on the back of the legs. Now the party was tamed to certain degree. During the war, such parties were not as innocent as this one seemed, with no lonely women going off with soldiers for a quick romance against the tree or wall, but then no one said it was going to be 100% accurate. In the end, the war pigs went home ( got some Ozzie on at the minute) and all breathed a  huge sigh of relief. All over the country and in Shepton Mallet a VE or Victory in Europe party was held in the street and became part of the biggest street party in history one reckons. Folk brought their left over rations and a feast was made to satisfy all apatites present. 

What is clear to have come from this in the population of the town that took part, was the creation of a community spirit that will not be soon broken. That town centre seems more likely than ever to retain a bit of the fairy dust when the cameras will go away. The best reaction was not from the old age pensioners who loved the meal of sheep's tongue and rabbit, or even the adults who embraced macon as delicious and gorgeous, but from a little boy who seems to have understood just how much rationing meant and that he was happy he lived in a time that had come about from the self sacrifice of millions of people like himself so long ago.  This lad who seems to have become a real fan from as early as the Victorian era has truly embraced the social experiment. So it's not Doctor Who's TARDIS, but he's been through 80 years of  the town's history in a way a pamphlet never would have. The closing line of the ep definitely belongs to the man who summed up the feeling stirred up by the week...We're all in this together, Let's not be greedy, Let's all help each other. Surely a motto worthy of any time?

Catch up the series here And find out more from the official web page here 

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Happy Birthday Doctor Who

In the same way Marvin the Paranoid Android is in fact older than time itself, Doctor Who in relative time  is about a 1000 years old, give or take a chronic historisis. But on this day in 1963, to be exact at 17:15 Doctor Who first appeared on BBC television 47 years ago and changed the way millions of people view life. Much as Star Trek has marked the world, Doctor Who did it first and is still going strong. Notwithstanding certain Doctor Who fans who think nothing happened prior to Russel T Davies, we the fans who learned to cower behind our setees so long ago, were the first to fear Daleks, hide from Cybermen and laugh at Silurians.

Watch Doctor Who live as it goes out in the UK or watch it on the iPlayer.

We are also the fans who lived through the great desert when the evil the horrid the nasty, Michael Grade did all he could to destroy our Doctor. He of course eventually succeeded in 1989. I still recall the withdrawal pains and the anguish of not being sure the Doctor was coming back. I assumed it would be a bit , but not 16 years.  This of course never stopped me from watching the eps I hadn't seen before or re watching for the umpteenth time the all time best Doctor ever for me, Tom Baker. In later years I would form new attachments to new Doctors and would add several new companions with whom I was in lust.  In no particular order, Romana 2, Peri Brown, Tegan, Nysa , Rose, Martha Jones. Peter Davison became my 2nd favourite Doctor before the new batch came along. But if I'm honest, I loved them all. Each one had his idiosyncrasies, cool gadgets and accessories  and of course there was the Master....both of them, Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley...deliciously evil in a perils of Pauline sort of way, always got away just in time to fail in their  plot to kill the Doctor but live to try again.  The cheap sets, the sometimes very silly costumes seemed to work because the writing then as now rises above the props.

Then of course in the entire history of Sci fi there has never been a more brilliant bit of kit as the TARDIS. Bigger on the inside than outside and with a personality of it's own. How often has it been that the TARDIS has gone to the beginning of time and not been destroyed? During the 70's when I first started watching, the interior of the TARDIS was far more important than it is now. Entire stories unfolded inside, running in endless corridors, entering a bewildering amount of rooms and of course the girls had lovely beds complete with dressers and large mirrors. But my favourite rooms had to be the multiplicity of control rooms and the doctor's closet, only ever visited when he had put on a new skin. Nowadays, RTD and the Lord Thy God Steven Moffat have limited the imagination to a few doors and ramps but not gone any further.

But the most marked impression The Doctor Who Cannon has had most on me is two fold, I cannot without a lot of self control, help including ,what to other people are pointless "facts" about actors , actresses,  aliens and objects important to Gallifreyans, into most conversations and until the advent of the Borg on Star Trek, thought there was nothing more terrifying in time and space than a Dalek... I've since added zombies and  weeping angels.  Still One of my favourite sports is spot the Who cast member in I Claudius, Triffids or some other television show. Even now when I write reviews for cookery, history or dance programmes, I  include the Who references as naturally as I do  footie ones. I can do that because there are millions of us to whom saying "Tardis like" is as normal as saying premiership good.

What started today 47 years ago is worth celebrating and praising. I am not alone in teaching my computer's dictionary words like Davros or  Dalek, Don't be shy, today let people know about your TARDIS usb port, Don't hide you seal of Rasilon T shirt  and for good measure make sure you take your K-9 out for a stroll before you accost your cats with the remote control Dalek, and by all means don't forget to wear your Tom Baker scarf before when you go out. Make Doctor Who Day special, for today is the birthday of Doctor Who, the greatest hero time and space ever knew.

As a treat for the day I've mined youtube for a collection of gems, Music clips you may have forgotten about and some great satire .

I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek  Sung by the Newcastle based group the GoGo's

Who's Doctor Who sung by Frazier Hines

Time Traveller  More Fazier Hines

Who's Who sung by Roberta Tovey

Not so Old   Roberta Tovey sings of love for an older man

John Pertwee sings I am The Doctor

John Pertwee Pure Mystery

Doctorin the TARDIS The KLF

I am a Dalek  The Artattacks

Landing of the Daleks The Earthlings

Tardis sounds effects

Almost every Doctor Who Theme ever


Doctor Who with Rowan Atkinson 

Lenny Henry Spoof 1985....a vision of 2010


Three doctors and the Master

Children in need 1985

Doctor Who 10th anniversary on Blue Peter part 1 and part 2  

20th anniversary on Blue Peter , includes in studio Daleks and Cybermen 

I will be watching An Unearthly Child with my wife today, however you celebrate, raise a glass to every writer, actor, actress, prop man and costume matron who ever worked on the programme. I personally want to thank my now long passed on mate Colin Semel who had the opportunity to play a Dalek in the 1970's .
Thank you Verity Lambert, Sydney Newman, William Hartnell, Delia Derbyshire, Ron Grainer and countless others

ENJOY DOCTOR WHO'S BIRTHDAY ALL! Happy Whomas one and all.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Pudsy bear laughs, let downs and comedy

Good morning dear readers and slaves to the rhythm, Wasn't Pudsy's day out yet another cracker.....If you liked bands like McFly . Not withstanding the dreck for the ears, Take that were ok and our Kylie was fabulous, I mean how old is she and she looks like that and sings like that, made Pixie Lot look like a an old hag. Same old tired West End shows trotted out the trannies and the stylised dance numbers, John Barrowman wore a suit only he could carry off without deep embarrassment and most importantly, lorry loads of money was collected for the most deserving and vulnerable in society. The Doctor Who picnic was cute and the preview a bit clinical, a fellow blogger told me the brats were annoying and he didn't like the little kids either. I suppose even for Pudsy it was a bit saccharine.  At least now we know we'll be seeing Doctor Who does A Christmas Carol, because everybody else has done it. Last decent takes were Bill Murray in Scrooged and the Black Adder version. I suspect I will be disappointed as most of the Christmas Who specials were never much to write home about. It will however do me for my Who fix no matter how underwhelming it be.I won't lie, if you should so much as try to disturb at broadcast time I will defriend you in a nano second. It's been so long I would even watch Paradise Towers again. Here's a treat from past CIN shows... The 1985 CIN Who clip

Sir Terry of Wogan was well cool with his wit intact and he seemed to not fall asleep at all or be put off by the horde of screaming girls who thought they could shout out rude things or wolf whistle and get JLS to take notice of them. I of course muted them,  even the cat was shocked by them, and that Burque woman, great outfit, horrible song. Yes I'm not a fan of the music. Give me The Pogues any day , Christy Mccall or Maximo Park or the undertones , I can go on , But I'm not even sure I can tolerate wee Joe Mc Eldery some days.So what he's from South Shields, I'd rather get a root canal than listen to the entire cd. Oh for the days when bands I recognized sang music I liked. Which begs the question, why don't the Kaiser Chiefs or The Killers ever do these shows? Oh yeah 14 year old girls don't want to have sex with them. High point of the amateur variety had to be the annual News Presenters song, not nearly as shambolic as last year... look for it in the highlight reels.

Not sure how much was raised , but our fiver is defo going to a good cause. Was it my imagination or was there a segment for disadvantaged yoofs and handicapped kids joining the circus to get out of trouble?Last year it was about carers of whom I am one, this year it was all bit more tragic.

Did anybody notice the near complete lack of ITV input this year , barring the most excellent East Street and the murdering by the Loose women of a Girls Aloud song.  Which is not to say the BBC input was all that mind blowing. Your telling us that Sherlock couldn't do something or Miranda? or Qi or Mock the week?Ok so there's not a lot of family friendly light stuff on the Beeb at the minute but having called on the Hairy Bikers who did a most excellent air frying pan and Strictly gave us some decent dance , it should have been up to ITV to step up with more. Though I can see how they might have trouble. Nobody watches the Breakfast show starring former One Show rats and were it not for Katie Price and X factor, ITV would have to broadcast test patterns. Still better than watching I'm a has been, make me shove reptiles down my pants. Watch all or parts of Children in Need 2010

I was hoping the football would give me a bit of a lift from the mild disappointment of Friday night, but to no avail. Arsenal urinated away the chance to go top of the table and my own beloved Newcastle United were torn to pieces 5-1, well at least Andy Caroll scored a goal, The rest of the match is something I will work hard to forget in short order.  Still in search of a well deserved smile, I then looked forward to a glittering night of dance in Blackpool.  Despite the shite shower of unpleasantness via Doris Karloff, and the incredibly rude in studio crowd, the evening was a delight to behold with some stellar efforts by the top 5 dancers ( full review here). Despite the controversy surrounding a certain ex MP and delusional OAP, Strictly is still worth watching if you park your higher brain functions at the door. I look at it as an exercise in attrition in which the credibility of the programme slowly drains away while the best dancers shvitz their way to survival to avoid the Grim Reaper of  the great unwashed voting. Some brilliant dancing is yet to come and you should not miss it.

Which brings me to Sunday night. After the bitter but predictable disappointment of seeing Bendy Felicity hoyyed off at 8pm we waited for the most excellent Garrow's Law ( review to come) which of course was exactly what we expected, a perfect combination of costume soap and modern courtroom drama. Really , if you haven't watched it yet, I have to wonder what you're waiting for. Following Garrow's Law, mostly because I couldn't be bothered to turn off the telly, the lovely Mishal Husain kept us company while the tea mashed and I sorted out just which cheese we'd have for a late snack.

So armed with tea and cheese, The Impressions Show  kicked off and wellllll, in 30 minutes I laughed only once, never once tittered or had an ironic smile. Just becuase you do sort of accurate impressions does not mean you are funny. On the old Vogon Poetry scale of bad, this show still stays at the somnabulistic  horridness of  5, where it's not so bad you want to turn it off lest you injure your brain, but you can't imagine ever watching it again.  Pity such talent is wasted on below average writing. The problem with the Impressions show is simple, I don't want to see occasional near perfect copies of people on telly do stuff I can see by watching the real thing. The Heston Blumenthal sketch suffered from over writing, rather than end it just before Heston explains the joke we had just seen , they then carry on and drive the now ruined sketch into the ground. The Fabio Capello bit, at least I think it was Fabio, was painful to watch, and their one attempt at proper satire where Ronnie Corbet and Katie Price get married, felt forced and struggled to find an exit. Jon Culshaw, the real criminal of the piece, insists on doing impressions of people he can't even get the voice pitch of. One wonders how many starving comedians would have careers if the funds wasted on this were diverted to somebody new.  There's a reason it's on so late and the performers know it. I had honestly thought the programme had been pulled ages ago.

In an effort to cleanse the palette, we turned to the magic of the iPlayer and  caught up on things we'd missed on account of being both down with the lurgie. First up was Russell Howard's Good news which was funnier in the first minute than all of the previous 30 minutes and just kept on rolling, even poor Gaza and his fried chicken and lager get mentioned. Then suddenly, the rotten stand up routine that closed off the programme intruded. Maybe it's a Southern thing I don't get, but the alleged comic must have said the word posh about 50 times before I muted him. Had I known he was it till the end, I could have saved myself the trouble of watching a podgy man in a sport shirt not being funny for what felt like an eternity. No worries Qi XL  was next up with the extended version of Horrible. After several weeks of being bumped in favour of popular music programmes I managed to live without, it was a refreshing breathe of fresh air. Truly makes you wonder why they don't just dispense with the shorter 30 minute version. Qi XL is a comedy treasure.

The Thick of It
Keep in mind the meds had not yet kicked in and we could spare another hour or so before the eyelids shut. Pumped up by Qi, I loaded up the See saw archive if Series 2 of The thick of it. Being the political animal that I am, I was able to see the humour to the very core of it's being. The Thick of it takes every situation ever to have happened in a party office or Ministry building, regardless of politics, and laid it out bare for all to see. Honestly , it's really like that, maybe not in such a constant stream of misfortune, but pretty much accurate. I even felt a few old nervous ticks and bad memories creeping back in like they had happened yesterday. For every person who thinks that politics is easy and some sort of perfect road of redemption for the idealistic public servant who needs to maintain some sort of Aristotelian perfection, watch the programme. These people have to practice the art of the possible in a fish bowl where unrealistic expectations and conflicting agendas clash regularly. After this, please have a care for the people running our government. It takes a special kind of crazy to be able to survive longer than 5 years, and yes they work hard with little or no recognition unless they fuck up. Even if they manage to stay under the radar, they still sacrifice, family and reputation for what at the end of the day is not remunerated nearly well enough to compensate for the hell most of them will endure. Looking forward to the new series we're told is now being scripted.

Newcastle United fans, in case you missed it, Goal! a film in which the mighty Toon feature in a big way and win a famous victory at the end in suitably dramatic fashion, is on the iPlayer till Sunday the 28th. You may recognize familiar behaviour if you've not seen this before. You'd be forgiven if you see Joey Barton and others thinly disguised as other players, but with the bad there is the good as well. Must see footie film even if you aren't a Mag, but if you are, make the time.

Well that's it for me till I write the other things set aside Friday night when the flu set in. It's still not too late to donate to Children in need, just click on the Pudsy link to the right of this post and follow the instructions. Every bit helps and even if the show wasn't always the best, the children can use all the help you can give.

As per usual, this blog post written to the tones of The specials, Jilted John and the Undertones on Beat Surrender at BBC Radio Newcastle. Make Nick Roberts part of your Saturday Night, if you can't there's always Listen again. 

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Strictly Come Dancing week 8: Live from Blackpool

I fully expected great things from the Blackpool show and I wasn't disappointed. The dancing , the judging and the music were up to standard , though I could have expected better from one or two scores that rewarded crowd pleasing over the required elements. The inclusion of acrobatics where none was required or even or called for at all , may please the viewers who like a good show, but it misrepresents the competitive world of dance in such a way as to not help the cause. My father danced pro level  through the 50's and later on and he tells me the proper moves alone are impressive enough and hard enough. When he danced , you knew couples that  covered the lack of  skill and proficiency with ott glitz. We want more people dancing , not fewer. If it was made clearer what the judges were looking for, the choreography by the professionals would not sometimes take the piss so much. Clearly some of the stars are being pushed by a combined agenda of the professional dancer wanting to show off to the public and the star  sometimes just not being up to the task.That said, it was a brilliant evening of dance with only the usual low points that we've come to expect.

Week 9 full and up top date here

I particularly liked the new graphics with an Animated Bruce Forsythe looming all Pudsy like then showing us how strong his muscles were, or was that a please phone gesture? And while he may have been warned albeit theatrically, Brucie should never hesitate to show us the dancing skills he has. His tap routine tonight was a lovely gem from an era gone by, now replaced with distractions and covering gestures because, unless it's not leaping in the air, it's not dance. I want to point out the extreme hostility of the crowd when certain judges were brutally honest, pity the crowd now genuinely does not understand the judges roles, If I came out dressed like a Dalek and stomped around for a minute telling jokes and was funny, it still wouldn't be a samba or dance for that matter.  I for one will pretend this is still a dance competition and enjoy the skill on offer as when it is and ignore the rest. A quick note about the music, in a desire to use popular music, sometimes the dance is harder to see and harder to do. Kara Tointon explained that her routine was harder to choreograph because the music was hard to work with. In plain english, it wasn't suitable for the dance. I don't see why you can't pick good music and suitable music at the same time, perhaps if the dance was more important on Strictly, that would happen more often.

And so without further ado....

Patsy Kensit: Samba. Over the weeks, Patsy has been wonderful, but considering the near solid hold the two table bottom dwellers have,  She'll be lucky to survive the great unwashed.  Choppy hoppy and stompy, not original names for dwarves but moves, were in abundance. Her timing was off and there was no hip action. A painful display to watch, she'll be lucky to survive this display. Rating 6

Kara Tointon: American Smooth. Before I saw owt else, Len was right, and I blame the pro partner for including illegal elements and  not taking up required holds. It's their job to keep it honest, but they seem more interested in thumbing their noses at the judges and playing to the crowd.  On the assumption, Kara didn't know any better, she was Beautiful, had a natural flow. The routine had a seductive drama to it and the pair had the kind of synchronisity you expect only from pros. Side note, Artem worked with an injury which makes the routine even more Craig said, FA BU LOUS !!!! Rating 10

Matt Baker: Samba. A consummate performer and grafter, despite loosing his tep rather obviously at one point the overall routine was a driving Brasilian Samba with lots of hip bounce bottom work and footwork, it was so good it did not need the extraneous acrobatics.  As they say on masterchef, you only put on the plate what is expected to be eaten. Rating 9

Felicity Kendal: American Smooth. Elegant, nice musicality, good story, not Tara but lush. Her rises and falls were a bit weak, but her best dance of the series according to Len. Rating 7 Again considering the SPECIAL dynamics, ie the woe-some Welshman and the Horror from under the House of Commons, she'll be in danger of the bottom two. Rating 7

Gavin Henson: American Smooth.  Cheesy, walky slow filled with starts and stops, only his lifts were good, even brilliant. If only he had done this in week one , he'd be almost ok by now. Rating 4

Scott Maslen: Samba.  Absolute brilliance, , great transitions , hip action, footwork, ScoooooT was as good as every other week. In no danger of leaving any time soon. Rating 8

Pamela Stevenson: American Smooth. Rhythmic full of passion and heat,. The story was clear and compelling  with fluid  footwork, technically great turns, she never lost her step once. Rating 10

And lastly

Ann Widdocombe:
What does a Dalek at a spa say?EXFOLIATE! EXFOLIATE!
What does a Dalek chewing tobacco say?EXPECTORATE!
What does a drunken Dalek say?INEBRIATE!
What does a Dalek making things worse say?EXACERBATE!
What does a Dalek making things better say?AMELIORATE!
What does a Dalek jailer say?INCARCERATE!
What does a Dalek say when given an upper and lower bound for a solution?INTERPOLATE!
What does a nauseated Dalek say?REGURGITATE!
What does a Dalek given initial conditions and a trend say?EXTRAPOLATE!
What does a Dalek speech therapist say? ENUNCIATE!

Current list of victims Tina O'Brien, Jimi Mistry, Felicity Kendal
Rating Who cares
AND the greatest ever Doctor Who moment on Children in need .... 1985 . Several Doctors many assistants and Terry Wogan  of course. Still not too late to donate... follow the link on blog to the right of here.

Bottom two predicting time and of course the table hasn't changed at all. If this was the Premiership, these two would be packing their bags for fizzy pop not wondering how much longer they'll last. Gavin and Ann,  But I suspect, short of a miracle it'll be Patsy and Felicity sadly, neither of which deserve to be treated so.

This space reserved for my rant tomorrow.... laters all.

What a results show... Sexy women dancing to Bootilicious, Cirque du Soliel and Duffy, and then they had to hoy somebody other than Gavin and Ann. And the judges know it too, so they are ignoring the fact these two have not raised their game and are acting as if they don't exist. I suppose that will change if they're the last two standing and the mirror ball doesn't go to anybody who actually danced.  Congratulations all you people voting to piss off the judges, hope you have a lousy week.

Bottom two just as I had sadly predicted, but to my surprise it's Bendy Felicity going home. She was by more than a hair better than Patsy, but again it's a popularity contest and the Good Lifers were not up to the task of keeping her in. Felicity was gracious and a class act as she exited. I will miss her and thank her for some the best bits of Strictly this series. 

Watch the Blackpool show on the iPlayer 
Watch the results show on the iPlayer

For more details and all thing Strictly go to the Strictly Come Dancing home page .