The Jacksons came and went

The Jacksons Are Coming. Channel 4

What did we make of The Jacksons are Coming on Channel 4 on Thursday night? Admittedly I was only half-watching while sodding about on the laptop at the same time, but who isn’t multi-mediaing at that time of night? Despite that, it seemed to me to be a poor woman’s version of Louis Theroux’s ill-fated pursuit of Michael Jackson for a TV documentary in 2003.

The story, in essence, was that a Devonian martial arts expert had made friends with the Jacksons initially through Uri Geller and Michael J. I know, it’s already sounding highly unlikely. This person (I forget his name, as have the Jacksons by now) was slowly accepted by the family and, for reasons I missed while watching an auction end on eBay, the family decided to go to stay with him in Devon.

Inevitably, the Devonian host couldn’t resist bigging himself up to the local media about this famous guests, meaning the Jacksons – minus Michael, the most interesting one, and Janet, the other famous one – arrived to a media frenzy which they apparently hadn’t expected. Mrs Jackson didn’t even expect it to be cold in England, so you can see how prepared they were.

That was more or less it. There was some scouting for propery, a few paparazzi making hand gestures and lots of voiceover from film-maker Jane Preston. She was clearly trying to build the jeopardy of the film (would the Jacksons adjust to life in Devon? was that ever a real possibility?), but ended up, as I say, coming a very poor second to the whole schtick Louis Theroux had already mined with his film five years ago.

We did get a phone call from Michael, broadcast to a group of fans during an evening event with the Jacksons who had made it to Devon. It was a bit like watching Michael get into a blacked-out 4×4 with a scarf wrapped around his head. Nothing new and just barely proved that he’s still alive.

I’m surprised there’s still room in the schedules for this sort of ‘will they, won’t they get the interview with the famous celebrity’ programme. I certainly wouldn’t call it Cutting Edge, the name of the C4 documentary strand under which it was shown.


River Cottage all set for Christmas

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

I do, as you would expect of someone living on the Somerset/Dorset border, aspire to some elements of River Cottage living. So it was with great anticipation that I visited the River Cottage shop and canteen in Axminster last week to meet the producer of the latest River Cottage series, on a break from filming the forthcoming River Cottage Christmas Special.

The Channel 4 series isn’t actually filmed in Axminster because River Cottage there is just a (viciously expensive) shop and restaurant-cum-cafe. All the filming is done a few miles down the road, in Devon, at Park Farm, which forms the throbbing hub of River Cottage HQ.  Even Park Farm isn’t the real home of hedgerow gourmand Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; he lives elsewhere since vacating the original ‘River Cottage’ some years ago. Park Farm is a mostly empty farmhouse with a wonderful kitchen garden (created by a friend of mine, so it must be good) with a working farm around it.

Hugh’s minions presumably work the farm and the whole place fills up from time to time with people paying to eat at one of River Cottage HQ’s open evenings or attending a course in, say, allotment gardening or meat curing. And, of course, the place is teeming with life when a TV programme is being filmed, as it is this week for the Christmas special.

So what is in store for your town-weary senses on December 18 when the special is due to air? Hugh is tackling beef and venison, plus the perennial problem of how to make brussel sprouts appealing (and the afternoon movie relatively wind-free).

What you might not see is mistletoe. Although the designer has apparently done a lovely job with festoons of holly and clove-spiced pomanders, the team hadn’t – as of Friday last week – found any mistletoe. This seems odd in a location that is not only rural but right next to Somerset, cider-making country where orchards and apple-loving mistletoe abound. Will the problem have been fixed in the eight days it took to film the programme? We’ll have to tune into C4 next month to find out.

If you’re interested, the RC shop lived up to expectations with cheeses, biscuits, cakes, drinks and other sumptuous offerings to die for. But you would need to die and cash in a life insurance policy to do a serious shop there. I parted with £5 for a modestly sized lemon drizzle cake and balked at spending £13 on the 2009 River Cottage diary although it is beautiful, ring-bound and packed full of info so I’m hoping Santa will drop one into my stocking instead.


Just say no to TOGs

I came across this story yesterday, on MailOnline and it’s scared the pants off me.

I’ve been terrified by the Daily Mail before, so that’s not a new experience. But the suggestion that Jonathan Ross might actually, in the real world, be replaced by Terry Wogan on Radio 2 on Saturday mornings is so tremendously discomfiting that I am right now excavating a bunker underneath my kitchen in which to hide from the modern world.

That’s right – the MODERN world, a world where surely to god the empurpled complexion and lilting Irish tones of Terry Wogan have no place. Certainly there should be no place for him on Saturday mornings on Radio 2. I don’t care if you can’t see his complexion on the radio. I can feel the heat of those vein-mottled cheeks in my listener’s mind’s eye.

Was Lesley Douglas’ work on Radio 2 for nothing? Someone at the Mail is having a laugh, aren’t they? Either that or the Mail hopes that by running such a ludicrous story it might gain credibility with the cardigan brigade at the BBC and become reality?

We need a campaign now. Say no to TOGs on Saturday mornings.


What we want now is Ross!

Now I really want to hear from Jonathan Ross. He hasn’t spoken publicly about any of what’s happened since his infamous appearance on Radio 2’s Russell Brand Show on 18 October and he was last on air on his own R2 show on Saturday 25 October.

Does he think he’s been hung out to dry by the BBC? Has he been watching Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe on BBC 4 which is doing its best to make sure people still have something to complain about on the BBC?

Most importantly, will Ross return to Radio 2, supposedly on 24 January next year when his suspension ends, as if nothing has ever happened?

Speak to us, Jonathan. Your fans need you.


Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, again

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. BBC

So the BBC Trust – that collection of the great and the good who the government appoints to rule the BBC – has today published its conclusions on the famous Russell Brand Show/Jonathan Ross/Andrew Sachs farrago.

In short, the Trust led by affable but somewhat “senior” in age Sir Michael Lyons, has decided that Mr Ross’ comments about Brand effing Sachs’ grand-daughter were “so grossly offensive that there was no justification for its broadcast”. Radio 2 was guilty of failure on three levels: editorial control, allowing the comment to be recorded in the first place; compliance, by letting the comments slip through the checks and balances system for programming; and editorial judgement, by allowing the finished programme to go on air with the offensive remarks still in situ.

But the Trust hasn’t called for any more heads than have already rolled. It says the BBC management’s decision to suspend Ross and accept the resignations of R2 controller Lesley Douglas and presenter Russell Brand were “appropriate”.

Whether you agree that what was said by Ross and Brand was “offensive” or not (I don’t), the BBC Trust’s judgement is as interesting for what it doesn’t say as for what it does. No mention is made of how the BBC responded to the tsunami of complaints which built on Monday 27 October, the day after the Mail on Sunday and later editions of other Sunday newspapers including the Telegraph had both brought the comments to the general public’s attention and encouraged several thousand of them to complain about a programme they clearly hadn’t heard or felt strongly enough about to criticise when it was originally broadcast.

I still feel the BBC needs a stronger editorial champion than it appears to have. Admittedly the BBC Trust doesn’t exist to champion BBC editorial independence but to bring it to book on behalf of the rest of us as licence fee payers and the government which approves the BBC’s funding via the universal tax, the licence fee.

Will anyone from the BBC management – director general Mark Thompson? – be brave enough to stand up for comedy in all its forms, even if it offends some people? It will take a great deal of diplomacy, given the vociferous multitudes who have made sure we all know just how “offended” they are (more than 42,000 according to the BBC Trust).

Defending the BBC will also take a great deal of bravery, now that the Brand/Ross/Sachs row is being used by the anti-BBC brigade to try to bring the BBC’s funding back into question. Radio 4’s Today programme dedicated their “top slot” to debating the future of the licence fee at 8.10am this morning. Chief among the BBC’s critics is Charles Moore, a former editor of the Telegraph. Funny how it’s always the same names attacking the BBC.


Update on life and some TV stuff

BBC 1's Little Dorrit

Conscious as I am of wanting to update my pet blog, I am constantly being sucked into the time vortex that is eBay. Christ, it’s time-consuming. All I’m trying to do is sell a few children’s coats and some (admittedly over-priced) china (which is complicated – there’s emotional baggage to get rid of too, but I can’t find an eBay category for that).

So I take the briefest of breaks from obsessively answering badly typed questions from potential buyers in Germany and Sweden (no, I do not want to post things to Europe) to let you know that I am finally ‘into’ Little Dorrit, although I feel I’ve missed an episode and am still not sure what the French guy is doing. Perhaps that’s the point.

I like Matthew MacFaddyen (I really should look up the spelling) in this; he’s all minutely quirky facial gestures and nervous smiles, which he sort of was in Spooks but it suits the part here. I haven’t really got any empathy with Amy Dorrit which is probably not good, given she’s supposed to be the heroine of the piece.

I can’t help but feel the scheduling of this drama has done for my engagement with it. I missed the first hour-long episode when it was first on, so had to catch up on iPlayer, and haven’t got into the two half-hour updates each week so am constantly running to the iPlayer which I note now inconveniently switches between allowing you to download a programme and only allowing you to watch it streamed from the website. I want the option to do either.

Two half-hours a week is neither appointment to view nor habit. If memory serves, Bleak House was on every night for half an hour, or at least more than twice a week. Perhaps I’m mis-remembering. Either way, Bleak House was by far a glitzier, more star-studded and overall impressive production than Little Dorrit. Wonder if I’m going against the critical consensus here? Perhaps I’ll never know.

Later, if time, I will appraise you of my feelings – and they are emotional – about I’m A Celebrity, Get Met Out of Here and Strictly Come Dancing (with or without John Sargeant).


Somerset TV museum celebrates Dr Who

BBC Dr Who promo 

And now…. straight from the sticks: one of the most unlikeliest TV stories you’re likely to read all year.

The TV Radio & Toy Museum, based in the ridiculously beautiful village of Montacute, Somerset is marking the 45th anniversary of the first broadcast of Dr Who with a celebratory weekend, according to last Thursday’s edition of our local paper in these parts, the Western Gazette.

The event takes place on 22 and 23 November featuring characters “from the show” including a Tardis, K9 and Daleks. Here’s the killer piece of information: “Dr Who gifts will be on sale.”

Now, I don’t know if there is a 45th anniversary looming for Dr Who. I found no mention of it during a cursory examination of the official BBC Dr Who website. But it seems to me this may be a way to sell Dr Who paraphernalia in the run-up to Christmas. And why not? Dr Who is big business and the good people of Montacute have just as much right as anyone else (the BBC) to cash in on the franchise.

The thing that amuses is just how bad this celebration might be. To give you some idea of the scale of the Montacute TV Radio & Toy Museum, imagine a 1950s village bakery with plate-glass shop window and you are getting a pretty good mental image. Big, it ain’t. To visualise the appalling nature of the dummies shown in this museum, peer if you will at the photo below. In the shop, sorry, museum window are of course TV/Somerset gems Worzel Gummidge and Aunt Sally.

TV Radio & Toy Museum, Montacute, Somerset


C4 courts controversy with daytime sex ed show

Slabovia TV web grab


Channel 4 is bracing itself for a wave of complaints over a new sex education programme aimed at teenagers which airs not just before the watershed but in daytime.

C4 has already had four complaints about animated series KNTV Sex, before it even starts at 11am on Monday (17 November). That’s two more than the now infamous Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross Radio 2 show got straight after it first broadcast.

“That’s worrying to an extent,” admits executive producer Harry Bell. “But I absolutely think we’ve covered every base by working with teachers, students and educational experts across the board.  It’s been a real challenge but I think that getting sex and relationships education in schools is going to help our teenage pregnancy rate.” The UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in western Europe.

The 10-part KNTV Sex series, which Bell describes as “Jackass meets Sky One science series Brainiac meets Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz” (the inspiration for its award-winning animation), was born out of a desire to make sex education programming that can entertain, rather than embarrass, teenage viewers. Airing as part of the daytime, educational schedule, C4 hopes it will be seen in real-time by teenage viewers – particularly when the school Christmas holidays start next month – and that the programme will be taped and used by teachers in schools.

It helps C4’s cause that, in the time between commissioning and airing the series, a government review of sex education has concluded that personal social and health education (PSHE) should be compulsory for children aged 5 to 16. Much to the chagrin, presumably, of the Daily Mail, which has already drawn the “explicit” KNTV Sex series to the attention of its readers.

Last time C4 tackled sex education in a pre-watershed slot, with the aptly named Sex Education Show fronted by Anna Richardson, the Daily Mail reacted with horror, reporting the “scores” of complaints that C4 had received in a story headlined “Ofcom flooded with complaints over C4’s ‘obscene’ sex education show BEFORE the watershed.”

But the sex series is not the first outing for KNTV. The innovative educational show first appeared as KNTV Science in 2006 featuring animated teenage characters Kierky and Nietzsche. They present a ‘live’ magazine show from a studio inside the fictional and still Communist eastern European nation of Slabovia and showcase a mix of cartoons, comedy and Jackass-style clips from an archive which Bell describes as “the eastern European equivalent of ‘You’ve Been Fooled’ TV”.

Last year producer Tern Television made KNTV Philosophy for C4 which won an RTS Education award before Bell hit upon the idea of extending the franchise to cover sex. “C4 head of education Janey Walker liked the idea of KNTV Sex because it fits with the conventions of the programme and the characters,” says Bell. Watching the first episode of KNTV Sex, it’s as if the Borat-inspired eastern European accents have been specifically designed to take the mystique and taboo out of discussions about penis size and testicular checks.

Bell insists the eastern European premise of the show – backed by an entire online world at (above) – is meant to be a parody of the west, rather than the east. “It’s got that kind of humour within it but I hope what we do with the characters has a more affectionate touch than Borat,” he says.

To promote the series, Tern TV has created an online game, STI Invasion, which it is distributing virally (forgive the unfortunate pun) through social networking sites. The game involves guiding Kierky and Nietzsche through a series of mazes to collect magic condoms that make them invisible and they must battle nasties like crabs and Chlamydia, which are duly explained via pop-up screens. (According to the Terence Higgins Trust, one in every 10 boys under the age of 25 thinks Chlamydia is a type of flower, rather than a sexually transmitted disease).

KNTV Sex is certainly well researched, with input from the Terrence Higgins Trust, Brook Advisory and Sex Education Forum among others. “One of my biggest worries is that it will be taken out of context but the beauty of a 10-part series is that you can comprehensively cover a subject,” says Bell. So if the Mail or anyone else tries to suggest the programme is corrupting or gratuitous, Bell hopes the series can address those concerns if it is watched as a whole.


It’s all getting rather exciting at Five

Will & Grace

That’s Five the broadcaster, not five o’clock when I shall – as tradition and budgetary limitations dictate – be serving jacket potatoes to the kids for tea.

No, over at Five the broadcaster all my favourite TV execs of all time are gathering. Dawn Airey, aka scary Airey or Zulu Dawn, rejoined the broadcaster at the end of October from another long period of gardening leave. She’s immediately set about changing things and promising to make lots of noise, as she did when she was first there from before Five’s launch in 1997 until 2002 when she moved to Sky.

No sooner had Dawn rejoined Five as chief executive than she announced she’d poached former Five colleague and friend Jeff Ford back from Channel 4 to head acquisitions and become her managing director. Today we hear that Dawn has hired Richard Woolfe, who she worked with at Sky where he’s been running Sky One (and Two and however many other Sky numbered channels they have there now).

This makes me happy for two reasons. One: Woolfe is a lovely man with a canny touch when it comes to making unwatchable digital channels suddenly quite watchable (he did it with Living where he pioneered paranormal programming such as Most Haunted which still does incredibly well for them and a line in so-called “pink” programming such as Queer Eye For the Straight Guy and Will & Grace (above); and he’s done it at Sky with Lost and Gladiators. Even if we don’t actually watch Gladiators, we’ve certainly read about its return in the papers).

Two: I suggested Woolfe would go to Five blinking yonks ago (in 2003) when he managed to convince me he was the frontrunner for the job Kevin Lygo had just vacated. I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing that, now that he’s finally got a major channel to run.

Huzzah. Let’s all watch more of Five. Oh – there’s only Paul Merton on that I like. Still, the only way is up.


Irreverence on Radio 2

Paul O'Grady. Picture: BBC News

Thank the Lord for Paul O’Grady.

I am technically still boycotting Radio 2, in the post-Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand era, with a weary reluctance to return to what Miranda Sawyer has called its old-style golf club and cardigan programming. But some of my radios are still pre-tuned to the station, hence yesterday afternoon in the car I caught Mr O’Grady covering for someone on Radio 2, in his words, “online, on digital and on medication”.

He immediately apologised for his irreverence, insisting he’s not a radio professional and was merely “helping out”, presumably at the last minute. Thing is, when a personality doesn’t need to care about what they’re doing, they are usually at their best. Hence also O’Grady’s adlib after reading out a demurely worded apology for some “language” in a particular musical number. “What language? There was no language. Please God, can we not go back to a world of Songs of Praise and Alan Titchmarsh,” intoned Mr O’Grady in his trademark Scouse.

Hear, hear, Paul. And you were great. I doubt you’ll be invited back. Pity ex-Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas: years of work kicking Parky and the like off air, all undone in the space of two weekends.