Why we love the John Lewis Christmas ads

Why do we love the John Lewis Christmas ads so much? For me, it’s the music as well as the general schmaltz which I’m prepared to tolerate at Christmas. The Telegraph has handily put together this round up of John Lewis Christmas ads since 2007 when the retailer put out its first spot shot especially for the biggest shopping spree of the year.

2016 John Lewis Christmas ad

John Lewis 2016 Christmas ad with Buster

The Telegraph tells us that it was in 2009 that John Lewis’ ad agency first got a contemporary artist to sing an iconic song and it’s this tradition, more than any other, which makes the ad for me each year.

In 2009 it was a version of Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child O’ Mine but I have to say my favourite tune was Lily Allen’s version of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know in 2013 over the bear and the hare animation. For tear-jerk value and the overall storyline my favourite film is the 2011 Christmas ad The Long Wait, in which a boy cannot wait for Christmas morning just so that… he can give his parents the present he’s got them (the details of how he got the present remain unclear).

It’s a great legacy of work for John Lewis and its ad agency Adam & Eve DDB. I’ve joked in the past about changing my bio to ‘John Lewis target audience’ but, even so, these Christmas ads work so well with a classic song and a touching story that they’re impossible to resist. Now all I want to know is how the agency got all those animals to bounce on the 2016 trampoline together. Presumably the footage is edited and the badger didn’t actually feature at the same time as the two foxes? Answers on a postcard or in the comments box.

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News for news junkies

James and Rupert Murdoch appear before MPs

What an incredible day yesterday was. Yes, a famine was being declared in parts of Somalia but here in the UK news junkies are perhaps not ashamed to admit being obsessed with live coverage of Rupert and James Murdoch appearing before the Commons culture, media and sport select committee. Murdoch senior is chairman and ceo of News Corp and his son is his deputy and they are arguably the biggest media moguls on the planet. We have never heard them speak, side by side, for so long in public. It was truly fascinating.

Which meant the telly or some form of live streaming was on somewhere in the house from 2.30pm until after 7pm when Rebekah Brooks, former editor of the News of the World and The Sun and former chief executive of News Corp’s UK newspaper division News International, finished giving evidence to the same select committee.

There were the headlines: James Murdoch admitting News Corp had paid legal fees for the investigator Glen Mulcaire who hacked into phones for The News of the World; Murdoch grandstanding with a line about this being “the most humble day” of his life, before being rudely hit in the face with a plate of shaving foam from a protestor. There were also countless, repeated denials from Rupert, James and, later, Rebekah that they knew anything about the illegal interception of mobile voicemail messages including those of murdered teenager Milly Dowler. They all found out about Dowler’s phone interception two weeks ago, they said, when The Guardian broke the story.

Brooks said yes, she was on holiday at one point when Milly Dowler’s disappearance was in the news but that was “irrelevant” as she was editor of The News of the World at the time. Perhaps that is why MPs didn’t pursue a question suggested by Nick Davies, the Guardian journalist who has done so much to cover the phone hacking story. Davies suggested MPs say this: “When you were editor of the NoW, you published a story which referred to a message left by a recruitment agency on the voicemail of Milly Dowler, the 13-year-old schoolgirl, who was then missing without explanation. Did you read that story? Did it occur to you to question how your reporter could have known about this message?”

Many of the questions the MPs did put were batted away as being more appropriate to the ongoing police investigation into wrongdoing at the NoW; or the Murdochs, James in particular, said things had been done on the basis of legal advice News Corp was being given at the time; or James said he wasn’t at the company in 2007 when NoW reporter Clive Goodman was sentenced to four months for intercepting voice messages.

Then there were the finer points of the drama. James Murdoch saying at the outset that he would like to submit a written statement to the committee “if it pleases you” as he worked out the protocol of the occasion. Rupert Murdoch saying his son had just asked him to stop gesticulating as he temporarily stopped patting the desk as he spoke. He may be old but Murdoch Sr seems used to thumping a desk as he speaks. All TV viewers were impressed by Wendi Deng’s dual role as wife and bodyguard, landing an open slap on the perpetrator of the foam pie. She had carefully ushered Rupert into the chair directly in front of her at the beginning of the session. It’s amazing to see Murdoch family dynamics on show like this.

I’m left with a sense of how far the Murdoch myth has got away from the reality. Rupert Murdoch is a very successful media businessman. He genuinely loves newspapers. He rings the editor of the Sunday Times almost every Saturday night, he said. He rang the editor of the NoW less often, about once a month. He doesn’t have a grasp of the day to day detail of how his newspapers get put together and nor should he. He is a chairman and ceo; he employs 52,000 people around the world. James Murdoch is a smooth-talking, slightly wall-eyed individual who is good corporately.

But it is precisely because we have heard so little from the Murdochs directly over the years, save for carefully crafted speeches, that politicians and the public have imagined what they like about the Murdochs. That they are ogres. That they have no morals. On the basis of yesterday’s appearance I would say they are simply very, very successful businessmen. They and Rebekah Brooks must be incredibly certain that there is no evidence linking any of them to illegally intercepted voicemails and, without evidence, there need be no admission of guilt.

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Shadow Line

BBC 2 drama Shadow Line

There have now been three episodes of the drama Shadow Line on BBC 2 and I think I know what’s going on. It’s about a drugs cartel and one of their member was shot just after he was let out of prison. He was in the back of a car at the time and there was quite a bit of mess. The driver of the car did a runner and everyone – the police, the rest of the cartel, a sinister go-between called Gateway – was after him.

The driver turned up eventually but it wasn’t long before he got shot, along with his pregnant partner and his mother. Now we’re getting the back stories of all the other characters: the lead investigator who has a bullet lodged in his brain from an earlier ballistics incident. He seems to have two wives. Then there’s the guy who had to take over running the cartel when their main man was shot at the beginning. His wife has Alzheimer’s although she’s still apparently in her 40s.

Rafe Spall is fantastic as the cerebrally-challenged psycho nephew of the murdered drugs baron. His scenes are so fraught with tension and the threat of extreme violence I can hardly bear to watch them. Headliner Christopher Eccleston is all big ears and nose as he takes his role very seriously. He only did one series of Doctor Who, you know.

What I don’t get about this series is the scheduling. Shadow Line is on on BBC 2 every Thursday at 9pm. But after the week-long blitz of Criminal Justice or my tendency to splurge on a DVD box set every night of the week I’m not sure I can  be bothered to wait a whole seven days to get the next instalment of this passable drama. I wouldn’t wait a week to re-engage with whichever novel I’m currently reading. Quite quickly the once weekly instalment of a four or six-part drama has come to seem very old-fashioned indeed.

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Sweet memories of The Brits

Robbie Williams at the Brit Awards 99

Robbie Williams at the Brit Awards 99

It occurs to me that one of the things I can do with this blog is recount various hilarious stories, old and new, of life in the television fast lane. And of life in the slow lane, now that I’ve pulled over to let the boy racers get past. I’m observing the speed limits these days so I’ll see all those boy racers at the roundabout or the next set of roadworks.

You do know I write this whole blog with my tongue stuck firmly in my cheek, don’t you? So when I use a word such as “hilarious” it is to be taken lightly or not taken at all. As my best friends will tell you, I am not a funny person. If others occasionally find me amusing it is by accident rather than design. I merely aim to tell it like it is, or like it feels or felt to me at the time.

So, the Brit Awards take place tonight. I have just heard Chris Evans closing his breakfast Radio 2 show and swapping Brits memories with Ken Bruce. Both agreed that even the Brits amount to just another awards show which goes on for too long. I would add that despite the glamour even the most famous and apparently self-assured faces are slightly on edge on the night.

I have been to the Brits twice and my main question is: why the hell are they held on a weeknight? If you are a corporate guest of, say, ITV (who broadcast the Brits to an expectant nation) then once you are past the rock-concert-meets-film-premiere style security you drift to one of the corporate hospitality tables where you are plied with alcohol and so-so food before the actual awards start. There is pumping music, but you are in an echoey and initially quite cold arena (I went to Earl’s Court) which, let’s face it, wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice for dinner with 7 like-minded souls. Table in the middle of this vast, dark aircraft hanger, madam? This way, please.

So you eat. You drink a lot, if you do that sort of thing. Then the awards start. On comes a star presenter or Davina McCall or a series of different presenters for different awards categories. It’s a tough audience to play to. At some point the screaming masses are let into the place, wearing wristbands and lacking access to anywhere except the pit in front of the main stage. Another lot of people – presumably mortals – file in to fill the rows and rows of seating around the place. Quite what the general public make of the corporate few, noshing their noodles at candle-lit tables on a specially constructed dias in full view of the rest of the proceedings is anyone’s guess. But at that point in the evening, none of the music or tv executives present actually care.

As I said, I’ve been to the Brits twice, both times courtesy of someone who was far too nice for the TV industry but hasn’t actually left it. Once Robbie Williams was the star turn and his Let Me Entertain You did exactly what it said on the tin. But Williams was already entering the stage of his career when he became disaffected with fame and his acceptance speech for one of the awards he garnered that night went something like this: “This is for my nephew. This was when your uncle Robbie was famous.” During half of his turn, Williams didn’t even trouble himself to mouth the words to his hit. Why bother, when several thousand adoring fans are singing for you.

The other year was the year Geri Halliwell appeared on stage from between a set of giant prosthetic ladies’ legs. The sets were quite good and, in that strange way of the turning world, I later discovered that the creator of Halliwell’s vaginal stage entrance lived in Suffolk close to friends of ours. I wrote about that at the time elsewhere.

So good luck to all of tonight’s Brits nominees and the various hacks and media executives assembled to adore and schmooze. Enjoy your night, especially if you are a guest of corporate hospitality. Try not to be sick before you leave and remember where your ride home is to be found at the end of the night. I shall be watching on ITV.

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The question we’re all asking

Chris Evans. BBC

That question is, of course, has Chris Evans changed? The DJ who went AWOL from Virgin Radio despite owning most if not all of it and who parted company with Radio 1 somewhat acrimoniously back in 1997. His brilliance became self-importance and he paid the ultimate price – years in a celebrity wilderness.

Now Evans is back on top after a successful run as Radio 2’s drivetime host and, from today, hosts the coveted Radio 2 breakfast show.

The question is: is Evans really a matured, more rounded character? Will he go home to his wife and young son after working at ungodly hours (7am til 9am) and eschew the long lunches that were his downfall ten, 15 years ago? For the sake of the BBC and Evans’ listeners I hope he has changed. But I feel a youthful part of myself dying as I make that wish.

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The future and the blindingly obvious

 Guardian logo

Media companies, but particularly newspapers, have had their knickers in a twist for some time now as they wonder how to make money out of “online”. That is, the provision of information via the internet which, before the advent of the internet, they were able to charge money for. It is almost axiomatic today that if it’s “online”, it’s free. Unless it’s porn.

The answer to me, coming from a background of business publishing, is so screamingly obvious that I wonder how so many highly-paid executives have avoided it for so long. Don’t give unique information away for free. Whatever the medium.

The trouble is that, online at least, every organisation is waiting for another to jump first. No company wants to be the first to start charging online readers while others continue to provide things for free because the first to do so fears losing their audience.

Predictably, it’s taken Rupert Murdoch to question this lame, lemming (as in suicidal) attitude to the internet. A few weeks ago he said his British newspapers (The Sun, News of the World, The Times and Sunday Times) would have to charge for content provided online. Now more and more people agree with him, not least Simon Jenkins writing in The Guardian. The argument against charging is that advertising revenue will cover the cost of content that’s free to the end-user. But if that wasn’t true in the real world, why should it be true in the virtual world? And, as a business, why deny yourself a potential revenue stream? Altruism? After a recession? I don’t think so.

Having just renewed my mobile phone contract (for 18 months, thank you) and while questioning why I spend tens of pounds each month on a Sky TV package that I barely watch, another thing has occurred to me.

As a regular Guardian reader and user of its many free websites, I would gladly pay (what? £10 a month?) for unlimited access to its online news/comment/reviews sites plus – and this is the deal-breaker – a hard copy of the Saturday paper. To do full justice to Tim Dowling’s weekly column in the Weekend supplement you have to place the actual magazine on a table where it will be covered in a niagra of apple & elderflower squash and the discarded, slightly grey inner tubes of several half-eaten sausage rolls over lunch. (If only Waitrose sold empty pockets of cooked pastry, I’d save a fortune on deli goods.)

It then occurs to me that it’s only a matter of time before content from different brands such as The Guardian and Sky is bundled together in packages in the way that broadband, mobile and TV services are. OK, it’s more likely to be content from The Times bundled with Sky as they’re both ultimately owned by Murdoch. But I can dream, can’t I?

I have seen the future. And it’s sausage-shaped.

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Media reality check part 0707

Digital Britain graphic

While most of the TV industry got itself into a light lather over the Digital Britain report which was published today, Tuesday, I was having a much more amusing time thinking about how we actually consume media in our house.

For about two years now, since my older daughter started school, we’ve had to use an alarm again. That’s right, parents of tiny babies, the time does come when you’re not woken by the plaintive cries of a defenceless bag of flesh at 5am never to sleep again for the next 26 hours.

My alarm is a clock radio, tuned to Radio 4 which at 7am is broadcasting the Today programme and, specifically, the news. My partner doesn’t (these days) read a newspaper, because he drives to work, and he doesn’t seem to read news websites preferring instead to look up trivia about The Move or similarly obscure 1960s pop groups. Although some say The Move isn’t obscure at all; it’s quite famous. (Shame on you.)

The point is this. The alarm is on my side of the bed and my first instinct when anything goes off at 7am is to hit it. Thus, for two years (my partner told me this morning) his daily grasp of what’s happening in world affairs has been limited to sentences such as “Gordon Brown has today said [bang! Radio snoozed.]” “Scientists have expressed concern over [whump. Snooze.] “The world of pop has been [thump. Snooze]” “World leaders are paying tribute to [wham. Snooze.]” “The World Bank will this week [ow. Etc.]”

For some reason this makes me roar with laughter. Put that in your fibre-optic cable where the sun don’t shine, Mr Carter, Sir.

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John Birt, Denis Thatcher and other old farts

Frost Nixon Interviews. DDS Media/Liberation Entertainment

On Friday I was at the Broadcasting Press Guild awards luncheon at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. For those who don’t know, the BPG is a club, I suppose, of journalists past and present who write or wrote about TV and radio. It encapsulates all TV and radio critics and correspondents of the national newspapers and a fair few trade magazines. We vote annually for the best actor, actress, TV drama, comedy etc etc of the preceding year and the awards are staged between the Broadcast awards in January, the RTS programme awards whenever they’re handed out and the Bafta TV awards in May.

The best bit of gossip I got from the do I really shouldn’t repeat. It concerns John Birt, erstwhile director general of the BBC and a former high-up producer at LWT where he helped land the David Frost/Richard Nixon interviews now enshrined in the Frost/Nixon film. Ask not how I know but it seems the movie’s scene in which Birt is so ecstatic at having landed the Frost/Nixon interview that he disrobes and plunges into the sea is entirely fictional.

Other news: a good friend and one-time fellow journalism trainee Simon Wilson, who is now a comedy commissioner for the BBC, was at the awards supporting Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin who won the best comedy and best writer gongs for their truly wonderful, part-improv sitcom Outnumbered. Wilson was busily texting some mystery producers in an edit suite across town to let them know that they couldn’t have another 15 seconds on the end of the show they were finalising for BBC 1. Gags had to go. Of such minutiae are producers and executive producers lives made.

Of the stuff that happened on the podium, my favourite moment was David Frost accepting an outstanding achievment award and giving an “unplanned tribute” to Denis Thatcher in the process, as he recalled a number of anecdotes about Dear Bill, the man Frost said he most missed never having interviewed. One story concerned Denis at a gathering of world leaders where he was inexplicably called upon to speak. Denis rarely spoke in public and never took a platform – leaving all that sort of thing to the distaff side. In Frost’s memory, he got out of the hole by announcing that “As Mark Anthony said to Cleopatra on entering her bedroom: ‘I haven’t come here to talk.'” We didn’t get that in the BBC’s Margaret drama the other week.

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So little time (left for those working at ITV)

Demons. ITV1

Have been too busy with paid employment to post on here. But the crap has clearly hit the circulating cooling device today, with ITV unveiling an abysmal set of results and announcing 600 job losses plus a staggering £65m cut to its programming budget. ITV spends less than £1bn a year on programming (£867m last year) so that’s 7.5% of its budget going this year. And the same again next year.

Poor old ITV. Poor old 600 folk getting the Spanish Archer. And there are more horror stories to come later this week from Five, which will announce its response to the advertising downturn on Thursday. Channel 4 has its own set of problems and redundancies to roll out.

And yet I refer you to my earlier comments about tough times in TV land. All those involved are fortunate enough to work in a relatively well-paid industry (except the runners, of course) and if they’re any good they will find other jobs and they will have redundancy packages to nurse them through the next few months. Looking further ahead, people will still watch TV. Some say we’ll watch more TV and want more light entertainment and fluffy features while the recession lasts. So once the dust has settled this week, it’s business as usual. Just with a few less people around and a few less business expenses to hand. Expenses. Ha! Welcome to the real world, TV types.

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ITV to merge with C4 and Five? Not a chance

Coronation Street bingo. ITV.com

Yesterday, ITV unveiled a cunning plan. It could merge with Channel 4 and Five, to save all the commercial (advertising funded) broadcasters from certain doom during this recession. But it will never happen. And it’s not just me who says so.

I caught former ITV exec Steve Hewlett opining on this subject on, of all things, the Chris Evans show on Radio 2 last night which had thrown over its business slot to the story. Hewlett, who is now a media commentator and consultant, said the TV mega-merger had “not a snowball’s chance in hell” of ever happening.

His reason? The Competition Commission has just vetoed a proposal for the BBC, ITV and C4 to club together and launch and online TV service, codenamed Project Kangaroo. The commission reckoned Kangaroo would control too much of the emerging market in online video. So why the hell, asked Hewlett last night, would it allow three major broadcasters to merge and control between 60 and 70 per cent of the TV advertising market which is demonstrably worth several billion pounds?

Answer: it will not. This merger won’t happen but the idea has raised ITV’s share price for a while and perhaps rattled the bars of those in government who are thinking about the future of TV. There certainly will be some consolidation among broadcasters, urged along by the recession, but for my money a merger of C4 and Five is still more likely, with or without a deal with BBC Worldwide.

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