Homeland. Good, wasn’t it?

Clare Danes in Homeland

Wow. I totally struck gold with that last post. I’ll admit I did no research before writing it and initially thought Channel 4’s bought-in US series Homeland was a two-parter. ROFL etc.

Yet here we are some 12 weeks later and the excellent series has just ended. Already I want to watch series two and am remembering why box sets after the event are a good idea. As the C4 continuity announcer said when the totally tense final episode of the first series ended last night, series two will appear on C4 sometime in the future. We don’t know when; it hasn’t even been made yet.

Why was Homeland such a hit? Because it didn’t strike any bum notes. On the relatively rare occasions that US drama producers make a good drama – when the drama is airing on a smallish cable network like Showtime and isn’t under pressure to get all schmaltzy – it is really good.

Our own Damian Lewis was excellent as the conflicted and last night very sweaty Sergeant Brody. Clare Danes was even better as the reasonably mad CIA agent Carrie living with bipolar disorder. More than Stephen Fry I suspect Danes will make forms of manic depression cool from now on, as in: “I’m just in my manic phase, it’ll pass.” [Cue insight of unimaginable profundity.]

Of course the nub of the series and of last night’s episode in particular was that there was method in Carrie’s madness. She did indeed crack the conundrum, she worked out the link between Brody and terrorist master Nazir just as she succumbed to anaesthesia and electro convulsive therapy which will wipe her short-term memory at the start of the second series.

I also loved Mandy Patinkin as Sol (that’s how all the characters pronounced his name, even if it’s meant to be spelled Saul). You had to feel for him last night, losing Carrie to ECT just as he lost his wife back to her native India earlier in the series. Like Toby Siegler in West Wing or Dr Green Bean in ER he’s the gruffly lovable, intellectual character totally wedded to his work and therefore unlucky in his private life.

Anyway, we got resolution in that mad Carrie did thwart a terrorist suicide bomber mission, even if she, the authorities and most of the people involved were unaware of the fact. Aside from some Mitchell and Webb-style camera work which could have been comic in other hands, scenes of Brody fiddling with his ball-bearing and explosive-loaded vest in the toilet of a secure bunker with half the US government a few feet away were tense indeed. My palms are sweating again as I think about it.

Great stuff. I now see why Lewis couldn’t say on Graham Norton’s UK chat show a few weeks back whether he would be in the second series or not. I hope he is, he’s brilliant in this part and a second series won’t typecast him forever. Just get on and make the thing.


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Downton Abbey

Behind the scenes at Downton

Lady Edith and the Dowager Countess

Let me be possibly the last person commenting on TV to say something about Downton Abbey. The truth is I didn’t watch first series because there was something better on the other side (BBC 1). There is again this autumn because Kudos Productions’ Spooks is showing on BBC 1 at 9pm on Sundays and Stephen Fry is doing a programme about language at exactly the same time on BBC 2 so I’m spending my time catching up with those things on the iPlayer.

But Downton Abbey suits me, as it does roughly 9 million other people, on a Sunday night when I’m in the mood for its sense of history and nostalgia, sweeping gowns and brocaded drawing rooms.

I do keep catching my shins on the language though, like so many commentators before me. In one of the first episodes of this second series I was moved to look up the use of “chuck it away” when lady Sybil was learning how to cook and ruined some kind of sauce. It just jarred, but our shorter Oxford English dictionary does say the word chuck was probably used by workmen to mean throw or toss as early as 1593. God, it’s hard being a pedant on a Sunday night. Last week I tripped up over someone, the Countess of Grantham or lady Mary, asking “So what?” in conversation. ‘Humpf’, I splutter into my hot chocolate. ‘They wouldn’t have said that in 1916.’

You only have to look at this Christmas speech by our present Queen, the first televised Christmas message shown in 1957, and compare it to last year’s delivery to see how speech patterns have changed, even among the very posh. What we’re getting in Downton isn’t a true reflection of how people spoke at the beginning of the 20th century.

But of course true authenticity has no place on TV and almost certainly none in Sunday night ITV drama. If the actors in Downton Abbey delivered dialogue as people in country houses actually spoke at the turn of the century no one would be watching. TV audiences want a reflection of how they see the past and certain people of the past more, in fact, than they want the reality. The reality would be a bunch of very dull black and white films. Downton Abbey is colourful, beautiful to look at, moves along at a decent pace and just very easy to watch on Sunday evenings.

Spooks, meanwhile, is another matter. Thank goodness for the iPlayer; if only I could watch it on my TV and not my  laptop.

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February, March, April

Purse

A purse

Hi bloggers. I’ve been thinking about you, honest, even though I haven’t had time to be with you for the last 2 days. Believe me, I had good reasons.

So far in February we’ve had National Sickie Day – last Monday apparently although of course it’s all cooked up in a PR diary with the aid of a little note that says “Week 6” since the year started. And so we look ahead to National Nookie Day or St Valentine’s, if you will.

Here’s an aside to confide that I suffer in my writing, as in much else, with a conviction that everything I write or say has been written before. And indeed much of it has. I clearly am not the only original thinker in the blogosphere although I am avowedly a woman and that distinguishes me from Stephen Fry. (Did I just compare myself to Mr Fry? No.)

I am not even an original thinker. I remember like an elephant and I plagiarise without mercy. My personal maxim is: if you don’t want to see it in print, don’t say it. And that’s my defence against accusations of plagiarism too.

Back to February. What with sickies and nookie my feeling is February is a month when we think largely of health. The excesses of the winter festival are behind us; the days are drawing out; things are peeking out of the ground to see if it’s safe to come out. Not yet. Ne’er shed a clout til May is out. Heavy snow is forecast for the end of February. So said someone in the gym the other day.

And again to my central theme: if February is the month of health, it follows that March will be a month of wealth, and all the months of the year after that will be the months of happiness. Until November.

I’m just telling you how I see the year panning out, not pitching for a role as astrologer on the News of the World. Although I won’t say no to anything right now. I’m saying yes, yes, yes and then deciding what I actually want to do. The rest will be sub-contracted.

And to the final putt: there’s life in the old dog yet; get up when you get knocked down again; and some more original maxims if you keep reading.

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Last Chance to See

Mark Carwardine and Stephen Fry in Last Chance to See. BBC

Whoa! We skiied a little off piste with that last post. Please to forgive. It’s just that I’ve been doing more campaigning than blogging in recent weeks and wanted somewhere to put the results. God knows if we’ll make the local media.

Meanwhile, back on TV, can I just say how much I’m enjoying The Last Chance to See at 8pm on BBC 2 on Sundays? Of course, it features the sweet, the lovely, the langorous and cuddly Stephen Fry. Although even he is a bit much, as he coos over every furry, rapidly disappearing species on the planet including some with shells. Baby turtles. I mean, yes, sweet – just. But, basically, little terrapin things stuggling through the sand. Much more interesting was how they swapped from alternating flipper action on sand to auto-swim mode the minute they were weightless in water.

Anyway. Last Chance to See. Apart from being on a tad early at 8pm it’s really very good. And it continues that toast n slippers tradition of ever-so slightly washed up comedians presenting comfy Sunday night series on unthreatening subjects such as rivers, boats, the Abroad. More please. Dawn French on the history of farming? I’d watch.

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Ishoos with Twitter

stephenfry.com/blog. (C) Samfry Ltd 2009

Don’t get me wrong: I love Twitter. Just like I love Facebook and I don’t see them as mutually exclusive. We have an open relationship. I put my photos etc on Facebook, where I track who my so-called Friends are (a lot of them are colleagues, but it’s all a blur these days). I feed my status updates through from Twitter where I have very few followers, some of whom I don’t know from Adam. Or Eve.

But just as I don’t call in to radio shows with tips on what I do that’s a bit nutty but effective (pace Chris Evans‘ Radio 2 drivetime show – anyway my nuttiness is too freaky and involves not getting hair in the plughole), so I’m not sure I should be following celebs on Twitter. It’s fun to know that Jonathan Ross‘ wife had cupcake ice cream for breakfast yesterday and I’ve just watched this amusingly short interview with Stephen Fry after he tweeted about it. But I’m beginning to feel like I did in the early 1980s when I had a pash on a particular pop star and simply HAD to own every magazine that ever published an interview or photo spread with him. (That wasn’t hard in 1982 – you just had to buy Smash Hits every week and the occasional Just Seventeen.)

I can write off following Messrs Ross and Fry as a professional duty. As a journalist and blogger, I should experience these things so that I can comment on them. But in another sense I’m not exactly their “public”. I listen to Jonathan Ross, as regular readers of this blog will know only too well, and am a great admirer of Fry. But I’m more likely to come across them professionally than those who are truly members of their “public”. I guess this is a case of boundaries blurring once again. For now, Twitter is fun in a mildly distracting and sometimes fulfilling, information-sharing way and if it ceases to be so I imagine we’ll all just move onto the next thing.

PS: If you’re desperate to know who my girlhood crush was on, it was George Michael and I don’t care that he turned out gay and slightly rotund. Love forged in youth knows few bounds.

Do you love/hate Twitter? Go on – leave a comment. You might enjoy it!

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Noel Edmonds Appassionata

Jennifer Saunders as Vivienne Vyle. BBC

There’s all sorts of excitement on the web today, as there is every day of course. Earlier I was alerted by one of Stephen Fry’s excellent tweets to the brewing row between LBC/Global Radio and blogger and Guardian Bad Science columnist Ben Goldacre over a programme on MMR. You can read all about that here.

Suffice to say, far too much rubbish has been written and spoken about MMR and now measles is on the rise in the UK. You may not think that’s a problem and probably won’t until a child of yours gets a bad dose of measles or goes deaf as a result of mumps. Your choice, but at least look into both sides of the argument and don’t give the rest of us a “modern medicine = bad juju” kneejerk reaction.

It’s literally staggering that we’ve come so far from the days of massively high infant mortality rates to the point that parents will happily turn their backs on something that CAN and DOES save lives. One hundred and fifty years ago parents would (I suspect) have given their right arms to prevent the sort of suffering and death that was a recurring reality for them and their children. And they might have had fewer children as a result. Now, some parents won’t offer up a chubby thigh for the same happy result. My 4 year old has just had her pre-school booster jabs including an MMR booster and been decidedly off-colour for a couple of weeks. Whether that was a result of the jabs or not, I don’t care. She’s now back to form and I feel assured that she’s inoculated against these particular diseases. My choice.

On Dr Goldacre’s excellent blog (newly discovered by me today) is a link to this astonishing rant from Noel Edmonds, no less. According to jeffrey44 who posted this clip on YouTube, the sequence from Edmonds’ live Sky One show (about the former soldier who can’t get planning permission for a bungalow) was significantly edited when it was repeated. All I can do is stand and stare and be reminded of Jennifer Saunders in her inimitable but sadly unreprised role as TV presenter Vivienne Vyle. The similarities are extraordinary. Who’d have thunk it?

Next post: the inside track on how Noel Edmonds schmoozed me as editor of Broadcast when his BBC 1 career had come to an abrupt end.

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Jonathan Ross is back

Jonathan Ross. BBC

Stand by your beds: Jonathan Ross is back with his BBC 1 Friday Night Show tomorrow night at 10.35pm. And by the time you read this the show will already be in the can, having been pre-recorded (as usual) today, Thursday although at the slightly earlier time of midday.

The BBC made something of the excitement around Ross’s return on its news website with footage of people queueing outside Television Centre to watch the show. Both those interviewed said Ross should apologise for the Sachsgate affair but suggested the whole thing had been blown out of proportion.

In a mark of just how quickly the media world can evolve, there was an additional layer of intrigue for those on Twitter as guest Stephen Fry “tweeted” status updates from the green room. Although in reality all he had to say was that the show was being recorded earlier than usual.

Hey ho. So much media stalking, so much “celebredee”. With Tom Cruise also on Ross’ show (“charming”, says Fry), it promises to be a good one. Though not sure about rubber-faced comedian Lee Evans. Why care?

Personally I’m looking forward to hearing Ross on Radio 2 again on Saturday. Welcome back, sir.

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Happy Mondays!

QI's Alan Davies and Stephen Fry. BBC

Hello, good morning and happy, happy Monday – as Stephen Fry might say if he were hosting an episode of QI and that episode was being shown on a Monday morning.

What on earth is the BBC doing, up to its old tricks by poaching popular BBC 2 shows to air on BBC 1 but then letting us all down by showing a repeat of Vicar of Dibley afterwards? FFS! If BBC 1 hasn’t got enough new comedy up its sleeve to make an hour of laughter between 9pm and 10pm on Fridays it would have been better to leave QI where it was.

We all knew QI was on at 10pm on BBC 2, after Have I Got News for You was on at, was it, 9pm or 9.30pm on BBC 1. HIGNFY was also, of course, pinched from BBC 2 some while ago. Now it’s currently not on air so we get the Vicar of Dibley repeats. And this from the biggest broadcaster in the UK. My point is, the scheduling is all to cock and a wasted half hour of repeats is time to lose viewers.

On the subject of weekend TV, anyone notice ITV 1’s Saturday night movie, Ocean’s 12, featuring an ad break which carried no ads? Just one trailer for upcoming travel series from Martin Clunes, Billy Connolly and Piers Morgan. Times are clearly hard, with advertising revenue down, but that made it obvious on screen.

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Never Mind the Buzzcocks

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

It seems the producers of BBC 2’s Never Mind the Buzzcocks are making something of a feature of inviting the not-so-musically-obvious to appear on the panel show. A few weeks ago Stephen Fry did a star turn on the show, to general acclaim and decent ratings (2.4m and a 10% share of viewing at 9pm on a Thursday).

Two weeks ago, celebrity chef and Dorset-dweller in chief Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recorded an episode of the show. But it has yet to be shown.

The trouble is Russell Brand, Andrew Sachs’ friend and mine, was also on the panel for that particular episode. “He was very, very funny,” says Fearnley-Whittingstall, who insists he will only appear on comedy panel shows if he’s an out an out fan, as he is of Buzzcocks, Have I Got News For You and Shooting Stars on which he appeared “years ago”.

All of which leaves me campaigning, possibly alone, for the BBC to broadcast the Fearnley-Whittingstall/Brand episode of Buzzcocks. C’mon, the opener to the second series Brand’s Ponderland did well over on Channel 4. Be brave, BBC, be bold and be Branded.

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Swearing

ITV chairman Michael Grade 

Swearing is a subject close to my pysche and, since I read something by Stephen Fry in which he swore blind to stick to swearing because he enjoys it, I’ve become even more addicted to it.

But like all behaviour, some people like it and some people don’t. Sometimes it’s inappropriate. Sometimes you can’t help yourself. Since the Jonathan Ross/Andrew Sachs row last week, swearing on TV and radio has been under the spotlight although, let’s face it, it’s a perennial topic for the ‘country has gone to the dogs’ brigade who read the Mail and Telegraph.

The ‘debate’ about swearing was further stoked on Monday when ITV chairman Michael Grade was asked a question at a BPG lunch with journalists. Grade complied by saying “the prevalence of the F-word is a little bit unrestrained”.

Before we go on, can we just stop being lazy and say something true for a moment? Standards of behaviour and language aren’t slipping. That’s a subjective, pejorative judgement. Standards are CHANGING – they are always changing. Language can be offensive, always will be, but it’s a moveable feast. That’s why we have editors and people to make judgements about what is or isn’t appropriate in a certain context. (Except on a blog, of course, where’s it’s just me fucking things up.)

For Christ’s sake (sorry, Christians), if we eradicate all comment or entertainment that is potentially offensive to some people from our airwaves we will merely be left with Richard Allinson, Ken Bruce and Fiona Bruce (no relation). Then I will have to kill myself. Barack Obama winning the US election is wonderful; but who and what is broadcast on the BBC that I pay for has far more immediate impact on my life. I look at the Mirror’s ‘Stop Swearing on the Telly’ campaign and shudder.

While I’m ranting, Radio 2 has made a mistake with Michael Ball on Sunday lunchtimes. I wasn’t a fan of Parky who was super-annuated and had started slurring his words as old people somtimes do. But Ball is just a chubby singer who is presumably popular with ladies of a certain age. His interview with Philip Glenister last Sunday exposed Ball as woefully unwitty and poorly educated. Get him off. Glenister would be better, though I doubt he’d do it.

Can’t comment on other TV/radio stuff as I am truly disenchanted with the whole blinking lot and not watching/listening to much. Won’t get to see Mock the Week tonight as I’m socialising. Missed Little Dorritt as I was in a TV-free house last week. Will try to find them on the iPlayer if I can be arsed.

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