Confidential canned

In today’s column on The Stage, I give my opinions on the departure of BBC3’s documentary series Doctor Who Confidential.

What Confidential has done, and for which will always get full credit from TV Today, has been to pull back the curtain and show a new generation of enthusiastic, imaginative youngsters that there are careers in the creative arts that don’t revolve around being on camera, that for an actor to look good on set takes a huge amount of effort from a large number of people.

But after six years, there’s only so much “look how we blew things up this week” we can take.

Good arts coverage? Not Today, thank you

If you were listening to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday morning, you might have heard a segment talking about a forthcoming stage production of The Ladykillers, which was originally an Ealing comedy starring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers.

What was significant about the short item was the fractious nature of the piece, a three-way discussion between Today presenter Justin Webb, Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington and writer Graham Linehan, who has taken on the task of adapting the film so that it works for a live theatre audience.

The segment started out easily enough, with Linehan talking about how he has changed the story slightly so that all the action takes place within the one set, and how that frees up time that would otherwise be taken up with scene changes to explore characters in more depth.

But that changed under Webb’s stewardship, as he brought in Billington to dispute the merits of adapting any film for the stage.

Continue reading “Good arts coverage? Not Today, thank you”

Well done, Joe. Go, Clare. Naff off, AA Gill

Two stories about gay people in the media have made the front pages of the national newspapers today – and demonstrate generational differences in writers’ (and editors’ and readers’) attitudes to out gay people.

The first revolved around BBC presenter Clare Balding, who via her Twitter account (@clarebalding1) has been documenting her correspondence with the Sunday Times over some particularly puerile comments by its television critic, AA Gill, and editor John Witherow’s condescending reply to her objections.

Continue reading “Well done, Joe. Go, Clare. Naff off, AA Gill”

Paranormal Activity? Pah. Sarah Greene is scarier

Cross-posted to TV Today

I saw Paranormal Activity at the cinema this weekend. For those who haven’t yet seen it, or heard about it from the large amounts of online buzz around it, it’s a supernatural film shot on a single video camera (a la The Blair Witch Project).

With all the best horror films, it’s the slowly creeping sense of dread that can turn a good movie into a great one. For me, Paranormal Activity doesn’t quite have that — while there are some genuinely creepy moments in the film, the scenes in between are more about tedium than tension.

What really killed the film for me, though, was the thought that I’d seen the whole concept — a family home tormented by ghosts or demons — done so much better. By the BBC, in fact, in 1992’s Ghostwatch.

It’s descended into notoriety now, of course, because despite being pre-recorded and broadcast in the Screen One drama slot, its presentation — as a live studio programme with outside broadcast links to a suburban housing estate — led some to overlook the (frankly rather dodgy) acting, and believe they were actually watching a documentary. Actors Sarah Greene and Craig Charles, on the “outside broadcast” duties, were then best known for their TV presenting roles, and in the studio Mike Smith (Greene’s husband) and Michael Parkinson were certainly no thesps. Indeed, remarkably it was the studio TV presentation that was the most plausible element of the whole setup, with the conceit only exposed by the stiff and much more tightly scripted response of the studio guests.

Never repeated on television, the British Film Institute released it on DVD in 2002, the tenth anniversary of the programme’s broadcast (the DVD is now deleted, but you may be able to find second-hand copies online).

On the BFI’s website, they claim:

> Seen today, following the advent of such tightly controlled ‘reality’ shows as Big Brother (Channel 4, 2000- ) and especially Most Haunted (Living TV, 2002- ), it is clear that the strong audience response Ghostwatch received at the time was due less to its dubious credibility as a factual broadcast than to the way that it tapped into audiences’ desire to be fooled, to be tickled by even the slightest possibility that a live broadcast could really go out of control.

Most Haunted (the creation, of course, of Greene’s fellow Blue Peter alumna, Yvette Fielding) does take the notion of fiction presented as fact to its most ludicrous extremes. Paranormal Activity is in no way as ridiculous — but as far as being creeped out goes, the BBC’s effort is hard to beat.

Below: a clip from Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Scary Moments talking about Ghostwatch.


Lessons from The Street: We had a bargain, and we forgot

Cross-posted on TV Today

And so we say goodbye to The Street, Jimmy McGovern’s remarkable series of standalone, but inter-related dramas relating the extraordinary tales of neighbours on the most ordinary of streets. After three years, ITV Studios, which made the BBC-commissioned series, has made so many talented people redundant that McGovern doesn’t want to try and continue.

But while the series drew to a close last night with a moment of sad reflection, it also went out on a dramatic high — one that, in a way, reflects not only the end of The Street, but the end of an era.

Given that many people may have the episode stacked up on their Sky+ or on iPlayer, I’m going to continue this after the jump — so be warned, from hereon in there are spoilers

Continue reading “Lessons from The Street: We had a bargain, and we forgot”

Torchwood: Children of Earth music

After a week of Torchwood-related content, I’m still bowled over by the quality of the finished product. While I liked the first two series, I loved Children of Earth.

One reason (among many) was Ben Foster’s incidental music – which is now available to buy. And, if I’ve got my HTML right, you should be able to see a player with some samples below. If you’re reading this in an RSS reader or in Facebook, you may need to click through to my blog to see it in its full effect.

* Torchwood: Children of Earth

Holmes v Sunday Times: WTF?

Something really bizarre seems to have happened to a column penned by comedian Jon Holmes, BBC [6Music DJ]( and regular contributor to Radio 4’s [The Now Show](

As can be seen in the Twitter post above, Holmes has provided a link to the [original document on his website](, and [the version that has been published on the **Sunday Times** website]( All is well initially: the piece has been subbed a little, and rather more paragraph breaks have been added than appear in the original. This is neither anything new, nor of any concern.

However, the endings to the two columns seem to be completely different. First, the original:

> I’ve checked on their website under the Freedom of Information Act and it turns out all the extra cash from the recent price hike in my car park (Canterbury City Council, in case you were wondering) is being used to take a technological leaf out of the new Transformers film and then, should you miss your ticket’s expiry time by just one second, the seemingly innocuous truck parked in the next bay will turn into a massive robot that will loom over the town centre, pluck you bodily out of Debenhams, smash you back into your car and then hurl you, and it, out of the county. Park that thought.

But that section of Holmes’ column isn’t anywhere to be seen. Instead, the following paragraphs close his column:

> It’s funny, isn’t it, that so much effort and technology are expended on catching and fining drivers for the most trivial of offences. It wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that they are a soft target in terms of extracting money, would it? Once you have taken down or photographed a driver’s registration number you know where they live and that means you can menace them with threats to take away their house and starve their family. By contrast, if you take CCTV pictures of hoodies engaged in acts of vandalism, they aren’t recognisable and even if they were, they don’t have money to pay fines.
> So the daylight robbery committed against drivers every time they want to park will continue and probably get worse as local councils look for ways to raise more cash. I am going to write to the DG of the BBC, not to chastise him for his expenses, but to ask him the whereabouts of the machine that costs only 23p. And when I find out, I won’t be telling anyone else.

As fellow Now Show contributor [Mitch Benn noted](, the amended paragraphs look more akin to something penned “by Littlejohn, not by little Jon”.

It’s an amazingly insulting way to behave towards a contributor. Especially since online, they even spell his name wrong in the byline…

It’s nice to be noticed

A pleasant surprise to see this status on Twitter this morning from the BBC Radio 4 blog:

I’ve been doing weekly radio previews for a while now as part of the Turn off the TV section of our TV blog. Infuriatingly, this week’s has been, I think, one of the weakest: not helped by a computer crash yesterday corrupting my original draft of this week’s piece.

Still, if it brings in a few new readers it can only be a good thing. And compliments are rare, so I shall be savouring this one for a while.

Any Dream Will Do

Links to each weekly review I wrote for The Stage’s TV blog, TV Today, of BBC1’s Saturday evening theatre audition show, Any Dream Will Do.

More for my sake than anything else, here are the links to each of my _[TV Today]( weekly reviews of the BBC’s hunt to find a West End Joseph, _Any Dream Will Do_.

* [Week 1]( — the auditions and callbacks
* [Week 2]( — ‘Joseph school’ and the final selection
* [Week 3]( — first live show; Chris Crosby eliminated
* [Week 4]( — Johndeep More eliminated
* [Week 5]( — Antony Hansen and Seamus Cullen eliminated
* [Week 6]( — Chris Barton eliminated
* [Week 7]( — Robert McVeigh eliminated
* [Week 8]( — Daniel Boys eliminated
* [Week 9]( — Craig Chalmers eliminated
* [Week 10]( — the ‘semi-final’; Ben Ellis eliminated
* [Week 11]( — the final; Lewis Bradley third, Keith Jack runner-up, Lee Mead winner.

Also, my [interview with Daniel Boys]( after his elimination.

The BBC Governors are spastics

Does the headline of this post offend you? It should. It’s insulting not only to the subjects (the BBC Board of Governors), but to a whole section of the population. It’s an insult that was prevalent in the school playgrounds that I grew up in, but that’s no excuse. Quite rightly, if anybody bandied such an insult about on the BBC, they would find themselves in contravention of the Corporation’s guidelines on taste and decency in short order.

But now there’s another insult doing the rounds. It, too, has its etymological roots through associating a person or thing with a section of the community — and implying that, as a result, the subject of the insult is all the lesser for that.

This time, though, the BBC Governors have decided that, because it’s a term freely in use in school playgrounds, it’s perfectly acceptable for a Radio 1 DJ to use such a derogatory term.

That insult is “gay”.

Apparently, because schoolchildren now use “gay” to relate to anything substandard, it’s okay for Radio 1’s resident crap DJ, Chris Moyles, to use it too.

> The Committee noted that the word “gay”, in addition to being used to mean “homosexual” or “carefree”, was often now used to mean “lame” or “rubbish”. This is a widespread current usage of the word amongst young people. The Committee was familiar with hearing this word in this context.

The governors are well aware of why using “gay” as an insult is offensive; for some reason its ubiquity in this form excuses a racist, homophobic cunt (another offensive word, in common usage as an insult but with a very different meaning from its original one — does that make it okay, too?) like Moyles, who should be setting an example rather than following the rules of the playground.

* [BBC Appeals to the Governors Jan-Mar 2006]( (PDF)