Monthly Archives: January 2011

#oneaday 22: How many hands have we got?

So it has taken precisely 5 days for the eloquent and quite brilliant Charlie Brooker to return to the BBC, restore some faith and deliver his unique blend of acerbic, retro laden wit possibly proving that he is far better working on his own, in a darkened room, without carrying the weight of others far less talented than him. Last Thursday saw the first in the series of Brooker’s team effort ‘The 10 O’Clock Show’ on Channel 4 and tonight also at 10pm, saw the first of Brooker’s solo offering, ‘How TV Ruined Your Life’.

I have to say I was very disappointed with the C4 effort. I will stick with it, naturally as it will only get better, but it really felt like it did not know what it really was or wanted to be. David Mitchell, a talent in the same sphere as Brooker, came across as nervy and a little too snooty and dare I say weak when he had a short discussion with some bankers. Too short, too light, too prescribed. Jimmy Carr is always too prescribed and short. There is just something about him that does not quite work, he is almost trying too hard, dressing too sharp and in short (sorry) just one degree away from being an irritant. In contrast Charlie boy is tight, dry and cutting with some patches of profanity, which always seems natural and easy to him, and me. I suspect that Charles would make me laugh over a pint and James would be less, how do you say, immediately funny. But that is purely a suspicion mind you.

The rest of the show was filled with jagged edges. A cut away to a pre-recorded set piece sketch here and there, something about a ‘Holday in Tunisia’ (Jello Biafra would be proud of the nod) segwaying into some appallingly unfunny and hardly relevant spoof of the US news, fronted by the 4th quarter of the team, Lauren Laverne, who frankly looks and feels like she needs to get her TV ‘comedy’ sea legs on. Attempts to ‘get serious’ see Carr interviewing a serious and controversial (obviously) environmentalist called Bjorn, with young Jim pulling the same old faces to the audience who then dutifully laugh somewhat inappropriately bang on cue when the environmentalist talks about making clouds whiter. Is this a straight comedy or a simplistic spoof? Who knows, Carr cuts the man off mid sentence to shoe horn his playful gag about having Bjorn (back on the show) again. All terribly droll and yes, prescribed and predictable.

The show comes back to life, briefly when David runs his ‘Listen to Mitchell’ piece focused on Culture, Media and Sport Minsiter – Jeremy Hunt complete with the Radio 4 version of his name – and his call for more local news. Funny. The humour button stays engaged for a bit of Brooker doing a sort of Screenwipe live (good), but then lapses back again with Mitchell failing again in the interviewers chair. He loses the battle to a very capable David Willetts, with predictable jabs about the student fees, rounded off with David M answering his own questions and getting just a little bit emotional. David Frost he ain’t, Terry Wogan even? Well not quite, yet.

The show comes to a finale with a sort of ’roundtable’ piece which was just about OK. Ms Laverne continues to look disconnected, getting confused about Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls being MARRIED and in the Shadow Cabinet, which is not exactly earth shattering given they were MARRIED and in the Cabinet 6 months ago. What becomes obvious is that Jimmy seems to be more of a Tory than the others, although his idea to make bankers receive their bonuses live on TV is one of the more amusing utterances from him. That would be a good move. Mind you I have never trusted a man who has to laugh at his own jokes and clearly has taken his body language/hand movements straight out of the Blair/Cameron/Clegg handbook.

Verdict: David and Charlie would be better sticking to their own devices and Lauren was great on the Culture Show after she gave up singing. Jimmy Carr is a stand up comedian.

Thus it was reassuring when I invested half the time tonight at 10pm this time on BBC2. This was far more focused, using a lovely rack of public information films as the subject matter. Indeed, the semi legendary ‘British’ boxer, Joe Bugner appeared in one, the ‘Be Smart, Be Safe’ campaign and I am sure Charlie missed him completely. These films were from a more naive age, kids were not media savvy, and governments were certainly more patronising. Brilliant campaigns like ‘If you want to have fun and stay alive’ warned of the dangers of playing with scaffolding, flying kites or chucking Frisbees near overhead cables. Bliss.

We had a wonderful journey into the centre or back of the brain, literally, the Amygdala – which was all news to me. The politics of fear and terror were seen through the eyes of impressionable youth and lived out in those wonderful kids’ existentialist shows ‘Pipkins’ and ‘Orlov’, no wonder we are a creative race, the randomness of what we are brought up with is simply brilliant. We are hard wired to fear loud noises (bang) and sudden movements (falls) and TV plugs into those fears. Given that Crimewatch was launched on the BBC in 1984, one can’t help appreciating the wonderful irony.

Which rather begs the question, ‘what would public information films look like if they were made today’ Messrs Brooker and Mitchell, perhaps that would be the beginning of a beautiful relationship?

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#oneaday 19: Has the iPhone made the world even more politically correct?

As an update to my previous post from this morning, the news has now broken that Sky Sports presenter and former footballer, Andy Gray has been sacked, because of new evidence of further  unacceptable behaviour. This feels a little harsh and it will be interesting to see what will happen to his co-miscreant. Richard Keys, who by all accounts has made an apology to the referee’s assistant, Sian Massey. His fate is not yet declared as far as I can see.

There are 2 main issues here as far as I am concerned:-

1) When is a conversation private and when is it in the public domain?

2) Have Sky Sports acted against Mr Gray for any other reason than his outburst at the weekend?

The answer to 1) is pretty straight forward. In this world where news is 24/7 and there is a positive need to fill the channels, demand for ‘news’ has  never been higher. Therefore even tittle tattle becomes news, not that Gray and Keys’s outburst is tittle tattle, far from it. They should not have said what they said, but no more is there such a thing as ‘privacy’. With mobile recording devices, telephones, cameras and cables into newsrooms, all vital tools to the journalist, now all packed into an iPhone or a Blackberry, everything you say or do can be recorded and transmitted almost in real time. Thus people in the public eye or positions of responsibility, and there are many of them, will either have to ‘clip’ everything they say, or simply become bland and opinionless.  Do we really want people in the public eye to be briefed so tightly that nothing of any interest ever comes out of their mouths? Don’t answer that, plenty of the output from people in the public eye is utter nonsense and of no material interest, but you get where I am coming from.  Or we enter a new and arguably more exciting time, one where no one cares what they say, political correctness goes out of the window and we become a society of the median and the extreme.  Think Boris Johnson, who, whether you like him or not, really does not care what he says, or more accurately what his brief tells him. Boris tells it as it is, right or wrong and maybe, just maybe that will be a way forward, provided of course it is not too extreme, profane or offensive. Try defining that.   

Question 2) is more difficult to answer. Indeed, we will never know if Andy Gray’s legal case against News International, the owner of The News of the World and the 39% owner of Sky Sports, over the phone hacking scandal has influenced the decision. But Rupert Murdoch has flown into town to have top level meetings with his senior lieutenants over the troubled bid to buy the remaining shares at BSkyB and deal with the phone hacking meltdown.   You do have to wonder if Mr Murdoch has taken a personal interest in the small chinks that have been exposed in his empire, and Mr Gray is a ‘meaningful gesture’? We really will never know.

You could argue that a fully connected mobile devices, such as an iPhone and Blackberries, have done more to accelerate political correctness than any government enforced initiative or law ever has. There’s a thought and an unintended consequence, if ever I saw one.

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#oneaday 18: Is Football Sexy?

So the ‘likely lads’ who are employed by Sky Sports to present the coverage of Premier League football, you know the one with the ‘Odd Bod’ hairy hands and the one who needs subtitles south of the border, well they have gone off piste and cast aspertions over the female race’s right to be involved in any aspects of the professional game.

What utter chumps Keys and Gray are. I am really not bothered at all what they think or indeed what they say, but I am bothered that these chauvanistic clowns hold down such high profile jobs. Andy Gray used to be a formidable centre forward with Aston Villa and Everton, amongst others and put his head, face and mouth where the action was. This time round Andy probably would have been better off if he had taken a kick in the mouth rather than coating off the female linesman. Keys on the other hand, hairy or otherwise,  is a professional commentator/presenter who thinks he is a celebrity and as such exudes hubris where ever he goes, trouble is his hubris is stuck  in the 1970s. 

This is not the first time that Keys has been on the end of controversy. Roy Keane, no stranger to controversy himself, said “I was asked last week by ITV to do the Celtic game,” he said. “A couple of weeks before that I wasasked to do the United game against Celtic at Old Trafford. I think I’ve done it once for Sky. Never again. I’d rather go to the dentist. You’re sitting there with people like Richard Keys and they’re trying to sell something that’s not there”. I think Roy rumbled Richard, not for the first time.

Keys is also much liked in Scotland where he was caught off camera being ‘candid’ about a Euro 2008 qualifying game in the Faroe Islands, you can see this below.

Ultimately these 2 have been found out, off air admittedly, but have blotted their copybooks in the eyes of most of the population. I say most, as some wags will no doubt have found the whole thing ‘exaggerated and blown out of all proportion’. No matter what they think of Karren Brady, vice chair at West Ham,  they managed to work her into their impromptu routine, not for showing poor leadership over the handling of the Avram Grant/Martin O’Neil fiasco, but for mentioning that sexism is still rife in the game.  ‘Yeah right, get over it lads, she’s a bit brighter than you’.

Keys reminds me of a straight version of a less witty Alan Patridge. Banal, amateur and fawning, he continues to blunder through, seemingly thinking that he is something rather special.

Thinking about it, these two could recreate the completely brilliant  ‘The Likely Lads’  and the follow up  ‘Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads?’ . After all ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ were huge successes and featured sexist humour and prejudice, all be it with brilliant script writing and acting. The ‘Likely Lads’ centred on two mates Terry (James Bolam) and Bob (Rodney Bewes) rooted in Newcastle in  the 60’s and 70’s. Their humour was ‘of the time’ but it was deliberate and still stands up today. That is because it balanced humour with irony, wit with pathos. If Gray and Keys, or rather their agents pick up the phone and  ring Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (the creators of ‘The likely Lads’ who also went on to write Auf Wiedersen Pet & Porridge) and were to ask them to script them both in a 1970’s themed football comedy, they may find a ready made retro  audience. It could be  set in a TV broadcasting studio, where the two main characters play out their lives and the issues of the day  in front and behind the cameras.  They give an insight ‘into the game’ and the audience can laugh with them and at them. Everyone would be happy, because it isn’t real life! Have a look at this, imagine Keys and Gray in the roles and you may get where I am coming from.  Meantime, they have been given a yellow card, and both are lucky to stay on the pitch. Next time it will be red, and thereafter lies life on Channel 5.

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#oneaday17: Robin Hood or Robbing Us?

When you read this short but important statement issued by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra I must admit, I worry, once I understand the context:-

“We are committed to shifting the balance of power from big government to big society by giving individuals, businesses, civil society organisations and local authorities a much bigger role in enhancing the natural environment”

Our ancient forests are going to be sold to private companies, why?

So, with horror, I have read about the UK Government’s stated policy to sell some of our ancient woodlands in a bid to reduce the deficit (here we go again) by some £700 million, a pretty small sum all things considered – think the cost of Wembley Stadium. This includes land in The New Forest, The Forest of Dean  and Sherwood Forest as well as much more.

Government ministers want to transfer power and ownership  from the nation via the Forestry Commission, which owns 18% of woodlands to private business and ‘the big society’, claiming that  this move will giver greater public control. Quite what the logic of this is actually beyond me? I suppose when the land is sold off, then more people may be in control than currently, ie the civil servants, but that is a completely bogus argument.  Apparently a public consultation will begin  next week and a bill to enable the sale is due to go before the House of Lords soon after. Let’s hope the Lords, famed for their independence and propensity to check recklessness by Government, calls this policy into question.

The pressure group 38 Degrees carried out a poll via YouGov and found that 75% of the 2,000 people it polled were against the plans and 84% agreed that that forests should stay publically owned. So far some according to Channel 4 News tonight 130,000 people have signed the petition run by 38 Degrees, it will be interesting to see if this number will rise substantially as the media begins to focus on the issue. For once, this feels like an open vote issue, many traditional left, right and centre voters being united that they want forests to stay free and hold back the small band of private property owners who wish to put their profit, not the environment, first.

Look what happened when the railways, energy companies and airports were sold off in the 80’s. We have ended up with a ludicrously expensive and disjointed railway system, our energy prices are sky high and under foreign ownership and Heathrow, owned by a massively over leveraged (ie skint) Spanish company, can’t get rid of snow and ice as quickly as they should. I am neither pro or anti private ownership of national institutions, but I would like us to weigh up the consequences. For a paltry £700 million do we really think this is the righ thing to do?

Since I watched Channel 4 News, the number of people who have signed the petition has risen to 178,350. If you fancy signing, here’s the link. This is a very sad state of affairs.

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#oneaday 16: NEDS – To be someone is a wonderful thing?

I watched N.E.D.S last night and it was absolutely brilliant and I say that having seen some amazing films so far this year and the back end of last year including The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Black Swan, 127 Hours, Another Year, Get Low,  Made in Dagenham, Barney’s Version, Four Lions, The Wildest Dream and of course Inception. But if you are British, went to school in Britain, were ever in a gang, firm or crew, or wanted to be in one, and above all wanted to ‘be someone’, whilst wanting to be yourself, this film is a must.

Set in Glasgow in the 1970’s , it centres around a young, bright lad, John McGill who is faced with the choices of gang membership, class prejudice and a total wanker of a pissed up, wife beating father (who is played by the film’s director, Peter Mullan). The sets, scenes, costume, make up, haor and props are all spot on. One thing you notice is the complete lack of clothing brands, there is a style and identity, but no badge to make the point.  Only in the eighties, did branding become important to youth gangs, a way of identifying and separating them from mainstream society.  So John is a clever kid, and wants to win by coming top of his class each and every time he is tested. His determination is his drive and if there is no outlet for that drive, not end result, it produces frustration and anger.  His brother is the leader of one of the gangs on his estate and his dad is a twat. The rest of the characters are rich and wild, the story is brilliantly told and the acting,  largely by the non actors, is compelling and above all realistic.

I can relate to John’s story in many ways, mind you my father is the best man on the earth and never drinks any alcohol before one assumes too much.  However, the sense of wanting to ‘be someone’, as Paul Weller wrote and The Jam performed ‘is a wonderful thing’. To  belong to a peer group, to prove you can handle yourself, to show your mates you will never back down, always front the opposition. Indeed not only do you not take a step back, you actively seek out and attack the enemy – preferably on their own patch, on their manor, in their face. Anyway,  I was very lucky and although had my fair share of ‘japery’ including a couple of nasty wounds, I had opportunities and the chance of a very good education, even though I managed to drop out of school (or expelled as the letter from school said), went off the rails a tad, but had enough confidence to make my way in the world.

I won’t spoil NEDS. It is too good a story and too well told to need an amateur like me to pimp it. This is a really essential British film and one I would urge anyone who ever wanted to be someone to watch.

Meanwhile, enjoy a couple of corking, relevant tracks from The Jam. Not of the time of NEDS (that is more T-Rex and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band), but the lyrics and attitude sum up the spirit of the age.

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#oneaday 15: Toilet etiquette – everyone loves targets

Whether it was a slow news day or just  pre-Christmas japery,  I must admit I did find the story about SEGA’s Toilet Game very amusing. You know, the one exclusively aimed at and for men and one which could revolutionise men’s public toilet time forever. I for one would really appreciate this sort of ‘added value service’  which sounds like great fun. It would be far fun  than the bloke hanging around the toilet hand basins trying to ‘give’ you an array of cheap aftershave, toilet water in fact, in return for a ‘tip’.  These men are nothing but a complete and utter nuisance and a fragrant (sic) infringement of our privacy. That aside I wonder if SEGA’s game will be seen in years to come as one of the key turning points when our beloved ‘computer and video games’ industry became the ‘interactive entertainment’ industry? Is this SEGA’s attempt to trump the Nintendo Wii?

Continuing the theme of men, toilets and their behaviour, we have a phantom ‘dart board misser’ in our office at work, someone who really cannot get to the point and meanders hither and thither. If you visit the ‘Gents’ post prandial at our office, you are likely to find a number of ‘hits’ that have fallen outside the target area so to speak. Collectively we think we know who it is, but we can’t be absolutely sure and it is not the sort of subject you really want to raise in the office, is it?

However, according to the fantastic people at PopBitch there are a number of different approaches to the etiquette of the lavatory, stepping into the pooh on the way. The Guardian maintain typically PC approach, very much keeping everything to the left with a gentle, socially mobile approach to the tricky subject of people making a proper mess in the loos. Mind you the Guardian management decided to dump the poitical correctness and aim the memo to their male staff only, I guess evidence must have pointed this way:-

 “In the event that you are, ahem, inconvenienced when visiting the toilets, please use the brush handily situated at the side of the toilet to clean the bowl after yourself.”

 Meantime, over at TV production company Endemol, they are a little more ‘free market’ and ‘to the point’:-

 “Stop pissing all over the lavatory like a fucking animal. What is wrong with your penis? Is it a corkscrew? Does it flick around like a hosepipe?”

Whichever style floats your boat, or indeed anything else for that matter, it is pleasing to know that we men are all in this together and whilst most of us try to keep to the straight and narrow some clearly prefer to go off piste more times than not. Does this prove that the centre is preferable to the extreme left or right? Who knows, but I wonder if any of those who create the mess will ever take the time to clear it up….

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#oneaday 14: Peter is skint, but are banks perfect employers?

Isn’t it time to stop bashing the banks? Reading about the ‘total compensation’ (ie pay to staff by way of bonuses in everyday PAYE speak) of the US based investment banks, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs both being north of $15bn, you can’t help feeling a sense of awe and shock.  Incidentally, I am not sure if these figures are for all staff world wide or not, but whatever the spread is, it is a big number.

Interestingly though, it does rather suggest that these investment banks are founded on the principles of ‘partnership’. It seems that investment banks are capable of making astronomical profits, but they all seem to pay out a fair chunk of that profit to their staff who have made the deals work. This feels like fairness to me. Workers have worked hard to bring their company profit, and when they do so, their company has rewarded, or compensated, them very fairly and equitably. I bet many fellow workers would like to get a big share of the profits that they feel that they make for the companies they work for, right?

I am not sure I can argue with this policy. I run a business and our ultimate aim and neccessity is to make a profit. The problem seems to be that the sheer size of the profits made in investment banking are indecent to the vast majority of people, outside of sports stars and other investment bankers of course. No one can argue with that can they? But for this to work, and for these vast amounts to be sustainable, someone, somewhere has to lose out. However,  if the number of investment banks in any market is few, as it does seem to be today, then a small piece from trillions adds up to a big number  time and time again. If the number of players were to increase, as a  free market requires, then the argument could go that the pot of cash that they are all chasing stays the same, and therefore the share per combatant reduces. Except that in a capitalist system the winner takes it all and someone has to lose for someone to win. Therefore introducing more competition is only a temporary change, as winners get bigger than losers in the pursuit of market share, losers either die or are bought but winners or fellow losers who want to get bigger to beat the winners.  Still awake?

Ultimately, the obsecene amount of profits that investment banks continue to make suggests that our monetary system is either relatively worthless, because the numbers are so big, or simply many are losing out to a few. After all, investment banks can take away value, as is the case with most Hedge Fund business models, as well as add it, the way that they are supposed to do. Frankly, I cannot get my head around this system and the sheer amounts of money that seem to flow one way. Are these banks fair employers? Who knows. But one comment that was recently attributed to a banker recently when talking about their bonus being paid not in cash but in a mix of  share options and cash:-

“You don’t want to earn shares in your own company – it’s doubling a risk,” he says.

You want to own shares in someone else’s company. Because if your company goes belly up, you will lose your job and you will lose your stock options.”

So we are not really all in this together, are we, not even the bankers. It really does seem ‘all about me’.

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