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BBC4…The Bridge. The second series is the hardest.

9 Jan

Can the second series of the Bridge capture our imaginations?

The Cat Stevens song from the seventies goes “the first cut is the deepest” but if he was a TV executive he would probably have been singing how “the second series is the hardest” because it truely is.

How do you take a great idea, spin in it out into however many episodes that make up the first season, give it an engaging story arc and a  satisfactory conclusion, but still leave just enough untold from the original idea to spin out one or more series. The answer is with a lot of difficulty because often a satisfactory conclusion to the first season often conflicts with have a meaningful second season.

I loved the first season of Danish-Swedish drama co-production The Bridge (Boen / Broen) with the kernel of its storyline focusing on a crime committed at the centre of a bridge that links Copenhagen in Denmark with Malmo in Sweden.  The unusual location of the crime brought together Swedish detective Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) and her Danish counterpart Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) in a gripping series of episodes that saw them track down a serial killer  who turned out to be a former colleague of Martin.

So how do you follow on from that, given that crimes on the bridge that require cross-country investigations are not an every day occurrence?  Well series 2 has created another crime that coincidentally happens again in the middle of the bridge.

In season one it was a dead body found in the middle of the bridge, this time around it is a mystery ship crashing into the pillars of the bridge at its centre. So guess what? Saga and Martin are reunited for series 2.

A bit contrived you might say, weighing in against that is the relationship between Saga and Martin. Saga in particular who is so lacking in social skills to the extent that she may be autistic, although it is never explicitly stated, is the star of the show. The success of season 1 was largely built on this relationship and with both characters reunited in season 2 it gives it a good chance of success.

The Bridge Season 2 is available on BBC iPlayer

BBC4…It is ‘Hej Hej’ from Borgen

16 Dec

All good things come to an end and so it was with Borgen.  The latest in the Scandi-dramas that has enthralled audiences of BBC4 has said hej hej and “tak for the memories”.  Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and all the other characters that made staying in on a Saturday evening and watching BBC4, or at least catching up on BBC iPlayer  the next day, a worth while event.

I look back over the three series and pick out my highlights of the show.

Villain of the show

There were three main contenders; smarmy yuppie hipster and TV executive Alex Hjort (Christian Tafdrup), irascible old school right winger Svend Åge Saltum (Ole Thestrup), and slimy politician turned tabloid newspaper editor Michael Laugesen (Peter Mygind). Saltum arguably is not a villain in the truest sense of the word, as despite his odious reactionary beliefs he ultimately represents a not insubstantial section of the electorate that share that belief. That leaves Laugesen and Hjort, and it is no contest. As shallow, ratings obsessed and cowardly Alex Hjort was in comparison with Laugesen he was a rank amateur. From hounding a former rival into suicide, to sending his lackeys to stalk Birgitte’s daughter at the hospital she was being treated, Laugusen’s dark shadow spanned the series and the fear of his newspaper Ekspres was often the beginning of wisdom in Borgen.

Episode of the show

There were two stand out episodes for me. The first was the episode in which Laugesen set up former Labour party rival Troels Höxenhaven (Lars Brygmann) with a male prostitute. An event which ultimately led to Höxenhaven’s suicide. It was a dark episode. The other contender for me was when Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk) shared the deepest darkest secrets of his life with his on-off girlfriend Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen). He couldn’t bring himself to talk about the abuse he received as a child but the scene where he left the few things he kept from his childhood for Katrine, and these detailed his abuse, as she read through them the emotions that evoked were very powerful. Two strongly emotive episodes that epitomised how good Borgen is. Of the two the Kasper Juul story for me was a good as Borgen would ever get.

Miss of the show

Borgen is great, but when you film 30 episodes you are bound to get something that is not right, at least not by the high standards the show had set. There is only one winner here, when Borgen did an expected segway into what could only be described as an opening scene of a 1970′s Scandinavian adult movie. Birgitte’s marriage had fallen apart, problems at home were overwhelming her, and to cap it all her sink was leaking. In desperation she calls on her official chauffeur to help out. As he fixes the sink, Birgitte’s seduces and ultimately gets to have her wicked ways with him. Just wasn’t right. The other close contender for the miss of the season was when Borgen tried to go all “West Wing” on us with the episodes around the fictional country of Kharun. Borgen does not really work well outside the confines of Christiansborg.

Wimp of the show

Two men stand out, Troels Höxenhaven, the politician, a man who felt he had a right to power but struggled to seize the moment as opportunities came and went. Torben Friis (Søren Malling), the TV editor, bullied and victimised by his management and almost losing his family and career in the process. Both men were inherently weak, but Torben did find some sort of redemption when he eventually stood his ground against his boss Alex Hjort. Höxenhaven never found the opportunity to redeem himself.

Hero of the show

The obvious choice would be Birgitte Nyborg on the back to her improbable rise to power, almost performing the same trick twice, despite never winning an outright majority. Her fairy tale political life however would almost certainly have come to nought without the presence of her right hand man Bent Sejrø (Lars Knutzon). Serjo was clearly not a man you would call a slave to fashion, with his scruffy beard, partially knotted ties and all round scruffy demeanor, but what he was was Birgitte’s moral compass and mentor. Whatever trials and tribulations she faced she knew there was always someone she could count on and that was Bent.

Re-live the best moments from Borgen with with Season 1, 2 and 3 on DVD from Amazon.

BBC4 …Borgen is back for Season 3.

24 Nov

Some men change their party for the sake of their principles… others their principles for the sake of their party.

The much lauded Danish political thriller Borgen is back on BBC4 for a third season. When we left the denizens of Christiansborg last season Birgitte Nyborg (“Sidse Babett Knudsen“) was a woman on the verge of a complete breakdown. Her personal life was in tatters, her was daughter fighting depression and her political career was in turmoil. The season ended with Birgitte giving a Churchillian speech as she leads her troops into a general election.

In Season 3 we rejoin Borgen two and a half years on. Birgitte has lost power, she has left the political arena and is now a well-paid speaker in business circles sitting on several boards, and is no longer leader of the party.

The other characters in Borgen have all gone through Major life changes. Kasper Juul (“Pilou Asbæk“) and Katrine Fønsmark (“Birgitte Hjort Sørensen“) moved in together, had baby and have now split up. Lars Hesselboe (“Søren Spanning“), leader of the Liberal Party is now the Prime Minister in coalition with the Moderates.

Birgitte may have left politics but Politics hasn’t left her. Her mentor and close political associates Bent Sejrø (“Lars Knutzon“) worries about the direction the Moderate Party is drifting away from its centrist political ideology as it supports the right wing Liberal party in government.

Birgitte is eventually convinced to stage a comeback and fight for the leadership of the Moderate Party, she does and loses, and is now left with only one choice if she wishes to remain relevant in politics, form her own Political Party.

This sets the tone for the Season 3, the emergence of her new Party the New Democrats. A party made entirely in her image and further step in the evolution of Birgitte from a woman who wanted to change politics to a woman who is changing politics to suit her personal ambition.

BBC4…Storyville..Hotel Folly (Folie à Deux)

12 Nov

Helen is a middle aged single mum with seven children, a successful business, a comfortable lifestyle and crucially a new relationship.

The new man in her life was John, also middle aged, and a  successful architect and property owner. In her own words they were kindred spirits, and the  meeting of these like minds was to set in motion a series of events with very significant consequences for John, Helen and their families.

It was the Summer of 2007,  the former Chancellor Gordon Brown had promised the country we apparently had seen the end of economic boom and bust, we were also made to believe that centuries of economic orthodoxy had been blown away. Jobs were aplenty and house prices were demonstrating that gravity was for wimps.

It was into this supposed era of eternal sunshine that Helen and John sold practically all they had to buy a run down 72-room historic mansion in York. The plan was to turn the mansion into a luxury hotel. It was at this point that BBC’s Storyville started a documentary detailing the couple’s plans. In the early optimistic days we see discussions with interior decor consultants, builders and project managers, where fees of £50,000 for room decorations are bandied about and borrowings of upto £2 million discussed.

Then came the Credit Crunch, the sense of eternal optimism was blown away. For John and Helen very harsh realities swept in in its place. Suddenly all bank funding dried up and they found themselves stuck with a massive carbuncle that they could not afford to  renovate, and with the housing market pretty much dead, neither could they sell it.

Added to that they also found themselves enmeshed in that most middle-England of problems, neighbourhood boundary disputes. Unfortunately for them the neighbour in this case was the very powerful and very wealthy National Trust.

The film depicted Helen’s acrimonious and often surreal battles with tenants’ of the National Trust’s building intertwined with her and John’s increasingly desperate attempts to keep their hotel project going, and left you with the feeling of crawling gradually towards a precipice.

This slowly evolving documentary was filmed over five years and it documented the travails of woman with a unstoppable will to succeed what ever the cost. We learn at the end that she managed to save the hotel and settle her dispute with the National trust, but she paid a heavy price as John passed away during the filming of the programme. In a sad twist of fate his life insurance helped secure the future of what is now the luxurious hotel Grays Court, York

BBC4…Borgen. Loses its rythm as it heads out to Africa.

27 Jan

Borgen has a formula that over the two seasons we have watched it has worked very well. The formula encompasses three main themes Danish Media, Danish Parliamentary Politics and the lives of those who inhabit these spheres of Danish life.

These are the programmes strengths and as the saying goes if it ain’t broken don’t fix it. It seems the writers ignored that and decide to “fix” Borgen in the last two episodes.

When we last left Birgitte Nyborg she was under pressure following the breakdown of the coalition.  Often in politics when things are looking tricky at home, politicians seek refuge in foreign adventures to ease the pressure it is no different in Denmark it seems. We are introduced to the Republic of Kharun a fictitious Africa republic.  The country apparently is in the middle of a conflict between a largely Arab Muslim north and an African christian south.

Sounds familiar you might say, well you would right for all intents and purposes this was Sudan.  From the President of the North being wanted for war crimes, the only pipeline for the export of oil going through the North and the North cheating the South of millions in Oil revenues.

So the scene was set for Borgen’s political drama to go international, but it was at this point it all fell apart. What we know to be a complex and drawn out conflict was reduced to a conflict of ego’s between two unreasonable African’s leaders that needed the firm hand of Danish diplomacy to sort out.

The characterisation of  the leaders of both North and South Kharun were depicted in a cartoon-ish manner , both roles incidentally were played by British actors.

The northern leader was  a died in the wool Islamist, who refuses to shake hands with women or speak in English in public despite being Cambridge educated. The reason was it doesn’t play well to the public at home, but all his appearances were in the privacy of conference rooms.  The other  was the uber-saintly rebel who only wants the best for his people.

Not content with the two-dimensional representation of these two characters,  the dual episode turned its sights on the conflict itself. For Birgitte’s political purposes she needed to announce the signing of a big deal between the Kharanese quickly.

In real life the Sudan conflict took years before an agreement could be reached between North and South Sudan, but in Borgen time this was reduced to days.

The hub of the negotiations had a white board  and on it was listed a whole range of areas of contention and what in practice would take a huge team of negotiators many months if not years were quickly ticked off by lead negotiators Amir Dwian, brought in because they need a trustworthy muslim,  and Bent Serjo.

The two episodes felt very much like Borgen had left it comfort zone and were very unsatisfactory, a changed from the measured and well nuanced political drama we know this to be.

I expect a return next week to the more familiar environs around Christiansborg.

BBC4…Borgen – Has Birgitte Nyborg finally crossed to the dark side?

20 Jan

Ok I am not going to beat around the bush here but last night Borgen was some of the best TV I have watched in a long time, the final scene with Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk) was a tour de force, an award-winning portrayal of a man with a deeply scarred soul.

In season One a secret was shared with the viewers about Kasper Juul, a deep dark secret of his sexual abuse by his father. A vile abuse in a lonely home somewhere deep in Denmark. We came to learn that what seemed to be the arrogant swagger of a workaholic Lothario who prowled the corridors of power at the Borgen was a cover to hide a deeply ingrained emotional trauma.

This week more was revealed about the nature of that trauma, we learnt that it wasn’t just his father who had raped him, but he was shared like some weekly prize amongst his father’s peadophiliac poker buddies. We saw the emotional blackmail used by his father to hide his vile crimes from Kasper’s mum. We were however still the only ones who have shared these horrific memories with Kasper. Katrine, Lotte and Birgitte, all the women in his life had no idea till this episode.

Katrine was the closest to the truth but still so far till tonight. In an emotional scene Kasper retrieved the only possession he seemed to have, a collection of bits and pieces from his parents house including a VHS video and newspaper clippings. After a heated argument with Lotte his current girlfriend, as once again Kasper failure to commit unravels a relationship, he storms out of her flat.

It seems at this point he comes to some sort of epiphany, that he needs to share the burden he has carried all his life with some one else. He hands the collection of his memories to Katrine at her flat and walks away. Reading through the clips and watching the video she suddenly begins to understand all the layers Kasper had been hiding behind, the lies about his family in the South of France, the fear of commitment. She sees the pain, loneliness and despair Kasper had lived with.

The moment Kasper and Katrine meet again no words need to be spoken. We now all knew.

While Kasper was unburdening his soul Birgitte burdens were getting heavier and the idealism of season one was being replaced a much darker cynicism. A cynicism which she is quick to embrace but whose outcomes she struggles to control. We see how quickly she throws her long term ally Amir Dwian, the Green Party Leader, to the baying Press hounds when she leaks his love of a petrol guzzling vintage car to press, sparking a frenzy to expose the hypocrisy of his position.

She does this to force his hand into agreeing to some government legislation, but in doing so precipitated the end of Amir’s political career, the Green Party leaving the coalition and transforming her government into a minority one.

One the home front we see that being single mother and Prime Minister of a medium sized western European nation is not a recommended career progression. Her children, especially her daughter Laura are feeling the strain but Birgitte can’t see it.

She believes she is on a mission borne out of idealism but is this still the case or is it as the opening quote suggests “Much that passes as idealism is a disguised love of power. ”

One a side not the deliciously odious Svend Åge Saltum is given a lot of airtime and he rises admirably to his role as the pantomime villain of the piece (at least for now).

BBC4…Borgen gets seriously Machiavellian.

13 Jan

“If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared” – Machiavelli

This was the opening quote in the credits of the second episode of yesterday’s Borgen double-header but it could apply to either of the two back to back episodes, and really when you think about it to the whole season as Borgen is getting very Machiavellian.

In Season One Birgitte Nyborg was breath of fresh air, a reformer, a political outsider with principled stands seeking to put the good ship SS Denmark back on course. Gradually though the dark princes of political arts began once again to weave their webs of deceit and lies and have begun to ensnare Nyborg. The two episodes contained two coup d’etat’s, one long, drawn out and carefully plotted. The other sharp and instant, with fatal consequences.

On the political front both episodes centred around the Labour Party, Nyborg’s partners in the coalition.

In the first episode we witness the slow lingering political regicide of Bjørn Marrot the Labour Party Leader and Foreign Minister. This tale has echoes of the change the UK’s Labour Party has gone through. Marrot was old school, an apprentice welder who had worked his way to the upper echelon’s of the Labour Party, his failing though was for what he had in political conviction he lacked in political finesse, he could almost have been former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. He simply was not ‘New’ Labour.

The party was being taken over by sharp suited career politicians, symbolised by the justice Minister, Troels Höxenhaven and they were keen for a party in their mold.

The plot started of with a series of leaks to the press about gaffes by Marrot, an interview with the BBC in English where he mixed his metaphors and created a new one – “Don’t shoot the parrot’, not knowing what a black tie dinner meant, and leaks about porn and mini bar drinks charged to the foreign ministry.

The moment of execution was left to the day of a seaside  cabinet summit that Nyborg had called to agree major changes to Denmark’s welfare state. One change in particular, early retirement seemed to be causing dissent in the Labour Party.

Nyborg needed unanimity from the cabinet in order to push through a controversial legislation, but every time Marrot thought he had got a Labour position he was being briefed against by party insiders.

At the summit it came to a head when Höxenhaven and his colleague Pernille Madsen openly disagreed with him. Marrot turned to his long-term ally Defence Minister Hans Christian Thorsen for support, and in a telling moment that support did not come.

Marrot exploded in rage at his supposed colleagues, but the deed was done and  a simple “e tu Thorsen” probably would have served.

The summit was cancelled and out of the embers of Marrot’s Leadership emerged the new Labour  leader a suave, smiling Höxenhaven.

The Princes of political dark arts however were not done. In season one current Ekspres newspaper editor Michael Laugesen was the head of the Labour party and his fall from grace was aided by Höxenhaven, a treachery he had not forgiven or forgotten. Laugesen was also an ally of Marrot all sufficient reason for him to have more than a passing interest in the turmoil in the Labour party.

Laugesen however is not a man who waits for things to happen, he makes things happen. There had long been whispers that Höxenhaven had a penchant for young men despite his marriage of 16 years and this was to prove to be the weapon of choice for Laugesen. He embedded a rent boy in the media team he had sent to cover the cabinet summit with a view to ensnaring Höxenhaven. It worked.

His original plan was to publish an expose written by Katrine Fønsmark in the newspaper, but both her and her editor Hanne Holm had reservations about how relevant an expose on a cabinet minister’s sexuality was. Laugesen argued that the issue was about trust but they remain unconvinced. As the saying goes if you got to do a job properly, you have got to do it yourself.

Cue a late night meeting between Laugesen and Höxenhaven in which copies of the pictures were handed over. I never liked the Höxenhaven character he seemed spineless and untrustworthy but at that moment when he realised everything, his personal and professional life was about to crash down around him, you would have to sympathise.

Shattered, Höxenhaven meets up with Nyborg to tender his resignation and the next day is found dead. He committed suicide using tables Nyborg kept in her office.

In a little moment that again shows the erosion of her wholesomeness, Nyborg agrees to have the source of the tablets covered up. A harmless coverup one might say, but it starts soemwhere.

Outside the political arena Birgitte gets to meet the new woman in ex-husband Philip’s life, Cecile Toft, Amazonian blonde, blue eyes, expert Mexican food cook and a pediatrician what’s not to like if you’re Philip and wants not to dislike if you are Birgitte.

The reality that her marriage is truly over pushes Birgitte into a moment of extreme emotional fragility and straight into the arms and bed of her chauffeur a moment of weakness that would come back to hunt her. I am not sure if it was intentional but the scene where the chauffeur is fixing her plumbing when she entices him is the ultimate parody of a 70′s porn film.

Katrine and Kasper Juul’s never quite ended relationship flickers back into life as they engage in a romantic tryst first at the cabinet summit and later back at Katrine’s flat but there is too much baggage from before and Kasper’s realises (or at least I think he does) that it is not going to work with Katrine. He is not ready to open up to her in the way she wants.

In a desperate move he announces he is cutting off all professional contact with her, but not before Katrine hands him one last bombshell, evidence that Laugesen set Höxenhaven up.

Nyborg confronts Laugesen with the information and demands change in the attitude of his paper to her government, relaxed and smarmy as ever Laugesen brings up ger romantic dalliance with her chauffeur. 1-0 to Laugesen methinks.

BBC4…Borgen hits Season 2 and is still brilliant.

8 Jan

I have finally caught up with BBC 4′s Borgen double header opening to season 2. Second seasons are always tricky, you have had a great first season and now have a reputation to live upto, something to be compared against.

Borgen did not disappoint, it was as good as it was last season. The political drama and backstabbing flowed as thickly, and the human drama that under pinned it was superbly acted as usual.

The first episode centered around Denmark’s involvement in Afghanistan. In the opening scene  we met a young Danish soldier about to go out on reconnaissance in Helmand Province in Afghanistan.  As Politicians are wont to do Birgitte Nyborg had popped in on a ‘meet the troops’ visit. The young squadie cheekily asked for a photograph with  the Prime Minister remarking how rare it was to have “babes” around camp.

That meeting set the scene for the episode as shortly after the photograph the Taliban launched an offensive killing eight Danish soldiers including the young soldier Nyborg had met and throwing her long-held policy aim to withdraw Denmark from the war into disarray.

Nyborg was now faced with three stark choices, withdraw and hand a political victory to the Taliban as well as upset Denmark’s allies, keep the military deployment with no change and face accusations that the soldiers are being abandoned to their fate, or strengthen the deployment and face accusations that she was escalating the war and possibly fracturing the ruling coalition.

Borgen on the surface is about Birgitte Nyborg, but it is really about a journey of discovery of two women Birgitte Nyborg and Katrine Fonsmark whose fate often intertwines with Nyborg’s and the debacle in Afghanistan once again brought their fates together.

Katrine was embedded with the Danish army at the time of the attack and was witness to its aftermath. On return to Denmark her boss and arch-enemy of the Prime Minister, Michael Laugesson, wanted to use the death of the soldiers to do a hatchet job on the Prime Minister.

Katrine is reluctant to do this and instead pushes for a human interest angle by focusing on the family of a dead soldier, which by coincidence turns out to the same soldier the Prime Minister met in Afghanistan.

Borgen is so well written that sometimes you forget that you are watching a foreign import, but other times you think really? When Katrine went to interview the dead soldier’s father her cold, pushy matter of fact manner was unusual particularly given that she is supposedly one of the more empathetic characters. I suspect even the sleaziest hack from a fleet street tabloid would have been more circumspect in those circumstances.

Ultimately it is the anguish of the bereaved father that resolves the Prime Minister’s dilemma and provides Katrine with the copy she needs for her paper.  A letter from his son sent in the event of his death reveals why he served in Afghanistan, and although his Father could not rationalise the reasons, that along with political realities sways the Prime Minister to increase Denmark’s commitment to the war, and the letter also provides Katrine with the perfect copy she was after.

The reason it did was all down to 89,000 children.

In the second episode of the double-header,  the European Union was the source of Nyborg’s problems. Denmark needed to nominate a new Commissioner, straight forward proposition you might think but not in the murky world of politics. Having to make that choice also laid bare how much Nyborg’s relationship with the man who was effectively her mentor, Bent Serjo, had deteriorated.

Bent had become increasingly critical of Nyborg’s policies, and her removing him from the cabinet last season had not helped matters. After another heated argument we see her berating him for not booking appointments with just like everyone else coming to see her. As her exasperation with Bent grew, a suggestion from one of the rising stars of her party, Jacob Fruse seemed to offer the perfect solution.

Fruse a man who reminds me of Boycie from Only Fools and Horses and therefore instantly untrustworthy suggested that Bent be offered the EU commissioner’s job. Shipping him off to Brussels was just the solution Nyborg needed, but there were problems. Bent did not want to go. He eventually came round but unexpectedly at a farewell party to mark the appointment he suffered a heart attack.

It turns out that Fruse had known Bent had a previous attack but neglected to tell the Prime Minister hoping that with Bent out of the way he could take a step closer to becoming Nyborg’s eventual successor. His Machiavellian plot was uncovered and he was dispatched (or should that be exiled) to Brussels for his sins.

Off the main story arc we saw the slow lingering death of Nyborg’s marriage, a reality she was struggling to come to terms with.

The suave but troubled Kasper Juul has a new girlfriend but in an inopportune moment refers to her as Katrine and to compound matters opts to celebrate Katrine’s birthday with her forcing his girl friend to cancel plans she’d made earlier. She seemed baffingly understanding about the whole thing.

Meanwhile Katrine’s relationship with her colleague Hanne Holm strengthened as Hannah revealed the hurt of her pretty non-existent relationship with her own daughter.

Roll on episode 3!

BBC4….The World’s Richest Songs

29 Dec

One of the biggest gripes with the talents unearthed by shows such as the X-Factor, American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent etc is that the nature of these programmes start artistes on the wrong path. Spending their most creative early years singing covers of other people’s songs, or songs created by their labels in-house team of writers. Why is it the wrong path you might ask?

Well it is the wrong path because all the hard work from gigging, touring and personal appearances will simply be lining other people’s pockets as this informative BBC4 documentary – Richest Songs in the World – showed. The beneficiary’s of this wealth? The Song writers and owners of the copyright to the song.

Fronted by BBC DJ Mark Radcliffe who also doubles as one half of the comedy rock group The Shirehorses, the show revealed the top ten highest grossing songs ever and it was a very interesting list.

We are given tidbits of where the money comes from 7-8p a CD, 4p for a downloaded tune and usage of music on the BBC for instance can attract about £16 a minute. Then there are films, adverts, Karaoke machines, shopping centres and more.

So who is in the list?

10. Mel Torme – Christmas Song. (1944) [Listen]
The tenth spot was held by the Christmas Song written by Mel Torme and it was made famous by the great Nat King Cole. The song introduced two theme’s that ran throughout the list.

First was that a Christmas hit doesn’t just sell well, it sells spectacularly well! The other  was that for incongruous reasons song writers of Jewish origin were masters at producing Christmas hits.

Estimated Earnings – £12.5 million.

9. Roy Orbison & Bill Dees – Oh Pretty Woman. (1964) [Listen]
Roy Orbison and Bill Dees were apparently struggling for song writing ideas when Roy’s wife walks in on them and announced she was going shopping and thus the opening lines “Pretty Woman walking down the street” were born. The rest of the song followed, and so did a no 1 hit in the USA and UK and elsewhere.

The Richard Gere / Julia Roberts film Pretty Woman brought a substantial boost to the song’s earning potential, as well as introducing it to a whole new generation, so much so that in late 1998 Bill Dees was reportedly earning $100,000 a year.

In the USA the song was the subject of a legal case that established the doctrine of parody. When rap artist Luke Campbell and his 2 Live Crew sampled the song into a somewhat salacious version the copyright owners objected.

The US supreme court ruled the version  was a parody and exempt from royalty payments establishing a legal precedent that exists in the US till today. It may have made a small dent in revenues but not enough to stop the song from being a money spinner.

Estimated Earnings – £13 million

8. Sting – Every Breath You Take. (1983) [Listen]
This is the UK’s first entry in the list. It’s the 80′s super group, The Police, greatest ever song contributing a quarter of the revenue that their entire catalogue ever made. This song throws up another theme that crops in discussions about song revenue, who actually owns the rights. This song is credited to Sting (Gordon Sumner) but in the interview for this programme Andy Summers recounted how he had provided the guitar riff for the song.

So successful was the song that it grosses about $2000 a day. A lot of that is due to P Diddy’s incredibly successful sample of the song in memory of the late rapper Notorious BIG. Ironically the main part that was sampled was Summer’s iconic guitar riff.

Estimated Earnings – £13.5 million

7. Haven Gillespie & Fred J Coots – Santa Claus is coming to town. (1934) [Listen]
So popular has this song been that is covered pretty much anyone who’s anyone from the soulful rendition by the Jackson 5 to hard rocking version by Alice Cooper, and there is even a version by Justin Bieber.

Estimated Earnings – £16.5 million

6. Ben E King, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller – Stand By Me. (1961) [Listen]
I personally have believed the best music comes out of time of uncertainty. In particular the sixties and early seventies a period of profound political and social change brought us some of the best music that has ever been produced. Ben E King’s anthemic song is a worthy representative of this era.

Ben brought the song initially to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who were working out of the famous Brill Building in New York. They added to it’s composition and also agreed to a royalty split of 25% to Leiber and Stoller and 50% to Ben E King, an unusually amicable agreement in an industry where back stabbing over royalties is a way of life.

Stand By me was successful in its own right but the River Phoenix film of the same name amongst other reuses of the song have seen its commercial success soar

Estimated Earnings – £17.5 million

5. Alex North & Hy Zaret – Unchained Melody. (1955) [Listen]
Written for a prison movie ‘Unchained’ in the 50′s it was originally about about a prisoner yearning for freedom. The song was made famous by two guys with most perfectly sculptured chins in show business The righteous Brothers and in the UK by two less sculptured British blokes Robson and Jerome. In between the song has been covered at least an amazing 650 times.

Estimated Earnings – £18 million

4. John Lennon and Paul McCartney – Yesterday. (1965) [Listen]
Back to Blighty for number 4. Yesterday was said to have been specifically written by Paul McCarthy but given the arrangements that existed within the Beatles it is credited to Lennon and McCartney.

When the song was originally written the final lyrics had not been worked out so Paul McCartney used in its place were an homage to scrambled eggs until he came with the now famous lyrics. Despite it seeming simplicity the song is the most successful of the Beatles’s compositions.

Estimated Earnings – £19.5 million

3.Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Phil Specter – You lost that loving feeling. (1964) [Listen]
Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil a legendary Husband and Wife song writing team working out of the famous Brill Building music factory. They worked with Phil Specter on this song and when interviewed on the programme stated he famously added the line “and he is gone, gone, gone, Whoa, whoa, whoa”, much to Mann and Weil’s skepticism . The addition along with Phil Spectre’s wall of sound production worked and helped make the song the most played on radio ever.

Memorably in the UK the song release pitted a very young Cilla Black against the great chins from America – The Righteous brothers in a battle for No 1 both with the same song. Cilla eventually lost  out to the tighter more sophisticated production on the American version. Must have been a ‘surprise, surprise’ for her. [Sorry!]

Estimated Earnings – £20.5 million

2.Irving Berlin – White Christmas. (1940) [Listen]
“I am dreaming of a white Christmas”. This song bundles up all your nostalgic memories of Christmas into soft heavily sentimental wrapping, the ultimate Christmas Song. It was Irving Berlin’s masterpiece and in the hands of all American crooner Bing Crosby it sold an amazing sold 40 million copies and has since gone one to sell over 100 million units netting the man who started as a poor jewish immigrant from Russia a fortune.

Interesting Irving Berlin was a leading light in the creation of The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) the body that first adopted a unified approach for the collection of song royalties and arguably laid the foundation for the fortune of many others on the list.

Estimated Earnings – £24 million

So what’s number one? I heard about this before but was never sure if it was an urban myth or not, well it’s been confirmed.

1.Hill Sisters – Happy Birthday. (1893) [Listen]
No not the Stevie Wonder one. The one you sing at home when it is a birthday, yes that one. You might think of it a ditty, a rhyme, a kids song, but if it is musical and can been copyrighted it will generate royalties. When you consider that every one of the 6 billion people on earth has a birthday you can begin to see the earning potential.

Kindergarten teachers Patty and Mildred Hill created it as a song for their kids with the words originally ‘Good Morning to You’ along the way it morphed to Happy Birthday and into an incredibly popular song. So much so that Warner Brothers bought the rights to the song for 25 million dollars. Happy Birthday reportedly costs 25,000 dollars for use in a TV or Movie and despite its age remains under copyright in the USA till 2030. In the EU the copyright ends in 2016.

Estimated Earnings – £30 million

All in all a great programme and given all the music clips of theses songs and their various cover versions it definitely added a few more pennies to the earnings.