BBC1…Katie Hopkins from Apprentice to Professional “wind-up merchant”

11 Jan

Is Katie Hopkins building a career out of being objectionable?

Katie Hopkins first came to the nation’s conscience as a contestant on the reality TV show “The Apprentice”, even way back then in 2007 her talent for causing raised eyebrows and tut-tutting amongst the chattering classes was quickly established. She famously said of fellow contestant Kristina Grimes – “Kristina is quite frankly too orange to be taken seriously” and of another contestant Adam Hoskins who she claimed over indulged in the odd glass of red wine – “When your best friends are Mr Pinot and Mr Grigio, you want to watch it.”

She didn’t win the Apprentice, in her words turning down the Sir Alan Sugar’s offer, although it was extremely unlikely she ever stood a chance. Rather being a dampener on any ambitions she had, failing to win turned out to be the beginning of her rise to some sort of fame.

Along the way she appeared in “I Am A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, castigated people for naming their children after places, even though she has a child named India, was outspoken on how ‘soft’ mothers have left us a nation full of obese children, and openly expressed a distaste for ginger-haired children.

Her love of the controversial has meant she has found a niche in the media as the go-to person when you need someone controversial on social issues. Not content with that she is increasingly branching out with her controversial opinions into the world of politics.

She brought her particular brand of rabble rousing to BBC’s topical news programme – This Week. Incensed by what she had seen earlier this week on the Channel 4 programme – Benefit Street – she came to do battle with Labour MP and regular pundit on the show, Dianne Abbot.

Despite Dianne’s patient attempts to explain to Katie that the bulk of welfare payments are made to pensioners and people who are in work, Katie, not one to have her prepared rant swayed by statistics and considered detailed, ploughed on. She ensured that she used the right words guaranteed to wind up middle England, peppering her ill thought position with repeated mentions of “scroungers”, “skivvers” and “work-shy”, tried to bait Dianne by being particularly obnoxious and rounding it of with a ridiculous anecdote on how on a recent cruise she took half of the people boasted about how they were claiming benefits.

Just the sort of controversy that producers of bland late night political shows love.

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

BBC…Clare Balding to lead Winter Olympics coverage.

9 Jan

BBC announces Sochi Winter Olympics coverage

The London 2012 Olympics produced two winners for the BBC. The first was acclaim for its unparalleled multi-channel coverage of pretty much all sports at the Olympics, and the second was Clare Balding.

Well for fans of multi-sport extravaganzas the goods news are that both are back for the Winter Olympics which starts in Sochi, Russia in four weeks time.

The BBC has promised that its programming will consist of Six HD streams across digital platforms to deliver over 650 hours of live action, covering every moment of Sochi 2014. New digital approach brings world-class live event coverage to audiences with over 200 hours on network TV plus two red button streams.

650 hours of sport over two weeks should keep even the most die hard sports junkie well taken care of.

Clare Balding’s informative, engaged and enthusiastic presentation during the Olympics was a ratings winner. So exemplary was her coverage that she was awarded a special BAFTA in  for outstanding achievement in factual presenting in recognition of her coverage of the Olympics.

Say what you like about the BBC, but they know a good thing when they see one, so no surprise that Clare along side Hazel Irvine and Jonathan Edwards will lead the BBCs team to Russia. She will no doubt be looking forward to another Olympic commentary gem like the now famous Bert Le Clos interview.

The 2014 Winter Olympics games runs from the 7th of February, 2014 to the 23rd of February, 2014 in Sochi, Russia

 

 

Channel 4…Benefits Street. Was the law being broken?

8 Jan

Benefits Street… Benefit Voyeurism gone wrong.

When I watch programmes like Benefit Street I feel it is has a clear demographic in mind. The demographic is one of people who are convinced that being on benefits is simply a pathway to criminality, dysfunctional behaviour and a disdain for all civilised social norms.

The Channel 4 documentary which visited James Turner Street, Winlsow Green, Birmingham would have done little if anything to dispel that impression, and plenty to re-enforce it.

So rampant were the suggestions of criminal activity being undertaken, that you would be forgiven for thinking this was just one long re-enactment on CrimeWatch. From  scenes which depicted what seemed like the illegal cultivation of marijuana, through to scenes purporting to show the proceeds of shop lifting, the breaching of  Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) and obtaining money under false pretences, the show wallowed in the criminal aura given off by people it followed in the documentary.

Setting aside the wider question of why the programme failed to show a balanced view of what living on benefits might be like, a more immediate question that came to mind was if the actions they were filming were actual criminal activities, or evidence that criminal activities had taken place, aren’t the producers or film crew legally bound to inform the police as to what they had witnessed and filmed, and did they?

 

 

 

 

Channel 4…The Taste. If The Voice were a cooking programme, it would be this!

7 Jan

The Taste. ‘The Voice’ meets ‘Masterchef’.

  • Three judges…Check!
  • Can’t see the contestants at the beginning…Check!
  • Have to trust their senses alone…Check!
  • Judges compete to select the best and become mentors…Check!
  • Contestants decide when more than one judge wants them…Check!

Sounds like The Voice, looks like The Voice, feels like The Voice, but certainly does not taste like The Voice. The Taste, Channel 4′s much heralded gastronomic reality show hit our screen today and for me it gets a big thumbs up.

I love the judges. Nigella Lawson was imperious despite her recent problems. Anthony Bourdain of Kitchen Confidential fame was suave and urbane, a culinary equivalent of George Clooney. Ludo Lefebvre was a Gallic tour de force. I loved the interaction between the judges, it was competitive without being bitchy. You would expect that though, as all three judges are very accomplished in their own right and really have nothing to prove by grandstanding.

The food, yes it comes out it single bites sizes on a spoon, but some of those dishes looked absolutely mouth watering.  I love the format of the show, judging by taste is what it should be about, not the ‘journey” the contestants have been on – I am talking about you MasterChef!

I think my Tuesday nights are sorted.

Channel 4 …Is Street Magic losing its Mystique?

2 Jan

Magic was once a staple of British TV and  in the seventies and eighties no Saturday night light entertainment schedule was complete without the likes of the late Tommy Cooper, Paul Daniels, Matthew Corbett and other TV magicians. By the nineties as popular taste changed, and the musical hall culture that had driven had driven some much of entertainment in the previous decades waned, so did our taste for these magic shows.

Watching a performer going through his repertoire on a distant stage while we are stuck firmly at a safe distance away in the audience responding to cues from the floor manager was losing its charm. As far as magic acts went we wanted something more immediate, more compelling, more “real”, and with Street Magic we got it.

Street magic as the name implies literally took it performance onto the street. Magicians wondered the streets of New York,  London or any other big city, accosting small groups of people with a selection of magic tricks and it is this close interaction that has given street magic its cachet.

It is not so much the magic that entrances us because we have probably seen similar tricks over the years, it is the reaction of the audience, amazed at what they are seeing at close quarters, the initial confusion as they try to work out what just happened and then the explosion of disbelief as it registers that something “magic” has just happened.

 

 

David Blaine may not have been the first street magician out there, but he is arguably the best known and on New Year’s Day he was back on Channel 4 with a new show “David Blaine: Real or Magic”. Not content with wow-ing mere mortals, he stepped up his game by taking his street magic to a celebrity audience including the likes of Harrison Ford, Will Smith, Kanye West, Kathy Perry and former US President George W. Bush, who got his watch stolen as well.

All well and good and probably a sop to the celebrity obsessed times we live in, but celebrities so use to creating controlled personas for public consumption simply do not give that raw visceral reaction that makes street magic what it is.

If this is the direction street magic takes it will lose the very thing that made it great, being from the street.

Mrs Brown’s Boys is TV Christmas No 1.

26 Dec

To me Mrs Brown’s Boys is not a programme I have really got.  It comes across to me a mix of 1970′s northern variety act and a Carry On film, however the rest of the great British nation clearly disagree. Mrs Brown’s Boys was the most watched programme on Christmas Day beating all comers including perennial chart toppers like EastEnders and Dr Who.

Top Ten programmes this Christmas (2013) (Average number of viewers [percentage of viewers])

  1.  9.30pm: Mrs Brown’s Boys – BBC One – 9.4m  [35.5%]
  2.  7.30pm: Doctor Who – BBC One – 8.3m  [30.7%]
  3.  7.30pm: Coronation Street – ITV1 – 7.9m [29.3%]
  4.  8.30pm: EastEnders – BBC One – 7.8m [29%]
  5.  5.00pm: Strictly Come Dancing – BBC One – 7.3m [35.4%]
  6.  6.15pm: Call The Midwife – BBC One – 7.1m [30.1%]
  7.  8.30 pm: Downton Abbey – ITV1 – 6.6m [25.4%]
  8.  3.20pm: Toy Story 3 – BBC One – 6.3m [38.9%]
  9.  3.00pm: The Queen’s Speech – BBC One – 5.7m [36.2%]  /  7.15pm: ITV1 News – ITV1 – 5.7m [23.5%]
  10.  3.10pm: BBC One News – BBC One – 5.6m [37.4%]

 

 

 

 

 

 

ITV…Utopia. Mandela may be dead but Apartheid is still alive…In Australia.

24 Dec

Nieghbours, Bondi beach, Sydney Opera House, the lucky country,an easy going straight talking people. This is the image most of the world has of Australia.  Behind this sunny facade lies a very dark secret, a secret that most Australians profess to be unaware of.

The secret is the shocking treatment of Australia’s indigenous population. John Pilger, an Australian born-journalist, who has lived for many years in the United Kingdom returned to the country of his birth to film this documentary on the treatment of Australia’s first peoples.

It was a hard hitting documentary, and an unusual but welcome scheduling on ITV1 where documentaries are increasingly a very rare sight.

The title of the programme intentionally serves to highlight the glaring inequalities that exists in Australia. Taking it’s name from the town of Utopia, a poor desolate township inhabited by indigenous Australians, bereft of almost any of the facilities we take for granted in the rest of the developed world. The name is like a never ending cruel joke reinforced by the fact that the government appointed white district commissioner despite living in a smallish bungalow enjoys a staggering 18 air-conditioners while the residents of Utopia have no electricity.

In the documentary Pilger interviewed a range of Government officials on the situation with the indigenous peoples, officials who had a direct responsibility for enacting change that had been promised for decades but not delivered, the responses he got were a master class in willful negligence.

In one particular interview a prison official was questioned about what changes she planned to enact after an indigenous Australian was arrested and left in the police van in the middle of the scorching desert sunshine. The coroners verdict was that he slowly roasted to death. No one was arrested and the prison official proudly told Pilger how she has to sent her officers “cultural awareness training” in the aftermath.

We were taken to the Island of Rottnest, today home to a multi million tourist resort and spa. This has been built on the site of one of Australia’s largest indigenous Australian penal colonies, a colony that saw hundreds of prisoners perish due to the brutal conditions. Building a hotel, effectively cementing over the island’s brutal past, is equivalent in terms of sensitivity to say turning Auschwitz or Belsen into a tourist resort.

We are told how the how the the life expectancy of the average indigenous Australian is far less that his white compatriot with a third not living beyond 45.

We are told how in the Northern Territories prisons are being built to solely incarcerate indigenous Australians.

We are told how the Northern Territory imprisons indigenous Australian at a rate  six times greater than that of black people during the  days of apartheid in South Africa.

We see evidence of how the Australian government and press conspired to paint a picture of widespread child abuse having occurred in some communities, suspended civil rights and proceed to arrest many adults and remove their children, a scandal which was ultimately exposed as a cover for a land grab.

We find out that the UN high commissioner on Human Rights has repeatedly censored Australia on the “entrenched racism” in its treatment of indigenous Australians

In all a picture was painted of at best a very dysfunctional relationship between a government and a people it should serve in the way it serves others, and at worst a brutal systematic purposeful campaign that may lead to the extinction of an ancient people.

If there was a problem with the documentary, it was too long, and there was a lot of sermonizing, the facts of the situation on their own were screaming out the message that needed to be told.

If you missed it you can catchup on ITV Player.

 

 

 

Channel 4…Brody is dead. Where does Homeland go from here?

23 Dec

Yesterday we witnessed the shocking finale to the Homeland season 3.

We witnessed the demise of Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), hero, anti-hero, Al Qaeda terrorist, CIA double agent and family man, the man around whom the entire three seasons of Homeland had been written. From the “was he, wasn’t he a terrorist” in season 1, to the Congressman turned double agent in season 2, and it all came to a head in season 3.

In the final episode his fate is sealed when  incoming CIA Director Senator Lockhart (Tracy Letts)  intervenes and overrides the rescue operation put together by Saul (Mandy Pantinkin), Lockhart did this ostensibly to save the newly recruited “asset” Iranian intelligence office Javadi (Shaun Toub), but also Brody returning to the US would give rise to too questions better left unasked.

So far away in Iran at the crack of dawn on the outskirts of Tehran,  Brody is taken out before a mob of braying Iranians and hung to death, dangling from a rope tied to a construction crane. With his death the main storyline that has links all three series ends.

We know there is a  season 4 coming in 2014, but what can it offer. There is almost certainly  no Brody, although the internet is awash with rumours suggesting that he may have somehow survived his hanging, and will be back. Personally I doubt that, I think Season 3 which featured many episodes without Brodie, purposely moved us away from the dying embers of the original stroyline to a new focus of what is becoming a CIA procedural drama.

If Brodie’s gone it is likely so will his daughter, Dana (Morgan Saylor), his wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin), his son (Jackson Pace) and Mike (Diego Klattenhoff) his Marine Buddy and any other characters only close to the Brody storyline.

Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban) went a while a go so we are left with no more prime time baddies from the three seasons, and we never got to find out who was the CIA mole.

We still have Carrie Mathison (Clare Danes) and Saul and all indications is that the new season will be built around them.

Essentially the whole programme is set up for what is typically referred to in the US as a re-boot. An opportunity to reshape the whole focus and dynamics of the programme.  The danger is if it just becomes another procedural drama without a compelling story it could be the beginning of a gradual ratings slump.

Links
Relive the drama with the Homeland – Season 1-2 on DVD and Homeland – Season 3 on DVD from Amazon.co.uk

 

BBC1…Fern Britton meets Christine Ohuruogu

22 Dec

Christine Ohuruogu is arguably the most successful female athlete the United Kingdom has ever produced, more successful than Jessica Ennis, Mary Peters, Sally Gunnell, Denise Lewis or even Kelly Holmes, but a casual observer of athletics would never know that.

To say she has a very low key profile would be an over statement, why is that?  This is a lady who has won two consecutive Olympic medals, a gold in Beijing 2008 and a silver in London 2012, she has won five World Championship medals stretching from 2005 to this year across the 400 m individual and 400m relay events, and also numerous other medals in Indoor, European and Commonwealth Championships.

In BBC1′s series Fern Britton Meets, Fern set out to find what was the story behind Christine Ohuruogu.

One of the reasons that has long been given as the reason for the public and media’s reluctance to embrace Christine as a British sporting icon was the her ban in 2006 for missing three drug tests.

That headline alone meant she got tagged alongside athletes who were known to intentionally and repeatedly cheat, but in doing so it did her a massive disservice and harm to her reputation.

Most people would have never read the detail of the report that followed the investigation into her missed drug tests. If they had they would have read this

On the occasion of the third missed test, she failed to notify testers of a switch of training venue to Crystal Palace when she discovered her usual base at Mile End Stadium was hosting a school sports day.

But just nine days earlier, at the European Championship trials in Manchester, Ohuruogu had been asked to give a sample to testers after finishing fifth in the 200m. It came back negative.

Then, three days after the missed test, she was tested again, this time at the British Grand Prix at Crystal Palace, where she had finished last. Again, the results were negative.

and this

“In fairness, the committee should make clear its view as to the limited degree of fault attributed to her. This was a minor unintentional infraction of the regime due only to forgetfulness.

There is no suggestion, nor any grounds for suspicion, that the offence may have been deliberate in order to prevent testing. The omissions are too haphazard for any such suspicion to arise.

“The athlete was tested negative on several occasions during this period and has always co-operated with doping control officers. She did notify changes to her schedule on many occasions but failed in these three instances. Those failures are understandable given all the circumstances.

“Accordingly, if the committee had… a discretion to order a fair penalty, we would have imposed a sanction of three months, consistent with the [World Anti Doping Agency] code. But… the committee is obliged under IAAF rules to impose a fixed penalty of one year’s ineligibility.”

However in the frenzy of the sound bite driven media world we live in detail is often the first victim.

Fern sought out explore this and other issues with Christine. What we got was a calm, humble and articulate athlete. A woman who does not need the oxygen of media publicity to thrive, and arguably seeks to avoid it. Her bedrock was built on three things, a tight-knit family, a strong religious faith, and a bond with her community.

Her faith in her innocence saw her through the dark days of her ban from her athletics, and the belief of the people who surrounded her helped propel her back into the upper echelons of the sport she loves.

She may never become the face of athletics in the UK, but you got a sense from the interview that her heart does not  lie in that direction. She was seemingly more comfortable going round the schools of Newham her local borough, which she does often, spreading inspirational messages to the next generation of British sportsmen and women.

It may have all been a puff-piece to rehabilitate her image, but I personally came a way with a sense that what we saw was the real Christine Ohuruogu.