Robin Brown

Doing journalism. Teaching journalism.

Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

Jimmy McGovern Interview: Failure Is Good For You

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I stumbled in from the pub tonight and flicked through the channels until I came across an episode of Cracker. It was To Be A Somebody, the incendiary episode starring Robert Carlisle as Albie – a white, working-class scouser-turned-serial-killer – and I watched the last 15 minutes as rapt as I was when I first watched it at the age of 16.

Even then I knew I was watching something important – something that included Hillsborough, racism, working-class socialist bigotry and a host of other issues that send a shiver down the spine of any middle-class liberal. A disturbing confluence of issues – overlapping on a Venn diagram – as relevant today as they were 20 years ago.

Watching it back it’s hard to not view Albie’s call-to-arms in terms of Irish republican violence, 7/7 and even the rise of UKip, BNP and EDL. A touchstone for the disaffected white working-classes, denied the social gravity of work, unions, church and football. It struck me, although the outcomes may be somewhat different, that it’s hard to disagree with the thrust of his script.

Cracker Albie

I interviewed Jimmy McGovern in 2005 for Black & White Magazine, a Liverpool culture magazine I edited back in the day. At the end of some delicate negotiations I had an email exchange with Jimmy where we exchanged questions, discussion and gossip.

He was incredibly accommodating, polite, funny – I have not a bad word to say about him. Doctor Who was gearing up for a return at the time and he gave me some juicy gossip involving Christopher Eccleston, whom he obviously held in high regard. I also got a lovely Christmas message from him at the end of the year – I like to think he’d appreciated something in the questions I asked.

As is always the case, we lost touch and I doubt he even remembers the exchange ten years on. But I remember his personal kindness to a young journalist to whom he owed nothing – he also allowed me to sell the interview to Tribune – and willingness to engage on subjects we both found interesting. Thanks Jimmy.

Ten years on from that interview – and 20 years from the episode’s debut – the issues of which we spoke are still relevant. And, with The Street and Accused, so is Jimmy McGovern.

The following represents the compiled Q+A I assembled from our email conversations, printed in Black & White Magazine and Tribune. Inevitably I feel I was a little gauche and tactless – and wish I’d pursued certain lines on inquiry, but remain pleased with the exchange.

Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?

Right now I’m trying to do final polishes on the Cracker special and a six-parter for the BBC provisionally entitled The Street. As for the six-parter I’ve written only two eps and been a sort of lead writer on the others. The Americans would call it “show runner” but to hell with the Americans and their cultural imperialism. With the exception of a man called James Quirk the writers on The Street have been relatively inexperienced – but they all had good stories to tell and that’s the main thing for me. I’m sick of watching telly and seeing the same old stories being regurgitated. When I’ve finished these polishes I’ll be switching over to a musical about the history of cotton. We’re trying to blend negro-spirituals from the cotton fields with brass band music from the cotton mills. God knows if it will work.

What made you decide to come back to Cracker?

I’ve gone back to Cracker because I used to be co-organiser of the Hillsborough Memorial Golf Day and we needed a sponsor so I went to Granada and told them that if they sponsored the golf, I’d write them another Cracker.

Do the characters you create inevitably stem from aspects of your own personality – even if it’s a small one?

You’re right: if you’re in any way serious as a writer, you will always write characters based upon your own personality. That’s easy to say when it’s people like Fitz [from Cracker] because people like him despite his flaws. Not so easy when it’s characters like Albie [from the episode To Be A Somebody] but Albie was based on how I felt in the aftermath of Hillsborough. I don’t think I could have killed anybody over Hillsborough. In fact I’m sure I couldn’t. But I certainly felt like killing Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher and every single member of the South Yorkshire Police. And as for The Sun… I think every single killer in Cracker has come from somewhere deep within myself.

Hillsborough seems to be something of a touchtone across more than one of your works; something that has deeply affected Liverpool. Is this a fair reflection?

And you’re right again: because of that, some people think I’m a headcase, a hot-headed, angry, frustrated Scouser. But I’m not. I’m fifty-six. I’ve been married for thirty odd years; I’ve got grandkids; I play golf. The secret is, I know I’m nothing special. I know I’m not particularly good. Or particularly bad. I’m just like everyone else. And if I’ve felt like doing horrible things, then I’m bloody sure everybody else has as well. Nobody’s unique. Well, everybody’s unique but you know what I mean.

I have always seen myself as left-wing but, honestly, throughout the eighties it was hard to be a left-wing, white, working class male. We were blamed for everything: racism, sexism, fascism. And, of course, the epitome of the white working class male was the football fan. People hated them, especially people on the left. Hillsborough came out of all that and, after Hillsborough, I said to myself that I would never let people attack us (white working class males) like that again. And Fitz came after that – the first post-feminist, post political-correctness TV series.

I never had any doubts about writing the story of Albie in Cracker. In fact the Hillsborough families came to a screening and supported it. They, more than anyone, understood Albie’s anger. As for the drama-doc itself, I wrote it because the families asked me to write it. As simple as that.

Do you still have a personal faith, or are you a cultural Catholic?

I have never attacked the Catholic faith. I have never attacked any religion. There was one particular journalist who slyly hinted that I might be anti-semitic but I can tell you I’m not. The great religions, when they are properly adhered to, are a force for good. It’s the institutions that sprout up around those religions that get up my nose. And the hypocrites within them. One example, the Catholic Church sheltered child abusers for years. If it had done this out of compassion for the abusers, well that might, just might, be understandable. But it sheltered the abusers because it was frightened of losing its great wealth in the courts.

What would be the worst and the best we can expect to come out of Liverpool winning Capital of Culture?

I’m ambivalent about Capital of Culture. On the one hand, if we ever get my cotton project onto the stage it will probably be because of Capital of Culture money. On the other hand I’m not prepared to be gagged because of that. I think 2008 will pass the vast majority of Scousers by, just as whatever-year-it-was passed the Glaswegians by.

Liverpool has given you a lot of source material in the forms of Hillsborough and Dockers, albeit frequently tragic and terrible. Does this make you ambivalent about living here?

No. I thank God I was born here. I have always loved this city and the older I get, the more I love it. The people above all, their humour and passion and sensitivity, but also the river, the architecture, the parks, the history of the place…

I have always had a soft spot for Ireland. My wife has 100 per cent, pure Irish blood in her veins. And, of course, I have the obligatory great grandad who came over in the Famine. But I see myself as a Scouser, a catholic, white, working class Scouser. That means I’ve plenty in common with the Irish but, no, I am not Irish; I am a Scouser. Lots of people see themselves like that, I think, and that’s healthy surely.

Where did The Lakes come from? Was there an element of it being something that was ‘fun’ to write?

I am proud of the first series of The Lakes. The trouble was the second series. We brought in a lot of very good writers, each with his or her own “voice” so the second series went all over the place. But the first I liked. And a lot of it was autobiographical. As was Hearts and Minds of course.

I know I’ve got this reputation for grittiness but, actually, the first two things I wrote, other than Brookside, were Felix Randal and Traitors. Felix Randal was based on the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, about a farrier in Liverpool in the late nineteenth century and Traitors was about Father Garnet’s involvement in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot.

Are there particular actors who you prefer to work with?

Because I write a lot about working class characters, I like to work with actors who are working class. It’s the hardest thing to pull off for an actor, I think: to act outside your socio-economic group. Interestingly, Irish actors can do it. It’s often very hard to spot an Irish actor’s background. But for the English it’s not so easy.

I used to fight like mad to get my programmes made in Liverpool. But I got tired of people accusing me of portraying Liverpool in a bad light. You know, the people of Manchester have never said to me, “Hey, you Scouser, how dare you portray our city as full of headcases and psychopaths!” That’s because they understand that film and TV production brings millions into the local economy.

What are you most proud of of your scripts?

No matter how well something has been done, it could always have been done better. I’m proud of Hillsborough of course because it helped people. I’d say the same thing about Dockers, Sunday and Priest. But Heart, a small movie, was a bit of a failure as was the second series of The Lakes. As for Mary Queen of Scots, I wrote it as a big-budget movie and, in hindsight, I should have fought to get it made as such. But failure is good for you, you know. Particularly if you’re Catholic.

Written by Robin Brown

September 4th, 2014 at 12:38 am

Posted in Journalism,TV

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The Extraordinary Bad Taste of the Great British Menu

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I’ve watched the latest series of The Great British Menu with a growing, open-mouthed horror. Not because of the litany of absurd dishes – burned food, ash and soil seems very popular this year – but because there’s some of the stupidest, most facetious plates of food being created in the name of celebrating the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Every year the show has introduced a far-fetched conceit that is shoe-horned into programmes showing peole thinking about cooking, then cooking, then watching in lip-biting tension as Marcus Wareing asks them if their cooking is sufficiently English. Last year seemed to mark the nadir, when bewildered chefs were consistently asked if their food was funny.

This year they’re being asked if their food honours terrified Allied soldiers fighting their equally terrified German opponents. Which seems a bit like asking whether my teaching pays sufficient tribute to Norse gods – or whether the Roundheads would be impressed by my podcasts.

Leaving aside the notion of ‘celebrating’ D-Day – the line between commemoration, memorial and celebration seemingly blurred these days – how does one pay tribute to a bloody battle through the medium of food exactly? This year’s dishes have seen ammo crates, ration cards and shrapnel helmets employed to house plates of nosh. What japes. Why not go one step further?

“Adam has served his venison parcels in hollowed-out chemical grenades, with a side serving of gravy in a canister of Zyklon B.”

At what point does a pivotal moment in a war become beyond the pale? How about the liberation of Auschwitz? The detonation of Little Boy above Hiroshima? The carpet bombing of Dresden? The attack on Pearl Harbour? Presumably we wouldn’t deign to ‘celebrate’ these instances with a plate of saltmarsh lamb and samphire or a salted caramel creme brulee, nor serve a gigantic field mushroom rising above a flattened Japanese town constructed with burned edamame beans? Perhaps you think my rhetoric offensive – in which case ask yourself whether an entire programme predicated on exactly the same notion is offensive.

Is this an issue of time elapsed? I can imagine a silly programme where chefs from Lancashire and Yorkshire compete to see who can make the best regional dishes with a passing reference to the Wars of the Roses. But many WWII veterans are still alive. On that score would we serve a cocktail to ‘honour’ Vietnam vets called Agent Orange? Centre a throwaway food entertainment show around the Falklands conflict? First Iraq War? The Troubles? 9/11? Of course we wouldn’t.

So how has this one got the OK? Here’s how one foodie blog sees it:

This year’s theme is a whopper: the 70th anniversary of D Day. As such, chefs must create dishes that evoke the wartime spirit of the generation which fought for our freedom as well as honour the bravery shown throughout the Second World War.

Let’s parse this for a second. Food that accurately represents what dodging hot metal, designed to tear your body apart, is like? Food that accurately represents what it’s like to face down a Nazi war machine that exterminated six million Jews in concentration camps? Food that accurately represents what plunging a bayonet into the chest of enemy troops is like? Hmm.

There’s talk of one chef travelling to Normandy to the scene of the allied invasion; Frances Atkins retracing her father’s D Day experiences through her menu; and Emily Watkins drawing inspiration from her grandfather, a prisoner of war.

Asking someone about their experience of being a prisoner of war so you can cook some powdered-egg cake off the back of it? How can no-one see how blithely offensive this is? Here’s a tweet from the Twitter account of the same blog:

Would people who fought, killed and died on foreign battlefields care about the lack of dates on a dish created as a ‘celebration’ to their sacrifice 70 years later? My guess – and I recognise that I’m going out on a limb here – is that they would not.

Foodie types – those who commission these programmes and those who participate in them – seem to have come to the utterly mistaken conclusion that their work is in some way important. In show after show we’re showed meals that are supposed to be witty and humourous, produced by some of the most humourless, self-important and monomaniacal people who walk the earth. They have come to believe their own press – that putting a pork loin in a water bath is, in some way, worthy of praise.

It’s the only explanation for a programme where one chef asks another whether his potted shrimp dish ‘honours’ the combatants in a protracted series of battles in which 20,000 people lost their lives.

• Am I alone? Thankfully not. Here’s what Twitter makes of it.

Written by Robin Brown

May 6th, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Posted in TV

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Ant and Dec’s live TV Gillian McKeith nightmare

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For a second it looked like Nigel Kneale’s seminal play on reality television gone bonkers, Year of the Sex Olympics, had come to pass, with Gillian McKeith‘s apparent collapse live on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Our Of Here.

In the play an underclass of dim TV viewers watch, amused, as people are slaughtered live on TV. Although McKeith appears to have suffered an attack of lazyitis (ahem), rather than a psychopath (though Nigel Havvers might be one to keep an eye on), the rabbit-in-the-headlights reactions of loveable Geordie scamps Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly told their own story.

Anyway, I don’t really have a point to make about this, except how amusing it all was, how much live, blurry freeze frames of virtually anything lend an aura of the eerie and unsettling to the most mundane TV fare – and what it might look like of a contestant on the show actually died.

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Written by Robin Brown

November 21st, 2010 at 10:28 pm

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Monica Galetti’s absurd reaction shots

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Needless to say, Masterchef is superb television. This is largely due to spanking-fanatic Gregg Wallace, a genuine comedy genius with all of his ‘beefy, beefy mushrooms’ and delight in tackling ‘puds’.

The early rounds, where a hapless chef is eviscerated for their lack of skill in gutting a turbot, are cringe-inducingly addictive television, not least for the absurd reaction shots of Greg, Michel Roux Junior and especially ice-maiden-cum-chef Monica Galetti, who has obviously been told to, er, ham it up

While she’s generally looking at someone misusing a thermometer, she looks like she’s staring at Dirk Diggler’s pork loin most of them time. Here are a selection of Galetti’s reaction shots.

Monica Galetti's absurd reaction shots

Written by Robin Brown

October 19th, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Despite everything, I’ll miss Big Brother

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There was something quite affecting about the end of Big Brother, which came to end last night after ten years of often-engrossing TV.

Chief among these oddly affecting moments was the Big Brother funeral, which saw the final Ultimate Big Brother housemates saying their farewells to the show in a staged funeral administered by narrator Marcus Bentley.

Whatever you thought of Big Brother, there’s not that many programmes that would have the freedom, the wit or the sheer po-mo profile to stage a funeral for itself on that very programme.

And then there’s the retrospectives, with all the former housemates on. People you’d forgotten you’d ever known, like friends you are no longer friends with for one reason or another.

And, later, a video of a load of ex-housemates in a tableau while The Craig and Josie mimed along to Time To Say Goodbye.

It was a moment that made explicit what a unique television programme Big Brother was, and how much of a new niche it created on British TV. Because BB made normal people we’d never met our friends, and also gave them a weird kind of volatile fame that I suspect has finished many of them, where a few prospered.

In that degree it’s fair to say it did continue as some sort of social experiment, highlighted by the return of a lot of ex-housemates in the last few weeks. What has happened, and will happen in the future, to those people? What kid of life must it be to experience that flash of overwhelming fame, followed by years of trying to readjust to normal life?

I watched most of the series, from the first through to the sixth, at which point it was clearly on the wane with a lot of WAG-type tit-flashing girls and empty vessels of either sex. And the out-and-out freaks.

I didn’t watch seven, eight or nine; but enjoyed the tenth when I watched it and all of the celebratory stuff. Perhaps it wasn’t such exciting TV as it had been in the past, but it was able to keep going on reputation and nostalgia alone.

And I think this is why I felt rather sad last night, because when a TV landmark shuffled off our screens it reminds us of times past; not just on the show, but in our lives too.

I watched the programme in a number of different houses, with different partners and housemates and family. And discussed it with dozens. I watched it live during Nick’s Waterloo in season one, sat around my Mac at work with my mate Walton.

A few years later I was texting my mate Ben while working very late one night, speculating as to exactly what was going on during FIght Night.

It was extremely addictive, engaging television – and I’ve never been that impressed by the cultural snobbery often directed at it. It’s fascinating, because it’s other people – and other people are always interesting.

There was a lot of rubbish in there, and a lot of horrible stuff. But the fact that gay, black and transsexual people won Big Brother is pleasing. And there’s a lot of wit to the show, the Tree of Temptation an amusing case in point.

So, I’ll miss Big Brother. I’ll miss the housemates, I’ll miss Marcus Bentley’s absurd narration, I’ll even miss Davina McCall. I’ll miss the excitment of glimpsing the BB eye in ad breaks in the weeks preceding a new one, I’ll miss the first look at the new housemates, the daft interviews and the silly ritual of it all.

A great bit of television, and a real slice of TV history, has come to an end – having covered a good proportion of my adult life.

And as the final echoey voiceovers of the old houses played at the end of the show, it was hard not to think back across my own ten years of life, loves and evictions.

Written by Robin Brown

September 11th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Wot will win the 2010 election?

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There’s been something awful about this election, beyond the stuff that’s usually awful about elections.

Alongside how utterly hopeless the media at large have been in actually reporting the issues – as opposed to some things David Cameron has said, some suits Nick Clegg has worn and some mistakes Gordon Brown has made – there’s been the most naked display of vested interests for nearly 20 years.

The likes of The Mail and The Express adopt frothingly bigoted political lines because it’s what helps them sell papers, and it reflects the unpleasant ideologies of their respective owners.

The Torygraph backs the Conservatives because it’s read mainly by retired Brigadiers who remember the Boer War. The Star… well, who gives a flying one what the Star thinks eh?

As for The Sun and The Times, well, they back whoever proprietor Rupert Murdoch tells them to back, based on various deals with whichever party he reckons will win the election and deliver the goods.

This time around it’s barely even a secret that Murdoch, or rather his son James, wants to open a new front against the BBC, and has promised David Cameron his backing in exchange for crippling the Beeb.

The Sun always makes a big deal of wanting to look like its support is the deciding factor in an election campaign, but in reality Murdoch backs whoever he calculates is most likely to win.

In years gone by, back to 1997 and throughout the 80s, this was fairly easy to predict. The only recent blip was 1992, where the Sun pulled out all of the stops to virtually suggest that Neil Kinnock was insane.

‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It,’ gloated the Scum, so we know who to thanks for the following five years of the dross from John Major’s crumbling government.

’92 is an election regularly debated by students of psephology – a smart word for voting behaviour – because all the polls suggested that Labour would win. Could it have been the rabidly hostile Tory press than won it for Major? Tough to say, but I’ve never been in doubt as to the potential power of the media in politics.

One need only look at the last 18 months of absolute slating Gordon Brown – like Major, a decent man – has endured from the Sun, Mail and Telegraph; the results of which are that most people in the country now despise him without actually knowing why.

Anyway, 2010 should provide another clue as to the power of the media in elections because, having backed Cameron, the Murdoch press now faces the possibility of their man not actually winning. What will that do for the Sun’s habit of picking a winner? Or Murdoch’s latest ambitions?

The palpable desperation emanating from the front pages of the Sun recently has been almost pitiful, culminating in today’s risible front cover where Simon F’in Cowell appears to give his support to Cameron.

Delve inside the paper (if you can bear to) and you’ll find article after article telling us how much Sun readers love Cameron, and how a hung parliament will mean that Britain will fall into a volcano. Except, that’s not what Sun readers voting in polls on the online version have been saying.

Malcolm Coles has shown as much with some number-crunching on Sun polls, which show that its readers believe that Clegg won the third debate; Sun readers aren’t fussed about a hung parliament; and that a poll apparently showing Mums to be swinging behind Cameron shows nothing of the sort.

The Sun has gone into Cameron overdrive, barely stopping short of suggesting that WebCameron’s cock is bigger than Brown’s and Clegg’s put together, and offering a kind of non-stop tabloid blowjob to the Photoshopped Tory leader.

The rise of Clegg has also sent shivers down the spine at News International, so a full-scale assault was subsequently launched on the Lib Dems.

Unlike the US, where Fox News is basically a propaganda arm for the lunatic US right wing, the UK broadcast media is bound by strict rules of impartiality. Bad news for Murdoch Junior, who wants to extend Sky into a kind of Death Star of the media.

But this election campaign has brought the first whispers that Sky’s news coverage has not appeared to be quite as straight down the line as it should. And David Cameron has appeared to suggest that broadcasting regulations may need an overhaul. What can it all mean?

People have told me that Murdoch Senior is actually fairly left-of-centre, as far as his personal politics are concerned. What’s more he’s fairly friendly with Brown, and hit it off big style with Tony.

But Murdoch doesn’t let politics get in the way of business, and having been persuaded by son James to back Cameron, has had to throw the combined News International weight behind Cameron and the Tories.

What will happen? For the first time since 1992 I have no idea, as far as the election goes. As for the press, it’s been fascinating to see the Sun frantically attempting to shore up its man, knowing that its reputation is at stake. Indeed, the FT suggests that the Sun’s backing for Cameron has had the opposite effect.

A defeat for Cameron may mean that the rise of multimedia and the web has neutered the power of the papers in this regard, and with it the power of print media barons.

A win could open up a new front in partisan media, via Sky News and the humbling of the BBC, because Murdoch’s help won’t come without strings. Then, maybe, it won’t be the Sun wot wins it in the future, but the Sky.

That TV leader debate reporting in full

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After the rollercoaster thrill ride of three men disagreeing with each other and an off-camera man occasionally shouting, I’ve compiled this exhaustive list of newspaper and website coverage taking place both during the debate and over the next 24 hours.

• Debate clearly won by Gordon Brown, David Cameron or Nick Clegg

• Tiresome analysis of clothes worn by three candidates

• Article on Richard Nixon / JFK Presidential debate

• Infographic making inexplicable use of shapes in three primary colours

• Daily Mail picture of Gordon Brown looking sweaty

• Analysis of various ‘blunders’ by three party leaders

• Composite images of three leaders with mouths open

• Tiresome ‘Have Your Say’ section with numbingly tedious and/or ill-informed user-generated content

• Hopelessly unfunny sketch by Simon Hoggart/Rod Liddle/Amanda Platell

• Shit Sun mock-up of Gordon Brown looking like Compo from Last of the Summer Wine

• Dull profile of Alistair Stewart

• Live blog from short-straw reporter in pub in Hartlepool

• Millions of links to Twitter feeds churning out pointless quotes

• C4 blog by Jon Snow’s tie on what Brown, Cameron and Clegg were drinking backstage

• Swing-o-meter-style mock-up based on how many times each man says ‘change’.

• Live panel quizzed throughout debate consisting of white-van driving racist, muesli-eating hippie and boring middle-aged woman

• Plaintive whinge from Alex Salmond, live from reactor building in Dounreay

Now with added Clegg!

It’s a week later, and I deliberately spent the night cycling, editing photos and watching cricket. Anything really to avoid the dreaded leader’s debate and the ensuing media volcanic ash torrent of drivel. If you did too, here’s what you missed.

• Lots of articles and reports about end of two-party hegemony

• Right-wing press fall in line to paint Clegg as nutter/shirker/gay/gyppo/foreigner-loving liberal who is, quite possibly, a maniac

• Some of the broadcast media inexplicably start reporting rumours they’ve heard about Nick Clegg from hostile briefings

• Someone from Keane backs Nick Clegg

• Lib Dem supporters wonder how much further ahead they’d be with Charles Kennedy

• DPS Observer interview with Vince Cable called ‘The man who would be King’, trailed with front page lead headlined ‘Cable to bring City to heel’

• Marina Hyde writes shit sketch about how she fancies Vince Cable. Called The Cable Guy.

• Sue Malone writes poisonous article about Miriam González Durántez’s wardrobe

• Scratchy radio interview with Paddy Ashdown, saying how great Clegg is, and what a bastard Tony Blair is

• The Sun mocks up a shit photo of Nick Clegg heading down a hill in a tin bath.

Written by Robin Brown

April 15th, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Everyone hates Kelvin

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There’s unreasoning hate and there’s reasoning hate. I have an unreasoning hatred of lots of people, who are probably very nice people. If I ever met them I’d probably be nice to them

But there are a dozen reasons to genuinely hate Kevin Mackenzie, even if it’s just his horrible pudgy face.

I was reminded of this fact last night when watching Mackenzie’s love-in with Paxo and a couple of other media twonks.

Dawn Airey, as it goes, nearly hit on a good point, but the whole thing was overwhelmed by Mackenzie’s depressing luv-a-duck brand of obnoxious ‘straight talk’, which Paxman dutifully chuckled at.

If the whole thing moved the debate on the BBC’s modern role in a multi-platform media age I missed it, and after sitting through Mark Thompson’s execrable performance I was forced to endure this shouting gobshite trotting out his predictable News International line that we’re apparently supposed to think is funny.

Anyway, since I was on Twitter at the time I turned to the Omnipithium (i prefer Omnipithium to Twitterverse) to see what the consensus was.

Admittedly social media types are not largely representative of the general public, but in this case I’d largely like to believe that it was. I don’t think I’ve missed any out in the hour-or-so’s worth of comments, lest anyone accuse me of being selective.

What it shows is that there are genuine reasons to hate Kelvin, but you don’t really need one.

Written by Robin Brown

March 3rd, 2010 at 9:22 am

Edge of Darkness – Troy Kennedy Martin’s masterpiece

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Although he never managed to make the Twitter Trending Topic of Doom, it appears that British scriptwriter Troy Kennedy Martin has merged with the infinite.

It seems possible that Kennedy Martin’s death may go rather unnoticed given the recent deaths of Patrick Swayze and Keith Floyd, so I wanted to commemorate his passing. To throw a few titles at those of you not familiar with the name: Kelly’s Heroes, The Italian Job and Edge of Darkness.

The latter is unquestionably one of my favourite TV serials of all time, and I urge any readers (there are readers, right?) who are interested in such things to check it out.

The late-80s serial mixes nuclear paranoia, militant environmentalism, cold war politics, coal, Irish provos, James Lovelock, grief, loss, Willie Nelson, an iconic theme and score from Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen and age-old feudal battle. In the original draft the script’s protagonist, Craven, turns into a tree at the climax.

Out of all of that Martin, along with director Martin Campbell and producer Michael Wearing, fashioned a cohesive, intelligent and hard-edged thriller, with the mystical and ethereal overtones still integral but muted.

A spectacular cast also helps, with the sadly-departed Bob Peck perfect as lonely, unglamourous and rather dour Yorkshire detective Ronnie Craven.

Ian McNiece and Charles Kay are also particularly good as mysterious government suits Harcourt and Pendleton, while there’s solid back-up from John Woodvine, Jack Watson, Joanne Whalley, Zoe Wanamaker, Tim McInnery and, pleasingly, Blake’s 7 stalwarts David Jackson and Brian Croucher.

Stealing the show, though, is Joe Don Baker as Darius Jedburgh, a fun-loving, vaguely unhinged CIA agent gone rogue – a great, if slightly hyper-real creation, made believable by Baker.

Pretty much everyone involved went on to bigger things, including Kennedy Martin, who spent time on various underwhelming action scripts for Hollywood.

Speaking of, a Hollywood movie of Edge is planned which, although directed by Campbell, threatens to be awful.

The touches that made Edge of Darkness so superb in the first place – Jedburgh’s love of Come Dancing, the grimy London settings, the coal board corruption, the black flowers and the duality between the real world and the mystical – are likely to be missing. Small but important details whose significance is likely to be lost on US producers.

Edge of Darkness was a product of its time, a rare example of every element combining to make something even greater than the sum of its parts. Troy Kennedy Martin’s masterpiece.

• In the clip below, Craven discovers his murdered daughter’s double life as an environmental activist.

Written by Robin Brown

September 16th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Twitter Trending Topic of Doom takes Patrick Swayze and Keith Floyd

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There’s always a little somersault in the pit of my stomach whenever I see someone’s name trending in Twitter’s most popular topics.

The column on the right-hand side of Twitter’s page relates the most popular mentions over the millions of Twitter accounts globally. If something gets in there, it’s big news.

This means that the first inkling of a celebrity death is likely to come from Twitter trending topics as rumours and news stories get retweeted and people start tweeting their sadness. Sad tweets.

I learned of the deaths of Mollie Sugden, Sir Bobby Robson and JG Ballard this way, and today spotted Patrick Swayze and Keith Floyd’s names in the list.

Kanye West’s frequent appearances in trends is always a false dawn, however.
Trending topics

I assumed Floyd was up there because of his rather depressing appearance in the Keith Allen documentary last night, but it appears that he’s shuffled off to the great kitchen in the sky.

I loved Floyd as a youngster, and could probably say that he stirred my early interesting in cooking. Finally someone who talked about food as if it was enjoyable and fun.

He always reminded me of the kind of family friend who have a sense of danger about them – they could swear at any moment and they smelled of booze and fags. Other adults disapprove, but kids loved old soaks.

We shared a love for The Stranglers. He went as far as having two of their tunes as his shows’ title music. Brilliant!

TV chefs these days revere Floyd, and rightly, but he seemed rather disappointed by them – blaming himself for the rise of the modern TV celebrity chef.

It couldn’t happen these days. Guys like Ramsey may swear and shout, but they tend to revel in a weird kind of puritanical discipline. No fun.

Hellraisers and TV drunks seemed to go out of fashion after the 80s, after which they seemed to crawl away to go bankrupt, get involved in unseemly drunken incidents and develop various illnesses. Finally they keel over, generally in penury.

But Floyd was a glorious product of the time, when a sozzled BBC producer can get his sozzled restauranteur mate a show on the Beeb because he thinks he’s funny.

I’ll raise a glass of wine to Keith, and pop on a Stranglers CD while I cook tonight. But I’ll just have the one.

Written by Robin Brown

September 15th, 2009 at 9:24 am

Posted in People,TV

Tagged with , ,

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