August, 2005

Commercial Competitor to Radio 4

Lord Birt, the former Director General of the BBC, and now a “blue skies thinker” for the government has been reported as saying that Radio 4 is a “national treasure”, “but would benefit from the challenge of a strong rival”.
I have a couple of problems with this. First, I can’t find the exact quote in his speech. I’m sure he said something of the sort, but I can’t find it in his speech.
The other problem I have is that I don’t know what world Birt is living in, but how does he honestly expect commercial radio to produce such an expensive service. According to the BBC’s annual results, Radio 4 cost &pound71 in 2005. In the last set of figures available, Classic FM, the largest commercial station in the country, and quite probably the most upmarket one, generated £28m revenue.
That’s quite a shortfall, and doesn’t take into account the fact that a commercial company has to return a significant profit to shareholders.
I’m sure that Lord Birt is aware of all this, so how does he honestly forsee a commercial competitor finding a place on the nation’s dials? Where’s the bandwidth, aside from in the digital arena, where Oneword has not been successful to date?
Frankly, even in television, where Artsworld has just become a basic channel on Sky, and the free-to-air More4 is due to launch soon, there’s not a truly upmarket commercial competitor.

PSP Movies

Sony finally launches the PSP in the UK this week, and that’s good news for me, because it finally means that I might be able to get a cheap memory stick for my US import.
But there are plenty of stories floating around about the so called success of UMD format films. They’re selling plenty in the States at the moment, but can those sales really be sustained? Why would I buy a film on UMD instead of the far more versatile DVD? Do I buy it instead of or in place of the DVD?
I guess some kind of pack that gave me both a DVD and UMD of a film might appeal, but it all seems a bit like pre-recorded minidiscs to me. You could buy them, but then you might as well have bought the more versatile CD, copied it digitally to a blank minidisc, and had the best of both worlds.
Copying a DVD to a memory stick (that’ll cost you the thick end of £50 at the moment) might be a bit of a chore at the moment, and not necessarily legal, but it’s doable.
As the BBC story suggests, others are doing the conversion for you already. It remains to be seen what format the BBC let their programming be downloaded in, but watching last night’s Eastenders (or whatever) on the way into work on your PSP, mobile or PDA does have some appeal.
The UMD thing is all moot for me anyway, since while games remain region-free, films aren’t. So I couldn’t use a UK UMD disc even if they were given away free.

The Daily Show – Coming Soon To The UK

While Mediaguardian gets excited about the fact that the impending October 10 launch of More4 – the new digital channel from Channel 4 – is going to feature Boris Johnson’s dad on a regular basis, I’m far more excited about the fact that someone’s finally signed up The Daily Show.
It’ll be interesting to see how it’s scheduled, but with The Last Word going out nightly, I guess that it’ll probably follow on from that at either 10.30pm or 11.30pm. So the big question will be whether I download new episodes first thing in the morning, or wait until the evening to see them on TV.
The current issue of Wired has an interview with Stewart and his producer which is well worth reading to get an idea of the man.

I Predict A Riot

This year was V Festival’s 10th anniversary, and I think that one way or another I’ve been to the last nine of them, starting with V97 and Blur (featuring Phil Daniels doing his Parklife stuff).
This year was inevitably our biggest ever effort with some fabulous music in the Virgin Radio tent making it harder than ever to get out and watch the bands perform live around the site.
The undoubted star band of the entire weekend were the Kaiser Chiefs. They performed on Saturday in the Virgin Radio tent and were simply awesome. (Check out our site in the coming days, or the station on-air to hear some of their set).
Having completely won over the crowd in the Virgin Radio tent, they went on to do the same on Channel 4 Stage later in the afternoon, and I was priviliged to be there.
This was the first year that I’d camped at V Festival. Actually it was the first time I’d camped at any festival at all. I’ve always fancied Glastonbury, for example, but the scare stories about mud and stuff are enough to put the fear of god into me. This time around, we had some quite poor weather in the sense that it was both muddy on Friday when we setting up, and Monday when we were shipping out. But overall, I had a really good time.
On Saturday, it was undoubtedly the Kaiser Chiefs as I’ve said. I even picked up the album on the way home this evening. Later on in the evening, Oasis were headlining, but to be honest I couldn’t have really cared less. In “VIP” terms (and that phraseology should be treated with caution), Saturday was far more popular than Sunday with the likes Mickey Rourke and Abby Titmuss as guests.
I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to see Big Brother “stars” (I think that should be “contestants”) in the area, but far be it from me to complain. Tabloid coverage is tabloid coverage.
Of course, when I was instructed to rush and get a camera to take pictures of Abby Titmuss in our jacuzzi, I didn’t muck around, but then neither did the security guard that I happened to mention it to.
Sunday was a much more refined affair. There was the hilarity of discovering that two of my colleagues had got into their tent the previous night and only “discovered” the porch of their tent before going to bed for the night… They only found “the other room” when they woke up the following morning.
Best celeb spot in the Virgin Radio area was not a member of the cast of Eastenders, Hollyoaks, Emmerdale or Holby City, but “England” cricketer Kevin Pietersen – KP to his mates (I’m not one obviously). He hung out for ages and was much better value for money than either Charlotte Church or Billie Piper (no Whovians in attendance seemingly).
It was painful getting back into work today, but I picked up the new Goldfrapp album and the aforementioned Kaiser Chiefs record on the way home. Alison Goldfrapp also performed superbly as did the Scissor Sisters, although I do question whether or not one album with a handful of singles really constitutes enough songs to headline a festival the size of V.
One final thing – the security at V really wasn’t what it might have been, and I was able to get into places I really shouldn’t have been able to. But I should keep quiet about that sort of thing…

Family Guy: Stewie Griffin, The Untold Story

First some honesty – I’ve come very very late to the whole Family Guy thing. I’d been told how good it is, and like The Simpsons, I knew it to be well written. But also like The Simpsons, I’d not really cared that much.
I don’t what it is in my bones that makes me show such disinterest in comedies that I know to be so good. But it’s there.
Anyway, that’s a long way around of saying that I came to the whole Family Guy thing completely afresh, and I’m glad I did finally come to it. This extended DVD-only episode (85 or so minutes) is very good indeed, very caustic and very funny.
The animation’s your typical early 21st century fare – that is to say basic. But for things like this it doesn’t really matter. I came out of the screening room completely won over.
Now if only someone could see fit to release some of the old Tex Avery cartoons on DVD. It’s criminal that some of his classic screwball comedies haven’t yet been released. Red Hot Riding Hood is a fantastic cartoon (I first saw it on Rolf Harris’ Cartoon Time many years ago).

Home Is The Sailor


Another Hard Case Crime series novel, and it’s a brash and trashy as the rest of them. Swede is big and big-hearted sailor, fresh off the boat with a pocket full of cash after three years at sea. He’s planning on finding himself a wife and setting up a farm in the mid-west where he was born.
But when he wakes up in a motel room after a night he can barely remember, what happened.
And so we’re led into a tale involving beautiful blondes, tough guys, the FBI and others.
Not the highest form of literature or anything, but you know where you’re going and what you’re getting when you read one of these.

Case Histories


I’d not read any of Kate Atkinson’s books before, although I’ve seen them riding high in the bestsellers for a while. So I didn’t really know what to expect when I started Case Histories.
What we have is something akin to one of those Barbara Vine or Minnette Walters crime things you see on TV (I know they’re authors, but I haven’t read any work by either writer). Several seemingly unrelated actions take place across a period of time from the early seventies to through to more years in the Cambridgeshire area. Finally we’re introduced to Jackson Brodie, a private investigator, who begins to get involved with some of the people linked with each of the cases.
As things progress, more deep and dark secrets reveal themselves.
I won’t say much else because it’d spoil it. Overall it was a perfectly good book – not great, but not bad either.

Who’s The Daddy

Who’s the Daddy is a new play by Toby Young and Lloyd Evans, The Spectator’s theatre critics, that presents an ever-so-slightly fictionlised version of the goings on at The Spectator last summer.
So we have Boris Johnson and Petronella Wyatt, Rod Liddle and “Tiffany”, and most famously Kimberly Quinn and David Blunkett. Add into the mix Michael Howard (“will you fall on your stake after you lose the next election?”) and a South American cook (really only there to provide a Peter Mandelson gag), and you have a Ray Cooney-style farce.
Very funny it is too. My knowledge of the facts of that case come exclusively from Private Eye – and it turned out that I was sitting next to an old Eye-hand in Francis Wheen. He wasn’t the only “face” in the crowd since our party also included Sun political editor (and hence one of the most powerful journalists in the land) Trevor Kavanagh, and I also spotted Toby Young, co-writer of the play, himself, along with Grub Smith (sometime FHM writer and Bravo TV presenter). OK, so not everyone in the audience was of quite the same calibre, and only one of those people has written two books, both of which I own, yet haven’t actually gotten around to reading (Wheen).
The play itself features Michelle Ryan (lately Zoe from Eastenders) as the very attractive Tiffany (an unlikely Guardian undercover reporter), and Sarah Crowe (from the Philadelphia ads and Carry on Columbus – although neither of those two gigs is likely to be at the top of her CV. She plays Petronella Wyatt).
I’ve got to be honest and say that I laughed the whole way through. I’m not sure that the play is quite going to make it beyond the confines of The Kings Head pub in Islington, because the target audience is a little thin. But I loved it all the same. You can read more from Toby Young on his blog, where he explains all – and links to the many reviews.
And I should explain that Trevor Kavanagh was in our because his son is a friend of ours. I can honestly say that this is the first time I’ve seen an audience member name-checked in the play I was watching, as happened with the very polite Kavanagh. Of course, I didn’t engage him any political issues. The civility may have ended there… (That’s twice in one week I’ve chickened out of confronting a politician). Still it was entertaining to see Francis Wheen next to me lean forward to see how Trevor was taking his mention (for the record, he enjoyed the play and the Quinn/Fortier character seemed to be particularly accurate).
Strangely, this is the second play I’ve seen set among writers from The Spectator. The fantastic Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell by Keith Waterhouse, and starring Peter O’Toole is one of the best plays I’ve ever seen in my life, with an outstanding performance from O’Toole – even on a Wednesday afternoon in a half empty theatre full of pensioners in Bath as I saw it, with my cheap student ticket.