January, 2013

RAJAR Q4 2012

RAJAR
The first release of 2013 is actually the last data from 2012.
In general, last quarter, radio listening had fallen a bit – a combination of the summer and the Olympics. Television did well, which in turn meant that radio suffered.
Did listening bounce back in Q4? Yes it did. Overall, 90% of UK adults (15+) listened to the radio during the average week in Q4, listening for 1.04 billion hours. This listening was up a bit on Q3 – up 1.4%. But that additional listening was certainly weighted towards the BBC – with the BBC extending its lead over commercial radio to 55.3% versus 42.3%.
The big RAJAR story was always going to be a question of how Nick Grimshaw performed in his first RAJAR outing. Chris Moyles’ departure was undoubtedly a major move for Radio 1, and his replacement’s show is very different to Moyles. For a starter, he plays music.
On the surface, Grimshaw has done well – only losing 0.6% of his audience compared with Moyles’ final quarter. I think most people expected the audience to drop. Part of the reason for Grimshaw taking over was to shift the age of Radio 1 listeners downwards. There was concern that they were getting a bit too old. So maintaining the vast majority of Moyles’ audience means he’s done surprisingly well.
Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find that the amount of time spent listening to Radio 1’s breakfast show has dropped markedly – down 17.2% on the previous quarter. Perhaps this is because Moyles’ lengthy spoken bits of the show meant that you had to stay listening to him. On the other hand, if you play records, there’s an excuse for you to stop listening and do whatever you needed to next.
Listening hours are more important to commercial radio than the BBC, so I suspect both groups will be happy with these results. And the average age of Radio 1 breakfast listeners has fallen – just a bit, but it’s downwards. The overall station has dropped it’s average age yet, but it’s early days.

On the other hand, commercial radio heads certainly won’t be happy with Radio 2. It’s achieved new record audiences for both reach and hours. It now has over 15m listeners a week, and 183m hours. That’s a lot of listeners and listening. To put that in perspective, 17.6% of all radio listening is to Radio 2.

Also at the BBC, 6 Music did very well, also achieving record highs for reach and hours. It now reaches nearly 1.9m listeners (whisper it, but that’s only just behind Radio 3). Not bad for a station that very nearly closed down.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that my own employer did rather well this quarter. The Absolute Radio Network now reaches 3.3m listeners, a record for the Absolute Radio brand, and an eleven year high for the business.
These particular gains are built around substantial gains for the main Absolute Radio station. After some excellent Q2 2012 results, Q3 was something of a disappointment, and these results see it return to its previous level.
Elsewhere Talksport and Classic FM were broadly flat in reach, with the former gaining hours (up 5% on the quarter) and the latter losing some (down 7% on the quarter). Radio 4 and Five Live were broadly speaking unchanged with just nominal changes in audience. Radio 3 lost some reach (down 4%) but was fairly flat in listening hours.
In London, Magic is still the most listened to commercial station in terms of reach and hours, although it saw a 7% drop in reach, and 20% fall in hours. The reason it maintained its number one status is because its competitors including Kiss, Capital and Heart all also saw falls in reach and hours to one extent or another. Kiss suffered the most, losing 26% of its hours in the quarter.
The significant gains in commercial radio in London were made by Absolute Radio, Smooth and Xfm.
Digital listening reached its highest ever level, with 33.0% of all listening being via a digital device. Later this year, the industry will await with keen interest the decision of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on any future switchover. We’ll have to wait to see what she says, and while there’s still a way to go to get to the 50% that has been widely talked about, steady growth continues to be made.
And 54% of people listen to a digital platform every week.
The growth in digital listening is coming from every platform, but the biggest growth this quarter has come in internet listening. This has now reached 4.9% of all listening. In other words, nearly one in every twenty hours of internet listening is via the internet.
Given the ongoing growth of smartphones and tablets, and the significant investment radio groups have put into mobile apps perhaps suggests this growth.

Different stations are obviously “more” or “less” digital. Absolute Radio, for example, is 55% digital, while Radio 1 lags at only 22.8% of its listening on a digital platform. Radio 3, on the other hand, is 34% digital while Five Live has just past 40% for the first time with 42% of its listening digital.
And it’s worth noting that Absolute Radio’s internet listening is now 11.6%. This perhaps reflects the reduced advertising load internet listeners hear in return for registering.
Of course I’ve updated my Google Motion Chart of national RAJAR

But don’t use this version, click through to the large version, where you can also read important notes about how to use it and shortcomings of the chart.
For more RAJAR figures, visit the following sites for all your needs!
The official RAJAR site
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Media UK for lots of numbers and charts
One Golden Square for more Absolute Radio details
Paul Easton for analysis
Media Guardian for more news
Matt Deegan has plenty to say
Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending 16 December 2012, Adults 15+.
Disclaimer: These are my own views, although they’re based on work I’ve done for Absolute Radio, and through whom I get access to the data. I also sit on the RAJAR Technical Management Group representing commercial radio. Just so you know.

Internet and Mobile Premier League Rights

15 April 2009
Recently News International won the rights for both mobile and internet highlights pacakges from the next season. These are the packages that are currently owned by ESPN (mobile) and Yahoo (internet), neither of whom will have any rights from next season.
According to a source at The Guardian, News International paid £20m for these rights. What’s not entirely clear is whether that’s £20m pa or £20m for the life of the three year deal. I suspect it’s probably the latter. [Update] A separate Media Guardian piece puts the value at about £30m over three years. The piece also suggests that News International outbid sister company Sky, as well as Yahoo and Perform.
The actual value of Premier League rights auctions is confidential unless the bidders choose to reveal it. Sky and BT essentially have to reveal the costs because they’re so great, they impact on the revenues of the businesses.
But the actual value of these rights, is always a bit questionable. Since they started to be awarded – mobile from the 2001/02 season and internet three years’ later – the rights have never stayed with the same rights holder beyond a single season.
The table below shows who’s owned the rights since they started being awarded:
UK Mobile and Internet Premier League Rights

Season Internet Mobile
2001/03-2003/04 3 (used for single season)
2004/05-2006/07 Sky Vodafone/3
2007/08-2009/10 NTL Sky
2010/11-2012/13 Yahoo ESPN
2013/14-2015/16 News International News International


The other major factor that comes into play is that the BBC has negotiated a deal to allow Match of the Day to appear on iPlayer from the start of the 2013/14 season. It’ll only go online early Monday morning, but hitherto, it’s been the single notable missing part of the iPlayer. Interestingly, Match of the Day 2 is on the iPlayer and usually features all the goals from Saturday’s games too in brief highlights.
But the fact that there’s a free to air alternative to these rights. Having brief highlights is still a commodity of value – with internet viewers traditionally having shorter attention spans. To see that Wayne Rooney goal, it’s easier to just load up the Man Utd short-form highlights rather than scrolling backwards and forwards through a full episode of Match of the Day.
ESPN’s goals app has been an excellent service for the last three years. However you suspect that they’d have loved to have monetised it properly. Instead they gave it away as a kind of loss-leader to promote the TV channel. Yes, there are advertising pre-rolls, but it’s doubtful that they will have fully mitigated the overall investment.
What the app does have is “post match pub appeal”. You’re out and not at home able to watch Match of the Day or Football First on Sky. So you boot up the app and watch the salient bits on your mobile.
Of course there are oddities. ESPN was only allowed to to stream its goals to “mobile” devices – defined as devices with a SIM card. So it’d work on an iPad with a 3G SIM in it, but not in a WiFi only one (the more common device). There’s nothing to stop you streaming the app via WiFi once it’s passed this test.
The reason for this is because the Premier League had separately licenced internet rights to Yahoo, and it had to differentiate them accordingly. It’s no good trying to say that the internet and the mobile internet are… well… the same thing just differently optimised. As 4G grows, and mobile devices become more sophisticated, that’ll very quickly be a distinction few aside from lawyers will be able to make!
The interesting question will be whether or not News International is forced to keep that somewhat arbitrary separation in place. 60 second clips come into play from Monday mornings (as with the BBC’s iPlayer highlights), so are less relevant. Mobile rights are brief 30 second clips, and are instant except during the 3.00pm “window”.
I must admit that I always felt that Yahoo didn’t really do enough with its rights. Theoretically valuable, I don’t think that football fans used Yahoo to seek out their football highlights. Did you miss that unbelievable goal at the weekend? You probably just searched YouTube to find it. Yes, the Premier League is pretty hot on getting illegal uploads removed from YouTube and other sites, but a great goal can always be found.
I was never sure what Yahoo was trying to achieve. Aside from those rights, I never felt that Yahoo became the destination for football news. Other sites did better and cleaner jobs. And because Yahoo’s sports section is co-branded Eurosport, it was an odd bedfellow. Eurosport doesn’t have any Premier League rights. So it would never be a destination for that sport (tennis and cycling, on the other hand, are right up their street).
How will News International monetise these clips? I suspect that there’ll be a twofold approach. If you’re a subscriber to The Times or Sunday Times, their match reports will now be “illustrated” with goal clips – something no other publisher will be able to do.
And then there’ll be paid-for apps that give you access to these clips – free if you’re a subscriber.
Because The Times and The Sun have different attitudes towards paywalls, there’ll have to be a sensible way around that doesn’t disincentivise people from paying for rights. Perhaps part of The Sun will go behind a paywall.
Mobile is getting bigger, and every time these rights come up, the view is probably that now is the right time. But in the end, I suspect that Dan Sabbagh on this week’s Media Guardian podcast is right. They’ll have these rights for three years, and then someone else will pick them up with their own strategy for monetising them. However, we shall wait and see…

Some Recent TV Thoughts

Sorry, this is going to be a bit of a disparate entry about all things television.
ITV
As most people have noticed – well most people in the UK – ITV has rebranded, and no longer do we have ITV1. Instead, ITV has returned. It’s got a whole new curvy logo, and to be honest it looks absolutely fine to me. It was probably time for a refresh and it looks good.
There are a few things that have come as part of this, or that they’ve not done, which do upset me a bit.
– The introduction of a DOG. That is, a logo in the top left hand corner to remind dim viewers that they’re watching ITV. If they weren’t already doing it, most broadcasters introduced these with the HD versions of their channels. Now ITV has one.
Interestingly, BBC One HD dropped theirs just before the Olympics last year, and it has remained dropped. Look I know it’s small, discrete and doesn’t jump around or animate. But it’s there, and it looks cheap. There’s no reason for them at all.
Still, it could be worse, Channel 4’s HD DOG is atrocious during the current Utopia. This excellent new series has been shot in a wider scope than usual 16:9 meaning there are black bars top and bottom of the screen. The DOG sits right in the black bar at the top being incredibly distracting for this otherwise beautifully shot series. It’s a bit like going to the cinema and seeing a big stain on the screen that shows through in every scene. You’d complain to the manager about it.
– ITV seems to still be insisting that producers use a standard “ITV font” for all their closing credits. I realise that TV broadcasters only want closing credits that last less than 20 seconds, and invariably shrink them into the corner of the screen in case we should wander onto another channel. But do they have to all look the same? It’s nice that programme creators are able be creative with their credits, and choose different fonts and backgrounds. It makes them look more like individually crafted programmes and not just from the same factory.
– The new ITV logo seems at odds with the old ITV font. This is clearest in football where they have an ITV Sport logo with the score and clock in the corner of the screen the curtly ITV alongside the old fonted “Sport” just don’t work together. I think ITV Sport needs a new logo.
– “Funny” sponsor bumpers. To be fair, this isn’t limited to ITV. But there is nothing worse than a supposedly humorous break-bumper when a serious drama is playing. It just doesn’t work. And it makes the sponsor look amateurish. Yes, Sky Broadband ads – I’m looking at you. When that deal first started it was clear that nobody had any creative ready, so a simple text caption came up. Now we get a handful of mock police ads that just annoy you. Look, if you’re sponsoring a drama that has three internal breaks, that means you need eight executions of varying length to place around the programme. Assuming viewers are going to watch multiple episodes of a show, that means a lot of “exposure” to your break bumpers. Try to do something good with them. Blackberry might not make a lot of changes to its creative on Sky Atlantic, but at least they inoffensive and not trying desperately to be funny. Of course the time when this really comes into play is around major football tournaments when you simply can’t have enough different pieces of creative.
Look – I’m not a big ITV watcher. Currently I’m watching Lewis, Mr Selfridge and football when it’s on. But with a few tweaks it could all be so much better.
Sky Go
Elsewhere, I’m really not at all sure about Sky’s new Sky Go Extra offering. Sky Go has slowly rolled out across various devices and operating systems and been pretty decent when it’s worked. I’m still not quite clear why the selection of Android devices is so small, but both my phone and tablet are now on the list, so I can’t complain too much.
Sky used to do decent business with Sky Multiroom, and I suspect that tablet and laptop viewing has killed some of that business as parents palm the kids off with an iPad so they can entertain them with the Disney Channel while they watch Super Sunday. It’s cheaper than getting a whole new box with Multiroom.
Sky Go lets you register two devices to it, and while this seems quite generous, you can quickly use up your quota with laptops, mobiles, tablets and Xboxes.
The new Sky Go Extra costs another fiver a month and lets you up your device quota to four and download various films and TV series rather than just stream them live or on demand. That’s obviously really useful for when you’re on the move or don’t have a solid internet connection.
But is it worth five pounds a month to me? Probably not. And I’m slightly miffed that this functionality has been available on Windows laptops for a few years as part of the regular Sky Go. It’s now being taken away unless you pay for it. I must admit that I only ever used it when looking after some kids and keeping them quiet by downloading animated films which I then played back on TV courtesy of an HDMI cable. But it was nice to have, and I no longer have it unless I pay up. Which I won’t.
Sky Thursdays
The other interesting thing Sky is doing is “Sky Thursdays” on Pick TV. Pick TV is a kind of unloved channel that sits on Freeview and other platforms. Sky really only have it having been one of the original partners in Freeview, rightly thinking it might be a way into the great swathe on non-subscribers.
Sky’s backed off Freeview to an extent – removing Sky Sports News. But they hang onto Pick TV (formerly Sky 3) and are able to use it to cross promote premium Sky programmes while serving up somewhat tepid programmes that have previously been aired to death on premium Sky TV channels.
For the next three months Sky is going to use it to promote the range of Sky original and acquired programming that it’s offering. In the first week, for example, they showed the excellent Bradley Wiggins documentary A Year in Yellow, and the first episode of Game of Thrones. In the past Sky’s done free weekends with this sort of thing, but they’re making a real go of these “Sky Thursdays.” But looking ahead in the schedules, it’s clear that Sky is only showing the first three episodes of Game of Thrones. They want to get you hooked so that… Well they hope you subscribe. I suspect that you will or won’t buy the DVD or download the programmes from iTunes or wherever. After Game of Thrones, they repeat the process with The Borgias and so on.
Look, Sky is now making lots of original programming, and they outbid most other broadcasters for the best of the imports. But I’m not certain that this will get people watching. For the most part Pick TV is so dismal, it’s not worth going anywhere near. Still, they need to replace their subscribers who churn.
David Attenborugh
Is David Attenborough spreading himself a bit thin right now?
Not content with this year’s big budget Africa – reason enough on its own to get an HD TV – he’s also to be found in several other places across the dial. Over on Sky One he fronts their 3D nature programmes – notably Galapagos which has only just finished its initial airings in tandem with Africa on the BBC. And this week I learn that Eden – the channel that’s basically built on reruns of Attenborough’s BBC nature documentaries – is has original programming in the form of Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities.
Now I realise that aside from some helicopter shots at the beginning of these series, most of them are really just narrated by Attenborough right at the end. If there’s one thing that those “making of” segments at the end of the BBC series has shown us, it’s that the programmes are made up of pre-planned sequences. But you have to ask how expensive his crack habit must be to need to be involved in so many series simultaneously? After all, the man is 86, and I assume he’s paid off his mortgage.
BBC Two
Life on Earth repeats are one of the things that can be found on the new look BBC Two. It pretty much had to give up on daytime programming as part of Delivering Quality First. And for better or worse (worse) kids TV has departed completely to the backwater of CBBC and CBeebies, leaving an awful lot of space to fill up.
Since the testcard girl seems out of favour, and “Pages from Ceefax” has departed along with analogue TV, that means repeats, repeats and more repeats. Now this can be good, or it can be bad. There are murmurs that should the right deals be done with Equity, we’ll see some classic drama showing up. However, for now, it’s factual repeats.
These repeats seem to fall into several categories:
– “Classic repeats” of the Life on Earth variety
– Food show repeats: the sort of thing that otherwise gets chopped up into bits on Saturday Kitchen
– BBC daytime repeats: another chance to watch Homes Under the Hammer!
– Primetime factual repeats: The One Show and Countryfile
– BBC News programmes: more opportunities to watch Click
Early on weekend mornings, there are some old films to be found. And it’s a shame that space can’t be found for a few more. I’m talking about the films that nobody shows anymore – black and white ones that aren’t “one of the usual suspects.”
I can’t believe that they would cost that much. For instance, am I right in thinking that the BBC has the entire RKO film library available for TV broadcast in perpetuity?
Despite UK television having quite a lot film channels, most of them are wafer thin in choice when it comes to airing films from outside the last twenty or so years. Sky Movies Classics is too predictable. Film Four has improved a little of late, but is still a bit too safe in daytime when audiences are surely negligible. TCM really is terribly disappointing given the rights owned by Turner. A lot of the time it’s showing old TV shows rather than films at all. And most of the rest aren’t worth bothering with at all (Sony – I assume you do own the old Columbia catalogue? How about raiding it once in a while?).
Anyway, I’m veering wildly off course now, so I’ll stop. But if you’ve not seen it, it really is worth catching up with Utopia on Channel 4 right now. It’s my favourite programme at the moment. It’s even with putting up with the vast number of ads on 4OD to watch it!

Ceramic Handmade Radios

Radio Shop
At lunchtime I chanced across this shop in Berwick Street, Soho. Inside they had handmade DAB radios and BlueTooth speakers built from ceramic bodies that were cast in Stoke-on-Trent before having the technology added down south. Josiah is the name they’re being sold under.
They’re not cheap, but they’re functional pieces of art. Some of the speakers had little places where, for example, you could put salt and pepper. The radio or speakers become part of the furniture to an even greater extent.
There’s no DAB display on the radios, and a fairly minimal number of buttons. I’m told that the idea is that you choose a station and stick with it. And I’ve no idea whether off the shelf radios from another manufacturer have been adapted, or whether they’re building them from scratch.
You can find out more, watch a video, and even buy a model over on their website.

Screwball Continued

[A continuation of my exploration of Hollywood screwball comedies of the thirties and early forties in the BFI’s season. See part one here.] And so the BFI’s Screwball season continues, and I’ve seen a few more films.
A couple of weeks ago there was an illustrated introduction to the season from Peter Swaab. He’s the curator of the season, and his talk was illustrated by clips from many of the films. A very worthwhile session.
The BFI’s poster for the season reads “Pacy, racy comedies from Hollywood’s golden age” and that’s a much better summary of what Screwball films are about than my previous effort. Swaab talked about the various elements of Screwball films.
They tend to be love stories, have relatively few locations (perhaps just two main ones), a depression era setting, and have lots of animals, but very few children. And despite being in the early days of sound, dialogue was immensely important.
One thing I must admit I hadn’t realised, was the genesis of the word “screwball” itself. I suppose it has become so ingrained into the language that discovering its etymology is something of a surprise. In fact in comes from baseball and a particular type of throw, perhaps analogous to the googly in cricket. There was a key proponent of it named Carl Hubbell who rose to fame for his screwball pitch in the thirties, and it was his fame that meant the term was adopted to describe a new type of comedy.
Anyway – on with the films!
My Man Godfrey (1936)
This was a real discovery for me during this season. Swaab had nicely teed up the film in his talk earlier that same evening when he showed us the opening scene. It’s a remarkable sequence shot in rubbish tip in Brooklyn where down and outs try to scrape a living looking for salvage.
Into this world arrive Alice Brady and Carole Lombard as Angelica and Cornelia Bullock, a pair of socialite sisters who are taking part in a “scavenger hunt” which includes on its list a “forgotten man.” In this instance a smart talking William Powell as Godfrey.
Godfrey reluctantly enters the sisters’ world and takes on the position of butler in their household. Of course all is not straightforward, and Godfrey has a background that catches up with him. In the meantime, the younger sister Cornelia begins to fall for Godfrey (cue great lines about her not being allowed in his room), while the elder sister becomes jealous and when some jewels disappear, the net of suspicion is cast close.
I think that perhaps my favourite supporting character in the film is Jean Dixon’s Molly the maid. She gets all the best lines, delivered in a thick devil-may-care New York accent.
It’s a wonderful piece, and has some really sharp comedy, at the same time being a really relevant social piece. Yes, like many a romantic comedy, there has to be a happy ending, and broadly speaking you can see it coming from way out. But that shouldn’t deter anyone from enjoying this film.
The film was directed by Gregory La Cava, someone I wasn’t familiar with, and who seems to have been fairly prolific in the silent era. It was written by Morrie Ryskind and Eric Hatch (upon whose novel it was based) although others were also involved in its writing if IMDB is to be believed.
As I was watching it, the thought occurred to me that it could easily be remade today (there was a 1957 remake with David Niven taking the Powell role as Godfrey). And then I remembered just how dismal 21st century “rom-coms” are and immediately threw the idea away. It would take a very smart writer to do this film justice today, and frankly you’re better off sticking with the original.
The film’s available on DVD, although you really need to be careful which version you pick up. After much review reading, I ended up ordering an import copy of the R1 Criterion Collection edition.
Nothing Sacred (1937)
Written by Ben Hecht who based it on a short story, Nothing Sacred is a tour de force for Carole Lombard. A small town girl named Hazel Flagg, she’s told that she has radium poisoning and thus only has a short time to live. Her doctor (Charles Winninger) is something of a quack and he’s got it wrong. He tells Flagg that she’s fine.
However by this point Frederic March’s newspaper journalist, Wally Cook, has tracked her down and is looking to save his reputation by giving his newspaper something to support. Fancying a trip to New York, the paper whisks her off and generates lots of support from the good citizens for this poor dying girl.
It’s all beginning to get a bit awkward, and all the more so when an additional doctor is brought in. In screwball films, doctors are always heavily accented Europeans with names beginning with E. In this instance, Dr Eggelhoffer (Sig Rumen).
Given that the story could be seen to have no sympathetic characters, Lombard does well to keep us rooting for Flagg, despite her taking both the newspaper and people of New York for a ride. There are the usual moments of farce, but it’s a smart and fun film that gets away with it.
Unusually, the film is in colour – despite having been made in 1937 (Becky Sharp in 1935 was actually the first feature film to be made using the three strip Technicolor process, but colour was still very much a rarity at this time). This made it incredibly expensive, and the addition of colour really isn’t necessary. Like film noir, the fact that screwball films are black and white is part of their defining features.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Now here’s another classic. You really simply can’t go wrong pairing Cary Grant with Katherine Hepburn. Directed with gusto by Howard Hawks and written by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde (based on the latter’s novel), it’s the story of a poor innocent paleontologist, Dr David Huxley (Grant), who gets mixed up with a rich young socialite Susan Vance (Hepburn).
The film famously opens with Grant sitting atop a platform near the neck of a brontosaurus skeleton. He’s just missing the “intercostal clavicle” (a bone which obviously doesn’t exist). He has a very straight-laced fiancée (a demure as you like Virginia Walker) who is clear that his work must come before anything – absolutely anything – even though they’re getting married the next day.
Sent out to play a round of golf with a potential museum benefactor’s advisor, Huxley gets entangled with Susan on a golf course. The dialogue sparkles and as Huxley becomes more frustrated, Susan takes a more carefree attitude to what he’s saying. By the end of the scene he’s being driven off by her in his car, as he stands on the running board.
Into this mix must be added a leopard named “Baby” who loves the song “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, necessitating it to be sung on several occasions, a psychiatrist (European, of course), a dog who takes a liking to a certain bone and buries it, a big game hunter who can do animal impressions, a very mischievous Susan and another leopard – this one not tame and escaped from a zoo where it has given its keeper a mauling.
Grant is at his vulnerable best. Not the assured editor of His Girl Friday, but the slightly put upon academic with few things on his mind beyond work.
Hepburn is simply glorious. Early on there’s a wonderful scene at a bar where she’s being taught a trick with olives by the bar tender. And then her marvellous jailhouse scene later in the film. She’s trying to talk her way out by taking on the guise of a moll – Swingin’ Door Susie. It’s said that she wasn’t sure how to do comedy at first until she was told to play it straight. The laughs just come.
Hawks said later that the problem with the film was that nobody in it was normal and that they were all mad. This really isn’t a problem. You simply don’t care as you go with the flow. The film also massively overran its production schedule, although it does seem that everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves on set – look at the barely containable smiles of Grant and Hepburn when the farce really gets going.. It’s also got to be said that there are double entendres a plenty. You don’t have to look too far to find them!
The dialogue is rat-a-tat fast, and the jokes are laugh out loud funny. It really is wonderful to be able to see a film like this in a full cinema of others enjoying it. And it’s completely re-watchable. Peter Swaab introduced the film at the screening I attended and has written the BFI guide to the film. He admitted that he’s seen it well over twenty times, but he still loves to see it again. The sign of a masterpiece.
Holiday (1938)
You’re not going to go too far wrong with a Grant/Hepburn film as Bringing Up Baby, and this is perhaps a lesser known example of their films together. It was made in the same year as Bringing Up Baby, although given the production turnaround speeds of the day, it was probably only shot after Bringing Up Baby had already opened.
The film, based on a play, was written by Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchanan, and was itself a remake of a 1930 version.
Cary Grant is Johnny Case who has run into the woman he believes is the girl of his dreams on his travels – Doris Nolan as Julia Seaton. Then he discovers that he’s about to wed into a very wealthy family who live in a mansion so big it is has its own elevator! The flighty Julia has a younger sister Linda (Katherine Hepburn) who is much more free-spirited. She doesn’t really do things the proper way that a family of her standing is expected to do, and to her family’s consternation – although perhaps not her permanently inebriated brother Ned (Lew Ayres) – she prefers to do things she wants.
Edward Everett Horton plays Professor Nick Potter, a role he was reprising from the 1930 version of the film. He’s abetted by Jean Dixon as his wife susan, the pair playing confidentes to Johnny.
Horton is one of those faces that pops up again and again in screwballs. He’s also to be found in Trouble in Paradise, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, and Arsenic and Old Lace as well as many other films of the era from Top Hat and The Gay Divorcee to Lost Horizon.
I think his performance here is the best of his screwballs. He doesn’t just have to pull faces, but go with things and become natural friends with Hepburn’s Linda.
Upstairs in the mansion, Linda keeps a more normal room with trinkets from their childhoods. The scenes with Hepburn, Grant, Horton, Ayres and Dixon in that room are the best, and Grant gets to show off some of his acrobatic skills.
A fine film, and although you think you know how it’s all going to turn out, you’re never quite sure.
Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938)
Possibly the worst named film in this season, yet it’s quite a cracker, and one of my favourite “discoveries” of this season.
Based on a French play, it’s directed by Ernst Lubitsch and has a Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder script.
The film takes place in the south of France, and Gary Cooper’s Michael Brandon is trying to buy half a pair of pyjamas. He just wants the top and is offering 50% of the price to do so. This causes a palaver, until Claudette Colbert’s Nicole de Loiselle agrees to buy the bottoms.
However she plans to give them not to a husband, but her lover, Albert De Regnier (David Niven).
When the wealthy Brandon buys a Louix XIV bathtub from de Loiselle’s father, their paths cross again, and in due course she becomes his eighth wife (only one of the previous seven is now dead). We then get a to and fro between them, with De Regnier resolutely hanging on until all ends well.
The film doesn’t seem to have a great reputation with Wilder not being very fond of it, and others seeing it as an inferior example of screwball. But I don’t agree. I think it’s a rather smart little film. Yes, the plot is wafer thin and it perhaps doesn’t have make comments on society that some of the best screwballs manage. But it’s good fun, and Colbert is, as ever, just terrific.
It Happened One Night (1934)
This Capra film is considered one of the key films that started the whole screwball genre of films off when it came out in 1934. But oddly, in spite of season curator Peter Swaab using a couple of clips of it during his talk, it doesn’t actually appear in this BFI season. Perhaps it has outings so frequently it didn’t need another.
However, I did see it on the big screen this month at a very good friend’s wedding where we saw it in a lovely Edinburgh hotel’s screening room!
It stars Claudette Colbert as heiress Ellie Andrews, and Clark Gable as newspaper reporter Peter Warne. She’s on the run from her new aviator husband and her father – swimming to escape from his yacht. With barely any money, she ends up on a bus traveling up from Miami to New York. Gable’s reporter ends up giving her help which she has to accept, and they find themselves on the run from her wealthy father with his seemingly unlimited resources to track down his daughter.
The nature of the film’s plot means that it varies from the standard screwball set-up, usually with just a handful of locations. Here we get a series of bus-stops, cheap motels as well as the mansions and offices of those chasing the pair down.
Swaab rightly pointed us to a lovely scene in one of those motels when Ellie has to go out to the shower block. In a long tracking shot she passes a very ordinary group of Americans staying there, and for a moment we feel as though we’re watching an altogether different picture. She reaches the queue and “naturally” jumps it before the other women put her in her place. That simple scene really humanises her and becomes almost a turning point.
The film feels like it’s come only very soon after the Hays Code has been introduced as it gets quite close to the line at times. In particular Gable erects what he calls “The Walls of Jericho” in their motel rooms by virtue of hanging a sheet between their twin beds. The manner in which those walls come down by the film’s end is very entertaining.
If you’ve not seen it recently, do yourself a favour and get hold of it. I couldn’t help noticing a stack of them in HMV Oxford Street very reasonably priced. They could probably do with your business right now!
His Girl Friday (1940)
As far as I’m concerned, this is Howard Hawks’ masterpiece, and I’ve now managed to catch it few times on the big screen.
I remember first discovering one Sunday night in 1990 when Channel 4 showed the film at 9pm (yes – that’s the sort of thing Channel 4 broadcast in peaktime back then). I’ve been enamoured of it ever since. I’d just urge you to seek it out on a the excellent Columbia DVD rather than the vastly inferior public domain prints that litter Amazon and eBay.
When I saw it in the BFI, I’d completely forgotten about the opening caption card at the film’s start that seems strangely resonant post-Leveson:
It all happened in the “Dark Ages” of the newspaper game — when to a reporter “getting that story” justified anything short of murder. Incidentally, you will see in this picture no resemblance to the men and women of the press today.
Ready?
Well, once upon a time–

Where do I begin with this? It has Cary Grant in one of his best roles ever as Walter Burns, newspaper editor who’s trying to win back his ex-wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell). It’s based on the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur stage play The Front Page, and it had already been made into a film, although Charles Lederer wrote the script for this film, and it seems to have been director Howard Hawks’ idea to change the sex of Hildy and make her Burns’ ex-wife.
It’s clearly this relationship that makes the film fly, and the dialogue fly with it. Hawks had Lederer write an overlapping script such that the bits that overlapped weren’t important, and the key parts were contained mid-sentence.
And has Rosalind Russell every been better? She’s got the sharpest of sharp dialogue – you really believe that she’s the main “man” in the press room. The other journalists bow down before her. She commands the screen and drags you along with her.
The repartee between her and Grant is a joy to behold. In one scene in the press room later in the film, you can just see on hers and Grant’s faces that they’re having a blast making the film.
Ralph Bellamy is beautifully cast as Bruce Baldwin, the harmless insurance salesman that Hildy is due to marry the very next day.
The film pokes and prods and the inequities of local politics with a corrupt mayor and his lackeys essentially trying to execute a prisoner to win favour just before an election. While Burns seems to have no morals with regard to getting his way and selling papers, there’s an underlying morality at work in this film.
The sequences that take place in the press room of the prison are sometimes technically marvellous. Reporters from rival papers snap their lines down the phones in brilliantly timed turns. This was technically hard to do given the state of audio-recording technology of the time.
And there are loads of in jokes – you can read them on IMDB or Wikipedia – but my favourites are when Burns is describing what Bruce Baldwin looks like: “”He looks like that fellow in the movies, you know… Ralph Bellamy!”
And later Burns says that the last man who crossed him was Archie Leach (Cary Grant’s real name from his Bristolian upbringing before he departed for America).
Overall it’s a film that just keeps on giving. Just writing this makes me want to go back and watch it again.
Bachelor Mother
This was the first in Ginger Rogers double bill shown in the BFI season, and in neither film did she do a great deal of dancing. Only recently the BBC has been showing the Astaire/Rogers RKO films, and they are indeed timeless classics.
But there was more to Rogers than those films, and we see that in two very different roles in these films. In Bachelor Mother, she plays a young shop assistant, Polly Parrish, who works in Merlin’s department store. It’s Christmas Eve, and after a tannoyed message of thanks from Merlin Snr., she discovers she’s being laid off from her job at in the toy department. She’s only been there a few week’s but it’s not a great Christmas present.
During her lunch break, she heads out to an employment agency and on the way back interrupts a woman who’s abandoning a baby on the steps of a nursery. Polly immediately picks up the baby to ensure it doesn’t fall down the steps, yet inevitably the nursery suspect the baby to be hers. Despite running off, they track down her department store employers.
Enter David Niven as Merlin Jnr – something of a playboy – who is charged with giving Polly her job back, along with a raise, and returning the baby itself. And so, she becomes a “Bachelor[ette] Mother”.
I said that Rogers doesn’t do a great deal of dancing in these films, but there is a very funny dance competition sequence that takes place in the Pink Slipper nightclub. Was that a pun based around the “pink slip” that Polly has been given?
Rogers’ character is strong-headed, but still uncertain enough to back down and adopt the baby. And Niven is perfectly cast as the young man who, inevitably, falls for her. It’s all fluffy silliness and not at all bad for that.
Roxie Hart (1942)
I’m not a great fan of musicals and have never seen the stage musical Chicago, nor the film version of it. So it was only when I started watching this film that the name suddenly clicked somewhere in my head and I realised that this film, like the more recent musical, was based on an earlier stage play – Chicago.
To say that this is a light film doesn’t really do the word “light” justice. It’s practically filled with helium. The film opens with an hilarious series of newspaper headlines showing the injustice of a Chicago legal system that seemed to be routinely freeing women who’d murdered men, but locking up men doing the same.
The film uses a framing device of a then contemporary newspaper reporter detailing proceedings from years earlier when all of this was happening
We get a very different Rogers in this film – she’s a gum-chewing, stockings wearing wild-child full of sassiness – Roxie. She practically runs the prison that’s she’s been thrown into for murdering her husband, and has everyone eating out of her hand.
There’s a fine supporting cast in the film – notably including Phil Silvers as a press photographer who leads his pack of cohorts to capture everything salient in the case.
And of course Rogers gets to a bit of dancing, with a lovely short tap routine on the metal staircase of the prison.
The film ends in the centrepiece courtroom scene where Roxie is being coached by her lawyer Billy Flynn (Adolphe Menjou), and she constantly ensures she shows the jury plenty of leg. The live courtroom radio commentary is entertaining, sponsored by a patent remedy for all known ailments. And every time something dramatic happens, Silvers’ photographic team leap forward to capture that moment.
Very silly, but a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
Being a Preston Sturges film, this is much more famous than many of the films showing in this season. Oddly, however, it was a title that had somehow previously eluded me.
Joel McCrea plays the eponymous Sullivan, a movie director who’s had enormous success with such films as Ants in Your Plants of 1939 and Hey Hey in the Hayloft. His studio’s execs would quite like him to make Ants in Your Plants of 1941!
There are many things to love about this film. It’s the film that begat “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” – the terribly worthy film that Sullivan aspires to make rather than the frivolous fare he’s been making hitherto.
Then there are lots of in jokes about Hollywood – meeting Lubitsch and the fact that nobody in Hollywood has done a real day’s work.
It does feel a little different from many of the films in this season, and were it not for some of the wisecracks that Veronica Lake’s “Girl” comes out with, I think you’d be hard pushed to really call it screwball.
There’s an early chase sequence when a studio land yacht that’s following Sullivan in a boy’s home-built “tank” that has plenty of slapstick.
And there’s the last third of the film, where humour seems to be a distant memory while we appreciate the suffering of prisoners condemned to hard labour in fetid plantations.
The camera loves Lake, and so do we. Early on, when Sullivan is discussing his planned film, the crass executives keep pointing out that his film needs to have sex. Lake very much provides that in this film. The petite Lake was several months pregnant during production, but you wouldn’t have known it, and it’s a shame that beyond some of her film noir work, her personal battles meant she didn’t make more films.
Sullivan’s Travels always feels it’s walking a tightrope between trying to deal with poverty in a humane way, and not producing a Hollywood version of poverty. Sturges had a very clear message that he was trying to convey with this film. And the scene set in a black church where the prisoners are allowed to join the parishioners for a film screening is remarkable in the way it handles race. I can’t think of another mainstream film of the period that has black characters in such a role. The black cook on the aforementioned land yacht, hamming it up in his kitchen galley getting covered in cooking stuffs feels much more usual.
Midnight (1939)
Going to all these films has really opened my eyes to a few actors and actresses. Many of the supporting character actors occur and then recur. But if there’s one actress I’ve really learned to love in these films, it’s Claudette Colbert. I now realise I really need to watch more of her work.
In Midnight, Colbert plays a down at heel dancing girl, Eve Peabody, who’s always on the make. Having stowed away across the Atlantic, we find her as she wakes up in a third class carriage on the Monaco to Paris train. She only has the ballgown she’s wearing, 10c and Monaco pawn ticket to her name.
She’s lucky enough to run into a Hungarian emigrée taxi driver, Tibor Czerny, played by Don Ameche. Despite Czerny’s better judgement he drives her around Paris looking for singing gigs at one of the nightclubs. He’s smitten by the smart talking Peabody and offers her somewhere to stay. But she makes a break for it and manages to crash a society siorée. There she gets involved, at first without her knowledge, in a complicated scheme concocted by John Barrymore’s Georges Flammarion who is trying to win back the affections of his wife who is taken by the suave Jacques (Francis Lederer).
This all involves Eve adopting the name “Baroness Czerny” – it being the first name that pops into her head. There’s a lovely scene where the smooth Jacques insists on accompanying the “Baroness” back to her hotel. Having randomly chanced upon the Ritz, she’s certain she’s going to be found out as she approaches the hotel.
Something of a farce then plays out in Barrymore’s mansion located somewhere near Versailles, as Tibor reappears, having conducted a citywide search for Eve incorporating every Parisian taxi-driver.
The plot is silly, and you wouldn’t want to stop and think about how some of these people are behaving for too long, since it wouldn’t make a great deal of sense. But director Mitchell Leisen ensures that the film has a wonderful joie de vivre, and Colbert is simply breathtaking. Her expressions are lovely, and the film’s writers, Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, have given her some killer lines. She has throwaway line after throwaway line which are laugh out loud funny. This truly was a wonderful discovery.
Sadly, it doesn’t seem to have had a UK DVD release, but there is a US edition that got a release and seems to be available.
I’m into the home stretch of my January screwball season now. There are a couple more bookings that I have at the BFI, and then a handful of DVDs to catch up with. I suspect that I could continue watching films for much longer, although tracking them down may become harder. Anyway, this has proved an excellent way to start 2013!

Kindle for Android Moans

As I’ve been using my Nexus 7 more and more, it has also meant that my “old-school” Kindle has seen less action of late. I find it more convenient to carry a single device and use the Kindle for Android app on the tablet.
Yet it does sometimes feel that the app doesn’t offer all that it might. In particular, there are two rather useful features that Kindle for Android is missing. And I know for a fact that one of those can be found on the iOS version.
Sort by Recency
You can only sort your books by either Title or Author. There is no option to sort by purchase or download date. That might seem very unimportant, but if you build up a decent-sized Kindle library, then finding your latest purchase becomes a tougher proposition.
This functionality can be found on the iOS version, so quite why it’s missing in Android is a bit of a mystery. In programming terms, I’d have thought it’d be trivial to include.
[Update] I had an email discussion with a nice chap from Amazon customer support, and sorting by “Most Recent” is available amongst “Downloaded Items”, but not amongst either “All Items” or “Archived Items”.
Font Choice
With Kindle for Android you simply don’t get one. Now perhaps this is due to licencing issues, but while you can change the font size, the colour, the spacing and the background, you’re stuck with the default font.
(As an aside, lack of font choice is one of my main bugbears with e-readers in general. Some publishers and authors choose their typeface very carefully to be in keeping with the feel of the book. Yet when you reach an e-reader, you get re-rendered in something completely different.)
There are other things too. You don’t get the ability to put books in collections as you can on Kindle devices. Nor can you make use of the lending library that comes with Prime membership if you have it. Again, I need to revert back to a Kindle device for that. These all feel like software issues.
A more devious person might think that Amazon isn’t particularly prioritising generic Kindle for Android users, when they have their own hardware products to sell.
I note that on a Kindle Fire, you can sort by recency, and you have a choice of six fonts for your book reading pleasure. It’s worth noting too that while there is a LoveFilm app on Kindle Fire (and in iOS), there isn’t one for generic Android.
But I’m sure that’s not the case, and Amazon just hasn’t put enough resource into its Android apps. I know Android with its many OS versions and form factors, is harder to program for. But then Amazon’s Kindle programme is based not on selling hardware but flogging media. And I’m getting a sub-optimal experience right now.
I should footnote this piece to assure readers that the majority of my reading is still done on paper since I can do what I like with paper books, and don’t run the risk of losing my entire library due to my only “licencing” rather than “owning” it.

Retail

And so it has come to pass that HMV is in administration. When an unplanned “Blue Cross” sale popped up before the weekend, the writing was on the wall.
At time of writing, we can perhaps remain hopeful of some kind of partially successful outcome of the administrators seeking a semblence of a successful business. Selfishly, I’d love the Oxford Street branch to remain open. It simply seems wrong that the only other place you could buy CDs, DVDs or video games in central London would be in a Tesco Express or Sainsburys Local.
The writing has been on the wall for HMV for many years now. Once upon a time, a trip into London would see me move between Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus, before heading up to HMV near Oxford Circus and finishing at the Virgin Megastore at Tottenham Court Road. The former is now “The Sting” – no me neither. The latter a branch of Primark. Who knows what HMV’s enormous square footage will become.
In swift succession we’ve also seen Comet and then Jessops disappear from our high streets. Both defeated by the internet. If you want to actually look at, touch or feel an electrical product from now on, you’re going to be at the mercy of Currys/PC World or John Lewis.
Otherwise, you’re just going to have to rely on reviews on Amazon. (And I can’t help noticing that even Play.com is getting out of selling new products and just becoming… well eBay).
I’m not going to shed tears for the music industry – even though it’s an industry that’s important to me both personally and professionally. So yes, killing time in record shops is not something I’ll be able to do much of any longer. But the fundamental difference is going to be felt by artists who are not in the top 30 or so albums (with even “albums” becoming a thing of the past). The random purchase of the soundtrack to Blow Up I made in HMV last week alongside a couple of other unplanned CD purchases simply won’t happen in the future. Because I need to know about music before I buy it on Amazon or iTunes. (Incidentally, there’s an argument that means that radio becomes more important now that a key distribution and discovery opportunity is being removed).
I’m not sure where that leaves the High Street. Clearly rents are severely out of kilter with what retailers can afford. And I’m not sure that there’s a steady queue of replacements just around the corner. Online fashion outlets like Asos must be damaging the fashion end of the high street. Selling coffee based beverages seems to be the only area of growth!
Perhaps the way we do shopping needs to change. On the one hand we get massive shopping centres that still seem to do well, yet on the other end, the nature of how we shop is changing. This isn’t just the recession.
So yes, where once we bought physical pieces of music and owned discs or tapes with films, we now download and rent, even for those things still retailed on an ownership model, the nature of sales is changing.
I’m not averse to change, but I do think that we’ve yet to match the browsing nature of bricks and mortar stores in an online world. If I go to Amazon, I know what I’m looking for. I bought my last camera on Amazon and not in store at Jessops because it was substantially cheaper online. Of course Jessops was acting as a free showroom for me. When I want to buy my next camera, I’m not sure if I’ll ever see it in person before it comes out of a brown packaging container with a .com retailer stamped on the front.
If you have physical premises, you just don’t have an advantage these days. Big distribution centres near motorway junctions trump expensive retail locations in hundreds of towns and cities. Claiming your business is based in Luxembourg or Ireland trumps actually having to sell your products in the UK.

Screwball

Screwball
If there’s a genre films I really love, it’s screwball comedies.
His Girl Friday has always been one of my favourite films, and alongside Bringing Up Baby, epitomises what I love in the genre. The rat-a-tat dialogue, strong female characters, the prevalent design – lots of art deco, and in general the sheer delight. These were films that had to entertain a public suffering the great depression, and they were fast and made with flair.
With directors like Howard Hawks, George Stevens and Preston Sturges, and actors and actresses like Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, Irene Dunne and Claudette Colbert, alongside some sterling character actors in supporting roles, these were vibrant films that also addressed the prejudices of a nation.
And as 2013 starts – Happy New Year – the BFI Southbank is running a season of these gems, including some lesser known titles that I’ve certainly never seen. Despite loving the genre, I’ve never really studied it and looked beyond the obvious films.
So as well as the aforementioned Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday, and other more popular films like The Philadelphia Story and Mr Deeds goes to town, some lesser known films are being screened.
According to the introduction from season curator Peter Swaab, arguably screwball could begin with Trouble in Paradise from 1932.
I’d never seen this, and as this BFI season starts in 1934 with the films usually considered the start of screwball era, I decided to look out this Ernst Lubitsch film that I feel I probably should be familiar with. Fortunately Eureka released it very recently on their excellent Masters of Cinema label, so I settled back to watch it on DVD.
Released in 1932, before the Hays Code came into place, it stars Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins as essentially a pair of crooks who run into one another in a hotel in Venice. In due course the action moves to Paris where Kay Francis is Madame Colet, owner of a successful perfume company. Made in 1932, it perhaps addresses the depression more than most, with plenty of parts of the plot talking about the derpivations being suffered by the populace. There are multiple references to pay cuts, and the outrageousness of spending a fortune on a diamond encrusted bag, even if you’re able to afford it. None of this prevents the film still being set in glamourous locations and first class hotels of course. But that’s key to films of the period – these were fantasies to allow viewers to forget their day to day suffering.
As a pre-code film, there are lots of hints of out of wedlock relationships and double entendres, all meaning that the film does come across as a little more risqué than other films more frequently viewed on TV. This is another subject for another time, but the impact of that code is truly remarkable, and while clever filmmakers like Hitchcock worked around it – think of the kissing scene with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in Notorious, or the final shot of North by Northwest. Well worth watching.
At the BFI I’ve so far seen a couple of their screwball films. Twentieth Century probably counts of Howard Hawks’ first effort. The film was released in 1934 and stars John Barrymore as a superbly over-the-top theatrical impressario Oscar Jaffe who discovers Carole Lombard’s Mildred Plotka for his next stage production. After a tricky start, everything goes well until Plotka (or Lily Garland as Jaffe has renamed her) ups and leaves for Hollywood. The second part of the film is set a train – the Twentieth Century – from Chicago to New York, and that’s where the real fun begins, with the film at times being a farce. I particularly loved the dry lines Roscoe Karns is given as the permamently drunk right hand man of Jaffe. The film was based on a play by Charles Bruce Mullholland, but was rewritten by Ben Hecht and Charles McArthur, both of whom would later go on to work on Hawks’ His Girl Friday based on their own play.
Much less well known is Theodora Goes Wild which seems to have been Irene Dunne’s first screwball film, with her playing the title character. Living in a very conservative small town, she has also managed to hit the jackpot under the nomme de plume Caroline Adams with a sensational potboiler called “The Sinner” which is a runaway bestseller. But the book’s success does not go down well in her hometown, and when Melvyn Douglas – a louche book designer who works at her publisher’s – comes to town, the pack of cards looks like it might all come tumbling down. As Dunne’s character begins to shake off her small town shackles she begins to “go wild” and needless to say, the tables are turned later on in the film. The “moral” of the film seems to be that letting go, or “going wild” isn’t that bad a thing and everyone should loosen up a bit.
Interistingly, in both these latter films, drunkeness is played for laughs. Irene Dunne’s character wants to prove that she’s not square and drinks just about everyone else under the table when she goes out with her publisher and his wife. While the aforementioned Roscoe Karns character gets the best lines by virtue of being drunk the whole time (although the BFI notes to the film which include extracts of a Hawks interview suggest that it was Barrymore’s drinking that actually lost the production a day at one point). It feels that drinking with no “bad” consequences would be clamped down on a little more later.
I look forward to seeing plenty more films in this season, and perhaps a couple more on DVD too.