Note on Comments

Unfortunately I’m currently being deluged by comment spam on this blog – many hundreds of comments a day. While most of the comments aren’t getting through, I thought the best thing to do for the time being was switch them off for a bit. It’s the most hassle-free solution for me. In any case, I get about one proper comment a month these days, with most feedback coming via Twitter or Facebook.
At some point I do need to move this blog over onto a newer platform, and put a more full-featured commenting mechanism in place. But I’m not in a position to do that right now. So hopefully leaving comments off for a few days will get this blog removed from some of the active blog-spam lists and we can get back to normal.
There have been discussions elsewhere about switching off comments altogether, but I’d rather not leave them off permanently.
Anyway, if you feel a pressing need to respond to something I’ve written in the meantime, drop me a note via a blindingly obvious email address or via Twitter, and I can publish your comment.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

On Radio 4’s Film Programme recently, Mark Gatiss has been re-examining TV spin-off films from the seventies including film versions of Are You Being Served, On the Buses, and the only one he really rated, Porridge.
The feature-film spin-off has a long history in UK television, although as Gatiss explained it was largely used as a device to be a bit cruder or racier than TV allowed. I imagine that the stars got a slightly larger cheque than TV paid as well. And because the budget was a little bit bigger, they largely had to go somewhere. Invariably it didn’t work – at least not on any quality level. The films were quite frequently profitable though.
Even with the recent highly successful Inbetweeners movie, they had to go on holiday as the staff of Grace Brothers had before them. And notably, I thought that the film was not as good as the TV show, although the box office takings, and the forthcoming sequel suggest that this doesn’t really come into play.
So taking a character like Alan Partridge and putting him on the big screen could be very dangerous. But they’ve got it right. Steve Coogan, Armando Ianucci, Peter Baynham et al have actually given us many different versions of Partridge beginning with On The Hour and Knowing Me, Knowing You on Radio 4, as well as their TV versions. Later there was I’m Alan Partridge, before more recently we had Midmorning Matters for the web, reworked for Sky, alongside a couple of one-off documentaries. I wouldn’t neglect the brilliant memoir either.
Short of Alan Patridge: The Play (and Coogan has certainly performed as him on stage), only the film was left.
In Alpha Papa, North Norfolk Digital has just been taken over by Goredale Media who are renaming the station Shape, with the strapline, “The Way You Want It To Be.” Those of us in the radio industry might see a certain accuracy in this trend, although I must admit that I preferred North Norfolk Digital’s previous strapline: “Sustaining and maintaining our core listenership in an increasingly fragmented marketplace.” I think that really reaches out to the listeners.
When late-night DJ Pat Farrell gets fired following Alan’s shameless attempt to save his own skin upon realising it was one of the two of them, he takes action into his own hands and a hostage situation begins, with Alan as the go-between.
It’s a good mechanic, and it allows Alan to realise that he could become famous once again if he plays his cards right.
Tim Key, who plays Alan’s “Sidekick Simon” gets lots of the best lines, even if he does spend most of the film gaffer-taped up with a cooking pan on his head. And Phil Cornwall’s Dave Clifton who has been there and done it rings a few bells. It’s great to see Lynn and Michael back too.
It’s great fun seeing some bits of Norfolk that I’m fairly familiar with – Cromer Pier and Sheringham High Street both featuring in various parts of the film. I couldn’t help but notice that one of Partridge’s fellow DJs is a certain Wally Banter. This should in no way be confused with BBC Radio Norfolk’s own Wally Webb who has the prime 0400-0630 slot, and who slightly scarily, does seem to think he’s the basis for Partridge. (I should also note that my dad genuinely loves his show including his sandwich-filling based daily phone-in).
And DRUK should be pleased, because never have so many DAB stations appeared on screen in a movie! Go on. Who else was curious to know if someone really did fiddle with the settings of their DLS on DAB to get that Pure radio read the way it did?
Another real joy of the film is the music. There’s an opening sequence of Alan singing along to Roachford that is just priceless, but all the way through it’s beautifully chosen. At one point, Alan, in a panic, puts the Ski Sunday theme tune on.
It’s easily the funniest film I’ve seen this year.
I should mention that I’ve also recently seen The World’s End, the last of the so-called “Cornetto Trilogy” from Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright. And while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it nearly as much as I loved Partridge.
The problem with The World’s End is that Pegg’s character is so unlikeable, and is so irredeemable, that the whole thing doesn’t really hang together. I did laugh a lot earlier on, as the “gang” first gets back together and then, somewhat inexplicably, agree to go on the pub crawl that Pegg’s character insists on.
The soullessness of a certain type of contemporary pub is well drawn, and it was amusing seeing the garden cities of Welwyn and Letchworth doubling as the fictional Newton Haven.
The cast is top-notch too with Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine and Martin Freeman all doing sterling work as fellow classmates who’ve long since grown up. Rosamund Pike is also there, but she really gets very little to do. And I’d have personally liked to have had a bit more of Mark Heap.
I loved the TV series Spaced, and a lot of that attention to detail is still there – especially in the music cues, which those of a certain age will appreciate immensely. But ultimately I was left a little wanting.
And I’m afraid I found the end a bit disappointing. While it clearly had a lot of that John Wyndham-style invasion theme to it, I’m not sure that the it really needed the ending it got. And the coda was just weird and actually made me forget about the far more enjoyable earlier parts of the film.
I’ve no doubt at all, that like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it will be worth rewatching a few times on TV at a later date. And like Alpha Papa, I appreciated the fact that nobody has tried to make the film “accessible” for an international audience. They’ll either get it or they won’t.
Still, if I’m a bit down on The World’s End, it can only be better than something called Pain and Gain, for which I’ve only seen a trailer. It’s a Michael Bay film, and he seems intent on pastiching himself. I’m not sure of it’s supposed to be a comedy, but my jaw dropped to the floor when I saw the trailer. For a start it’s all in that horrific yellow tinting that he can’t stop doing. There’s an entire blog post to be written about what goes for “grading” on some films these days. But Bay is the worst offender, and it’s like you’re watching the entire trailer (or, god help you, film) through a really cheap pair of sunglasses from the early seventies. I suspect that I’ll never, willingly, see the film, so a review of the trailer seems fair. And while we’re at it, I’m not at all sure what to make of We’re The Millers, whose trailer seems to mostly be about letting the audience know that Jennifer Aniston is a stripper who gets down to her underwear in at least two different scenes. Maybe it’s a funny film, but I’m not sure that’s what I got from the trailer. What I do know is that co-star Jason Sudeikis is definitely funny in the recent NBC Sport Premier League promo (even if it’s mostly filmed at Spurs).

Sports on TV… Again

The weekend just gone was a big one in UK sport.
Picking up a broadsheet newspaper on Saturday morning left you in no doubt of that. And the first key event was the deciding Lions test in Sydney. Page after page was dedicated to Warren Gatland’s decisions over who to include and who to leave out. This was massive.
The game kicked off at 11am UK time – not perfect, but not a bad way to start. The Lions won. And the next morning there was acres of coverage again in the press. Even an impending Andy Murray Wimbledon final couldn’t stop it altogether. My Sunday paper of choice, The Observer, has dedicated page after page to this tour.
But that afternoon – a gloriously hot and sunny afternoon across most of the country – Andy Murray was in another Wimbledon Men’s final. And despite the calling of gardens, parks and beaches across the country, a peak 17.3m people saw him win.
Compare this to a reported peak of 1.5m seeing the Lions win the previous day.
This is the power of free to air television. Neither rugby union nor tennis would naturally be the most popular sports in the country, but television coverage dictates their respective popularities. We don’t see a great deal of live tennis on free to air television in the UK. Aside from Wimbledon and a couple of weeks preceding it with warm up tournaments, there’s not much else. ITV has picked up the baton and gives decent coverage of the French Open on ITV4 while the BBC shares rights for the ATP’s season ending tournament in the O2. There may or may not be the odd Davies Cup fixture. But that’s your lot.
But the BBC essentially decamps to SW19 for the two weeks of Wimbledon and it becomes an event. I know that the good burghers of Wimbledon would quite it not to be case that their tournament is “listed”. But as with many other European countries, that remains the case with the event.
Compare and contrast with the Lions, whose tour didn’t even get any free to air highlights pacakges. Not even S4C in Wales showed it. I assume a lot of pubs were packed on Saturday mornings instead.
A decision was taken to sell the rights to Sky exclusively, and the tour becomes very profitable. Never mind the vast sums made from merchandise. Rugby union is considered an upmarket sport, so sponsors and advertisers around the event mean that there’s lots of money to be made. It’s not for nothing that ITV, Premiership highlights notwithstanding, suddenly becomes properly interested in the game once every four years when the World Cup comes around.
Anyway, which sporting event made the most impact on the nation over the weekend? The Lions winning brilliantly? Or Andy Murray? It’s no contest.
(Sandwiched in between both these events was the Tour de France – with a pair of outstanding Pyrannean stages over the weekend. Even with Chris Froome storming to the mailloit jaune, and free to air coverage on ITV4, it couldn’t make a dent in the other sporting beasts of the weekend).
Which brings us to today, and the first Ashes test. Again the papers are full of pages of coverage.
But the vast majority of the population are at best either going to have to listen to BBC Radio’s sterling coverage, or catch Channel 5’s highlights. Maybe there’ll be a couple of wickets in news bulletins.
In the paper today, David Collier, the chief executive of the ECB is quoted as saying that sold out grounds throughout the series show that leaving free to air television hasn’t damaged the sport. Well I’d hope that you can sell tickets for England v Australia. It’s probably the biggest cricket series in the world (although the IPL might be said to give it a run for its money, were it not a little tainted). But can he really say that the sport is in a healthy place?
Are all those Twenty20 fixtures all sold out? What about the various one day competitions? And is anybody at all going to county championship games? The sport is really financially healthy is it? Or is it in fact more and more dependent on Sky’s largess, meaning that should the pay TV company ever lose interest in the game – for example, a new generation of people not really being interested in something that gets minimal exposure – they’ll be way up the river with no hope of finding a paddle.
If England win the series – as they’re expected to – will there be a tickertape parade through London? Or will the nation shrug their shoulders a little and say, “So England won did they?”
And let’s not even get into the fiasco of them doing it all over again this winter! At least others realise that less is more.
This is a sport that has sold itself so completely to pay television that not a single ball of UK fixtures will be live on free to air television. You can watch the slugfest of the IPL though. That’s probably not going to do it.
Now I wouldn’t want you to think that I don’t believe that Sky doesn’t do an amazing job. They do. This is all about sports’ administrators thinking about a little further ahead than next year’s balance sheet, and realising the value of sport on television beyond the massive cheques they might be writing you.
(Yes, I’ve said a lot of this before. But it stands to be repeated.)

In The House/Dans La Maison

In The House is the new film from Francois Ozon, director of a range of films including 8 Women and Swimming Pool.
This film is of a kind you just don’t get in Britain. It’s profoundly middle class (or should that be Established Middle Class?). Frabrice Luchini and Kristen Scott Thomas are a respectively a schoolteacher of the French classics and an art gallery dealer trying to make ends meet with some hilariously awful sex-toys art. One of the school pupils at one point warns another to be careful of the teacher because his wife is rumoured to own a porn shop.
Into this world comes Claude (Ernst Umhauer), a student new in class. When he’s set assignments, he returns strange pieces that seem to suggest that he’s “infiltrating” his way into a fellow classmate’s home just for the fun of it.
As the homework assignments continue, his attempts increase and he describes wandering around the house and the smell of the middle class housewife he seems to find alluring. He’s clearly preciously brilliant yet disturbing at the same time.
As viewers we’re treated to what he’s writing. While his classmate, Rapha, is real, as are his parents, we’re never entirely sure if he’s spinning us a line or he’s really doing what he says.
When he “sneaks” around the house, it’s less sneaking as just standing in the background observing.
Clearly the story reaches a head, and it would spoil it to say what happens. I’ll just say that this is very clever and smart film, and although at the end, I’m not sure if it totally hangs together, it’s really worth seeing.
Now maybe it’s just me, but I couldn’t help thinking that Rapha’s dad, Rapha senior (Denis Ménochet) looks a bit like a moustachioed Rufus Sewell. That’s notable because Sewell is onstage with Scott Thomas in the West End right now. Once I’d noticed, I couldn’t make the resemblance go away.
It was great to see it in a really packed screening in central London. It’s safe to say that most of my fellow audience were similarly middle-class (Or Established Middle Class. There may have even been some Elite in there!).
But I do have a problem with the film, and it’s nothing to do with the filmmakers. While I’m not going to spoil the film, you might want to stop reading now if you don’t want any kind of spoilers. All I’ll say is that you should avert your gaze at the moment the BBFC certificate comes up.
You have been warned…
In many ways BBFC notes have improved. But it’s one thing telling us that there’s going to sex or violence at the start of the film – although at the point that we find this out we are literally seconds away from the start. However this film’s description, within the certification at the very start, has a very specific mention of something that we’ll see and might be troubled by. It’s so specific, we know that something is going to occur at some point during the film. And it doesn’t take a genius, once we get into the film, to work out what that might be. It did elicit a gasp from someone near me in the screening I attended. But anyone who’d read the warning, knew it was coming.
And a couple of notes about the screening. While the film itself was excellent, I’m not sure that the advertisers in the trailers quite got what they bargained for.
I’m no fan of cinema ads. They go on for ages, and it seems a bit rich to get them as well as paying £11.50 for a ticket. But I work in advertising and I’m sensitive to them and what they bring to the cinema chains (just think, that popcorn could be even more expensive!).
So the advertisers here might have been disappointed to learn how quiet the ads were. Clearly the volume had been turned right down. The chatter of the auditorium pretty much drowned out the ads – and I was sitting near the front! Sonos, for example, was promoting how great their soundbars are. Well you wouldn’t have known it in this cinema. You could barely hear it.
And while I’m having a bit of a moan, can I suggest that VW rethink their URLs? VW has some kind of premium “supporting independent cinema” slot, and after supposed dramatisations about how famous film lines might have been originated patrons are given a Facebook URL to visit.
Can I suggest that given the average age of my packed screening was somewhere in the late 40s or even early 50s, that’s a thoroughly misjudged URL. I’ve written before of the stupidity of handing over your real estate to a third party like Facebook, but this illustrates that insanity beautifully. Yes I know parents and grandparents are beginning to get on Facebook, but I’d wager a majority of patrons to this particular cinema don’t use it. Anyway, my point still stands – why do you want people to try to find you on Facebook rather than on your own site?
Oh, and if you have three major sports stars for your bank brand, you might want to think twice about giving them stultifying dialogue for your ad. And you might want to think twice about running a full 60 second creative with said stultifying dialogue. Cringeworthy. Worst ad of the year. You know who you are.
My other moan is about trailers. I thought we’d past the point where, when presented with a foreign language film, the UK distributor would re-edit a trailer to disguise this fact. But clearly we’re not.
There’s a new Bernado Bertolucci film coming shortly (his first for nearly ten years), and it’s in Italian. But the trailer goes out of its way to excise all dialogue completely. Instead we get lots of reaction shots with musical accompaniment. As a consequence, I know absolutely nothing about the film except that it has people in it.
To my mind a trailer is there to give me an idea of what the film is about and tell me just enough about the plot to tempt me into the cinema to learn more. Some Hollywood trailers seem to imagine that telling me the plot of the first 80 minutes of the film in 90 seconds is their job, and that’s wrong too.
But come on. If we’re inclined to see an Italian language film in the cinema, then telling us that in the trailer isn’t a problem. And if you’re actually trying to deceive your audience, then surely all you’re going to do is cause problems down the line when they find out (Curiously, I think one couple in my In The House screening were surprised to discover a film called “In The House” and starring Kristen Scott Thomas was in French. They let out a little gasp as the first subtitles arrived on screen).
The final scene excerpted in the trailer was, hilariously a scene with lots of dialogue – none of which we heard. The characters were clearly talking to one another, and we just heard swirling music. Ridiculous.
Ironically, this followed a trailer for the new Pedro Almodovar film, I’m So Excited, which was full of dialogue. As a result, I want to see that film. The Bertolucci film, I’m still in the dark about.
A suivre.

My BBC DQF Proposal

Another day, another proposal under the BBC’s Delivering Quality First (DQF) – aka, what significant cuts can we make as painlessly as possible?
We’ve had plenty of them to date including the gutting of BBC Local radio, stopping late night or daytime broadcasts. Just today, the BBC News channel (or BBC News 24 as it’s just about universally still known) is the latest in line. I would like to see a few more reports from the BBC nations and regions on BBC News – they’ve been edited up and packaged already. There’s a half-hour programme just waiting to be made, probably requiring a single editor/producer. But enough of that. Allow me to introduce my proposal.
To make some key savings, you’ve got to look to television. Radio is just too small. Unless you attack the budgets of Radio 3 or Radio 4, both as culturally important to UK society as any other thing, then there’s not really a great deal to go for.
Of course Radio 1, Radio 2 and Five Live have budgets every commercial station would kill for. But in the scheme of things, we need to look bigger. I assume it was this thinking that has led to a reprieve for the Asian Network.
One of the proposals mentioned today was taking BBC Parliament online. That would save £6.5m pa according to the most recent BBC Accounts. A parliamentary channel is never going to be popular, but it’s an important part of our democracy. Saving a trivial amount of cash to deprive those who are not on the internet (that’s a lot of people, disproportionately biased towards the elderly) of that answerability, and at a time when libraries are shutting, seems futile. If the BBC can make central Government pay, that’s a possibility, although there is still journalistic rigourousness required, so it might be better being at arm’s length from the government.
I’m concerned about cuts surrounding daytime. While the over reliance on shows based around selling off antiques and doing up homes needs some serious addressing, we need to consider very carefully our elderly. Daytime repeats of primetime shows might be the way forward to save some cash here. I assume same week repeats don’t incur repeat fees for performers?
But enough of what I wouldn’t do. What would I do?
Move BBC Three online.
And by that, I mean cut vast amounts of what it does, and leave the remainder online, cutting distribution costs. Essentially, BBC Three would become a red-button service.
Allow me to expand. BBC Three costs £118.6m pa according to the BBC report and accounts (page F32).
Of that £87.5m is on “content“, with £6.8m on distribution (so very similar to BBC Parliament), and £24.3m in infrastructure and support.
Compared with that, BBC Four costs £74.0m and BBC Two £575.6m.
Quite why BBC Three and BBC Parliament’s distribution costs should be nearly double BBC Four’s at £3.8m I’m not sure. On Freeview and Sky, BBC Three and BBC Four, timeshare a multiplex with CBBC and CBeebies, while BBC Parliament is 24/7. Anyway, that’s a question for another day.
I’d chop that “content” fee right down. BBC Three is the least original of the BBC’s digital offerings, with elements of it replicated by commercial rivals including E4, ITV2, Sky One and Sky Living. It’s biggest ratings come from narrative repeats of popular BBC One and BBC Two shows like Eastenders, Doctor Who and Top Gear.
While it has broken some new comedy, for every Gavin & Stacey, there’s a White Van Man. BBC Two and BBC Four could easily fulfill this need. Dramas like Being Human could happily sit on BBC Two. And nobody at all would miss programming like Snog, Marry, Avoid.
BBC Three does produce a few decent single documentaries that make accessible relevant issues to a younger audience. And it’s this programming that I’d put behind the red button. In the same way that various sports highlight packages and concerts employ bandwidth under the red button, I’d have these programmes on a permament roll. Some would fit in that awkward post-news BBC One slot early in the week. You find exactly these BBC Three docs showing in that slot anyway.
Some of the comedy elements would exist in an online world only. I envisage a YouTube-style comedy environment to encourage new writers and performers.
BBC Two and BBC Four would widen their remits a bit – the former for drama (which it’s doing anyway) – and the latter for more comedy (something it’s seemingly about to back away from).
Freeview would gain an extra red button channel – something it really needs. CBBC could extend its hours to 8pm.
I’d run Doctor Who repeats on CBBC in the 7pm hour. Eastenders repeats could go on BBC One in the afternoons – perhaps with edits.
While I’m changing everything, I’d move children’s programming back from BBC Two to BBC One, running to at least 5.30pm. Then run something like Eggheads for the next half an hour. Hiding kids programming away only on the kids’ channels isn’t a good idea in the long term. The BBC really shouldn’t be caring about audience sizes at that time of day. Who cares if C4/ITV has bigger shows between 5 and 6? It doesn’t matter. While you could keep Anne Robinson on BBC Two, I’d look to archive or films filling the 4-6pm slot on BBC Two. Then maybe a quiz format like that Alexander Armstrong one through until 7pm.
I reckon you could save at least £80m in this way. That’s the sort of levels the BBC’s trying to achieve isn’t it?

Lost and Found

It’s been a lovely weekend, so today I was out on my bike taking some photos. I headed down to the South Bank and was near the front of Tate Modern capturing a couple of pictures of the people nearby.
There were thousands of other people about. Tourists; locals; people working.
I moved on further towards the Southbank centre, cycling along Upper Ground.
At some point, I realised that my bike had lost its bike computer – a neat Garmin GPS unit. It’s not cheap.
Had I put it in my bag? No. My pockets? No. I checked everywhere twice, and then again. It was gone.
The one place I thought I might have dropped it was near the Tate where I’d stopped to take photos. In fact I’d been by the railings on the embankment there, and it’s possible, I thought, that it had gone over the edge and landed on the “beach” below. It had been low tide I remembered.
I cycled back wondering about how much a replacement would cost, with the vague hope that it was still lodged in the mud below. I found the spot where I’d stopped, and what do you know?
On the floor, just sitting there quite close to the railings in front of Tate Modern, was my blue and white GPS bike computer. This was at least half an hour later. Hundreds of people had walked by. It was upside down, which probably helped. To the unsuspecting eye, it was a piece of white plastic. But it was still there – essentially unscathed.
As I verbalised my incredulity, a chap nearby with a couple of kids just put it down to the nice weather and people being good on days like these.
Incidentally, down below the tide had come in – it’s fast along the Thames – and there would have been no chance to seek it in the mud.

Photographic Exhibitions

I went to a couple of different photographic exhibitions the other day – although only a hundred metres or so separated them – they were massively disparate in style.
The V&A is hosting Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography until February 20. Using a variety of styles and techniques, the five artists featured work directly onto photographic paper to create imagery – removing the actual camera from the form. Sometimes that can be identifiably physical things like leaves, ladders or even a baby. And sometimes it’s the experimentation with and use of chemicals to create shapes.
Meanwhile, across Exhibition Road, the Natural History Museum continues its very popular annual Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. To say that this is really popular, doesn’t really do “popularity” justice. The exhibition actually runs for about six months of the year, and the photography is, of course, stunning. A certain amount of jealousy tends to envelop me when I look at these photos – since a good number are from professionals who were working on assignment in far flung corners of the world. When you read a label and the photographer explains that they had to keep revisiting a place over several days or weeks, then you realise that this imagery is slightly out of the way of us mere mortals.
But that shouldn’t detract from remarkable images. The one small issue I always have is with the Young Photographers’ section. While I’ve no doubt that the kids in question did a great job, they do have some awesomely expensive gear to shoot with. You absolutely don’t need a great camera to take a great photo, although an expensive camera in the hands of a child does suggest a professional, or serious amateur parent willing to entrust their offspring with many thousands of pounds of kit. Canon 500mm lenses which run at over five thousand pounds a throw, are remarkably popular throughout this exhibition (although to be fair, one photo did seem to be have been taken with an entry-level Canon and kit lens).
I’m just bitter, twisted, and insansely jealous. Go and see the exhibition if you get the chance. And if not, Waterstones has the accompanying book for just a tenner in its current sale (a fiver cheaper than Amazon).

Cinema Advertising

Over the weekend I saw a couple of films, and because I showed up early, I saw most of the ad-reel in front of each film.
A couple of things occurred to me with cinema ads that are relatively unique to the medium:
– Advertisers aren’t scared of running long ads. The Spanish beer brand Estrella is running an ad that’s around three and a half minutes long and is effectively a short film with musical accompaniament. It’s a fun video (although oddly Estrella’s 2009 video rather than their 2010 version which is along very similar lines) with a catchy song. I guess that if you don’t like the music, then it becomes very painful. In the same ad reel, there was also TFL’s cycling ad campaign featuring a similarly catchy number by Mark Ronson (An aside with this is that at 1:24, Radio 1’s Edith Bowman rides right in front of Absolute Radio – although you’ll have to watch the full version to have any chance of seeing it). A Guardian piece today suggested that the £441,000 campaign was based around a £300,000 creative cost and £141,000 media spend. Even allowing for YouTube views that’s an odd way to spend on a campaign like this – in other words spending less on the ad and more on making it seen might have been smarter. But it looks good, and gets the message across relatively well.
– Category exclusivity doesn’t really exist in the cinema. Listen to the radio, and you won’t usually hear ads for two brands for different products in the same category in the same break. Advertisers demand exclusivity. In TV, the same is broadly true too. You might get two ads for non-competing brands in the same break (e.g. a Ford Focus and a Jaguar ad), but even then they’ll be split up. That Estrella ad ran straight into a 60 second Grolsch ad. We also had ads for Heineken (very funny, although it’s a year old, originates in Holland and has been superceded by this excellent one) and Stella. Then there was a Jack Daniels ad, but if that’s just a little too much alcohol, there was also a Buxton ad (and let’s face it, coming up with a way to differentiate your water from any other water has got to be one of the toughest asks imaginable). To be fair, there are normally plenty of opportunities to play ads in other media, whereas cinema has one shot at the start of the film.
– People mostly like the Orange ads, but they don’t listen to the message. I wasn’t totally sure about the A-Team ad, but it’s been replaced by a Jack Black Gulliver’s Travels ad which is pretty decent. But the ad ends with “Don’t let a mobile phone ruin your movie. Turn if off.” I think they also need to address texting and emailing. I saw The Girl Who Played With Fire over the weekend – which is in Swedish. I’m pretty sure the couple next to me didn’t speak Swedish, and even though they’re probably familiar with the story from the novel, I suspect they needed the subtitles as much as I did (Note to Momentum pictures: put a bit of drop-shadow on your subtitles. White text on a white background is really hard to read). So why did they spend half the film alternately checking their Blackberrys? Perhaps they were surgeons on call, or taking part in a complicated legal exchange that needed their minute by minute attention. In which case, they shouldn’t have gone to the cinema. I had to tell them off. If I can’t see you, I’m not fussed. But these devices tend to have illuminated screens, and that means that waving them around is a bit like waving a torch around. I’m going to notice. Especially in a darkened room.

Prom 54: Sibelius’s Second Symphony

Royal Albert Hall

[Not taken last night when it was pouring with rain]

I love Sibelius’s Second Symphony, so I cycled over to the Royal Albert Hall last night to see it performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It was also being broadcast on BBC Four (and Radio 3, of course).
Before that we had the premiere of a new piece by Mark-Anthony Turnage, and Barber’s Violin Concerto with an exquisite violin solo from Gil Shaham.
Then we had the second symphony, and it’s just a wonderful piece – easily in my top ten of classical compositions.
As an aside, it was pouring with rain last night and yet for complicated reasons, I took a Borisbike to the Royal Albert Hall. I was soaked to the skin below the waist as I only had a waterproof jacket. On the way back the rain had relented a little, although it was still wet. Since it’s a fair walk to South Kensington tube, I took another bike back and attempted the Royal Albert Hall to King’s Cross inside half an hour. It should be quite possible, although with traffic lights against you, it’s a challenge. And that’s without the weather. In the end – I got within one docking station of King’s Cross, convinced I was about to trip a pound fee, something I try not to do if I can. But a printout revealed I still had four minutes which would have been plenty of time to reach the final stop. And with all the rain, full docking stations were not going to be an issue.


If you’re into plays based around colossal financial scandal, then now is a great time to be in the West End. Last autumn I saw The Power of Yes at the National, but the play that everyone was talking about was Enron. And this evening I finally got around to seeing the play that’s won so many awards.
It got a West End transfer at the start of the year following runs in Chichester and the Royal Court. And its cleaned up in most of the awards that have taken place since.
That’s not altogether surprising since Lucy Prebble’s play puts an entertaining yet appropriate fantasy edge on what was an extraordinary yet potentially dry financial story.
Actually, that’s not altogether true. Even the fairly average TV movie, The Crooked E, was watchable in part because of the true nature of the fantasy they were building in Houston.
The cast is led Samuel West as Jeffrey Skilling, the CEO who begins to take Enron down the route that Chairman Ken Lay (Tim Pigott-Smith) had been heading. Tom Goodman-Hall plays Andy Fastow the “creative” CFO who comes up with the convoluted mechanisms to hide the enormous amount of debt that Enron was actually acruing as it reported record profits each year. The other main cast member is Amanda Drew as Claudia Roe, the Enron executive muscled out of the business as she tried to actually develop some actual products for the company to trade. But she’s not white amongst the blackness of the illegality.
The staging is stark, as was that of the Power of Yes, but it employs smarter multimedia techniques than that play with projections and an omnipresent stock ticker keeping us abreast of Enron’s stock price.
As I mentioned, there are some fantasy elements – musical interludes if you will – that work really well to paint a picture of the vibrant atmosphere in the company as its share price leapt skywards. And a sequence involving light-sabres to depict the deregulation of the Californian electricity market is stunning. I can see why the play won so many Best Director awards.
Overall – a good night out, and worth catching while it’s still on.
PS The performance I saw was supposed to be followed by a Q&A. I was going to stay for it, but the play lasts rougly 2 hours and 45 minutes, so by 10.15pm I felt less inclined to get into a discussion surrounding the circumstances of how Enron happened. And I wasn’t alone, with barely anyone in the audience apparently staying around. In retrospect, those sorts of discussions possibly work better prior to the play. Nobody went into Enron not knowing the general outcome.
PPS Somebody wants to let the producers of the play’s website that The Guardian’s logo hasn’t been like that for some time. At least not since the time this play takes place.