entirely shameless

About I've been meaning to write something about this for days but seeing a similar post on a couple of other blogs has spurned me on. Let's call this:

The Pluggers Manifesto.

Recently you might have noticed I've been posting a few press releases around these parts, offered the odd competition. In the past few weeks, perhaps months, I've had an upswing of emails from PR companies asking me to talk about their client's wares and events on the blog. I'm not sure why, but it's nice to see the smaerter companies embracing social networking and amateur media.

The few that I've posted I've been happy to because there's been something interesting and unique about them or they've been for charity. But there have been others which I've ignored, mostly because they've either fundamentally misunderstood what the blog is about (if indeed it's about anything) or I couldn't see what was in it for me or you.

I could say something sarcastic about that, at length, but instead I thought I'd be entirely shameless and actually suggest what I will write about:

(1) Films. I love films. I have a degree in them. And television. Music and books. If you send me any of those kinds of things I promise write about them on the blog if I like them. Anything will do.

(2) Gadgets too.

(3) If you have a new exhibition or theatre production opening I'd love to write about that too (see below), particularly if it's in the area (Liverpool, Manchester and places between), especially if you invite me to the private view or press night (told you this was shameless).

(4) Causes are good too.

Essentially, to a large extent, what Rachel said. I'd quite like a digital picture frame. See (2) above.

Passing thoughts and making plans

Plug! I can probably count the number of contemporary artists whose work I like on one hand, and one of the contemporary artists whose work I like is Rachel Whiteread, who creates sculpture that reflects the interior spaces of objects. Her best known work, which led her to win the Turner prize, was House, in which she hosed the inside of a council dwelling with concrete then removed the brickwork so that all that remained was its impression.

Whiteread is one of many artists featured in a new exhibition, Passing thoughts and making plans, at the Jerwood Space in London (at 171 Union St, SE1 0LN) from now until 13th December. Here is the press release they've sent me:
"Passing thoughts and making plans is an exhibition that brings together artists who use photography as part of their thought process; as a tool for working out, following and shaping ideas that will develop into a finished work.

The concept behind the exhibition comes from Yass’ desire to reveal work in process and to consider that the experience of viewing preparations and sketches for art works holds complexities and interest in its own right. Passing thoughts and making plans features previously unseen work from internationally renowned artists Tacita Dean, Jeremy Deller, Sarah Jones, Alex Katz, Sharon Lockhart, Cornelia Parker, Richard Wentworth and Rachel Whiteread.

The exhibition is the third in the Jerwood Visual Arts Encounters series, which act as conversations about and between the disciplinary fields of the Jerwood Visual Arts programme. Passing thoughts and making plans is a conversation about the role of photography in each of the artists’ practice and aims to give visitors a deeper understanding of the process of making work, through having a rare glimpse of the preparatory work behind a finished piece. Finished examples of the artists’ work, displayed in books and catalogues, will also be on show.

Catherine Yass, curator of the exhibition says: “Photographic images are often part of a fluid chain of thoughts and notes that cross over into different areas. They might be snap shot prints or contacts stuck in a notebook, incorporated into a drawing, combined with writing or just left on a table amongst other bits and pieces. This process is what I wanted to convey in the exhibition.”
There's more details at their website. They also passed along this random photograph of a towel which must be by one of the artists. I can't tell which one, but it's very clever.

The Eternity Trap.

TV One of my current guilty pleasures is The Well, a short form haunted house adventure produced by BBC Switch, the slightly hazy department brought in when it was decided that the BBC Childrens shouldn’t cater for anyone over the age of twelve to offer something to older teenagers, in this case one of those 360 degree productions that also includes a computer game on the website.

Karen You’ve probably heard of it before because it’s also the very horror drama Karen Gillan recorded before moving to Cardiff and though its slender plot-based running time (the episodes are about eight minutes long) doesn’t allow for much in the way of poetic dialogue or revelatory performances (The Kevin Bishop Show was a better expression of Karen’s charms), there are some truly disconcerting moments as the four central teenagers become enveloped in The Well’s mystery and it’s particularly sinister because it was filmed just round the park from where I’m sitting.

It provides an interesting contrast for Phil Ford’s "haunted" house adventure The Eternity Trap which is obviously focused on the younger age group. The Well also has its fair share of torch-lit dark corridor moments but is dealing in psychological horror as each of the characters finds themselves becoming part of “whatever’s down there” in some cases almost killing them in the process. In this Sarah Jane adventure, though the regulars are often captured and lots of threats are made against them, all of them are in a kind of implied danger and none of them really got hurt – only Enrico Casali from The Wheel in Space, sorry, Commander Ridgeway from The Sea Devils, sorry Erasmus Darkening was hurt in the end (though given we knew nothing much about him and he was only sucked into a portal I expect even that’s not true). The rule seems to be – kids tv – no hurt the regulars – hazy teenage tv – hurt them plenty.

Yet The Eternity Trap does mange to be properly unsettling in places and not just because of Adam Gillen’s (no relation) performance (which seemed to pitched somewhere between Richard Pearce giving us his Jeremy Fitzoliver in The Paradise of Death and Dustin Diamond giving us his Screech in Saved By The Bell). For once, the budget constraints of the series work for the story, cutting Sarah Jane, Clyde and Rani off from most of the fantastical elements which usually aid them in their adventures, Mr Smith, K9, the Attic and Luke (Tommy Knight probably off doing his GCSEs or filming a Luke heavy episode for later in the series) and conveniently their mobile phones and putting them into a single scary location (assuming this wasn’t recorded in about five different locations like these things usually are). Aided only by a sonic lipstick, tricorder wrist watch and some not-ghosts with a keen eye for well paced exposition, means that easy answers aren’t always forthcoming providing some genuine mystery.

Ford and director Alice Troughton work their way through the haunted house playbook from top to bottom, but in a fairly knowing way, in that way that Tom Baker refers to when he says "Doctor Who is watched at several levels in an average household. The smallest child terrified behind a sofa or under a cushion, and the next one up laughing at him, and the elder one saying 'sh, I want to listen', and the parents saying 'isn't this enjoyable'.” We know that the books moving about, doors closing, wind in a still room, random sourceless noises and presences appearing and disappearing and the monster we can only see in eye of terror of its prey through point of view shots or red eyes in the darkness are clichés hoary and old but we can giggle at the fact that this could be the first time some kids are exposed to them knowing that they’ll graduate to Poltergeist, The Blair Witch Project and Halloween later. They might be cliché’s but they work.

When Troughton stops us from being able to see what’s going on outside the televisual frame by not providing obvious cutaways and calls on composer Sam Watts to layer in some deathly inhuman sounds on the soundtrack it’s difficult not get a slight chill, especially if like me you’re watching it in a cold room (and can’t be arsed to get up and put the radiator on). And we can tell that Ford knows what he’s doing because in the opening episode, when, and not for the first time in the Whoniverse, he invokes Nigel Kneale; this isn’t a couple of kooks investigating the phenomena in the house but scientists from the Pharos Insitute on a research trip, a trope that Kneale consistently used, and it’s suggested that the ghostly activity might be a way of proving the Stone Tape theory, which the Quatermass writer of course turned into a tv play in the early 70s that also revolved around a haunted mansion (and not using the inverted commas that have to surround the pile at the centre of The Eternity Trap).

As a threat Erasmus Darkening was a little bit disappointing. The trapping of those poor people in a nether dimension was a bit non-specific (certainly less clear than in Big Finish's The Chimes at Midnight) and with the exception of that wonderful shot of the multitude on the stairs had all of the hallmarks of an Ainley Master special, lots of tell, not much show, plenty of giggling, lots of tricks. Rather like Torchwood’s Bilis Manger he promises much, has volumes of personality, is a bit creepy, probably frightening enough for a generation who missed out on The Demon Headmaster, but is also somehow aireless. It’s the timeslot perhaps which stops this leather-pated scoundrel from turning up to eleven; Sumpter constantly seemed forced to hold something back, as though he was expecting the next line to be filled with some black language that would open up the gates of hell and he didn’t want to go too far just in case. Perhaps another time (editor, please insert a funny joke here about European exchange students. Thanks).

But all in all, I’m quite enamoured with The Eternity Trap. It’s certainly Phil Ford’s best script since The Last Sontaran and like that season two opener, really benefited from being set in one location and with a tiny group of characters, far away from the multiple location large cast stories in which the needs of production have a habit of overwhelming the story. I’m not sure why Floella Benjamin plays Professor Rivers like she’s still narrating the documentaries on the Black Guardian dvd boxset all strange intonation and wild line readings but on the upside story also features Callum Blue, the Fitz Kreiner I have in my head and the best Doctor we’ll never have because he’s too much like David Tennant. Despite a floppy wig Callum gives a knock out performance as Lord Marshwood, yet another apparition after a year and a half on (the not quite as good after Bryan Fuller left) Dead Like Me. There’s a nice screwball relationship brewing between Clyde and Rani with the former’s habit of joking about everything he sees like a demented comedian's Twitter account and roving hands clearly getting on the latter’s wick and it’s nice to see Sarah Jane not treating a threat like it’s the scariest thing she’s ever seen, remembering that, to paraphrase a different franchise, she’s flown from one end of the galaxy to the other, and seen a lot of strange stuff.

Next Week: The series risks stepping over sacred ground. Will Mona have a tattoo on her back that reads "This is a fake"?

wild line readings

Elsewhere I've reviewed the latest The Sarah Jane Adventures. I couldn't resist the title: "I’m not sure why Floella Benjamin played Professor Rivers like she’s still narrating the documentaries on the Black Guardian dvd boxset all strange intonation and wild line readings ..."

Sugababes reunion news

Music JFK's Jim Garrison here again with this evening's Sugababes reunion news:

-- Keisha denies that there is going to be a reunion. Categorically. According to her management.

-- Various reports and rumours on what this original reunion line-up will look like. Contrary to what you'd expect it might not be Keisha, Mutya and Siobhan. Little Boots apparently says she'd like to be a member:
"She said: "They could call themselves The Real Sugababes. It would knock the current Sugababes out of the water.
"If one wasn't up for it, I could be the blonde one."
The same syndicated bit of writing is on a few websites, but none of them are forthcoming with the original source for the quote. I tweeted Little Boots about it earlier (on the off chance that she was the Donald Southerland's X figure in all this) but got no reply (unsurprisingly). She mentions being on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. I wonder if it was a joke from that.

-- The more "interesting" story -- which I've only seen in one place, this place (and linked all over Twitter), Zoe Griffin Party Princess, which offers the following contradiction in terms:
"A source told me that Mutya Buena has approached Rachel Adedeji to join the reformed Sugababes."
Then goes on to suggest that this reformed group would be Mutya, Siobhan and this ex-X Factor singer. Which still isn't the Sugababes. But then, as Simon just pointed out to me on Twitter, at this point they're in a constant state of flux.

Ultimately, it's become difficult to know who the Sugababes are any more.

Perhaps we all are. We just don't know it.

And while we're at it, Heidi still respects Keisha,Jade is scared of Keisha and Amelle is out of hospital and presumably has some opinion of Keisha which has yet to be turned into a headline.

Now, here's the obligatory YouTube video. Snow Patrol covering About You Now:

"Back, and to the left... back, and to the left... back, and to the left. "


Fireworks, originally uploaded by feelinglistless.

And then my camera ran out of power.
Absolutely spectacular display at Sefton Park in Liverpool with the wonderful aural theme of the moon landings, with capcom audio from Apollo 11 interspersed with Major Tom, The Whole of the Moon, Wonderful World and the epic Duel of the Fates from Star Wars (which underscored an awe-inspiring finish). Well done to all those involved.

Almost Fireworks

Almost Fireworks, originally uploaded by feelinglistless.

Sefton Park is all ready for the fireworks display tonight. Here we watch the display in preparation. What we don't see too well in this photograph, is the horrendous rain storm which is currently drenching the field and area. Assuming the display isn't cancelled, if you are coming this evening, wear your boots and wellies.


TV The digital switchover has began last night in the north-west of England with the switching off of the analogue stream/broadcast of BBC Two. For a lot of you this won’t be newsworthy news – it’s already happened in Wales and the South West and elsewhere. But it still feels like an event worth noting anyway. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too maudlin about the loss of one particular way of viewing a channel which is still available in a wider ratio and better picture quality. It’s not like BBC Two has gone (no matter what some mad old Tory back bencher might say every other month about reducing Auntie’s power or some such).

Except that this is the format on which the channel began and how I viewed most of my favourite programmes up until just under a decade ago when we signed up with On Digital. Shivering in the front room of original house in Speke (no central heating) watching the original broadcasts of Moonlighting or Twin Peaks in black and white through a snowstorming picture, needing to get up now and then to adjust the wire. When I had my own television, I probably saw most of Star Trek this way.

Now, it’s just a case of working through an EPG, selecting a programme and assuming it’s not clashing with something on the other side, choosing if I want to record the whole series then pressing OK. That’s better and more convenient but like vinyl, the old process involved in actually being able to watch a programme increased its magic somehow, of experimenting with the location of the portable tv for the best picture (corners mainly) and trying to get done before Quantum Leap started (because the signal for each channel was always best in different parts of the room).

I had planned to stay and watch the signal being shut off, but the only device which still has analogue tuned in is my dvd recorder and it was inevitably capturing what looked like a good film on BBC Four. But perhaps fittingly, someone was there, did record it, and has put a video of the event up on YouTube. There was no countdown, no reprize of the channel's launch campaign mascot "Hullabaloo" (a mother kangaroo -- see above), just the BBC's reporter at The Hague being cut off mid-sentence:

BBC Two Analogue broadcast from Winter Hill. Time of death 12:26 am.

a bit passe

History Meg Pickard was asked to give a conference talk about how businesses and companies can make the most of their time online and how not to be evil in the sphere of social network. But it's her comments on the experience of being on-line in the past decade which really gave me a lump in the throat:
"I talked to a few trusted friends, family members and colleagues about it, and they all looked at me weirdly and backed away. I learnt not to reveal my habit in public, because there was social stigma attached to it. I realised it wasn’t a productive or even necessarily healthy way to spend my time. I even used a fake name. But I kept doing it, all the same.

"Gradually, through the internet, I became aware that there was a small but dedicated community of like-minded addicts, just like me, distributed across the UK and across the world. We met up occasionally in pubs and felt reassured that we weren’t as weird as everyone else thought. In fact, we dared to think that what we were doing might actually be exciting."
It has been a busy decade. When I began writing this blog in 2001 for no apparent reason, I didn't really expect that I'd still be doing it now or that I'd be viewed as anything like an early pioneer (which has been said, I'm not making that one up). But it is strange when I mention this blog to someone and they know what I'm talking about, even stranger that it's so common place as to be a bit passe.

split and reform

Music "The original Sugababes are reforming!"
"Oh no they're not."
"Oh. Really?"

At this point anything is possible, though there are a lot of hoops to jump through, not least Keisha's current contract and the record she's currently recording according to her Twitter feed. To record one record and then have your vocals dumped would be considered bad luck -- for it to happen twice?

The originating website of the rumour, HolyMoly posts anonymously and don't give a source, but it has been going since 2002 which is plenty of time to build up a half-decent set of contacts. The denial from Warners featured at The Guardian is vague enough to mean anything:
""We haven't seen them here or heard anything about it. I don't think they've got the story right."
Which could just as well be "They're meeting in an office somewhere else and we don't know what's being said yet. I don't think they've got some aspects of the story right." Interestingly most of the comments I've seen on the different posted versions of the story I've seen online feature someone talking up Siobhan's 2007 album "Ghosts" as some lost masterpiece, though perhaps the most perceptive is the single one, so far, at Idolitor:
"Wasn’t Keisha sort of a bitch to Siobhan the whole time they were together? Does Siobhan really want to go there?"
As I said, a lot of hoops to jump through.

I love that it took two journalists from The Guardian to fact check and write that little story. Swash and Jonze are turning into the Woodward and Bernstein of the Sugababes's split and reform. I appear to be the Jim Garrison writing these wild theories late into the night. As the Costner version of him said in JFK:
"The FBI says they can prove it through physics in a nuclear laboratory. Of course they can prove it. Theoretical physics can also prove that an elephant can hang off a cliff with its tail tied to a daisy! But use your eyes, your common sense. "

Fear Itself.

FiBooks  Even with Big Finish’s rather fabulous special release The Company of Friends, the idea of dealing with the Eighth Doctor in a past/missing/lost adventure/story context is still a fairly rare, some might say unusual concept. There have only been a few short fictions, the flashback sections of Wolfsbane and a vignette in IDW’s The Forgotten comic strip, for the simple reason that with the exception of the TV movie, Eighth has been defined in three different ways by three different publishers and it’s incredibly difficult to sell a character which the majority of the great unwashed only recognise from about an hours worth of (highly rated) television in the mid 90s. Stick Tom and Lis on the cover of something and you’ve an instant audience because they know what to expect. Stick Paul on there and outside of fandom (and even in some corners of fandom) and the results are confusing at best.

Which is why Nick Wallace’s Fear Itself, is itself something to cherish. Appearing after the shutters on the regular Eighth Doctor novels had been pulled down, and featuring advertising for the first and second wave of nu-Who novels with Ninth, Rose and Captain Jack when they were in a good mood in the back, this was the last hurrah for the character in BBC Books but is set between Earthworld and Vanishing Point and like the past Doctor novels has been written to fit right into that era, if it can be called an era (The Stephen Cole era? Do people call it that?), and precisely the point I’m at in my j-word through this version of the timelord’s adventures. Not having read anything from this period before, it’s just another novel to me, but for fans if must have been something quite special and surprising.

I won’t be able to judge how seamlessly it fits until I work through the next book, but it’s a credit to Wallace that even though he was writing this four or five years after the event, Fear Itself reads like the next natural book in the series. Following directly on from the events of Earthworld, the book opens on Mars in 22nd century with Anji already ensconced as a business news reporter and together we witness the destruction of a space ship orbiting Jupiter which we quickly discover was the temporary residence of the Doctor and Fitz. Fear Itself is the story, told in flashes back and forward, of why Anji is making a life for herself in the future and what her friends were doing before they apparently lost their lives.

Rather like Alejandro González Iñárritu’s miserablist drugs and faith drama 21 Grams we greet the regulars in three different timeslots constantly flashing backwards and forwards (not unlike also Big Finish's audio Time Works), with the truth of events and how they’re connected not revealed completely until the climax. And as that final truth impacts on everything which has gone before, like Iñárritu’s film, it’s very tempting to go back and read the book again to see how this knowledge explains or changes our understanding of the motivations of the characters. About as complex a Doctor Who story as there’s been probably and it’s this constant sense of mystery that keep you turning the pages and even though ultimately the structure Wallace has employed masks what isn’t the most original of plots in Doctor Who terms, he’s to be applauded that you don’t realise that until some time after you’ve finished.

The characterisation is vivid which is important because there are a lot of bodies to keep track of. It helps that Wallace usually introduces us to a character then undercuts our perception of them by showing us the same figure four years previously but the approach and difference is thankfully more the final few episode of Battlestar Galactica and less Defying Gravity (where it just seems to be about wearing different pants). On the one hand Caroline Arquette is a hardened soldier and wife but no too far into the past she was the nice girl across the bar that her husband quite liked and wanted to ask out. That husband, Robbie, was just a deckhand but is now a figure of real authority on the ship keeping the thing from falling apart.

In short, it’s amazing and by far one of the best of the books. Nothing is wrong with it. At all. Wallace was apparently influenced by Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels for goodness sake – how aspirational is that? Though he would go on to write bits and pieces for Big Finish this was the only full length Who novels he’d get the chance to write, which is a tragedy. I’d love to see what he’s make if nu-Who. So if it sounds like I’m being as deliberately vague about the details as I usually am when reviewing one of the nu-Who books (not mentioning at all one of the main action elements), it’s because this one of the few occasions when I’d genuinely recommend you read one of these EDAs even if you didn’t following the series and I don’t want to spoil it (synopsis available here if you really must).

I don’t think you’d be too lost either. Perhaps expecting that new fans might pick up the novel just as the new series was starting, Wallace layers in loads of information explaining why the Doctor seems to have the majority of his memory missing, why Fitz is unsure of whether he’s still friends with him and why Anji isn’t sure if she likes either of them but cares enough that she’d head halfway across the solar system looking for them. He’s probably also included some foreshadowing for later events (in the acknowledgements he thanks Lance Parkin for a peak inside The Gallifrey Chronicles) but since I’m reading these in order I will have missed those.

BBC Books stopped publishing past Doctor novels in late 2005 and there’s been no word yet as to whether there’ll be anything new. The tragedy is that having built up this publishing history, if they do produce any past Eighth Doctor novels, despite this long publishing history, they’re unlikely to revisit any of these eras which is a real shame, especially if the results are as deft as Fear Itself. He’ll either be travelling alone, or they’ll create some new companion for the occasion which is a real shame. As I’ve said on many occasions, for some people, these books were the continuation of the tv series and just as important and it seems unfair that we’ll end up getting the umpteenth adventure for the Sixth Doctor and Mel when clearly a revisit with Eighth and Sam or Eighth and Anji and Fitz could be far more entertaining and slightly less jaded.

fun with his music

Music You might have heard that Bob Dylan has a Christmas record out with impressions ranging from an expectation that he's taken leave of his senses to some warm affection as though it's unusual that the man would want to celebrate the great commercial holiday finally when he's written and sung about pretty much every other subject and do so with a glint in his eye. It's already on my Christmas list.

Bob has always had fun with his music. Take this Bob moment from 1991. Bob sings nursery rhymes:

as part of the range of clothes

Plug! Yes, that is Liz Atomic Kitten. She's wearing these clothes as part of the range of clothes to be showcased at the Asda Fashion Show in Hunts Cross, 6 November at 4,30pm. Since it's for charity I thought I'd mention it too. Ladies clothes start from £3, with babies and children's clothes available too. Here is the press release I've been sent:

Liverpool Community College fashion students have got designs on a much-coveted work placement with Asda’s George retail fashion brand…and it’s all down to Pudsey bear!

A number of students have created clothing items and accessories, using a number of the iconic BBC Children in Need character’s spotted bandanas in a range of imaginative ways.

Now, their designs and finished articles will be modelled by the students themselves, at a BBC Children in Need fashion show at the Asda Hunts Cross store on November 6th – and the winner will then go forward as one of just 11 regional winners in with a chance of securing a week-long placement in the fashion design department at George.

“Some of the designs are really creative and imaginative and just the sort of thinking we look for at George”, said Asda’s National Charities Partnership Manager, Lucy Gowans, adding: “We are passionate about fashion and about our work experience programme and giving students the opportunity to gain an insight into different elements of the fashion industry in a head office environment. We aim to help students experience the unique culture here and prepare them when they are choosing what career paths and jobs to apply for when they leave education.”

The fashion show at Asda Hunts Cross will run from 4.30pm and feature Asda colleagues and customers strutting their stuff on a professionally produced stage set – complete with catwalk! The show is open to the general public and although it is free, visitors can expect to see plenty of Pudsey Bear collection buckets throughout the store.

Asda Hunts Cross is also selling many of the specially-produced Children in Need products, and have lots of free “Bake the Bear” kits to give away to budding young chefs.

Asda is one of Children in Need’s Headline Partners and has raised more than £8.4 million during its many years of involvement.

Fashion shows like the one at Asda Hunts Cross are just one element of Asda’s commitment to supporting BBC Children in Need again this year, with hundreds of thousands of colleagues and customers throughout the country fund-raising on the run-up to the event day, November 20th.
Now I'm off to listen to Whole Again. Again.

bit early

TV A bit early perhaps, but I couldn't resist. Obamicon.Me is open for business.

didn't work on Hamlet

Design The Creativel Review blog's Penguin by Illustrators series turns to my favourite David Gentleman, whose many Shakespeare covers I'm in the process of trying to collect:
"I treated each cover as a small colour print, using flat printings in self-colours instead of three-colour process. I was often quite anxious about the colours, which generally needed a second proof to get them right. Richard Hildesley, Design Manager in the Seventies would bring the proofs to the studio and we'd agree on the colour changes needed."
At least I know now that he didn't work on Hamlet. I can take that off the list.


TV An Open Letter to the Terminator Owners. From Joss Whedon: "I am Joss Whedon, the mastermind behind Titan A.E., Parenthood (not the movie) (or the new series) (or the one where 'hood' was capitalized 'cause it was a pun), and myriad other legendary tales. I have heard through the 'grapevine' that the Terminator franchise is for sale, and I am prepared to make a pre-emptive bid RIGHT NOW to wrap this dealio up. This is not a joke, this is not a scam, this is not available on TV. I will write a check TODAY for $10,000, and viola! Terminator off your hands."

a shocking case of double standards

Theatre Usually I'm very quick in commenting on something I think has gone wrong with the universe, at least I am before my internal censor kicks in and I decide not write about it. But sometimes I like to cogitate on something before I make a pronouncement. On the 18th September, John Wyver of Illuminations, producers of the new Hamlet film with David Tennant, reported on a Q&A he attended at the BFI on the subject of translating theatre to television. In attendance were Sir Richard Eyre and BBC Drama Controller Drama Ben Stephenson and the discussion was chaired by Mark Lawson.

Wyver brought up the fact that in the past decade, televised classical drama has been thin on the ground. As he notes: "No Ibsen, no Wilde, no Chekhov, no Restoration drama and nothing by the great Jacobean dramatists. Not to mention Victorian melodramas or medieval mysteries." The only exceptions have been broadcasts of film adaptations. Shakespeare has been thin on the ground and even then only BBC Four. When the main channels led a Shakespeare season it was with contemporary adaptations of the plays. The few theatre productions which have turned up have been of contemporary plays and only then if they have a star actor or hook -- The Day In The Death of Joe Egg showcasing Eddie Izzard for example.

Those of us hoping for a changing in policy will have been chilled by Stephenson's response. Wyer reported: "Throughout the discussion, he spoke about the importance of putting original drama and the best contemporary writing on the screen. Indeed he said that the BBC had a duty to give space to the best of today's writers. But not those from the the past. Great plays for him can be fantastic in the theatre, but are probably not for television. 'I just worry that they are not going to be that stimulating on screen.'" You can read the rest in Wyver's post, but have a good wall handy for you to bang your head against when Stephenson suggest that the only way to produce these things is with significant cuts.

I've written extensively on this subject before, in 2007, at about the time of the last significant television theatre adaptation, of Harold Pinter's Celebration, which turned up oddly on More4 in the wake of the playwright's death. That was rather excellent if a bit obscure and demonstrated that theatre can work on television so long as the writing is good, the directing is top notch and your actors are on form, all of which were the case then. And that would be true of any play as Wyver explains:
"I am convinced, however, that classic drama, offered without compromise or radical cuts, can be thrilling and involving for contemporary audiences. To make it so is a far-from-easy challenge for directors and actors and DOPs and producers and the rest. Moreover, because this kind of work has been neglected in recent years, the forms for this in the twenty-first century need to be explored and experimented with and developed over time."
And to boil down my argument from my own essay, the theatre industry could and should be able to advantage of the medium to sell its wares rather than having to go into cinemas or online. Clearly there's an appetite for these things, but BBC Drama Controller Drama Ben Stephenson is blind to that so interested is he in new iterations of genre television. Granted he commissioned Being Human and presumably agreed to throwing Torchwood across a week which I'm very grateful for, but they should be part of a cocktail of drama that is able to speak to a range of audiences and that doesn't mean those of us who like soaps and those of us who don't.

The reason I've been cogitating on this (other than calming down enough that I don't throw colourful language around) is that I've been trying to think of an analogy and then, reflecting on my original essay, I found it in this paragraph:
"It simply doesn’t seem fair that classical music fans get a month of Mozart and the BBC Proms every year, devotees of classic literature are able to watch countless book adaptations (should they want them or not) and even opera and ballet followers can see whole productions on a regular basis (and not just clustered around holiday seasons or bank holidays). Us theatre-lovers can see little or none of the drama they admire on screen – even on BBC4, the last bastion of the minority audience."
Let's transfer Ben Stephenson's position over to the BBC's various controllers of music. Imagine if they took the same stance on music, if he said, well what we need to do is just concentrate on contemporary music, because I'm worried that classical music isn't going to be that stimulating on screen. That's the Proms out of the window for a start, and since there aren't even documentaries about theatre, Charles Hazlewood's rather wonderful "The Genius of ..." series wouldn't be on either or the Sacred Music series with Simon Russell Beale. Doesn't work does it? And thank goodness because it would be a tragedy if music before the turn of the last century was relegated to radio and there would be a public outcry and questions in parliament.

But it seems a shocking case of double standards that drama, specifically classical theatre drama is treated in just that way, on a whim. So whereas there is an archive of tv productions from the 60s, 70s and 80s (and earlier) in which the best actors of the time have been recorded in some of drama history's greatest roles (some of which have been released on dvd), from the late 90s onwards there's a huge gap where the only way to see these performers is in genre television or "contemporary" drama and the odd bit of costume (umpteen adaptations of classic novels also apparently being acceptable). We're lucky enough to have David Tennant's Hamlet coming, but why shouldn't we see, in productions made specifically for television, Mary Ann Duff opposite Brendan Gleeson in A Doll's House (for example) or Peter Capaldi as Tamburlaine?

Review 2009: Call For Entries

Subjectively Speaking

It’s that time of year again.

This year’s review is about communication.

Arguably, in online terms, 2009 has been the year of twitter. I won’t bother reiterating the numerous ways that the service has impacted on the real world, especially since The Guardian’s dedicated page does a pretty good job of cataloguing the tweets and turns, but with apparently one in five people online signed up to the service there’s no denying its impact has been immense. Use a client like Tweetdeck and it’s like entering a global cocktail party which buzzes with chatter, a free for all of comment and conversation and jokes. Plenty of jokes.

In this year when communication barriers have broken down to such a significant degree thanks to social networking, I want Review 2009 to reflect that, and so here is what I suggest:

At an appointed time the two of us will meet; hopefully on Twitter, but this could happen on Facebook, via email, ICQ/AIM, a discussion board, the gate-crashed comments section of someone’s blog or even in person (eep!). Much better if it’s in public I think since it adds some extra random elements and also means we’ll tend to stay in publishable areas.

You will choose a topic for us to talk about. Could be anything, literally anything. An interest, a current news story, a book you just read, a favourite film, something personal you want to get off your chest, doesn’t matter. And then we’ll talk about it for as long as we have, for as long as seems necessary, and then I’ll post the results on this blog.

And here’s the twist. I won’t know what the topic is beforehand.

People tell me that I have the ability to talk about anything and I like to think that I’m interested in anything. I want to put that to the test. I expect I’ll be surprised, I expect I’ll be put on the back foot, and I actually hope that happens. But I won’t know what the subject is until you tell me at the start of the meeting.

How does that sound?

If you’re interested do please email me at feelinglistless@btopenworld.com


Film George Bernard Shaw's impression of Mussolini: