BBC presentation box at the Olympic Park.

Two Princes by AbouttheBBC
Two Princes, a photo by AbouttheBBC on Flickr.

The Road To Beijing Athlete Update.

Sport Despite beginning well, James Goddard finished 7th in his only race, Men's 200m Individual Medley with 1:59.05 about five seconds behind Lochte and Phelps. But it was stacked heat and he does at least come away with the story of having fnished third behind the two of them in that semi-final.

Larry Godfrey's also out of the Men's Individual archery after losing to Khairul Anuar Mohamad of Malaysia in the quarter finals on a shoot off, not quite getting his arrow into the middle of the target.

Abi begins her j-word this morning in the 100 metre heats which are passing through at the moment, though they're not on Freeview which is showing the same swimming on two channels.  So I'll report back soon.

The BBC should change the game. Or rather games.

Sport Otherwise it's been an exciting day not just for gold medals but the "entertainment" if that's the words in the women's doubles Badminton championship, this controversy which was the top story on all the news channels this morning. Not having access to the video stream, I was following the drama on Gail Emms's Twitter feed last night, retweeting like mad. She continued into today with television interviews calling for the resignation of the players something which has ultimately occurred.

Questions have been asked as to whether what happened was any different to a runner, rower or swimmer slowing up in a heat to conserve energy or more importantly gain a particular lane designation in a later heat or final, or as is my point the strategies of the cyclists in the road race to help Mark Cavendish to the front. In theory, everyone in the race should be fighting to win, but gamespersonship means it's more about altruistically working against other riders in order to help a designated team member to win.

I don't know. But what I do know is the reason the words "badminton" and "controversy" are appearing in the same sentence is because those in the sports governing body introduced group stages so that their sport would have a much longer championship and therefore visibility as a way of promoting it, the theory being more sessions equals more spectators and longer television time, especially in this Olympics in which thanks to the many streams they've been more accessible than ever, warping the usual run of a championship.

Except they'd only need to do this if Badminton was given a fair crack of the whip in comparison to other sport. If these Olympics have reminded us of anything, it's how dominant the big five or six sports are in the national discourse. We collectively know little to nothing about Badminton and that's because it barely appears on national television between the Olympics and never mentioned in sports news broadcasts, clogged as they are with endless discussions about the implications of a footballer's change in employment.

But this time, and I'm saying this hopefully, there does seem to be a development in the national psyche. Last night more people than ever turned up for the GB women's football at Wembley, about seventy thousand and at the close of business, the epoc change oozed from our television screens as coach, players and supporters alike were in tears, the atmosphere thick with change. The crowds turning up today for the time trials and outside the BBC's commentary box to see Wiggins and his medal have been equally impressive.

The problem is, all of this will be for nought if after the 12th August or later than that the Paralympics, it's business as usual, women's football only appearing on television for the annual FA cup final and minimal coverage of their World Cup and cycling still the minority sport that Wiggins himself admitted it to be in some of his many post race interviews, despite the coverage of the Tour de France. If people can't see archery live on television, they're unlikely to follow it in the same way as the sports they can see.

Here's what needs to happen.  The BBC has something of a martyr complex when it comes to sport, desperately hanging on to what they have of the big six or seven shelling out strange amounts of money for highlights.  Arguably they're the national broadcaster and that's what they should be doing because there's clearly be ructions if Match of the Day was to go or anything on the protected sport list.  Or what's going to be left of it once Murdoch's convinced the relevant people to strip it down to the bare minimum.

Well, forget about it, BBC.  You're losing the battle.  Instead, why not take the rather liberal step of giving Sky what you can get away with and then, rather like you do with drama and comedy development plough that money into building some of these other Olympic sports from the bottom up, showing live coverage of these Olympic sports with the same quality of presentation you bring to athletics championships, whose qualifying meets you did show us.  The BBC should change the game.  Or rather games.

I'd start with women's football.  I'm not sure who presently has the rights, but how amazing would it be if you could show a club match every Saturday afternoon on BBC's One, Two or BBC Three (with extended viewing hours) through the season with a Match of the Day later offering highlights, treating it with the same consideration as the male game and proper publicity on the other channels.  It would be a risk and might take time to build but come a World Cup the audience must surely be there.

From there we move into other sports: shooting, volleyball, cycling, rowing, swimming, sailing even badminton and not just the major annual tournaments but the bits in between show us what happens to Wiggins or rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning do next.  I had little clue who these Gold medal winners were before the Olympics began and that feels wrong, especially since their achievements are no less incredible than even the runners and throwers who do get some kind of national televisual recognition and don't require internet research to follow.

If all of that's too immense, how about at least a weekly one hour Culture Show style Olympics magazine programme which rounds up how Team GB is doing in its various disciplines between games, with highlights, interviews and a connected website explaining when and where championships are happening.  There has been a infrequent slot on BBC News, but this would be on a main channel.  A more inclusive Inside Sport in other words with less of a focus on the sports which already get a wide enough coverage.

The result would hopefully be that rather than it being the usual joke that the BBC are following these "minority" sports because they can't afford any others, instead they're showing us our Olympic heroes in their further adventures, building an audience from the ground up and/or continuing the momentum from these games.  It'd be a real shame if, at just the moment even I'm interested in watching sport, I won't in the end be able to watch those sports I'm interested in.

The Road To Beijing Athlete Update.

Sport James Godard has made the final of the Men's 200m Individual Medley having stormed through his semi-final coming in third behind Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. At the close of the race he was clearly rather cheesed with his time of 1:58.49, two and half second behind Lochte and seventh in the overall timing across the qualifiers. The experts around the pool suggested he does have the potential to go faster but the field is stacked so we'll probably be simply pleased with being in the final.

In Volleyball news, the British women lost their third match against Italy, taking them to the wire in the opening set, 27-25 before losing it in the second two with the symmetrical 25-12 25-12. They still have two matches though against Dominican Republic on Friday (16:45 BST) and Japan on Sunday (14:45 BST) and a win against either will lead to their progression.  Since their win against Algeria there's been a genuine buzz behind them and the Twitter feed's well worth following.

There are a few changes.

Film Rather spoiling the fun of finding out by reading the magazine, Sight & Sound tonight released their 2012 list of the greatest film of all time and here it is:

1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
3. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
4. La Regle du jeu (Renoir, 1939)
5. Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
7. The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
8. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927)
10. 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)

There are a few changes. A new rule which means films have to be treated separately has led to The Godfathers dropping out leaving room for The Searchers, an also ran in 2002 to sneak in and Singing In The Rain is gone with interestingly considering its lack of availability in this country at time of voting (soon out on Eureka), The Passion of Joan of Arc is in.

Vertigo dethroning Citizen Kane after five decades is making headlines but there's been a series of articles in the magazine suggesting essentially that it was time to give another film a chance so it's not really. The backlash was bound to happen eventually. Personally I'd still go for Kane but that might have more to do with a bad experience with Vertigo during my film course at uni.

Here's what happened when I watched it in sequence with the rest of Hitchcock's films. It isn't my favourite, one to be admired intellectually rather then entertained in the purest sense, which is presumably why it topped this poll which is essentially a list of academically significant works. Odd to see Potemkin having dropped out but editing style is still generally covered by the Vertov.

The fringier directors list is understandably more eclectic:

1. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
=2 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
=2 Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
4. 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
5. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1980)
6. Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979)
=7 The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)
=7 Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
9. Mirror (Tarkovsky, 1974)
10. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948)

Tokyo Story right at the top with Bicycle Thieves which topped the poll when it was first attempted back in 1953 nudging in at the bottom, throwing out half the choices from last time.

 Mirror's a bit of surprise; of all Tarkovsky's films that 's perhaps the least accessible, even if it's one of his most beautiful At least The Tree of Life's not there as predicted. It'll be at least twenty years before we know if that has (dinosaur) legs.

Back in April, I posted my own contrarian list:

Citizen Kane (Welles)
Annie Hall (Allen)
The Seventh Seal (Bergman)
Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais)
Hamlet (Branagh)
All The President's Men (Pakula)
Rear Window (Hitchcock)
Blade Runner (Scott)
The Last Temptation of Christ (Scorsese)
Magnolia (Anderson)

1/10. Oh well.

"not a whit of sympathy"

Music The Arts Desk's Alexandra Coghlan attended the BBC Proms the other night but was only ultimately able to review half a concert because she had to leave in the middle. Now she's revealed why, the intolerant attitude of her fellow audience members:
"I was attending the concert with a university-age girl – her first visit to the Proms. A chronic asthmatic, she had coughed a little during the first half, but infrequently, and had stifled it to the very best of her ability. After the first piece a man turned round and told her off (not a whit of sympathy, concern or even basic politeness to his complaint). We apologised, and moved to some empty seats further away. When the interval arrived three middle-aged men accosted us in the foyer."
The resulting incident is shocking, that people would act like that.  Even if she'd been using a mobile phone or just talking, that would have been no excuse for this behaviour.  Just move.  I'd be amazed if this poor girl would ever want to go back now.  Shocking.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Books Just as The Blue Angel works as a kind of pepto-bismol to Interference, here’s another Paul Magrs novel straight after the indigestible The Adventuress of Henrietta Street to provide a slightly surreal antidote. Like that earlier novel, Mad Dogs and Englishmen features alternate dimensions, anthropomorphism, literary satire, the return of Iris Wydethyme and a commitment to camp which puts the whole Sixth Doctor’s era to shame and I loved, loved, loved it. If The Scarlett Empress is still my favourite of Paul’s novels, Mad Dogs comes pretty close and has the rare benefit in this imprint of knowing when to stop, clocking in at about a hundred and fifty pages with a decent sized font. Spoilers indeed ahead.

A basic synopsis: Prof Reginald Tyler, an affectionate satire on Tolkien spent much of his life writing his unfinished genre epic The True History of Planets as part of The Smudgelings, an affectionate satire on the Inkings, the informal literary discussion group which also included C. S. Lewis. The story should include elves and wizards and things, but at some point the timeline’s disrupted and instead becomes the story of dogworld, a planet populated by poodles with hands and its up to the Doctor and his friends to right what once went wrong by visiting for various reasons The Smudgelings in the 30s, Las Vegas in the 1060s and affectionate satires on Ray Harryhausen and George Lucas in the 70s.

Of course, this being a Magrs novel things are far more complicated than that, as thrown into the mix is the new incarnation of Iris who's an affectionate satire on Shirley Bassey and as the title might indicate Noel Coward, yes, the actual Noel Coward who thanks to a bit of technology is also a time traveller essentially able to Quantum Leap about his own lifetime. Frankly the only reaction to all this is agogness, just as I’m always agog when experiencing Magrs’s work, essentially the intellectual fallout from the moment in Aladdin Time when it becomes apparent the Doctor’s scarf’s become sentient and gained Andrew Sach’s voice, over and over and over again.

All of which could have gone terribly wrong. But in a Whedonesque move, Magrs heads his ideas off at the pass by lashing in layers of rich irony and sarcasm and a genuine affection for his characters even, and probably especially the ones who’re supposed to be on all fours and are instead as the cover suggests on the one hand brandishing lasers and the other cigarettes. Unlike similar animal aliens in nuWho, the author offers an affectionate satire on Pierre Boulle married with some rather pointed questioning on what right we have to keep animals as pets (which oddly prefigures Rise of the Planet of the Apes though there’s a weird psychosexual undercurrent which was one of the few things I couldn’t quite get a grip on).

The novel continues the thematic thread which runs through all of Magrs work about the nature of narrative and how Doctor Who fits within the wider pantheon of fiction. Perhaps because it’s the 100th BBC book, Magrs goes some way to producing a quintessential story at least with the Doctor at his most bouncy and benevolent aiding a revolution, the splitting up of his companions, a bit of romance for one, the other annoyed about how the TARDIS can be accurate when it wants to be and as is the case with the franchise’s meta-narrative, the writing and rewriting of the legend depending on whose in charge. At time of writing Justin Richards, Gary Russell and Alan Barnes had that honour, I suppose.

Actually now that I come to describe everything as “an affectionate satire” some of it is pretty vicious. The reaction of Tyler’s wife on the death of her husband being to publish what he finishes and mint it on selling the film and merchandising rights is a pointed commentary on how estates so rarely treat their properties with much in the way of artistic respect (though when he was writing this in 2001/02 Magrs truly believed The Lord of the Rings was being messed about with). There’s also some post-Phantom Menace byte to the portrayal of the Lucas analogue, John Fuchas (not least in his name), though he’s right to indicate that digital would ultimate supersede physical. Even after ten years, this is novel which is sitll relevant.

If one were to seek a single criticism, it is that apart from the beard, the novel ignores the existence of The Adventuress of Henrietta Street altogether. There’s no mention of his single heart status and the pain he went through, when he meets Iris it’s a revelation to him that he’s not alone despite having invited the Master to his wedding previously (albeit under a pseudonym) and none of the discussion you might expect in relation to such things, the kinds of threads which usually appear in the novels and would be such an obvious influence on the new series. A bit of a paradox given my enmity for Miles’s novel, but in terms of the wider narrative those are things which happened and even Time Flight bothers to mention Adric’s death before piling off a budgetary deep end.

Of course the other unacknowledged nuWho influence is Iris Wyldethyme and Mad Dogs provides a few more useful parallels. There’s a heartbreaking moment towards the end when the Doctor looks Iris in the eyes and thanks to his amnesia doesn’t know her which prefigures, for different reasons the first and last meeting in The Silence in the Library between his later incarnation and River Song. On this occasion Fitz is on hand to give her some moral support, but the timeline’s foggy and there’s a hint that she’s simply playing along knowing that she’s seeing the future of events which haven’t yet happened to her. There’s also the attitude, the moral ambiguity which suggests she has the best of intentions …

But what makes Mad Dogs and Englishmen so special is the characterisation. I’ve spoken before about the often inconsistent versions of the Eighth Doctor which appears in these novels and this is an occasion when he’s entirely in-character or at least character I expect him to be, wry and clever, witty and powerful with that great spirit of adventure, far away from the tragic totem of the previous novel. Anji and Fitz are also back to their City of the Dead best too, the former in her element in the world that Dave dreamt of. Yet, predictably, the best character’s his Noel Coward simply because he’s Noel Coward, exactly how you might expect Noel Coward to be. Except, well, a time traveller. How amazing is that?

The Road To Beijing Athlete Update.

Sport Larry Godfrey's through to the last sixteen in the individual archery. As the BBC describes, "the Bristolian bowman breezed through the first round with a 6-0 victory over Emdadul Haque Milon of Bangladesh, before dispatching Mexico's Juan Rene Serrano 7-1 in the last 32 later in the day."

He'll go again on Friday. I think.

Meanwhile as a fringe event, I was up as late as I could last night (around midnight) watching the British women's volleyball team battling against the African champions Algeria. As has often been the case at these events, in sports I'm less familiar with, it was the commentary which drew me in, as they enthusiastically explained that what we were watching was a historic moment for British women's volleyball.

Never having been in the Olympics before and ranked sixty-nine in the world the commentators became increasingly excited at the prospect of this team winning a set, of that being a massive achievement and I found myself cheering any point and in the event they did take the first set. Algeria pulled back to draw level and then looked guaranteed to win the match.

At that point I went to bed, having seen the team achieve what the commentators said they'd entered the Olympics to do, only to wake up this morning and find that they'd won the match 22-25 25-19 23-25 25-19 15-8, fighting their way back to level scoring in the fourth set before trashing Algeria in the fifth. Part of me wishes I'd struggled to stay awake, but it was a nice start to the day.

These are the kinds of stories which tend be overlooked in the medal rush. In some sports even being in the Olympics is an achievement, or winning a match, or beating an apparently insurmountable opponent, that's the dream. Even if this team can't beat Italy in their next match tomorrow and don't progress, they've already lived some kind of a dream in front of home crowd and we should be pleased for them.

The Road To Beijing Athlete Update.

Sport James Goddard's contributed to The Guardian's Olympic Breakfasts series:
"My breakfast is really boring – were you hoping I'd say I was going to have cheeseburgers every day or something like that? Before I race I just want to throw lots of carbohydrates down me, so you are looking at some toast or bread, some cereal and maybe a croissant. I keep it pretty basic really."
Currently I'm on Sugapuffs.

The Sunday Seven.
Vicky Duncalf.

Also as her Twitter profile explains, "space writer, comedy writer, copywriter. English girl in Vancouver penning astronomy novel."

How did you become a DJ?

I was the bane of local radio presenters in the northwest of England. Teenage Me got so obsessed with hearing my own voice coming through the speakers that I’d dial up and be on every phone-in, no matter how irrelevant:
- So, now we have Vicky on the line – she’s only 13, but she has some choice words for Councillor Cox on the subject of the new waste incinerator in Elton. Vicky, you’re on the air.

- Hiyaaa! Oh god, I’d like to say hello to my mum and sister and everyone in class 3H at Frodsham Highschool and can I win a pencil please?
I got sexually obsessed with the presenters too, and tried everything possible to snog one. Eventually I got my man. He was operating the switchboard on a phone-in show, and although technically speaking, he wasn’t a presenter, it was close enough and we met up for a snog in a bush. He introduced me to the world of volunteer radio, and for many years, I presented shows on community radio.

Community radio stations are the perfect way to get into professional radio. They’re underfunded and understaffed, so you can quickly fill up your CV by learning to do everything, from presenting, to reading the news, to making adverts, to selling advertising space.

I also spent ten wonderful years writing radio commercials at Wire FM – a hilarious and quirky career for any writer. You’re paid to be as creative and off-the-wall as possible. Lots of fun and stress-free too.

What is your inspiration for your radio work?

I can’t abide ‘ready salted’ radio, where a dispassionate presenter fakes an orgasm over the latest Rhianna track and only has three minutes to talk between songs. Give me sketches, comedy, characters and saucy bits. Steve Wright on Radio 1 captivated the nation with this style of radio back in the 1990s, and the airwaves are a much poorer place without Mark and Lard.

What are the trickiest elements to achieve?

Pressing the buttons in the right order. I make my shows way too complicated and the payoff would be songs starting in the middle of other songs, and not switching the microphone on.

Of everything you've done what have you been most pleased with?

I did a series of shows with the papier-mache-headed Frank Sidebottom. We had a real comedy chemistry, and would create an incredibly insane and surreal world with every link. Music was a big part of these shows – he’d bring his keyboard and guitar and we’d freestyle our way through three hours of mayhem. Someone commented our relationship was ‘synergistic genius’ which is about as good as it gets.

Tell me about your writing. What is your book about?

My first novel was a comedy book set in a local radio station, but after ten months of trying, I realised the long novel format was too much for me to deal with. I can barely pay attention to a tweet, let alone a complex plot. So my new book is a true-life travel adventure called ‘Diary of an Astronomer Botherer.’ I’ve moved on from pestering presenters for pencils on to the big guns now, and I’m travelling the world to look through telescopes, and jog astronomer’s elbows. God help them.

Who’s your favourite DJ?

I miss Mark and Lard so very very much. Radio is a poorer place without them. It breaks my heart that radio can be the most creative medium, yet it’s so drastically underused. You can create a whole new universe with a few sound effects, but 99.9% of radio is just coffee-fuelled presenters talking about the price of fish, and the dreadful potholes. I’ve stopped listening to radio as a result. It’s a crime against this wonderful medium.

What stops you from feeling listless?

Writing 300 tweets a day. I’m thoroughly addicted and Twitter has changed my life for the better so many times.

Also, Twitter is like broadcasting on my own little radio station, and I especially like the @tinyvox app, where I can record sound clips and broadcast my own creations.


Vicky and Frank Sidebottom on Cheshire FM can be heard here and here's Vicky's website.