Time to go

June 4th, 2013

My favourite part of the story on the BBC News web site about how the BBC Trust has upheld a complaint about the fact that the BBC home page's clock simply repeats the time shown on the user's computer and thus "is not consistent with BBC guidelines on accuracy"1 is the section at the foot of the page of the BBC News report on the decision, linking to the story as it's presented elsewhere:

BBC clock story as reported elsewhere

Trust the Daily Mail to turn it up to 11. "Slammed"? Really?

[Via Martin Belam]

  1. As opposed to, say, connecting to a centralised NTP server and getting the time from that. Which would slow down page loading significantly and probably require them to support methods of grabbing the data and displaying said clock, depending upon what type of plugin support was available on the device. Basically, far more hassle than it's worth.

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Neverwhere on Radio 4

November 28th, 2012

It's possible I should have already known about this: BBC Radio 4 are adapting Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Not a bad cast:

Actor Role
James McAvoy Richard
Natalie Dormer Door
David Harewood Marquis
Sophie Okonedo Hunter
Benedict Cumberbatch Islington
Anthony Head Croup
David Schofield Vandemar
Bernard Cribbins Old Bailey
Romola Garai Jessica
Christopher Lee Earl of Earl's Court

It will be broadcast somewhere in the first 4 months of 2013. And you will be able to listen to it wherever you are in the world, using the BBC's iPlayer.

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Healh & Safety: The Final Frontier

November 8th, 2012

It's elfansafety gone mad at the BBC:

[Professor Brian Cox…], the former pop star turned particle physicist, wanted to use the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire to listen in to the planet, Threapleton Holmes B, on his BBC2 series Stargazing Live.


"The BBC actually said, 'But you can't do that because we need to go through the regulations and health and safety and everything in case we discover a signal from an alien civilisation'.

"You mean we would discover the first hint that there is other intelligent life in the universe beyond Earth, live on air, and you're worried about the health and safety of it?

"It was incredible. They did have guidelines. Compliance."

Methinks Professor Cox might be stretching the truth just a tad here in the interests of having an amusing anecdote to relate when doing publicity work for his show.

Besides, we all know that the BBC nowadays would be more concerned about a) making sure that the aliens hadn't arranged for their fees for participating in the programme to go via some shady tax-efficient offshore company, b) checking that intercepting radio signals from a distant star couldn't possibly be classed as a form of phone hacking, and c) ensuring that the aliens were wearing a poppy while broadcasting their message.

[Via The Awl]

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The Rights to Silence

October 9th, 2012

Former BBC Senior Broadcast Journalist Alan Connor, on making a radio programme about John Cage's 4'33" and encountering problems clearing the broadcast rights for the performances he wanted to include:

A lesser journalist might have bypassed some rights or recorded his or her own performance on a smartphone and used that to provide the wordless, note-less soundtrack for the slideshow. Nobody would know. Actually, that may not be true in the case of Frank Zappa's 4'33". I'm sure there are hardcore Zappa fans who would detect in a moment that the room tone was unlike that of any studio Zappa had ever used. But it wasn't the zappaphile's conscience that made me do the right thing. It was my own.

It wasn't even my training: there had been nothing on the Safeguarding Trust course that covered the appropriate attribution of recordings of nothing happening. But in order to demonstrate that each version of 4'33" is unique, the package had to be exactly what it said. So out went the version chosen by Radio 3 regular Ian McMillan for his Desert Island Discs in which Hungarian percussion instruments were not being played, sadly unclearable in the time available.

[Via currybet dot net]

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Devo on 'devo max' for Scotland

February 17th, 2012

This morning's Devo on 'devo max' for Scotland was by some considerable margin the most surreal item I've heard on the Today programme in quite a while.

I'd dearly love to have been a fly on the wall in the editorial meeting when someone first suggested they ask a member of Devo what they thought of the possibility of adding a third option to the ballot on Scottish independence.

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What A Wonderful World

December 8th, 2011

Can anyone think of one good reason why David Attenborough performing What A Wonderful World should not be this year's Xmas Number 1 single? Just one… Anyone…?

Thought not…

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Idiots one and all

May 21st, 2011

File under It's Funny Because It's True: Mitchell and Webb reveal the secret origins of The Apprentice.1

[Via Wis[s]e Words]

  1. For the record, I can pinpoint the precise point at which I gave up on The Apprentice: season 4, episode 3, the sequence starting 6m 50s in. I found myself thinking that I wouldn't voluntarily spend 5 minutes in the company of these people in real life, so why on earth was I devoting an hour a week of my time to watching them on TV? Truth be told, if it hadn't been then, the moment would probably have arrived an episode or two later. By the fourth season The Apprentice had succumbed to the problem that eventually ruins all game/competition-type 'reality TV' shows: reaching the point where the contestants have seen enough of the show's format to know exactly what sort of attitude and behaviour is going to get them noticed. If anything, The Apprentice probably deserved some credit for managing to fend off that moment longer than most, possibly because there weren't that many reality TV shows set in the business world at that time so it looked fresh and new for a bit longer.

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In praise of the Beeb

March 13th, 2011

Matthew Engel starts a series of articles on British institutions by tackling the most paradoxical of them all, the BBC:

But the BBC is not a commercial broadcaster. Of all the institutions we will be examining here in the months ahead, it is the most improbable; indeed its existence almost beggars belief. Here is a publicly owned corporation that does not always do the government's bidding, indeed often irritates the hell out of it; and a nationalised industry that regularly beats its commercial opposition – outsmarting, out-innovating and even out-popularising them. Its endurance is a triumph for British culture and common sense. It is usual to say that Britain has the least worst television in the world; watching the [BBC News at Ten], that seems like faint praise. This at least is the best.

Are we proud? Are we uplifted? Are we hell! The BBC is in crisis. It is always in crisis. "Nation shall speak peace unto nation," says its motto. "Morale has never been lower," seems a more eternal truth. […]

It was a death that set the benchmark for the modern BBC – not David Kelly's, a fictional one. On the night of September 22, 1955, ITV first went on the air. It was also the night Grace Archer, young wife of Phil in the eponymous and enduring radio drama, met a spectacular and headline-catching end in a blazing barn. It was a message: although the BBC would for many years find it tough holding its own against its vibrant, new and ad-rich rivals, it was not going away; it was not going to retire into minority obscurity as a purveyor of concerts and improving talks – it intended to remain a player. It has never backed away from that.

And it never should.

[Via MetaFilter]

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Goodbye iPlayer Radio, Hello ?

January 26th, 2011

James Cridland highlights an element of the BBC's announcement about Reshaping BBC Online that makes me nervous:

In a long blog entry with a few slides with the swirls and blobs beloved of management, Erik Huggers announces a slew of cuts and changes to the BBC website: including…

"Radio and music will come out of BBC iPlayer, and we'll develop a new stand-alone product."

Now it could be that the new Radio offering will be perfectly fine, providing all the features of the current iPlayer setup but with an interface better suited to an audio-only player. I'd love to think that would turn out to be the case.

But then you read that "All radio station sites, music events, podcasts and programme pages will be integrated to focus on highly interactive live radio, quick and seamless access to programming, support for new music and personalisation – on whatever internet-connected device you happen to have." and that "Selected archive content will be featured in TV & iPlayer and Radio & Music"1 you have to start worrying that perhaps this new service is going to be somewhat more concerned with acting as an online interface to live radio streams, and somewhat less with providing the sort of Listen Again service that preceded the iPlayer. That would be a shame.

[Via 853, via currybetdotnet]

  1. Emphasis added, in each case.

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Audible juggling

December 30th, 2010

Andrew Collins demonstrates why 6 Music had to be saved: juggling on the radio. When would you see that sort of visual spectacle on a commercial radio station, eh?

For what it's worth, it really is worth following the link Collins provides to a YouTube clip of juggler Mat Ricardo in action. He shows not just how to remove a tablecloth without disturbing the pots/plates/cutlery, but how to put it back on again. A very neat trick.

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The Man in the High Castle

October 8th, 2010

Ridley Scott and a Philip K Dick adaptation: sounds promising

Blade Runner director Ridley Scott is returning to the work of the late Philip K Dick to executive produce a BBC TV adaptation of one of the American sci-fi writer's novels.

Howard Brenton, the playwright and Spooks writer, is adapting Dick's Hugo award-winning dystopian novel The Man in the High Castle into a four-part BBC1 mini-series.

Make that two things I learned from one short article: I had no idea that Howard 'The Romans in Britain' Brenton had written for Spooks.

[Via The Medium is Not Enough]

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Parting Shots

September 30th, 2010

BBC Radio 4 has just started broadcasting a second season of Parting Shots, in which Matthew Parris delves into the archives of the Foreign Office to reveal the confidential valedictory despatches submitted by senior British diplomats upon leaving their postings.

The first ten minutes or so of the first episode spent a little too much time quoting ambassadors being unimpressed with foreign cuisine and manners and even architecture, but it did include one absolute gem of an anecdote:

Sir Julian Bullard: Bonn, 1998

There are the regional differences, which become more evident as one learns to recognise the surnames, accents and facial characteristics which go with certain attitudes of mind, but I think it is still possible to talk of German national characteristics. One of these is the seriousness, thoroughness, humourlessness, perfectionism and pedantry which have made the German the butt of so many anecdotes.

To quote a true one: the artist Philip Ernst painted the view from his window, leaving out a tree which spoiled the design. That night he was attacked by remorse, got up from bed and cut down the tree.1

The latter part of the episode was considerably better, focusing on the way that until very recently the Foreign Office simply expected diplomats' wives to act as a sort of unpaid hotel manager/hostess/event organiser/auxiliary diplomat2 and the way that modern spouses – having their own careers, and being less willing to pack their children off to boarding school for the duration of a tour of duty overseas – had organised a campaign to at least be paid for doing all that work, or to have a professional event manager paid to take on that side of the embassy's functions instead of everything falling to the ambassador's partner.

Assuming that they don't spend a third of every episode quoting British diplomats being undiplomatic about their hosts – the first season wasn't like that, so I hope this one won't go down that road – Parting Shots is going to be well worth a listen over the next few weeks. The first episode is available on BBC iPlayer3 for another six days.

  1. For what it's worth, I can completely see where Ernst was coming from.
  2. One diplomat's wife observed that traditionally one of the jobs of the ambassador's spouse when attending a function was to engage the dullest VIP in conversation, presumably so as to prevent their boring the pants off anyone important.
  3. For UK residents – or, more accurately, for those whose connection to iPlayer is coming from an IP address located in the UK. Correction: it turns out that you can listen to most iPlayer radio content regardless of whether you're in the UK. Thanks to Martin Wisse for the correction.


Solid gold casting

March 31st, 2010

This weekend's Radio 4 adaptation of Ian Fleming's Goldfinger has a pretty solid cast:

  • Goldfinger … Ian McKellen
  • James Bond … Toby Stephens.
  • 'M' … John Standing.
  • Col. Smithers … Ian Ogilvy
  • Pussy Galore … Rosamund Pike
  • Du Pont … Henry Goodman
  • Hawker … Alistair McGowan
  • Helmut Springer … Hector Elizondo
  • Johnny Solo … Tim Pigott-Smith
  • Mr Strap … Tom Hollander
  • Fleming … Martin Jarvis

I know I shouldn't prejudge it, but on the face of it that's this week's portion of my license fee justified.1

[Via Ben Hammersley's return to old-fashioned blogging]

  1. Oh yes, and I hear there's some science fiction show returning to our screens this weekend. Might be worth a look.


The BBC-O-Gram

March 1st, 2010

The BBC-O-Gram is pretty and quite informative, but would be much improved if it didn't mix income and expenditure indiscriminately.

If the same chart must be used to show both, it would be better to organise the data around an1 axis, with income stacked up on one side of the axis and expenditure on the other. As it stands, including income and expenditure in the same chart with only colour coding the separate the two categories serves only to inflate the size of the chart to the tune of rather more that a billion pounds, making it that much harder to grasp the proportion of overall expenditure devoted to any single major area.

  1. Vertical? Horizontal? It doesn't matter, so long as you pick one and stick with it.

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The Sound of a Breaking String

January 30th, 2010

Something to catch up with on the BBC iPlayer.1 Between the Ears: The Chekhov Challenge – The Sound of a Breaking String:

One of the most enigmatic stage directions in all drama appears in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard: 'A distant sound is heard. It appears to come from the sky and is the sound of a breaking string. It dies away sadly.' Between the Ears focuses on the many attempts to produce this sound, ranging from musical saws to gun-shots. Guests include Paul Arditti, who mixed industrial, musical and bird sounds for the production by Sam Mendes, and musician Leafcutter John, who accepts Radio 3's own Chekhov Challenge, recording his experiments to find a resonant breaking string sound for the 21st century.

[Via TV Today]

  1. With apologies to non-UK readers.

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"I didn't think it through to be honest."

January 17th, 2010

Today's Observer features excerpts from Paul Morley's interview with Brian Eno for a BBC 4 documentary1 later this week. I could listen to the man2 pontificate for hours:

On talking: 1

"I heard a recording that had been made of me 35 years ago chatting with some friends and I thought the tape must have sped up because I sounded so fast. When others spoke, they were at a normal speed. It was me, I was speaking so fast. What I find both disappointing and reassuring is that I was saying exactly those things I will be saying today. I don't know what to make of that. […]"

  1. It's unclear from the information on the BBC web site whether it's this programme or this one. The excerpts seem more of a fit with the former show, but the listing doesn't mention Morley as a participant. The latter show is presented by Morley, but appears to be a program about Eno's work, rather than one in which he appears.
  2. Eno, that is. Morley I can take or leave.

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Too, too cute

December 22nd, 2009


Picture the scene – you're Russell T Davies, famed showrunner of Doctor Who and famed atheist. You're at a Q & A just after showing a preview of the Christmas 2009 episode – your penultimate piece of work on Doctor Who – when a little kid grabs the microphone, in front of lots of journalists, and asks: "Did you meet the Doctor or did you make him up?"

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December 13th, 2009

Something to listen to on iPlayer1: Shelved:

Shaun Ley recounts how the political circumstances of the late 1970s resulted in three of the most popular TV series' of the time – Dr Who, Secret Army and The Professionals – each having at least one episode scrapped after filming.

[Via TV Today]

  1. For those of us in the UK.

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Too much of a good thing

September 15th, 2009

I'm apprehensive at the prospect of a longer Mayo/Kermode film review segment once Simon Mayo moves over to Radio 2:

[Mayo said…] only "80%" of his show would disappear. His Friday Radio 5 Live film programme with Kermode will continue to run from 2pm to 4pm, giving him enough time to switch to the Radio 2 drivetime show, which begins at 5pm. He said the film show would be "big and sparkly and bigger than ever".

I've been finding their current Friday afternoon slot increasingly impressed with itself of late; way too much harking back to their many showbiz friends ('Saying "Hello!" to …' etc.), far too much comedy bickering when Mayo asks Kermode to define his terms or otherwise explain himself. I'd rather see Kermode given an hour a week to do his own thing reviewing and talking about films than see the pair given two hours to fill.

[Via Feeling Listless]


How I Met Your Mother Again

July 13th, 2009

E4 have bought the UK rights to the first four seasons of How I Met Your Mother.

Am I right in thinking that the first season originally aired on BBC2 a few years ago? I have a vague recollection of it inheriting Coupling's timeslot and sinking without a trace.

[Via The Medium is Not Enough]

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