BBC3? Why do we need TV channels anyway?

So the BBC has decided to save money by shutting down one of its most creative TV channels BBC3, and "move it online". I'm beginning to wond...

The Podcast


Mouthbox Podcast #16

Brian Luff is the host for this month's Mouthbox podcast, featuring reviews of Bates Motel and The Y...

Dr Who, Series 8 (BBC 1): Review

DOCTOR WHO SERIES 8A giant dinosaur sneezes, coughs, and vomits out the Tardis. Nice start. But then they play an iffy new arrangement of the Dr Who theme music and I start to worry. Something’s not quite right here. There are some things you can’t mess with.

I honestly thought the hardest thing about watching Dr Who, Series 8 (BBC 1) would be trying to erase the image of Peter Capaldi’s exquisitely potty-mouthed Malcolm Tucker that’s burnt indelibly into my retinas (or is it retinae?).

But I was wrong. Hardest by far was navigating the BBC’s cringe-making, over-compensation for the fact that the Twelfth Doctor is 27 years older than the Eleventh Doctor. Yes, the new doctor is old. OLD!!! Did I mention that he’s old? Older than before? Not as young as Matt Smith? Older than Matt Smith? Old. Like, really old.

Episode 1 began by merely hinting at this uncomfortable fact, but before long moved on to underlining it in almost every line of dialogue, finally referring to it in the most intimate of detail – every silver hair on the Doctor’s head, every wrinkle on his tired old brow, every crow’s foot on his pale, ageing, leathery, disgusting old skin. Old eyebrows. Old clothes. Oh my God, that neck! Metaphorically and literally they went on, and on, and on about it until you wanted to scream. Eventually I turned it into a drinking game. The Doctor is old. Take a drink. Jesus Christ, he’s only 58.

In episode two the writers finally moved on, and decided it was time to start over-compensating for something else. This time they went for the fact that the new Doctor is Scottish. He’s Scottish. Is he Scottish? Did we mention that he’s Scottish? The Doctor talked about being Scottish. Other characters referred to his Scottishness. Capaldi turned up the Glasgow accent a couple of notches. Clara showed up in a kilt.

At one point I became convinced that one of the Daleks was going to refer to the forthcoming Referendum for Scottish Independence, or maybe break into a quick rendition of “Scotland the Brave.” Ever seen a Dalek playing the bagpipes? Watch this space. Has anyone else noticed that David Tennant was also Scottish? I wonder why they didn’t bang on about that?

Stephen Moffat is a great writer, no-one doubts that. But this series is clearly being written by that most irritating of gatherings, a BBC committee. You could smell it in every line.

Committee it say, “Address the concerns of younger viewers who have grown up with Matt Smith.” Committee it say, “Be inclusive about age for elderly viewers living in Middle England.” Committee it say, “Keep the Scottish lobby happy. Oh, and if you can crowbar in something about healthy same-sex relationships, that would be great. But don’t shove it down their throats. Make one of the lesbians a lizard.”

Channel Four championed the “girl-on-girl” kiss back in the 1980’s, but who’d have thought we’d one day see a “girl-on-lizard” kiss before the watershed on a Saturday night? Right on! Go, Auntie!

Of course “TV chiefs” at the Beeb immediately managed to score an own goal by insisting that the kiss be edited out of the programme when it was re-broadcast in Asia, angering gay rights campaigners who have since accused the corporation of homophobia. Only the BBC could dump themselves in the shit by showing a woman kissing a lizard.




RIP Monty Python

pythonSo, it’s finally over. The end of a comedic era. That tatty blue macaw has kicked the bucket for the last time and the Four Yorkshiremen can neck their brandies and crawl home to the rolled up newspapers and septic tanks from whence they came.

But the five remaining Pythons did not go gentle into that good night. They sailed into the showbiz sunset kicking, screaming and benignly reaching out to the audience for one last show of fanatical adoration. Despite all those years of  fierce protestation about a reunion, when the final moments came it was all too clear that none of them really wanted it all to end – their emotional connection to the audience being so unbearably strong, the memories so poignant, the financial rewards so sweet.

As a boy I grew up watching Python on the BBC and laughed until I literally weed myself and fell off my parent’s battered old sofa. My dad, of course, hated the series, but then he was supposed to. He was old. Python was for the new, cynical, post war generation and we took ownership of it as lovingly as if it were our own local football team. We cheered at Python’s triumphs and in later years shared in their grief. We jeered and booed at the Anglican protests over Life of Brian (probably the funniest film ever made) and we dutifully forgave Cleese and Co. for the shortcomings of Meaning of Life.

Through a friend who worked in the Python offices in Cambridge Gate I was lucky enough to go to the very first “test” showing of Meaning of Life, in a small viewing room in Soho. Many of the animation sequences were not yet completed and during these bits Terry Gilliam would leap to his feet, madness in his eyes, and stand in front of the screen while physically acting out what we we should be seeing. Terry Jones, who was sitting nearby, turned to me and said, “Would you buy a used car from this man?” I can’t remember what I replied.

Python built their reputation by being subversive about the establishment, but they are firmly part of that establishment now. For this reason I was disappointed they didn’t take this opportunity to parody themselves. For me, it was not their understandable lack of energy in performance, but this notable lack of knowing, self derision that truly showed their age. It was as if they simply couldn’t be bothered to take the piss anymore, even out of themselves. So very tired.

While Cleese and Palin were undoubtedly the scriptwriting engine of the group in the old days, it has always been Eric Idle that’s been the most driven and business-minded Python – the member of the team most well equipped to understand the immense commercial possibilities of the franchise and haul Monty Python into the twenty first century through re-invention after re-invention. This reunion simply wouldn’t have happened without Idle’s boundless energy and commitment to the Python brand, and the rest of the team owe him a great debt, if only financially.

There were few surprises at the O2 on that emotional final night. The catchphrases were the same, the costumes familiar and as one might expect the audience remembered the script far better than the performers. However one surprise for me, and a rather uncomfortable moment to witness, was John Cleese’s treatment of Terry Jones during the crunchy frog sketch. While “pretending” to bully Jones about his failure to learn his lines, for me Cleese came across as a genuine bully, and there seemed to be a glimpse of actual hurt and betrayal in Jones’s eyes.

In repeatedly throwing food and drink at him, Cleese similarly bullied comedian Alan Carr recently in a chat show on Channel 4. What started as a joke actually became quite difficult to watch and Carr’s genuine embarrassment and annoyance became difficult to conceal.

Having a strong character is one thing, but I can’t help wondering whether this kind of overpowering, bullish behavior may have been a factor in the big man’s departure from the original Python TV series, and why he has since been one of the most remote and disconnected members of the group. No-one but a control freak could have created a masterpiece like Fawlty Towers, but it’s not always a pretty site at close quarters. Comic icon he may be, but perhaps Mr Cleese’s good judgement and comic timing are on the wane.

There have been many unsung Pythons over the years and special mentions are due for Carol Cleveland (who played all the female parts and was rarely given a funny line), and John Du Prez who wrote many of the songs with Eric Idle, did all the musical arrangements, and conducted the orchestra so splendidly at the O2.

The most emotional moment for me was when the late, great Graham Chapman appeared on the big screen and sang “It’s Christmas in Heaven”. I couldn’t help wondering whether an unaccountable cold shiver ran through his body while he was recording that song in a studio in London in 1982.

There was of course an extremely good reason for Chapman’s physical absence from the festivities, but I think it was a great pity that Neil Innes was not part of the show. Innes was thought by many to be the seventh Python and his contribution to the history of the group should not be underestimated. Innes played a major role in performing and writing songs and sketches for the final TV series after Cleese left and he is one of only two non-Pythons ever be credited as a writer on the TV series (the other being Douglas Adams). Innes appeared on stage with the Pythons many times and wrote songs for the movie Holy Grail. I assume his absence was due to his well publicised feud with Eric Idle, but it was a great shame that he wasn’t able to take his place on stage for the final curtain call, perhaps in place of that young, anonymous performer dressed as Graham Chapman.

Whether you get the very British humour of these guys or you don’t, few people would argue that in the passing of Monty Python we have seen the end of a momentous era in the history of both comedy and what used to be called light entertainment. Let’s hope that none of them will be spending Christmas with their old mate Graham for many, many years to come.




Big Brother 2014

emmawillisWhat with all the football from Brazil, and catching up on all those box sets of Breaking Bad, and watching Andy Murray trying to win Wimbledon again (even though he’s done it now and no-one really cares this time around), I just don’t see when I’m going to find time to watch Big Brother 2014.

Expectations have never been lower than they are for the England football team in the World Cup this summer, but I don’t think they could possibly be any lower than my own rock-bottom expectations for this new series of the Channel 5 reality show.

We begin with the desperate sight of beautiful, blue-eyed Emma Willis getting down on her hands and knees and repeatedly begging us to “download the Big Brother app.” In that way we will feel all fuzzy and Web.2.0 and will properly engage with the programme in a compelling and, like, challenging way.

I am immediately confused. The former prostitute called Helen who shagged Wayne Rooney has surely done enough with her miserable life to be considered a celebrity and honored with a gold ticket straight into the Celebrity Big Brother house, as opposed to having to drag her fake tits through the civilian version of the show for fifteen weeks.

Apart from Helen there appear to be ten contestants in the house. Or perhaps they’re going to take one contestant out of the house really quickly and unexpectedly and put another six contestants into the house. Or will they leave just six contestants in the house and take out twelve and put in Lionel Blair. Who knows? Literally, who knows?

Quick role call: A dance teacher who once sang with Kylie Minogue, a Playboy bunny with a law degree called Kimberley and some bloke called Mark who already seems to have won £5,000 for doing absolutely nothing at all except for having a beard.

Within 5 minutes a person called Matthew is cruelly isolated from the group and put into a sort of David Blaine glass cage suspended above the garden. I have absolutely no idea why. Since I haven’t had enough time to get to know him, I frankly don’t care. Maybe if I’d downloaded the app like Emma said I would have engaged with him more quickly and would give a damn whether he lives or dies.

There’s someone called Tamara Double-Barreled Name who’s probably never washed up and will take off her clothes and jump into the swimming pool at the first opportunity she gets. There’s a chap called Christopher whose never had a relationship with anyone and probably never will.

There’s Mark. “Hi, I’m Mark and I will be your homosexual this year.”

All of these people are exactly 24 years old except for a woman called Pauline Bennett who is 49 years old and a mother from Wolverhampton. I’m sure I’ve seen her somewhere before. The only other name I remember is Winston Showan, but I can’t think of anything to say about him. Pass me the Pringles and hand me the remote control, there’s something about UFO’s on H2.