The tube

The return of Telly Addict. Can it really have been a whole week since the first “soft launch” broadcast pilot went live under my new roof at UKTV’s YouTube site? I have yet to wean myself off the “refresh” key, as it’s a new toy to me. There was no way of monitoring views on the Guardian website, but YouTube make it too easy to fixate and tap. We’re also under a whole new dictatorship of stats, so when I ask if you wouldn’t mind awfully clicking on “like” and “subscribe”, be gentle with me. I’m new here. It’s fortuitous that Celebrity Masterchef gets a nod this week. Regular viewers will know that I have no defences against this brand and have even succumbed to Masterchef The Professionals, thus swelling my portfolio. It’s a tired old dig to remark that you have not heard of some of the “celebrities” on Celebrity-prefixed formats, but having been on Celebrity Mastermind myself (I came second), I can hardly mither. Not knowing who this young gentleman was is my failing, not his.

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He’s Marcus Butler, 24, and he has over 4.5 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, despite not enunciating his words very well. He seems nice enough. hey, I am over the moon to have had 817 views of the first Telly Addict. But give me time. (Oh, I watched the first of Marcus’s clips, and it seemed to be about him saying that men should be more empathic of women, and then trying to put on a pair of tights as if to prove what a hard life women have. It was pretty thin stuff.) I am not in competition with Marcus Butler. I’m not in competition with anybody. I review three or four programmes that I watched last week, which this week also includes: the series finale of Penny Dreadful (Sky Atlantic), the series finale of The Good Wife (More4), and, to please my UKTV overlords, the new series of format-of-formats Taskmaster (Dave), which I raved about on Telly Addict long before UKTV came to my rescue. Also, a tip of the hat to The Secret Life of a Bus Garage (ITV), which is on ITV Hub here. It’s a heart-warming, pre-Brexit vision of a functioning South West London multicultural utopia, in a place of work where 50 languages are spoken. I hope everybody we see on the show still has a job and has not started getting sly abuse from emboldened thickos.

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Back after the break

 

Please do click on this link and visit the YouTube page, as our future depends on your support!

On 12 April, 2016, the Guardian ran its last edition of Telly Addict. My weekly fixed-shot, to-camera review of what was on the television the week before had run for 249 episodes, beginning in May 2011, and named after my TV review column in the still-missed Word magazine, which ran between 2004 and 2006 (itself named after the BBC quiz show Telly Addicts, on which my family had appeared in 1990). It had been a good innings, and Telly Addict had survived a number of opaque regime changes in the multimedia department, which seemed to exist as a kind of republic within the vast Guardian kingdom. Reviewing TV for the website certainly didn’t bestow upon me any sort of journalistic legitimacy at the newspaper itself, where I remained largely on the outside of the glass, looking in. I will always be grateful to have had the chance to make a short film about TV every week, pretty much without a break, for five years, and under the banner of a world-class news brand.

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Producer Matt Hall (whom I’d known since my earliest days in the media when we worked on the old Radio Five) called me in, in March 2011, and we made a couple of modest pilots. (Quite why I was getting to do this and not one of the paper’s regular TV writers was a mystery.) This is a rare still from one of the first two non-broadcast pilots. As you can see, the chair was visible, and so were my arms. These were cropped out in a tighter shot that, give or take the angle I sat at, remained fixed for the next five years. We went live on 6 May, 2011; I reviewed two BBC dramas, Exile and The Shadow Line, and a brand new fantasy from HBO which I understand is still going. Matt left a couple of years in, leaving me without an executive champion at the department, but the whole operation was so self-contained, with one overworked member of staff thanklessly lighting, shooting, directing, producing and editing (for the larger part of its life, Andy, for the final year, Mona), we just sort of carried on doing it and nobody “upstairs” seemed to mind, or perhaps notice. It was not always easy to find Telly Addict in the maelstrom of a constantly refreshed newspaper website (with a rare 24-hour window of promotion at the very foot of the homepage and then all bets were off) and when they rolled out a major redesign of the site I was among a large constituency who could no longer view Telly Addict comfortably on a Mac (which I suspect lost us a lot of regular viewers). But I did my best to promote it through the usual means. I loved doing it, and I loved the finished product.

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The writing was on the wall in the final six months, when budgets everywhere were being cut, and the Guardian Film Show (a much longer programme that involved three Guardian staffers or contracted freelancers a week, which started the same time as Telly Addict) went first. The final Telly Addict went up on 12 April, a sad review of the past five years, and the laments, farewells and tributes poured in below the line – where, over five years, I like to think we’d evolved an uncharacteristically sensible, positive, witty, well-informed and largely troll-free community. This was one of the reasons I launched this blog. It was a way of staying in touch with that community (or the most steadfast of its acolytes).

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The good news is, Telly Addict is reborn. Last week, it was “soft-launched” at its new home, broadcaster UKTV (umbrella over the boutique channels Dave, Gold, W, Yesterday, Really, Alibi, Eden, Good Food and Home), who are expanding their online presence, with previews, clips and self-produced shorts on their YouTube channel. The first edition [above] is effectively the broadcast pilot. I hope you like it. The show will now run every Tuesday. Normal service, you might say, is resumed. There is a tyranny of stats on YouTube, of course. Nobody at the Guardian ever seemed to want to tell me how many people watched Telly Addict. Well, there’s no hiding place any more.

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I’m sure the “likes” and “dislikes” will give me nightmares, but overall, it already feels great to have a new home. After all, UKTV make television programmes. And Telly Addict is a television programme about other people’s television programmes. And the folk who work there are real TV enthusiasts, with a certain spring in their step which is not always a given in television. (I’ve worked with their channels as a moderator at a number of events in the past.)

On the matter of my obligation to review shows that are on UKTV, I will only be reviewing new or returning or “event” shows that I might I have reviewed on Telly Addict anyway, and I have 100% editorial independence. Frankly, if I don’t like a new sitcom on Gold, I won’t cover it (if you know anything about me as a critic, you’ll know that I do not slag programmes off for the sport of it; I prefer to celebrate the best of what’s on the telly). The other upside is that there are no ads on the UKTV YouTube channel, whereas the Guardian tagged each episode with an embedded ad that you couldn’t skip.

For the record, all 249 episode of Telly Addict for the Guardian remained archived here.

You can see why we held back any big announcements or press releases or flypasts on Thursday and Friday this week, so next week it is. It’s great to be back. You will recognise one or two of the shirts.

Euro ref-erendum

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With Euro 2016 now gloriously, and ingloriously, underway (oh, those Russians), it’s time for my two-yearly apology to all dedicated followers of football, for whom this month of international action is just another date in the calendar. For me, as with the World Cup, it’s my chance to take a holiday in football, and lose myself in a sport I take no interest in for two years at a time, and whose irrelevance to me on a year-round, league-based, when-Saturday-comes basis makes Euros and World Cups that much more potent. Imagine the excitement of coming to these players fresh, with no baggage based upon who they play for ordinarily! Imagine the fun of scouring the giveaway Guardian guide to find out who’s who, and encountering all those new names! Imagine – and this will take some imagination – literally not having seen even the older players for two years! It’s like welcoming back old pals – Iniesta, Buffon, Hart, Pogba – and, in the case of a superstar like Gareth Bale, seeing him move about for the first time!

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A brief pause to enjoy the poetic beauty of a black balloon floating into view of the camera at the start of the second half of Germany-Ukraine on Sunday. Then it’s back to the action.

I grew up a football fan, although I was never affiliated with my local team, Northampton Town FC, which might have instilled something deeper and longer-term with me. Instead, I allowed other interests like new wave, girls and films to fill my days in adolescence. But in adultessence, certainly since Euro 96 (yeah, beat that for being a fairweather weekender! did I mention my allegiance to the Guardian pullout?), I have gone in hard with the tournaments, devoting myself to watching as many games as I physically can for the duration, and, in the past, writing a layman’s account on my proprietary blog. (I’ve tried watching with beer, with cider, and without either – it’s an ongoing experiment.)

Should you wish to read my previous reports for yourself, I remain proud of my intermittent coverage of Brazil 2014, a single essay during a work-dominated Euro 2012, my essays for World Cup 2010 (a very clever play on words, albeit self-defeating, as nobody spotted it: the tournament was held in South Africa, or SA, or “essay”), and Euro 2008. I don’t see much detailed coverage of the games being produced this year – busy again – but I plan on watching the bulk of the matches, regardless of whether a “home” team is playing. (If there are three in a day, one is likely to have to go by wayside, and it’ll be the afternoon one.)

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Here’s what I can write about with partial authority: the TV presentation. As is traditional, the BBC and ITV share the fixtures, and both camps have custom-built studios set up in Paris, ITV’s daringly on a roof with Notre Dame in the background, where Mark Pougatch – a new one on me, he replaced Adrian Chiles last year apparently and he has a fine CV in radio, notably 5 Live – leads the dinner-table conversation with fingers crossed for fine weather. Lee Dixon is a safe enough pair of tonsils, but I’m not following Emmanuel Petit at all. He’s certainly no Thierry Henry. Although I did like the rather roguish Slaven Bilić, a Croatian player now managing West Ham, whom the Mail described as having a “rock star attitude”.

Glenn Hoddle continues to be a nuisance, yammering away in the commentary box in that football-orthodox present tense (“He’s created a space, then he’s crossed it … he’s created some chances … he’s got his head to it”), and I’m not sure the beardy Peter Crouch has the verbal dexterity to turn his practical pitch knowledge into fluent punditry, but at least he’ll be the first to know if it rains.

With half the games on ITV, I keep finding myself having to watch adverts, which is an imposition, although most of them are for betting (“Gamble with money you don’t have responsibly!”, they now trill). I recognised Sky’s Chris Kamara in the Ladbrokes ads, but genuinely had no idea who they’d teamed him up with – even though it was clear we were supposed to recognise him instantly. I looked him up. It turned out to be Ally McCoist. I remain in shock.

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I’m telling you, every passing hour of a European Championship brings new gobbets of information – so far I’ve learned that most of the Russian squad play for Russian teams, you can have three substitutions, the referee is now encouraged to “let a few fouls go” in order to improve the flow of the game, plucky Belgium are Fifa’s highest ranked team in the competition, it’s not pronounced “Hazard” (nor is it pronounced “Kroos”), Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden is super-fond of himself, most of the famous Italians have retired since I last saw them, Hungary’s keeper Gabor Kiraly and the Republic of Ireland’s Shay Given are both 40, Bale scored 64% of Wales’ qualifying goals, Polish midfielder Slawomir Peszko has four kidneys, and the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, where Wales beat Slovakia, looks like an air filter.

Oh, and the new Belgium kit makes the players look boxes of matches.

Back to the telly. The BBC team is, as traditional, led by Gary Lineker, if anything looking more body-built than he did two years ago, a man who looks like he’d have serious trouble keeping a jacket on without it sliding down his diagonal ex-shoulders. The goatee now reflects his cavalier attitude to age-appropriate gym intensity. Only Joachim Löw matches him for middle-aged vanity. “Do you think he dyes his hair?” Jonathan Pearce asked Danny Murphy during yesterday’s Ukraine-Germany group match, in a rather metrosexual moment of tittle-tattle in the commentary box (not really very fair to get Murphy into a conversation about hair). I must admit, I’m rather partial to Pearce’s muttering style when there’s no action to convey – he and Mark Lawrenson seemed to spend ages trying to decide whether Irish right back Séamus Coleman had been bought by Everton from Cork City or Sligo Rovers, while the game against Sweden carried on behind them. (It was Sligo Rovers.)

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While the ITV table is mounted on a decapitated Eiffel Tower, the BBC studio’s is created out of a collapsing pile of massive cream-sandwich biscuits, like Wagonwheel-sized Oreos with Licorice Allsort filling. The BBC also boasts some spectacular 3D graphics that allows the camera to swing from a superimposed image of, say, Roy Keane and Martin O’Neill, to the seated biscuit pundits, leaving coloured Smarties or tiddlywinks hanging in the air, like jewels in the forest in Avatar.

They also have a retired player called Jermaine Jenas, who’s 33, but looks ten years younger and seems to have wandered into the studio straight off the set of Anthony Horowitz’s new thriller New Blood. It was pleasing to see Neil Lennon, especially in the preamble before Northern Ireland’s valiant display against Ukraine, where he seemed to be the physical embodiment of all that is Celtic. (As a pluralistic supporter of all teams from these isles, I am a three-quarters Celt.)

I’m involved. Apologies if it’s your game. I’ll leave you to it again after the final. I’m thinking the whole thing is a great boost for the “Leave” campaign. Look at all those British nationals swanning across Europe without the need for visas, enjoying the local beer and hospitality! I’m in.

Halo, halo, halo

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Since it was published at the weekend in the books section of the Event listings/review supplement nestled within the Mail On Sunday, which may have passed you by, here is my review of Ian Ogilvy’s “affably self-deprecating” memoir, Once A Saint. Nobody else is asking me to review books for them, so I am rather pleased that the Mail occasionally does. If you can’t read the print in the accompanying scans (I do approve of the generous way they lay the book reviews out), here is the copy, which seems to be appropriate for a blog about TV:

Once A Saint: An Actor’s Memoir
by Ian Ogilvy
(Constable, £20.00)

The crux of Ian Ogilvy’s affable but self-deprecating memoir comes on page 16: “At the end of the 70s I played the iconic character Simon Templar in a revived television series of The Saint. For most of the 1980s, I was unwelcome in UK television and films.”

His boyish smirk and blow-dried coiffure seemed never off the covers of TV Times or Look-in when Ogilvy’s 24 episodes of the glamorous international-man-of-mystery caper aired on ITV between 1978-79. Unlike his predecessor Roger Moore, who graduated to James Bond, Ogilvy never escaped from under Templar’s halo in our collective imagination. But fame is less interesting than the struggle, and the highlight of his Saint chapter is the arrival on location in the South of France of an inebriated Oliver Reed, who bellows, “You? The Saint? You’re a poofter!” (A duel is averted when Reed loses interest, somewhat emblematic of an Ogilvy showbiz yarn.)

His best anecdotes stem from his apprenticeship in gaudy 60s British horror films like The Sorcerers, with an “old and uninsurable” Boris Karloff, and Witchfinder General, with a “truculent” and also inebriated Vincent Price. Ogilvy’s long and constant spells on the stage prove even riper ground. When the curtain goes up on a 1974 production of The Waltz Of The Toreadors at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, a – guess what? – inebriated Trevor Howard snarls “FUCK OFF!” at the audience, many of whom, in Ogilvy’s witty account, “took Trevor’s instruction to heart and fucked off.”

The son of Francis Ogilvy, who helped set up the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather with his Don Draper-inspiring brother David, the young Ian enjoyed a chauffeur-driven boyhood in an 18th-century Essex manor house, but found himself “one of the poorest and least aristocratic” pupils at Sunningdale and Eton, where he shared a boxing ring with the future Sir Ranulph Fiennes. He blames his own “strangulated Eton vowels” for putting him at a disadvantage during the kitchen-sink 60s (when “everything working class had value”), a situation very much reversed in the Cumberbatch era.

He wryly describes the fees on TV panel games as “just enough to cover my milk bill”, and offers a knowing “spoiler alert” before revealing that he is the murderer in Stranger In The House, a film none of us will ever see. He candidly attributes his marital infidelities on “male pattern boredom.”

The section on the making of the film Waterloo in spartan Uzhgorod in Ukraine in 1969 is a tour de force, with prison-camp veteran Rupert Davies fashioning a toaster out of “two tin hotplates and a ball of string,” which he hangs from the light fitting in his hotel room, while Jack Hawkins, post-laryngectomy, speaks in “a kind of regulated belch.”

It’s a fun, if fitful ride, and Ogilvy leaves out some of his own achievements – a popular series of children’s books, for instance – in order perhaps to stick to his own humble script: “I’m inclined to like anything written about me because it means somebody has given me a passing thought.”

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