Show Me The Monet

Show Me The Monet - BBC Website ImageI have planned to blog about Show Me The Monet for a while.

Show Me The Monet is an arts program from the BBC where artists submit their works to a panel of critics with the potential to have their work exhibited and sold at an Art Gallery.

You may not have heard of it outside of the UK and even if in the UK you may not have as it was a program hidden away in the schedules of daytime telly.

Anyway having finally got around to writing about it I discover this sorry message on the show’s production website.

Show Me The Manet - off air message

What a pity.

Even if I did not enjoy the art being presented by the hopeful artists or care very much for the critics who they must first impress I would still watch this show purely because of the opportunity it presents for, in the main amateur, artists to show their works and get a wider audience. Even if the critics say no to the works we the audience may well say yes to them. Other opportunities may arise for them and their art because of all the TV Eyes upon it.

Sure for artists themselves there may be more effective routes in what is in effect a large-entry competition with a pyramid prize structure – a kind of X-Factor for Painters, Photographers and Sculptors.

Show Me The Monet - various clipsThe title of the show is an obvious pun on French Impressionist painter Claude Monet. In some parts of our country the show may be referred to as Show Us the Manet, phonetically punning after another French Impressionist (if more proto) painter Edward Manet – I just had to crow-bar this joke in!

With the decommissioning of the show the website itself has also given up the ghost. But there is still program information to be found on the BBC channel that broadcast it BBC 2.

The show’s Gary Barlow, Louis Walsh and Tulisa were Roy Bolton, David Lee and Charlotte Mullins. Their backgrounds as you might expect were in art history and criticism – Roy Bolton also is a dealer.

The Dermot O’Leary of the show (okay that’s enough over-working of the X-Factor comparison), the presenter was Chris Hollins whose background is in, well, presenting.

The show did manage 2 series and 25 episodes in total displaying therefore many works in the process.

And the real interest of the show was the artists and their art.

Katy Sullivan displays 'Disneyland'The image above is of former GP Katy Sullivan, with a portrait of her daughter titled ‘Disneyland’, standing expectantly before the judges at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England. Incidentally the judges are referred as ‘the hanging committee’ – hopefully not as in ‘hanging them out to dry’!

As well as presenting their art to the judging panel they have to explain a little about it and put a price-tag on it, being asked how much they think their art is worth. What an impossible question to answer I would have thought.

They were very impressed with Katy Sullivan’s work and could not believe it was only her fifth ever oil-painting. Katy Sullivan has her own website with includes a portfolio which presents a better image of this work.

Disneyland portrait by Katy Sullivan

They voted it through to the Show Me The Monet Exhibition. It was also selected for the Holburne Portrait Prize courtesy of  the Holbourne Museum in Bath, England where it won the People’s Choice Award.

I am not going to detail all the art featured as there is a great deal of it and it is better viewed on the BBC 2 program website itself. But I will display a few more to give you an idea of the type and standard of work featured.

Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf - JuneThis next is titled June by a London based artist Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf. It passed muster with the judges but remained unsold not meeting her guide price of £1800. One great thing about the web is that most artists will have if not their own website then their work hosted elsewhere to be seen alongside their other works providing further context. It can also provide an opportunity to see what the subsequent fate of a featured work on this show was.

Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf with worksFontaine-Wolf has her own website and you can see her here stood before June and other of her work. Her work can be seen in higher resolution on her site too. And it transpires that ‘June’ was subsequently exhibited at the Royal College of Art’s Henry Moore Gallery.

I thought I should finish with a work where the judges voted No but which I would have voted Yes just to remind too of the subjective personal nature of art. However, on the website at least, all the work featured was either unanimously yes or at least majority yes. There were certainly works that were declined so clearly the website has spared those artist’s blushes being repeated.

So in this spirit of positivity to finish on a work the panel were unanimous about. This one is titled ‘Between ‘me’ and ‘you’ (1) – History Series’ by another London based artist Laura Jacobs. Her guide price was for £2000 and it sold close to it at £1750.

Show Me The Monet proved that not all daytime TV is created equally. And reminds that there is much artistic talent ever to be discovered.

Laura Jacobs - Between me an dyou

The Sarah Millican Television Program – a little bit of what you fancy

The Sarah Millican Television Program Audience shotThe Sarah Millican Television Program is TV about TV – yes Meta TV – and so this blog post to be a TV appraisal about TV appraisal – the Meta-Meter is going off the dial here! – as if said critic hoisted up their big fat lardy tv-watching ass from their oh so comfortable armchair and stepped through the screen to chance their thoughts with both a studio and TV watching audience at large.

A potential infinite loop of the Sarah Millican Television Program reviewing the Sarah Millican Television Program reviewing the Sarah M…

It is not quite as if Caitlin Moran or Grace Dent took their TV critic routines from their respective newspapers to the Telly Box as Sarah Millican is already a star of sorts of the TV screen – she has been a regular guest on comedy panel shows popping up on Frank Skinner’s Opinionated, Jimmy Carr’s 8 out of 10 Cats… in fact it would be quicker to list the British comedy shows over the last five odd years that she has not appeared on. She even appeared regularly for a while on Loose Women which really is no laughing matter. Some relief from its cheery banality I guess. But this show is her first where she is as they say stage-centre.

This is a Telly show about Telly but one that is not embarrassed to admit that affection and that it is a near-all-consuming one. For many a TV critic it seems TV itself  is far too low-brow and a temporary gig where they will be calling themselves a Culture Critic whilst waiting to be taken more seriously reviewing Art or even Film. Not Sarah Millican.

She begins this show by commenting

I love TV, it has taught me everything I know. I spend so much time with my TV it is like family. Take Eastenders. Eastenders has taught me many things. Turn off the baby-monitor before shagging your neighbour. And at some point we are all going to have to marry Ian Beale!

The Sarah Millican Television Program Opening Couch sequenceWhen Eastenders is not being the most watched TV show in Britain it is only because Coronation Street is being the most watched TV show in Britain  – we Brits like our Soap Operas. Perhaps this is true of all Countries – that we all love our Soap Operas more than any other format whilst at the same time all of those said shows being incomprehensible outside the country they were made in – and not just because of their native language! I understand that Coronation Street for example never took off in the USA – and indeed had to be subtitled! – last time I checked Mancunian was English! Of course I know we don’t all love our soap operas, there are likely far more that never watch them than do, but we can take that as a given that when we mean most watched what we really mean is least unwatched. Clear?!

She then comments how she uses the TV schedule to plan her day, like the One Show.

When you hear the music for the One Show you know that technically it’s okay to start drinking!

For those of you not familiar with the One Show, which is as likely to apply to those living in Britain as outside of it, it kicks off at One in the afternoon not the morning! And for those of you outside of Britain she is not meaning drinking tea! I will let Sarah Millican explain what it is about

It is a magazine show. You know, those magazines you can get that are about spiders, different types of ham and what JLS think of dry-stone walling!

In each episode of her show she will be looking at different aspects of TV viewing – previous episodes have looked at wildlife and dating programs, and yet another  costume dramas with special reference to zombies. Alas I missed that one! This episode will be looking at food and survival programs – another natural coupling!

And so on to the aforementioned main courses. Though as she explains the closest she gets to both is

Eating chips outside

She describes cookery shows as like ‘food porn’ saying that she is not really interested in the making of it just ‘the money shot at the end’! Next in her sights is Nigella Lawson where the TV camera often seems more interested in how she is shot than any meal she might happen to be preparing. Or has she more pithily describes –

Nigella is shot like an episode of CSI. Only shot from the waist up! I love those bits when she comes out in the night for a snack, like a sexy badger!

A sure sign that I watch too much TV is her next joke about Gordon Ramsay’s corrugated forehead ‘from constantly looking under the grill’ reminding me of another  joke about the Scot Chef’s washboard forehead  from Sean Lock’s  Lockipedia Live show ‘the shit that must have gone on with Gordon in his past’! Yes it is quite a specialized hinterland of comedy the comedy about Gordon Ramsay’s creased forehead that I have found myself in!

On meals for one she commented that she did not like them

Not because they make me feel lonely. I just don’t think they are big enough!

As with a lot of comedians ‘it is the way they tell’em’. I am writing her jokes down but that may not really do justice to them. Or be the point. These jokes have to be heard not read, you cannot hear the vocal inflections nor see the facial ticks, when the words are rendered cold on the page or screen. Perhaps too you need to hear her accent, its jaunty Geordie (North East England) melody. Likewise the interaction with the TV audience – the laughter, and whether uproarious or embarrassed or hesitant and the pauses in the jokes to allow for all of that too.

The Sarah Millican Television Program Olly Smith

Olly Smith

As well as her stand up comedy routine she also has guests. Her first is a Wine Expert – Olly Smith from Saturday Kitchen and Iron Chef UK who she describes as having ‘a firm body, nutty top notes and a lovely nose’!

Her opening question sets the tone for what is to follow

Olly, do you ever worry that you’re encouraging people to drink wine a bit early in the day?

A few questions later she asks him whether he prefers

To spit or to swallow

The questions in between did not depart too much from that Graham Norton vein. Despite Olly ostensibly being invited on to talk about wine she had told him early on that she did not actually like wine – unless it was sparkly – heathen!

Her humour being a playful white wine rather than the dark underbelly of a red wine.

A Sarah Millican interview is not really a dialogue rather a comedy monologue with her guest as much a victim as an equal partner but as ways to die being tickled toward it is not a bad way to go!

She ended with a joke about her being a boozing lightweight

The last time I had a pint of Shandy I went to Tescos afterwards and I was a little big giggly and I bought furniture polish and I don’t even have furniture to polish!

She then moves on to Survival programs

My phone died last week and I had to use a Pay Phone, I felt like Bear Grylls

On advice from her father following passing her driving test.

You should always have in the boot of your car at all times, a blanket, a shovel and a flask. And he’s right because whenever I’ve killed a man I’m always parched!

The Sarah Millican Television Program Charley Boorman

With Charley Boorman

Her guest for this survival part of her show is Charley Boorman as much it seems for his motorcycle adventures  in Long Way Round with Ewan McGregor. He talks about one episode in Mongolia where desperate for something to eat they got themselves invited into the home of a Mongolian family and were presented with 200 testicles – we learn that they pop when you eat them! Mmm – I would have to be very hungry.

It is during this section that we also meet Sarah Millican’s dad which is also another regular part of this show. They hook up via Skype. I am not sure that this section works – it feels a bit folksy and the genial family banter not really translating out of their family home to our homes, family or otherwise.

His relevance in this section however revolves around the survival skills he taught her when she was a young child such as how to escape a burning building! Charlie Boorman when asked whether he has given any such advise to his children answers only ‘that they should get marshmallows’!

She then moves on to another comedy routine about food commercials. Commenting on the (upmarket) Marks and Spencer TV advert with sexy female voice-over ‘It’s not just chicken’ she compares to (downmarket) Aldi and suggests that they should have their own version ‘It’s not quite chicken’!

We then move on to the Great British Bake Off and her final guest Celebrity Baker Paul Hollywood which culminates in them preparing a scone-mix which leads inexorably it seems to a recreation of the Demi Moore Patrick Swayze Ghost scene not forgetting the Righteous Brothers crooning over it all – only bread-dough filling in for clay! Finding out more about Paul Hollywood (is that name for real, really?!) and by that I mean looking him up on Wikipedia I discover that before studying as a baker he studied as a sculptor. Spooky?!  Or more likely the show’s researchers also use Wikipedia! And apropos of nothing the other key fact about him it seems is that he was responsible for creating the most expensive bread in Britain, Almond and Roquefort SourDough, selling for £15 a loaf at Harrods – now you know, whether you wanted to or not!

The Sarah Millican Television Program with Paul Hollywood

With Paul Hollywood

Sarah Millican asks him if he were a bread what kind would he be. She states that his fellow baker on the show Mary Berry would be a sour-dough. He replies a Baguette. I mentioned Graham Norton earlier but this really is just another strain of Oo-er humour running back through Julian Clary and Les Dawson all the way back to the Carry On movies – perhaps it is Protestant humour – that necessary mix of risque and repression…she adds that she thinks she would be a Crusty Bloomer. After a while of this sort of humour every household object in eye-shot becomes a symbol of some sexual adventuring. He adds that he prefers the dough wet to dry, if it is too dry it does not work – your mind is now working over I am sure – innuendo is insidious!

The episode ends with some closing jokes.

How Soufflés are like boyfriends – you can always try again but it is annoying thinking about the time – and eggs! – you wasted on the last one!

It now seems a near pointless detail to include what time TV shows are broadcast, even on which channel they are broadcast, such are the endless ways they can be subsequently seen. But if you want to catch it when it is first broadcast, or indeed are able to, The Sarah Millican Television Program is a BBC Two broadcast, of a Thursday evening, of about thirty minutes and for a six week run.

The Sarah Millican Television Program Logo

Imagine – Books: The Last Chapter?

Books: The Last Chapter?With the rise of electronic books is the final chapter about to be written in the long love story between books and their readers?

So asked Books: The Last Chapter? –  the questioning title of a seventy-minute episode of the BBC 2 series Imagine from December of last year, posed by the program’s human incarnation Alan Yentob. Adding

Will the app take the place of the book?

Anecdotally both my sister and her husband bought Kindles for each other’s Christmas 2011 present and both loved them and both are forty-somethings and if not technophobic then certainly technoskeptic. And well as we know there is no evidence quite as compelling as anecdotal evidence.

Books: The Last Chapter? Imagine - web pageImagine is the BBC’s flagship Art series – I think that means it is expected to aim for a viewing figure at least comparable to a midweek midnight episode of a British Bowling regional meet – Art Programs for Art Programs sake. Imagine was I presume the BBC’s alternative – or complement as we are civil Arts types after all – to ITV’s South Bank Show the brainchild/lovechild of the ubiquitous Melvyn Bragg. Or it was until that show and or Melvyn Bragg were axed with its final broadcast in December 2009. Channel 4 have plenty of shows about classic and contemporary artists but perhaps surprisingly no regular series devoted to it. A gap in the market perhaps. And Channel 5 – be serious!

I am sure I read somewhere that the real name of Imagine’s presenter (and creator/writer/producer) Alan Yentob is Alan Botney but that he reversed his last name to make it sound more exotic! But now wonder whether this might be one of those urban-myths propagated pub-to-pub as afterall if your first name is the modest-sounding Alan I would think you should be going the whole-hog and reversing both names – Nala Yentob certainly sounds exotic – if perhaps to these ears female. Moving on!

The program starts with examples of analog technology – a crackling vinyl copy of David Bowie’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, a film camera, a land-line telephone, even a letter! before cutting back to Alan Yentob with iPhone in hand – commenting that

Technology expands the mind but shrinks the world


Making things that were once pleasurably different more or less the same

He portends that books are to be next with the profoundest change since Guthenberg as they ‘become consigned to the dustbin of history’!

Books: The Last Chapter? First book...We then get a potted history of the book. We start before the printing press, before even the physical object of a book, in the form of a scroll. A very long scroll. A second century AD roll of Homer’s The Iliad housed at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. Then we move forward three centuries to a very early example of a physical prototype of the modern day book in the antique form of Eusebius’ Chronicles.

A book very much more convenient to hold and to read than the scroll it was to replace but for all that still only marginally more accessible as this book was literally the ‘one and only’ of its kind. Mass production of copies was not yet upon us. Nor indeed was typography. These original books were all hand-written.

Books: The Last Chapter? CaxtonUntil William Caxton. With him appears the first book published and mass produced in the English language.

This technology propelling the producing and publishing of ever greater volumes of books in ever shorter periods of time. All the way to the modern day. With books at the digital threshold or precipice. Which is what this program will then take its remaining time expounding on.

Books: The Last Chapter? - Alan Bennett Uncommon ReaderWe are at the here and now and the here being at a book reading by Alan Bennett of his The Uncommon Reader.

Alan Yentob then remarks that

we made books and books made us

It is not yet clear to me how the aunt and uncle of an analogue book is able to shape us where the niece and nephew of the digital book with same content just different form will not be able to make us also. Let us hope this program is more than a curmudgeon’s moaning about the passing of all things.

This program takes some curious detours in its narrative. We are advised that books are 99% water 1% fibre so that like their readers they are organic too!

Books: The Last Chapter? Moma Book SmellingWe then detour further from the reading of books to the smelling of books – yes you read that right! – this might sound like some surreptitious sniffing activity undercover of darkness but no there are people who do this and get paid for doing so. We meet one, librarian Rachael Morrison of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She records her verdicts of the books she samples and smells into a ledger. I write samples but in fact she at one time or another smells each and everyone of the library’s books, each and every three-hundred thousand of them! Olfactory overload!

Her comments are in the same spirit as a professional perfume-smeller or wine-taster. And the prose as purple. There is a ledger column for ‘Olfactory Essence’ –  and entries such as ‘burnt Tortilla’ (for The Order of Things by Michel Foucault!) and get this ‘a hug with an elderly relative’ – this ledger it seems is worthy of publication in itself or at least as pretensions of.

She explains this last entry with the quite subjective experience that her parents usually wear and smell of wool (I was not even aware that wool had a smell, I guess I just have a base olfactory system!) and that her grandfather smokes and the way that his smokes sticks to his woollen clothes! For this librarian at least it is not just the physical tactile nature of a book that no digital version can provide but also its very peculiar aroma. During this curious sequence it was never asked why the Museum of Modern Art felt the need to take note of the smells of individual books let alone studiously record them. Was this something particular to MOMA I mused or standard practice of all libraries?!

Alan Yentob himself then mused that there might be a special Smell App for all those book-readers who find themselves seduced to read The Importance of Being Earnest on a Kindle or Nook but nostalgically miss its literal (as oppose to literary!) pungency.

He then alludes to Apps again as

a bland little word like Tweet, Blog and Search that are all quietly changing our world

Books: The Last Chapter? The ElementsAnd by way of ‘is it a book, is it an app’ we move onto The Elements by Theodore Gray. Formerly a glossy coffee-table book it has now become a content-rich multimedia application which since its application incarnation inception eighteen months ago has seen sales of over a quarter-of-a-million copies – nothing to smell here he notes except the ‘sweet smell of success’. Ta da!

Books: The Last Chapter? Theodore GrayAnd so Imagine – Books: The Next Chapter? As we then meet its publishers (or perhaps producers) Touch Press whose speciality is in touch screen versions of  books such as The Elements. The company was established by a former TV producer (Max Whitby) and a scientist (Stephen Wolfram) and by the aforementioned author Theodore Gray among other illustrious founders and we see them in a development meeting with author – and again do the usual descriptions break down here? content producer? Multi-media magician?! – Simon Winchester. They are discussing his latest app Skulls, this one specifically for the iPad. Simon Winchester is there in the meeting or rather he is ‘there’ – being as he is a disembodied video head on a laptop screen – quite fitting of course.

Theodore Gray clearly has no attachment sentimental or otherwise to the printed book – referring to its readers as ‘fetishisers of the printed page’ (well really!) – and adding that

it’s kinda annoying to have to hold the book open!

Speaking as someone who owns and reads books on an iPad I can tell you the paperback, even a hard-back Russian novel, is kinder on the wrists!

All this tiresome physical interaction with the external world. A future of cerebral interaction only where Megamind’s flourish, our craniums expanding as our limbs and torso diminish…

The program then explores the current publishing model in more detail. It is noted that a publisher is focused on getting books on shop bookshelves. The author of books should not be impacted too much by the ‘digital switchover’ but those involved in its physical manufacturer distribution and sale most certainly will be. And indeed already are. Most notably and iconically the book shop.

Books: The Last Chapter?And not just to paraphrase the You’ve Got Mail universe where the Kathleen Kelly small book shop resists succumbing to the Joe Fox corporate chain of books but where both are at the mercy of the online retail behemoths, most notably Amazon, laying the likes of Borders and many other casualties in their inexorable wake.

Publishing consultant – when there are more consultants than there are professionals they are consulting on you know an industry is in trouble – Mike Shatzkin notes that we are a literal crossroads as five years ago most book sales were in store whereas five years from now most will be online, though he notes that that does not mean online sales are only digital as with Amazon itself hard and paper back sales still match those of their Kindle equivalents. For now.

Most bookstores we are reminded are limited by their physical space, whereas an online store is usually a portal to a global distribution network – all that you could want, all that you could need.

Books: The Last Chapter?

The program then cuts to a meeting with the old guard of the book industry – agents and publishers – as they discuss where they find themselves currently and where they are likely heading within the next decade.

Generation Y gets ifs first mention – also known as the Millennial Generation – those born after Generation X and vaguely dated as being born some time in the last quarter of the last century – as those who consume (I hate that word – not even food should be consumed) near three-quarters of their textual information (another urghh phrase!) online. They note that the three main publishers in ten years time for books are not going to be Penguin, Harper Collins and Faber & Faber but Google, Amazon and Apple.

Concern is then expressed about the discovery of new literature for readers asking that with no face-to-face local presence of book stores are we are all then just cast adrift in a sea of information, where finding books becomes evermore hit and miss?

I am not so sure about that. One of the notable aspects of buying a book on Amazon or other online stores is the review process, more specifically the feedback of previous readers. Their own reviews can provide a more informed and authentic review of a book than the more usual hype of the publishers and their cherry-picked favourable reviews? And the algorithms they employ which suggest that as you recently bought this you may like this are pretty impressive I have to concede no matter how complicated and difficult to understand I like to consider myself!

We then come to the issue of copyright and whether all digital information will become free or should become free – inevitable allusions to Napster are quickly made. If you live in a country with Libraries like Great Britain then to an extent, a tax-subsidized extent, books have always been free. Will this be their digital destiny too? Will there be a Spotify for books for that matter, that allows us to read (stream) books freely for a limited period of time funded by relevant targeted and or irritating advertising?

But will that itself become an academic desire as the very concept of digital ownership fading cost to zero establishes itself? Another way to say that books will become worthless? At least economically. Worthless perhaps but not valueless. The program itself wonders what we will pay for if not content. It proposes this will be context and community. Not entirely convincingly I thought. The suggestion was that an author will be paid to read their work in person or that readers will subscribe for them to discuss their work as they go – I like this idea but not quite buying that an author needs to ‘turn up on the page’ – their writing should be speaking for itself and we the reader will take from it what we will based on our own experiences and beliefs – I am not sure either author or reader would want this extra if you like meta-story on the page.

Books: The Last Chapter? Gary ShteyngartWe now switch sides as it were. Following the digital reading utopia of Theodore Gray we now go to the digital reading dystopia of Gary Shteyngart and his book Super Sad True Love Story referred by Alan Yentob as working on his new novel in upstate New York

far from the tweeting crowd

Another grand comparison was made to EM Forster’s ‘only connect’ plea from his 1910 novel Howard’s End

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.

where his plea is ‘only disconnect’. Shteyngart makes great play of being off the digital grid, forced free from the ever widening deepening web. Though disappointingly for me when I googled him I noted he had a Facebook page – well who knows perhaps it was an impostor account – I wonder if I will ever be famous enough to have impostor social media accounts!

He talks of ‘the party in your pocket’ of your smart-phone that is

binging and pinging and clinging and singing and dinging

But not ringing! I noted though he did have a Television – so a selective disengagement or perhaps just a slow weening. Like in turn those who make great play of not having a TV in their homes – so what do you do with your evenings? Oh, you know, we listen to the radio!

He thinks in generalisations which makes him entertaining if not always insightful demurring that ‘we live in a culture where youth is the only thing that is important’.

He is quick to add though that he is not against progress rather its speed. Though at the risk of speaking in generalisations myself I don’t think we can equate all progress as positive or negative. Whatever works. For us.

Books: The Last Chapter? Institute for Future of BooksNext we are introduced to someone from the Institute for the Future of the Book – yes, really! – its co-founder and director Bob Stein and back on the other side of the digital divide. His line was it is the message we should seek to preserve not fuss overmuch over whatever medium happens to be carrying it at any given time, at any given place – the book just a mechanism for the transmission of ideas – so to get hung-up on any one particular format is silly and obstructs us from grasping all the other exciting formats available for its propagation.

The program then puts forward the view that the digital format takes books from the private to the public, from an intimate one-to-one with a paperback to a shared digital experience – we can read a book together and annotate and comment on it together. I guess! Whereas our highlighting of passages in books is for own benefit only (leaving aside striving to impress (upon) others that we may want to lend the book too!) – with a Kindle for example all of our individual highlighting is recorded and stored in Amazon’s database so that we can see the most commonly highlighted phrases of any particular book of interest to us.

Books: The Last Chapter? Marshall McLuhanWe then arrive at McLuhan. Marshall McLuhan. Of the Medium is the Message. Primarily he was referring to Television as against its predecessor of the mass-printed and mass-circulated word but the program suggests that digital technology and the world wide web is even more revolutionary. The program discusses the overload of information. Its overwhelming force and presence. It is commented that in this context the word becomes more emotional and collective where on the paper page it remains more solitary and analytical.

Books: The Last Chapter? Douglas CouplandSwiftly we move on – or back – to Generation X and its Canadian author (and visual artist) and proponent Douglas Coupland.

Books: The Last Chapter? Coupland Twelve StatementsHe thinks that McLuhan’s medium is the message is now more prescient with the web than with TV too. He then comments that human attention span is now the length of one Beatle song – dating himself as very much of Gen X by so doing! – and that the Web even perhaps unintentionally panders to this in a way that the analogue world of books and vinyl never could. It is much easier on the web for us to flit about from one  object of interest to another – very easy for you dear reader to have left/fled this piece many many words back! He casually throws in that Artificial Intelligence is not ‘ever just beyond the blue horizon’ – well he did not quite say this but I am paraphrasing! – but already with us – the web our collective memory, presence, consciousness. Where does it end and we begin, where do we end and it begins…

Remembering too though that Marshall McLuhan did not approve of these changes – he saw TV as the enemy even in its black and white infancy broadcasting a handful of channels only.

We now find ourselves in San Francisco and to meet an entrepreneur and inventor and who is like an anti-McLuhan. And who believes

that friends are electric

We now hear inevitably Tubeway Army.

Books: The Last Chapter Brewster KahleAnd this is Brewster Kahle founder and digital librarian of The Internet Archive – whose mission is to scan every book that has ever existed and make them free to all comers on the web – subject to copyright. Unlike Google who also do this they seek to preserve the original ink too – an analogue back up. Alan Yentob prior to meeting him ponders what book to bring for the man who likely has every book there is to have and decides on Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 – the temperature at which books burns – as an appropriate choice as it describes a world where books are banned and burned and an underground establishing itself to preserve them as heart-learnt human memories – though I am assuming such a book would already be in such an archive but it makes a good poetic point for the program.

Kahle likes the gifted Ray Bradbury book though comments it is not the burning of books but the proliferation of books and information that is a greater problem. Adding too that we become the books we read – how we invest in them emotionally, intellectually, and how we can then recite them back. He then plays a game of ‘if we could be any book what would it be’. He himself thinks he would be either Euclid’s Elements or Ben Franklin’s Autobiography – so not committing to one then! Alan Yentob thinks he would be Voltaire’s Candide. I am not going to play along though – I cannot be constrained and described by any one book – urgh!

Books - The Last Chapter? Internet Digital ArchivesThe building use to be a Christian Science temple which I only note as we are shown a part of this Digital Archive where we see clay figures sitting in temple pews. And who are these figures? Everyone who has ever worked at the archive or is still working for five or more years! Imagine that as an incentive to stay with a company! In the very same room are all the digital servers stacked up to the church ceilings each blue bleep a digital download or upload of a book (and audio and video) somewhere in the world. Millions of books ‘up there’, ‘in the cloud’.

What will tomorrow’s cloud be the program then wonders. How much more of us, of humanity will be existing digitally, ethereally in some San Franciscan server?! How much of us will remain on earth in analogue, not digitally stored and cloned in the buzzing ether?

Finally or perhaps by way of a nostalgic post-script we are taken to a cyber-cafe on its premises where alongside drinking your simmering caffeine concoction an analogue book can be printed off of any contained in their vast digital archive – taking as long to print off as your coffee takes to brew. The program ends with Alan Yentob drinking an Expresso while reading a freshly pressed copy of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

Books: The Last Chapter?The show ends with the disclaimer that no books were harmed in the making of this program!

Imagine – Books: The Last Chapter? dispenses with a traditional beginning middle and an end. This story rambles. Its tale is inconclusive. The current chapter still being written. There is no The End. Perhaps it is a post-modern tale but perhaps too the same as it ever was. Story never-ending.

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Bees Butterflies and Blooms – the quiet catastrophe

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Villages Farms Countryside… the loss of Britain’s wildflower meadows and grasslands is estimated at around 98 per cent. Have we lost our connection with the wildflowers and habitats that were once so common and supported our pollinators?

So asks Bees, Butterflies and Blooms a new three-part gardening and conservation series from the BBC currently being broadcast Wednesday nights at 8pm on BBC 2 – well first being broadcast anyway and then subject to the usual re-viewing opportunities.

Its presenter Sarah Raven according to the program’s website ‘is on a mission to halt the decline in honey bees and insect pollinators with insect friendly flower power’. Sarah Raven is also a writer and gardener and has her own professional business Online Garden and Kitchen Shop.

When I first checked this on the BBC iPlayer I also saw a program Bullets, Boots and Bandages – the BBC are going in for alliteration I noted and letter B alliteration at that – are they like each subsequent series of the erudition-and-beyond QI (one of many laid eggs from Stephen Fry) going to be working their way doggedly through the alphabet toward this end. I am looking forward anyway to the long overdue Beer Bicycles and Belfries.

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Presenter Sarah RavenBack to Bees Butterflies and Blooms. Sarah Raven is aiming to halt this aforementioned depletion in insect pollinators using Flower Power – by bringing flowers back into our British towns, cities and countryside. And this series sets out a crisis and quite an apocalyptic one at that. Sarah Raven describes it as a ‘quiet catastrophe’ – while we are busy going about our increasingly urban lives our farmlands and other rural-scapes have been transformed into soulless food factories producing ever-more efficient food stuffs but of increasingly uniform nature leaving our bees and other pollinating insects increasingly vulnerable to pesticides and parasites.

In Britain alone the loss of wildflower meadows and grasslands is estimated at a startling 98%. The loss of pollinating insects to extinction would be heart-rending enough but it has even deeper implications than that as it threatens our very food supply such is their integral part in its process.

The opening episode is titled ‘Villages Farms and Countrysides’ as it is in the ‘country’ that her campaign to reverse this decline will commence. The BBC iPlayer guide for this episode informs us that she hopes ‘to encourage farmers and village communities to help recreate a network of crucial habitats for struggling bees, butterflies and insect pollinators’. To this end she visits a village called Creaton in Northamptonshire – they will be her pilot as she seeks to convert the countrysides horticultural practices one village at a time. She breezily advises us that

if we can get Brits planting pollen and nectar rich plants throughout the country together we can get Britain buzzing again.

And she starts in the countryside because, surprisingly to me at least, this problem is less pronounced in our towns and cities. We see her in a field, a productive (being the keyword here) habitat of food but also a ‘wildlife desert’ as due to pesticides it is bereft of wildflowers and weeds the very life of our insect pollinating population.

She then demonstrates the effect of this on our everyday eating and diet by visiting a supermarket and filling up a shopping basket with food for a standard British breakfast – no not a half-eaten banana and a few swigs of coffee! – fresh fruit as well as fruit-juice and smoothies, jam, yoghurt, even coffee and chocolate (bees pollinate the respective Coffee and Cocoa beans) and then removing all the insect-pollinated items – all that was left was the wind pollinated food stuffs – wheat, oat – leaving us just with porridge and bread – this is the fate that lies in store for a British breakfast – a Scottish breakfast!  Cue the ever-young strains of Big Yellow Taxi as Joni Mitchell coos its one of many sage lines

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms CreatonSarah Raven’s next call is her first to Creaton – chosen not because it is as typical as any other British village but because of all the villages in Britain it is the one with the largest depletion of pollinating insects – it is in its village-greens, verges and even church-yards where the wild-life has been mown and tidied out of existence. Sarah Raven is as knowledgeable as she is passionate about the subject – as she wanders through a Creaton church-yard with the head of the Parish and other parishioners in pursuit she lists off all and sundry wild-flowers that she casts her eye upon – the rest of her troupe, not very convincingly I thought, nodding their heads in agreement. I was nodding my head too, and I was watching alone!

We then get some history – back near-seventy-years to the end of the second world war and the modernising of food production – meaning taking small-scale agriculture and making it large-scale industrial. Part of this meant creating ever larger fields by removing the previously connecting hedgerows. And it is in these hedgerows and the verges of land adjoining them that the insect pollinators use to live and flourish.

We get some science too. Being advised that it is not just the lack of pollen-producing wildflowers but the lack of diversity in them too – bees for example requiring a variety of flowers to build up their immune system. Professor Simon Potts  (of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Science at the University of Reading) explains the symbiotic relationship – a greater diversity of wild flowers a greater diversity of bees, a greater diversity of bees a greater diversity of wild flowers.

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Council MeetingWe return to Creaton and a parish council meeting. We are first shown sepia photographs of the village at the early part of the twentieth century with naturally wild village greens and Sarah Raven asking us and them if they will ‘re-embrace its wild-side’! The parish council require more convincing than that and consider a  tie-in with the UN 2010 Year of Biodiversity  – when this series was initially filmed – and creating a pause in their progress – for further consultation must now be had! Meetings about meetings comes to mind.

The program then cuts away to a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Reserve in Dungeness, Kent and Doctor Nikki Gammans of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust . We discover that there are now 25 species remaining, 2 of which are now extinct and a further 7 now endangered. Dr Gammans speaks also of a symbiotic relationship – between farmers and bees – as the farmers help the bees to thrive the bees in turn help the farmers produce richer crops.

We are then given another stat – an estimated 84% of our crops in Europe are dependent on insect-pollinators and especially bees and without this our food chain could collapse.

We are then advised of our role in re-establishing bees in our national life. We are encouraged to collect wild-flower seeds for our own domesticated gardens. Though there is perhaps a rub – that it is assumed we all have homes with gardens. I myself live in a first floor flat with not even a balcony to lay out some seed trays for. And as much as I love bumble-bees, not quite to the extent that I want them living unconstrained about my home. But I digress.

Bees, Butterflies and BloomsWe then spend some time in Sarah Raven’s undomesticated garden. We see her cleaning the wild flower seeds by dividing them from their petals – this is not quite my hope for a wild garden – rather untended growth while said wild gardener heads indoors for a more sedentary urban pursuit like a hot cup of tea and even hotter game of scrabble on his iPad while the Lesser Knapweed and St John’s Wort are left to get on with it. While Sarah Raven is cleaning these seeds we learn by way of some nature and nurture that her father was a botanist and an artist combining both loves in wildflower illustrations.

We then revisit Creaton in September to catch up on progress or even if there has been any progress. If you consider meetings about doing things but not actually doing those things has progress then there has been progress. So Sarah Raven then seeks parishioner persuasion with a people-pestering-paper-petition (see I can do uncontrived alliteration too, well okay then contrived alliteration). Most of the parishioners seemed more than happy to sign this petition if perhaps succumbing to the seductive persuasiveness of a BBC camera crew lurking just outside of their eye-shot.

Bees, Butterflies and BloomsHaving successfully gathered and armed themselves with seeming sufficient signatures it was expressed that they could sympathise with the hitherto reluctance. Mmm – you would think the building of dens of iniquity were being proposed for their village rather than a verge of wild-flowers on their village green and little-seen church-yard back-waters. The invasion of the flowery margins!

A Northamptonshire farming family the Farringtons had also been brought on board. The head-farmer Duncan Farrington in particular requires far less cajoling to see both the ecological and economical benefits of re-introducing strips of wild flowers alongside his main crop of arable fields.

As noted Sarah Raven is leading by example and we see her commencing the sewing of her wild-garden in Autumn – this being the optimum time for both annuals and perennials to be sewn – I can see you all nodding your heads in a pretence of understanding you urban lot!

The final quarter of this opening episode jumps forward to May 2011 allowing us to see the progress of the various wild flower projects. The farmer’s field will need a second year for the perennial flowers to establish themselves against the hardy arable weeds. The Creaton village did eventually decide to commence with their project with the tiny baby steps of an area of the village-green being allowed to go wild and native.

The head of the parish council is then called on for his reading on proceedings to date. He shares that a lot of the villagers ‘quite like it’ – an underwhelming sort of endorsement if ever there was one! – and just for good measure adding ‘that there are other’s not so favourable’! Against that though they have instigated a project to increase wild-flower growth in the villagers own gardens as part of a new group ‘Natural Creaton’

Remembering too that Creaton is the program’s pilot and that Sarah Raven is wanting every village in the UK to follow suit – tiny steps indeed.

In the second episode Towns Gardens and Britain in Bloom she will be taking this challenge to our towns and cities and asking that the Britain in Bloom Competition, the UK Garden Industry and Royal Horticultural Society join her in this endeavour. I look forward to seeing how she gets on. And am hopeful that her cause blossoms with this BBC broadcast – sorry but an irresistible pun should not be resisted.

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Closing credits

Money – who wants to be a billionaire?

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?Do you dear reader want to become rich beyond all your wildest imagining, all without having to work? Catch? There’s no catch, what do you take me for?!

Money is a new three-part documentary, currently showing on BBC 2, presented by Vanessa Engle, exploring our personal attitudes to money. Vanessa Engle also produced and directed Money and is building up an impressive CV of singular documentary-style series such as Jews, Lefties and from last year Women.

The first episode ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ asks if anyone can get rich if they truly apply themselves? And by rich it is meant material wealth – put aside any thoughts here of a pursuit for spiritual and or philosophical fulfilment. And do not spend time to consider whether some professions may lend themselves to great wealth more easily than others, or that others might be more rewarding of dedication than other career paths. No this not about any laborious get-rich slowly-and-surely and then only perhaps.

Vanessa Engle

Vanessa Engle

No, this is your do nothing or something very close to nothing and get rich doing it, and pronto, do you hear!

How we can get the most from doing the least possible.

Yes, do not exhort us here to study hard, work hard and with a bit of luck thrown in we will conquer all we survey, malarkey.

No, this is your classic get-rich-quick scam coughs! scheme – I wonder in their history if there has ever been a scheme that was not a sham, a scam, a spam? You know the thing – ‘I earned £1238.29p in one day for just two hours work just for undertaking some routine task but with a special unknown secret which I will disclose to you, because frankly I like you, you have a nice face, so because I like you I am offering you it for a special time-limited price of £99.99 – sadly as much as I do like you, and I really do like you, this is a one time offer, so act and act now etc etc’. We know who is getting rich here. Or so we might think. But as this documentary shows there really is one born every second. Sucker that is. Incidentally there is available another version of this post which shares some of my own secrets to instant wealth – just contact me and for a £10 PayPal donation I will share it with you.

These days with a documentary as likely to be a mockumentary it is not always immediately clear if what we are watching is some serious exposé or a dry spoof. Was this another Brass-eye or the real Alan Whicker?

Vanessa Engle was adopting the Louis Theroux approach to documentary-making and interviewing – the give them enough rope and let them hang themselves slowly technique. Nothing we could possibly script could outdo the words coming out of their own mouths of their own free-will. You never have to make it up!

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?

The ones born every second

This program looked at both those getting rich off the schemes and those getting schemed by those who have gotten rich by them.

Those generally getting rich being those promoting and selling them – who write expensive books and run even more expensive intensive weekend seminars. Those generally not getting rich being those who read said expensive books and sign up to said expensive seminars.

Those providing these schemes are referred to, by themselves at least, as Wealth Trainers or Gurus (the latter term always a red-flag in my book) featured in this episode were Robert Kiyosaki and T Harv Eker (a botch of consonants and vowels half-heartedly attempting to be a name). Both have websites I am sure and equally certainly only a few seconds after having landed on the home-page we will be bombarded by pop-ups asking us to sign up now for life-changing wealth-enhancing secrets in the form of downloadable e-Books. I don’t actually know this but I have a sense that I do – call it my sixth sense for bullshit. You reader are a responsible adult and quite capable of making your own decision as whether you wish to venture forth into their web-domain.

Not all of those who try to get rich quick get poorer even more quickly. Some do actually hit the jackpot – and I think jackpot is the key phrase here!

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?The program starts by one of those jackpot winners – a married-couple sitting on a good size property portfolio and living comfortably off its combined rental income but equally tellingly making even more income by marketing their success to others – I got rich quick so you can too sort of thing.

And the husband of this couple casually making this gob-smacking statement

there is enough money in the world for everyone to be millionaires!

Even if there was and we each received a million-dollar cheque I am thinking that there might then be rapid price rises – excitingly, frighteningly called hyper-inflation – and we would be none the wealthier for all those extra zeroes on each of our respective bank balances. For any excessive wealth to exist there must exist alongside it an excessive level of poverty? But I digress. The husband however would not be put-off by my Marx-Lite dialectic and indeed goes on to add that the reason that we do not live in a world full of millionaires is because most of us choose not to be a millionaire. Content instead to tend our gardens and stare wistfully at TV programs like this.

Actually this was not the first clip in this program –  the opening, fleetingly, laying-the-groundwork clip was one of these wealth guru’s asking, no imploring, their audience, whether they wanted to be rich and whether they wanted to be happy and – wait for it – whether they wanted to be rich and happy. Yes please and can I have a side-order of spiritual fulfilment too? I can?, lovely!

Cue Travie McCoy and Billionaire –

I want to be a billionaire so frickin’ bad, buy all the things I never had

(We were incidentally beyond the water-shed but it was the version with the cuddly F Word that was being used not the moral-corrupting Gordon Ramsay patent-applied version carousing our apparently innocent ears.)

playing on the program soundtrack as we witness hordes of the wealth-expectant as if they were attending church and a congregation waiting to be blessed the ancient secrets of extreme wealth for very little effort from this alchemist preacher of the cash-dispensing pulpit.

And let me be clear I am not disdaining any of them their desire to get rich, no matter how quick and easy they seem to think it should come. I am no self-lacerating protestant work-ethic touting nine-to-five wage-slave worker-drone cheer-leading Neo-Con lackey me! What is it with working hard to get by if you can work smart and fly high? We already have programs tapping into this entrepreneurial spirit such as Britain’s Next Big Thing and Dragon’s Den but it is usually notable from watching such programs that those who prosper do so not as a means to an end of luxury and idleness but as an almost accidental by-product. Such self-made (not lottery-made and inheritance-made) millionaires usually live to work not to escape work – however cash rich they become they are usually forever time poor.

Being cash-rich and time-rich now there’s an elusive butterfly

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?The first of those trying to net this gossamer butterfly was Janice, a 38 year old leisure nurse from Ilford Essex – for Janice though The Only Way Is Out of Essex. Janice has post-it notes strewn across her furnishings and fittings with statements such as ‘I am a Millionaire’ and ‘Health and Wealthy’ alongside recycled food jars now serving as penny-expectant piggy-banks as she sings ‘Ka-ching’ whilst loading another tuppence into their plastic bowels.

She might get penny rich but she is clearly pound poor. Her largest account balances alas are negative being the tens of thousands she has racked up on her credit cards attending wealth creating seminars and purchasing the various attendant merchandise.

One particular post-it note says ‘I’m a millionaire, thank you’! When asked by Vanessa Engle who she was thanking she without much hesitation retorted ‘The universe’! A slightly quasi-religious secular variation of praying for rain to fertilise your crops, the crops in this case being – well there’s your first problem – Janice is of the belief she should be visited upon by vast riches just for being, well, Janice. A gross and grotesque sense of entitlement if ever there was one, but not one alas confined to Janice alone but to the hundreds and thousands who attend these wealth seminars.

These wealth seminars which are pyramid schemes of we get rich by picking your pockets and all you need to do is to find another thousand poor souls (literally and figuratively) to pick their pockets.

For Janice herself does have a job which is low paid with long hours and she is hard-working. She is charming too but alas easily charmed in return.

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?The next featured looking to get rich were a young teenage couple – the girlfriend declaiming that she finds the whole idea of having a job quite ridiculous! To her a global paradise of jobless people – nothing being done save attending wealth seminars and those who provide them sunning themselves on beaches – but who to serve them their cold Martini’s the would-be waiters now closeted off in darkened rooms chanting into the ether ‘I am a deserving worthy individual, universe shower just a little of your vast wealth upon me’!

Vanessa Engle’s programs as noted lets those so filmed speak for themselves unscripted and the quotes they make are indeed priceless. The girlfriend then goes on to say quite reasonably that working for a pittance does not appeal and then states quite casually and extremely unreasonably

unlimited income is what appeals to me!

Not even mere vast riches but riches without end – is that too much for her to ask?!

In a later scene we see this teenage couple about to attend yet another seminar (surprising isn’t it that one seminar is never enough and that the failure of said seminar to make them wealthy encourages not discourages them to attend even more!) and with a Tesco plastic carrier bag in hand. When asked what the contents were they share some basic grocery because they say the cost of the meals on offer inside is very expensive – who would have thought that! Still a lesson is being learned – wealth protection is key to wealth accumulation!

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?We learn that she was first set on this path by reading Rich Dad Poor Dad by self-styled wealth-guru Robert Kiyosaki at age 12 – what a book to read at age 12! She now has shelves and shelves of such books – Ka-ching – no not Janice stealing in from another scene but the ghostly voice of Kiyosaki himself!

Later we see the two of them visiting an Estate Agents with another male couple in tow as their mentor and consultant respectively (for very reasonable fees we can but assume) and absurdly informing the estate agent that they are looking to set up a property portfolio and to buy a number of flats and houses in the local area. We had previously discovered that they have a net worth just shy of less-than-zero – with what were they going to buy all these properties then let alone one? – how much bricks-and-mortar can fairy-dust buy?!

These are but two of those followers (for it is a kind of money cult?) featured in this program to give you a taster – I am not going to detail the others as the program itself does an excellent job of portraying them and their money-filled dreams.

We though also get to see the wealth gurus themselves – in action delivering their seminars on stage, their luxurious homes and cars, and in face to face interview with Vanessa Engle.

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?

Robert Kiyosaki

The first so introduced is the aforementioned Robert Kiyosaki and his book ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’ – wealth-guru, author, thin-air salesman, scam-artist. These are words that some might say about him. I am letting you make up your own mind though!

He shared with Vanessa Engle the very reasonable observation that wealth is about knowing your assets from your liabilities – giving an example that if he had a car and rented it out as a cab it would be an asset but if he merely owned the car it would be a liability. This at least was not quack-economics.

Later we see the man with the tongue-strangling name T Harv Eker author of ‘Secrets of the Millionaire Mind’. Like Robert Kiyosaki (oh dear reader I hope their names aren’t trade-marked and that I need to pay rental income to them for each time I use them!) he has the habit of slurring words into the microphone sprouting out of his left-ear as he addresses his audience – the sound of their own oily words leaving a bad taste in their mouth that even their own silvery tongues cannot overcome?!

Unlike Robert Kiyosaki who does at least believe to become rich you need to be financially educated Mr Eker (for I shall now refer to him as that) – extols only that you need to believe and chant ‘I am a successful money manager’. At this point I could only break into laughter wondering if perhaps this was a Ricky Gervais out-take I was in fact watching after-all!

I did not laugh as much as his next declaration that

I am probably best known as a cross between Donald Trump and Buddha

The most tangential script-writer could never have written that!

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?

T Harv Eker…ick!

There is nothing I would even try adding to this statement! T Harv Eker presents a telling concoction of smiling mouth and unsmiling eyes. His memorable quotes does not exhaust with the above frightening cartoon hybrid as he goes on to say ‘I’m a multi-multi-millionaire and you can say multi for a couple of minutes’. And an endearing way of not flouting his wealth in our faces.

Mr Eker is quick to let us know that he is first and foremost a scientist not a spiritualist – a scientist in the same way that an Astrologer or a Creationist considers themselves one. The changes to our mental attitudes we must make he says are to our neurological pathways not our Chakras – he then goes on to witter – to talk – about Energy throwing in Einstein’s iconic E=MC squared for good and meaningless measure.

Some viewers watching this episode will doubtless be outraged and angry not just at these schemes but at this program itself – that it should be investigating and exposing these charlatans. But the program with its gentle-questioning of all concerned is eliciting far more openness to the TV cameras and revelation of its practices and thoughts than if this was a hard-hitting exposé where doubtless those providing the schemes would have then retreated to the isolated cold grandeur of their gated homes and those buying into them to their bedsits with curtains closed.

Vanessa Engle’s gentle method of enquiry throws far more light upon this twilight world.

The program ends to the the sound of Cole Porter’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ with Frank Sinatra crooning in duet to Celeste Holme and answering ‘I don’t’

Who wants a marble swimming pool? I don’t. Because all I want is you.

If only the young teenage couple would realise the riches they already have.

Women! – plenty slapstick and tickle

Vous les FemmesWomen’s cast includes many women but the two main women are Judith Siboni and Olivia Côte, its lead stars and writers.

Women! currently airing in the Thursday midnight hour on BBC 2 is a French comedy sketch show. It is known in its mother country France as ‘Vous Les Femmes’ which translate as ‘You Women’ though I think ‘Women’ with the exclamation mark is a better title, if not translation.

Along with its night-owl scheduling by the BBC, information available on the show is not exactly forthcoming on their website program page either, merely stating that ‘it is an all female cast written by the stars of the show’. Which itself is not even accurate as there are very definitely males on the show, and some of whom do have speaking parts!

I would have thought that they would want to explain if not promote the show a bit more than that. Still at least they are broadcasting it.

Women! - M6 Web PageMore information though can be found on the French TV channel from whence it came, M6 (Metropole TV) – assuming your French is up to it – or at least that Google Translate is! And I am not quite sure that it is since it is indicating that the show is on its 4 series but 439th episode – surely not – 100 odd episodes per series? Perhaps this is how they do it in France but I am thinking perhaps the site is referring to the number of sketches in total, the sketches lasting as they do anything from mere seconds to several minutes at most.

Women! Vous les femmesThe show was first broadcast on French TV in 2007 and is now in its fourth series. I am presuming the BBC have started us from its beginning but I am not clear.

Being as it is an unusual mix of both slapstick and surreal sketches. Some of the humour is observational, some conceptual. Each of the sketches are segued by striking visual animations themselves humorous. Anyone know who the animators are/is?

The episode reviewed here is the third of the six being shown by the BBC and broadcast Thursday November 3.

One recurrent sketch of this episode and the entire series involve Siboni and Côte doing charades to each other but the items mimed are not the standard TV show, book, movie and song title rather obscure physical or even abstract ones such as ‘A French Teachers Red Pen’, a ‘bulb that’s about to blow’ and a ‘Blow Dry’!

Women! Vous les femmesSome of the sketches are definitely risqué and close to the bone.

One such as a scene on a bus where Côte sits down next to a sleeping male passenger who slumbering slumps on her shoulder, then his hand accidentally rubs against her breast resulting in Côte taking the opportunity to place his hand in her – I will leave you to guess the rest – it’s exactly what your dirty mind is thinking!

Other scenes of a less than maternal nature are mined for comedic effect. Such as Côte seated in a spotless flat revealing her secret to her friend as dipping her heavily swaddled baby in to a warm bowl of soapy water and allowing the baby to then dry off by crawling all over the kitchen and bathroom floors.

Another scene sees an enthusiastic boy with his mother and another admiring mother commenting how magnificent to see such ‘Joie de vivre’ in one so young only for the mum to display not maternal pride but existential ennui commenting that she finds it ‘positively indecent how anyone can display their happiness in a world so shitty’!

Women! Vous les femmesOther sketches of a different potty variety are not easily described with a straight face save to say that one involved a care-home for the elderly and one of its elderly woman residents missing her dentures, and another sketch involving Siboni with Côte in diplomatic conversation before the former farting and reprimanding the same region of the body that the missing dentures were found in another elderly man!…

Surreal turns are taken too such as a wedding reception scene with the bridegroom burrowing into his bride’s wedding dress to retrieve her garter only instead to bring back items like a steam-cooker, a goldfish bowl, a man in a motorcycle helmet, a basket ball hoop before finally revealing the garter, itself discovered beneath the gas cooker!

Other sketches are more conventional such as a club scene where Côte is asked by a man if she wants to dance with the expectation she will say no so that he can get her to hold his coat to avoid paying the cloakroom charge – just the sort of proposition we all love!

Other sketches spoof cinema moments such as From Here To Eternity and the Ursula Andress Dr No ocean scene both reprised with an expected irreverent twist.

Yet other sketches are physical slapstick and really have to be seen to be enjoyed – or not depending on your particular penchant for this brand of humour. I myself enjoyed the ‘Too Much Love’ scene. Let us just say that these are women who like to gurn. Try and imagine a more sexy Les Dawson – if that is not too disturbing for you!

Sketch shows such as this are hit and miss by their nature but this show definitely sees the misses hitting more than they miss.