The Save BBC 4 Campaign

BBC Four LogoCurrently there is a campaign and online petition in place to save BBC 4.

The BBC are having to make cuts – or savings – our Prime Minister prefers the term savings but then as he is the leader of the coalition government making those cuts he would! But when is a saving not a cut – just more Orwellian newspeak…

Save BBC 4 CampaignSave BBC 4 CampaignThis need for savings arises from the BBC’s Delivering Quality First (DQF) initiative – the name of their consultation agenda for their current charter period ending 2017. The TV License Fee has been frozen by the government until that period meaning the BBC will have to save one-fifth of its current budget – oops, I used the phrase ‘save’ – its subliminal!

And BBC 4 is in the firing line – as is the daytime output of BBC 2 and the extent of how BBC News 24 is sourced. I understand that cuts do have to be made – consciously resisting the subliminal message now! – and whichever channel they target is going to have its fan-club up in arms resisting the changes. It is positive testament to the BBC that their channels inspire such fierce loyalty.

And if BBC 4 is to escape unscathed then other channels will have to be scathed, and which?

BBC local radio?

BBC News 24? – they do have a number of discrete programmes, such as Hard Talk and Click, but much of the news is repeated fifteen minute chunks always bordered by sports and weather updates (an aside, why do we need weather updates – surely that could be scrolled on the screen or we could use our digital red buttons to access our local weather – I don’t want to know what the weather is like five hundred miles away from where I live at any time of the day nevermind every fifteen minutes!).

There is so much going on in the world, so much going on in Britain, yet we would never know it from the limited items reported on, then repeated ad-infinitum on BBC News 24. Not so much BBC News 24 as BBC News Quarter of an Hour.

They could share the cuts across all the channels? The BBC equivalent of all being in it together?! Less daytime and after-midnight output, but leaving the evening and weekend peak-viewing times intact?

Just as anyone of us can become an armchair general or armchair football manager so we can become the admittedly less glamorous armchair accountant – sitting in all cases at a comfortable distance not having to deal with difficult details and the inevitable messy human cost.

My concern for BBC 4 is that it is already like its younger party-going sibling BBC 3 a part-timer – clocking in at 7pm for its evening and then graveyard shift – heading off home to rest in the early hours of the following morning just as their older sibling channels are waking up to offer us their various Breakfasts.

BBC 4 LogoAnd then much of its content is repeated – if you miss Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency of an evening chances are it will be shown again after midnight and then later on in the week. And with the excellent BBC iPlayer that is of itself not that much of a selling point rather that BBC 4 is already padded out as it is – I am not sure how much saving there is in cutting down on the multiple showings of new content? Perhaps too if BBC 1 and 2 never had their younger siblings, 3 and 4, much of that content would have made it on to 1 and 2 anyway?

The BBC could also consider more content broadcast solely online – the iPlayer itself is a recognition of the time-shifted nature of how most of us now live our lives and watch our television – though perhaps this is an idea whose time is not yet ready with the user experience simply not as satisfying on a smaller computer screen with the vagaries of Broadband.

BBC 4 Library LogoThere is much support for BBC 4 – not just the viewing public but its jobbing actors and presenters – on Twitter there are many speaking up in favour of it and urging us to sign the petition – I have done so – such as Armando Iannucci, David Mitchell, Stephen Mangan and there is also a Twitter account Save BBC Four we can follow to monitor the progress of the campaign.

It is my favourite BBC channel too…for its arts and science output, its comedies, its literary adaptations,  its European crime dramas! – for example in no particular genre order the aforementioned Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency, The Art of Russia, Ego: The Strange and Wonderful World of Self-Portraits, Lead Balloon, The Thick of It, 2012, The Killing, Wallander, Spiral, Everything and Nothing, Women In Love – I could go on but run the risk of merely listing their entire schedule!

Considering its allotment of hours is relatively small it has managed to cram those hours with programs full of quality and originality. I hope, as with the campaign to save BBC Radio 6, that BBC 4 will be ring-fenced and the channel’s current creative content continue.

Save BBC 4 Campaign

The House of Eliott – ITV Return

The House of Eliott ITV 3British period fashion drama The House of Eliott returns today to ITV 3 for a weekday afternoon and evening run.

British telly in the 1990’s gave us fashion comedy Absolutely Fabulous – it also gave us the more serious-minded fashion drama ‘The House of Eliott’, both from the BBC.

Whereas Absolutely Fabulous was also set in the 1990’s, The House of Eliott was set in the 1920’s.

The Eliott’s being sisters Beatrice and Evangeline. Bea, the older sister, played by Stella Gonet, who runs the business with occasional forays into dress-design – whereas younger sister Evie, played by Louise Lombard, designs most of the clothes. Bea is the more conservative of the two Evie the more radical – this leads to occasional tensions in their work together and their designs.

The House of Eliott Ball SceneThe show follows the death of the sisters’ doctor father who leaves them without a penny, due to speculative stock purchases on the markets, this being before the crash of 1929, he also leaves them an illegitimate son, a brother they were unaware of.

Bea lands a job to a society photographer who later helps the sisters to fund their fashion house.

Their fashion house being established in a still predominantly male-run environment – they also have to overcome class prejudices – both sisters being from mere middle class backgrounds whereas business was still seen as both an upper class and male domain.

The series was written by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins who also had come up with the brief for the original Upstairs, Downstairs from the 1970’s.

The House of Eliott Fashion ShowThere was more to the show than haute couture – the social and political backgrounds of the time were explored – women’s suffrage, the life of the working and non-working poor. It was well written but perhaps its pace a bit sedate for today’s tastes. But even if you did not care too much for the characters and the plot if you loved fashion and had an interest in its history this show was a must-see.

I myself enjoyed its portrayal of British fashion in the 1920’s – the design process, fashion media, fashion shows – the latter being in dining salons where the fashion press ate and drank as the models moved about the tables – a preferable practice perhaps to the current runway set up!

The first season focussed on their work and run up to their first fashion show, and its critical reception and commercial consequences. Most of their fashion pieces did not come on full display until seasons two and three.

I am looking forward this re-run and am hoping the fashions were as good as I remember them.The House of Eliott Logo

Tipping the Velvet Underground

Tipping the Velvet - Sarah WatersJust finished reading Sarah Waters‘ 1998 novel Tipping the Velvet. A real page-turner. In part for me because I was I think as blind-sided as Nan King was at Kitty Buttler’s betrayal-liaison with Walter Bliss and expected a resolution and reunion between the two with each subsequent chapter before belatedly resigning myself against this. There was a happy romantic ending – a number indeed – but not telling between whom as do not want to spoil for those who are not familiar with it! – a real tear-jerker the ending was too following on the emotional rollercoaster of Nancy after Kitty.

I now want to watch the BBC and Andrew Davies 2002 adaptation (which also was the cover of the version of the book I read so Rachael Stirling and Keeley Hawes were already indelibly imprinted in my imagination as Nan and Kitty) – and I want to seek out everything else on TV and in print from Sarah Waters such as Fingersmith and Affinity and am awaiting the 2011 Richard Laxton adaptation of The Night Watch with eager anticipation.

Tipping the Velvet TV cast photo

Though the ending was romantically a happy one the politics of the book made me a bit rueful. Not the sexual and equality politics – there have been significant developments in Britain since the time of its setting in the late 19th Century – rather the labour and economic politics of the book as exemplified by the Florence Banner character and her brother Ralph.

Sarah WatersAt this time socialism was still a hopeful dream of working people. The 20th Century saw it become a nightmare with the Capitalism it sought to replace flourishing and stronger than ever come the end of the 20th Century. But here we are in 2011 with Free Market Capitalism itself now dead following its demise in the 2008 financial crisis and what to fill the vacuum? A pauperization of the middle-classes now seems in place and the Karl Marx observation that

Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks

remains as pertinent as ever. Only social democracy can perhaps save us now but will the crony capitalists relinquish their reigns – they have prevailed for an awfully long time.

However lest you have not read this book and now thinking it a dry political tract don’t let my tangential musings mislead, the political and economic travails of working people is but a part of this rich and many layered story. The wilful Victorian love-child of Charles Dickens and Emily Bronte. And then some!

Dragon’s Den Online

One evolution of television due to the web is not just a website supporting its content or airing of that content again online but the airing of additional content not able to be shown on-air due to scheduling constraints.

Dragon’s Den Online is the web offshoot of the Sony originated and BBC Broadcast Dragon’s Den.

It is a similar format if just two dragons than the usual five. Currently these are charismatic and telegenic Julie Meyer of Ariadne Capital and Shaf Rasul of E-Net Computers. And Dominic Byrne in the Evan Davies commentator role.

Another slight difference is that £50,000 is the ceiling for the capital investment.

Being online means that unlike the TV series you are able to choose the pitches you want to watch and I watched pitches by Gill Goodchild for Costume Workshop Direct and Ian Gallagher for Classic Sinatra.  We are also able to rate the pitches ourselves and see how others have rated them. We can also comment on them.

Summaries are available for each of the pitches including the dragon’s thoughts on them.

There is no dating of the particular pitches which I think is an oversight and the site itself does not have a very engaging or interactive feel beyond the online pitches themselves.

For the Online Den to be really invested in it needs to remain current and overseen by an active online production team. Nevertheless it is an interesting insight into new business ideas and the creative and financial planning requirements involved.

Candy Cabs – not quite a carry on

Candy Cabs is a new TV comedy from production company Splash Media and the first episode aired Tuesday April 5 on BBC 1.

The premise is the establishment of a new taxi business Candy Cabs, set in a fictional North of England town, South Hadley.  (Actually set in Lymm, Cheshire!)

The twist is that Candy Cabs is owned by Jackie and Elaine played by Jo Joyner and Lisa Millet respectively – and all of their staff and customers are female too.

Carry on Cabby

Its basis reminded me of the 1963 film Carry on Cabby where Hattie Jacques played the head of an all female taxi company in opposition to an all male firm – with just the one significant difference that the owner of that firm (played by Sid James) was her husband!

Candy Cabs is directed by Minkie Spiro who has written for the BBC’s Hustle and Channel 4’s Skins which are two favourite shows of mine so I was looking forward to the first episode.

The opening scene saw the cremation of Sharon ‘Shazza’ Whitehead (whose idea Candy Cabs had been) being lowered into the flames to the rousing sound of the Tom Jones song Sex Bomb.  This risqué humour sets the tone for the rest of the show and the series – which will run to three episodes.

Her two remaining partners Jackie and Elaine now having to decide whether they wish to continue with Sharon’s business dream or not.

This first episode struggled I felt between whether it wanted to be a drama with some humour thrown in or a comedy with some drama thrown in – for me at least the drama worked better than the comedy.

Jo JoynerJo Joyner (taking time Up North from Albert Square as Eastender Tanya Branning) managed well the blend of comedy and drama.

There were some solid performances too from British acting stalwarts John Henshaw (as the town’s CEO of Business and Trade), Denis Lawson (as Kenny Ho the owner of the local rival taxi firm) and Melanie Hill (as Stella another Candy Cabbie).

Some of the more overt comedic performances I found less convincing including that of Elaine played by Lisa Millet – more though due to the comedy writing than her acting itself.

Another was Paul Kaye as absconding husband Dennis Whitehead whose performance I felt was detached from the action about him.

Threading through the narrative of this newly establishing taxi cab business are the difficult family and home lives of the main characters. This aspect of the show I did find convincing both in terms of the writing and acting.

There was a clever touching brief scene with the bereaved daughter Beth Whitehead played by Alexandra Roach shown on her living room couch clutching the telephone answer-machine and replaying the last ever message left by her mother Sharon.

At the end of the first episode we learn that Sharon’s feckless husband Dennis was not actually divorced and thus has inherited her share of the business, which sets up episode two nicely.

I though am undecided whether I will be tuning in for this next episode to discover whether Jackie and Elaine buy him out and keep Candy Cabs an all female company.

Women In Love – Episode Two

Episode Two begins with a brutal scene between a British and German soldier in a World War I trench and does not dwell on that war much beyond that – its horror has been starkly encapsulated in that one act of kill or be killed.

Women In Love then returns to the peace if a broken and haunted peace.

Father and daughter BBC adaptationThe idealism of the first episode replaced with dreams broken yet accommodated – for all of the main characters the Brangwen sisters themselves and Gerald Crich (the brutal and brutalised soldier) and Rupert Birkin.

Their hearts and minds are stripped even more naked in this ending episode. Gudrun Brangwen who gave the appearance at least of frivolity in the first episode deepened considerably in this second and I thought Rosamund Pike who played her turned in the most impressive of all the performances.

Women In Love’s preoccupations of love and sex, the purpose of art and how we should live our life all felt very modern and I had to remind myself that DH Lawrence wrote this story the best part of a century ago.  I am glad that the BBC brought it to wider attention.