24 September 2008

Just because you're paranoid...

Noel Edmonds has been creating publicity for his new Sky TV show, though maybe not the way his new employers had in mind. Having mugged his way through a 30-year career at the beeb, and diverted a fair chunk of the Corporation's earnings into his own trousers, he has announced he is no longer willing to put some back in the other end by stumping up for a TV licence.

This is not, you understand, a protest against the quality of programming or declining standards that usually marks people having a pop at Aunty - he even described the licence fee as "astonishing value". It's because the BBC has become too "aggressive" in the way it goes about collecting the fee: "There are too many organisations... that seem to think it's OK to badger, hector and threaten people," he said. In Noel's eyes, then, the BBC is no better than a loanshark.

In Edmonds' world, time was when Lord Reith himself would come round with a posy of flowers and a four-pack to ask if you wouldn't mind most awfully chipping in a tanner or two for that lovely Mr Dimbleby's wages. Presumably he doesn't remember the TV Detector vans of the 1970s, or maybe he views them fondly because of their ineffectiveness - a fig-leaf for the fact that, for years, successful collection of BBC revenue was largely self-policing. Even today, when the idea of a collectivist entertainment system seems increasingly at odds with a culture of individual choice, more than 93% of properties pay for a TV licence.

True enough the BBC will prosecute people for failing to pay for a service they use - more than 1000 are caught every day. But I am willing to bet they aren't half as "aggressive" as the Royal Bank of Scotland when it called in a disputed debt it claimed it was owed by Noel Edmonds, precipitating the collapse of his business empire. The sort of thing that might make a man feel as if the world was out to get him.

I began to wonder whether Edmonds applies this rather bizarre principle to other parts of his life. When he pays for something in a shop, does he walk out without paying if the vendor forgets to say 'please'? Does he dodge bills in restaurants if he feels the waiter was looking at him funny? Maybe Sky could try their luck by refusing to pay him for his new TV show, just to see how aggressive he became - then withhold indefinitely as a matter of principle.

Politics in the age of celebrity

Two eight-year-old schoolgirls were on the London underground yesterday sat beside me. One was ostentatiously showing-off her sophistication by reading the free Metro newspaper while her friend looked on admiringly. They came to a double page spread of the Labour party conference showing lots of shots of David Milliband grinning somewhat manically after his keynote speech.

"Who's that?" asked the ingenue, indicating the Foreign Secretary.

Without skipping a beat, her friend sized him up and replied, confidently: "Lee Evans".

Such savage satire from one so young.

21 September 2008

I name this President...

Two truisms about the US Presidential race are under particular scrutiny this time around.

The first is that the Vice President is "a heartbeat away" from being President; this is of particular interest given that the Republican candidate, John McCain, will be the oldest first-term President, should he win the election. A surprisingly high percentage of Presidents fail to complete their terms of office, adding further spice to the media interest bubbling around his choice of Veep, Sarah Palin.

On average, a Vice President will succeed to the top job once in every 4.77777777777778 Presidents. The last man to do so was Gerald Ford, some 5 Presidents ago, so if the mathematical mean holds, watch out for President Palin.

Which brings us to the second truism - each party's candidate will start the campaign from the extremes and gravitate towards the political centre, as the need to shore up party support turns into a need to appeal to the broadest base of people. This campaign is unusual in bucking that trend as candidate McCain has to move from a centrist nothing-to-do-with-George Bush position to reach out toward the traditional right-wing Republican base. So for all the talk about this campaign breaking new ground, it comes to something when the right-wing candidate has to recruit a small-town, pro-abortion, fundamentalist Christian gun-nut in order to give his ticket "balance". For that to represent balance, it would put McCain somewhere to the left of Fidel Castro.

Much has been made of Governor Palin's suitability for the task by both sides, but leaving aside the mud-slinging over her executive experience or lack of it - for me the key is in her children. She's had five opportunities to give her kids proper names, and blown it each time, coming up with the following collection of apparently random nouns: Willow, Piper, Bristol, Track and Trig. If we can't trust her judgement when it comes to the comparatively simple task of naming an offspring, I'm really not sure she is the best person to trust with the nuclear missile launch codes.

11 September 2008


For a country that cannot produce enough physics teachers to pass on the secrets of the universe to the next generation, it was a pleasant surprise to find the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN was the lead story on yesterday’s news. Things went so smoothly with the switch-on process that it seems the most difficult problem identified so far is whether to pronounce Hadron as “Hay-dron” or “Had-dron” amongst the scientifically illiterate reporters.

Best headline of the day goes to the London Evening Standard for the incontrovertible "World survives 'Big Bang' ". Presumably if the world hadn't survived the switching-on of the LHC, the Standard would have been there to report it - just in case we'd been too busy to notice.


A poster outside my local train station for the Alpha Course asks, “If God did exist, what would you ask him?”

I think my answer is probably: “Why are you using 48-sheet ambient media when a targeted email would be more cost-effective? As an omniscient being, I presume he must have all our email addresses.

From a professional point of view, in these tricky economic times it’s comforting to know that even the Almighty needs media advice.

The child wot I named.

Everyone's favourite fictitious Cock-er-ney landlord, Shane Richie, has been proudly showing off his new baby daughter, who has been burdened by the moniker Lolita Belle. I wouldn't wish to cast aspersions upon Mr Richie's literary tastes, but I am assuming he hasn't actually read the book - unless he thought that a synonym for pre-pubescent sexual precociousness was exactly the sort of thing he was after in a name.

Of course you should be able to choose an appellation because you thought it was pretty, regardless of its connotations. But all the same, if you were to call your kid Adolf, Caligula, Crippen or Osama, you shouldn't be surprised if the birthday party invitations prove thin on the ground.

03 September 2008

It's the economy, f*ckwit

Alistair Darling is in a unique position for a politician: he is accused of being too truthful in his assessment of the state of the UK economy. Having grown up with the comfort of being lied to by politicians, it seems an honest assessment of things is something we can't handle.

But while everyone is keen to point out apparent differences between the Prime Minister's position and that of his chancellor, Darling's use of the phrase "pissed off" to describe voters' attitudes raised barely a remark. Every pre-watershed news broadcast bandied the phrase with such matter-of-fact insouciance, it made the reporting of the story more remarkable than the use of the phrase itself.

Maybe he also described the economy as being "shagged" and growth forecasts as being "shit", with a recovery likely to take "fucking ages" - which might be one reason why "pissed off" seems not to have really registered. I'll have to listen to the interview in full to find out - but faced with the unusual prospect of having a Parental Guidance warning preceding the broadcast of the interview on the BBC website, I'm half afraid of what I might hear.