Category Archives: Media

Happy Birthday CBeebies!

Today is CBeebies 10th birthday, so many happy returns! Below is a repost of a piece I wrote in praise of the channel…

Anyone who spends a lot of time with under six-year-olds in will have encountered one of the great innovations of British TV, one of the jewels in the BBC’s publically funded crown. I’m talking about CBeebies.

If you haven’t got kids, or if you’re not in the UK, then what follows may not make much sense. Indeed, it may seem like the hallucinatory ramblings of a madman. Stick with it though – CBeebies is something special.

I think the moment I learned to love Twitter was when Simon Pegg came out fighting in support of Justin Fletcher after snarky comments were made in a gossip magazine. There was an outpouring of support and follow-up tweets that brought a lump to the throat, because Justin Fletcher is one of the heroes of children’s broadcasting. It’s obvious from his shows – he has an amazing rapport with children, especially those with special needs; he’s the voice of Timmy the Sheep; he promotes Makaton sign language; and he’s the man behind Mr. Tumble. Frankly, in a world dominated by ‘celebrities’ who seem to have emerged by doing nothing more than coming third in a reality TV show, Justin Fletcher is a national treasure and he deserves his CBE.

But although he’s undoubtedly one of its lynchpins, Justin isn’t the only reason for the success of CBeebies. It only occurred to me yesterday, but the channel has some similarities with comic book shared universes – sure, everyone has their own shows, but now they’ve started showing up in each other’s. It gives the image of them being an eccentric extended family – you can believe that the four main continuity announcers (Sid, Cerrie, Andy and Alex) all live in a house together; Katy from I Can Cook gets organic produce from Mr. Bloom’s nursery; Mr. Maker helps decorate Justin’s House while Nina and the Neurons build a green energy installation next door to power the tower block from Show Me, Show Me. Somehow it works – on a recent episode of Justin’s House, the very implication that Mr. Bloom would be appearing was enough to send the children in the audience into open-mouthed fits of joy.

(And this is before I cover my theory about the Tumble family – due to some terrible clowning related accident, Mr. Tumble was left to be raised by Grandad Tumble; they’re funded by Lord Tumble, and Aunt Polly keep a matronly eye on them all. They all wish that Cliff Tumble would visit more. I haven’t quite figured out why they all look like the aforementioned Justin Fletcher, or where Baby Tumble came from.)

(Wait, I’ve been informed that I’m misremembering the episode and that Baby Tumble turned out to be a kitten. Mystery solved!)

It’s not just the human presenters that make the channel – the puppet vegetables in Mr. Bloom’s Nursery have more personality and charisma than many of those employed by mainstream channels, and the stop motion cast of Timmy Time baa-ing, barking and quaking ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ is a thing of beauty. That said, my absolute favourite CBeebies show is Big and Small, the anarchic tale of two friends who happen to have Dudley accents (thanks to Lenny Henry); not only is the show hysterical, but the musical numbers are awesome, especially when they riff on artists such as Kate Bush and Bob Dylan. I swear, Big and Small is worth ten minutes of anyone’s time, and my impression of Small is epic.

So that’s my tribute to CBeebies, and effectively my argument for the importance of the BBC being allowed to cater to niche audiences. If you don’t have kids, this channel may well be lost on you, but regardless, it’s vital that it’s there. I used to say I’d pay my licence fee just for Doctor Who – well, add CBeebies to that list as well. I hope it continues to bring joy and smiles to five year olds for years to come.

Viva La Tumble!

RIP Bob Holness

“I’ll have a P please Bob.”

It’s an easy gag when you know how the gameshow Blockbusters worked, but back in the day, when I was at school, it was hilarious. Nowadays I’m more sophisticated and go for “I’ll have a T please Bob” when someone’s getting the coffees in.

All this is why I’m sad that Bob Holness, host of Blockbusters, has passed away. It’s like a part of the cultural life of the country has gone, because Bob was the source of more memes and urban myths than most presenters. The story goes that he played the saxophone on ‘Baker Street’; I was gutted to find out that this unlikely sounding factlet was untrue; in my mind’s eye, the sax is still played by Bob. Heck, for me he even plays guitar on the Foo Fighters’ cover of the song.

It’s even more bizarre that Bob was the first actor to play James Bond, in a fifties radio adaptation of Moonraker. Never mind George Lazenby, I think we should all spare a thought today for the real forgotten Bond.

And now even a typo in the Labour Party leader’s tribute to Bob is becoming a Twitter meme. That’s weirdly appropriate somehow.

RIP Bob.

 

In Praise Of CBeebies

Anyone who spends a lot of time with under six-year-olds in will have encountered one of the great innovations of British TV, one of the jewels in the BBC’s publically funded crown. I’m talking about CBeebies.

If you haven’t got kids, or if you’re not in the UK, then what follows may not make much sense. Indeed, it may seem like the hallucinatory ramblings of a madman. Stick with it though – CBeebies is something special.

I think the moment I learned to love Twitter was when Simon Pegg came out fighting in support of Justin Fletcher after snarky comments were made in a gossip magazine. There was an outpouring of support and follow-up tweets that brought a lump to the throat, because Justin Fletcher is one of the heroes of children’s broadcasting. It’s obvious from his shows – he has an amazing rapport with children, especially those with special needs; he’s the voice of Timmy the Sheep; he promotes Makaton sign language; and he’s the man behind Mr. Tumble. Frankly, in a world dominated by ‘celebrities’ who seem to have emerged by doing nothing more than coming third in a reality TV show, Justin Fletcher is a national treasure and he deserves his CBE.

But although he’s undoubtedly one of its lynchpins, Justin isn’t the only reason for the success of CBeebies. It only occurred to me yesterday, but the channel has some similarities with comic book shared universes – sure, everyone has their own shows, but now they’ve started showing up in each other’s. It gives the image of them being an eccentric extended family – you can believe that the four main continuity announcers (Sid, Cerrie, Andy and Alex) all live in a house together; Katy from I Can Cook gets organic produce from Mr. Bloom’s nursery; Mr. Maker helps decorate Justin’s House while Nina and the Neurons build a green energy installation next door to power the tower block from Show Me, Show Me. Somehow it works – on a recent episode of Justin’s House, the very implication that Mr. Bloom would be appearing was enough to send the children in the audience into open-mouthed fits of joy.

(And this is before I cover my theory about the Tumble family – due to some terrible clowning related accident, Mr. Tumble was left to be raised by Grandad Tumble; they’re funded by Lord Tumble, and Aunt Polly keep a matronly eye on them all. They all wish that Cliff Tumble would visit more. I haven’t quite figured out why they all look like the aforementioned Justin Fletcher, or where Baby Tumble came from.)

(Wait, I’ve been informed that I’m misremembering the episode and that Baby Tumble turned out to be a kitten. Mystery solved!)

It’s not just the human presenters that make the channel – the puppet vegetables in Mr. Bloom’s Nursery have more personality and charisma than many of those employed by mainstream channels, and the stop motion cast of Timmy Time baa-ing, barking and quaking ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ is a thing of beauty. That said, my absolute favourite CBeebies show is Big and Small, the anarchic tale of two friends who happen to have Dudley accents (thanks to Lenny Henry); not only is the show hysterical, but the musical numbers are awesome, especially when they riff on artists such as Kate Bush and Bob Dylan. I swear, Big and Small is worth ten minutes of anyone’s time, and my impression of Small is epic.

So that’s my tribute to CBeebies, and effectively my argument for the importance of the BBC being allowed to cater to niche audiences. If you don’t have kids, this channel may well be lost on you, but regardless, it’s vital that it’s there. I used to say I’d pay my licence fee just for Doctor Who – well, add CBeebies to that list as well. I hope it continues to bring joy and smiles to five year olds for years to come.

Viva La Tumble!

 

Not About the Money? Occupying, rioting, and people who just follow orders

It’s the slogan of 2011 – “We are the 99%”, a reference to how the vast majority of the world’s wealth seems concentrated among 1% of earners. And it’s hard not to sympathise with it, considering corporate corruption and reckless banking has tanked the global economy. Sure, I react against it to a degree – I’m not a part of the 1% by any means, but white middle-class guilt makes me acutely aware that I own an iPhone and a Playstation and therefore I’m way closer to that 1% than someone trying to live on £1.50 a day.

And then I realise I’ve made the mistake of assuming the Occupy movement is about the money – it’s about inequality, it’s about corruption, it’s about greed, but money itself? Probably not, not at its core. Someone wiser than me once said that it’s the love of money that’s the root of all evil, and you can see that in the news without too much trouble – when members of the 1% go to a Halloween party dressed as people who’ve just lost their homes, when a member of the 99% pepper-sprays fellow shoppers in order to get a discount on a video game.

You can trace it all back to economics if you want, but Occupy is only one of the events that are shaking the world. While people are occupying the London Stock Exchange, just a mile down the road, the Leveson Enquiry is hearing some terrifying evidence about out-of-control tabloid press. Protestors across the Middle East have been killed and tear-gassed because of their opposition to oppressive regimes. This isn’t all about money (although some very influential people have got very rich on amoral/immoral behaviour), but maybe it’s about power – economic, political, cultural, whatever. The whole rollercoaster is out of control – journalism, banking, politics, law enforcement, the lot.

That helps put some, well, anomalies into perspective – the average police officer may well be part of the 99%, but it takes a certain power-trip to pepper-spray a group of seated, non-resisting students. The rioters in London in August were 99%ers, but rampaging through deprived communities and stealing trainers isn’t exactly an anti-globalisation protest.

It’s looking like a failure of authority, one that doesn’t seem to get any better – instead of improving things, each new revelation, each new response to public anger just seems to make things worse. Our authority figures are losing control, and it seems from many of their public statements that they don’t even understand what’s going on, why people are angry, and how to react to all that’s happening. This isn’t about the 1% that has all the wealth, this is about whatever-percentage holds the economic, civic, political and media power – that includes corrupt police officers, and tabloid hacks, and billionaires and ministerial advisors.

But looked at that way, you may as well say it’s the Illuminati, or David Icke’s Lizard People, or whatever conspiracy theory you want to come up with. It’s at this point I should probably break out the classic – “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” – but let’s not kid ourselves, powerlessness can corrupt as well, hence the rioters and excuses for police brutality that effectively equate to “Just following orders”.

This raises a spectre – if a power vacuum emerges, who gets to fill it? Someone who embodies the worst of human nature? Or someone who can act as a unifier, a spokesperson, a diplomat, a leader? Or, heck, no leader at all but a new grassroots expression of democracy?

I don’t know. These thoughts are running away from me. But the more they do, the more I’m uncomfortable with 1%/99% slogans. Good and bad emerge from both groups, and the way in which both groups exercise their power will be crucial for what happens over the next few years. We seem to be seeing the birth of something big – let’s hope it’s also something good.

PS. And now Occupy LA looks like being evicted. I hope it doesn’t follow the above pattern, but it sounds like a lot of manpower and a partial media blackout are again in effect…

PPS. And now New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has described the NYPD as his “own army”. I’m sure that proves at least something about this post.

Repost – No More Heroes Anymore: What does the phone hacking scandal say about the UK?

I originally wrote this post back in July, when the UK’s phone hacking scandal originally exploded. This week, the Leveson inquiry into press ethics has been taking evidence from high profile witnesses such as Hugh Grant and the families of Milly Dowler and Maddie McCann, evidence that has brought this issue back into the public eye. As a result, I thought this was worth a repost…

It’s hard not to be outraged by the tabloid phone hacking scandal that has engulfed the UK. Although the story has been bubbling around for a while, public indignation seemed to turn something of a blind eye when it ‘only’ affected celebrities, royals and politicians; the revelation that the families of murdered children and victims of terrorism were also hacked has unleashed a tsunami of outrage.

It’s a massive story, exposing the corruption of media figures, police and politicians, the response from whom seems to be along the lines of “I wasn’t there guv”, “I was just following orders” or “No-one ever listens to me.” No-one comes out of this particularly well, except then people who tenaciously ran down the story and (somewhat unexpectedly) Hugh Grant. A lot of the coverage seems to be based on who will be the scapegoat for the whole thing, but it just looks like a bunch of guilty (or at least complicit) cowards deciding which of their number will be thrown under a bus in the hope that the whole mess will go away before any more horror stories emerge.

So everyone’s shocked and horrified and indignant, but…

The BBC have just broadcast from a newsagents in Manchester. In the week that the scandal killed the News of the World, in the week that advertisers abandoned its toxic brand in droves, in the week that everyone was being encouraged to boycott the paper… Well, it turns out it’s been a sell- out. Well done Britain, that’ll show Murdoch!

(Yes, I know it’s an unscientific conclusion to reach, but I bet sales are a) pretty good, and b) a precursor to a whole bunch of copies appearing on eBay in the next few days.)

But that same broadcast was revealing for another reason. Two customers were interviewed: one said they didn’t buy the News of the World regularly but did when the front page contained something “sensational”; the other said they didn’t understand why the hacking had to take place at all. Thing is, the former response answers the latter, and raises questions about our complicity in this whole thing.

Let’s not kid ourselves, the stories obtained by phone hacking were the sort of things that sell papers: sex, scandal, tragedy. In the hands of the media, these things become commodities, and, like our clothes or our food, we consume day after day without asking too many questions about where the product came from. It’s worth remembering that it’s only been a week or so since Princess Diana would have turned 50, had she not been killed in an accident in which the paparazzi were a part. People are willing to take big risks to sell newspapers. It almost feels like the industry needs an ethical equivalant of the Fair Trade logo, but then I wonder how well Fairtade products sell against less ethical competitors…

This scandal should lead to wider questions about how we create and consume media, and hopefully these will go beyond looking at how great Twitter is at allowing us to express indignation in real time. We make choices every time we consume a media ‘product’, and successful businesses react to those choices. We never asked for Milly Dowler’s phone to be hacked; what we have done is fail to ask whether a footballer’s affair is really front page news, or where all those bits of information or ‘anonymous spokesmen’ came from. There comes a point when we get the media we deserve – maybe that’s the most important lesson from a scandal that could – should? – change the UK.