Sunday, March 1, 2015


I'm trying to write this before the overnight ratings come out - after all, Controller of BBC TV Danny Cohen, says they're not the best way to evaluate success.

The first "battle round" of this year's series of The Voice lasted nearly two hours, and featured 23 minutes of new performances. The idea that there are some 48 undiscovered musical acts of real quality in the UK was tested and found wanting. There was some terrible singing, and no honest criticism. And the caring side of our judges is found wanting by the format - singers they sought desperately to woo in the blind auditions are sent home on second performance, as Tom Jones, Will I.Am, Rita Ora and Ricky Wilson have to sit in silence looking miserable. The director spotted this unpleasantness as the show progressed, and eventually, shot the back of the judges' chairs, as the hapless wannabes got the stone-faced look.

It doesn't seem like harmless fun to me.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Deeply dippy

2.82m in the overnight ratings for The Musketeers on BBC1 - 13.2% share.

In the words of a sage female friend on  Facebook "The eye candy doesn't make up for the dialogue and plot..."

Understandable vehemence ?

Often reviews of history books are more entertaining than the tomes themselves, if the reviewers are selected with a little flair.

Jean Seaton's volume of BBC history, "Pinkoes and Traitors" gets a kicking from Guardian writer, Seumas Milne, son of Alasdair, de-DG-ed in 1987...

The book is littered with inaccuracies and demonstrable distortions: from names and dates to the self-serving spin of those who have survived to tell the tale. In the case of the Thatcher-inspired sacking of the director general, Seaton claims he had been “misleading the governors” over the Maggie’s Militant Tendency libel action and that they had “intended” to sack this “zombie DG” for three years. There is no evidence for either claim.

In the FT, Lord Patten calls the book entertaining and wise - but then, it only goes up to 1987. He does, however, volunteer some thoughts about his own time at the Corporation.

Seaton brilliantly describes the sequence of events whenever the BBC has to endure what the former Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer has called its Saint Sebastian moments, the arrows raining down on unprotected flesh. Relentless external onslaught, with the broadcaster making good copy because of “its combination of celebrities, political misdemeanours and popularity”, provokes “nervous breakdowns and latent civil war”. Then, she notes, “as a matter of honour, BBC news would savage the Corporation.” It did this recently over the disgusting Jimmy Savile case with understandable vehemence, given the uproar over the reasons for the shelving of an exposé of his criminal behaviour by a BBC current affairs programme. We now know that he was a monster. It is salutary today to read some of the newspaper obituaries published in 2011, which make him sound like Mother Teresa.

Lord Patten became BBC Chairman in May 2011.

I wonder who the Sundays will wheel out to give their views.

Friday, February 27, 2015


Congratulations to Clara Amfo, taking over the mid-morning show on Radio 1 from Fearne Cotton, who's been in the slot since September 2009, following on from Jo Whiley, Simon Mayo and Simon Bates. It's an anchoring position for the network, and a big responsibility for Clara, who, I think, turns 29 on the day Fearne vacates the seat, 22 May.

Smiley Miley

Here's a new groovy picture of BBC Worldwide boss Tim Davie. It's used on the website to attract visitors to the UK Trade and Industry "Great Festival of Creativity" in Shanghai next week. BBC Worldwide is the official "Innovation Partner".  Others on the journey are Prince William, Sir Martin Sorrell, Tom Parker-Bowles and Brent Hoberman.

Tim speaks at two sessions - one, introducing BBC Earth, with the help of Mike Gunton, Creative Director of the Natural History Unit; the second on Smart Cities...

"This session will be an immersive exploration in three parts of how people-centred design, infrastructure, and technology are already transforming the way we live in urban areas."

Will there be slides of his new offices at Television Centre ?

Happening guy

Andy is an accomplished senior manager who makes the important things happen, not just the urgent. A storyteller at heart with seventeen years experience in BBC news and current affairs, he has spent over a decade combining his extensive operational business experience with large-scale transformation and troubleshooting assignments....A charismatic leader and operational manager.

Little self-doubt (and why should there be ?), in the CV of Andy Conroy, who, I'm guessing, follows Matthew Postgate as a boss of BBC Research and Development without a formal academic qualification in the sciences.

Andy first worked for Auntie as a weekend volunteer at Radio Lancashire, and, after Emmanuel College, Cambridge, formally joined local radio in Birmingham.  Then he became Production Director for the ill-fated A spell away from the BBC followed, with work on Wisden Online and interactive games for OpenTV, before a return to the bosom running online activities for Drama, Entertainment and Children's (prop Alan Yentob).  He was promoted to head of the Future Media Portfolio, and claims credit for delivery of iPlayer Beta (was that the one that worked ?).

From there he became part of the BBC Worldwide acquisition of Lonely Planet. Then back to public service stuff with BBC Online, minding the Red Button, finally rising to Chief Operating Officer, BBC Future Media.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Casual nightwear

Let not company boundaries constrain curators of arts and culture. Alan Yentob was spotted choogling in row five or six at The Brits, as broadcast on ITV. Ed Sheeran's manager tweeted that he seemed to be wearing pyjama trousers.

What does this portend for the next run of Imagine ?  Kanye, Madonna, or checked kegs as high fashion statements ?

Uptown Funk

BBC News has turned to Europe for its next provider of newsroom computer systems. It has selected Annova's OpenMedia software, developed in Munich, for a contract lasting at least 12 years. Of course, being the BBC, it requires special configuration, so it won't go live until 2017. By then, BBC staff will have had 21 years on the old system, the Associated Press's ENPS.

Like ENPS, OpenMedia uses Microsoft Windows at its core. It claims 50,000 existing users - including many of the Rundfunk-ers (including WDR - what joy !), ARD, SFR, France 24, RTL, Ukraine's TRK and TV Al-Hijrah in Malaysia. The BBC estimates it will save £4m a year when it's up and running.  The BBC reported to Parliament that ENPS cost £6.7m in the financial year 2007-8, so Annova has come in really cheap by comparison. One suspects that was quite a weighted factor in the BBC's typically exhausting list of 4,000 requirements. It's not an unreasonable bet that the tender operation, running since September 2013 cost more than a year's operation.

  • Annova already partners with Mosart, the system behind the BBC's wandering robotic cameras, so no big change there, for collectors of man v machine videos.

Control freaks

A rag-bag of observations about the Culture Select Committee report on the future of the BBC.

They biffed subscription-only. Philip Davies, stroppy Tory for Shipley, was on his own there.

They backed a long-term move to a form of household levy, used in Germany, perhaps collected along with a utility bill, like electricity or water.

They want to biff the Trust. Perhaps the deciding factor was the apparent non-participation of Sir Michael Lyons in the 2010 licence fee carve-up-over-a-weekend, presided over by Mark Thompson and Jeremy Hunt.

Pre-report publication, they rejected a call to freeze the licence fee, sought by Philip Davies and Conor Burns for the Tories, and Gerry Sutcliffe, for Labour. Shy retiring Paul Farrelly, Labour, once of Reuters, the Indie and the Observer, had lots of detailed amendments turned down, as did John Leech for the LibDems, formerly of MacDonalds and the RAC.

They came down pretty hard against the idea of BBC1 +1 as a use of the broadcast slot vacated by BBC3. The Trust will have to take note.

They want yet another independent review body set up to inform Charter negotiations. I feel tired already.

They like the idea of the last independent review body, under Lord Burns, to set up a Public Service Broadcasting Commission, appointed by the Government, to "advise" the BBC, and to advise the Government on the amount of funding it should get. Quangomania is complete under this structure with Ofcom getting responsibility for the supervision of BBC impartiality, and thus the wagons are circled in a ringfence of command and control with little obvious public access to the process apart from voting in General Elections. The new BBC Board, and whoever leads it, will have little time for the day job, under a tidal wave of scrutiny appearances and report preparation. Here's my take...

Bubbling under

Islington High Street/Upper Street is a living fast-food laboratory. Next, a branch of Cuppacha, established in Chinatown, and with an outlet in Sheffield.

Other people who read this.......