ITV

80s Space Comedy From Two of the Goodies

Astronauts, written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, 13 episodes of 25 minutes in length. First Broadcast ITV 1981 and 1983.

I hope everyone had a great Bank Holiday Monday yesterday, and Dominic Cummings’ hypocritical refusal to resign after repeatedly and flagrantly breaking the lockdown rules aren’t getting everyone too down. And now, for the SF fans, is something completely different as Monty Python used to say.

Astronauts was a low budget ITV sitcom from the very early ’80s. It was written by the two Goodies responsible for writing the scripts for their show, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and based on the personal conflicts and squabbling of the American astronauts on the Skylab programme six years earlier. It was about three British astronauts, RAF officer, mission commander and pilot Malcolm Mattocks, chippy, left-wing working-class engineer David Ackroyd, coolly intellectual biologist Gentian Fraser,and their dog, Bimbo,  who are launched into space as the crew of the first all-British space station. Overseeing the mission is their American ground controller Lloyd Beadle. Although now largely forgotten, the show lasted two seasons, and there must have been some continuing demand for it, because it’s been released nearly forty years later as a DVD. Though not in such demand that I didn’t find it in DVD/CD bargain catalogue.

Low Budget

The show’s very low budget. Lower than the Beeb’s Blake’s 7, which often cited as an example of low budget British science fiction. There’s only one model used, that of their space station, which is very much like the factual Skylab. The shots of their spacecraft taking off are stock footage of a Saturn V launch, the giant rockets used in the Moon landings and for Skylab. There also seems to be only one special effects sequence in the show’s entire run, apart from outside shots. That’s when an accident causes the station to move disastrously out of its orbit, losing gravity as it does so. Cheap matte/ Chromakey effects are used to show Mattocks rising horizontally from his bunk, where he’s been lying, while Bimbo floats through the bedroom door.

Class in Astronauts and Red Dwarf

It’s hard not to compare it with the later, rather more spectacular Red Dwarf, which appeared in 1986, three years after Astronaut’s last season. Both shows centre around a restricted regular cast. In Red Dwarf this was initially just Lister, Holly and the Cat before the appearance of Kryten. Much of the comedy in Red Dwarf is also driven by their similar situation to their counterparts in Astronauts – personality clashes in the cramped, isolated environment of a spacecraft. The two shows are also similar in that part of this conflict from class and a Conservative military type versus working class cynic/ liberal. In Red Dwarf it’s Rimmer as the Conservative militarist, while Lister is the working class rebel. In Astronauts the military man is Mattocks, a patriotic RAF pilot, while Ackroyd, the engineer, is left-wing, Green, and affects to be working class. The three Astronauts also debate the class issue, accusing each other of being posh before establishing each other’s place in the class hierarchy. Mattocks is posh, but not as posh as Foster. Foster’s working class credentials are, however, destroyed during an on-air phone call with his mother, who is very definitely middle or upper class, and talks about going to the Conservative club. In this conflict, it’s hard not to see a similarity with the Goodies and the conflict there between the Conservative screen persona of Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie’s left-wing, working class character.

Class, however, plays a much smaller role in Red Dwarf. Lister is more underclass than working class, and the show, set further in the future, has less overt references to contemporary class divisions and politics. The humour in Red Dwarf is also somewhat bleaker. The crew are alone three million years in the future, with the human race vanished or extinct with the exception of Lister. Rimmer is an ambitious failure. For all he dreams of being an officer, he has failed the exam multiple times and the B.Sc he claims is Batchelor of Science is really BSC – Bronze Swimming Certificate. Both he and Lister are at the lowest peg of the ship’s hierarchy in Red Dwarf. They’re maintenance engineers, whose chief duties is unblocking the nozzles of vending machines. Lister’s background is rough. Very rough. While others went scrumping for apples, he and his friends went scrumping for cars. The only famous person in his class was a man who ate his wife. The three heroes of Astronauts, however, are all competent, intelligent professionals despite their bickering. Another difference is that while both series have characters riddled with self-loathing, in Red Dwarf it’s the would-be officer Rimmer, while in Astronauts is working class engineer Ackroyd.

Britain Lagging Behind in Space

Other issues in Astronauts include Britain’s low status as a space power. In a speech in the first episode, the crew express their pride at being the first British mission, while paying tribute to their American predecessors in the Apollo missions. The Ealing comedy The Mouse on the Moon did something similar. And yet Britain at the time had been the third space power. Only a few years before, the British rocket Black Arrow had been successfully launched from Woomera in Australia, successfully taking a British satellite into orbit.

Personal Conflicts

There are also conflicts over the cleaning and ship maintenance duties, personal taste in music – Mattocks irritates Ackroyd by playing Tubular Bells, publicity or lack of it – in one episode, the crew are annoyed because it seems the media back on Earth have forgotten them – and disgust at the limited menu. Mattocks is also shocked to find that Foster has been killing and dissecting the mice he’s been playing with, and is afraid that she’ll do it to the dog. Sexism and sexual tension also rear their heads. Mattocks fancies Foster, but Ackroyd doesn’t, leading to further conflict between them and her. Foster, who naturally wants to be seen as an equal and ‘one of the boys’ tries to stop this by embarrassing them. She cuts her crew uniform into a bikini and then dances erotically in front of the two men, before jumping on them both crying ‘I’ll have both of you!’ This does the job, and shames them, but Beadle, watching them gets a bit too taken with the display, shouting ‘Work it! Work it! Boy! I wish I was up there with you boys!’ Foster also objects to Mattocks because he doesn’t help his wife, Valerie, out with the domestic chores at home. Mattocks also suspects that his wife is having an affair, which she is, in a sort-of relationship with Beadle. There’s also a dig at the attitudes of some magazines. In the press conference before the three go on their mission, Foster is asked by Woman’s Own if she’s going to do any cooking and cleaning in space. Beadle and his team reply that she’s a highly trained specialist no different from the men. The joke’s interesting because in this case the butt of the humour is the sexism in a certain type of women’s magazine, rather than chauvinist male attitudes.

Cold War Espionage

Other subjects include the tense geopolitical situation of the time. Mattocks is revealed to have been running a secret espionage programme, photographing Russian bases as the station flies over them in its orbit. The others object, and Ackroyd is finally able to persuade Beadle to allow them to use the technology to photograph illegal Russian whaling in the Pacific. This is used to embarrass the Russians at an international summit, but the questions about the origin of the photos leads to the espionage programme being abandoned. The crew also catch sight of a mysterious spacecraft in the same orbit, and start receiving communications in a strange language. After initially considering that it just might be UFOs, it’s revealed that they do, in fact, come from a lonely Russian cosmonaut. Foster speaks Russian, and starts up a friendship. When Mattocks finds out, he is first very suspicious, but then after speaking to the Russian in English, he too becomes friends. He’s the most affected when the Russian is killed after his craft’s orbit decays and burns up re-entering the atmosphere.

Soft Drink Sponsorship

There are also digs at commercial sponsorship. The mission is sponsored by Ribozade, whose name is a portmanteau of the British drinks Ribeena and Lucozade. Ribozade tastes foul, but the crew nevertheless have it on board and must keep drinking it. This is not Science Fiction. One of the American missions was sponsored by Coca Cola, I believe, and so one of the space stations had a Coke machine on board. And when Helen Sharman went into space later in the decade aboard a Russian rocket to the space station Mir, she was originally to be sponsored by Mars and other British companies.

God, Philosophy and Nicholas Parsons

The show also includes arguments over the existence or not of the Almighty. Mattocks believes He exists, and has shown His special favour to them by guiding his hand in an earlier crisis. Mattocks was able to save them, despite having no idea what he was doing. Ackroyd, the sceptic, replies that he can’t say the Lord doesn’t exist, but can’t see how God could possibly create Nicholas Parsons and Sale of the Century, one of the popular game shows on ITV at the time, if He did. As Mattocks is supposed to be guiding them down from orbit, his admission that he really didn’t know what he was doing to rescue the station naturally alarms Foster and Ackroyd so that they don’t trust his ability to get them down intact.

Red Dwarf also has its jokes about contemporary issues and politics. Two of the most memorable are about the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer being covered with a gigantic toupee, and the despair squid, whose ink causes its prey to become suicidal and which has thus destroyed all other life on its world in the episode ‘Back to Reality’. Other jokes include everyone knowing where they were when Cliff Richard got shot. Red Dwarf, however, is much more fantastic and goes further in dealing with philosophical issues, such as when Rimmer is incarcerated in a space prison where justice is definitely retributive. If you do something illegal, it comes back to happen to you. This is demonstrated when Lister follows Rimmer’s instruction and tries to set his sheets alight. He shortly finds that his own black leather jacket has caught fire.

Conclusion

Red Dwarf is able to go much further in exploring these and other bizarre scenarios as it’s definitely Science Fiction. Astronauts is, I would argue, space fiction without the SF. It’s fictional, but based solidly on fact, including generating gravity through centrifugal force. But critically for any comedy is the question whether its funny. Everyone’s taste is different, but in my opinion, yes, Astronauts is. It’s dated and very much of its time, but the humour still stands up four decades later. It had me laughing at any rate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC World Service Programme Next Tuesday on Scientists Generating Electricity from Leaves

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/05/2020 - 2:49am in

This sounds completely bonkers, like the academy discussing ways to generate sunlight from cucumbers in Swift’s great satire, Gulliver’s Travels, but apparently is real science. According to the Radio Times again, next Tuesday, 19th May 2020, the BBC World Service programme, People Fixing the World, is about how scientists have found a way to generate electricity from leaves. The blurb about the programme by Tom Goulding on page 120 of the Radio Times runs

Money might not grow on trees, but scientists in Italy might have discovered the next best thing: leaves that generate electricity when they touch one another on a windy day. This process, enough to power 150 LED lights, is one of several remarkably simple ways of producing energy that scientists are just beginning to understand. In this optimistic documentary, reporter Daniel Gordon investigates some age-old ideas that could finally become viable renewable energy sources with new technology, such as the interaction between fresh and salt water at estuaries and a 5 km well being dug to extract untapped heat in Iceland.

The programme is on at 3.05 in the afternoon.

This sound really awesome, though it reminds me a little of the ‘treeborg’, a cyborg tree aboard a spaceship in a Matt Smith Dr. Who story, and also somewhat of the Matrix films, in which the robots have risen up and enslaved humanity. Unable to use sunlight after humanity wrecked the planet’s whether and created permanently overcast skies, the machines turned instead to growing us all in bottles and using the electricity generated from our bodies. Fortunately, I don’t think that’s a viable option. After the movie came out, people naturally wondered whether that could actually work. And the answer is, that it doesn’t. The amount of electricity generated by the human body is way too small. Nevertheless, reading this in the Radio Times makes you wonder if someone couldn’t harness it to provide useful power, nonetheless. Should the producers of this programme be giving them ideas?

Going on to geothermal power, I can remember in the 1970s watching items about it in Iceland on the popular science programmes’ Tomorrow’s World on the Beeb and Don’t Ask Me on ITV. That was the programme that gave the viewing public the great science broadcasters Magnus Pike and David ‘Botanic Man’ Bellamy.

I haven’t heard of electricity being generated by the interaction between fresh and salt water before, but I was amazed at how long ago tidal power has been around as a possible power source. Turbine wheels were put in the Thames estuary in the 16th century to provide power for mills. George Bernard Shaw also mentions tidal power in his book, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. As an example of the type of wrangling that goes on in parliamentary democracy, he asks the reader to imagine the type of fierce debate that would occur if someone suggested putting up a tidal barrage in one of Britain’s great rivers. There would be a fiery contingent from Wales arguing that it should be on the Severn, and an equally fierce body of proud Scots declaring it should be on one of their rivers. I don’t think he need have worried. There have been debates about building a barrage on the Severn since I was at secondary school, and it’s no nearer being built because of concerns over its ecological effects.

But this programme sound amazing. I thinks there’s a simple science experiment for children, in which electrodes are stuck into a lemon or potato, and connected together to turn on an electric lightbulb. Will we be doing something similar in our gardens in a few years’ time, just as people are now putting solar panels on their rooves?

 

Cartoon: Up Pompous

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/04/2020 - 4:03am in

As I said, I’m glad Boris Johnson has recovered enough from the Coronavirus to be sent home. I really don’t want anyone to die from this disease, including BoJob. But his recovery also means that I can at last put up the cartoon below. I was drawing just when it was announced that Johnson had been taken into hospital, and to lampoon the man when he was fighting for his life would have been unacceptable. But Johnson’s illness doesn’t change what he is, or what he and his party stand for. And so they’re still suitable subjects for ridicule and satire.

Johnson prides himself on his classic learning. He presented a series a few years ago on ancient Rome, and had a column in the Spectator when he was its editor, in which he discussed what lessons the classics had for us today. I remember one piece he did in his series about Rome, in which he contrasted the early empire, which was governed by just 12 men, with the army of MEPs and bureaucrats that administer the EU. The obvious lesson there was that smaller government equals good government. Of course the argument falls apart when you consider the vast distance in time, morals and social and technological sophistication, as well as the simple fact that the EU and its constituent nations are meant to be democracies. Ancient Rome wasn’t. It was an oligarchy, in which only a narrow section of the population had the vote, and the only real political power was that of the emperor and the army. The senate continued to meet under the empire, but their debates were so meaningless that I think they more or less stopped having them. One emperor was forced to send them a message requesting them to debate something. With his background in the classics and admiration for ancient Rome, it therefore made sense to lampoon Boris as a Roman politician.

But readers of this blog of a certain age will also remember the late, great Frankie Howerd and the comedy, Up Pompeii. This was set in the famous Roman city, and starred Howerd as the slave, Lurcio. It would start with Lurcio leaving the house, sitting down on a convenient seat, and saying ‘Salute, citizens. And now, the prologue -‘ at which point he would be interrupted by some commotion. And thus would begin that week’s episode. It was a ’70s BBC TV show, but in the winter of 1990-1, it was revived by ITV. Howerd was once again Lurcio. But the show had moved with the times and changed one character. In the original series, I think the son of the family that owned him was supposed to be gay, and the butt of various jokes about effeminacy by Lurcio. This was before the gay rights movement had had quite the impact it has now, when jokes about gays were still acceptable. By the 1990s they weren’t, and so the gay son was replaced by a eunuch, so they could still carry on making the same jokes about lack of masculinity. Sadly, it only lasted one episode, as Howerd died after the first episode was shown.

His material, like the ‘Carry On’ films, is dated now, but Howerd was a great comedian and genuinely funny man. He lived in the village of Mark in Somerset, and after his death his home was turned into a museum. He was very popular and respected there, because whenever they had a village fete, he’d turn up to do a turn and give them his support. He also, I heard, used to rehearse in the church hall. A friend of mine told me he’d actually been in a church service while Howerd was rehearsing, and his lines could be heard coming through the hall. Let’s hope they weren’t the monologue where he pretended to be a vicar, and joked about how last Sunday he held a three-hour service for the incontinent. ‘There wasn’t a dry aisle in the house’, is the punchline to that one.

So I’ve drawn Johnson as a Roman patrician politician, being jeered and pelted with mud, cabbages and buckets of water by the mob. Behind him is Howerd’s Lurcio, looking at once shocked and puzzled, and underneath is one of Howerd’s catchphrases ‘Titter ye not’.

As Johnson and his party are authoritarian and extremely right-wing, I’ve tried to show their Fascistic tendencies in the decoration at the top. The pattern around the panel is based on a Roman design, although I’ve taken a few liberties. If you look at it, it’s composed of repeating swastikas. It also has the fasces, the bundle of rods with an axe attached. This was the ancient Roman symbol of the lictor, a Roman official. The rods symbolised his right to beat, and the axe to behead, Roman citizens. It was also adopted by Mussolini’s Fascists and their counterparts in other nations, like Oswald Mosley’s disgusting BUF.

Here’s the cartoon. I hope you enjoy it, and it helps cheer you up in these dreadful times.

 

A Conservative Accusation of Liberal Bias at the Beeb

Robin Aitken, Can We Trust the BBC (London: Continuum 2007).

Robin Aitken is a former BBC journalist, and this book published 13 years ago argues that the BBC, rather than being unbiased, is really stuffed full of lefties and the broadcaster and its news and politics programmes have a very strong left-wing, anti-Conservative bias. Under Lord Reith, the BBC upheld certain core British values. Its news was genuinely unbiased, giving equal time to the government and opposition. It also stood for essential institutions and such as the monarchy, the constitution, the British Empire and Christianity at home, and peace through the League of Nations abroad.

This changed radically between 1960 and 1980 as the BBC joined those wishing to attack and demolish the old class-bound institutions. Now the BBC stands for passionate anti-racism, ‘human rights’, internationalism and is suspicious of traditional British national identity and strongly pro-EU. It is also feminist, secular and ‘allergic to established authority whether in the form of the Crown, the courts, the police or the churches.’ This has jeopardised the ideal at the heart of the Corporation, that it should be fair-minded and non-partisan.

Aitken does marshal an array of evidence to support his contention. This includes his own experience working for BBC Scotland, which he claims was very left-wing with a staff and management that bitterly hated Margaret Thatcher and made sure that the dismantlement of the old, nationalised industries like shipbuilding was properly lamented, but did not promote it as ‘creative destruction’ as it should, nor the emergence of the wonderful new information industry north of the border. A later chapter, ‘Testimonies’, consists of quotations from other, anonymous rightists, describing how the Beeb is biased and bewailing their isolated position as the few Conservative voices in the Corporation. He is particularly critical of the former director-general, John Birt. Birt was recruited in the 1990s from ITV. He was a member of the Labour Party, who brought with him many of his colleagues from the commercial channel, who also shared his politics and hatred of the Tories. He goes on to list the leading figures from the Left, who he claims are responsible for this bias. These include Andrew Marr, the former editor of the Independent, and the left-wing, atheist journo and activist, Polly Toynbee.

Aitken also tackles individual topics and cases of biased reporting. This includes how the BBC promoted the Labour Party and the EU before Labour’s landslide victory in the 1997 general election. The Conservatives were presented as deeply split on the issue and largely hostile to EU membership. The EU itself was presented positively, and the Labour Party as being united in favour of membership, even though it was as split as the Tories on the issue. Another chapter argues that the Beeb was wrong in challenging the government’s case for the Iraq Invasion. He claims that in a poll the overwhelming majority of Iraqis supported the invasion. The government did not ‘sex up’ the ‘dodgy dossier’ in order to present a false case for war, and it was wrong for the Beeb to claim that Blair’s government had.

The chapter ‘The Despised Tribes’ argues that there are certain ethnic or religious groups, who were outside the range of sympathy extended to other, more favoured groups. These include White South Africans, the Israeli Likud Party, Serb Nationalists under Milosevic, the Italian Northern League, Le Pen and the Front National in France, the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, American ‘Christian Fundamentalists’, conservative Roman Catholics, UKIP ‘and other groups who have failed to enlist the sympathies of media progressives’. These include the Orange Order and Ulster Protestants. He then claims that the Beeb is biased towards Irish Republicans, who have successfully exploited left-wing British guilt over historic wrongs against the Roman Catholic population. He then goes on to claim that Pat Finucane, a lawyer killed in the Troubles, was no mere ‘human rights’ lawyer but a senior figure in the IRA.

The chapter, ‘The Moral Maze’ is an extensive critique of a Panorama documentary claiming that the Roman Catholic condemnation of premarital sex and contraception was causing needless suffering in the Developing World through the procreation of unwanted children and the spread of AIDs by unprotected sex. This is contradicted by UN evidence, which shows that the African countries with the lowest incidence of AIDS are those with the highest Catholic populations. The Catholic doctrine of abstinence, he argues, works because reliance on condoms gives the mistaken impression that they offer total protection against disease and pregnancy, and only encourages sexual activity. Condoms cannot offer complete protection, and are only effective in preventing 85 per cent of pregnancies. The programme was deliberately biased against the Roman Catholic church and the papacy because it was made from the viewpoint of various groups with an explicit bias against the Church and its teaching on sexuality.

Aitken’s evidence is impressive, and I do accept part of his argument. I believe that the Beeb is indeed in favour of feminism, multiculturalism and human rights. I also believe that, the few remaining examples of the Beeb’s religious programming notwithstanding, the Corporation is largely hostile to Christianity in ways that would be unthinkable if applied to other religions, such as Islam. However, I don’t believe that the promotion of anti-racism and anti-sexism is wrong. And groups like the Northern League, Front National and other extreme right-wing political and religious groups, including UKIP, really are unacceptable because of their racism and should not be given a sympathetic platform. Their exclusion from the range of acceptable political and religious views is no bad thing.

But the book also ignores the copious documentation from the various media study units at Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh universities of massive BBC Conservative bias. Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis have a chapter in their book on the gradual, slo-mo privatisation of the NHS, NHS – SOS, on the way the media has promoted the Tories’ and New Labour’s project of selling off the health service. And this includes the Beeb.  The Corporation was hostile to Labour after Thatcher’s victory, promoting the SDP splinter group against the parent party in the 1983 election, as well as the Tories. This pro-Tory bias returned with a vengeance after the 2010 Tory victory and the establishment of austerity. Barry and Savile Kushner show in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, how the Beeb excludes or shouts down anyone who dares to question the need for cuts to welfare spending. Tories, economists and financiers are also favoured as guests on news shows. They are twice as likely to appear to comment on the news as Labour politicians and trade unionists.

And we have seen how the Beeb has pushed the anti-Labour agenda particularly vigorously over the past five years, as it sought to smear Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as institutionally anti-Semitic at every opportunity. Quite apart from less sensational sneering and bias. The guests on Question Time have, for example, been packed with Tories and Kippers, to whom presenter Fiona Bruce has shown particular favour. This has got worse under Johnson, with the Beeb now making it official policy not to have equal representation of the supporters of the various political parties in the programme’s audience. Instead, the majority of the audience will consist of supporters of the party that holds power in that country. Which means that in England they will be stuffed with Tories. Numerous members of the BBC news teams are or were members of the Tory party, like Nick Robinson, and a number have left to pursue careers at No 10 helping Cameron, Tweezer and Boris.

The evidence of contemporary bias in favour of the Tories today is massive and overwhelming.

With the exception of particular issues, such as multiculturalism, feminism, a critical and sometimes hostile attitude towards the monarchy, and atheism/ secularism, the BBC is, and always has been, strongly pro-Tory. The Birt era represents only a brief interval between these periods of Tory bias, and I believe it is questionable how left-wing Birt was. Aitken admits that while he certainly was no Tory, he was in favour of free market economics.

This book is therefore very dated, and overtaken by the Beeb’s massive return to the Right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murdoch’s Daughter Being Considered as Next Beeb Director-General

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/02/2020 - 10:24pm in

This is ominous. According to an article by Adam Sherwin in yesterdays I for Monday, 9th February 2020, the BBC is considering appointing Elisabeth Murdoch, Dirty Rupe’s daughter, as its first female Director-General. The I’s article seems to think this will be a positive move, as she isn’t supposed to be hostile to the Beeb like her father. And the appointment of one of Murdoch’s family as the Beeb’s chief will supposedly deter Downing Street from making any further attacks on the Corporation. The article runs

Elisabeth Murdoch, the daughter of Rupert Murdoch, who became a successful television entrepreneur in her own right, has emerged as a surprise candidate to run the BBC.

Mus Murdoch, former head of Shine UK – the production company behind MasterChef and Broadchurch – would be seen as an acceptable director-general by the BBC’s Downing Street critics. However, the prospect of the broadcaster being run by a member of the Murdoch family, which has campaigned against the licence fee-funded BBC through its newspapers, will shock many at the corporation.

I has learned that the BBC is appointing headhunters to broaden the search for a new leader, following the announcement that Tony Hall is leaving.

Current favourites include Charlotte Moore, BBC director of vision, the best-placed internal candidate; Jay Hunt, former head of BBC1 and Channel 4, who now leads Apple’s European TV commissioning; Alex Mahon, chief executive of Channel 4; and ITV chief executive Carolyn McCall.

Insiders say the BBC is almost certain to appoint its first female director-general.

The BBC board, led by Sir David Clementi, is seeking a figure with proven leadership in the creative industries who carries enough authority in Whitehall to guide the BBC through tough negotiations over the future of the licence fee.

Ms Murdoch, who pocketed £130m when she sold Shine to 20th Century Fox, ticks many of the boxes. She does not share her family’s antipathy to the BBC, having sold 20 shows to the broadcaster as a producer.

Stepping aside from her family’s succession battle, Ms Murdoch, 51, has spoken in support of the “universal licence fee” but urged the BBC to how “efficiently that funding is being spent on actual content”.

It is not clear if Ms Murdoch would welcome an approach for the £450,000 post. last year she co-founded Sister, a global television production business which developed the acclaimed Sky drama Chernobyl.

Although Downing Street’s choice to lead the BBC would be a longstnding critic such as Rebekah Brooks, CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, a figure such as Ms Murdoch would prove an acceptable compromise.

In a box article next to this, ‘Power play Smart move?’, Sherwin also writes

Although the appointment of the new director-general is a matter for the BBC board, Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s top aide, has privately warned that a ‘business as usual’ successor to Tony Hall would only hasten the end of the licence fee.

Handing the BBC’s future to a scion of the Murdoch dynasty would be a bold move for the broadcaster.

Elisabeth Murdoch has £300m in the bank, boosted by dividends from her father’s sale of Fox’s entertainment assets to Disney, and has made a number of strategic investments in digital start-ups.

But another option could be Alex Mahon, Channel 4’s chief executive. Hired by Ms Murdoch for her Shine group in 2006, it was Ms Mahon who brought the Broadchurch producer Kudos into the business.

The upside of luring Ms Murdoch, once named the fifth most powerful woman in Britain in a Woman’s Hour poll, is the weight her name would carry in negotiations over the BBC'[s future with Downing Street. “It could be a genius move. They woulnd’t dare f**k with a Murdoch,” said one insider.

My guess is that even if Murdoch became director-general, she’d still carry on the and increase the Beeb’s right-wing political bias. I also think that she’d carry out some further privatisation and quiet dismantling of the Beeb for the benefit of its competitors, but not as outright as Cummings and BoJob would quite wish.

Whoever gets installed as the next director-general will still be under pressure to get rid of the licence fee, though I’m sure the Tories would hesitate at attacking one of Murdoch’s own family because of the power of the Murdoch press. On the other hand, she could well reverse her previous positive attitude to the Beeb, and become an enthusiast for its dismantlement once she become D-G.

Whatever happens, the Beeb is still in serious danger. But because of its massive political bias, its traditional defenders on the Left are no longer as willing to support it.

 

Journos Walk Out As Boris Tries to Control Press

The Tory attempts to impose rigid, authoritarian control over the press continues. One of the big stories yesterday was the news that the assembled hacks and hackettes of the media had walked out of a press briefing organised by No. 10. There was going to be a ‘technical briefing’ on Brexit by David Frost, our comedy Prime Minister’s adviser on Europe. However, only selected members of the fourth estate were invited. A list was read out of those favoured journos were going to be allowed to go to No. 10, splitting the media into two groups as those who were and were not invited were told to stand on different sides of the room. The media outlets that were definitely not invited included the I, Daily Mirror, Independent, Evening Standard, HuffPost UK and PoliticsHome. Those papers not on BoJob’s list also tried to get into the briefing. This assault on press freedom was too much even for those invited, and other journos walked out of the meeting in protest. They included Laura Kuenssberg for the Beeb, ITV.s political editor Robert Peston and the senior political correspondents from the Heil, Torygraph, Scum, Financial Times and the Groaniad. A row broke out, with Lee Cain, BoJob’s director of communications, declaring “We are welcome to brief whoever we want, whenever we want’.

The Mirror’s political editor, Pippa Crerar, described the shenanigans as ‘sinister and sad’. The SNP’s culture spokesman, John Nicholson, commented that Johnson already hid from interviewers he found too tough, a tactic he learned from Trump. The Shadow Culture Secretary, Tracy Brabin, said that it was concerning that Johnson was using Trump tactics to hid from scrutiny. Dame Eleanor Laing, the deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, also condemned BoJob’s actions, and said, ‘Accredited lobby journalists are indeed part of our parliamentary community and so, of course, must be, should be, and normally are treated with respect’. And the NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: ‘As ministers are now boycotting certain programmes and journalists, this represents another very dangerous step.’

The I covered this in yesterday’s edition, for 4th February 2020. Their description of the events on page 10 was accompanied by an analysis by Richard Vaughan, ‘No 10 has started to chip away at freedom of press’, describing how this was just the latest step in Boris’ attempts to restrict press freedom and hostile reportage. The article ran

Since entering No 10 last year, Boris Johnson’s senior advisers have wanted to exert greater power when it comes to the media. Up until the election, Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s de facto chief of staff, and his direct of communications Lee Cain, were too distracted to do much about it.

But having secured an 80-seat majority, the pair have all but declared war on the parliamentary “lobby” journalists in a bid to exercise their new-found strength.

First was change to the lobby briefing system – the twice-daily meetings where journalists can fire questions at the Prime Minister’s official spokesman.

Cain insisted that all meetings would be held in Downing Street rather than the Commons. This raised concerns that it would give No 10 the power to refuse entry for any journalists who had fallen out of favour.

And so it has proved. Last week, a select group of journalists were invited to a briefing by security and intelligence officials on allowing Huawei to run part of the UK’s 5G network. Representatives from I, the Daily Mirror, HuffPost, the Independent, the Press Association, Reuters and several websites were barred.

Yesterday, No 10 repeated the move, attempting to freeze out several journalists from a Downing Street briefing with the Government’s lead Brexit negotiator David Frost, only this time it prompted a walkout.

It follows similar decisions by Mr Johnson’s team to boycott BBC Radio4’s Today and ITV’s Good Morning Britain as well as avoiding Andrew Neil during the election.

It is a power play by Cummings and Cain, who prioritise “message discipline” above all else and who view the favoured outlets as being essential to getting their message out. The move has been described as Trumpian by opposition MPs, due to its similarity to the way the US President excludes certain reporters he does not like.

It would be very easy to dismiss this as sour grapes at not being one of the chosen few titles, but it is a worrying sign of things to come. Shutting out certain publications damages the bedrock of a free media which exists to help hold the Government to account.

In fact, as the media coverage of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn has shown, it’s been a very long time since the Tory media held the government to account. They were also very heavily favoured by the Beeb. John Major, when he was in power in No. 10, used to ask his cabinet how their friends in the media could help them spin certain issues and stories. And former cabinet ministers of Tony Blair’s have described how he was always concerned to have the press on his side, and that Rupert Murdoch was always an invisible presence at meetings due to his switch to supporting Blair.

Now with this attempt by Boris to exclude the media outlets he dislikes and Johnson debating whether or not to abolish the licence fee and privatise the Beeb, the media just might be waking up to what a threat Johnson poses to freedom of speech and of the press.

And this is a very dangerous step. Trump, who started this tactic, also pondered whether or not he could have certain newspapers closed down. He can’t, at least not at the moment. But that’s another step in the sequence of imposing a rigid state censorship over the media comparable to that of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.

The media were fine about supporting Boris when it was voluntary. He was standing up for capitalist freedom against that evil Commie Corbyn. Well, Corbyn wasn’t a Commie, and they’re just now starting to find out that under Boris, supporting him is going to be  compulsory.

More on Tory Plan to Run Down and Privatise the Beeb for Murdoch

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 25/01/2020 - 6:06am in

Okay, there have been a number of pieces written recently about the Tories’ plan to run down the Beeb in preparation for its eventual privatisation, while at the same time turning it into their propaganda mouthpiece. But Zelo Street today has put up an excellent piece adding a few more details.

The Sage of Crewe begins with the quote from Robert Peston, ITV’s political editor, that Boris and his wretched pet Machiavelli, Dominic Cummings, want to have significant influence over the choice of the next Director-General of the Beeb following the departure of Lord Tony Hall.  Cummings and co are looking for someone sympathetic to their plans for the Corporation.

The piece then quotes the Guardian, which explains that Cummings’ think tank, the New Frontiers Foundation in 2004 called for the end of the Beeb in its present form, and suggested that right-wing activists should try to undermine it by painting the Beeb as the ‘mortal enemy’ of the Tories. The Foundation instead called for the establishment of an equivalent to Fox News to get round the state broadcaster’s impartiality rules. The Groan also reveals that Johnson saw Murdoch for a social meeting the day he announced the date of the election. Murdoch has been the only newspaper magnate Bojob has seen in the first three months of his tenure of No. 10.

Zelo Street also quotes Byline Media, which noted that the first newspaper the Beeb told about its decision to cancel Victoria Derbyshire’s show was the Times. Which is, of course, owned by Rupe. Byline Media also reported how Murdoch has been trying to destroy the Beeb for 40 years, and was three times able to delay Panorama’s investigation into the News of the World’s ‘fake shake’, Mahmood Mazher.

The Street concludes

‘Now that same Murdoch empire has an in with the Government, whose chief advisor is more than sympathetic to the idea of taking the axe to the BBC – just as Murdoch wants.

And the Beeb finds itself in this parlous position just as its trust ratings have fallen – especially among those on the left who would in the past have rushed to its defence.

Who will now come to rescue the Corporation? Don’t all shout at once.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/01/bbc-now-at-mercy-of-tories.html

This confirms what was suspected since Boris took power and announced that he was considering decriminalisation nonpayment of the license fee. The Murdoch press has been consistently attacking the Corporation, as Byline Media says, for the past 40 years. Murdoch even ranted about it when he spoke at a television festival a few years ago.

Johnson’s support for Murdoch should worry everyone concerned with quality broadcasting, and that includes Tories as well as left-wingers. About 20 or see years ago Private Eye reported that an American Conservative organisation had awarded Rupe the ‘Silver Sewer’ Award for his role in coarsening and degrading American culture. His US network, which I think he’s now sold, Fox News, was so biased that it rightly earned its nickname ‘Faux News’. It’s a cesspool of fake news and right-wing propaganda. So much so that a media monitoring organisation found that you were going to be less well informed about the world after watching it than if you did. Americans have frequently been criticised for not knowing much about the rest of the world. Fox News is one of the factors keeping them ignorant, including about the state of their own country.

And while Murdoch supports Tory policies, his personal interests aren’t identical with theirs. When Murdoch was negotiating to buy the Times back in the ’70s, many Tories opposed him because of his treatment of Profumo. The former Tory minister, who had been forced out because of the scandal over his affair with Christine Keeler, had been rehabilitated after many years in the wilderness. He’d been working with a homelessness charity in the East End, and was ready to make a comeback. But Murdoch made that impossible when one of his papers raked over the Profumo scandal once more, in order to sell a few more copies.

Giving more of the news media to Murdoch also means that he can and will suppress the opinions of government ministers on vital topics when this also suits him. Way back in the 1990s Chris Patten, the former last British governor of Hong Kong, wrote a book about his career. Murdoch at the time was negotiating with the Chinese government, about whom Patten made some strong observations. The book was therefore rejected by its prospective publisher, which was one of Murdoch’s companies. It was picked up by another publisher, but the threat to democracy remains. Murdoch is not afraid to suppress the views of senior government ministers, and while they may find other media outlets, allowing Murdoch even more of grip on our media also endangers this.

And he’s also not afraid to dump the Tory party in its entirety when it suits him. John Major belatedly realised that Rupe had become too powerful and was too mercenary back in the last days of his government. Frustrated that the Tories weren’t giving him enough of what he wanted, he turned instead to Blair and the Labour party. Apparently Major railed at this betrayal during a cabinet meeting, and said that they should find ways to cut Murdoch’s empire down to size. But by that time it was far too late.

Murdoch is an active threat to the NHS and the welfare state, which he also despises and wishes destroyed. But his growing domination of British media and wish to destroy the Beeb for his own network make him an active threat to democracy and free speech in the UK. He exerted a powerful influence over Blair when New Labour was in power. Former cabinet ministers have said that he was always an invisible presence at cabinet meetings, as Blair worried about how policies would go down with him.

The Beeb should remain a publicly owned network. But their flagrant bias towards the Tories and bitter vilification of Labour now makes it difficult for anyone on the left to support them.

 

 

 

Lib Dem Politico Bullied into Coming Out as Gay by Mail on Sunday

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/01/2020 - 6:37am in

This is absolutely disgusting. I really do wonder how the alleged ladies and gentlemen of the scumbag British press sleep at night. Zelo Street this afternoon reported that Layla Moran, the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, came out last week. She revealed that she was pansexual, and was in a loving, supportive relationship with another woman. Moran’s a contender for the Lib Dem leadership, and her announcement that she was gay was on ITV news. Moran says that their relationship started six months ago. So naturally, Zelo Street raises the obvious question: why is she telling us all this now?

It’s because, according to Hacked Off, the group representing the victims of press phone hacking, Moran was put under pressure by hacks from the Mail on Sunday.  The organisation said

 “Ms Moran has described how several reporters have been asking questions, door-knocking neighbours and even offering payment to a former partner seeking information about her personal life over the last few months. Ms Moran writes that the Mail on Sunday threatened to publish details relating to her sexuality last Saturday, and that she herself only decided to reveal her sexuality publicly last week because she feared the newspaper would go on to publish”.

She did so on social media, which really annoyed the MoS, who were reduced to running a piece about Mumsnet showing bitterly critical posts of her by its users. One of these accused her of ‘weaponising’ her relationship with the Lib Dems former head of media, Rosy Cobb.

The Street then quotes Nathan Sparkes of Hacked Off on the squalid cruelty the MoS has shown:

“Newspapers have no business revealing an individual’s sexuality against their will, far less a politician who has devoted much of her career to date to furthering the cause of LGBT+ rights and equality … The decision of the Mail on Sunday … to publish an article attacking Ms Moran based on a handful of abusive tweets on a social media site speaks to the vindictiveness and cruelty of parts of our unregulated press”.

The Street concludes ‘Our free and fearless press’ attitude to sexuality stinks. And that has to change.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/01/layla-moran-bullied-into-coming-out.html

I think I saw something in the I written by Moran about her experience of ‘coming out’. It had the title ‘In the 21st Century Coming Out Shouldn’t Be An Issue’, or something along those lines. I didn’t read it because quite frankly I wasn’t interested. So many public figures have come out over the past decades – pop stars, sportsmen and women, actors, politicos – that you get used to it, even bored. With many public figures, whether gay or straight, who they’re romantically involved with is the least interesting aspect of their lives. What’s more interesting is their talent, or issues such as whether they have an unusual personal background, skill or medical condition. Such as, for example, whether they can speak an exotic language, have mastered an arcane science or intellectual discipline like quantum physics, or are able to fly an aircraft. Or have overcome personal misfortune or a medical condition like autism or depression. For a politician, what really matters is how hard they work for and represent their constituents, and their policy positions. Like where they stand on Brexit, the destruction of the welfare state, rising inequality, racism, the privatisation of the NHS and so forth. Provided that they’re not breaking the law and their partners are consenting adults, who they share their private lives with is their own business.

I grew up in the 1980s, when the gay rights organisations were aggressively outing politicians, who kept their sexuality hidden. I thought that this was pretty shabby, until a gay friend of mine told me that the politicos they targeted were hypocrites, who publicly opposed homosexuality and its toleration. There was a serious point to their actions. But there doesn’t seem to be anything like that here, just a simple desire to boost sales figures through scandal.

And unfortunately, the press has got plenty of previous in trying to bully people into revealing their sexuality in this way. Way back in the 1990s the ‘Street of Shame’ column in Private Eye carried a story about an attempt by one of the tabloids – something like the Scum or the News of the Screws – to blackmail one of the pop stars of the day into coming out in its pages. Wisely, he decided to thwart them by going to one of the other papers instead to make the revelation.

And stalking celebrities in order to find out if they’re gay or not is pretty squalid anyway. A few years ago there was a programme on how the Mirror got that story about George Michael going into a gay toilet in Beverley Hills or wherever. That was when it was edited by Piers Morgan, now adorning ITV’s breakfast news. The photographer was there for a week staking the place out waiting for a celebrity, any celebrity, to come and use it. The photographs he took from a car parked over the road were worth tens of thousands. Which itself shows the squalid morals of the newspaper business. I’ve no doubt his family and children were well fed, clad and educated by the profits of his job, but it’s not exactly something your children can boast about in school. After hearing from all the other children how their parents are builders, engineers, scientists, business people,  artists or whatever, what child really wants to answer the question ‘What does your mum/dad do?’ with the reply, ‘He/she hangs around gay toilets hoping to catch rock stars getting arrested by the rozzers’?

As for Mumsnet, they’ve been described as ‘4chan with prosecco’. From what I gather of 4chan, it’s an internet platform seething with racism, sexism and vicious trolls, so that’s hardly an endorsement.

The Mail on Sunday’s treatment of Moran, and the British press’ treatment of innocent people just trying to live their lives in peace is deeply shameful, and shows why it really does need to be subject to a press watchdog with teeth.

ITV Misrepresents Stormzy Racism Comment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/12/2019 - 10:54pm in

Yesterday Mike put up a piece reporting that the Grime artist, Stormzy, had been misrepresent by ITV as claiming that Britain was totally racist. One of the broadcaster’s hacks had asked him if he thought Britain was racist. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘100 per cent’. Now it should be obvious even to the meanest intelligence that what he meant was that he believed 100 per cent that Britain was racist, not that Britain is 100 per cent racist. But we live in a ‘post-truth’ age, where the media is feeding us all kinds of lies, half-truths and distortions. Stormzy was pro-Labour and pro-Corbyn, and after the Beeb and its lead smear merchant, Laura Kuenssberg, had spent the election belittling Labour and promoting the Tories, it seems that ITV had decided it was their turn. There was an immediate backlash which resulted in the broadcaster releasing a statement retracting their claims about Stormzy, but which significantly did not include an apology.

The peeps on Twitter were not impressed. Mike has put up a number of tweets attacking ITV for this from people like Another Angry Voice, Laura Murray, the comedian and I journo Shappi Khorsandi, and Novara Media’s Ash Sarkar. Murray and Sarkar both noted that Stormzy was being smeared after Britain had elected Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. A racist, who talked about ‘picanninies with watermelon smiles’. Sarkar noted that Johnson also says he runs away from Black boys, Nigerians are obsessed with money and uses the N- and C- word for Blacks. Oh yes, and Britain is a country that illegal deported Black British citizens. But Britain isn’t racist, and it’s extraordinarily offensive to say that it does.

And after the Tory election victory that put Johnson into No. 10, I really wouldn’t have blamed Stormzy if he did believe that Britain was totally racist. Because as Murray and Sarkar note, 14 million people elected one. And it also looks like the broadcaster was using the same trick on Stormzy that the Sun in 1987 used to try to put the public off voting for Diane Abbott. They put a picture of her up in a feature on Labour MPs with left-wing or otherwise dangerous or offensive opinions, at least according to the Scum, claiming that she had said, ‘All White people are racist’. And now they misrepresented Stormzy to make it look like he had said something similar. The right-wing media in 1987 as part of their campaign against the Labour party deliberately misrepresented Black discontent not as resistance to racism, but as Black racism. And this looks very much the same tactic. Stormzy’s political views could be discounted, because he was yet another Black anti-White racist. That was the impression given.

Stormzy himself issued a very forthright attack on the smear. He declared, in language that in Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home is described as ‘colourful metaphors’, that all the publications and media outlets distorting his words could perform oral sex for him, and should not bother asking for anything from him in the future.

Mike comments on this affair

The mainstream – Tory – media will take every opportunity to mislead the public about the opinions, actions and philosophy of those of us who want a better deal for everybody, rather than a bigger slice of pie for the few who are already grossly obese while everybody else is starving.

They’ll do it in the knowledge that most of the people they are misrepresenting do not have the means to challenge them.

And when they are exposed, they’ll simply change their headlines, happy in the knowledge that the damage is done.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/22/fake-news-row-as-itv-misrepresents-stormzy-comment/

And now today Carl ‘Sargon of Akkad’ Benjamin is chuckling over a hashtag campaign calling Stormzy a ‘bellend’. Sargon is, of course, the man, who killed UKIP along with Mark ‘Count Dankula’ Meechan and Paul Joseph Watson. A man so right-wing, racist and sexist that the UKIP branch in Swindon asked him to be deselected as one of their candidates for the south-west in this year’s Euro election. Gloucestershire UKIP disbanded when they heard he’d been selected, and he was greeted with anti-racism demonstrations when he turned up in Bristol as part of his election tour, and had milkshakes and fish thrown at him Truro and other places. Sargon’s support of this hashtag campaign tells you all you need to know about the racists supporting ITV’s smear. It comes after a similar hashtag campaign against Owen Jones yesterday by supporters of Rachel Riley and the Alt Right. Which reveals exactly who some of her supporters are.

And with this latest attack on Stormzy, it shows how Johnson’s victory has emboldened the real racists in this country.

Aide Swears and Boris Runs into Freezer to Avoid Interview with Morgan and Reid

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/12/2019 - 1:04am in

More weird, buffoonish behaviour from the unfunny clown pretending to be our Prime Minister. Boris and the rest of the Tories, it has been remarked many times, don’t like giving interviews. They don’t like them so much in fact, that they actively run away from them. Andrew Neil has tried several times to get Johnson on his show to no avail. Jeremy Corbyn has been vilified by the Tory press as a coward for supposedly running away from interviews, but he has in fact consistently turned up for them. Johnson’s fear of being interviewed by anyone not carefully selected and trusted to lob him soft questions was graphically shown this morning on Good Morning Britain when he ran away and hid from Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid.

BoJob appeared to be shown around a dairy when the programme’s roving reporter finally caught up with him. He greeted him, and asked him if would appear on the programme. Boris’ aide, Rob Oxley, turned around and appeared to mouth ‘For fuck’s sake’, to the astonished gasps and faces of the two in the studio. Someone else told the reporter that he wasn’t going near Boris.  The hack continued following Johnson, asking him about his promise to talk to Piers and Susanna, and telling him they were ready to go. Boris carried on moving around on his little tour, leaving him behind. The reporter also said that he was being pushed and shoved by BoJob’s minder.  When they finally catch up with Johnson, it’s outside the dairy’s freezer. The hack repeats the question, our comedy Prime Minister says, ‘One moment’, and then disappears with his aids and guides inside the freezer, closing the door. Morgan then praises the hack, telling him he was ‘truly heroic’.

Here’s the Guardian’s video:

Zelo Street in its coverage of this farce makes the point that it demolishes the Tory claims about the respective strengths of Johnson and Corbyn as protectors of this country’s security. Corbyn, they claim, is a positive security risk. Johnson, however, is a truly Churchillian figure who will defend our island from all the evil foreigners out there, as well as driving a hard deal in the trade negotiations with Trump. But this incident shows it all to be a sham. Tim writes

‘Not only did the Fridgegate incident show that Bozo is so yellow that he would never keep the UK safe, it has also showed that when it comes to intolerance and thuggery, it is the Tories and their entourage who are the ones really doing it.

You want to rid the UK of this entitled shower? You know which way to vote tomorrow.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/12/fridgegate-uk-not-safe-with-bozo.html