Tag Archives: Daily Telegraph

In praise of Randy Quaid, Lynn Ruth Miller & the oddly salacious Daily Mail

Lynn Ruth Miller with a friend in Montenegro. (Photograph by Marat Abdrakhmanov)

Lynn Ruth Miller with a friend in Montenegro. (Photograph by Marat Abdrakhmanov)

I pride myself in taking an interest in quirky real-life events.

Yesterday’s blog was about 80-something performer Lynn Ruth Miller making merry with 200 Russians in Montenegro at a conference called Well Over Fifty.

When I heard about this, I told her: “I associate Montenegro with that poker game and international intrigue in Casino Royale.”

This morning, she replied:

“No casinos, darling. Just a lot of fish and vodka. Yesterday I went on a bus ride to see the sights. Unfortunately it was pouring with rain and the non-stop narration of what we were supposed to be seeing through the fog spoke only in Russian.

“I sat next to a woman with a bad hip who pole dances because all she has to use to hoist herself up is her arms. This is why she can only take baths, not showers.  She says she is 65 and gluten-free which explains why she has such powerful arms.

“She is traveling with her crazy sister who is a graduate engineer and a veteran of the US Navy, who insisted on singing Beatles’ songs to the Russians who joined in because they love our music and cannot understand why they can’t get a visa to come to London to sing-along.

“At least I think that is what they told me but I am not sure because it was all in Russian. They might very well have been discussing the crisis in Afghanistan (There is one there, isn’t there?) or that it is impossible to buy a decent avocado in this god forsaken place.

“The bus finally stopped when it ran out of gas and we all piled into boats (in the pouring rain) and the pilot of the boat plied us with doughnuts and honey, feta cheese and plenty of vodka, since the coffee here is like motor oil. This on an empty stomach.

“Within seconds, we were happily romping around the boat knocking up vodka and anyone else who would have us. When we landed, drenched, at a restaurant for traditional Montenegran food which is very fishy, we were fighting exploding bladders.

“There is another bus trip today where we get to buy souvenirs. I am not sure what the souvenirs will be but, by God, I intend to buy one to remind myself that this whole experience was not the result of ingesting rich food late at night.”

Now, as I said, I pride myself in taking an interest in quirky real-life events and Lynn Ruth in Montenegro qualifies, I think, as being a tad quirky – especially if you know Lynn Ruth.

But this all pales into normality compared to the doings of actor Randy Quaid, about which I was shamefully ignorant until yesterday.

I spotted an online report yesterday headlined:

SANTA BARBARA D.A. VOWS TO BRING RANDY QUAID TO JUSTICE DESPITE LEGAL SETBACK

which started: “Prosecutors say they ‘remain hopeful’ after Independence Day actor and his wife were released from a Vermont jail… Quaid and his wife are considered fugitives, wanted in Santa Barbara, California, to face felony vandalism charges from 2010.  Authorities said they were found squatting in a guesthouse of a home they previously owned. The couple fled to Canada, where Evi was granted citizenship but Randy was denied permanent residency.”

This may have been because he claimed he was being pursued by assassins paid by Hollywood studios.

I had somehow missed the back-story on this completely. On Facebook, Matthew Wilkes pointed me to an explanatory report from February this year headlined:

RANDY QUAID RETURNS BY HUMPING HIS WIFE WHILE SHE WEARS RUPERT MURDOCH MASK

Randy Quaid and his wife Avi in the oddly mesmeric video clip

Randy Quaid and his wife Avi in the oddly mesmeric video clip

And, indeed, that headline did not overstate the case. The report says: “As his wife Evi watches silently, clad in just a bikini and sunglasses, Quaid declares that they’ve been through ‘a hell of biblical proportions’… Quaid reserves his most cutting words for Rupert Murdoch, first noting that he’s wearing ‘the very same shirt that I wore in ’94 when I saved the world’ in the Fox movie Independence Day… Since Murdoch has tried to fuck him, now it’s his turn. He hands Evi a Rupert Murdoch mask, bends her over, spits in his hand, then proceeds to take her from behind while a trembling dog barks nervously at them, like a nation personified.”

At the time of writing, Randy’s video – taken down from YouTube but re-posted elsewhere – has had at least 3,584,231 plays – as it well deserves, despite potential claims of sexism.

An even fuller story of the background, though, comes – as is often the case – from the Daily Mail.

The extraordinary thing about the Daily Mail – much-read by the middle-of-the-road middle classes of Britain and much reviled by liberal Guardian-readers for its reactionary conservative views – is that it is extraordinary prurient and loves a bit of sleaze and eccentricity.

I got turned-on to the half-hidden glories of the Daily Mail when I was working at Anglia TV and we got all the national daily newspapers each morning. It was at the time Cynthia Payne – nicknamed ‘Madame Cyn’ by the tabloids – was being prosecuted for running a brothel in the unlikely locale of Streatham, in south London.

The tabloid ‘red top’ papers gloried in the sex aspects of the case, but the Daily Mail, alone in Fleet Street, seemed to zero in on the fact that the case was not about sex but about quirky British eccentricity.

The current Wikipedia entry on Cynthia wisely describes one of the highlights of the story as: “Elderly men paid in Luncheon Vouchers to dress up in lingerie and be spanked by young women”. The key quirky words here are not “spanked by young women” but “paid in Luncheon Vouchers”. Cynthia’s defence seemed partly to be that she was providing a valuable public service to retired Army majors in wheelchairs et al.  She was found innocent by a possibly amused jury.

Personal Services - billed as “from the director of Monty Python’;s Life of Brian

Personal Services was promoted with the selling-line: “From the Director of Monty Python’s Life of Brian”

She became something of a celebrity appearing, for example, on TV in The Dame Edna Experience with actor Sir John Mills and ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. She wrote a book titled Entertaining at Home – currently sold by Amazon under their Etiquette and Party Planning headings – and two feature films were based on her life, both released in 1987: Wish You Were Here and Personal Services.

The true reportage of quirkily eccentric lives in Britain used to appear in the Daily Telegraph’s obituary column and on their page three, which used to be their court report page. They have sadly long-since toned-down their obituaries and abandoned their old page three jollities after people in other publications started writing articles about the wild eccentricities held within. I still remember a short paragraph on page three of the Telegraph last century saying that a man had been prosecuted for leaping out of country hedgerows and scaring passing women horse-riders; he did this by dressing from head-to-toe in a rubber frogman’s outfit including snorkel and flippers. There was no more detail than this and no context. That was their full report.

The British press is less colourful since the Daily Telegraph reined-back on its quirkiness. But the Daily Mail now out-tabloids the tabloids with quirky stories and astonishingly widespread often salacious features on celebrities accompanied by pictures of curvaceous young women with prominent bosoms.

Those who diss the Mail for reactionary greyness don’t read it or look at its circulation figures.

Meanwhile, Randy Quaid’s video currently remains online HERE.

Beware – it contains a probably simulated but possibly real sex scene.

I am surprised the Daily Mail did not run the video online it in full.

RandyQuaidVideoClip

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The tsunami of anarchy which will be released by the death of newspapers

Last night, I went to the Fulbright Lecture at the British Library, given by the Financial Times’ editor Lionel Barber.

The subject was “Adapt or Die: The Future of News and Newspapers in the Digital Revolution”.

In 2009, more than one hundred US newspapers closed down and, in 2007-2009, newspaper advertising revenue fell by 10% in Germany, 21% in the UK and 30% in the US. Circulations for printed newspapers are falling like lemmings as readers and advertisers move online.

One saving thought seems to be that people may be prepared to pay for comment and analysis, though probably not for general news. The Financial Times is in the fortunate position of being a niche newspaper. It mostly reports on a specific subject area where people are prepared to pay for analysis, comment and specialised reports.

But newspapers in general have not been delivering news for the last 50 years.

I am ancient enough to have been at college doing Communication Studies (radio, TV, journalism, advertising) when the first issue of Rupert Murdoch’s Sun was published.

The guy who supervised the journalism part of our course was the Production Editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World. On the morning the first edition of the new Sun was published, he went through it page-by-page with us, pointing out that all the main stories were not News as such: they had all been reported in the previous evening’s TV news or were, in some way re-heated old news.

After that, I paid closer attention to what was actually printed in newspapers and developed my taste for the Daily Telegraph. If you look at most newspapers, you can actually visually see that they are magazines. The Guardian is a prime example. Look at its news pages and you see big rectangular blocks of text which analyse and/or give insight into news stories. But they are almost never reporting new News.

The Daily Telegraph has lots of columns with different little inches of different stories, most of which have not been included in the always superficial TV and radio news. I blogged a couple of months ago about how I once met a Daily Telegraph sub-editor at a party who hated working at the paper for exactly the same reason I loved reading it. People would yell across the room at him: “Give me a three-inch story!” not caring what the actual story was.

And, except at election times, the Daily Telegraph tends to keep the old-fashioned division between news and comment (which most US newspapers also maintain).

Newspaper and TV News editors used to be – and still are – gatekeepers to what is considered news. But, with the internet, power has in theory moved from publisher to reader.

In fact, forget gatekeepers. Forget gates. Think dams. One gigantic dam behind which is all the water in the world.

In the past, newspaper and TV News editors were in charge of dams which kept most of the water behind their dams and let a few selected trickles through. Now the mother of all dams is opening and uncontrolled, uncontrollable amounts of information are going to be unleashed not just day-by-day but second-by-second.

In my erstwhile youth, if you wanted to find out facts, you had to go to a library. Librarians and the publishers of encyclopaedias were the damkeepers of knowledge. Now Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg and their ilk are opening the dams which should result in almost all (and, in theory all) current and past knowledge being available instantly anywhere in the world.

If you are sitting on a camel in the middle of the Australian desert outside Alice Springs then, on a 3G device, you are now able to instantly find out which films are being screened at all the cinemas in Glasgow tonight or which dates the Emperor Caligula ruled Rome – and you can download and read a copy of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield or Homer’s Iliad.

In future, it seems, all news will be available to everyone pretty-much instantly via Twitter, Facebook and every other social network known and as yet unknown to man and woman. The first news of the US attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May came on Twitter.

What will be needed is what, last night, Lionel Barber was understandably most scathing about – so-called news aggregators like The Huffington Post (which sometimes carries my blogs), The Drudge ReportThe Daily Beast and even Gawker, whose slogan is “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news”. At the moment, these (depending on your viewpoint) could be said to pirate other news sources and regurgitate the selected news.

The Financial Times currently employs 130 foreign correspondents to collect and interpret news abroad. What will be needed in future, I presume, is some way of analysing, interpreting and compacting news from several hundred million correspondents including the blogosphere.

Newspapers may become aggregators.

No, I have no idea how or if that will happen.

And I have no idea what will happen.

But traditional newspapers were dead 50 years ago; they just did not know it.

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The distortion of the UK tax system by socialist ideology

For a few months, when I was much younger, I read the Sunday Telegraph.

I stopped after reading an article on the UK income tax system. I could see no logical flaw in the newspaper’s argument, but it made me morally uncomfortable.

The article argued that a tiered system of income tax in which higher earners pay a higher percentage of their income in tax is illogical, unfair and both economically and morally indefensible.

Intellectually, I had to agree with the Telegraph‘s logic. The argument went like this…

In a capitalist system – or in the mixed capitalist system which we have – people are, by and large, paid their worth to the company and industry in which they work and to the country’s economy in general. The ultimate goal is always to maximise profits to the company and to the shareholders. So, with competition from other companies for the better executives and workers, a fair salary is reached for each working person by the workings of the market.

It is morally correct that people who earn more should pay more to the community in taxes. But that ideal and morally correct situation is reached by a flat rate tax on earnings not by a tiered system.

Someone who pays 20% of a £100,000 salary pays far more to the community than someone who pays 20% of a £25,000 salary. They pay according to their wealth. As their salary increases, their tax payments increase. They are taxed according to their ability to pay at the same flat rate. And, of course, it is right that people who earn a low salary beneath a certain amount should pay no tax.

The tiered system we currently have in which people on a high salary may have to pay 40% of their salary while people who earn a lower salary may have to pay only 20% of their salary is not moral, is not fair, it distorts the market forces which create ‘fair’ wages and it is punitive on the more successful workers who should be not discouraged but encouraged.

The fact that some higher earning people may be able to ‘cheat’ the system with clever accountants is not relevant. Distortions like that are inevitable in any system and are the fault of the government’s incompetent bureaucracy – they should prevent those frauds. It does not affect the principle that a flat rate tax system is fair to all taxpayers and the fact that a tiered tax system is fundamentally unfair – a political decision not a moral or economic decision.

If there is a tiered tax system, it distorts the market forces which decide salaries because, if people are losing money for reasons of political tax ideology not for genuine economic reasons, their salaries will have to increase to take account of the loss. Thus you get distorted salary scales.

A tiered tax system makes no economic sense and is morally unfair. It’s object is to blindly redistribute wealth on ideological grounds.

I could not and still can’t disagree with the cold logic of this argument. Yes, someone who earns more should pay more. But why should they pay a higher percentage of what they earn? Taxing higher earners a higher percentage is blind knee-jerk socialist ideology not economics.

I felt morally uncomfortable with the fact I could not fault the logic in the article and stopped reading the Sunday Telegraph because I felt somehow my moral values were being undermined and skewed by cold logic.

This quandary in my erstwhile youth was brought back to me yesterday when I read a report in The Scotsman that RBS, which the taxpayer had to bail out with millions and of which the government owns 83%, was about to pay 100 members of its staff £1 million each in bonuses.

The chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, of course, has been awarded a pay-and-bonuses package worth £7.7 million for 2010. So his 300 underlings getting bonuses of £1 million are merely getting the left-over scraps.

These awards were made at the time RBS was making a £1 billion loss.

Coincidentally yesterday, I also caught up with a small piece in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph about Tony Blair’s Sports Foundation – a charity – which, in its first financial period, made £348,233 of which it spent £33,929 on charitable activities and £37,621 on its staff.

So I am in two minds about high earners and extreme right wing politicians like Tony Blair.

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A reassurance to all artists and performers who appear to have failed to become successful.

R.I.P. Captain Beefheart – proof, if proof were needed, that you can still get a three-quarter page obituary in the Guardian and a mega obituary in the Daily Telegraph despite being “always cult rather than commercial” and being broke for most of your career…

Much like Vincent Van Gogh who only sold one painting in his life…

On the other hand I’ve always thought Van Gogh was a shit painter and I didn’t much admire Captain Beefheart’s music either.

But who knows?

It would be interesting to come back in 50 and then in 100 years time to see who are remembered as the great artists, bands and comedians of the 20th century. My bet is that they would be a big surprise to us.

Tommy Handley, Arthur Haynes – the great comedy successes of their time – now almost entirely forgotten.

In February 1968, Andy Warhol exhibited his first international retrospective exhibition at the Moderna Museet gallery in Stockholm. The exhibition catalogue contained the now long-remembered sentence: “In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes.”

The 4th century Vulgate version of the Bible translates Ecclesiastes 1:2 as “Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas”.

A loose translation today might be: “Everything means fuck all”

Very loose but true to the spirit.

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Never go south of the River

In Apocalypse Now! the character Chef, played by Frederic Forrest, says after something unexpectedly leaps out of the jungle at him (I’m trying not to give the shock away): “Never get out of the fucking boat! Never get out of the boat! I gotta remember! Gotta remember! Never get out of the boat!”

I can sympathise with him.

In London, the equivalent truism is “Never go South of the River. Always remember. Never go South of the River.”

I remember reading a piece in the Daily Telegraph years ago (I do love the Daily Telegraph and still lament the passing of its Page Three) which pointed out that the southern bank of the Thames from London Bridge to Deptford – or it might have been Dartford – has been a haunt of dodgy geezers and crime families since Elizabethan times.

I have been in Greenwich most of this week and, at 0100 in the early hours of Thursday morning, I went down to find the front passenger window of my car had been smashed in. The double locking system on my Toyota means that, if you do smash through the window, you still can’t open the door from the inside. So the yobbo only rummaged through my glove compartment and only managed to steal… the Toyota manual for my car.

I can’t fault his taste, though I can fault his efficiency. He missed the SatNav.

And now I have to fork out six quid to get a new manual.

I went to Greenwich Market yesterday. Two stall holders told me that, earlier in the day, it had been snowing inside the market.

Greenwich Market has a roof.

Never go South of the River.

Always remember.

Never go South of the River…

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Racism and sexism in television and in comedy

On Thursday, I went to Bethnal Green to see the multi-racial comedy sketch group the United Colours of Comedy at the Oxford House venue. Three were very talented.

On Friday, I met a man who almost appeared on Mastermind on BBC1.

The man told me his specialist subject had been ‘Cricket before 1914’. He had gone through all the preliminary applications and tests and got to the final full-scale dry-run tryout. He triumphed, got the highest points and won it. The tryout, that is. A few days later, he received a phone call which told him he would not be on the actual televised Mastermind show because he mumbled. This sounds like a bad TV producer to me: you can direct people so they don’t mumble.

But the point is that a few months later this failed Mastermind contestant was talking to a lawyer friend he knows in Birmingham. The lawyer had handled the case of another potential Mastermind contestant who had been similarly rejected. She, too, had won her dry-run tryout. She had been very nervous and had been rejected – she was told – because, in her nervousness, she had waved her hands about a lot and been overly ‘twitchy’, which was very visually distracting. However, this failed contestant was black and she believed she had been rejected because of racial discrimination by the BBC. She unsuccessfully searched around  for a lawyer to handle her case. All refused until, eventually, she found this one in Birmingham. The claims and lawyers’ letters dragged on for months and, as my chum later heard it, in order to avoid a public court case, the BBC paid the woman a “substantial” out-of-court settlement.

I don’t believe it was racial discrimination. The real truth, in my experience, is that usually TV companies and producers fall over themselves to try to get non-white faces on screen.

I remember a production meeting for the Birmingham-based ITV children’s series Tiswas in which the then producer Glyn Edwards said he was uncomfortable because every Saturday morning – and this is in a city in the West Midlands, an area with a wide ethnic mix – the studio audience was a sea of totally white faces. I was delegated to get non-white children to apply to be in the audience, which I did by approaching regional and national ethnic newspapers and groups; but it was a fairly slow process.

Later, I worked on the long-forgotten BBC TV series Joker in the Pack in which the absolutely wonderful Marti Caine, at the time in remission from the cancer which later killed her, was dragged round the country to listen to groups of ‘ordinary’ people telling jokes in their workplace and in social groups. At the start of pre-production, I asked the producer if he wanted to specifically approach ethnic groups to get a mix of white/black/Asian faces on screen. He said, “Oh, it’ll happen naturally.”

“No it won’t,” I told him and it didn’t. Halfway through recording the series he suddenly asked for non-white faces on-screen and it was not something that could be arranged quickly, because non-white faces then as now tend not to apply to appear on TV shows; you have to find them and/or publicise in the ethnic media – both of which take time. The potential punters don’t see many non-white faces as TV contestants nor in on-screen audiences, so they don’t automatically apply.

The same thing seems to happen in comedy clubs, certainly in London. The audiences are mostly 100% white faces. Why? Presumably because anyone who goes to comedy clubs sees almost 100% white audiences and that non-racial-mix is self-regenerating.

Small comedy clubs can do little about this although they should perhaps try. On TV shows however, in my experience, producers do actively want non-white faces which reflect the UK population (although they are often too lazy or too tardy to do anything about it). And this can also be a problem where women are concerned. There are, for example, not enough female comedians on TV. But thereby hangs the potemtial problem of being too desperate.

And that brings us to Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow on BBC1, which records in different cities around the UK and has very few women and very few non-white comics appearing on it. Which is where good intentions have turned into bad practice.

One black female comic bombed so badly during the recording for an edition of Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow in one city that the producers had to drop her from the televised show but allowed her to perform again in a subsequent recording in a second city so that she could be transmitted in the series. Whether this was because she was black or a woman or both I don’t know. I suspect it was because she was a black woman. But I have also been told two other English female comics who initially bombed during recordings for Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow were also re-recorded in a second city a second time (one was even booked to record a third time in a third city) to try to capture any acceptably successful comedy performance. This is not something I have heard being done for white male comics.

It says several things to me, one of which is that you can take PC too far – if they can’t be funny the first time, drop ‘em – and the other is that the producers of Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow have, in the past, been choosing the wrong female comics to appear. There are good female comics working out there.

For another view on what it’s like to be a female comic, read Janey Godley’s blog “A weird thing happened at the gig” about performing at a comedy club in Glasgow last Friday. The Daily Telegraph has quite rightly called Janey “the most outspoken female stand-up in Britain… The most ribald and refreshing comedy talent to have risen from the slums of Glasgow since Billy Connolly”. Inevitably, she has never been asked to appear on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow.

Life.

Tell me about it.

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Janey Godley – the greatest British improviser of her generation

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

The Daily Telegraph called Scottish comedienne Janey Godley “the most outspoken female stand-up in Britain… The most ribald and refreshing comedy talent to have risen from the slums of Glasgow since Billy Connolly.”

The Scotsman called her “Scotland’s funniest woman… the Godmother of Scottish Comedy” and talked of her “effortless stream-of-consciousness riffs that Virginia Woolf might have written.”

I’m not sure about the Virgina Woolf comparison. In my opinion, Virginia Woolf wasn’t that good.

But what Janey doesn’t get recognised for is being one of the best comedy improvisors of her generation – because people don’t realise that she has never – and I mean never even roughly – scripted any of her hour-long comedy shows.

At the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe, she performed a show called Caught In The Act of Being Myself. This got, reportedly, 12 visits from Perrier Award panel members and, after a big bust-up of opinion among the panel, her performance was disqualified from consideration because they decided she was ad-libbing a totally different show every night so, technically, the Fringe run was not the performance of a specific single show.

This year she has almost outdone herself. She didn’t know what the content of her comedy show The Godley Hour was even when she walked on stage on the first night yesterday; not even when she was halfway through. She told her first night audience: “I’m hearing this for the first time too.”

Today, she told me three of the previously untold stories she included in that first night show and which she will try to include every night in the full run of the show – and they were cracking crack-up and fall-down-clutching-your-stomach and kicking-your legs-in-the-air anecdotes.

There was a national newspaper critic in the first night audience. I will await the newspaper review with interest.

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