Tag Archives: New York Times

The downside of being a dead celebrity: Liz Taylor, Charlie Drake, Rod Hull, Bob Hope & the Queen Mum

The Queen Mother was 101 years old when she died and she had cost the BBC a fortune by not dying earlier. Her death – codenamed ‘Blackbird’ at ITV where the Transmission Controllers had envelopes containing details of what to do when she did eventually die – was clearly going to be a big news story and her funeral a complicatedly large state event so, to my knowledge, the BBC ran a full rehearsal of her death and coverage of her funeral three times. It cost a fortune.

She must have been well-pissed off when Princess Diana died because everyone was unprepared. There were certainly no plans for Diana to have a big funeral because, at that point, she was not a member of the Royal Family and had no constitutional position. So, when the Royal Family were, in effect, forced by the press and – to my mind – surreal public opinion to give Diana a big fuck-me funeral, they used the plans for the Queen Mother’s funeral.

As a result, the Queen Mother’s funeral itself was a less big-scale anti-climax.

Dying can be difficult at the best of times, but pity the poor celebrity.

Elizabeth Taylor sadly mis-timed her death on Wednesday. On a normal slow news days, she could have expected to be the lead item on TV News bulletins. But it was Budget Day in the UK – economic pundits and bullshitting politicians stretched as far as the eye could see and there were expensive Outside Broadcast and studio links nationwide – plus there was lots of news coming in from Libya and still news report aftershocks from the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear story in Japan, where TV companies had, by now, flown expensive reporters into place and were paying for on-the-spot film crews.

So poor Elizabeth Taylor’s death did not quite get the level of coverage she could have otherwise expected.

This morning, TV scriptwriter Nigel Crowle pointed out to me two slightly bizarre angles to her death.

One was that one of her rivals for the key role in 1944 movie National Velvet – which made her a star – was future Baroness Shirley Williams.

Shirley was pipped at the post by Elizabeth and went on to found the Social Democrat Party while Liz went on to marry Richard Burton twice.

It’s unlikely that, if Shirley had got the role, she would have gone on to marry Richard Burton and Elizabeth would have founded the SDP, but stranger things have happened.

The other odd fact Nigel mentioned is that Elizabeth Taylor’s obituary in the New York Times was written by Mel Gussow who died six years ago.

This is no great surprise – Associated Press wrote the template for Britney Spears’ obituary in 2008.

What does surprise me is that British newspapers seem to have discovered a tone of reverence for Elizabeth Taylor which they never quite gave her in life. Something of a reverse on the situation for dead UK comedian Charlie Drake, who was much cherished during his life.

After his death, veteran TV producer Michael Hurll let rip about Charlie in an interview on the Chortle comedy industry website

Hurll worked with Charlie when he was a holiday camp redcoat: “He was a nasty man then,” Hurll said, “and he stayed a nasty man – a horrible, horrible man”.

Hurll, old enough not to care, went on to call Jerry Lewis (still alive) “a nasty piece of work” and Bob Hope (dead) “the nastiest man I’ve ever worked with”. As for Rod Hull: “He was the most miserable, nastiest man you ever met… Just a horrible, horrible man.”

Dying can be difficult at the best of times, but pity the poor celebrity facing the uncertainties of posthumous reviews.

I still retain memories of reading an Andy Warhol obituary (I can’t remember where) which ended with the climactic words: “He was a short man who wore a wig”.

Ex-gangster ’Mad’ Frank Fraser – not a man to meddle with in life – once told me over a cup of tea that he wasn’t “really frightened of anything but I’m a bit worried what they’ll say about me after I die.”

He seems a very nice chap. He offered me free dental work.

Just don’t ask me about Cilla Black…

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The printed book is dead… and libraries… and newspapers… but literacy lives on my iPad!

I was in the Apple Store in Regent Street last week and bumped into the multi-talented transsexual comic Shelley Cooper, who has almost finished writing her autobiography – now THAT should be a cracking read. She is thinking of publishing it online via a print-on-demand site.

I am also thinking about re-publishing the late comedian Malcolm Hardee‘s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake as an online print-on-demand book. The costs are so low as to be negligible and the percentages to the writer are much higher – on a traditionally printed paperback book the author usually only gets 7.5% of the cover price. People can buy a print-on-demand book as a well-produced traditional paperback or download it from iTunes or Amazon.

Traditional paper books and physical libraries in towns and cities will soon be dead. A book is not bought because it is an object, it is bought an experience or for information. Content is king. The printed word is not dying – it is thriving on Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, mobile phone texting, everywhere. But the printed book will die.

The husband of a friend of mine is the straightest person I know. For many years, he never watched ITV – only BBC TV -because ITV was not respectable, merely a young whippersnapper upstart TV station. Yet he is now thinking of investing in an iPad or the duller and much more limited Kindle because, that way, he could take a whole library of books with him on holiday and read anything he likes when he gets there.

Ultimately, Project Gutenberg and its ilk will put almost all out-of-copyright fiction online; and Wikipedia and Google and the web in general give ultimately unlimited access to known facts. Yes, there are old books, newspapers and magazines with content which cannot be accessed online, but only because they have not yet been digitised.

Online publishers have no reason to ever declare any new ‘book’ out-of-print because the online file can remain in cyberspace forever at no extra production cost. The traditional paper book is dead and so are traditional physical libraries.

A library is just a building to keep books in. Unless they re-invent themselves as leisure centres for the printed word and computer gaming, they will soon be dead too.

What is worrying the printed media industry more immediately, of course, is what is happening and what will happen to newspapers, whose printed, paid-for editions are sliding down a seemingly bottomless pit in circulation terms.

Newspapers were always printing yesterday’s news but there used to be no alternative.

But why should I buy a print newspaper carrying out-of-date news when I can watch live street demonstrations in Cairo or around the Middle East on 24-hour live TV news channels? Why should I buy a UK newspaper when I can read other UK news sources free online and get access to Australian, Chinese, Russian and US print sources free online? AND watch Al Jazeera, BBC TV News, Sky News, Press TV from Tehran or, god forbid, the terminally dull Russia Today channel direct from Moscow?

On my iPad, I have apps giving me access to the Huffington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, the Straits Times and the Moscow Times. I can access a wider variety of sources worldwide via my Fluent News, Pulse News and Stuff apps. I get daily news update e-mails from The Scotsman and from China Daily.

Why should  buy a newspaper except for a free DVD?

On the other hand, Rupert Murdoch’s launch less than a couple of weeks ago of his iPad-only newspaper The Daily is interesting, though it is only available le in the US at the moment. If, as rumours say, he really does price a future full UK daily electronic newspaper automatically delivered to you every morning at a cost of only 79p per week…

Well, even I might be tempted… but it’s still going go be news I can get elsewhere for free.

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