Tag Archives: tv

Twitter: My part in Ian Hislop’s only tweet

As a long time fan of topical TV comedy quiz Have I Got News For You, I was tickled to see in this week’s extended edition an item about Twitter. In one of the bits not broadcast in the initial 30-minute show last Friday night, the delightful Kirsty Young pulled the “one-armed bandit of news” to reveal a photo of Stephen Fry checking his phone. The news item it referred to, as the fabulous Ross Noble correctly identified, was Fry’s recent tete-a-twit with one of his followers who had called his tweets “boring”, resulting in the bipolar Fry threatening to quit Twitter altogether. Fry of course did no such thing and the two were back on tweeting terms the next day. (How this came to be national news incidentally baffles me, but that’s by-the-by.)

At the end of the item, Young contrived a link to another celebrity tweet, this one supposedly by HIGNFY stalwart Ian Hislop saying he “got caught shoplifting in French Connection”. The joke is, it’s not by *the* Ian Hislop but someone passing himself off as him. Some of this guy’s tweets are quite funny (the one in question among them) but some of them are clearly not the work of the editor of Private Eye.

I first noticed the fake Hislop’s Twitter feed back in May of this year and, fairly alarmed at the fact that the faker had nearly 9,000 followers, not all of whom would realise the feed was a fraud, decided to drop Hislop a line at the magazine to bring it to his attention. I had a nice email back from him asking how he could “snap up” the username “realianhislop” which I’d suggested he do to ensure he got himself an official Twitter presence. I wrote back explaining how to do it, and on 1st June the Real Ian Hislop signed up and tweeted: “I am the real Ian Hislop. Anyone else claiming to be me twittering is, unsurprisingly, a fake. This should be my only tweet. Thankyou.”

This tweet was shown in all its 140-character glory on the other night’s HIGNFY, raising a modest titter. Hislop commented, “I was told that if I did it, the person pretending to be me, who has millions of followers – more even than the Dalai Lama – would go away. But he didn’t.” I didn’t tell Hislop this would happen, but I do note that the faker hasn’t tweeted since the end of May, so something seems to have happened (whether he was explicitly told to cease and desist, I don’t know). The irony though is that in the past five months, the fake Hislop has managed to *increase* his followers to over 15,000! This compares with the real Hislop’s more sedate 200 follower count (albeit up from 177 when I first checked on Monday) – not that it means much anyway because he’s not tweeting, even though that’s the whole joke.

I’d like to think this incident demonstrates that even if you’re the real McCoy, nobody will follow you on Twitter if you don’t tweet, as that’s the point of the exercise. You don’t even need to tweet very often – it’s the content that counts, as the excellent Justin Halpern of @shitmydadsays fame goes to show, having amassed over 750,000 followers in a few months with just a few dozen brilliant tweets. (On that note there was a lovely little news item on the BBC site yesterday reporting that Halpern has landed a TV show on the back of his feed, the coy Auntie Beeb managing not to mention its name. I bet Halpern is wishing he’d called it “stuffmydadsays” instead now.)

Anyway I am happy to have encouraged Ian Hislop (the real one) to use Twitter, even if he has only tweeted the once, and even happier that HIGNFY used it on the show. (I should own up that I might have *slightly* emailed Hat Trick Productions back in the summer to bring the whole thing to their attention, but I shouldn’t claim full responsibility as I’m sure they would’ve been aware of it anyway.) You can see the whole hilarious exchange (Noble riffs on his own Twitter experience brilliantly) on the video below between 6:00 and 9:17 (sorry, I’d love to have the facilities to edit the vid to be able to post just the relevant 3-minute section, but I don’t, so if anyone’s offering please let me know, as the item is well deserving of isolation for the Twitter archives!)


Posted via email from Thoughtcat’s Posterous

Virgin Media now giving no choice over TV on Demand

The following is the text of a letter I’ve sent today to Guardian Money:

This morning I got up and as usual put on the Cartoon Network channel for my children on our Virgin “TV Choice On Demand” service. Instead however I got an on-screen message saying I had to pay to subscribe to this service. This seemed to be a fault, as TV Choice On Demand has been included in the “medium” TV, phone and broadband package I’ve had with Virgin for the past 20 months. I rang to report the fault but was told that in fact Virgin had now decided – at no written notice – to withdraw TV Choice On Demand from the medium package, for which I am paying £28 per month. An “upgrade” to the XL package (i.e. to the service I was getting until yesterday, albeit with some extra channels thrown in) would cost an extra £7 per month for 3 months rising to an extra £17 per month thereafter. When I complained, I was all but told I should be grateful for having had the TV Choice service free for the past two years, when in fact what Virgin are now doing is charging me the same monthly fee for fewer services. Although I feel this is unfair, I may not have minded quite so much if I’d been given adequate notice and therefore a real “choice” in the matter. Ending a service overnight so that your kids are suddenly prevented from watching their favourite cartoons unless you fork out more is sharp practice of the lowest order.

Yrs etc.

Posted via email from Thoughtcat’s Posterous

On love, TV, Ugly Betty and The Apprentice

Today’s Grauniad Weekend magazine publishes a letter – well, some of it – I wrote them about this article from last Saturday, in which their resident marriage counsellor Luisa Dillner advises a reader concerned about the lack of time she’s spending with her boyfriend. Time couples spend watching TV together, asserted Dillner, ‘is passive [i.e. doesn’t count] unless you fight over the remote’. As my letter explains, this runs contrary to my own experience. TV is actually pretty interactive as shared activities go. Whilst this is especially so when you’ve got children and thus no time or energy to do anything more strenuous with your evening than flop on the sofa in front of the box, I found it to be the case even before I started breeding. Then again, when you’re of a writerly persuasion, anything seems pretty interactive after several hours spent staring at a wordprocessor – except for the web, of course. When I say the magazine published ‘some of’ my letter, I mean they cropped the last sentence: ‘The real threat to couple time and interaction these days is the internet – unless you communicate by instant messenger, of course.’ And I speak as a two-PC family.

Anyway, back to TV. Although I haven’t blogged about it (much as I’d’ve like to), in recent months both Mrs Thoughtcat and I have spent many happy hours glued to Ugly Betty and The Apprentice, respectively laughing and raging at the screen together in about equal measure. It is a shared experience and the better for that; your partner sees things you didn’t see, you talk about them, you learn from it; you find common ground; it gives you something to talk about. And given that we spend every evening in front of the TV anyway with our dinner on our laps (actually a far healthier setup than sitting opposite each other at table moaning about our days, or saying nothing at all), you notice when what’s on is actually any good, which in 2007 is rare.

The excellence of these particular two shows have almost restored my faith in terrestrial TV of late. The former is brilliantly written (especially those episodes by the acid-tongued Henry Alonso Myers) and superbly acted, and even if it’s completely frivolous is still weirdly compelling. The Apprentice meanwhile is just plain riveting: despite being fundamentally flawed – every week Sir Alan Sugar opens the show saying ‘This is not a game’, but of course it is, it’s a bloody TV show – the format and structure are plain genius. A 60-minute Shakespearean drama plays out weekly, complete with dramatic arcs everywhere they should be. The prelude: here is your mission, should you choose to accept it! Act 1: the teams set about preparing, with rumblings of controversy! Act 2: the task is carried out – usually badly by at least one if not both teams! Act 3: the teams convene at Sugar HQ, and the winners and losers are announced! Act 4: while the winning team get on with being pampered or going out partying, the losers sit whey-faced for a gripping dressing-down by Sir Al! Act 5: the team leader brings in his chosen scapegoats, the three wrangle to convince us that black is white and, our bums on the edges of our seats, Sugar fires the team leader! Then, finally, the chorus plays us out as this week’s loser is driven away into the horizon and professional oblivion.

Seriously, I’m not saying I revel in watching people get fired, far from it, but when that person is so utterly deserving of it, it really is undeniably satisfying. I would almost have applied for the next series myself if I didn’t think I’d be eaten alive in the board room – not by Sir Alan, he doesn’t scare me at all, but by the other contestants. Those people really would sell their own grandmothers to succeed. (Except for Lohit, who was just too nice to win.) Personally I found the final disappointing – Sugar, confirming everyone’s prejudices about UK business, plumps for Simon, a 12-year-old white male Cambridge graduate with a rich dad and yellow socks, when he could have had tough, independent single mum Kristina. But at least the brilliant Tre nearly made it and that other cow was nowhere to be seen.

*sigh*. The missus and I have no idea what we’re going to do with ourselves on Wednesday and Friday nights from now on. Maybe surf the web and IM each other?

Extras: hmmm…

I switched on the new series of Extras last night with much anticipation, but have to confess that I thought the satire on the BBC and the way sitcoms are made was a bit rich. Stars/creators (and erstwhile Brit comedy royalty) Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in real life have experienced the very best of the BBC, who have not only made Extras but gave them complete control over The Office despite the fact they’d never done anything at all up to that point, and they’ve both had enormous success with both series – and yet here they are taking the piss out of the hand that feeds (to mix metaphors). I’m all for the Beeb getting a good send-up from time to time, but people as fortunate as Gervais and Merchant should be taking the piss out of targets that really warrant it (i.e. – if G&M; must stay within their industry – the makers of genuine crap like Big Brother, “How Not To Clean Your Kid and Cook Your Carpet”-type guru shows and those bloody “Top 94 Lists of Lists” programmes cluttering up the schedules).

Even less deserving of a pisstake was the studio audience in the crap-sitcom-within-the-good-sitcom who had the audacity to laugh at the catchphrase that Gervais’s hapless character Andy Millman so hated. I mean, if the scene had been BBC producers overdubbing canned laughter onto said crap sitcom that would be fair game, but it’s dubious to poke fun at real people finding something funny – surely they’re not the ones at fault in this situation, yet Millman threw them a look of such condescension and disgust (which went straight over their heads) that it was hard not to feel Gervais was saying anyone who doesn’t accept his view of what comedy should be barely deserves to laugh at all. It’s clear Millman is patently undignified and desperate, but crapping on an audience – any audience – is the cheapest laugh there is, and Gervais, already a bit irritating for regularly chucking in decontextualised “shocking” lines to stop his actual audience getting too cosy, is treading on thin intertextual ice here.

AND, as much as I loved the first series, especially the cameos by the British actors, and especially Les Dennis, I got the creeping feeling from last night’s show that the whole thing is just a clever, postmodern way of poking fun at minorities, which is an even cheaper laugh no matter how much irony you dress it up in.

That said, Keith Chegwin’s brilliant turn and the “Lenny Henry” skit in last night’s episode were, admittedly, genius…

Have I Pot Noodles For You

As a longtime fan of BBC comedy current affairs quiz Have I Got News For You, I feel qualified to say that last night’s show (sadly the last in the current series) was a minor classic. This was just as well, incidentally, as it restored my faith in a show which had disappointed me two weeks ago after a flurry of jokes at the expense of Prince Charles’s recent comment that he’s a fan of Leonard Cohen. This prompted me to dash off a slightly bonkers email to Hat Trick Productions, which for anybody who is bored enough can read at this thread on the Leonard Cohen Forum. (Needless to say I haven’t received a reply…)

Anyway, back to last night. I forget how it all started now but at some point a reference to Pot Noodles was made, which prompted an avalanche of puns on the famously nutrition-free instant snack, such as “Cambodian dictator flavour” Pol Pot Noodles, Snot Noodles “for when you have a cold”, Piss-Pot Noodles (forget the context), “cannabis smokers’ favourite” Pot Pot Noodles, “Tony Blair’s favourite flavour” John Prescott Noodles, “noodles you eat on a boat” Yacht Noodles, and so on and so forth for about 10 minutes. After the show was finished there was a clip of an out-take in which someone wondered aloud how long Pot Noodles have been going, to which guest host Jack Dee quipped “Since the Year Dot Noodles.”

Needless to say I woke up early this morning with assorted new Pot Noodle puns going around in my head: “pub gambling machine flavour noodles” Slot Noodles, “noodles favoured by American biographers” Donald Spoto Noodles, “the writer’s preferred flavour” Plot Noodles, “special Christmas edition” Santa’s Grotto Noodles, “noodles you eat on a flight to Moscow” Aeroflot Noodles, “one of a series based on biblical characters” Lot Noodles, “19th century romantic poem flavour” The Lady of Shalott Noodles, “King Arthur’s favourite” Camelot Noodles… I could go on, but instead I will open this up to Thoughtcat’s readers to contribute their own.

The new Who

The newly revamped classic BBC sci-fi series finally launched on Saturday night and I was, naturally, at the TV like a shot. For all the money poured into the production it felt rather tame compared to the Who of Thoughtcat’s youth (which is saying something, as “my” Doctor was Peter Davison), and it did try a bit too hard to be trendy. That said, respectively, an attack of faceless child mannequins was fairly unnerving, and the Beeb could have done (and indeed have done) a whole lot worse than Christopher Eccleston as the new Who and Billie “Second Billie of the Day [sic]” Piper as his Lovely Assistant. The peppering of the script with essential Who factoids (what TARDIS stands for, the fact that it’s bigger on the inside than out, the sonic screwdriver etc etc) also grated a bit, but then the BBC are looking for a new audience and I should hand it to writer Russell T. Davies for managing to both entertain and give everyone a crash course on all things Who in the space of less than an hour. It’s good to hear that the Daleks will return at some point, although the news that “this time they can fly” surely represents a fundamental misconception of what Dr Who is all about: the whole point of the Daleks is that they couldn’t climb stairs! It was one of their main weaknesses! It’s a bit like revamping Superman without the Kryptonite.

I thought Ecclestone was a good choice for the new Doctor, as the BBC’s increasing dependence on unheard-of whacky oddballs to portray him, culminating in the preposterous Sylvester McCoy, was one of the reasons the series self-destructed in the late 80s. No doubt our friends in the north (ho ho!) are happy to finally have a Doctor not sporting a Home Counties accent, and the pairing of the Mancunian with Piper, a Londoner, is inspired. It was also good to see the sense of humour (another Who essential) in evidence, such as when Ecclestone tore the head off a malignant plastic alien, and found time in the ensuing chaos to grin broadly at the grotesque object in his hands. It was in fact something of a revelation to see Ecclestone smile at all – the Doctor may actually be the first role which has ever made such a demand on the notoriously intense actor. Maybe this series will give him some practice, and he’ll go on to play other smiling parts on the big screen in the future? I sincerely hope so.

On the whole I enjoyed the first episode and don’t plan to be anywhere other than in front of the box at 7pm for the next several Saturdays. I hope it gets scarier, though.

Art failure

The Guardian reports on the release of a new package of six world cinema titles, called “Discoveries”, that distributor Optimum Releasing and BBC4 are launching this week in conjunction with the Edinburgh film festival in an attempt to revive the flagging market in foreign-language films. Elsewhere in the piece, a director of the ICA attributes the unpopularity of these movies to the total lack of those shown on TV these days. I couldn’t agree more – in the eighties and early nineties, Channel 4 and BBC2 used to show a great range of art-house and foreign films. True, some of them I couldn’t understand at all, but at least they exercised your brain, and movies like Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours trilogy (Blue was my favourite), which you never see anymore, were fantastic. The news is good in some ways but I can’t lie about my contempt for the BBC’s creation of a two-tier British Broadcasting Corporation, which (a) feeds us non-digital licence-fee-paying proles a load of old tosh every night and (b) is transparently only putting the good stuff on digital to make money.

A triumph of faith over reason

The Guardian is running a competition to win the six shortlised titles for the BBC4 Samuel Johnson Prize. The single question is easy and it closes next Wednesday.


University Challenge tonight was one of a series of shows given over to teams of “professionals”, i.e. not students as such but graduates who have moved on from the festering fridges of their halcyon days and onto better things. A team of lawyers was utterly thrashed by their opponents, four members of Anglican clergy, and Jeremy Paxman was barely able to contain his glee at the result. One of the few questions the lawyers got right was a “starter for ten” in which a snippet of a famous rock song was played and the identity of the band requested. As it was played I had that great feeling I only get occasionally when watching the quiz – I knew the answer! However, one of the lawyers took the words “Derek and the Dominoes” right out of my mouth, leaving me shamefaced. The next three questions were all about bands Eric Clapton has been in, so at least I had a chance to make up for lost ground. Thankfully I managed to get each answer correct – which was more, sadly, than the lawyers were able to do. But, I mean, Eric Clapton in a University Challenge question! As someone who is university challenged, maybe there’s hope for me yet. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to more “professionals” games, especially House of Commons v. Journalists (9th June) and Poets v. Nurses (14th July).

In defence of bloggers; reality politics

Following a moan by a New York Times journalist about the exposure Google gives blogs in its page rankings, John Naughton writes a defence of bloggers in the Observer, pointing out that the contempt held for blogs and their authors by experienced journalists is misplaced. “Journalism has always been, as Northcliffe observed, ‘the art of explaining to others that which one does not oneself understand’,” explains Naughton. Let’s hear it for Northcliffe! Wasn’t he the chap in Wuthering Heights?


Elsewhere in the Observer, it is reported that the producer of Big Borether, Peter Bazalgette, modestly asserts that the way to get more people interested in politics is for Westminster to adapt to the voting methods used in his “reality TV” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) programme. I somehow have my doubts that MPs in the House of Commons will agree to let themselves be nominated for eviction by each other on a weekly basis and then have their political future determined by text message. And who could be bothered to sit through 659 sets of nominations every week? In any case, Bazalgette is missing the point completely to infer that politics can only be made more relevant and interesting to “the masses” with the use of such trendy techniques. What people would actually respond to are some politicians who capture their imaginations, and above all, who they can trust.

Prince William says Picasso is good, so it must be true (and other stuff)

Week 94: the housemates are on day 62 of their pedalo task. They’ve only three hours to go and then they’ll be given their next task – painting the house. That’s right – tune into Big Brother tomorrow night and watch paint dry…

Big Brother. The very words strike fear into the soul: someone watching you 24 hours a day, telling you what to do, what to think, what to believe. If it’s not George W. Bush and Tony Blair, it’s Enema Productions or whatever they’re called. Oh, that’s a nice kitchen. Mm, she’s pretty. God, he’s boring. In fact, it’s all boring. Why am I watching this crap? Why don’t these people just GET A LIFE???

* * *

Jilly Cooper (no relation) and Joanna Trollope have descended on the Guardian Hay Festival to defend the honour of their “bonkbusters” and “Aga sagas”. Cooper claims: “There are two categories of writers. Jeffrey Archer and me who long and long for a kind word in the Guardian and the others who get all the kind words and long to be able to do what Jeffrey and I do.” One for Private Eye’s Modesty Corner, I should think. What can she possibly care what the Guardian says about her books when Telegraph and Mail readers lap them up wholesale? She then goes on to say, “My new book has got paedophilia, September 11 and lots of black people in it. I’m moving on, we’ve got to progress.” If that isn’t the most desperate, sad cry for literary credibility I don’t know what is.

Trollope meanwhile pours scorn on the “grim lit” popular with critics “that makes you want to slash your wrists”. Sounds a bit like the old argument about Leonard Cohen’s records being “music to slash your wrists to” – always levelled by people who’d never listened to them, of course. And as LC himself once said, “My feeling about music I don’t like is that I keep my mouth shut about it.” A lesson for us all, maybe, Joanna?

* * *

Thoughtcat’s spy in West Drayton highlights a very good article on ZNet today by Ian Hislop’s favourite “left-wing comedian” and scourge of the Iraq war, Mark Steele, entitled Truth, Lies and Weapons of Mass Destruction.

* * *

And finally today, in an exclusive to all newspapers, Prince William, a.k.a. Ordinary Geezer Bill Windser, talks about life as a student at the University of St Andrews, where he’s reading history of art. Commenting on the subject, he describes his father’s watercolours as “brilliant” and Picasso as “revolutionary”. “His blue period,” he ruminates: “I do like that.”