Friday, June 30, 2006


Whine, Whine, Whine. How Scared Were They?

(Shrug) They won, and they’re still whining about it. Have you ever seen them so scared?

Mr Cameron’s probably not very wise to start whinging about how unfair the Lib Dems are. He must be very scared about how badly the other Tories are taking his first big disaster at the top. I guess they think he’s a bit too Line of Beauty – wealthy, looks good, but a bit vacuous and too busy, er, having a good time to put the work in. But he’s the sort that’s got to say it’s all someone else’s fault, isn’t he?

The thing is, in politics, whining when you lose never gets you very far. But whining when you win? That’s a new one. Mr Cameron is obviously scared and upset because so many former Conservative voters don’t like him, but I don’t think making up stories that ‘It’s not fair’ will do him much good.

The Tories’ rich paymasters always gave them millions upon millions of pounds more than the Lib Dems have ever had. Particularly when they didn’t have to tell anyone about them! But the Tories thought that was all right.

There have always been newspapers that’ll give the Tories as much free publicity as they want, while the Lib Dems don’t have any. But the Tories thought that was all right.

The electoral system is fixed in the Tories’ favour, so they’re handed twice as many MPs for the votes they get as the Lib Dems get. But the Tories thought that was all right.

In Bromley, the Lib Dems thought the Tory candidate was greedy, just because he wanted to have four paid-up jobs and lied about it. And he is. But the Tories whinged that it wasn’t fair.

In Bromley, the Lib Dems thought the Tory candidate wasn’t local, just because he lives several boroughs away across London from Bromley. And he isn’t. But the Tories whinged that it wasn’t fair.

Who’s not fighting fair, and who’s just whinging because they can’t take it when someone else works harder?

Meanwhile, Steve Guy’s blog reminds me how Mr Cameron has shown us all what a really dirty fight looks like, while Richard Huzzey gives a bit of perspective on how the Tories say everyone should be held to the highest standards (rightly) – except themselves, of course, as they don’t think any rules apply to them. Read how they even created completely false ‘rape’ smears without a word of apology and disgusted even other Tories. And, yes, I was more even-handed this morning. But an arrogant Tory and his even more arrogant Leader crying wolf because the voters, not the Lib Dems but the voters, gave them a nasty scare instead of all just lying back and taking it when the Tories took them for granted… That turns my stomach. How can they be so full of themselves and such wimps at the same time?


How Very Peculiar

I posted one blog piece at about twenty to ten this morning, the next about twenty past, and the latest about ten minutes before one o’clock. Imagine my surprise when I find Blogger has dated them at 9.39, 9.48 and 10.31.

I may write quite a bit, but I’ve never been someone who writes quickly. If only this time travel / rapid composition effect was visible in real life!


Chocolate, Pies and Me

In confessional mood and having earlier made an unkind reference to Mr Dave ‘Balloon’ Cameron’s cocaine use, I should declare my own addictive behaviour. Regular readers know this involves food. I may mock the influence of advertising, but actually I’m a sucker for certain types of it. First, there’s the Mae West principle: “When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before”. A new flavour to try? Get it now! And my reaction to Cadbury’s withdrawing chocolate bars for salmonella: “Lots of chocolate on the telly! I must buy some.” And I did.

I do eat an awful lot of chocolate, but I don’t want you to get the impression I skimp on the savouries. One of the few times I’ve been out and sociable in the last few weeks was Saturday, when we were celebrating the thirtieth birthday of multi-talented author / producer of Doctor Who books and audio plays Simon Guerrier, a terribly nice chap with a terribly readable blog. He’s also Millennium’s foremost celebrity fan, and the elephant has a picture of him here, along with the latest of Richard and I (awwhh) and, of course, Millennium. If you think you’ve seen Simon before, it’s possible you’re confusing him with the younger son (if you respectably double his age) in BBC1’s current all-purpose-repeat-slot-filler of choice, My Family. But don’t mention that to Simon. Anyway, where was I? If you thought my blog meandered under normal circumstances, this is me after staying up late for by-elections. The point I was going to make was that, as usual, Richard had to physically separate me from the buffet and a truly magnificent chocolate cake, though when I filled an entire large plate with snacks it was in fact to distribute them to people in Simon’s study and make sure all his books were covered with the sort of greasy fingermarks I’d be aghast at if some dreadful guest did the same to us. Honest.

Another bad habit is to be found at Canary Wharf where – living on the lower east side of the Isle of Dogs – I frequently find myself changing trains. Along the way, I frequently pass The Square Pie Shop. Now, I’m particularly keen on a good pie, and while these are expensive, they are extraordinarily tasty (I’d recommend the Lamb and Rosemary, which is the only fast food I know that tastes like a really good bit of lamb). Every month they have a speciality pie, and I can never resist trying it. When I last visited, I saw something truly appalling instead: thirty-two limited edition pies for the World Cup. Now, normally I’d not touch anything to do with the football, but sod that! Fortunately they didn’t stock the entire set, or I might have ordered the lot. Just to taste. The two I took were bad enough (or, I should say, good enough. Mmmm). I’ve had to go a different route since, as I simply don’t trust myself.

Incidentally, one of the joys of shopping at Thornton’s – er, not that I do, often – is that it tends to be staffed by friendly and slightly rounded people with whom you can have a sensible conversation about chocolate. I wanted to know what was in one of the pies they had on display at Square Pie last week; “I don’t know,” said the assistant. “We’re not allowed to taste them.” The fiends! Still, it solves the riddle of how it’s staffed by such unfeasibly slim people.

Regular readers will also know that I have a long-term health problem and, with crushing inevitability, it is of course stomach-related. So eating too much is rarely good for me, I know certain foods will make me ill (while many others just surprise me), and when I’m ill and can’t get out, naturally I feel low, and you can guess what I do to cheer myself up. Well, exactly. The very definition of a vicious circle. Incidentally, while I sometimes wouldn’t mind losing a stone or two (if I don’t get out, I don’t get exercise), I did find my first ever TV interview on an old VHS a couple of months ago and, seeing myself underweight, rather than pining for a lost flat stomach, recoiled with a cry of “Oh, my god, it’s Skeletor!” So while I’ve lost count of the bizarre diets I’ve tried, weight loss isn’t my priority. If it’s yours, first I’d suggest getting down to a nudist beach and relaxing with people who won’t be nasty about your body shape, but I’ll also note that the only one that did sharply cut my weight down was the Atkins; though as it made me no more settled, made my skin even worse than usual and meant a month without chocolate, that’s not happening again in a hurry.

Anyway, while things are unpleasant, inconvenient and seemingly never-ending, though fortunately not ‘serious’, it’s something I’ve mostly avoided blogging about, because it’s just beyond embarrassing. However, as the last few weeks have been particularly bad and I’ve been particularly unsociable, I thought I should say why. It really started when I was stuck at home instead of being able to get to the big Ming speech three weeks ago, and was in such a frustrated grump I’ve still not blogged about it. However, I’ve been feeling for the last week that I should get back on the treadmill, particularly after breaking cover and raising blood pressure by posting on Paul Walter’s impressive and intimidatingly prolific blog to help him fisk the loathsome Ann Atkins (a diet people throughout the land find impossible to swallow [groan]). Possibly helped by listening to lots of very loud ELO to raise my level of perk (thank you, Doctor Who), though it’s entirely accidental that Evil Woman now blasts out of the flat when a certain ‘Thought For the Day’ presenter is announced.

Anyway, on a lighter note, here’s a summery recipe you can try at home. Having already changed the habit of a lifetime and referred to the World Cup, despite having even less interest in Wimbledon (the ads for that don’t even have cool CGI or a groovy song by the Who, though admittedly after those the football itself is bound to be an even bigger let-down) I’d like to offer you a carefully measured and calorie-controlled recipe involving strawberries and cream:

Pulverise a load of strawberries
Pour them into a bowl
Add a large container of natural yoghurt
Add a large container of cream
Stir briskly (or whisk)
Add copious quantities of icing sugar and stir in to taste. You might be surprised at how much it’ll take (and, careful - it billows up into the air like smoke, and asphyxiating on icing sugar is an embarrassing way to go)
Yes, I know; very sugary, not very precise quantities. But it’s very easy, tastes jolly nice, and you can pretend it's a healthy yoghurt if anyone asks.

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My Dirty Tricks Exposed – the Memoirs

Seeing the depths Labour plunged to and hearing opponents bleating that Liberal Democrats were doing work and it’s not fair reminded me of my own favourite ‘Lib Dem dirty trick’. Back in May 1993, the Lib Dems had spectacularly good county council and by-election results, when the Tories took a drubbing and we took Newbury with numerically the largest Liberal majority since, well, in fact ever to that point. I was at university at the time, with students’ union elections coming up and close of nominations at five pm on the Friday, almost exactly twelve hours after the Newbury declaration.

The significance of this was that any leaflets delivered after five o’clock on Friday afternoon would be counted as election publicity, while any before then would not.

I’d taken the precaution of printing up the B-side of a stack of bright yellow leaflets a couple of days earlier. With Labour our main opponents, these featured a large logo of a wilting Labour rose sticking out of a Tory torch, my favourite graphic I’ve ever drawn, and a big, friendly bullet-point set of policies on which Labour and the Tories were then identical (how times change…). Underneath, of course, were the excitingly different Lib Dem alternatives.

I handed in the A-side of the leaflet for printing at nine o’clock sharp that morning (no, I didn’t have much sleep that night; I was younger and fitter then. A far cry from Richard telling me this morning how when he peeled my prone form from where I lay insensibly in front of the results there were five red circles on my face from where I’d gone to sleep on my fingers).

Headlines and other large, easy-to-read details included that it was the worst fall in the Tory vote since the Second World War (one of those records broken almost on a monthly basis at the time), and the worst Labour vote in any seat since the First World War. My particular favourite line, however, was that “17 fringe party candidates polled under 2% and lost their deposits. One of these was the Labour Party.”

Every single piece of university accommodation had been completely delivered well before five that afternoon, and though Labour put in furious complaints, it was held that leaflets not mentioning any candidates by name, not saying ‘Vote Liberal Democrat’, and not delivered after close of nominations could not in any way be counted as election publicity. Funnily enough, the words ‘Liberal Democrat’ and the bright yellow paper coincidentally appeared during the election, too, but what really upset Labour was the claim that they were just like the Tories, and what made them apoplectic was the “fringe party candidates”. They howled about Lib Dem dirty tricks, but, actually, that was just bollocks, and what they meant was “we know it’s all true, but they shouldn’t be allowed to have this much fun at our expense.” That’s exactly what this morning’s sour grapes boil down to, too.


Neither Labour Nor Tories Very Popular Shocker

Back to blogging; funny how difficult it is to get back into the habit after a while. Another startling election result means I’ve decided just to get on and do it, and among all the things to say about Bromley one thing Richard said this morning stands out: we need to state straight out something really positive we campaigned on. It’s clear the Tories are posing as Bambi’s mum with Lib Dems the nasty, blood-soaked hunter, and another stunning ‘Independent’ victory in Blaenau Gwent is a warning that ‘But the others are rubbish!’ is no longer our unique selling point.

Yes, of course it was fair enough to point out the Tory candidate was hanging onto all his well-paid jobs by his fingernails, even if it meant lying on his nomination form, and lives so locally he’s several entire boroughs away and it’ll take him over an hour to get to ‘his’ constituency by public transport (been there, done that…). And of course all Lib Dems can think of far nastier campaigns. There was Labour in Hodge Hill, Hartlepool and the old Littleborough and Saddleworth, or even their now-standard desperate-to-help-the-Tories-win Bromley leaflets telling everyone the Lib Dems love murderers and paedophiles. There were the Tories in Cheadle who attacked the leader of the local council as an ought-to-be-illegal immigrant, or, well, just look at any Tory General Election national campaign you can name. They didn’t call themselves the nasty party for nothing.

It’s not good enough, though. Just last Saturday, I was at a very jolly party where a normally talented and amusing author was in full-on inebriated New Labour apologist mode, and no matter how many times he said, “But we’re not as horrible as the other lot!” I remained strangely unimpressed. Here’s a word of advice for Lib Dem spinners; yes, we love to point out that Tories / Labour / both are no longer trusted… Except that everyone already knows that. Next time there’s a by-election, how about for the morning after picking one, just one, positive Lib Dem policy for every spokesperson to mention incessantly and give people a positive reason to vote for us next time, as well as countering the accusation that we’re just wholly negative and in some way uniquely ‘dirty’, because that mud is sticking.

After all, the ‘Independent’ candidates did even more brilliantly in Blaenau Gwent than Lib Dems did in Bromley, and well done to them (I imagine there are many Lib Dems wishing they’d picked a different day and left the headlines to us, though). So we can’t rely on getting the ‘none of the above’ vote, and quite right, too; we do actually want to do certain positive things, rather than just engender a warm, rosy-tinted feeling of ‘Labour like your mother used to make’.

None of this is to denigrate the achievement of Ben Abbotts and the team. Making the Tories sweat buckets in their 17th safest seat when their new Leader’s supposed to be the most popular thing going? Woo hoo! And, I have to admit, I was of little faith. The Tories got three times as many votes as we did in the seat just last month, and I never thought we’d do it. I was, of course, wrong. Our vote doubled from last year and just 633 votes short?! I’ve not been very well the last few weeks and hardly been getting out, but I do feel even more guilty now at not getting off my bum and will write out one hundred times that, when Chris Rennard says we’re closing the gap, we really are. It is, I think, the third of those nice but eye-watering near misses we’ve chalked up in the last couple of years; by-elections seem both tougher and more possible even in ‘impossible’ areas.

Well, that’s enough on the Lib Dems. What of our opponents? I suppose there are mixed feelings among Tories this morning (a euphemism for rage, relief and a change of pants). It’s Mr Cameron’s worst headlines since he became Leader, and raises a major question over his assumed march back to power; saying ‘Liberals have done well in by-elections since Orpington, and we all know what happened to that’ misses the point – the Tories lost the next two elections, while the last time the Tories actually did win power from Labour it was they who made all the by-election running, and not just in ‘natural Conservative territory’. In fact, during the 1974-79 Parliament, the Tories surged, while the Liberals lost votes in all but two by-elections. They should be doing brilliantly, and they’re suddenly doing almost as badly as John Major again. I bet billionaire media tycoon and Australian / American / patriotic defender of us Brits against those foreigners telling us what to do Roger Stavro Mordick wishes he could retrospectively prevent himself saying he might back Mr Cameron yesterday, given his need to pick the winner.

So where do they go from here? We probably can’t be lucky enough for there to be a burst of savage internecine warfare, but a chap can wish. Smart Tories will spin that this means they need more change, and say it’s all the local party’s fault for picking an angry nasty fat old man against a youngish and nice-looking Lib Dem. I gave an aggressive concession speech in 1997, and subsequently had it quoted back to me by someone 200 miles away; they don’t make a pretty picture, you know, and I imagine a sore winner will come across even more unpleasantly than a sore loser. Others will perfectly reasonably say that Mr Cameron is the Leader and that, if his brand is underperforming, you shouldn’t blame the foot soldiers but the Line of Beauty man at the top that people see every day on TV (by chance, it’s only since seeing that bit of Hampstead in the series that I’ve been nude sunbathing there, but as I’ve still not done cocaine, Dave remains ahead on that score).

Of course, the Tories must also be thanking their lucky stars for the truly appalling kickings the Labour Party received – no excuses, no distractions, no silver lining – but, then, “Tony Blair’s lot horribly mauled by voters as vote totally collapses”… It’s hardly ‘man bites dog’.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Writing Press Releases the DWM Way

Many readers will have written press releases at some time or another, and seen all the usual advice; identify the where, what, who and when, keep it to one page, put your quotes in separate paragraphs and so on. I’ve written quite a lot myself, when a candidate or helping out others, with a patchy record of success. They were all a few years back, but since then I’ve had rather more success with getting quotes into somewhere else, and it’s experience I’ll use if I ever get back into trying to get my Lib Demmery into the local paper. Yes, following on from my handy election tips on attracting the Green vote, it’s time to apply to press releases and newspaper letters the skills you need to get into Doctor Who Magazine.

Amongst DWM’s regular features is one called The Time Team, in which a group of four people are watching the whole of Doctor Who, month by month, a story or two at a time. They’ve been doing this for seven or eight years so far, progressing from 1963 to 1981. It’s always very readable, and from quite early on, there’s also been a column at the side with readers’ thoughts about the stories under review. For a few years now, I’ve been one of the two or three people who’ve had their comments printed the most often (though sadly they stopped using the acerbic remarks of one Rob Shearman after he became a Doctor Who writer; you might remember his episode Dalek last year).

I didn’t know any of the people at Doctor Who Magazine before I started sending in comments, though I’ve since introduced myself to one or two of them and had a couple of tips about why I get printed (so talking to your local journos works, too).

To start with, know your stuff, and don’t just say something utterly bland. In a press release, it’s useful to sound mildly intelligent, or at least not be totally misinformed. Most things that most papers get coming into them are likely to be pretty daft or pretty obvious. If you get a reputation as someone who’s reliable and intelligent, they’re more likely to read what you have to say.

It’s also useful to come up with something no-one else has said. This is often tricky if it’s a very well-known subject, so here comes the next bit.

Do a bit of reading. Not a great mass, perhaps, but inform yourself enough about a topic that you can brainstorm a bit and come up with lots of different ideas from lots of different angles. Read other people’s opinions and, if you can find something you disagree with, pick a fight with them. Finding something every other review of a story thinks is ‘true’ and realising it isn’t has been a real spur to writing comments.

If you’re worried about coming across as too arrogant on something, instead of making an assertion, phrase it as a question, while a sense of humour can work wonders (up to a point). And, if you’re aiming to get your name about a lot, don’t just stick to ‘political’ issues.

Send in lots of different things, because you never know what might appeal to an editor, or what someone else may already have said that’s beaten you to it. I used to come up with dozens of comments, then just send in what I thought were the best six or so. Meeting a DWM guy, he told me to send in the bundle instead; and it’s true. Frequently someone will have come up with almost exactly the same idea as one of mine and get it printed instead, while when I do get a comment printed, it’s almost never the one I’d have chosen.

Keep your letters and releases short.

I know, I know, my motto is ‘never use a soundbite where a 3,000-word essay will do’, but I can do them if I’m really pushed (incidentally, because Lib Dem Blogs Aggregated usually picks up my first 100 words, I tend to treat those as a ‘trailer’ for the main article and try to make them self-contained if I can, without trailing off in the middle of a sentence. So there’s even a little bit of sound-bitery on here).

For DWM, they have very limited space, so I try – often fail, but try – to keep my comments to two lines or less. If you write an essay for a letters page it won’t get printed, or they’ll only print the bits you’d rather not have had taken out of context. The shorter the letter, the more likely it is there’ll be space for it.

Going back to ‘know what you’re talking about’; it’s handy if you can answer further questions in case they follow up on you, so don’t send something too wild and wacky without giving it a little thought.

For DWM, I know I’ll be lucky if I get one comment a month – and there are plenty of times they miss me out – so I try not to make an observation too close to one I’ve already had printed in case I just sound repetitive. In politics, it’s pretty much the other way round. You probably do want to repeat yourself to get the key messages you’ve decided on across. Just don’t PUT A ‘GREEN ACTION’ FLASH ON EVERY FOCUS YOU EVER WRITE shoe-horn them into every single thing you ever say, or you’ll sound like a bore with a book of slogans for a brain.

Read everything through at least once before you send it. It’s remarkable how embarrassing certain typos can be.

If you’re sending in a whole batch of different comments and ideas in your newly inspired role as the local Lib Dem rentamouth, read each one individually before you send them. There might be one that seems fine as part of a mass, but always think to yourself, “If that was the only thing they published from me this time, would I look an idiot?” Then drop it, because it’s bound to be the only one they choose.

Lastly, I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist when I’m writing, which is one of the reasons why I always take a long time to write anything, and often end up missing the deadline (or, in the case of this blog, the topicality). Even if it’s not utterly perfect in every way, send it before it’s too late. If you don’t make the deadline, it doesn’t matter if you have seventeen pages of incisive comment parked on your PC. Be on time.

Good luck!

On the other hand, I can’t get DWM to print one of my letters to save my life…

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Why the Police Shouldn’t Spin

I generally tend to believe police announcements; what’s more, I want to. So when they get into the spin game about something really important and make me get that sinking feeling where I can’t believe a word they say, it’s really not a good move. That’s what’s happened, of course, with the ‘terror raid’ in Forest Gate at the weekend. There are few services for which trust is more important than the police; if they contrive to make everyone think they’re a bunch of liars out to cover their own backs, it can’t help them do their job.

Other Lib Dem bloggers have been quicker off the mark and said pretty much what I would have, so I’ll not go into every detail. On Friday, news reports told us that a chemical device had been found, and heavily emphasised – clearly following the tragic De Menezes affair – that one person had been shot, only once. I remember thinking that this was terrible news, and, blimey, I used to have an ex who lived near there, but well done to the police for getting it sorted so efficiently. I woke up on Saturday and heard virtually the same report, except that suddenly in the last few words the police were now “expecting” to find a chemical device, about which they had had “credible intelligence”. “Oh no,” I said to Richard, “They’re doing it again.” And then the questions started on who’d done the shooting, and the story became not a police action but whether the police were lying, again, and about how many things.

Why do they do this?

Does it not occur to anyone that ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction Not Found Again’ is not a confidence-inspiring headline?

I have little respect for journalists, but it isn’t journalists who made these stories up.

The 24-hour news cycle is merciless. But if the police want to maintain public confidence, they really need to disengage from it and just say, “We’re in the middle of an operation, and we can give you the details once it’s been completed, but not while officers on the ground are still in the middle of it.” The urge to brief a big success must be very strong, but it seems to turned into ‘hopes’ being announced as ‘facts’, and then having to be messily retracted. Wait until they’re facts first, please.

Another Lib Dem suggested to me on Monday evening that, if these confident but constantly changing pronouncements had come from a politician about something like election prospects, the media would have instantly dissected them with a ‘What do they really mean by that?’ With the police, that doesn’t happen, yet. With the police media operation approaching the size and complexity of that of political parties, though, it can only be a matter of time. And that’s not going to do anybody any good.

Speaking of which…

I know it’s unfair to pick on any old member of a party for saying something dodgy, but from the way it’s become a major news story in the last hour, I guess she’s relatively senior. A ‘Respect activist’ has just called on all Muslims to refuse all assistance to the Metropolitan Police; which will really help with burglary and muggings. But, then, ‘Respect: really not helping’ – it’s not exactly ‘Man Bites Dog’, is it?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Don’t Panic! …About Doctor Who

Saturday’s Doctor Who was particularly good, a return to the ‘claustrophobic terror in distant space’ style of story with some great performances, scary Cthulood monsters and the most chillingly villainous voice in the world, all to build up to the Satanic revelations of this week’s episode and tie in with today’s favourite-of-numerologists date. But you know how it is. Some people are never satisfied. I wrote a few weeks ago about the similarity in ‘tribal’ feeling between politics and Doctor Who; well, now Doctor Who has its own panic about ratings, just like the Lib Dems over the local elections or the Tories doing quite well in opinion polls.

In a numerological celebration, today’s Doctor Who post is going to be about the Beastly business of number-crunching. On Saturday, Doctor Who was watched live by 5.9 million viewers, the second-highest number for any programme that day, and by a 40% share of those watching TV at the time, also the second-highest number for any programme that day (though second, in each case, to a different ‘leader’). Both Media Guardian and many posters on the Forums at Doctor Who site Outpost Gallifrey have noted that fewer people have watched Doctor Who for the past couple of weeks than in the previous few, and gone into overload about what a terrible ‘disaster’ it is that it’s still only the UK’s third or fourth most popular show every week and beats everything ITV can throw at it. As with the recent Lib Dem ‘disaster’, historically it’s still doing brilliantly and people are panicking over nothing. As it happens, both Doctor Who and Lib Dems have primarily been reported as collapsing in the Murdoch papers, and, gosh, by coincidence these don’t actually like socially liberal, anti-monopolist pro-Europeans or their business empire’s primary competitor the BBC, so it could be they have some form of axe to grind. Who’d have thought?

Now, just as in politics, where you might play off ‘share of the vote’, ‘seats won’ and ‘councils controlled’ to find your best angle, there are several different ways to find how popular a TV show is (and out of all the correct answers coming up, not one is going to be ‘because the News of the World says it is / isn’t’. How about that?).

In TV, there are four main measures of popularity, collated by an outfit called BARB. The most obvious is the raw audience figure, or ‘how many actual people are watching?’ That tells you a lot, though there are two complications: the first is that, if people are out or watching something else, they might record the show to watch later, but still watch it. The corrective to that is that you hear about ‘overnight’ ratings – a sample of who watched at the time – and the ‘adjusted’ ratings, released about a fortnight later, which take a larger, more accurate sample of viewers, and include their watching of recorded programmes if it’s within a week of transmission (though they don’t include repeats, which in the case of Doctor Who regularly top the BBC3 charts). Doctor Who tends to pick up a higher number of ‘adjusted’ figures than most other programmes, usually heading towards 700,000 more people, meaning the final ratings the series is getting have been anything from 6.5 to 9.5 million. I blogged about Rise of the Cybermen’s success, for example, when it hit a final figure of 9.2 million viewers last month after boosts from a Radio Times cover, lots of trailers and the return of an old monster. The other complication is timing; if your programme goes out on BBC1 at eight in the evening, you’d expect it to get better figures than if it goes out at three in the morning, simply because there are an awful lot more people watching. So if two million people tune in at the former time, it’s a flop, but at the later time it’s regarded as a startling success in such a poor slot.

The corrective to that timing issue is the second main way in which popularity is measured. It’s based on the ‘audience share’, and it measures popularity adjusted for the number of people watching. More people tend to watch television in the evenings than in the middle of the day or the middle of the night, and – to a lesser extent – in Winter than Summer, as dark, cold evenings are more likely to see people stay in front of the telly than when it’s bright and sunny (obviously, in Britain this often means high Summer ratings, too). Many fans want the series shown in the Autumn and Winter instead of Spring and Summer, so they can boast about bigger raw audience numbers or, more charitably, so more people will have the pleasure of seeing the show. My view is that the BBC are doing stunningly well in a time of the week and of the year that was previously dead for them, so they’re unlikely to mess with it. However, my preference is also for Winter, for a different reason – it’s just scarier when it’s dark outside. Even that has its upside; perhaps they can get away with more terrifying episodes on bright, cheery nights than they might by petrifying children in the dark, and I’m all for that.

So, last Saturday’s The Impossible Planet dipped slightly below six million on its overnight figure for the first time since the series returned last year, but because it still had the largest number of those watching – well over twice that of ITV1 – its audience share climbed from the previous week’s 32% to 39.8%, which is spectacular. In these multi-channel days, the BBC usually consider anything above 30% in prime time a very big hit. The slightly lower raw audience figures are less to do with the popularity of Doctor Who than that people took advantage of the first sunny Saturday for more than a month to have a day out; just 12.4 million people were watching TV at 7pm last Saturday. That’s two million fewer than any other Doctor Who night since it was relaunched last Spring, and four million fewer than the average for Doctor Who nights, which does suggest a very strong alternative reading for the slight loss of audience for the show to ‘boo hoo, everyone’s gone off it overnight’. Doctor Who’s audience is also split dead-equally between men and women, and fairly stably across age ranges except amongst children, where it scores above 50% (so, Lib Dems, if you have to visit a school and worry you’ll sound completely out of touch with the kids, just talk Doctor Who).

Related to ‘share’ is the weekly chart. This takes the ratings for each programme and compares them to all the others anyone was watching to see which did best (there’s another weekly chart by audience share, but that’s much more prone to distortion by including low-but-much-higher-than-the-rest programmes when everyone else is in bed). Each of the different measurements has something to recommend it that the others can’t match, but I reckon this one’s the most accurate reflection of real popularity, month on month and year on year. Like audience share it allows for how many people are watching TV altogether by comparing like with like, and it measures programmes against each other based on actual numbers watching a programme, from the raw audience figures. It also enables you to make a direct comparison between how Doctor Who is performing against the best of the competition in 1963 and 2006, when other measures would be distorted by pitching a choice of just two channels on a cold winter evening against a choice of five terrestrial channels, dozens of free digital channels, hundreds of satellite channels, videos and DVDs, on a warm sunny night. To give the most exaggerated example, the best raw audience figures the old series ever had were in Autumn 1979, when, er, ITV was on strike (and before home video or even a fourth channel), yet the BBC was doing so well all round when there was literally no competition that most of those episodes still only made the top 40, and only one hit the top 20. In terms of chart position, about ten other seasons of the show have done better (a ‘season’ is usually made up of a run of programmes across three to six months in a year, with a break of six to nine months before the next year’s season of the show).

I’m not going to present a detailed overview of Doctor Who’s chart ratings year-by-year; though I’ve read every entry, there’s simply too much of it. In general, though, over the years the series has almost always been inside the top 100 programmes watched in each week (with a handful of eye-watering exceptions), but where inside the top 100 has varied wildly – sometimes within the top 90, 60, 30… It’s generally true that the chart position stays roughly similar throughout each year’s season of the show, often dipping or rising a bit, but still in the same sort of area: most of the episodes being within a range of twenty to thirty places, say, rather than falling from the top 20 to past the top 100, with only one big exception. That was when in the 1963-4 season the programme rose from outside the top 100 to just hit the top 20, plainly as it found its audience for its very first year. I suspect that means viewers were reacting less to how impressive individual Doctor Who stories were or not at the time, and more to what competing programme was on ITV or simply how ‘fashionable’ the programme was or not that year. I reckon the average is about the 50 mark, with the chart entries in most years clustered from the 30s to about 60.

It would be churlish to talk about the years in which Doctor Who wasn’t doing terribly well in the charts, but there have been three definite peaks. The first was for the second season, from 1964-5, featuring William Hartnell as the Doctor at the height of what was called ‘Dalekmania’. Doctor Who tended to range from the edges of the top 40 right up to the top 10 in the most-watched TV of the week, with a large majority at least within the top 30. The second peak was in 1975-7, the programme’s twelfth to fourteenth seasons and the first three of Tom Baker’s time as the Doctor (after ratings built up during the last couple of years of Jon Pertwee), where the episodes all generally hit the top 30 or 20, peaking with regular appearances just outside the top 10 for Season Fourteen. And the third? It began with Christopher Eccleston’s debut as the Doctor last Spring, and we’re still in it.

During the whole period of the show’s original run from 1963 to 1989, only eleven episodes hit the weekly top ten. Most of these were for Dalek stories, though the highest placing to date was at number 5 for the second episode of Tom Baker’s rather brilliant outer space horror story The Ark in Space. A whole eight of these episodes were from William Hartnell’s second season back in 1964-5, with a solitary Jon Pertwee episode bringing up the rear. I’m also being generous, as one wasn’t among the originally transmitted 695 episodes, but a repeated film-style compilation of the complete story Pyramids of Mars – a fabulously scary adventure in which the Doctor fights to prevent the rising of an imprisoned god of evil known by such names as Set, Satan and Susan and possessing the most chillingly villainous voice in the world; no relation – and the figures I have are ambiguous on whether it charted at number 7 for all the week’s programmes or merely for all the BBC’s programmes, which would probably put it outside the main top 10. Let’s call it 11 episodes out of 696, though, and that’s a whole 1.58% in the weekly top 10 (though, within that, Season Two hit a remarkable peak of 20% reaching the top 10).

Then the 1996 TV Movie Time Waits For No Man hit number 9 for its week; but that was just a one-off (and, again, that may have been for just the BBC).

The first episode of the 2005 season, Rose, was the 7th most-watched programme of the week; at the time, the joint second-best placing the series had ever had. All but one of the other episodes that season managed at least the lower reaches of the top 20, with the odd one out charting at 21. The Christmas special that was David Tennant’s first story came in at number 9 – and of the six 2006 episodes for which final figures exist so far, Tooth and Claw made number 10, New Earth number 9, and Rise of the Cybermen number 6, now the second-best placing the series has ever had, with every single one of the others in the top 20. That means there have been five more episodes in the top 10 since the series’ return last year, despite the virtual lock on most places in the top 10 by multiple appearances from Eastenders and Coronation Street, the only British TV programmes that usually (but not always) out-rate Doctor Who. 25% of episodes in the weekly top ten is quite strikingly better than 1.58%. Or if you want to take just David Tennant’s episodes… Well, I make that just over 57% so far getting a top 10 place.

The programme is clearly doomed ;-)

I collated my figures through the highly advanced method of flicking through every single rating for 716 episodes and jotting down the rough patterns they fall into for each season, rather than typing up every single one and subjecting them to three types of statistical analysis. This means they’re a little generalised, but still pretty accurate; and the figures for the top ten are entirely accurate, to an episode. Measured against how the rest of TV programming is performing, based on the weekly TV charts, it is a fact that the first set of stories featuring David Tennant as the Doctor is so far doing better than Doctor Who has done in any year since it first started in 1963.

I have never posted on the Outpost Gallifrey Forums and rarely read them except to find out audience figures, though I’ve supplied the site with the odd review. I find the hysterically argumentative tone too wearing; a bit like However, should anyone wish to borrow any of my arguments to sling around in there, feel free to crib as much as you like, though obviously I’d prefer a credit and, ideally, not to be distorted out of all proportion. The truth is that Doctor Who is doing brilliantly, and that it was doing even more brilliantly a few weeks ago is a cause for joy at the upwards spike rather than despondency at a perceived tumble.

Oh, I said there were four main measures of popularity, didn’t I, and only explained three? You caught me. There’s also a survey of how much people actually liked what they were watching, called the ‘Appreciation Index’, which is out of 100 and based on scores rather than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (so, if something gets 75%, it doesn’t necessarily mean a quarter of people didn’t like it, but that on average people gave it seven and a half marks out of ten). Drama tends to get about 75%, which was about the highest ‘old’ Doctor Who ever got; you won’t be shocked to hear that all but two of last year’s episodes got into the 80s, which is outstandingly high for any TV programme. And every one of this year’s stories so far has scored from 83-86%, putting all of them into the highest-pleasing as well as highest-rating shows for the week. Yes, that’s the best Doctor Who has ever done, too.

So, don’t panic. No, don’t panic.

Just sit back on Saturday and be terrified.

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Time For Action Against Bullies

The Lib Dems have launched a petition against homophobic bullying, something the party’s MPs have been campaigning on for a few years; not the most glamorous or vote-winning cause in the world, but good on everyone involved for pushing it. It’s the last type of abuse by ‘group’ still socially acceptable for many; more difficult to identify than, say, racist abuse, and therefore to stop; and instead of relying on parents for support, many kids will feel they couldn’t tell them in a million years. Worse, if some parents found out, they’d be worse to their kids than the bullies are. It takes real determination and action by a school to stop homophobic bullying; lip service won’t cut it.

Conrad Russell used to say that Liberalism was about standing up to bullies. Liberals are on the side of anyone who’s picked on by someone else with too much power and not enough constraints, from governments, to businesses, to criminals, to spiteful kids in the playground. And the converse of standing up to oppression is enabling people to liberate themselves, which has made education particularly dear to Liberal hearts. There are few more absolute examples of what we’re about than making sure bullies are tackled in schools, and the reason that the Liberal Democrats are focussing on homophobic bullying in particular this time is that it is unusually hard to monitor and – unlike most bullying – there is sadly not yet a fully formed policy to tackle it in every school, nor even a fully formed consensus that it is wrong, so the petition calls for action to ensure that all pupils know all bullying will not be tolerated, and there are no exceptions.

I’m just about as out as a gay politician can be these days, but I can remember what it was like when I was at school. I remember being picked on and hating it, and though schools today are very different to those in the Eighties – not least that homophobic abuse is at least given lip-service recognition – they’re still not perfect, or even in all ways better. In a lot of playgrounds the word ‘gay’ is now an ubiquitous insult, and a lot of people see nothing wrong with it, and those that do don’t confront it (as even one of the few bits of last year’s Doctor Who that really, really got me seething testified). There are few people I feel more protective towards than gay or bi schoolkids, or, for that matter, straight or confused schoolkids for whom ‘gay’ abuse is still daily torment.

I was bullied at school with homophobic abuse; I don’t know if it was because they’d spotted I was gay long before I did, if it was simply because I was bookish and preferred a put-down to a punch-up, or if it was simply the easiest abuse to throw. I do know that, because it was what people who aimed to make my life a misery were throwing at me, it helped prevent me coming out even to myself for a long while. Because, you see, agreeing with them felt like a surrender. When I finally spotted the truth on a conscious level, I had three weeks of agonising, followed by the typically stubborn and overambitious – but, I have to say, right – decision that, as there was plainly nothing I could see wrong with me, there was something wrong with the world and I should change it.

This petition is a small way in which you can help change it.

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Because Concrete’s So Much Prettier Than Grass

Oh dear. I know every party has people who say dodgy things, but when you reach a certain level of responsibility, you should aspire to think before opening your mouth. A Conservative Member of the London Assembly, my local mini-Parliament, thinks London isn’t concreted over enough. No, seriously. And I say ‘a Member’; actually, he chairs it. He’s London’s top elected Tory. Brian Coleman (Con, Barnet and Camden) told the Evening Standard: “I think we could do with a multi-storey car park on the site for 1,000 cars. That’s what Londoners need. Parks in central London we’re not short of.”

Apparently Tory ‘Green’ pretensions are only for elections, not for life. It won’t be a surprise to anyone to learn that Conservatives’ instincts are really the reverse of what Mr Cameron pretends they are, or that even they think he’s just saying any old rubbish for electoral effect. And everybody knows about the great big car that follows Mr Cameron’s ‘green’ bike every day to carry his shoes, or the jet he flew off in to pose by a glacier. But there are limits to how much hypocrisy is decent, surely?

I live in London – albeit not in Mr Coleman’s patch – and, you know, green spaces are what Londoners need, and we are indeed short of them. Mind you, Mr Coleman isn’t advocating a car park on his patch either, oh no; he wouldn’t dare concrete over Hampstead, but Southwark’s all right for him. By an amazing coincidence, it’s an area that regularly has amongst the lowest Tory votes in the whole of Britain. That seems awfully convenient, but I’m sure it hadn’t entered Mr Coleman’s head ;-)

It’s not just ‘parks’, and it’s not just the grumbling of someone who grew up in the mostly suburban seat of Hazel Grove and misses the way there are still great open spaces there, or that I can go to the end of my parents’ road and see enormous great hills looking pretty in the distance. Yes, green spaces are nice to look at, but now I’m a Londoner that’s not what I think of on a day-to-day basis.

I think of how many times I forget to take my asthma inhalers with me when I go out and soon find myself coughing or short of breath by London roads.

I think of coming in and washing my face every time to get the gritty particles out of my eyes.

I think of Richard being out late with friends last week, standing outside because it was cooler, and taking off his glasses when he got home to find great dirty streaks on his face where the grime from all of London’s cars had been blocked by his frames.

I think that reducing car use and improving public transport would be a better aspiration for an elected politician than building more space for more cars that make fewer people actually very happy or healthy, and rarely even let you move around very much in London traffic.

And I think Mr Coleman’s a lethal idiot.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006


Punishment For Sin Sin Sin

Though hardly an avid follower of the charts, I spotted that Robbie Williams has a new entry this week with Sin Sin Sin. Despite his supposedly being Britain’s most popular artist and constant coverage in one of the few ITV programmes getting solid ratings – he even got the Radio Times front cover, making it an outstandingly propitious week in which to launch a single – he was unable to do better than number 22, the lowest chart placing he’s ever had. By coincidence, it’s his first single since his court case about the shocking allegation that he wasn’t heterosexual.

Mr Williams’ previous lowest chart placing had been number 14 for South of the Border, a single that was viewed at the time as such a dismal performance that his record company might drop him. Then he released Angels and suddenly displayed talent, and the rest – until now – has been a history of success, with singles as dead a cert for the top five as with any artist. What can possibly have gone wrong?

I remember when I first heard of Take That; perhaps to no-one’s surprise, it was in the then Student Liberal Democrat office, when another gay member of the Exec shoved some teen mag in front of me in which five young men were displaying their bottoms. With my usual finger on the pulse of pop culture, I didn’t pay them much attention. In the years since, my opinion of Mr Williams’ looks and music adjusted upwards – quite cute once he stopped trying to look twelve (nice chest once he stopped shaving it, and so forth), a handful of outstanding singles – but not my so-obvious-it’s-impossible-to-miss observation that he was playing to the gay market. In lyrics, interviews and every other pose he’s flirted with being gay or not, then suddenly sues as if it’s something shameful and, goodness, he’s never been so. It’s a bit late for lawsuits when you’ve posed as a sodomite, and literally like something out of a different century to regard it as so terrible an accusation it needs court proceedings. Why not just apply to a court to legally change your name to ‘Tosser’?

A popular star has been here before. Even in the much less pro-gay times of the early ‘90s, Jason Donovan sued The Face magazine. He, too, won a Pyrrhic victory, and since then… (FX: sound of tumbleweeds)

It seems that Britain has grown up a bit too much to find this sort of public protestation of prejudice endearing, and the curse has struck again. Perhaps next time a star is accused of having a different sexuality to his own, instead of thinking bigotry will pay he’ll just say “Don’t be so silly,” or “Yeah, whatever,” and move on like any sensible person. ‘Til then, enjoy the spectacle of what happens when someone tells the people he’s been making money out of for a dozen years that they’re a pile of shit.

Next: the penny drops with Labour voters.


Why John Prescott Shouldn’t Be Sacked

From The Two Ronnies to another great comic institution; I’ve talked about how easy it is to get a laugh about Mr Prescott before. It proves for those who say he’s become a laughing stock since the news of his affair broke, nonsense. He’s been a laughing stock for years. He mangles his words in a far less inspired way than Ronnie Barker, and – more importantly – he’s been a disastrously bad minister and should have been sacked years ago. But just now, I’m unusually tempted to leave him alone. And why? I don’t want sex to be sackable.

“Sex scandals” are always funny – as long as they happen to other people. And, to be fair, Lib Dems tend to laugh at them but not to be overly censorious, just to make po-faced public remarks about “human frailty”. And Mr Prescott’s an immense open goal; if the problem’s that he’s lowered the government’s dignity with his trousers, it’s a work of idiot genius for Mr Blair to allow him to keep the ‘dignified’ titles and perks but take away the department that he was allegedly fine at, when any fool can see that it should have been the other way round. More than one wag has pointed out that he's no longer considered responsible enough to decide on your planning permission, merely to run the country when Mr Blair’s away, and I can’t help but think even he would be better at overseeing an Equality Act than his replacement Ruth Kelly, who’s voted against or abstained on every gay rights measure and thus puts the fear of Dei into us. Instead, he’s still being slowly turned on the spit of humiliation as he now gives up his country mansion, Dorneywood.

Against all common sense, however, I’m going to stick up for Mr Prescott. This was not the time for him to be sacked; perhaps the only time he shouldn’t have been sacked. His press coverage probably harmed the Labour Party, as did the total shambles under Charles Clarke, but ironically I suspect Patricia Hewitt being booed by nurses as she made overblown claims about the NHS was much more damaging to the traditional Labour vote, and she’s the only one who kept her job – despite single-handedly inspiring polls that put Labour third on Health, which is pretty astounding.

This all feels like back to the ’90s – the 1890s. Really, what is there to be bothered about around sex? They were both adults and knew and consented to what they were doing. I don’t know whether he may be a bully, or a sexist, or a git, but in this sort of case, none of that matters. If he was a tortured saint, the headlines would be the same. I’m afraid this isn’t the sort of issue on which nuanced remarks cut it, except to make the public think we’re all the same and call us hypocrites when one of us is ‘caught at it’.

Liberal Democrats – the Party That Says Sex Is All Right

I have a radical suggestion. Rather than damning with faint neutrality, when any sex “scandal” comes along – provided it’s not a rape or underage, or otherwise a clear offence without consent – Lib Dems should queue up to say, ‘So what? They were adults, they knew what they were doing, and it’s none of your business. Good luck to them,’ and never say anything that can sound like a word of canting criticism. For a Liberal party, we may not attack people for having sex but we make ever such codedly disapproving noises.

It’s not just about self-protection, though goodness knows we could have done with a bit of that earlier in the year, but improving the political and social culture. Constantly humiliating people for deciding to have sex just does nobody any good. What’s the point? So we might upset a few curtain-twitchers. Well, they’re unlikely to vote for us anyway.

What’s happening now is nothing to do with public interest. It’s more the ‘Mum’ test; it’s taken as read that it’s a scandal if a paper publishes something you wouldn’t want your Mum to read about / look at. Well, big deal. I’ve done plenty that falls into that category, and if you haven’t, dear reader, you should get out more. More to the point, so have the most faithful and well-behaved husband and wife who have children. It’s just rubbish to say that’s a “scandal”.

Just this once, I have to disagree with the brilliant, amusing but censorious Jonathan Calder, owner of the best blogging headline of the year (sorry, James, for not voting for your Russian spunk) and his amusing, at least to us, remarks about the Rector of Stiffkey, who someone [edited because someone other than Jonathan said it] called the “first sex scandal”. Surely that was Oscar Wilde? Because, yes, people having gay sex are even more likely to get it in the neck than people who have straight sex. Yes, I too wish Mark Oaten would shut up; once you’ve beaten your breast and labelled yourself as a scandal, still seeking the limelight simply brings the word “scandal” up again, and it’s no longer standing up for yourself but willy-waving. But anyone who doesn’t think there was a viciously homophobic motive to the publication of gaydar pictures of Chris Bryant and Charles Anglin – including the latest Liberator – needs their head examined. The answer is not, ‘Oh, isn’t it frightful, these people like to have sex and in a way you probably wouldn’t like,’ nor to talk in sonorous tones about what a tragedy it is. It’s to say, ‘So what?’ and ‘None of your business,’ ‘What’s the problem with having sex?’ or ‘Each to their own, if they enjoy it.’

I’m (probably) not going to suggest we adopt as our formal slogan, ‘Liberal Democrats: the party that says sex is all right’. Still, we’ve had worse, and – if slightly tongue-in-cheek – I’ve yet to hear a better suggestion for one likely to make people sit up, take notice and think, ‘Oh, that’s what the Lib Dems are for, and I like it.’

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The Two Ronnies: The Worm That Turned

I grew up watching and enjoying The Two Ronnies. Rather like the Carry Ons, I had a vague feeling in my teens that they were sexist and otherwise old hat, then came to rediscover that they were still very funny. We loved their Sketchbook series last year, and I felt strangely bereft when Ronnie Barker died. I recently discovered that ITV3 were showing old editions of their series on Thursdays and Fridays, and had become quite hooked all over again by their absurdly sexist serial The Worm That Turned. Tune in tonight and tomorrow, though, and you’ll be disappointed.

The Worm That Turned, made in around 1979 / 80, is a terrifying tale of England in the near future where women have taken over. Men are oppressed with women’s names, nasty frocks and having to do the housekeeping; the ‘secret’ police strut around in tightly-fitting PVC uniforms that show a lot of leg; and the Ronnies play our heroes, Janet and Betty, who aim to flee this feminist state for the macho sanctuary of Wales. So far, so ‘70s in its tooth-grinding depiction of the horrifying reality behind feminism (at least The Avengers only did it once, in 1966, though that was pretty ghastly – while Doctor Who escaped the ‘how horrid it would be if women took over’ more or less by accident, as several appalling scripts were written but cancelled for one reason or another).

I found ITV3’s repeats a couple of episodes into an eight-week run, and watched with some trepidation. My head told me it was going to be horribly misogynistic rubbish; my heart said I’d really enjoyed it when I was eight or nine. Strangely, neither of those feelings turned out quite right in retrospect.

The main problem I had was that it wasn’t nearly as funny as their sketches; the only gag I remember laughing at this time round was renaming the Tower of London as the ‘Barbara Castle’. With the Ronnies playing rather World War Two-heroic types, they didn’t get a lot of laughs, and most of the supporting actors weren’t terribly good. Stretched over eight weeks, a lot of it was just running around and escaping capture, and it really needed tighter editing, greater tension and more jokes.

The sexism somehow wasn’t as offensive as I’d imagined, either. A lot of it’s groan-inducing, but the implicit strength of the women characters means they can’t just be done down in most of the traditional ‘70s ways; they’re simply altogether evil. While I can’t quite believe this was the point, it’s so ludicrous that it undermines the idea of a ‘feminazi’ conspiracy rather than scaring men about what might happen if women are allowed to wear trousers and get the same pay.

The real reason that it still works in part, though, is the same thing I remembered it for. The two guest stars are both wicked women, and they’re both terrific. Wanda Ventham appears in a couple of episodes as a treacherous lounge lizard who ensnares Ronnie Barker, and she’s not just got by a long way the best outfits (her sharp jacket or leather waistcoat means she’s the only person in the whole thing who doesn’t look dreadful) but steals every scene she’s in. The main villain, though, who sadly only appeared in one of the episodes I got to see this time round, was the country’s evil leader, the Controller. It’s Diana Dors, and she’s fabulous. Far from being scared by the prospect of women getting top jobs, I remembered her from this (and a similarly-timed Adam and the Ants video) as simply awesome. She and Servalan may have appeared as nasty women, but they were strong and spectacularly impressive. I thought she was great; goodness knows what she did to the straight boys. There are probably a generation of about my age who’d rather be dominated by them than keep men on top.

All told, I was looking forward to the final episode, where I remembered Diana Dors reappearing to get the best lines (and her comeuppance). Last week, they repeated two episodes rather than one; the penultimate episode of The Worm That Turned, and one from a different year that started off a new and completely different serial. Hmm. Well, it could have been that the final episode would turn up today and tomorrow, but I e-mailed ITV to check. I had a prompt reply saying they’d check, then this:

Dear Mr Wilcock
Following my earlier email, Programme Planning has now informed us that we do not have the rights to show episode 8 of series 8. Additionally, the contract we have does not permit editing of any programmes in the series.
I'm sorry for the disappointment caused but thank you again for taking the trouble to contact us.
Duty Officer
Is it me, or is it curiously offputting to have seven episodes of a continuing serial, then – without warning – not be able to see how it ends? Sigh. I’ve not been so irritated at a missing ending since Channel 5 showed all but the last couple of episodes of J Michael Straczynski’s pre-Babylon 5 show Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future (probably the first time that’s been linked to The Worm That Turned).

Still, points to the ITV Duty Officer; getting the information and giving two replies the same day. Much as I prefer the BBC in general, I notice that one of their online complaints forms only ends in an error message, while another I used last week – asking why the commentaries advertised on Doctor Who repeats keep vanishing from Freeview without warning – didn’t get a reply until this week. And it was not only a standard reply, but a standard reply (surreally) to a question about an entirely different programme. So, a heartfelt “Bah!” to the ITV schedulers, but it’s nice to know at least someone there is doing a good job.

On the bright side, one of the editions of The Two Ronnies shown last week featured a very funny sketch in which mild-mannered sweetshop owner Ronnie Barker, for whom ‘Nothing is too much trouble’, is slowly driven mad by impossibly picky customer Ronnie Corbett. So good, Little Britain has done approximately 573 versions of the same sketch.

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