Archive for the ‘channel 4’ Category

Made in Northern Ireland: The Male Body Handbook

article from GNI (Gay Northern Ireland) 17 November 2015

GNI (Gay Northern Ireland) 17 November 2015

For Fawkes’ Sake


guy fawkes guido mask

As I left Channel 4 for York yesterday the taxi driver avoided Whitehall due to “something going on down there” – it was the now annual gathering of a ‘million masks’ to march against Capitalism. The masks are those Guido Fawkes masks beloved of everyone from left-field comicbook artist Alan Moore to right-winger Paul Staines. Guido is the name Staines uses when fighting Socialism. Guido was the name Guy (Fawkes) used when fighting for the Spanish.

I missed my train north by a minute but luckily the guard on the next one was short-sighted and missed the invalidity of my ticket. On arrival in York I walked along the city walls and into the quaintly English in an ecclesiastical sort of way city centre. Dumped my Wigan Casinoish moddy bag at Middleton’s hotel and headed for the opening of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival, a BAFTA-qualifying shorts fest at which I spoke today to an audience of 180 young’uns in a steeply raked lecture theatre at York St John University.

At the opening gathering I bumped into Revolution Software’s Charles Cecil, a games geezer descended from some notorious Elizabethan Cecil (Robert I think). I used to see him regularly at the annual b.tween cross-platform conference. We watched 5 opening short films in the City Screen auditorium, of which 3, possibly 4, were too long IMHO. Good production values and well made (mostly dramas) but not truly taking on board the aesthetics and dynamics of the online video age.

Later in the evening I wandered the lanes of York, eventually finding myself under this sign for the Guy Fawkes Inn:

guy fawkes inn pub york

So it’s 5th November. The masked men in the West End by now had started setting fire to police vans and taking on the pigs. Across the rest of the country fireworks are exploding. And I’m standing on the streets where Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 – under one of those masks. I didn’t even know he came from York until I found his inn.

Thursday 5th November 2015 - London

Thursday 5th November 2015 – London

I wandered on around the tranquil Minster, no-one much around, too late for firework noise, a gentle drizzle in a diffuse sodium light. Past the stone workshop where 21st century men carve stone components from the very same stone in which the monumental building was originally constructed, to repair its ancient fabric.

I returned along the cobbled quay by the Ouse to listen to Steely Dan and write about suffragettes. Now I’m listening to John Martyn on my newly acquired red iPod Nano and writing about another famous political militant on the train home.

As the ridiculous and slimy Tory discussions about the idealogical privitisation of Channel 4 continue at Prime Minister’s Questions this week (it costs the public nothing, it’s not broken and it doesn’t need private investment) I’m a bit sorry Guido didn’t manage to blow the mothers (of the mother of Parliaments) up.

V for Vendetta comic alan moore

In The Future





All 4 one

goggle box tv series channel 4

Was up at the Edinburgh TV Festival at the end of last week – very much a Channel 4 flavoured one. Channel 4 was named Channel of the Year 2014.

C4’s Chief executive David Abraham gave the opening MacTaggart lecture (the first one by a C4 chief exec in a dozen years and it’s been four years since any UK broadcaster has been invited to speak). It centred on championing British creativity and the unique climate of creative freedom and risk-taking that we have in UK public service broadcasting. He highlighted how important it is for the broadcasting and media industry, politicians, regulators and the public to robustly defend and build this outstanding public service system at this particular juncture, when it is under assault from without (especially US multinational corporations) and within (short-term thinkers and profit-takers). He concluded with a call to action for the next generation of media creatives. It was a generous speech, acknowledging both BBC and ITV’s role in the very special TV ecology of this country.

At the Festival awards, Channel 4 also picked up the award for TV Moment of the Year for Mushi’s speech in Educating Yorkshire and won the Programme Innovation category with The Murder Trial. There was further recognition for C4’s current affairs film Children on the Frontline, with Marcel Mettelsiefen picking up the Debut Producer/Director Award.

Such a whitewash of the awards is almost without precedent at Edinburgh and reflects a revived creative spirit at Horseferry Road after the annus horribilis that was 2013 both for C4 and the BBC. For me personally, the new focus on short form video which has come about this year enables the happy surfing of this wave of new energy. Here’s one of my first commissions in that area from a young British director, Umut Gunduz, who I met at Google HQ in St Giles a few months ago – the series is called Double Vision and the first episode is Cycle of Love.

double vision first date cycle of love

Dear Dear Dickie – 4 ways to remember Richard Attenborough

The Great Escape (1963)

This one (from the year I made my debut on earth) is for me his most memorable role as an actor – as Bartlett, who can forget that tragic end, machine-gunned in a field by the heartless Nazis alongside his stalwart Scottish buddy, MacDonald (played by the ever dependable Gordon Jackson)?

The Great Escape poster Richard Attenborough


In Which We Serve (1942)

His fresh faced debut, already a screen presence to be reckoned with. Directed by David Lean and Noel Coward, a suitably English place to start.

In_Which_We_Serve richard attenborough actor


Chaplin (1992)

My hero well captured by the talented young Robert Downey Jnr. under the assured direction of Dickie.

richard attenborough chaplin robert downey jnr director


Cry Freedom (1987)

I remember this one opening my eyes to the outrages of apartheid South Africa back in my university days. Denzel Washington was powerful as Steve Biko and first came to international prominence under Dickie’s direction.

cry_freedom_denzel washington kevin Klein steve biko donald woods

Richard Attenborough was instrumental in the establishment of Channel 4 – Deputy Chairman from 1980 to 1986 as it got on its feet and Chairman from 1986 to 1992 through its golden age.

He was also a key leader in BAFTA, associated with the Academy for 30 years and President for over a decade.

richard-attenborough oscars academy awards

I interviewed Lord David Puttnam about him recently for my book, When Sparks Fly. I was thinking of including him in the Film chapter (Choose Life) which focuses on Danny Boyle. With its central theme of the creative rewards of openness and generosity, Attenborough struck me as the cinema embodiment of British public service values. Channel 4 and BAFTA are just two of many appointments which demonstrate his prodigious energy and unfailing commitment to public service media/arts, from the brilliant Chickenshed Theatre to the Mandela Statue Fund.





History Boy

the dawn of time universe sun big bang

I’ve been coming to DocFest (formerly the Sheffield International Documentary Festival) since the dawn of time. I’m sitting cross-legged on the hill of Howard Street, on a black marble seaty-thing, as I write this, buddha-like. The hill runs up from the station towards the city centre and is one of the best bits of urban regeneration I’ve seen in this country. Overlooking this spot is an Andrew Motion poem written on the side of a Sheffield Hallam University tower block addressing travellers arriving in the city (Andrew Motion in part inspired Simple Pleasures part 4). After my many years coming to the festival I came up with a good strategy involving this hill yesterday. Instead of relentless regular blocks of formalised meetings crowding out the day I arranged no meetings – just sat on one of these black marble blocks and waited for people I knew and wanted to see pass by me. It worked very well – I got to chat with more people and the chats were the lengths they needed to be.

howard street sheffield docfest 2014

I am now on the train pulling out of Sheffield. I leave behind a very satisfying couple of days’ experience. It began as I got off the other train the other way on Sunday evening. I dumped my stuff at the hotel and went out for dinner just out of town with Colm O’Callaghan, a colleague from RTE in Dublin. We chatted about all manner of stuff, centred on Ireland and music, and most excitingly discussed the possibility of doing a collaborative historical project next year. We headed back to town to meet  at a bar the speakers in the session I was to chair the next day. We did a judicious amount of preparation (mainly a quick chat to reassure them we’d be talking about stuff they know well and don’t have to think much about and ascertaining what video material they’d brought with) then oiled the getting-to-know-you wheels with alcohol.

robert capa d-day landings

The session the next morning entitled ‘Interacting with the Past’ focused on interactive and multiplatform TV in the History genre. Joe Myerscough, Producer/Director from the excellent Windfall Films, represented the superb D-Day: As It Happens project from Channel 4 in 2013. The delightful Elizabeth Klinck, a super-expert Canadian visual/archive researcher, added an interesting perspective. And my Channel 4 colleague, Online Producer Marie James, focused on The Mill, a historically accurate drama set in 1831. We managed to range across a lot of territory around what interactivity brings to History TV and from a lot of perspectives (indy producer, broadcaster, support services, commissioner), driven by questions from the audience, so it felt free-flowing, flexible and practically useful. Went down well, felt good.

Andre Singer

Andre Singer

At the other end of the day I went to see a new history documentary, Night Will Fall, directed by Andre Singer. I can’t write about it yet beyond what’s already in the public domain but suffice it to say it’s a very impactful film about the filming of the Holocaust. It will be showing on Channel 4 in January coming. One unexpected aspect of the story is that Alfred Hitchcock was involved in this filmic recording of the Holocaust by Allied troops. I chatted with Andre and his wife Lynette, who wrote the commentary for the film, on the way out. Also the producer Sally Angel, who I first met last year through an online project via my friend Steve Moore. We had a lively discussion about what age is best to first introduce young people to the imagery of the Holocaust. I believe it should be 16+. The person from the BFI thought younger was OK on the basis that kids get to see horror films (not an argument I buy – the documentary footage in Night Will Fall is another world from scripted drama).  I first crossed paths with Andre and Lynette when I was starting out on my career and they ran an outfit in Covent Garden called Cafe Productions (that name’s just come back to me after all these years). I went on a bus ride with Andre last May (2013) to Yad Vashem when he first told me about the film. It’s been nestling in the back of my mind since then.

So a day steeped in History.

Brilliant creatures rebels of oz documentary howard jacobson germaine greer

And today started out in similar vein. I went to see Brilliant Creatures: Rebels of Oz, a 2-part BBC/ABC documentary about 4 Australians who made good in London in the 60s, bringing a fresh perspective to a country only just emerging from the War. The Creatures in question are Germaine Greer, writer Clive James, art critic Robert Hughes and comedian Barry Humphreys. Jacobson considers Germaine Greer the most rebellious and radical of these. It’s a fabulous story – woven together by novelist Howard Jacobson (who himself wrote startlingly about the Holocaust in the brilliant Kalooki Nights, which sits on my Shelf of Honour).  I had a brief chat with him after, mainly congratulating him on pulling together such an illuminating story. He said he was in search of the secret to the Oz “zest for life”.

Howard Jacobson, Greg Sanderson (BBC), Germaine Greer

Howard Jacobson, Greg Sanderson (BBC), Germaine Greer

I got close to having a chat with Germaine Greer but it didn’t quite happen. I wanted to talk Frank Zappa with her as the BBC recently released a wonderful radio documentary she made about him. There was a great clip in the film of her hanging with Robert Plant and Led Zep.

germaine_greer 60s

Over breakfast this morning I had a great plan-hatching session with a couple of documentary makers (one from Leipzig where my dad was born) which was also a kick.

So it’s been a couple of days with a heartbeat of History. I had to give it up as a subject in formal education after O Level (apart from a small burst of it as part of my German/Modern Languages degree) but at heart I’m still a History Boy.

evolution denied ape to man


The Factory Factor

Intensity - with glasses

Intensity – with glasses

Early on in my career I directed a shoot in a plastics factory in the depths of South London. It was that morning, as I watched the mundane, repetitive jobs people had to do, that I recognised how privileged my work was, above all in its variety and creative fulfilment. Now it’s the end of a long day, thirteen hours without a break, quite intense activity,  which I look back over with that same perspective – that was a really satisfying one.

The first bit at home on rising was just tying up some loose ends of the week, a bit adminy. Then the rest of the day rolled out along the Northern Line.

First stop Borough – a meeting involving a Countdown personality to develop a project focused on words and language. The project seemed to go up a gear or three during the conversation and I’m really excited about it.

Next stop Angel – another creative development meeting for a series about the future, which again made significant headway through a lively and illuminating conversation with the presenter and two producers.

Back to East Finchley for some tough wrangling on a Music education project, really difficult to pull off but really satisfying in its objectives.

Then to round off the week the main person I’m hoping to interview for the Business chapter of my book came back with a positive response.

Popped back to Islington in the evening for some R&R in the form of Nick Lowe at the Union Chapel, which culminated in a rousing rendition of  (What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?

Jesus of Cool

Intensity – before glasses


A cool million

Tonight we hit a cool million tests taken on My MindChecker, my first project post-sabbatical at Channel 4. That’s in just 8 days – it launched with the new (4th) series of Embarrassing Bodies: Live from the Clinic last Tuesday.

Today it made the front page of the Mail Online.

Today's Mail Online front page

Among the unembarrassing bodies on today’s Mail Online front page

I like the last line of this coverage in the Evening Standard:

Evening Standard 15.iv.14

Evening Standard 15.iv.14

And here’s a neat little piece from The Sunday Times:

Sunday Times 13.iv.14

Sunday Times 13.iv.14

The Autism Test we featured in last week’s show was done 63,000 times during the hour of the show and by 11pm (3 hours in) that had reached 100,000. The total now stands at 350,000 completed tests. These anonymised results will go to the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge for their on-going work at the cutting edge of autism spectrum disorder research.

Spirit of SEX (Day 34)

Dr Pixie in run up to Health Freaks TX

Dr Pixie in run up to Health Freaks TX

I’m writing this one from BBC Media Centre while getting ready for tonight’s broadcast of Health Freaks, a new series I have been working on, the only Channel 4 work I have carried in to my sabbatical.

Malcolm McLaren hanging out on the King's Road

Malcolm McLaren hanging out on the King’s Road

I have spent most of the afternoon writing happily away outside a cafe on the King’s Road, Chelsea within spitting distance of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s SEX shop. May the spirit of Punk rub off on me. I’m writing away at the Paul Arden chapter and in his contrariness is at least something of punk appeal. In a distinctly non- punk vein, for mid-October a remarkably mild afternoon which I thoroughly enjoyed sitting out in.

Prior to my writing burst, I was round the corner at The Chelsea Arts Club interviewing an advertising photographers’ agent, David Lambert, who worked with Paul Arden from 1974. As I walked into the club I saw a notice on the board announcing the death of Carolyn Cassady, who had been a member – reminding me of my lesson from Carolyn: strike while the iron’s hot when it comes to interviews.

While sitting outside the cafe at the Bluebird I organised a meeting with actress Gaye Brown who, apart from working with Joan Littlewood, was in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (in that magical year, 1971).

David was very generous with his time and stories, and seemed to be enjoying recalling these tales which linked one to another as he hauled them up from the 70s and 80s. He stars in my opening emblematic scene in the Advertising chapter so it was good to get the story direct from him. The version I’ve already written is very accurate it turns out, I just got one extra telling detail from the from-the-horse’s mouth version as well as the chance to compare notes on what it actually means.

The Chelsea Arts Club was a strange affair on a weekday afternoon. Some ladies who lunch, some ageing types with no pressing need to work, the ubiquitous newspaper reader. It felt full of heritage with people on the past chairmen list like Whistler, Philip Wilson Steer and John Lavery but I didn’t recognise any of the last decade’s lot and only Sir Chris Powell was known to me on the current officials photo- board. Not the friendliest place I’ve ever been – CAC? we’ll leave the jury out on that.

As I walked back down Old Church Street Adrian Dunbar rang to confirm arrangements for tomorrow’s trip back to the Littlewood archives. He wanted to bring Janet Behan with, Brendan’s niece (author of Brendan at the Chelsea), but the times wouldn’t work out so that will have to be a separate visit. These little chains of connection are fascinating and the root of the excitement of the project – as well as the very essence of Creativity.

Chelsea Arts Club (aka CAC) in more colourful times

Chelsea Arts Club (aka CAC) in more colourful times

Links for Orna

Some concrete examples of multiplatform TV (factual)

The Great British Property Scandal (case study video)

George Clarke Great British Property Scandal

Seven Days (case study video)


Embarrassing Bodies: Live from the Clinic (case study video)


Big Fish Fight  (case study video)


D-Day as it happens (post-TX website)


Foxes Live (post-TX website)




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