Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The British Press Awards

Fresh from my dispiriting flight of fantasy to the Oscars, I bring you a more earthly trophy polishing event: The British Press Awards.

I have the honour - and I genuinely mean that, folks, in the most unshowbizzy fashion - of being a judge again in these awards. The shortlist of entrants has just been announced on the Press Gazette website.

For the past couple of weeks I have been judging the submissions from the long-list of entrants for two categories - Interviewer of the Year and Scoop of the Year. It is a testing and time consuming task, and one that I conduct with a considerable sense of responsibilty and pressure, as well as pride.

The work that is produced by the nation's hacks is quite awe-inspiring. I have been a journalist for 22 years now - I've got the neck ache and thinning knuckle cartilage to prove it - and all except one year has been spent writing for the national newspapers. It is a career that is as rewarding as it is exasperating.

But, it is when you get a chance to really examine, professionally, impartially, what is achieved day-in, day-out across our newspapers that you really see the broad and brilliant talent that blesses our rags.

Steady on, mate. I really mustn't turn this into a complete kiss-kiss love-in. Any hack worth a round of drinks would take the piss and suspect I was angling for an extra drink at the Grosvenor. All I want to say is this:

On Scoops: the newspapers of this country produce more stories than anywhere else in the world. These stories set the agendas of TV and radio stations, magazines and websites in every corner of the planet. They ALL feed off us. Collectively, our newspapers are amazing.

On Interviewing: I know a lot about this beat. I've done it for virtually my entire career and I can tell you that it is often a labour-intensive, up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege (if I may bastardise a movie line). The quality of the content and prose in this year's long-list entrants (30 of 'em) was exceptional. Only five writers make it to next week's second round of judging.

But why on earth am I bothering to say this? Er, not sure really, except to maybe poke the ribs of the clueless, spoilt cynics, often the casual readers, who pick up a newspaper and too easily slag off the devoted work of the journalists who made it all happen.

Journalism is a tough career and one that is hardly well paid. These awards are a worthy reminder of the incredible work that is achieved each year in this business. Bravo to all those entrants.

All that said, mine's a large one. I thenk you!

Monday, February 26, 2007

And the Oscar doesn't BLOODY go to ...

Well, another year gone and another bloody speech I didn't get to make at the bloody Oscars.

I don't know, it's all a tad irritating, isn't it? I mean, how many ceremonies have I got left in me? You know, some of the key people I need to thank might be among the departed if I faff around much longer.

Let's face it, my own personal little screenplay - my, y'know, "jooourney" - is actually unreeling in a very UN-Hollywood way. I should have been up there - F-A-C-T - years ago. People say that my dear pal from the neighborhood Marty (Legendary director Martin Scorsese to you lot) - has waited too long, that it was his turn, his night. Well, screw that, you muthas. What about ME? Where's my little friggin' gold man and goodie bag of diamonds?

To cap my disappointment, I've just read an acceptance speech online in MY category only to discover that some nobody bloke from Nowheresville has only gone and nicked the name of my lead character. Hmmm. There's only so much I shall take.

OK, enough. I'll take a chill pill, rise above it all. The Oscars, what a hoot. I feel obliged to stop by, blog-style, and acknowledge "the most glamorous night in the whole-wide-world". I only dipped in with an hour - OK, OK, I'll admit to two - on the "E" Channel. I was expecting to see that insufferable idiot Ruby Twatx presenting. Yes, she with the poorly pirated copy of a sense of humour. Imagine my relief to see she wasn't there - I was able to remove the iron grill I always put across the screen when she is on to deflect the bottles of Bud - so I stayed. Ryan Wotshisname from American Idol was very good. The right pitch. And that gazing gay guy (or as Hero of the Hour Marty would label, "that fockin' faggot" - a disgusting term I would never validate) was mesmerizing. It was like watching a fully camped up, 21st Century, politically corrected Action Man having his voice cord pulled every once in a while. His occasional side-kick was a bag of bones in a red dress hoping to grow up one day to be a Size 0.

Anyway, I've gotta dash, I have parties to go to. I have decided to give it all a wide berth next year. As any self-respecting, lying celebrity will tell you, it is all trivial nonsense ... until of course you are nominated. Yes, I'm staying away, like Sean Penn. He boldly said, "The Oscars? I'd be embarrassed to be there." Until of course, he totally milked his standing ovation for Mystic River a few years later. Cooool.

Right, back to my speech ... am I out of time? Can I just say a few Thank Yous? Pleeease. Most of all, I'd like to thank the one person who has stood by me through all the years of struggle blogging about the speech I didn't get to make about the book that didn't get published and then didn't get made into that great movie starring...

Blub-bloody-blub.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Let me put this to you...

It has been a long, thankless and quite brutal week in my world of interviewing. I hit a red light, next to a giant Stop sign in a cul de sac that ended with a 1,000ft sheer drop. I will spare you the details - for now - but I can speak from years of experience, not just the past few days, to deeply sympathise with John Humphrys this morning.

His much yearned-for and keenly plugged face-to-face with Prime Minister Tony Blair on Radio 4's Today programme has just faded from the hi-fi in my office. To be honest, I nearly didn't make it through, despite Humphrys sterling efforts. The reason: I found the entire talk annoying, frustrating, predictably fruitless. It wound me UP!

You need a fighting chance with any subject to get a decent interview, no matter your skill. Few are better at it than Humphrys. But if a subject is interminably dull, like the "superstar" who defeated me this week, or impossibly intransigent, like Blair, then you haven't got a hope in hell. No amount of guile or charm will work. No killer question will provide an answer worth hearing. Either there ain't nothin' to get, or they ain't got nothin' to give.

So, let me put this to you, if I may, in the clearest of terms: What really is the fucking point in interviewing Tony Blair?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My Verdict: GUILTY. The lot of 'em.

I stand accused of wasting an hour and a half of my life last night watching BBC2's The Verdict. I hang my head in shame and plead guilty and ask for countless other similar telly violations of my freedom to be taken into consideration. My sentence? To watch the remaining episodes of this absurdly enjoyable tripe.

I missed the opening up of this "case", so I'm slightly off the pace, but that hasn't hindered me from easing into the role of a hang 'em high judge and jury. In fact, I couldn't give a bowl of salty porridge about the blokes in the dock, or the weepers in witess box. No, naturally, I'm judging all the celebrities. They're all in the dock here, of course that's what this is about - it's a reality show with a stocking over its grubby little face as a disguise. And I know for certain they are all GUILTY.

Yep, guilty, I say. First up is chuffing Ingrid Tarrant. She is guilty of suddenly making me feel empathy with Chris for going AWOL in his marriage. Next is Jennifer Wotshername-like for giving further incontrovertible evidence - recently displayed by Danielle Windyarse-like from CBB - that the scouse accent is the most tikcth (sic: thick) sounding and irritating in Britain. Then there is the ex-soap Ginga, up on charges of continuing to impersonate a bad EastEnders character. Her claim that she is just a Patsy is inadmissable.

Then there's the bloke from Blur - Alex James - who looks like he is a few glugs away from rehab'. (Apologies if he is actually in recovery). I interviewed Collymore and Archer last year, so I know their form. Therefore, I convict them both without a pause for breath. Well, let's face it, Collymore is always upto no good and Archer is always guilty. Who have I missed? Oh, yes, Jacqueline Gold. She is so quiet I think she must have been winded by sitting on an oversize Rampant Rabbit. Then we have old rubber nose, bloaty-face Michael Portillo. He is guilty of making me think that he is actually half-sensible, such is the company he keeps. There are a few others who are simply guilty of table manners affray and for consuming stolen goods - champagne and lorry-loads of food - all proven to be owned by hard-up Licence Payers.

But the main culprit in The Verdict so far is Megaman - or MegaChippyMan. He is exercising his right to remain silent with a violent stare. He has brought a stack of pre-conceived ideas, personal issues and prejudices into the jury room and dat ain't allowed, man. His main crime, however, is being caught in possession of an over-loaded, dangerous wardrobe, including diamonte studded CK sunglasses worn with no sense of embarrassment in a darkened dining room. He stands accused of using this wardrobe with malicious intent to pass off as a successful gangsta rapper.

Everyone in this show keeps saying - "You've got to go on the EVIDENCE". Well, I've seen enough, yer Crusty Old Honour.

Take 'em all down.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Police

Hmmm. A rare moment to post something of a lighter note, something more up beat. You know, that's the trouble with this blogging gig, it is all too easy and obvious for it to simply become a whinge machine, a place to vent thy spleen. It's a shame really because you just end up sounding like - and feeling like - an angry old grouch, that nothing is all that good, when indeed most of the time you really do look on the brighter side...

News that The Police are reforming to tour again brought back a happy memory. My first concert was to see them. I've just had to check the actual date - I'm not a spod for things like that. (Two clicks and I found that date. Still amazing, isn't it?) So, on the 22nd December 1979, I saw Sting and the other two at Lewisham Odeon. The concert was a major treat after one of my sisters - Ali - had queued from 5am at Capital Radio and swapped some toys for some tickets. I think it must have been the earliest days of Help A London Child.

When I was picked up from boarding school for the Christmas holidays and told by her that I was going to see The Police, well, that moment of elation is still a freeze frame in my head. A real, grown up concert. I was 14. OK, I have no doubt there are better, more dangerous, rarer "first concert" anecdotes, but for me it was, Wow.

My singular lasting image of that night - incredible that only one survives - is Sting singing Roxanne. We had good seats, central, me standing on mine. When he hit the chorus the entire theatre lit up red. And there was Sting, immersed in this red glow. Hell, I wanted to be a rock star.

I've just flipped through a normally detailed diary from 1979 - a diary was the spleen venting equivalent of a blog during boarding school - and I'm a little gutted to find no entry for 22nd December. You see, I was too busy having fun to write. (Now there's a lesson!) But on the 23rd there's a couple of lines, asterixed from after Christmas detailing presents received etc. It says: "I bought a really nice pair of black Pointed shoes with the money grandad gave me. With wooden heel, leather soles and leather uppers".

I may have just seen The Police, but what I didn't know then was that becoming a semi-Mod and seeing The Jam at The Rainbow awaited...

Monday, February 12, 2007

King Ken Con

Now, don’t get me started….

I am typing with trembling hands and gritted teeth as I try to calm an all-consuming impotent rage.

This is the final week of life as I and countless thousands of others know it in West London. The countdown is ticking before the man whose name I can only snarl – lying, sneering Ken Livingston – lets loose his latest con to cause mass-scale disruption and frustration to everyday folk doing their best to get on in this unforgiving city. I am referring, of course, to the Western CON-gestion Charge Extension Zone.

I don’t know what to do with my anger, so all I am left with is to spit a few pitiful pars into the ether. Quietly, in my head, I want to start a revolution, inspire the mob to destroy the cameras and bring this imminent fiasco to an abrupt end, but how can you do that? I have been on the marches, written the letters, filled out the questionnaires. Nada. No-one, least of all, King Ken Con, could give a flying toss. It is all about to happen, despite the opposition and agreed wisdom that it is pure folly.

The thing is, I am actually on the upside of this mess. I live inside the zone - you know, in "rich" Chelsea - so I will get the 90% residents discount. I am lucky. So, what are you complaining about, I hear you ask? Ugh! Just everything about this scheme's appalling undemocratic implementation. Then there is the physical and psychological stuff - those ugly, sinister cameras that have gone up all over the borough, about to watch you, take your picture, monitor your life; those big fat ugly red “C’s” burnt into the roads; the big ugly red warning signs drilled into the pavements; the big fat ugly queues of cars that will squeeze into the few side streets available to escape the charge; then the big fat ugly car park that will soon be on the few roads looping the zone. All because Ken Con said it should be so. How I loathe his power.

I feel exasperated that yet more expensive bureaucracy is about to blight my life. The days when I could pop up in the car to my bank on the Kings Road, the shoe shop, or the library with only the traffic and the lottery of finding a parking space to worry about are gone. Now I will have to be organised and pay the charge in advance, or remember to pay it later. How many times will I forget and cop a hefty fine? And because I live right by the no-charge loop, it will take me forever to get past the seething, desperate souls trying to avoid the eight quid charge. Arghh. As if life isn't irritating enough.

Hell, it pisses me off. Oh, and one more thing. You know the 90% discount us residents get? Well, that’s a lie, too. They won’t let you pay 80p to go into the zone once. Oh, no, they say it’s not possible to account for such a small sum. It's not viable. Huh, and this from a company that can photograph and bill thousands upon thousands of cars in the blink of an eye. No, us residents, have to buy five day’s worth at £4 quid.

Well, I don’t want drive into the zone every day, so my quick trip up the road will now cost four quid and some planning and care just so I don't screw up. Handy, all that. ******* *****.

To be bloody continued…

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

[Drum roll] May I introduce ... SALLY!

Well, two long years and three months after I had a simple idea to bring out a quick range of greetings cards, they are here. May I introduce... SALLY!

So, who is Sally and what does she do? Well, she's a free-spirited young woman who approaches the challenges of life with unbridled enthusiasm, but all too often things don't work out the way she had hoped. Nevertheless, she deals with it all with her own special brand of irreverent humour. In some way, I hope that Sally echoes what women really think. (Not that I would profess to have any special insight into that particular science).

Generally, I find the cards on the market a bit dull, old hat or plain stupid. And often they are unnecessarily cynical. Call me over-sensitive, but have you seen those ranges where they use old black and white photos of people - someone's loved one, long since dead - and simply add a nasty, cynical caption? They piss me OFF!

Well, it's good to get that out of my system. Moving on. I hope that Sally is a welcome and fun addition to the cards shops. They have been launched to the trade during the Spring Fair at the Birmingham NEC over the last few days and the feedback has been very good. So, Sally should be in a card shop near you soon.

Sorry, I must dash, I have Disney on the phone wanting to talk about the movie rights to Sally ...

Monday, February 05, 2007

Loseur Theroux

Louis Theroux has been away from TV for a while. I’ve not missed him. He kicked off his new series of BBC2 documentaries with a trip to Las Vegas last night and the publicity suckered me in. After a long break from TV, with the whole world and its nutcases at the mercy of his lens, he goes there. Genius producing. Can you imagine the planning meetings that went into that? Series Producer: “Hey, the Hilton are offering us a freebie to Vegas for a few on-screen plugs, let’s go, do the strip see some strippers.” Louis: “Errrm. Yeah. Well. Hmmm. Yeah.”

But, hey, no matter the jam-packed travel library in existence on Vegas - all made possible with contra-deal kick backs - it is so full of madness and characters that any hack with a camcorder and a decent eye for a story should come up with some entertaining footage and interviews. But not Louis. He couldn't interview a Martian and get a story if one tugged on his baggy sweater.

For this show, Louis followed a few hapless gamblers and showed them to be hopeless losers. Gosh, sad gamblers found in Vegas, they lose money. I was staggered. Then Louis played the tables himself - twice. Original, imaginative. In terms of creativity, this show was tantamount to going on a junket to Vegas and staying at the airport to play the first 25 cent slot machine you see, then coming home.

If this loser of a show was the lead doc in the series, I doubt I will gamble any more time on Louis. He has no basic sense of how to ask questions or develop an interview with any depth. And once you are bored of his limp, whimpering delivery, and over-played laid back approach - if indeed you ever liked it - there is nowhere to go. I’ve always felt he was over-rated.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Rehab'd

Apologies for my blogging absence but I have been in rehab’. I had been acting a bit stupid lately, you know, gobbing off at people, seeking publicity, so my manager checked me into the Priory for an obnoxiousness detox and a nice new sheen on my image. I’ve gotta say, for fifteen grand it was a bargain. Watch out for the new me next week on all the comfy daytime TV sofas. And also on 18DS on Monday evening.

A line about me...

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Journalist, founder of Access Interviews.com, creator of The Definite Article interview column in Daily Mail's Weekend magazine.