Friday, January 30, 2009

Quality is now and Donmar

It was remiss of me not to note a particularly inspiring evening recently (15th January).

Fresh from Bob Warren's funeral - with a crackling vintage recording of Tiptoe Through the Tulips, which was played at his commendation, still making me smile - I alighted alone at the Donmar Warehouse for an evening with T.S Eliot. Death and Eliot are comfortable companions.

I was there to hear a reading of Eliot's Four Quartets. Eliot's poetry has been an enduring presence in my life since studying some of his key pieces at A-Level. Four Quartets are timeless, multi-layered masterpieces; lyrically mesmerising, endlessly challenging and, it has to be said, quite beautifully bewildering. Little Gidding is my favourite. A section of it is framed on my desk and a small pencil portrait of Eliot by Wyndham Lewis is white-tacked to the wall.

I have not been to a poetry recital this side of my functioning memory and I have never heard Four Quartets, so this was quite a treat. It was recited by Stephen Dillane as part of the Donmar's Eliot festival. Where else could one find such a festival than at the courageous, broad thinking Donmar? I applaud Michael Grandage's versatility and vision for the Donmar in general and in particular for this programme.

Dillane's recital was skilled and accomplished. To recite all four parts of this lengthy and complex poem is nothing short of remarkable. He gave a beguiling performance, although I have to say it lacked something for me. It is hard to isolate exactly what that something was. He certainly brought the poem to life and it illuminated several parts to me, even though I have read it all many times. I guess one of the obstacles is that I have only ever heard Eliot's recorded reading, or listened to my own internal voice. It is a bit like the experience of watching the film of a book that is special to you. It is impossible for the images to live up to your imagination. How on earth could Dillane reflect or replace the images from a hundred readings? Also, I attach more melancholy to the piece than his portrayal provided and I have always associated it with an older voice. He was quizzical and frivolous in places where I see nothing short of despair. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed his work and respect his achievement.

The evening was closed with a stunning performance of Beethoven's opus 132 by a string quartet of the Soloists of the Philharmonia Orchestra. With fitting drama and atmosphere, they were lit by just a single bulb from an overhead light. I marvelled at the exuberance and obvious joy with which they played and I was especially taken by David Cohen's performance on cello, not least by him performing in stockinged feet with his boots by the spike. Very cool.

So, a reading of Eliot's finest work accompanied by a Beethoven piece to make your bones tingle. Probably one of the best ways to wind down after a funeral.

Only at the Donmar. Bravo.

The New Spangles!

I hear that Natasha Kaplinsky will work part time as Five's newsreader when she returns after maternity leave. Well, here's introducing an as yet undiscovered "autocutie" to occupy the sofa for the other bulletins! (Picture courtesy of Phil Adams)

Monday, January 26, 2009

A.I's 1st Birthday. Ahhh, bless

I won't trouble with all the pain I have endured nurturing the Access website, but I am delighted to celebrate its first birthday today.

To think, a year ago today the world did not have a brilliant website dedicated to the best interviews by the most skillful interviewers in the world. I am proud to say that we now have a loyal and ever growing audience, respect and avid interest from many of the main power players in the media, and some great plans in the pipeline that will take A.I onto a bigger and even more exciting level. On top of this we also have a fine sponsor in the form of the revolutionary credit card company Caxton fx. Our thanks to them.

To tie in with A.I's first anniversary, I have written an article for the media section of today's Independent. It was trimmed a bit, which is always annoying, so you can catch the full version here.

Also today, we have unveiled the long awaited results of the 1st Access Interviews Awards. We reveal the most popular aspects of the website throughout 2008 and poke a bit of fun at some of the leading lights of interviewing business. Best not take all this interviewing stuff too seriously, eh.

Here's to another great year ahead for Access

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Woss is wubbish at interwoowing

Like countless others, I made a point of watching Jonathan Ross's return on Friday. In a silly way, it was sort of good to see him back. That feeling didn't last long.

Don't get me wrong, I like Jonathan Ross. His apology was genuine and heartfelt and I was pleased to hear him he say it. Good on him, I thought, you're a decent chap.

The twobble with Jonathan Ross is that he is a totally wubbish interviewer. For a chat show host, who gets unmatched access to the biggest names on the planet, that is a pretty serious problem.

I have thought this for years and gave up watching his show yonks ago. His puerile pursuit of a cheap gag at the expense and often embarrassment of his guests is nothing short of irritating. I have seen him throw away the chance of a good interview so often it became pointless watching. He just pisses me off.

I dipped back in on Friday and it was like a flashback up there with Life On Mars. Forget the inane chats with Fry and Evans - you know they will be crass encounters - it was his hopeless talk with Tom Cruise that did it for me. Now I know Cruise is an old pro who will only give away what he wants, but that is no excuse for babbling on over him like an idiot and asking one daft closed question after another, building up to a cross examination about his farting habits. Can Ross and his researchers, producers, and writers not come up with half a dozen decent questions for a fascinating double A-list star like Cruise. If not, then why the heck do they have the keys to this show.

Ross's career should survive his foul mouth, no problem. But it should not survive gross incompetence at the very thing he is hired to do: interview. Give this wannabe comedian £6m for a game show and be done with it. Then get a journalist in his interviewing chair. I've heard enough.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Jacques Peretti: I don't have a bloody clue what really happened, but I'll pretend I do

For professional reasons, I have recently been plugging into the oeuvre of TV "investigative journalist" Jacques Peretti and I admit I am totally astonished at the projection his documentaries are afforded by Channel 4.

He seems a nice enough fellow and clearly sincere, but he is somewhat deluded by the seriousness and revelatory value of his "investigations". At best, they are gossamer thin and reliant on twice-removed sources linked together by a droning monolgue of half-baked, pub-style pontification. Jacques reckons he is cerebrally unraveling his subjects. He is not. As Ally Ross, TV critic of The Sun, brilliantly put it a while back - "Jacques Peretti is the Zen Buddhist of stating the bleeding obvious".

I had to chuckle last night when I saw Jacques and his hairy arms on yet another plane - LA, New York, Bahamas - to track down yet another nobody who sort of knew Dodi Fayed in a nightclub. His "sources" at best are washed up rent-a-quotes who might be worth chatting to if they popped into the Soho edit suite for ten minutes. But the Bahamas for two minutes of nonsense with Johnny Gold? (Actually, I just looked out the window and now realise - if you've got the budget and the suntan lotion, it makes total sense.)

The repetition of the stills photos (Diana on the Jonikal) and archive footage (Dodi getting into a Ford Estate, close up of the cameraman in the reflection of the car window) was nothing short of laughable. But it is Jacques' Mogadon delivery that takes the forehead slapping biscuit. It is as if by talking ever-so-s-l-o-w-l-y with a dense voice will give veracity and weight to his balsa revelations. It d-o-e-s n-o-t, J-a-c-q-u-e-s.

The Artist dipped in for a few minutes and witnessed Jacques' interview in the back of a limo with some nobody who vaguely knew Dodi for a bit. In one sweeping statement, based on nothing, Jacques said that Dodi got through a kilo of cocaine a week which "would take some doing". Before walking straight back out, the Artist observed: "He could do with a kilo of coke to liven him up."

There is a term in the newspaper business for what Jacques does: cuts jobs. Knit together old material, add archive photos to make it look fancy, bung it all under a new headline and hope no one notices. In an hour long TV doc, there is no hiding place and the holes are too glaring to miss. How can a cuts job be worth an hour on Channel 4? And on such well visited subjects as Dodi Fayed, Paul Burrell, Michael Barrymore? Every person Jacques "investigates" can be easily filed under another journalistic term for subjects no longer of interest: "Those we used to love."

There's a fun documentary skit to be done on Jacques. I can even visualise the opening wide shot following the great man going about his "investigative" duties in a cuttings library. A dull, slow voice over begins to tell the story:

"This is Jacques Peretti. Who is he? What drives him? Where did he come from? What issues does he have? etc etc..."

Cut to a row of people on a sofa snoring - ZZZzzzzzzzz.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Who is the Real Fiona Bruce?

I like Fiona Bruce. Like. Not love, adore, worship, fancy, etc. None of those extreme emotions flow through me, as they clearly do with so many other people, when she pops up on telly. She's good at what she does and appears genuine, switched on and a bright TV journalist. Yes, she is attractive.

Her star is certainly rising at an astonishing speed at the moment and last night's puff 'The Real Alan Sugar' was clearly a marker for more one-girl shows to come, but for the first time I found myself being quite irritated by her.

I have a feeling that she is starting to love being the star of the show a little too much. Maybe she is starting to believe in all the flattery she gets. I reckon this is a big mistake.

The Sale of the Century parodies were fine, if over-egged, and her faux flirting with Sugar is par for the course with interviewing. But she was wearing a little bit too much lip-gloss and smooching with the camera for my liking. And she was a touch too "native" when it came to nailing her subject. She was too sweet on bitter Sugar.

What did last night's show add up to? The access Fiona enjoyed was nothing short of spectacular. She got Sugar, his entire family, closest working pals, Gordon Brown and even, for heaven's sake, Rupert Murdoch. But what did she get? Not one single thing stood out that you hadn't read in a cuts job on Sugar a hundred times. Fiona didn't even get a new line worthy of a diary story.

Dearest gorgeous, lovely Fiona, dab off the lippy, tell your producers to spend less time on witty skits starring you and less time on your couture noddies and concentrate on the journalism of the job in hand. Focus on the subject. Get the questions in. Reveal something new to your viewers. Otherwise these big profiles of yours will only ever add up to a spread in a showbiz mag where people just flip through the pictures.

Remain a journalist and don't become a fawning Luvvie. Don't fall for it all, girl.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Bob Warren R.I.P

I interrupt an extended blogging break to share some sad news I have just received: Bob Warren died yesterday from a short battle with cancer.

Bob was an icon of the News of the World for decades and I held a particular fondness for him because he was most encouraging to me during my earliest days on national newspapers.

I first met Bob when I was a young freelance (21) in 1987. He was the News Editor back then and he kindly tried me out on some shifts. I didn't mess up and ended up working for him on and off for quite a while.

Bob was probably the most unlikely character you would expect to see steering through some of the nastiest gossip stories in newspaper history. He was mild mannered, gentle, kind and fair. Not the characteristics you automatically associate with a Red Top executive.

In more recent times, I only ever saw Bob at meetings of the Press Golfing Society or the News of the World's annual golf day. I haven't got my clubs out for a while, so the last time I saw him was summer 2007.

I heard before Christmas that he was ill and wanted to get in touch, just to pass on my best wishes. For one reason or another, I didn't get round to it and I am angry now that I didn't.

The least I can do here is say Thank You to him for the help and guidance in those early days. I hope your swing improves up There, Bob. You were a gentleman among rogues and it was a pleasure to have known you. R.I.P

A line about me...

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