TV: Graham Norton Show So Television Episode 8.7 BBC One

Bloody Hell

Graham Norton was understandably excited about the line-up for episode 8.7. Barry Manilow seemed like a big draw. And – in keeping with  Justin Bieber’s appearance in 8.6 – fitted the increasingly obvious criteria for the top billing. Whoever it is must have weird, slightly freak-show characteristics.

Maybe I’m being a little mean about Manilow. He is after all a multi-millionaire, famed for ballads which have over the years broken many middle-aged housewives’ hearts. Or is that description itself as tired a cliche as the look Manilow himself sported on the sofa?

He is a fascinating character, not least because hardly anything above his top lip actually moves when he talks. Whoever it was who did work on Manilow’s face, they’re obviously not as good as Joan Rivers’ facial architect. Manilow’s relative quiet demeanour and slightly frail posture – he’s a good deal taller than I realised – makes the unnaturally young look incompatible with his age.

That doesn’t make his appearance on the Graham Norton Show pointless or wrong or dissatisfying. Quite the contrary in fact. There are limited outlets for global superstars and what few there are there are even fewer which expose some form of reality. Like Bieber last week, the audience is left with a nagging doubt: that we don’t actually understand the real person beneath the celebrity veneer, even though what we’re seeing is probably as close to real life as the guest in question leads anyway.

The real star of this particular show was stand-up comedian and panel show regular Sean Locke. At various points, Locke’s dry humour succeeded in both cutting through the glimmers of pizazz emanating from the other end of the sofa and acting as the perfect foil to crossover ‘classical’/’pop’ singer Katherine Jenkins who makes my blood boil. In case you’re wondering why she was on, she’s promoting the Doctor who Christmas Day episode because .. she’s in it.

Locke’s rant on people who complain about TV at first seemed a little dated. On reflection, it perhaps underlines how compliance still haunts entertainment shows like Graham Norton to the point where some of the joy can be bled out of the creative process.

If that is the case, then the ‘realistic celebrity appearances’ such has been displayed during this series of the Graham Norton Show might continue to be ensured by careful selection of guests. Such a strategy certainly seems to be paying off thus far. I’ve certainly moved on from being irritated by the constant promotion – in fact, it’s dealt with just the right amount of humour now.

Nice opening sequence too – the Copacabana thing. Shame about Ann Widdecombe though. She’s great entertainment. But I’m getting a little sick of seeing her everywhere. And, I don’t even watch Strictly Come Dancing. I suspect someone somewhere probably insisted.

:: Watch Episode 7 of the Graham Norton Show via the BBC Programmes website.

Delicia Chocolate Packaging (via Keri Thornton // Graphic Designer)

I’ve enjoyed stumbling on Keri Thornton’s blog today (and too as a result). And in her latest posting she presents a smashing example of brilliantly executed (fictitious) brand design she’s recently worked on.

Her design stirs the heart. Possibly because it reminds me of the design work done around the Festival of Britain in 1950 which permeated so much futuristic design in British domesticity. The epitome was the atomic graphic – itself a sign of the bright future in the 1950s. In so much of Morris’ work, that futuristic iconography is often juxtaposed with elegant line drawings.

Similarly in Thornton’s brand design hooks into my perception almost rose-tinted view of the 1950s. The hand-drawn texture and delicate yet glamouress script of the product name reminds me of Holly Golightly’s donning her little black dress and pearls.

Quite apart from the design being used for chocolate bars, there is a delicious reliability about the finished look. I want the packaging. And fictitious as they might be, I want the product inside.

Delicia Chocolate Packaging It is two weeks today that I shall be leaving FIT and  New York City and going home to England for Christmas. I am very excited to go home, but first I must tackle my last two weeks, which could be described as the hardest run of the stretch so far…so much to do, hence why I’ve not blogged yet this week. Here are some images of my last packaging project – Branding and packaging for fictitious confectionery brand Delicia. It was suggested that w … Read More

via Keri Thornton // Graphic Designer

The Print & Pattern blog shows I’m not the only one with a weakness for 1950s design.

Christmas: The Box of Delights

The music accompanying the opening sequence of the 1984 TV adaptation of John Masefield’s fantasy novel The Box of Delights captivated me when I saw it for the first time as a kid.

However, it was another ten years after that working at the Aldeburgh Music Festival when I finally learnt what the music was called.

The sequence accompanying the opening credits of The Box Of Delights is a small part of a longer setting of the First Nowell, itself one movement of a four movement ‘Carol Symphony’ written in 1927 by Victor Hely-Hutchinson, a conductor, pianist at accompanist at the BBC. It’s a shameless collection of christmas carol settings guaranteed to warm the heart of those in need of some instant Christmas cheer.

I only learnt the excerpt’s true identity by accident as well. A friend working in a music shop at Aldeburgh at the time handed me a CD and told me to listen to it. I put it on the CD player and carried on with my work. I zoned out, only to be jolted back to my childhood when the First Nowell melody kicked in. It’s now inextricably linked not only with memories of my childhood, but of Aldeburgh in the winter and of my friend.

Today the First Nowell variation is every bit a part of my Christmas playlist thanks to it’s easily discernible tunes and the effortless way Hutchinson conjurs up a Christmas scene in music. It’s as though he’s writing for TV long before TV programmes were being made. The regularity Classic FM has played it during the festive season makes it a must-listen because of it’s a crowd pleasing properties. And, despite having heard it endlessly year in year out, it still manages to give me goosebumps. That’s quite some achievement.

If the opening offers all of the anticipation of Christmas, then the conclusion of the First Noel variation is the ultimate climax for those of us with drama queen tendencies. Just listen out for the final thundering chords towards the end of this sequence, assuming you can stick with this recording of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra playing it. It is a little hissy.

It’s also a guilty pleasure. Bite me.

:: Variety reported in April 2009 that Mike Newell is behind a film version The Box of Delights.

Olympics: First Cultural Olympiad commissions announced

Now the first commissions for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad have been announced, the two weeks of sporting competition which had hitherto seemed liked an ordeal worth leaving the capital for now feels like something to look forward to.

The Cultural Olympiad’s goals are clearcut. And it has an impressive list of board members too. And the broad range of commissions across art, theatre, dance, opera and music does much to emphasis the aspiration of connecting with as many members of the population as possible, it will be interesting to see how the events are marketed and how they’re received both critically and in terms of advance ticket sales and walk-up. And with the total cost of the 2012 Olympics likely to be in excess of £9.3bn, is £16m sufficient investment to transform what some might regard as nothing more than a sideshow into a creative opportunity producing lasting cultural contributions?

Musically speaking, the first wave of commissions includes some interesting collaborations including a co-production between Manchester International Festival and English National Opera seeing Damon Albarn, Rufus Norris and Jamie Hewlett working together on a new work. Composer James MacMillan will work with Coventry Cathedral on a premiere. A co-commission between the Barbican in London and the Vienna Festival will see award-winning Malian singer, songwriter and guitarist Rokia Traore work with novelist Toni Morrison and theatre and opera director Peter Sellars to create The Desdemona Project.

A special production of a rare work by Philip Glass – Einstein on the Beach – is a welcome addition to the rosta, but doesn’t necessarily stand up as truly of London 2012 by virtue of it not being written for London 2012.

Perhaps that hope will be achieved by the 20×12 competition. Twenty pieces each of twelve minutes length each will be performed at least three times during 2012. The competition is open to composers, ensembles, festivals and music organisations across the UK.

There will, I’m sure, be an expectation by some that something will emerge from the Cultural Olympiad’s activities which in time becomes a torchbearer for the Games. Maybe those torchbearing acts will emerge in the fullness of time either when more commissions are announced or when the ideas have been given a little more context for audiences.

I’d certainly like to see a more grass-roots, democratic arts endeavour not just for young people like the Film Shorts competition but for the wider population which – in turn – exploits the internet in an original way. Maybe that is yet to come. Maybe there are PR types somewhere who are working on just such a thing as I type.

Whatever it turns out to be, the Cultural Olympiad had better not be boring. The artistic types amongst us will be disappointed. So too Ruth MacKenzie, director of the Culture Olympiad.