TV: Celebrity Big Brother & Million Dollar Traders

We were without the internet last night thus my mind was working overtime and my notebook getting filled up with random scribbles.

It was an oddly liberating experience. Normally, I’d be sat in the lounge with my laptop fired up. This particular evening there seemed little point. After a long hot soak in the bath during which I discovered the piano music of Nielsen wasn’t anywhere near as squeaky as I assumed it was just from his name, I concentrated on the TV.

First, Celebrity Big Brother 2009. Despite my earnest promise to our friends that me and significant other wouldn’t succumb to the reality show, I have found myself watching it fairly regularly. It’s easy TV and a programme which does from time to time still challenge my gut reactions. The previous Big Brother outing saw me realise that it is actually OK to dislike (and at times be incredibly annoyed) by a blind man. This Celebrity series saw me surprised at my reaction to see mini-me Verne enter the house. The reaction was neither negative nor positive. More, why do I find it difficult to look at the man?

I’m happy to say that the initial reaction I had has now passed. Now my attentions are on Ulrika and Terry, pleased to see that people who suffered with bad reputations have now had new life breathed into their public personas. (Yes, I know it’s the point of shows like Big Brother. I’m just justifying why I’m watching it.)

As to who I would like to see win? Frankly, I couldn’t care. All I know is that I wouldn’t mind seeing the likes of Ulrika, Terry and quite possibly LaToya on TV again.

I had hoped we might shuffle up the wooden stairs to bed-fordshire post-Big Brother. Instead significant other proposed the first episode of BBC Two’s Million Dollar Traders.

It’s not my kind of TV programme. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) filmed during the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stuff, Million Dollar Traders didn’t fill in the gaps of my woefully poor grasp on the financial markets. I’d hoped for a little bit more although I suspect that if you like The Apprentice you’ll like this. I’m not the target audience, I fear.

We got half an hour in to the first episode before tiredness and guilt-fuelled responsibility kicked in. At an hour long it may be worth me catching-up on the bit I missed, although with the prospect of a sooper-dooper, knee-trembling Sky HD+ box being installed (and the internet being down at home for the next few days) Million Dollar Traders will need to be broadcast on BBC HD otherwise I will definitely miss it.

Graham Norton had better get it right



Arsey git, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

I do have a tendency to shoot my mouth off. Catch me at a bad moment and what ever the issue is which simmers below the surface can, if the appropriate buttons are pushed, bubble up into something which with hindsight might possibly regarded as being a bad move. This is illustrated in no finer form than in a letter I wrote and then sent to the BBC staff newspaper Ariel last week.

I should know better. Over the past couple of years there have been plenty of occasions when I’ve chosen to write a letter to the rag instead of getting on my work like most other staff. Post-Eurovision in 2005 I was scathing in my assessment of the UK’s performance. With Lordi’s seemingly ridiculous win riling me on my way into work a few days after contest, I wrote to Ariel to propose the plan of putting a couple of newly designed Cybermen on stage to sing our song in 2006. Even though I hadn’t actually emailed Russell T Davies to seek approval (he’s very busy anyway, he wasn’t going to have time to answer my email), I was certain he would be behind the idea.

It was the question of who would play the eleventh Doctor which courted my attention. News that nubile Matt Smith would take up the mantle caused my heckles to rise. I turned to my desktop, fired up word and got to work. Before I knew what I was doing, I was referring to my bitterness over the Eurovision commentator’s role.

Some years ago I was relatively miserable in my work as an IT support engineer. I set on the idea of researching my questionable fascination with the Eurovision and during a series of lunchtime research trips to the nearby Barbican library successfully completed reading Terry Wogan’s then only autobiography “Is it Me?”

I wasn’t a huge fan of The Wogan at the time although acknowledged to myself privately that if it wasn’t for The Wogan, I probably wouldn’t be researching the Eurovision at all.

Page after page revealed little which struck any chord until the question of how long he reckoned he would continue to commentate on the Eurovision Song Contest. One sentence rang out (although I confess I haven’t referred back to it for this particular evidence). It was something along the lines of: “I’ll continue commentating the Eurovision until some young upstart replaces me.”

People who know me well will happily tell you that I am someone who does rather think the world revolves around me. Every line manager I’ve had since 1998 has said as much, some more rudely than others. I’m 36 now. I suspect this character trait is unlikely to change.

It was possibly because of this and my tendency to let my imagination run away with me, an orchestra played somewhere in the background at the library and in a split second I thought anything was possible.

A couple or so years later and I’m sat at my desk in a new job somewhere reasonably close to the BBC. I had access to the buildings, telephone extension numbers and everyone’s email address. In the inevitable bored moments one always suffers from when new to a job, I started firing off one or two emails. No time like the present to try and make a dream a reality.

That very afternoon I found myself in the office of an executive producer in Light Entertainment. “Shall we go for a drink in the bar? You can leave your bag there,” he said gesturing at his white sofa by the window.

Minutes later I was staring at the man in the face. In the space of only a few days at the BBC I found myself sitting in front of a man who up until now had been one of those mysterious names who rolled past at the end of favourite television programmes. He was a man who had secured his place in history by virtue of the programmes he had worked on. I’d always figured that production people were every bit as important as the talent they supported and told him so. He was part of my own viewing history. I didn’t know him but it felt as though I did just because I saw his name fly past on the credits. I told him so. As ever, I gushed.

I told the man everything about how I started on researching a book about Eurovision, how I’d ended up going to Latvia to see the 2003 contest when I hadn’t anticipated going in the first place. I recalled seeing him and his team in one of the bars in Latvia but didn’t dare going over to say hello. “Why ever not?” he asked. “What was I going to say exactly?” I replied, “ ‘Hello, I’m Jon Jacob. I’m a fan.’ ” Such an approach never bodes well in Eurovision-land.

At the time I can’t say I was necessarily listening to my internal dialogue especially closely. If I had, I may have heard the gentle reminders whispering around my head. You need a profile; you need an audience; people need to know who you are; you have no experience; five minutes in a studio on live radio with Sandi Toksvig doesn’t constitute experience; being shameless and cheeky doesn’t constitute ability; move away from the bar, leave this man alone.

In fact, if I had listened to the increasing volume of my internal dialogue I may have hesitated before answering the producer’s question. “Just what is the big plan then, now that you’ve arrived at the BBC? What is it you really want to do exactly?”

Television Centre bar fell silent. Heads turned. The volume on the TV screens suddenly dropped. People craned their necks.

“I wouldn’t mind Terry Wogan’s job.”

Diary: Your Country Needs You #5

Quite an odd night. Shortly after the beginning of YCNY, college pal Becky rings me. It’s always lovely when chat together and we haven’t done that for a long time.

“Is now a good time ?” she asked.

“No. Not really. It’s the first Eurovision thing. Your timing is appalling.”

“Oh. God. I’m sorry. How could I have known?”

“Well, you could have looked in the schedule.”

I did call the lovely Becky at 9.00pm. A fantastic chat which was mercifully minus any reference to Eurovision.

Normal life has resumed now that the first heat of Your Country Needs You is over and in case you didn’t watch or you don’t want to sit through the hour long programme on BBC iPlayer (actually – you might as well, it’s really rather good) then the important information you need to know is

The two acts who were placed in the “Danger Zone” – ie the one which sees Andrew Lloyd Webber standing in between both acts looking all pensive and saying “this is really tough but I have to decide which one of you two to save” – were Damien and Charlotte.

The Great Lord saved Charlotte, surprisingly, which means we won’t be seeing Damien‘s chiselled jaw on prime-time Saturday night TV (at least, not for the forseeable future). Shame. He did look smashing in a purple open-collar shirt and natty single-breasted suit, I thought.

Oh … and one jury in South East London arrived at their decision about who to vote for this evening using this very handy aide memoir.

Diary: Your Country Needs You # 3

I’ve spent some time with some Eurovision fans this evening. The subject of Graham Norton did come up. I kept my cool at all times.

I wouldn’t call myself a Norton fan, more a staunched supporter. I keep an eye out for what The Norton does and make appropriate notes in my special notebook which no-one will ever see, ever.

This may have something to do with the fact that I had a bit of fun doing  some work experience on The Graham Norton Show. Hardly surprising some might consider me a bit biassed. It was great.

If me being biassed is truly justified it might have more to do with me feeling flushed with excitement when me and a friend passed him in reception at work one day. As I recall, Mr Norton turned back to look at us and then said to me, “Hello. How are you?” It’s important to stress he directed that at me and not my friend. As I say, I was very excited by this. A celebrity recognised me. Lovely.

More importantly and more related to Eurovision is Mr Norton’s appearance in G2 today. Like a similar interview which appeared in the Guardian’s Weekend a few years ago is how he comes across in a positive light. He seems like a normal bloke. I like that.

I like it because I think Mr Norton has the toughest of all jobs. He’s having to fill the shoes of a man who was the voice of a television programme I did have a very close eye on. It’s the big one. It’s the big job.

 Given that I’ve ended up feeling the same as a result of reading two interviews published over a few years, this is one Eurovision hawk who’s feeling quite confident.

Elsewhere, our Lord and Saviour Andrew Lloyd Webber has been talking his way through his project plan for the next 18 months.

1. Eurovision 2009   Good man. Well done. Good to see you’ve got your eyes on the first deadline.

2. Phantom of the Opera sequel  Launching in October 2009 (I think – listen for yourself) across continents at the same time. (Again, go check for yourself.)

3. Next year’s “BBC Casting Show”   … will be looking to find stars for a production of The Wizard of Oz. Brilliant. At last. I’ve got my application in already. I reckon I’d make a brilliant Dorothy.

So, if Andrew Lloyd Webber is in a casting show year next summer, do we  do we need an Andrew Lloyd Webber version 2.0 for Eurovision 2010? *

* Is this a Eurovision 2010 scoop?