Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Katy Perry Brand

Is she or is she not married? Slips of the tongue on The Graham Norton Show suggests Katy Perry may well have already tied the knot with Russell Brand. No matter, they'll be hitched soon in any case.

But how do married pop stars fare? Will she be a Louise Redknapp, formerly of Eternal, who retired gracefully from the scene when she married Jamie? Or will she be a Madonna, carrying on regardless of who she's seeing?

The brand may have to change, though, as reality will change adolescent fantasy. Perhaps she'll corner the Easy Listening market or release albums direct to a supermarket or elevator near you? Or follow Tiffany and tour the malls.

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Stepford spies

What could be more American than motherhood and Pavlova cake?

Richard and Cynthia Murphy, Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley (and six others) seemed to be regular citizens until busted by their incompetence days after an official visit to the US by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

It appears that the ten Russian spies were unmasked by the FBI finding a 27-letter password next to a computer disk belonging to one of the group during a secret raid. The FBI then sat back for years listening in to threads of emails and mountains of documents, detailing expense claims that would have given British MPs a run for their money.

And then the American authorities reeled them in, way before any damage was done. The SVR is no KGB.

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Sunday, 27 June 2010

Hard Graff

Is there any scheme that can be said to be a perfect crime? The Graff Diamonds heist might have seemed perfect to the perpetrators, but it ended up being close without the proverbial cigar for the sharp end of the operation.

The criminals forgot that using theatrical make-up needed professional application. The expert who changed the robbers appearance simply went to the police, given the unusual nature of the crime.

The robbers did, however, nab £40 million in jewellery that may never be recovered. The twisted moral of the story is that if you are going to rob a jewellers' store, make sure you get other people to carry out the raid. If they get nicked, you can be out of the country with the booty.

Auf Weidersehen, England

The Germans won again at the World Cup footie, but this time England weren't even good enough to merit going out on penalties. Where do they go from here? Here are some suggestions:
  • Renegotiate the number of English-qualified players turning out for Premier League sides;
  • Invite Stuart Pearce to be the England manager as he got the Under-21 side to the final of the European Championships;
  • Thank 'thank very much' to a bunch of aging England football players (Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Matthew Upson, John Terry, David James, Emile Heskey)
  • Select the nucleus of the new England team from the Under-21 side;
  • Build a team around Wayne Rooney, but allow everyone in the team to play in their best positions.
Will this happen? Probably not. But if Fabio Capello continues, he will have to adapt and learn from his mistakes. Perhaps Stuart Pearce will get more of a say within the current regime.

Now for the European qualifiers.

Frank Sidebottom: he did it his way

Chris Sievey had an unusual life. Quirkily successful, he died a pauper. He is the only performer I can think of who was much less well-known than his papier-mâché puppet alter ego: Frank Sidebottom.

Frank was way ahead of his time, celebrating the naffness and desperation of celebrity and over-promoting the banal: he, like me, was born and bred in Timperley, Cheshire, and name-dropped the place at every opportunity.

Mr Sievey's originality spawned the careers of Caroline Aherne (Mrs Merton made her debut on Radio Timperley and Frank's Fantastic Shed Show), Chris Evans (erstwhile Sidebottom roadie) and Jon Ronson, and influenced the likes of Graham Fellows and Mark Radcliffe.

News of his death kicked off a viral campaign to pay for the funeral. The tsunami of affection has created a campaign for a posthumous single release (perhaps the mock football anthem 'Three Shirts on my Line') and a possible movie.

If the film ever got made it would have the potential to be a quintessentially mad English indie sensation: 'Born in Timperley', indeed. Fantastic.

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Wednesday, 23 June 2010

England expected

For those of us working this afternoon, the experience was like operating in a ghost town. No phone calls, no faxes, no emails, and the occasional afternoon roar, specifically when Jermaine Defoe scored for England against Slovenia after twenty minutes.

The pubs were jammed packed with people spilling out on to the pavements. The shops were tuned to the television. The offices were empty.

Several people at my office took the day off, including staff with no interest in football. It will be interesting to see the cost to the British economy of this national, collective skive.

Perhaps the only people not to know the score in real time were the combatants John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in a record-breaking men's singles tie at Wimbledon: five sets, ten hours long and counting with the fifth set lasting around seven hours standing at 59 games all overnight ...

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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Budget: blue is the colour

When even the Queen is subject to a pay freeze as the Government applies the budget tourniquet, what could possibly be the antidote to the fiscal gloom?

What can provide relief from job worries, benefit blows, tax torment and service cuts? And World Cup torment to boot?

Football bloopers ...

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Sunday, 20 June 2010

Summer of discontent?

George Osborne is playing with political fire. The Budget will be tough this week, but will the country be able to stomach the medicine.

It's all horribly cyclical: history repeats itself as tragedy and then as farce.

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Solent sympathy

When does criticism of a business leader go too far? When the mob sense blood but go for the wrong target.

Tony Hayward, BP CEO, was photographed on his yacht at Cowes on the Isle of Wight taking part in the Round the Island race with his sons.

Yes, he was taking time off. Yes, he was enjoying himself. But surely he'll be all the more refreshed for taking time out before going back to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

And, anyway, Mr Hayward has delegated day-to-day responsibility for the disaster to an American called Robert Dudley, so maybe the US public may react differently to having a fellow countryman in charge of sorting out the mess.

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Thursday, 17 June 2010

Billy Millionaire: the Olympic opener

London 2012 has just taken another decision. Danny Boyle and Stephen Daldry have been handed the reins of creation for the Olympics' opening ceremony.

Both directors have form. Danny Boyle's biggest success was the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire; Stephen Daldry was the creative force behind Billy Elliot.

So what can we expect? Something new, or a hybrid of previous projects: Indian boy makes good in his quest to be a Bollywood dancer?

Whatever results will be very different and presumably less expensive than the opening to the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

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Occupational hazard: the danger of painting

Caravaggio died for his art, it's official.

The bones of the artist have been identified in Tuscany and they show signs of lead poisoning.

Caravaggio died at 38 after an eventful life. But how come the likes of Michelangelo (89 years), Leonardo da Vinci (67 years) and Titian (91-plus years) lived into old age, despite prolific output of paintings?

Is this a genetic pre-disposition to absorbing lead, was Caravaggio a workaholic, or did he simply use different paints to the others?

As a mystery is solved, a new riddle is formed.

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Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Bloody Sunday, blooming Tuesday

The Saville Report on the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre has been published.

Previously mocked as wasting time (12 years) and money (£190m), the report has exonerated the Irish people killed by British soldiers. Now who can judge the balance of cost between peace and justice.

David Cameron offered a fulsome apology in Parliament. Hopefully, the people of Northern Ireland will see the verdict as a cathartic exercise rather than an new opportunity for dissident groups to seek revenge.

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Monday, 14 June 2010

Alan Bennett and the ice-cream robbery scam

Alan Bennett, the famous diarist, playwright and Beyond the Fringe veteran, has fallen victim to a con in central London where two women splattered his raincoat with ice-cream and offered to clean it up, while stealing £1500 he had just withdrawn from his bank.

The probability of being robbed in the street does not vary whether someone is well known or not, but the silver lining for Mr Bennett is that he can write about it in his diaries. The episode might even be the kernel of a new play.

This would be an interesting form of revenge, turning adversity into profit while highlighting the scam to warn off repeat offences and copycat pickpockets.

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Sunday, 13 June 2010

Obsession for jaguars

Ethological engineering just took on a new definition in the wild world of jaguars.

Conservationists in Guatemala have built of the findings on scientists at Bronx Zoo in New York City, who experimented with 23 different scents to attract the animals to camera traps. The outright winner was Calvin Klein's 'Obsession for men': the musky scent grabbed the jaguars' attention for 11.1 minutes on average.

In the wild, the scent is proving hotter than catnip. Male and female jaguars rubbed their cheeks on rags sprayed with the cologne fulfilling the hope that images of the creatures could be captured by heat- and motion-sensitive cameras. Little-seen behaviours, including mating rituals, have been captured on film.

If the marketeers at Calvin Klein have any sense, it should be a no-brainer to revamp their 'Obsession for men' ads with images of jaguars and other big cats along with a slogan like 'Bring out your wild side with ...'

Search Amazon.com for fragrance

Friday, 11 June 2010

Heroes on a shirt

There's nothing like an official song to rally the troops: players and fans, alike. Yet for this World Cup, England have nothing like an official song, for the first time since 1966.

Yes, there are musical efforts worthy of Eurovision from the likes of:
There are even songs geared to geeing up sportmen in other competitions:
So, it'll be back to the Germans stealing former English anthems at the World Cup, while we get stuffed in the quarter-finals (again).

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Thursday, 10 June 2010

Anglo-Saxon attitudes

More news on the profanity front (see Wither the watershed?)

The Brazilian officials for England's forthcoming World Cup game against the USA have been swotting up on twenty English-language swear words so they can understand the invective that will be coming their way.

What's the betting an Englishman or two will be booked (at least) for sharing their opinions on Saturday lunchtime? Not very long odds, I fear.

But at least Mary Whitehouse can thank FIFA's alleged initiative for slowing down her tomb revolutions.

No thanks to David Mellor, former Tory Cabinet minister and soccer pundit, whose recent fruity ranting is another kettle of fish entirely ...

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Wither the watershed?

Mary Whitehouse is probably spinning furiously in the proverbial at the publication of the latest research from Ofcom.

The British public are apparently relaxed about swearing on television, the culprits even being lauded as role models. Gordon Ramsay has changed the 'bounds of acceptability' almost single-handedly, but his moment will surely pass eventually.

There must still be boundaries, though. Children's programming should be ring-fenced, but where is the limit of protection?

Would Doctor Who ever be profane? Would Radio 1 condone cursing rather than simply tolerate it? Would The X Factor ever entertain bad language?

No ... perhaps. Language limits are always on the move. Eventually people will get bored of excessive swearing, and the expletives will either disappear or youth culture will invent a new rude toolkit of words with which to frighten the media horses.

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Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Radiohead: In Rainbows and the lack of gold

Millionaire, Thom Yorke of Radiohead has a bleak message for musicians wanting to make their fortune: the record-label based music industry will be dead within months.

The business model of In Rainbows may be open to every bussing muso, but the market is saturated and bands need ways to stand out from the crowd: principally, it seems at the moment, by being famous already (witness Radiohead, Prince, the Rolling Stones, and Simply Red).

Perhaps the hip-hop solution can be applied to the industry at large. The most famous rappers are becoming hubs around which new talent can coalesce (an early example being Eminem's involvement of D12 and Obie Trice). The hubs will be the nouveau riche

Like viral blog recommendations and links, the goodwill and praise of a famous artist (for a percentage cut) may be sufficient to drive download sales. And online musico-dramaturgs will emerge in greater numbers, carrying the John Peel legacy on to the web (say, his sons: Tom and William Ravenscroft; and Tom Robinson). The sharing of music is much more than playing records; the title DJ does not encompass the revised job description of these new gatekeepers to the music.

The recording industry is dead; long live the recording industry.

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Monday, 7 June 2010

The publicist behind the footballer

An interesting spin on Paul Scholes' decision to turn down Fabio Capello's invitation to resume his midfield England career, six years after his international retirement to concentrate on Manchester United, his family and his telly.

Apparently he would have accepted the call he had been given more time to consider the offer: i.e an opportunity to play in the World Cup qualifying competition. Mr Scholes says he would not have wished to take the place of a player who had been involved with the team over the previous two years.

Methinks I detect the voice of a skilled publicist, spinning a positive line on a decision Paul Scholes was always going to make.

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A modern Aesop fable

The moral of the story: if you leave your back door open on a hot summer's night, and if a fox chooses to enter your house, and if you have babies asleep in their cots, you run the risk that the said foxes will attack the children.

This is what foxes do, nature happens despite the individual trauma within families this kind of incident causes.

The moral derived by the tabloids, however, will be to mount a cull on urban foxes: a campaign designed to placate readers' fears.

We often forget that human beings share the planet with wild animals, and that sometimes their agenda is different to ours.

So, the ultimate lesson to be learned: close the door and open a window, instead; preferably out of fox-jumping range.

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Sunday, 6 June 2010

Events, dear boy, events

The Thick of It picked up three BAFTAs this evening. On receiving his screenwriting award, Armando Iannucci, complained that Nick Clegg had ruined the next series.

Politics, it seems, can move swifter than writing schedules ... and YouTube satire.

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Lempik Öpik and the talking shoe

Nuff said (see Lempik Öpik: definition of a midlife crisis).

Maybe Mr Öpik was ticking off a childhood dream. He may now have to try the next item on his wishlist.

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Friday, 4 June 2010

Brothers blooming?

Why do stars act in low-budget movies? Answers on a postcard, but here are a few suggestions:
  • The stories are less formulaic, so the parts are more interesting?
  • The opportunity to play someone different, to go in a new direction?
  • The chance to participate in the movie's profit?
  • The convenience of seeing your family, as locations would of necessity be cheap?
  • The slim chance of being in the next independent classic, with higher probability of being considered by Uncle Oscar and/or the Sundance Kid?
  • The opportunity of working with directorial and writing talent not yet sucked into the corporate Hollywood machine?
Perhaps all of the above? The Brothers Bloom ticks most of these bullet points.

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Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Lembit Öpik: definition of a mid-life crisis

So what does a recently deposed MP do with their unexpected spare time after an election? Write their memoirs? Get stuck back into local politics? Return to their previous career?

No, Lembit Öpik, the former LibDem MP for Montgomeryshire is tonight trying his hand out as a stand-up comedian. Obviously.

This is either a stroke of genius or a recipe for mid-life shaped disaster.

On the plus side, Mr Öpik has plenty of material to draw on: engagement to a Cheeky girl (check); earlier engagement to a weathergirl (check); obsession with Earth-bound asteroids (check). And, to be honest, to keep relationships going with younger women, he must have more of a sense of humour than he displayed on a recent episode of Have I Got News for You (although appearing of the show within 24 hours of his ousting hinted of an ability to absorb humiliation and tout his CV on primetime television).

On the minus side, it might be a case of history repeating itself as farce. To get rejected from a safe-seat constituency might be unfortunate; to be booted off a comedy stage of your choosing within three weeks of the first pasting may look like carelessness.

My guess is that the reviewers will not be kind ... unless Mr Öpik turns out to show hitherto hidden brilliance at the one-liners as well as the harmonica. Politicians' appearances on panel shows tend to reflect their sense of hubris and ego rather than their innate sense of comic timing.

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Dunblane revisited

A man has run amok in Cumbria with an arsenal of guns: twelve people dead so far and no motive revealed. Derrick Bird, a taxi driver, went beserk over three hours in various parts of the county before, seemingly, taking his own life: a common end to such tragedies (see Dunblane; Hungerford).

No doubt there will be an inquiry. The bottom line? You can't really know your neighbours well enough. And disaffected loners seem to be a common theme.

At least, unlike the USA, such shootings do not tend to be committed by young people. Dunblane was perpetrated by an adult outsider; Columbine was enacted by students at the institution. But this is probably due to a respective lack of access to arms rather than a difference in morals.

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Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Grandad hands back marathon medal

Organisers of the London Marathon took a double take when ">checking the electronic tags of 69-year-old Anthony Gaskell. He ran the first 12.5 miles in about two hours, but apparently finished the rest of the course in just over an hour: a pace that would have smashed the world record.

In fact, he had pulled out of the race injured and skipped a loop in the course of 10 miles, making for the finishing line to retrieve his clothes. He didn't even stop to think he'd won.

Belatedly, he was disqualified.

Red faces all round, and not from the exertion of running (especially in fancy dress).

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