Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Giving voice to one's fantasies

The latest Facebook viral campaign is promoting the stentorian actor, Brian Blessed, as the next voice of the TomTom satnav. Here are some other voiceovers I'd pay money to hear:
The list is endless ...

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Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The race for No. 11: the warm-up

The UK's first live television debate between party chancellors-in-waiting took place this evening. And all this before the election has even been called.

So who won the hustings?

Feedback suggests this wasn't the most entertaining way to unwind in front of the box, but by Newsnight's reckoning Vince Cable won the audience but George Osborne's lack of gaffes may convince floating voters that his lack of experience is not a weakness. Who really knows?

Perhaps the best prediction is that the editing of such debates is crucial, as the best soundbites will make news bulletins that more viewers will watch. Whether or not even these clips will make a difference only times will tell.

Maybe television debates highlight gaffes and little else? Witness the lack of enthusiastic blogging and limp Youtube action...

Sunday, 28 March 2010

His Next Materials

Author Philip Pullman has continued his critique of Christianity in the shape of The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ: speculation that the Messiah was actually a pair of twins with different agendas.

Perhaps Philip himself is an angel and Pullman the devil?

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Harry Potter and the Period Drama

Any visit to Lacock, Wiltshire can bring on that déjà vu feeling.

Stepping along the high street one can be forgiven for thinking Judi Dench is opening her front door in Cranford, Daniel Ratcliffe is having a private tutorial with Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), and Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth are avoiding each other through most of Pride and Prejudice.

Outside London, Lacock may be one of the most popular film locations in Britain. If anyone's done a headcount tally it would be interesting to know.

Pulped fiction

Someone in the Motherhood movie marketing team, Metrodome, is going to be calling a taxi on their career any moment now.

The new Uma Thurman vehicle launched in one UK cinema to garner an exclusivity buzz tanked under an invisibilty cloak: it took £88.00 at the UK box office on its opening weekend. This amounts to twelve paying customers.

It's no wonder Hollywood seems reluctant to shell out megabucks for stars these days.

Motherhood may be heading for DVD rather sooner than first planned, unless the reverse pychology of wanting to see a failed movie kicks in.

Odd title Diagram Prize winner

The votes are in and the winner of the Diagram Prize for the unintentionally oddest book title of the year is ...

Crocheting adventures with hyperbolic planes by Daina Taimina (see also earlier post, 'The importance of being odd', 11 March 2010)

Apparently it's the best fusion of crochet and mathematics known to humankind. Long may it prosper in the Billboard Geek 100 bestseller chart.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

SamCam mam jam

Just when Samantha Cameron was revving up to support her husband on the campaign trail she goes and gets pregnant.

I'm not sure how this will play with voters. Tory types may prefer her not to get out there, claiming that she will need rest, and it will focus attention on Conservative policies for the family.

It's probably politically neutral news, but does add an extra spicy ingredient to the battle of the PM's wives.

Cider House of Commons rules

Cider and perry got the brunt of yesterday's Budget hikes, to the tune of 10 per cent. This was ostensibly to crack down on the problem of binge drinking cheap hooch, witness the ability until recently to buy a pint of cider for 26p in Sainsbury's supermarket.

So what's a poor boozehound to do, now that so many alcohol options are being taxed to the hilt?

Like the recent mephedrone problem in drug culture, where legitimate substances (in this case plant fertiliser) are being abused for cheap yet self-destructive highs, perhaps hard-core drinkers may be tempted to try cheap underground sources of alcohol without the benefits of quality control? Or maybe try to brew moonshine at home? And cheap supermarket loss leaders are not going to disappear overnight, as the British obsession with alcohol is deeply ingrained.

The next phase will be to print warnings on labels, as with cigarette packets, and warn drinkers of the long-term health dangers of over-indulging. While such tactics may be admirable and desirable, the Government earns too much from taxing alcohol to bite the bullet too hard. And too many MPs enjoy a tipple or two, especially in their subsidised bars.

In a few years' time, should social attitudes change, we may see bans on people drinking in public spaces(including outside pubs): the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, made a big play about banning alcohol on the tube. But too many voters enjoy their booze for politicians to get really serious about limiting access to alcohol: accusations of nanny-state policies don't go down well at the ballot box.

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Know what I meant, 'Arry

So long, Harry Carpenter: boxing commentator, Wimbledon link man and presenter of Sportsnight and Grandstand succumbed to a heart attack at 84 last weekend.

He was probably best known for his repartee with the heavyweight champion, Frank Bruno, who became a friend. Big Frank would pepper his replies to answers with the phrase 'Know what I mean, 'Arry' being used like a full stop.

I think this is pretty remarkable. How many sports commentators became personal friends and advocates of the sports stars they watch? I can only think of John Arlott's mentoring of South African cricketer Basil D'Oliveira in the early 1960s when the latter's talent was being submerged by Apartheid.

But think of modern-day commentators who are professional journalists, not former players, sharing catchphrases in a kind of double act:
No, there is usually a professional distance, similar to inspectors writing reports on the performance of their victims, whether they be teachers, restaurant owners or farmers. And the economics of sport have changed beyond recognition.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Spring has sprung, eventually

Late springs after long winters have winners and losers. Snowdrops and bats are among the winners; deer and bumble bees among the losers.

Will this make any difference to the energy and balance of new life? Not in the long term: although scientists will keep a look out for long-term climate trends.

Search for spring

Television's footprint

Apart from presenting current high-profile television series, what do Profession Brian Cox [Wonders of the Solar System], David Dimbleby [The Seven Ages of Britain] and Simon Reeve [The Tropic of Cancer] have in common.

Clocking up thousands of air-miles to leave massive carbon footprints, although Mr Dimbleby has travelled less far than the others. Professor Cox, in particular, seems to present moments from exotic locations all over the globe.

What is the solution? No one wants a return to the studio-based Open University programmes of the 1970s, with archetypal boffins in brown cardigans using flashcards and blackboard pointers on shaky sets.

On the other hand, landmark series do benefit from presents getting up close and personal with different Earth environments and artefacts in situ to make their points. And campaigning to prevent one person and their television crew from flying around the place won't independently prevent specific aeroplanes from taking off.

Perhaps landmark series that get sold abroad prevent national television networks from sending their own presenters to make similar programmes, which reduces the overall negative effect on the environment.

One useful advance might be to publish the carbon footprint figure for each episode during the closing credits for each show, backed up with explanations on websites as to how production teams and presenters travelled around during recces and film shoots. An appropriate number of trees could than be planted to offset the damage.

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Sunday, 21 March 2010

A very British divorce

Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes, less than the sum of their parts, after all.

She says tomarto and he says tomatoe. She likes to talk and he likes cricket highlights on Sky TV.

Both are smart, talented and in demand, often at different map reference coordinates. And there's the rub ...

The first thing journalists knew for sure about their marriage breakdown was their own press statement. The tabloid media had no scent of the news, but made up ground in spades on the following days.

But the whole business, though sad, was dignified and restrained.

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The British character ...

It's worth giving a wider airing to comedian Rufus Hound's dance routine for Sport Relief, reliving Cheryl Cole's moves for her single Fight for this Love. It's a microcosm of the British character.

What more could you ask? The British excel at poking fun at ourselves, blokes in frocks, raising money for charity, being rubbish at sports we invented, pricking pomposity, and putting full-on heart and soul into being incredibly silly.

Rufus Hound's routine ticks all the boxes.

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There's one born every minute

Web memes travel fast. One recent example involves food activist, Raj Patel, hailed by 'religious group' Share International as the Messiah, or Meitraya.

Apparently Mr Patel ticks all the boxes for the accolade according to the predictions of 87-year-old Scottish mystic, Benjamin Creme. He is being bombarded with email and nascent worshippers, despite his protestations of mistaken identity.

It's amazing how ideas can spread, given the right audience susceptibilities. What might be next?
All it needs are a few well-placed posts on influential blogs and Twitter accounts and viral Chinese whispers will do their worst.

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Friday, 19 March 2010

No bad for a Muggle

Boffins have developed a device that renders 3D objects invisible, the first step in the development of a Harry Potter-style invisibility cloak.

So, what other benchmark gadgets might maverick scientists be working on behind the scenes?
All of the above ideas have been inspired by fiction, written and visual. Perhaps even more creative work can be achieved where artists have yet to tread? Unless, of course, the artistic visualisation of a gadget has to precede the need to create it.

Which came first: the science or the art?

Search for invisibilty

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Beanfeast for chocoholics

What do investment bankers find themselves doing when they lose their jobs?

One such employee, Robert Jakobi, launched a food business based on his Pod bites snacks: yoghurt and chocolate-covered edamame beans, now selling to cinemas, delis, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols.

It remains to be seen if the venture amounts to more than a hill of beans.

And it's nothing to do with Apple, although the website domain ownership for the product may keep corporate lawyers twitching. This is where trademarking comes in, and one would assume Mr Jakobi has his food classes (nos. 29-31) sewn up.

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Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Virtual reality bites

More Americans are currently visiting Facebook than Google. What does this mean?

Are people are perhaps more interested in relationships than in looking things up? Or is Facebook simply more addictive than Google within vulnerable demographics?

This has a downside. There is an increasing demand for clinical intervention to treat addiction to the internet (e.g. the Capio Nightingale Hospital, the Priory). And the internet is not going away anytime soon.

Perhaps the next dotcom fortune will be made devising applications by which people can automatically update Facebook and the like. The time of the online butler is coming, as seen in Minority Report.

Search for internet addiction

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Michael Jackson: the Sony generation

Michael Jackson's people have signed the biggest recording contract in history with Sony: some $200m (£164m) for seven years' worth of recordings, franchising, tie-ins and back catalogue. This is 2pac territory with knobs on.

This is something of a gamble for Sony on two counts.

Will Michael Jackson continue to have icon status by 2017? Will his legacy be more Elvis than Princess Di?

And will young fans ever more proficient at using the internet be prepared to fork out hard-earned cash for products that are bound to be pirated as soon as they get released?

Predictions? Pop stars tend to have more staying power after death than other celebrities because of the potential to release unheard material. Actors have to 'be there' on set appear in new films, theatre being a de facto no-no (except for Oliver Reed in Gladiator, Heath Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Marlon Brando in Superman Returns); writers can be ghosted after death, but turn into franchises (witness Robert Ludlum, Virginia Andrews); fine artists' work is finite, but obscure and famous stuff excites auction houses and markets when it resurfaces to realise some wealthy person's investment; but dead musicians often have the potential to release original material for many years, albeit with diminishing returns on quality.

The more intense the perfectionism trait of a pop star, the higher the probability of there being a hoard of releasable stuff deemed too flawed to share publicly after the performer's death: this is a likely Michael Jackson scenario. Sony plan to release ten albums in the next seven years, some of which are bound to feature original material.

As for downloading songs illegally, yes there will billions of dollars leaking out of the system for any new releases. The jury is out, but evidence may suggested that persistent download freeloaders may also spend more money on products they really want. In the round, the Michael Jackson estate and Sony are unlikely to lose out as loyal fans will want to own full collections of material.

The new factor in this case is the degree to which people feel comfortable downloading pirate material of a recently dead icon. Will it feel like grave-robbing, a little tacky, to fans used to sampling music for free? My guess is probably not, as the 'music wants to be free' meme has held sway now since the heyday of Napster.

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Monday, 15 March 2010

The short goodbye: the cruelty of sport

Adieu, David Beckham. An icon fails to write his own script: both feet are not on the ground, as one will be in traction.

A player less talented than his hype, whose real skill was media manipulation, has failed to engineer an appearance at a fourth World Cup in succession. A plan to play Champions League football with A C Milan to showcase his availability has backfired with an Achilles heel injury, incurred ironically while trying to take a free kick, his trademark talent.

So Mr Beckham won't beat Peter Shilton's record number of caps, but the England national team probably won't be the weaker for it. In Italia 1990, forced to do without Bryan Robson (their talismanic skipper) England reached a semi-final and only lost on penalties to the Germans. Perhaps history will repeat itself, so long as Wayne Rooney stays upright for the next few months.

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Blue eyes, Mensa IQ to go ...

Welcome to HuxleyWorld: theme parks located at London Bridge and Virginia where the hot ride on offer is to enter a raffle for an egg of your choice for IVF.

Science fiction? No, this is a real publicity drive punching a coach and horses through ethical worries about the sanctity of new life. This is bingo for babies: the winner cries 'House' and takes the DNA home.

Whether the initiative is banned or not it has succeeded in promoting its services. And it proves that people will always push against the boundaries of taste and decency to get noticed. We have gone from surrogate mothers to surrogate egg farmers in 25 years.

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Sunday, 14 March 2010

Don't be evil, or at least don't be caught

'Don't be evil' is Google's informal mantra, but it's getting more difficult to avoid criminal litigation when you are the size of the corporate giant.

Given that 20 hours of new material is uploaded on to YouTube every minute, this seems a tad over-zealous, especially as Google removed the offending material quickly. And YouTube does operate a level of censorship. anyway.

So, what's the motivation? Jealous rival media owners spoiling for a fight?

This is the latest example of culture clash between 'internet as a space for free speech and free information' and 'internet as global marketplace'. Corporations fear losing control, and this trial signals the start of potential censorship of the internet, which may lead in dangerous directions.

Sanus et lumen

The emperor Hadrian's ashes may be spinning in his mausoleum. His wall to mark out the edge of the Roman Empire in Britain was lit up with beacons to promote British tourism.

The organisers speculated as to whether or not the wall had ever been lit up this way across its whole length before, given that Britain was never invaded successfully from the North.

Who knows?

The event shows how ancient monuments can be used to promote modern events.
What Hadrian himself would have made of the razzmatazz is anyone's guess. Perhaps he would have shipped the organisers off to Rome to be taught a lesson? Improper and insolent use of state fortifications may not have gone down well at all with the great man.

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Friday, 12 March 2010

Sport Relief ... when it's over

Couch potatoes everywhere salute the crazy achievement of Christine Bleakley with a toast of 'Thank God that wasn't me'.

Mad dogs and Northern Irish women may go out for an early bath -- on water-skis in the English Channel -- but most locals would be content to watch her noble efforts from a distance on The One Show.

Miss Bleakley is the latest example of plucky Brits taking on eccentric challenges in the name of charity, or simply for the hell of it.

Sport Relief is a peculiarly British good cause.

Beyond the book

When is an e-book not an e-book? Possibly when its enhanced with video, audio, music and social media networking possibilities.

In the red corner, publishers say added extra to electronic texts are publishing rights; in the blue corner, agents claim enhanced e-books are a new medium that may best be sold to film companies or record labels.

Who said media convergence would run smoothly?

Maybe Canongate Books have got it right: they are apparently negotiating enhanced e-book rights on a title by title basis.

Illustrated-book contracts may also shine light on the subject, rather than heat it up: the royalty split between illustrator and author often depends on the importance of the respective art in any given project.

So picture-book contracts are weighted towards illustrators, whereas illustrated fiction titles are titled towards authors, with partnerships like Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake split more evenly.

The Death of Bunny Munro: A Novel (Hardcover)

Making the Web Work for the BBC

Shock, horror. The BBC has been training its journalists in how to use Facebook effectively in its Making the Web Work for You campaign.

The Shires are in uproar, but frankly I'd be worried if the hacks didn't know how to use social media networks effectively.

If the BBC simply churned out content without relating to where the audience may receive it, they would be writing a long and tortuous suicide note, contemplating the fate of the Shakers.

The row is best seen from the perspective of the complainers: criticism has been harshest from the Corporation's press rivals. The sub-text might be 'Why didn't we think of training our journalists on Facebook first?'

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Centre-stage fold

There's news in the press that the Royal Opera House wants to stage a musical based on the life and times of Anna Nicole Smith. Possible titles might be:
All of which will fuel speculation about the next 'starlet' off the cab rank for such treatment and expansion of the brand. Agents acting for the likes of Paris Hilton, Kerry Katona and Katie Price will be watching the space with interest.

But Gypsy Rose Lee got there years ago, although a 21st-century remake would be unlikely to be so demure.

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The importance of being odd

The Bookseller has released the shortlist for this year's Diagram Prize for oddest unintentional book title of the year. The candidates for this celebrated yet dubious honour are:
I have always thought this prize interesting yet somehow snarky: laughing behind hands at the implied silliness of the titles. How much more fascinating it would be to know the sales figures and the Amazon ranking of odd titles. Profitable oddity would be a cause really worth celebrating.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Lord Never Diets: notes on a premiere

Love Never Dies is a bit too vague a title for me: it sounds like the name of the next Bond movie.

So how did the press react to the Phantom sequel musical? With the usual mix of savage apathy, gleeful spite and feigned disappointment, especially from online critics. But it it any good?

We'll only know once the hacks have gone home and the tourists start booking. In other words, once the paint has finally dried.

At least it's been a classic case of measuring the column inches rather than reading them. Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber will be delighted with the turn out.

Non-contact Collider

The Large Hadron Collider under Geneva is turning out to have a fitness record worse than Michael Owen's.

The latest hamstring injury revolves around a new safety issue. The Collider currently operates at 7 trillion electron-volts, but is having to shut for a year in order to cope with twice that amount.

For a bunch of elite physicists, eminently bright, this lack of mathematical forecasting regarding the level of energy needed to recreate Big Bang conditions seems a little baffling.

Maybe the maths is developing at the same rate as the science? And, in the final analysis, will twelve months slip by before the boffins realise that 14 trillion electron-volts is not enough?

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Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Star-gazing in Hollywood

Recent successful movies have highlighted two Hollywood trends that are diverging.

First, there is the Marlon Brando effect: mega-expensive cameos, like the recent 'effort' from Julia Roberts in Valentine's Day at $3 million for six minutes.

Second, there is the 'who he?' law: leading roles for unknown actors, like Sam Worthington in Avatar and Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker.

The current situation will go one of two ways, neither of which is good news for the likes of Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage. Continuing use of unknowns to tell the story, rather than showcase the star and/or making stars out of the unknowns, say Carey Mulligan from An Education.

So the major stars may have to smoke pipes and wear slippers in their Sunset Boulevard mansions for the foreseeable future.

And the Oscar goes to ... The Wounded Cabinet

The Hurt Locker may have won oodles of Oscars, but the title makes no sense across this side of the pond.

What exactly is a 'hurt locker'? An injured key? An incapacitated canal-worker? An emotional gaoler?

Apparently it is an American-English phrase meaning a place of pain, which I guess sums up being a bomb-disposal expert on any front line, not just Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gunning for John Doe

Public enemy number one? Probably any twenty-something Scouser starting a jail sentence in British in the last few weeks.

Except Jon Venables by now probably speaks the Queen's English with a Home Counties' accent and may be furnishing a clutch of A-Levels for all anyone knows.

The problem with any release of accurate information about Mr Venables' recent return to prison, 17 years after his release with a new identity, is that it would render any future trial impossible. The rage since James Bulger's murder in 1993 has not diminished: any mob vengeance against Mr Venables would muddy the morality of the case and bring society down to the level of gangster anarchy.

Meanwhile, newspapers seem to be printing what they like. The moment an editor goes to jail in the instant the public will know truth from rampant speculation.

Monday, 8 March 2010

A Match made in heaven?

Quick post-production work has meant the ad filmed recently in Lower Marsh has already premiered on British television.

I still have no idea why they needed three days to film the ad though, and the lights they used outside would have lit Wembley Stadium. It must have cost a fortune to make.

Presumably the Camel & Artichoke next door to the film location was simply a re-fueling pit-stop in getting ready for the next take.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Lord Mycall Cashcroft

What's the equivalent of unions using worker subscriptions to fund the Labour party?

Non-domiciles like Lord Ashcroft who use the tax they don't pay to support the Conservative party.

I'm not sure this is equitable, but there is a huge row going on at the moment: Lord Ashcroft's peerage was contingent on him giving up his tax exile status and making significant contribution to the upper House, back in 2000. The crux of the row is that this did not happen.

And the corollary is that Lord Ashcroft will want favours for his backing, especially in his Caribbean empire.

Uncle Oscar is back: 82 ceremonies and counting

The notion that the Oscar Awards ceremony runs itself is a nonsense. It is rehearsed to within an inch of its life.

And yet the show itself can overrun, with over-exuberant acceptance speeches, and the host and presenter jokes can fall flat.

With Steve Martin (and Alec Bladwin) this year on hosting duties it remains to be seen if the event will be more The Man with Two Brains (i.e. original and genuinely funny) rather than The Pink Panther (i.e. self-referential and tired).

Friday, 5 March 2010

Love on the Marsh

Lower Marsh is the London street on which I work. For some reason it has become a hotspot on the film location trail.

Last summer it was Woody Allen ... and a Bentley ...

Last week it was internet dating site, filming a sixty-second ad in three days. To the untrained eye, this comprised of man and woman bumping into each other as one left a musical instrument shop façade (the erstwhile independent bookseller, Crockatt & Powell, having croaked its last -- even the valedictory YouTube Depeche Mode video on its blog got removed for copyright violation) and the other staggered out of the Camel & Artichoke drinking den.

Quite why this process would take three days on location beats me. How many times can you film two people meeting before 'love at first sight' starts to look like 'oh no, not you again'.

On yer penny farthing, Norman

An entertaining insight into the mind of maverick Tory grandee, Lord Tebbit of Chingford: he describes the Conservative leadership thus ...

'Young people with no political past and no ties. The sort of people you see in TV advertisements for deodorants.'

The jackboots may still be kicking but the direction is unclear.

Campaign wives

The leaders of the British political parties may be centre stage when it comes to appealing to voters to pick their their. But their wives provide a fascinating counterpoint.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, is married to a Spanish woman called Miriam González Durantez. She is an international lawyer, specialising in trade and foreign affairs. She remains, however, under the radar.

David Cameron's wife, Samantha has a slightly higher profile. Her dress sense was commented on by Conservative conference delegates. She heads a de luxe fashion and stationery brand, Smythson of Bond Street. Both Camerons have ancestry leading to royalty.

Gordon Brown's wife, Sarah, may be a subtle yet telling asset to the current prime minister. She was previously a book publishing PR executive and, as the prime minister's wife, has forged a strong network of friends and acquaintances while promoting a number of charitable causes. In a strange way, it is as if Mr Brown is married to a expert media consultant: not exactly Maxine Clifford, but very savvy none-the-less.

My guess is that Sarah Brown is a very important voice in how the Labour party presents itself and, with the general election beckoning, her influence may be key.

I've no idea who would bake the best cookies, though, which is often a factor in US presidential elections.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Tony's Journey: a road to nowhere?

Tony Blair, the former prime minister, may have a rhinoceros skin, but we'll soon see if he has a glass chin.

With so much capital spent in the Chilcot Inquiry, will Mr Blair have anything new to say about his time in office ... and, if he goes on a walkabout publicity tour, will people allow him to say it?

All the world's a book ...

... at least for today: World Book Day, in the UK.

This annual event of generic promotion has morphed in Britain as an opportunity to flog books to children: mentally and materially.

Prior to 1997, there was no concerted event around which the book trade -- publishers, booksellers, libraries and educators -- could coalesce. I know, I was one of the voices advocating such an event (through the channel of the ginger group, Booksn), and was a founder member of the steering committee for World Book Day.

The challenge has always been to involve adults more, for World Book Day to be seen as an event for all ages. The original UNESCO concept had no such problem: World Book and Copyright Day always takes place annually on 23 April, building on Catalonia's Book and Rose Fair (staged on St George's Day) and the fortuitous anniveraries falling on the date (including William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, Vladimir Nabokov and Josep Pla).

Whatever the origin, books remain vital to culture and our sense of humanity, and World Book Day provides an opportunity for that fact to be remembered.

An education: Letts goes to HarperCollins

Some publishing companies get serially taken over more often than Portsmouth FC.

Letts is one such case. This list of revision guides and national curriculum aids started life as the education department of Charles Letts & Co. Ltd, the diary people: I know, I was there as an editor.

The pass-the-parcel dance started in 1991, with a sell-off to BPP: the list became Letts Educational. From there, on to Granada Media in 1999; then to Huveaux in 2006; and now to HarperCollins, in ever decreasing circles. The imprint sold for £28m in 1999, £12m in 2006, and £10m in 2010.

So why the decreasing price? Educational publishing is going through a tough phase. Letts is an established brand name, but revision guides face completion from digital products and from access to national curriculum materials in a world where exclusivity in contracts is becoming more important. The Government has preferred partners.

What's in it for HarperCollins? Synergy, and safety in numbers: together, the educational brands will be stronger, and costs will be cut. It's no surprise to imagine that various heads will roll: they always do when publishing imprints and/or companies merge.

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