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# I had a dream on a backlot… #

Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of the first episode of Big Brother in the UK. And the Elstree Studios Twitter account saw fit to celebrate the occasion:

The tweet irritated me. Not in a “oh shit, what has 2016 got to offer us now” kind of way. Just a mild irritance, like an ingrown pube, or an itchy bumhole, or Steve Brookstein. It took me a little while to work out exactly why, though.

First, let’s eliminate some possibilities. Anyone thinking this is going to be a rant about how awful Big Brother is should probably go and read another site instead. If you think the show is a sign television has “dumbed down”1, perhaps consider that the beauty of Big Brother at its best is hours upon hours of investment in people… where suddenly, a single look shot across the room means everything. The greatest moments can be the most subtle, and take the most effort to truly get – it demands attention and commitment from the audience. The very opposite of dumbed-down television.

But I digress. A more valid point about the tweet is querying why Elstree Studios made it, when the first two series of Big Brother weren’t shot at Elstree at all, but in Bow, near the 3 Mills Studios.2 Still, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they know that full well, and thought that it was still worth linking to regardless. Fine.

The problems come, however, when you actually take a look at the linked-to video of the first episode. This isn’t an official upload, either by Channel 4 or Endemol. This is an unofficial upload by a fan, taken from a VHS off-air recording made back in 2000. Dodgy hiss throughout and all. And immediately, alarm bells start to ring.

Now, I have no moral problem with that video being uploaded – it’s not like the episode has had a commercial release. It’s perhaps slightly weird that Elstree would associate itself with an illegal upload of a show that they’re currently hosting at the studios – or, indeed, would associate itself with any illegal uploads at all. For a major studio to give out a slightly confused message about piracy is pretty strange in itself.

But that’s not what really bugs me about this. Ultimately my problem with the tweet: it makes the world-renowned Elstree Studios feel… small.

When I think of Elstree, I think of professional kit. As we’re talking about television I’ll skip over trying to romanticise 35mm or something, and instead try to romanticise broadcast quality signals being fibred over to BT Tower. (It gets me hard, anyway.) The image I have of Elstree is one of absolute professionalism – of trained crews working together to provide the highest quality final result it’s possible to offer.

What don’t I think of? Someone recording something off-air onto a manky VHS tape, and then years later sticking it on YouTube with a shitty hiss all over it. I just don’t think that’s something Elstree should be associated with.

If Elstree is linking to any televison programme it has even the slightest connection to, it should be an official, top-quality version of it. Yes, it was only a silly, throwaway tweet for an anniversary… but even silly tweets mean something. There really wouldn’t be any harm in Elstree’s Twitter account just being that bit more professional.

Because without professionalism, and a commitment to a quality end result, we can all just upload shit to YouTube that we recorded on our phones… and there’s no reason for Elstree to exist at all.

  1. I do actually have plenty of sympathy with the idea that too much television considers its audience less intelligent than it used to be, but unfortunately many people who use the phrase “dumbed down” don’t seem to say much interesting themselves – just repeatedly spout cliches. 

  2. Incidentally, see the section on 3 Mills on the brilliant History of Television Studios in London site for the full story behind those studios. 

■ Posted 19th July 2016 @ 6am in Television. 1 Comment.

The Only Post on Dirty Feed Which Will Ever Mention Megan Fox

Back in 2013, Megan Fox discovered Twitter:

Sadly, it didn’t last. Her last ever tweet:

Never has the question “What is the point?” been so easy to answer. If you check her profile page, how many people was Megan following? Answer: zero. Nought. 0. Precisely none. If you don’t actually follow anybody Twitter, no wonder you got fuck-all out of it. Following other people and reading what they have to say is pretty much the entire point of the thing.

Still, don’t worry! On her Twitter profile, Megan has helpfully included a link to her official Facebook page. I’m sure we’ll get something fun out of that! What’s her latest post, here in 2016?

Megan Fox Facebook post

Great. Thanks for that. Glad you figured out what the point of social media was.

OK, enough sneering. Admittedly, “Hollywood actor doesn’t get how Twitter works, and then gets her people to post a load of self-promotional guff on Facebook” is literally THE EXACT OPPOSITE of news. There’s no insight to be had there, even if I wasn’t dragging out tweets from 2013.

Still, the thing that really gets me is that from the very moment I first encountered the net, I always put a little piece of myself on there. And plenty of the fun was interacting with others. That’s not something I had to learn, or something which I think is difficult: just came naturally. Of course, famous actors can’t do it quite in the same way, but the absolute lack of anything human on those pages just makes my head hurt.

And crucially: I find it odd that an actor wouldn’t feel the same. Because being an actor is all about understanding people. And having an online presence which is nothing to do with people just feels incredibly odd. Fair enough if you have a job that allows you to be an automaton. But as an actor, I expect… more.

Megan Fox. I don’t understand you. I’m sure you’re gutted about that. Now, do you want to hear about Quatermass edits?

■ Posted 13th July 2016 @ 3am in Internet. No Comments Yet.

“Just as soon as the material is produced…”

Please join me, as we take a trip back in time through to the early days of the web. Mind your head on that <blink> tag.

Old websites which have (brilliantly) managed to cling to being online have been endlessly discussed; the Warner Bros Space Jam site from 1996 is the classic example. Abandoned projects online are nothing new either, although they endlessly fascinate me. The saddest example I can think of is the Save TV Centre Studios campaign – last updated in 2013, with absolutely no admission that hey, it didn’t work out, but they tried their best.1

I think I may have found the most perfect combination of both, however. Behold: Exposure, “The How-To eZine Covering The Art Of Illusion”. Oh, it’s all there. Six illusionists listed on the front page, all promising to give their secrets… only two of which are links. And when you visit the David Copperfield section, you’re greeted with a list of all his tricks… precisely none of which are clickable, or have any content whatsoever. In fact, there is only one single piece of content on the entire site.

But the real beauty comes when looking at the What’s New page. Please forgive me if I just quote all of it.

October 9, 1997 – EXPOSURE gets an overhaul. A new home page now shows some of the magicians that will be featured. Although David Copperfield is an active link, there are no illusions available for viewing – just a list of his television specials with a sub list of the illusions in each special. The illusions will have active links just as soon as the material is produced. The David Blaine link now includes an illusion breakdown of his recent television special, Street Magic. At this moment, the only available illusion is the Balducci Levitation. Others will be made available just as soon as the material is produced.

September 15, 1997 – EXPOSURE goes online, thanks to free web hosting from GeoCities. The Balducci Levitation is the only illusion available.

Yep, that’s it. A grand total of two updates… both done in 1997. Nearly 19 years ago.

And that’s odd. A site going online in 1997, having a total of two updates, and then being swiftly abandoned wasn’t exactly rare. But the fact the site is still online certainly is. Even more weirdly, the site was obviously originally hosted on Geocities, which has obviously long since closed – but the author bothered to find new hosting, buy a proper domain name for the site, and then continue to do nothing else with the site. Not even remove the little Geocities GIFs. Just to make things even stranger, through checking archive.org it appears the site had some inconsequential changes made in 1999, but the currently online site is an earlier version!

A bit of research indicates that the domain name was bought in 2005, although it seems to have only been active since 2010. Geocities closed in 2009. So it seems that the site was created in 1997, sat idle on Geocities for years until Geocities closed, then moved to its own hosting… but still with no updates whatsoever.

An old site falling off the web is a shame, but understandable. An active site moving hosts and continuing to be updated is understandable. Even an inactive site which has a huge archive of material moving hosts and staying online is understandable. But a website with no content, which is never updated, suddenly moving hosts after years, but still completely abandoned?

That’s just weird. Maybe someone’s got a magic trick up their sleeve and are just playing a really long game.

  1. I have never abandoned a project online, of course. 

■ Posted 8th July 2016 @ 5am in Internet. 2 Comments.

The New Journalism

Boing Boing’s entire article:

“This inquisitive fellow was unable to keep his hands off a delicate museum piece hanging from the wall at the National Watch & Clock Museum. After breaking it, he lost interest and walked away, leaving his companion to clean up the mess.”

Description on the video, posted directly by the museum itself:

“This is why we beg and plead with our visitors to please refrain from touching objects in museums. The couple did notify Museum staff immediately.”

A few points:

Still, aside from that, excellent work Boing Boing.

Oh, and did I mention that the writer of the piece works as a Research Director?

■ Posted 3rd July 2016 @ 6pm in Internet, Journalism. 2 Comments.

Mouthbox Redux

Just over a year ago, I wrote about a TV review site called Mouthbox. The short version of that piece: I noticed a rather odd practice where the same reviews were simply being republished with a new date, rather than new reviews being written. Not the journalistic scandal of the century, it must be said, but it amused me at the time.

Over the past year I’ve given the site an occasional visit, and noted that no more reviews have been posted. (Or, indeed, re-dated.) Still, a blog not updating for a year is hardly worth a follow-up article. However, recently something has changed on the site. No, I’m afraid it’s not a brand new TV review. Instead, rather awkwardly, a link to “Panto Scripts” has been added to the top navbar – so awkwardly, in fact, that the navbar splits onto two lines now when the site is viewed at full width. If we trust The Wayback Machine, the link was added between February and March of this year.

So, let’s take a look at what this new link is actually about.

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■ Posted 2nd July 2016 @ 8am in Internet. No Comments Yet.

Hark at Barker

Yesterday there was a bit of consternation about a late schedule change forcing coverage of Wimbledon onto BBC Four and postponing Top of the Pops for an hour. For various reasons I can’t really talk much about that, although expect a THRILLING article about schedule changes generally on here at some point.

I would, however, like to point out something about how Sue Barker ended the show. Over a beauty shot from the grounds:

“Now, coming up next on BBC Four it is Top of the Pops 1982, and it’s a good year for music. A vintage year for tennis as well; Jimmy Connors beat John McEnroe here, and also Martina Navratilova beat Chris Evert. So, that is next here on BBC Four, but I hope you enjoyed our coverage at Wimbledon – we’ll be back with more tomorrow at 11:30. Clare Balding will be here with Today at Wimbledon, that’s at 9:30 on BBC Two. But for now, from Wimbledon, goodbye.”

It’s simply one of the most skilful bits of presenting I’ve ever heard.

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■ Posted 1st July 2016 @ 2pm in Jingles, Radio, Television. No Comments Yet.

Who Framed Michael Eisner

When it comes to rumours and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you all know the drill. Eddie Valiant and Jessica chase Judge Doom out of Toontown, they crash spectacularly, sail through the air, Jessica’s dress hitches up, and you may or may not be able to see her hairy minge. The whole thing has been investigated in great detail, although frankly not quite enough detail for my taste.

Still, that’s not what this piece is about. No, my query is about another rumour associated with the film – and specifically, about this scene in Toontown with Eddie:


We’ll let the previously linked to Snopes article give us the basics (emphasis mine):

“In another scene, Bob Hoskins steps into a Toon Town men’s room. Graffiti on the wall reads “For a good time, call Allyson Wonderland”, with the phrase “The Best Is Yet to Be” appearing underneath it. Allegedly, Disney chairman Michael Eisner’s phone number replaces the latter phrase for one frame. Although the “Allyson Wonderland” graffiti is clearly visible on laserdisc, Eisner’s phone number is not. If the phone number was in the film originally (as rumor has it was), it was removed before the home versions of the movie were made available.”

The removal of this phone number seems to apply to every single home version of the film I – or seemingly anyone – has ever come across. LaserDisc, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, the lot. If Eisner’s phone number was ever there in the film’s theatrical release, it’s gone from the retail versions. If is was ever there, of course. Because without evidence, this really starts to take on the feeling of an urban legend. Notably, Snopes has no actual evidence to offer, and the article goes out its way to label the phone number story as a rumour.

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■ Posted 2nd June 2016 @ 10am in Best Of, Comedy, Film, Television. No Comments Yet.

The Fragility of the Web

My late-night web browsing covers a wide variety of esoteric topics. Sometimes I find myself looking at the in-depth technical specs of the Evel Knievel pinball machine. Or amazing barely-released Xenomania tracks. Or early versions of toys which ended up becoming Transformers. You get the picture.

The other day, I found myself in a spiral of links about Favrd – an old Twitter favourites aggregator run by Dean Allen1 which was shut down in 2009. At the time, Jeffrey Zeldman wrote this poignant piece about how web communities end. And everywhere round the internet, there was the plaintive cry – from Andy Baio, John Gruber, and Zeldman himself: if only Dean had kept the archives of the site online.

Pleasingly, however, we’re not left in the dark as to his motives. Dean answered these criticisms in the comments section of Zeldman’s blog. Hang on, I’ve got it here, it’s linked to on Daring Fireball… oh, wait, it’s gone?! Yes, Jeffrey Zeldman got rid of all comments on zeldman.com a couple of months back.

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  1. Dean’s online presence sadly seems to have disappeared entirely. His Twitter was last updated in 2013, and his website is long gone. 

■ Posted 29th April 2016 @ 6am in Internet. 1 Comment.

How the Internet Works #82748293

The Bodies of Leakin Park, “Hae Min Lee”, from October 16th 2014:

“Maybe my prejudice is showing through but who in their right mind lets their daughter date a man named “Adnan Musud Syed”? Putting that aside, I am intrigued that Mr. Syed is at Cumberland. I could see where he would have spent the first 5 years of his sentence there, since that is where the state likes to send violent offenders first to cool off, however, there is a point in time where an inmate has to grow a pair and face the general pop in Hagerstown. It’s been long enough, Mr. Syed is 28, let’s quit coddling him.”

Serial, Season 1 Episode 10, “The Best Defense is a Good Defense”, from 4th December 2014:

SARAH KOENIG: Reporting this story, I found plenty of examples of casual prejudice against Muslims. One of Adnan’s teachers for example: “Think about what he would have been taught about women and women’s rights.” Another teacher I talked to told me she was terrified at the time that Adnan’s relatives were going to come after her for talking to the detectives. She told me she assumed his parents were evil. On that website that lists all the bodies found in Leakin Park, the author’s commentary about Hae Min Lee’s case is: “Maybe my prejudice is showing through but who in their right mind lets their daughter date a man named Adnan Musud Syed?”

The Bodies of Leakin Park, “Hae Min Lee”, today.1 The section quoted from October 2014 above is entirely deleted. In its place:

“1) I am intrigued that Mr. Syed is at Cumberland. I could see where he would have spent the first 5 years of his sentence there, since that is where the state likes to send violent offenders first to cool off, however, there is a point in time where an inmate has to grow a pair and face the general pop in Hagerstown. Nobody is asking the tough questions as to why he is still in Cumberland, could it be unruly behavior?

2) Sarah Koenig is the most irresponsible self-serving human being on the planet. Adnan Syed is not getting out of prison ever, he’s guilty.”

Whether this change was an appropriate and convincing way of dealing with Koenig’s comments, I shall leave as an exercise for the reader.

  1. Looks like the page was edited on the 7th and 16th of December 2014 – three days and 12 days after the Serial episode was published respectively. 

■ Posted 4th April 2016 @ 5am in Internet. No Comments Yet.

Fawlty Towers: A Touch of Class

Fawlty Towers sign from pilot episode

19th September 1975, 9pm, BBC2, and the first programme of a little series called Fawlty Towers is broadcast. And whilst most of that first series of Fawlty Towers was shot in the summer of 1975, the very first episode – A Touch of Class – was recorded eight months earlier, in December 1974. The reason for this is simple: that first programme was a pilot. Unlike some programmes, which are re-recorded entirely for their first episode1, most of that pilot made it to air more or less in its original form. For instance, the opening sign is a different design in the pilot episode compared to every single other programme in the first series, and the theme music is also a different recording. Indeed, you wonder why, when it came to broadcast, they didn’t at least change the opening titles to be consistent with the other episodes, but I digress.

Fawlty Towers - opening titles from A Touch of Class

Opening titles from A Touch of Class

Fawlty Towers - opening titles from The Builders

Opening titles from The Builders

One detail, however, was changed between the initial pilot recording, and its broadcast. Polly was originally meant to be a philosophy student – and that’s what she was in that pilot episode. For the series, they decided to change her to being an art student – and so they reshot parts of the pilot to incorporate the change. To quote John Cleese, in an interview on the 2001 DVD release:

CLEESE: She in the pilot episode was a philosophy student, and we didn’t feel that worked as well as art student, so we re-recorded just a little – maybe four or five minutes – and cut that into the first episode before it was transmitted to the general public.

The obvious question to ask, then – at least, if you’re me – is: which parts of the transmitted episode were reshot? And was it really four or five minutes of material? But whilst you could easily guess about one section which was reshot, for years that was all the information we really had about the change.

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  1. Citizen Smith is a good example of a show which had a pilot, and then was completely reshot for its first episode broadcast six months later – both are on the DVD, and it’s fascinating to compare them. 

■ Posted 20th March 2016 @ 11am in Best Of, Comedy, Television. No Comments Yet.

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