Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

15th April 2013

Posted by at 11.31pm | Politics | No responses

I was completely bored of Margaret Thatcher news by about 3pm on Monday afternoon, and subsequent events have not cheered me up. A “ceremonial” funeral costing in excess of £10 million? Turning off Big Ben? A massive militaristic procession through London? Bah humbug.

Watching Tory politicians falling over themselves to offer fulsome tributes was a bit nauseating. Amidst all the whitewashing of Thatcher’s legacy (Falklands and “sick man of Europe” talked up, miners, gay people and the unemployed overlooked), Glenda Jackson’s heartfelt tribute came as something of a breath of fresh air. I love how the Tory hecklers fail to knock her off her stride.

That said, the “campaign” to try and get Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead to Number 1 annoyed me too. As it is, all the campaign achieved was to put the BBC in an awkward position: the right-wing press attacked it for “disrespect” for even countenancing the playing of the song, then the corporation was accused by the left of “censorship” when it decided not to play it. I know it was just a bit of fun, but I can’t help but think that the energy would have been better directed elsewhere.

The rows over the funeral, the tributes and the song have demonstrated that the old divisions of the 1980s have resurfaced (if they ever truly went away). As the Guardian points out, the tabloid press is again ranting about “lefties”. A lot of the battles of the 80s are still being fought today.

Hopefully, after Wednesday, this extended Conservative Party Political Broadcast will finally be over.

22nd March 2013

Ogle the Goggle Box

BBC Television CentreI always like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t watch much TV, apart from the odd highbrow drama on BBC4, of course. However, on reviewing my blogs of times past, it’s clear that television has been a big inspiration for blog entries over the years.

The TV I discuss isn’t always high-minded, either. One of the earliest television related entries came in the wake of a massive brawl in the Big Brother House in 2004:

Sorry to go all Daily Mail on people, but BB really is the most reprehensible, morally bankrupt thing on TV. I hope the police investigation results in prosecutions against all the Channel 4 executives involved in putting this vile show on the air.

Good grief, that show pisses me off.

While on the subject of reality TV, let’s skip ahead chronologically and get this embarrassing post out of the way right now:

I’m going to come out and say it: Hooray for good old-fashioned Light Entertainment bollocks on ITV1! Britain’s Got Talent was actually fairly entertaining.

What was I thinking? In my defence, this was before I found out how cynically produced the whole thing is.

A much more pleasant show to watch is Frasier, so I was sad to see the show come to an end:

I think Frasier will stand the test of time much better than that other recently-ended American sitcom. Friends, with its reliance on 90s pop culture and “cool” dialogue (like… you know, whatever), will be irrelevant within 10 years. Whereas Frasier never tried to be cool, just funny, and was all the better for it.

Not sure whether that prediction has come to pass, with Friends filling up every spare timeslot on Comedy Central while Frasier is relegated to the lesser Comedy Central Extra. But I still think it’s a million times better.

Read the rest of this post »

3rd December 2012

Not all it’s cracked up to be
Posted by at 8.18pm | In the News, Trains | 1 response

Plumbers around the world are jealous, as a five-inch crack is discovered on a Yorkshire railway line. The BBC’s oh-so-informative report goes like this:-

A gap in the railway line near York which was created by a cracked rail could have caused a “major tragedy”, the RMT union has claimed.

The RMT released a photograph of a 5in (13cm) gap on the East Coast Mainline at Colton Junction, and said it could have derailed a train.

But Network Rail said “as soon as a crack in the rail was reported, trains were stopped”.

The organisation said no staff or passengers were put at risk.

The RMT though said that was “total garbage”.

It goes on like this for several more paragraphs, with claims by the RMT each followed by a rebuttal from Network Rail. The RMT say its dodgy and unsafe, Network Rail say nobody was in danger. Obviously both sides have reasons to say what they say and want to persuade the public.

Is this a scandalous tale of a safety failure on the railway, or is it a union overreacting to a track defect? I have no idea. The article gives no information or analysis to help me understand whether I should be worried or not.

The BBC has a commendable commitment to impartial reporting. Unfortunately, all too often, their idea of “balance” is letting each side have a say and making no effort to analyse or filter their statements.

This results in a load of “he-said-she-said” articles like the one linked to, with no attempt at fact-checking or independent verification. As a reader, I am no more enlightened than I was when I started reading the article.

It’s slightly better than sensationalised and one-sided tabloid reporting, but not by much.

13th November 2012

Bloody Brilliant Correspondents

There’s been a lot said about the BBC in recent days. I’m not going to try to say much about the botched Newsnight stories. There is already far too much noise over the issue, with the BBC’s critics using it as a political football. While Tory MPs, egged on by the Murdoch press, queue up to call for the dismantling of the corporation, they forget completely about the victims of the sexual abuse who should be the focus of the story.

I’ll just leave you with a couple of audio/video clips to mull over. First, listen to this relentless interrogation of George Entwistle by John Humphrys over the affair.

Compare that interview with the deference this Fox News host shows to Rupert Murdoch over the phone-hacking scandal:

Now, which organisation is demonstrating more accountability and responsibility?

There will be much more fallout from this scandal, but… Continuing to trust the BBC as my main source of news? No worries Mr Chairman, that’s fine with me.

23rd October 2012

Pages from Hampofax

By way of tribute to the BBC’s teletext service, Ceefax, which closes down tonight after 38 years, here is a little something I put together:

14th August 2012

Olympic Nitpicking
Posted by at 7.21pm | In the News | 2 responses

Well, the Olympics are over. After the grand opening ceremony largely silenced the naysayers, the sport began and a nation held its breath to see if London really could pull this off.

By and large, we did quite well, in terms of both the games organisation and the number of medals won. I’m not a sports fan, but I had BBC1 on in the background constantly, and several moments stand out: Andy Murray winning a Wimbledon final at long last; the cyclists winning… well, almost everything; Tom Daley winning bronze and celebrating as if he’d won gold; and immigrant Mo Farah winning two gold medals, silencing the Daily Mail and other whingers who bemoaned “plastic Brits”.

Despite (or perhaps because of) TfL’s dire warnings to stay away, the transport problems failed to materialise, with the Tube, train and DLR lines holding up remarkably well. The army covered admirably following the G4S embarrassment. The empty seats in the venues were sad to see (especially for people like me who tried and tried to get tickets, but were ultimately left empty-handed). I hope the ticket allocation is handled more sensibly at future Games.

The BBC have been big winners, receiving deserved praise from all sides for the breadth and depth of their coverage, with every event covered live on the brilliant Olympic web site and via 24 dedicated channels on Sky and Virgin. Commentators and presenters, mindful that a high number of non-sports addicts would be tuning in, took time to explain the minutiae of the sport. They cheered on Team GB’s victories, but other countries were not overlooked, and the line between patriotism and one-sided jingoism was well-observed. Clare Balding and Ian Thorpe (despite his habit of saying “look” at the start of every sentence) deserve particular praise for their punditry.

So on Sunday, all that was left was to bring things to a close. Much has been written about the piss-poor closing ceremony, so I won’t go over it here. Suffice to say a parade of pop stars of varying levels of has-beenness was not an appropriate way to close what was an amazing two weeks.

And what of the much-discussed legacy? Well, our ruling class demonstrates a lot of signs that they are learning the wrong lessons. David Cameron is now demanding that competitive sport be made compulsory in all schools, sneering at “Indian Dance” lessons, and decrying the “all must have prizes” culture that exists mainly in the mind of Daily Telegraph columnists.

David Cameron, I suspect, has never suffered the indignity of being picked last for a team, or finishing a cross country run so late that everyone else had got changed and gone home (I was that soldier). Forcing competitive sport on me put me off any form of exercise for the best part of a decade, and my health suffered as a result. For the sake of every computer geek with poor hand-eye coordination, other forms of physical education must be provided.

Now that the 2012 party is half-finished (Paralympics still to come of course), will be there be lasting change? Certainly the games have provided a real lift to the national mood. Even the grumpiest soul must have been cheered up by the scenes on display. British athletes competing for the honour rather than the money; the thousands of volunteers giving up their time to become Gamesmakers; London, at its best, beamed onto a billion TV screens worldwide. Indeed, Monday morning seemed to bring a collective post-Olympic depression, as people realised it was over.

Will there be a permanent change to the nation’s psyche, though? It would be nice to think that, after seeing the years of training and preparation put in by the athletes, the youth of the nation will use that as a model rather than the cynical “instant fame” celebrity culture. It’s naive and simplistic to say – as some have this week – “if you work hard, you can achieve anything”. With inequality and class privilege still ingrained in British society, you need more than a strong work ethic to succeed (indeed, one-third of the UK’s medallists were privately educated). However, Team GB still provide better examples to follow than those shown in Big Brother, Britain’s Got Talent and OK! Magazine.

Sadly, I’m not sure there will be such profound change. The tabloids, which for the last fortnight have carried pictures of beaming gold medallists, will surely now return to the sexual exploits of footballers. Bankers will still be greedy. Nick Clegg will still be useless. And — oh, joy — The X Factor returns to ITV1 this Saturday.

Hmm… I think I can feel the cynicism returning.

1st July 2012

A Pointless Excursion

BBC Television CentreI’ve always liked game shows on TV. My obsession during my childhood led to my founding a short-lived Catchphrase fan web site (don’t ask) and the construction of an elaborate computer program, on my old Acorn A3010, to recreate the mise en scène of Family Fortunes, much to the chagrin of my relatives who had to endure a game at Christmas and other family occasions.

My favourite new show is Pointless, an amiable trivia-fest which fills the afternoon tea-time slot BBC1. I’m usually at the gym when it is on, watching the action play out without sound and with subtitles, and I’ve become quite hooked.

Therefore, when I noticed that tickets were available for the latest run of recordings, I jumped at the chance to apply.

View from the train windowThere were two motivations: since Pointless is regularly pre-empted by sport at the moment, it would no doubt aid my withdrawal symptoms. Secondly, and most importantly, it would be a chance to see inside the iconic BBC Television Centre before it is closed and sold off.

Of course, any experience is best shared, and I was fortunate my semi-regular intrepid band of friends with me: Scott and his partner Dave travelled down with me to London, where we would meet our mutual friend Ian.

On Thursday morning, we arrived at Lime Street and boarded a Virgin Pendolino, which got us to London with its usual speed, despite encountering a horrifying storm while passing through the Midlands.

Read the rest of this post »

11th December 2011

Posted by at 11.42am | Television | No responses

Watch BBC1 for any length of time and you’ll soon encounter this year’s Christmas Promo. They’ve really gone to town this year, with seemingly every celebrity within a 20-mile radius of Television Centre being roped in to appear.

Look around online and you’ll find Scrooge-like characters describing this as being a cheesy waste of money. Well, maybe, but you could say that about 90% of the things that happen at Christmas time. As for me, I love the idea of all of BBC1’s stars getting together for a knees-up, where they sing, dance and unconvincingly pretend to play the piano. It’s a lovely effort which cements the BBC’s reputation as the only broadcaster worth bothering with on December 25th.

That said, it’s not a new idea – flash back to Christmas 1993 and a near-identical concept was used, although the cheese factor is ratcheted up by a factor of 10. There are no Christmas jumpers in sight, the producers of this magnum opus preferring the Birds of a Feather women in glittery dresses. Look out for a cameo from Andi Peters, which – despite its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nature – was the source of much good-natured ribbing on Live & Kicking.

Warning: contains Jim Davidson.

Note the heavy presence of Bruce Forsyth in both trailers. There is simply no stopping the man.

9th October 2011

Posted by at 5.19pm | In the News | No responses

I love the BBC. It’s not perfect by any means and there are loads of things I would do differently if I was in charge (one day, maybe), but that doesn’t change the fact that is by far the finest broadcasting and newsgathering organisation in the world and is absolutely a great British institution.

It breaks my heart, therefore, to read of the cuts that are being forced upon it. The Tories may see this as cutting a bloated monopoly down to size, but a weakened BBC (and, by extension, a strengthened Sky) will be bad for the culture of the country.

Predictably there has been a huge outcry on Twitter and elsewhere, with most people unhappy that the thing they like is disappearing, while a thing they hate will continue. I’m not going to go down that road: I can’t stand Chris Moyles, Top Gear or Strictly Come Dancing, but I’m not going to declare them a waste of licence payers’ money, because I know there are other people who would happily axe my favourite things: Miranda, QI and The Apprentice.

It’s especially sad to see BBC local radio hit so hard by the cuts. Radio Merseyside isn’t my cup of tea (it isn’t even my glass of water) but there’s no doubting that it reaches and – more importantly – connects with a huge audience on a daily basis. If genuinely useful services like that are being reduced, is there any point in the BBC at all?

14th July 2011

Brum Fun
Posted by at 8.38pm | Out and About | 2 responses

Ticket to Birmingham“You’re going where?”

Such was the reaction from my friends when I told them I was planning to visit Birmingham on Monday. I think I would have earned a less scornful reaction had I organised a weekend break in Basra.

Lots of people say things about Birmingham: it’s a dump, it’s ugly, the local accent is like fingernails on a blackboard. But then again, lots of people say similar things about Liverpool. I was more than prepared, therefore, to give Birmingham the benefit of the doubt; as far as I was concerned it was a place that fulfilled my three criteria for a day out: it was cheap, it was somewhere I’d never been, and I could get there easily from Liverpool South Parkway.

Regular readers will have noted that I was recently forcibly separated from my mobile phone. That was a bit of a downer, and I certainly missed the distraction of music, internet and games during the 93 minute train journey. I had to look out of the WINDOW, for heaven’s sake!

On the other hand, it was strangely liberating to not have the pressure to Tweet my whimsical observations on Britain’s second city every five minutes. I was able to relax and enjoy myself, and save my outpourings for one big enjoyable spurt.

Read the rest of this post »