Daily Archives: April 12, 2010

How to win the TV debate: Michael Cockerell

Well, if you weren’t already excited by the prospect of the political leaders’ TV debates and persuaded that this is a turning point for UK politics, then Michael Cockerell’s fascinating How to win the TV debate should have changed your mind. 

This was great television:  television doing best what only it can do.  So good that I re-watched it on iPlayer immediately (and then replayed the best bits again).  It should be compulsory viewing for all voters.

In little under an hour, it provided an informed and engaging sweep across televised Presidential debates in the US, starting with the initial Nixon-Kennedy clash in 1960.  And carefully, as the years and decades went by, it linked them across to the UK elections and leaders and the similar debates they often talked about, but avoided having.

This of course had the huge advantage of being TV analysing the production and impact of TV – but it used the vast range of historic footage it had skilfully and at just the right pace.  It was laced together with insightful analysis from the vastly experienced political reporter, Michael Cockerell (who nicely established his credentials mid-way by including a clip from 1979 of his questioning candidate Reagan).

What made this programme fly was indeed the fine selection and presentation of archive material, drawing in Presidents and Prime Ministers and wannabe Presidents and Prime Ministers alike, plus their raft of advisers and political commentators reflecting on the debates. 

Those candidates that did shine through the TV lens still standout:  Clinton, even with all we know about him, was still exhilarating both in interview and in the TV debate.  I’d vote for him tomorrow.

It also showed what went through their minds and how they and their advisers prepared.  It had great behind the scenes footage, such as Presidents Ford and Obama preparing:  Gerald Ford practicing by literally taking on a cumbersome old TV playing clips of Carter, not that it availed him much in reality. Continue reading

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The Archers: Stray pusscats strut

Get real, Lilian. No-one believes in this ‘platonic’ interest in Paul nonsense.  Even Jennifer, never the sharpest nail in the manicure, has seen through your flannel. As will Paul at this rate.

Rather than be judgemental, however, I would like to offer Lilian a handy guide as to how the half-brothers compare.

Matt, I can't believe you've got to wear... trainers

Availability: Matt being banged up, Paul wins hands down. While Paul can happily contrive implausible-sounding work opportunities which bring him within a gnat’s crotchet of Felpersham, Matt’s obviously not at liberty to wine and dine Lilian. Even when Matt comes out, he’ll be on a curfew. Which is kind of mystifying, isn’t it? As Paul himself has pointed out, fraud’s not really the sort of crime that’s only committed outside the home during the hours of darkness. Anyway, the only thing tying Paul down right now is a couple of kids, but they don’t seem too irksome. Less irksome than an electronic tag, in fact. Score: Matt 0, Paul 9 (includes extra point for smart observation regarding ridiculous curfew storyline). Verdict: No contest. Sorry Matt.

Sexiness: There’s obviously a familial resemblance, but I guess Paul is younger. Not that that necessarily has anything to do with sexiness. He doesn’t yet have a bedroom nickname for Lilian in the ‘Pusscat’ mould, but he does have the immense advantage of the thrill of the unknown. And the way he says ‘Lilian’ is rather phwoar-some. Score: Matt 5, Paul 8. Verdict: The younger brother strikes back. It’s the oldest rivalry in history. It’s Cain and Abel, it’s Christopher and Peter Hitchins, it’s Will and Ed Grundy.

Family involvement: Matt famously can’t stand family life. Even when he grudgingly agreed to meet his birth mother, it was only at Lilian’s shrill insistence. Later, on hearing his mother was dead, he said, ‘Oh.’ He’s not much better with Lilian’s family, regarding Jennifer, Brian, Peggy et al as necessary irritants. Hmm. Good point. Paul, meanwhile, has clearly been the good son, doting on his cold-hearted mother and spawning some sprogs of his own. He even asks after the appalling James, which Matt has definitely never done. However, I haven’t forgotten how good Matt was when Jack was at his pre-Laurel’s worst. So it’s not a complete whitewash. Score: Matt 4, Paul 9. Verdict: Gotta say, my sympathies lie with Matt here.

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Apollo 13: The best thing we can do now is just to listen… and hope

Forty years ago today the world watched Apollo 13 blast off. The third expedition to put people on the Moon was under way. We all know what happened next, all encapsulated in the phrase “Houston, we have a problem.”

This morning on Radio 4′s Today programme, there was a report on the events of the failed Moon mission by the BBC’s science correspondent, Pallab Ghosh, and it was brilliant, moving, stirring stuff (you can hear it here).

Archive clips of James Burke describing the take off, and a backing track of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, which was number one at the time, framed an interview with Jim Lovell, the commander of the mission. He said he and his fellow astronauts didn’t discuss failure because they were too busy trying to work out a solution. “As long as we kept breathing we could keep talking,” he said – even till the last drop of oxygen they would keep going, feeding data back to the people on the ground. Even if they didn’t make it, they’d provide as much information as they could, which is one of the most incredibly professional and brave things I’ve ever heard.

Back on the ground, reporters asked Lowell’s wife if she would be happy for him to go on another mission – should he ever return home from the current one. “I wouldn’t like him to make another flight,” she says, sounding as restrained and professional as her husband even though she must have been screaming inside.

Then we hear the voice of Patrick Moore, describing the tense minutes when it wasn’t clear whether the little spacecraft bearing Lovell and his crew would make it back home. It reminded me of grainy images of the Apollo missions and tiny, parachuted landing craft falling through blue skies. “The best thing we can do now is listen,” Patrick Moore said, as everyone on Earth waited for some signal that Apollo 13 had made it back home. “And hope.”

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