Monday 22 August 2011

Why does Sky keep beating the BBC to the story?

When I blogged in March, in admiration of the Sky New's team's work in Zawiyah at the beginning of the Libyan revolution I could not have imagined the endgame I witnessed last night. Once again Sky News was well ahead of the BBC with Alex Crawford and the team at the heart of the rebel advance.  As it happened. It was riveting stuff.

They didn't just get lucky on the night. The frontline access they had, was given to them because of contacts with and the trust of the Zawiyah rebels. This was built by built Sky people on the ground, getting stuck in. Not through endless meetings back in London. Concentrate on and spend the money where it shows. Pretty much journalism 101. Something the many layers of management in BBC News have either forgotten or never knew in the first place.

I am very confident the team's efforts will not go unrewarded. They have certainly been recognised.

Perfect Pembrokeshire

Pounding the Pembrokeshire coast on a scorching Sunday has to be one of the great weekend activities. There was enough breeze to make it comfortable and to give a texture to the inky blue of the sea. The heat unlocked the evocative smells of the cliffs -- pineapple weed, chamomile daisies and dusty heather. I felt like I could have walked forever. Making my way back inland I lingered in St Davids. With its ancient stone roofs and pastel renders it was one of those days where you could have been in the south of France not the west of Wales.  

Thursday 18 August 2011

A Level Results

There is something so depressing about the annual news cycle. Same old same old. You imagine the drowsy hacks recycling last year's copy and going back to sleep. A Level results are perfect. For months ahead we could have predicted:

  • Record number of passes, A grades or whatever
  • Education ministers praise hardworking students (trying to take credit for themselves)
  • Standards fall allegations
  • UCAS swamped
  • Lots of bright state school kids don't get into Oxbridge
  • Pretty posh girls at independent schools leaping for joy pictured in Telegraph, Mail etc
This year though the refreshing news and revelation from Chris Cook in the FT that the posh schools pimp their tottie around the press months ahead of results day. I wonder if that is what parents pay all that cash for? I only hope that the photographers in attendance have all their CRB checks up to date. As for the editors, string 'em up, it's the only language they understand.

English riots

I have almost resisted the temptation to blog about the riots and the collapse of civilisation as we know it. I surprised myself by agreeing with Boris Johnson who described them as a huge own goal -- that is true. I was not surprised talking to a friend at the BBC to hear about the enormous handicaps placed on their reporters by health and safety bureaucracy, over-staffing, daft correctness like the "protesters" gaffe and centralised diktat -- no wonder Sky News outperformed them at every stage.

The most memorable episode for me however was a call from my Maasai "brother". He got in touch from Tanzania to offer his sympathy and to ask why we were doing this to ourselves. He was genuinely shocked.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Bletchley Park

To Bletchley Park for the Google summer party. Many years have passed since my last visit there.Then it was under threat of being bulldozed for a housing development. It is inconceivable now to think that the location for such a critical part of our national story was to be sacrificed to Messrs Wimpy or Barratt, but that is of course the British way. Just imagine a similar scenario in the USA or France.

Thankfully we came to our senses and the site was saved for the nation. A lot has changed since that previous visit but most importantly a lot has not. The Trustees have managed to retain the enthusiastic brown paper and string feel of the place. Not too many of the "interpretation centres", gift shops and heritagisation opportunities  that plague so many historic locations.

Google has recognised the enormous contribution Alan Turing and many other at Bletchley Park made to the information revolutions that are shaping and reshaping our world today. The company has been sponsoring some of the activities at Bletchley hence the location for its summer party. Amid the great, the good, the geeks and the Googleistas at the party there were a few of the remaining BP crew.  They are truly amazing people. Not just for what they did during the war --shortening it by two years seems to be the general consensus -- but what they didn't do after it. For decades the 10,000 Bletchley Park workers kept the secret of its operations. 10,000 to a man or woman. That level of loyalty and discipline is unbelievable in our leaky, twittery and self congratulatory world today.

Compare the "amateurs" of BP, the crossword compilers, the Cambridge mathematicians and Oxford linguists, the Welsh poets, Mayfair debs and Polish engineers with the "professionals" at the same time. In the Foreign Office think of Burgess and Maclean, in MI6 Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt, from the Cabinet Office, John Cairncross. Think even of our Royal betters -- the Duke of Windsor -- quietly spirited out of Europe to stop him passing any more secrets to his Nazi heroes.

In the rain of an English summer afternoon, with the sound of the tombola and 40s swing behind me, I sip my weak tea in honour of them.                

Saturday 13 August 2011

Robert Robinson RIP

So farewell then Robert Robinson. You were a big part of our broadcasting lives in the 70s and 80s. Your wonderful comb-over hair was only marginally less ridiculous than the contestants' coiffures on Ask the Family. Radio 4's Stop the Week was possibly the most patronising programme ever offered by the BBC -- "dinner party conversation for people who don't go to dinner parties". And for me, the memory that lingers most is the scene where you have an injection in your ample arse before venturing, on the viewers' behalf, onto the dangerous streets of India.

The sadness is compounded by the fact that your passing was announced on Radio 4 by the strangled voice of the ghastly Carolyn Brown, arguably BBC radio's worst presenter. What a sad contrast with your honeyed tones.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Which president ran up the biggest US national debt?

US Federal Debt 1980-Present -- Increase by President

Ronald Reagan increased US national debt by $1.9 trillion. That represented 11.3% of US GDP in his first term and 9.3% in his second.

George H.W. Bush, by $1.5 trillion, or 13% of US GDP
Bill Clinton, by $1.4 trillion or a decrease of 0.7% of GDP in his first term and a further decrease of 9% in his second.

George W. Bush increased debt by $6.4 trillion. That represents a rise of 7.1% against GDP in his first terms and 20.7% in his second.
Barack Obama is currently on a $2.4 trillion increase. That represent a rise of 9% as a proportion of GDP.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

White Riot ... or perhaps white powder


"Things got out of hand & we’d had a few drinks. We smashed the place up and Boris set fire to the toilets."

David Cameron recalls his time at Oxford, speaking in 1986

Monday 8 August 2011

The truth about Osama...?

Interesting post from Andrew Sullivan here -- let's face it $25 million has to be a killer temptation.

Fab Fi

The fantastic Fi Glover returned to the airwaves this morning. I was lucky enough to be driving somewhere at 0900 so could listen. Her new series -- Generations Apart -- promises to become required listening. Much has been said of late about radio's renaissance and what I heard this morning supports that analysis. Glover interviewed a cohort of 1946-born baby boomers. The result was entrancing. It demonstrated what we have often so stupidly forgotten, that ordinary life stories are rich, engaging and illuminating. While television disappears up its own reality-celebrity backside or dishes-up freak shows of the awful, obese and shouty, radio is calmly doing what it's so good at -- weaving real narratives that reflect on all our lives.

Radio killed the video star perhaps.        

Saturday 6 August 2011

big brother

One theme that most dystopian visions have in common is the abuse of language. From Huxley, to Orwell, to Gilliam we find worlds in which words are created or distorted or finessed to wrench them from their real meanings and create sugar coated tyranny or propagate fear and respect.

Despite the ingenuity of these writers and visionaries they always seem to get roundly beaten by reality. The twisting of our language by governments, corporations and all manner of busybodies outranks anything from newspeak or Brazil.

Today I received a bullying letter from DVLA telling me to send it a new photograph for my licence and £20 and threatening me with massive fines and bans for non-compliance. The letter came from a bossy woman called Nadine Davies with the preposterous title "Head of Central Capture Unit". Even Big Brother would not have dared ....