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Did you know that there are around 14,000 big cats living in India today, often within metres of humans? Did you know that Mumbai is infested with them? And did you know that in some districts they are afraid of humans, while in others they have mysteriously become man-eaters?
If the answer to the above is no, you must have missed Leopards: 21st Century Cats (Friday, BBC Two). I didn’t. I was gripped.
The presenter, the wonderfully named Romulus Whitaker, one of India’s leading conservationists, kicked things off by relating the tale of how his dog was dragged off and killed by a leopard at his home in southern India. From there he went on the hunt, travelling across India to try to work out why some leopards turn bad.
At one point, he tested the tameness of a leopard by advancing, unarmed and in full view, until he was within metres of the animal. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Attenborough. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Nurse telly can be good, really good. Take Getting On, the BBC Four sitcom starring Jo Brand, which was set in a hospital ward. As Clive James has noted: “behind the unflinching realism, the stories are touchingly humane”. Or take US drama Nurse Jackie. Hard-hitting and darkly comic, it wound you in like a catheter. Take, even, Call the Midwife. Not profound, perhaps. But charming, and at times affecting.
Frankie, while borrowing elements from all of these shows, ultimately failed to deliver. The six-part drama was written by Lucy Gannon of Soldier Soldier fame and, OK, it was a mid-brow piece of fluffy entertainment. But the subject matter was the NHS, and issues such as men with dementia and seven-year-old girls in cardiac arrest, so the flimsiness of the characterisation and cheap-and-cheerful plotting felt woefully inadequate. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
In a speech to the think-tank Demos, Dianne Abbott, the female Labour MP, has given a horrendously matronising and ham-fisted speech entitled “Britain’s crisis of masculinity”.
Britain, she suggested, is in danger of having “a generation of British men without realistic heroes”, of becoming “a nation of atomised, lonely, entrepreneurial boys, who often have lives without meaning”.
In the past, she said, what “made” a British man was “earning, providing and belonging”. These days, it has “melted into taking, owning and consuming”.
This was a Frankenstein’s monster of unsubstantiated and malicious generalisations (“I think that we’re seeing the rise of a ‘Viagra and Jack Daniels culture’”); disembodied statistics (“men are 56 per cent more likely to develop [cancer] and 67 per cent more likely to die”); simplistic historical narratives (“rapid social change has left many British men … caught between the “stiff-upper lip” approach of previous generations and today’s cultural tornado of male cosmetics”) and whiny, empty hand-wringing (“I’m particularly troubled by a culture of hyper-masculinity”).
Did it put forward any serious solutions? Did it heck. Ultimately, it was a neat showcase of everything that is wrong with Miliband Labour.
One thing, however, was as clear as a bell. Diane Abbott – as a self-proclaimed “single mother” – really doesn’t rate men.
“Look into the eyes of many of the troubled and often unhealthy young men leaving school early,” she said, “who are at one with anthems of hyper-masculinised music lyrics, and YouTube clips of bullying. Look into the eyes of many of the men sitting in the cubicles of bureaucratic English offices, with a disintegrating family life. Look into the eyes of men sitting in the plush offices of the top City firms, with little of note to show for it but a nice car and often shallow relationships. Do you see clear sense of pride?”
Um, how to answer that one? Talk about petitio principii. What about she looks into the eyes of the millions of sweet men and boys who have successful family lives, who are working hard and well at their jobs, and who are, on the whole, pretty happy? Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Like 10 million other internet users, I found this “Pumpcast News” viral video, produced by the cult American television programme The Tonight Show, both hilarious and inspiring. Hilarious, because – well, just because. And inspiring because of the unalloyed joie de vivre and presence of mind demonstrated by the couple after being caught unawares.
If you haven’t got time to watch the clip (and I heartily recommend that you do), here’s a brief synopsis: Normal petrol station in Burbank, California. A man and wife are about to fill their car with “gas” when the screen on the pump comes alive and a news anchor – played by Tim Stack – starts speaking to them. In exchange for free petrol, they perform impromptu performances of Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer, and the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This). Their cheeriness, good humour, and freedom from inhibition, has captured the hearts of the nation and the world.
Sadly, however – look away now if you’d prefer not to have the dream shattered – it is looking very likely that the thing was a set-up. Two years ago, the Tonight Show aired another Pumpcast News segment. It featured one of the same actors (yes, they are both trained actors). She was at the same petrol station; driving the same car; and was even wearing the same trousers. To watch that video, visit the Smoking Gun website, which broke the story.
When confronted with the footage, the actor, Monifa Sims, suggested that it was mere coincidence. “When it happened again, I said, ‘I cannot believe it!’” she said. She also claimed that neither she nor her husband had watched her 2011 appearance (“I’m not glued to my TV at night”). This seems to be contradicted by posts that she left on her Facebook page at the time, when she wrote “Don’t forget to chck me out on Jay Leno tonight! Let the laughter begin!!!” and, later, “Jay Leno was HILARIOUS!”
In retrospect, it is rather obvious. The two actors react with just a little too much poise and aplomb. And the way the conversation between them and the “anchor” developed, starting with the male actor singing to himself and progressing to both actors performing a duet, seemed a bit, well, scripted. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
“In the 1900s it was known as Black Dick’s Castle, after a local highwayman,” he says. “Later it was called Keeper’s Tower, as the keeper of the estate lived here. But I like Sham Castle. It has a light-hearted feel, which is the spirit of the folly.”
Sham Castle was built in the late 1700s by Sir Edward Smythe, a local squire whose niece, Maria Fitzherbert, married George IV. Principally, it houses a hugely ornate music chamber; the family used to promenade there in the summer and be entertained with small concerts. When Christopher bought the folly, intricate plasterwork featuring musical instruments still survived on the ceiling. But it had been allowed to fall into woeful state. Even parts of the roof had fallen in.
In the mid-Eighties, the building had been purchased by a local philanthropist for £1 and renovated, but in a “rather ham-fisted way” involving “chipboard flooring and nasty carpets”. Christopher had a big job on his hands. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Remember Justine Greening’s announcement that Britain’s aid contribution to South Africa is being “cut” in 2015? I recently received a tip-off that in reality our overall aid package to the country will only be marginally reduced. I looked into it, and reported on it for the Sunday Telegraph. The results make sober reading.
Miss Greening’s statements, made just before the local elections, declared that the £19 million aid budget would be ended completely. “I have agreed with my South African counterparts,” she said, “that South Africa is now in a position to fund its own development.”
A Dfid press release gave more details: “UK to end direct financial support to South Africa”, it trumpeted. “The two countries will begin a new relationship based on sharing skills and knowledge, not on development funding.”
No figures were given, however, for the £116.4 million of “regional aid”, to be spent in South Africa between now and March 2014, as well as a further £70.3 million committed for the following year. There are currently no plans to cut this. Staff levels at the newly redesigned British High Commission in Pretoria are not due to be reduced, and there are “no plans to close this office”. Britain also gives aid via multilateral and “global” programmes, which together amount to further tens of millions of pounds.
I located the evidence – DfId’s “South Africa’s Operational Plan 2011-2015”, available to the public on the internet, which shows that, over the period, the country’s regional aid, is at £256 million more than three times the £76 million of direct aid – and confronted Dfid spokesman with it. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, will be asked by MPs about her claim that South Africa would “fund its own development” after 2015 as it emerged that her pledge only affected a fraction of the aid Britain gives the country.
Miss Greening said last month that direct assistance to the country would “come to an end”, and it was “currently worth £19 million a year”.
However the announcement related only to “bilateral aid” and did not mention the £116.4 million of “regional aid”, to be spent between now and March 2014, as well as a further £70.3 million committed for the following year.
The disclosure is to be investigated by the committee of MPs that scrutinises the £10 billion overseas aid budget.
Sir Malcolm Bruce, the committee’s chairman, also said he was concerned that the Department for International Development (DfID) had presented it as a “cut” when the £19 million will be spent elsewhere in the world, as the aid budget is ring-fenced from cuts.
The issue will add to growing concerns over spending on overseas aid. Only last week, the Government was accused of failing to enshrine in law a commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on international development because of fears it could prompt a rebellion by some backbench Conservative MPs. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
The Eighties. Were they really that long ago? The depiction of the period in Life of Crime (Friday, ITV), the darkly seductive new crime drama, was so grittily nostalgic that it seemed like another era. The boxy cars, the casual sexism, the sepias and greys, the gauzes of fag smoke passing through every shot. It was just yesterday, wasn’t it?
For me, it was laid on a little thick. The vibe was more early Seventies than mid Eighties, more The Sweeney than Bergerac. One got the feeling that it was probably directed by a precocious little pipsqueak with a hipster’s beard who was born in 1982.
In fact it was directed by Jim Loach (42), son of the cadaverous Marxist Ken Loach (breathe easy: Life of Crime is not overtly politicised). Old enough to know better? Perhaps. But the aesthetic was gorgeous, especially if you’re a sucker for gritty, gloomy scenes and claustrophobic sound engineering. So perhaps the sentimentalism should be forgiven. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
The documentary Queens of Jazz (Friday, BBC Four) must have been an easy piece of telly to make. The subjects – “jazz divas” Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan and Peggy Lee– were so fascinating that if you simply took original footage and spliced it end-to-end, that would be entertainment enough. In fact, the clips were spliced with interviews from modern contemporary female vocalists such as Annie Ross, Lisa Stansfield and Melody Gardot, and linked with a gratifyingly unobtrusive voiceover.
My goodness, these women are fascinating, aren’t they? All born in the same period; all subject to the same influences; all faced with the same difficult societal issues; all glamorous to the point of transcendence; all blessed with the sort of talent that has not once been equalled in the five decades that followed. And all defining an era. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
There are few issues more inflamed than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It doesn’t take long before such discussions descend into name-calling and acrimony, and the people on the more extreme ends of the spectrum often shout the loudest and attract disproportionate attention. Nevertheless, it is my firm belief that due to the complexity of the situation – to paraphrase Barack Obama – good people on both sides can disagree.
And, quite obviously, it is important that they do so, freely and vociferously. The principle of freedom of speech, and the pursuit of truth, demands it. This is particularly apt when the discussion is conducted by the brightest brains in science and the arts; the flow of ideas, both related and unrelated to the “situation”, is vital if there is ever going to be a peaceful resolution.
Given this context, it is sad that Stephen Hawking, the eminent physicist, has decided to contribute towards the closing of the debate bysupporting the academic boycott of Israel. It is understandable that he has a pro-Palestinian perspective. Yet this partisan, reductive move has moved him from the realms of objective, concerned observer to an instrument of one particular side against the other. Continue reading on the Telegraph website