Friday, 29 June 2012

Don't take it standing up

As Jimmy Carr attempts to rehabilitate his image in the wake of the tax-dodging scandal, it’s nice to know that not all comedians are cash-hoarding one-percenters with nothing but disdain for the great unwashed.

Take Louis C.K. for example. He may not be a household name in the UK, but in the States he’s even more prolific than Jimmy is here. Which is really saying something, given that half the population probably see Carr’s off-putting babyface whenever they close their eyes, like they’ve been staring at a lightbulb for too long.

As well as writing and starring in his own sitcom, Louie, he does voice-over work and is a regular face on the late-night talk-show circuit. He also releases a recording of every one of his live shows, with a new special appearing every year since 2007.

Interestingly, his most recent full-length concert, Live at the Beacon Theater, saw Louis trying a new business model for distribution. Rather than releasing the show on DVD, he offered it as a DRM-free download from his website for just $5.00, believing that this would strengthen his connection with the fans, and help to combat online piracy. Within two weeks, this bold new approach had netted him a million dollars. Just remember that next Christmas when you see Peter Kay releasing yet another 50-minute compilation DVD culled from the approximately two hours of material he’s ever performed.

Buoyed by the success of his approach, Louis decided that there was an even better way to support the fans, and in doing so took on perhaps the most objectionable Goliath in contemporary entertainment – Ticketmaster. Once again, using his own website as the distribution channel, he offered tickets for his latest stand-up tour for the fixed price of $45.

As he explained in an open letter: “Making my shows affordable has always been my goal but two things have always worked against that. High ticket charges and ticket re-sellers marking up the prices. Some ticketing services charge more than 40% over the ticket price… By selling the tickets exclusively on my site, I've cut the ticket charges way down and absorbed them into the ticket price.” He must have hit a nerve with fans, since he managed to shift 100,000 tickets in under 48 hours.

Anyone who’s ever been wallet-raped by Ticketmaster is probably vicariously punching the air right now, since the success of his experiment will hopefully inspire other artist to try a similar approach. Maybe one day, we’ll all be able to book tickets for a gig without having to pay an assortment of made-up fees for non-existent services.

I’ve never understood how ten percent of the final cost can be down to administration charges. You choose the venue, the date and the seat yourself, and fill in the form online. So who exactly is doing all the administration work? It’s like Sainsbury’s charging you extra to use the self-service check-out. And then there’s the postage and packing fee. On average, it’s a couple of quid per ticket. Admittedly, that’s no huge amount, but it’s still a stretch given that the ticket is a thin strip of paper, not etched into the side of a housebrick. And let’s not forget my favourite charge of all – the credit card booking fee. Having already stumped up the extra cash to pay a company that sells tickets to, you know, sell you a ticket, you’re then charged for the privilege of paying for said ticket. It’s not even as though there are a bunch of options for making the transaction – click here if you’d prefer to offer up a human sacrifice or barter livestock.

I’m sure it won’t be long before Ticketmaster’s shareholders start pressuring them for more profit, so they’ll need to find clever new revenue streams. Twenty quid to stop the ushers from sticking their fingers in your ears for the duration of the concert. Fifteen if you’d like to opt-out of a mandatory stabbing on the nightbus home. Another tenner if you’d like to be facing the stage, rather than the back of the auditorium. And a cool fifty if you don’t want to have the seats you actually ordered, automatically replaced with standing-room only tickets for The Wiggles.

Help us Louis C.K. You’re our only hope…

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

One hotel worth checking out

Films that dramatically divide opinion can be a worrying prospect for the selective viewer. After all, when a film can be applauded as the ‘scariest movie of the year’, and yet dismissed by other (more taciturn) critics as ‘utter shite’, who are you supposed to believe?

Out this week on DVD, after a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cinema release, Ti West’s ghostly yarn The Innkeepers is just such a film. How brief was its theatrical run? Well, let’s just say the issue of Total Film that gave its big-screen debut a five-star review, is still resting against my toilet cistern. But don’t let its hurried appearance on DVD put you off; it’s no reflection on the film’s quality. Instead, this is a low-fi, slow-burn chiller made for peanuts, so it’s not as though anyone involved was expecting a triumphant three-month stint in the local Cineworld.

Coming so soon after celebrated spookers like The Woman In Black and The Awakening, The Innkeepers feels like a curiously subdued oddity. Whereas the former reveled in their moody period detail - all peeling wallpaper and flickering candle-light - The Innkeepers takes a wryly contemporary view of the things that go bump in the night. At the Yankee Pedlar Inn, it’s more likely to be the drunken actress on the second floor falling out of bed, than the vengeful spirit of a jilted bride.

Most haunted house films tend to feature a cast of incredulous victims, who spend the first hour in a state of perpetually irrational disbelief. However, West’s quirky contribution to the sub-genre opens with his two lead characters updating a website dedicated to the phantom rumoured to haunt the rundown hotel where they both work. Interestingly, our protagonists are fully conversant with ghost story lore and actively seek out evidence to support their growing belief in parapsychological phenomena.  

In the same way that Scream revolutionised a tired format by making its characters fully aware of slasher movie rules, here we have a film about people who don’t freak out when a door closes of its own accord. They’re too busy filming it and uploading it to YouTube. The downside, if it can be called that, is that the first hour of the film is very light on conventional scares. Instead, West allows us to spend time with his laconic leads. And they’re a pretty entertaining pair, spending most of the weekend bickering and bantering with each other, as well as the few guests who are making use of the hotel’s final days in business.

It’s this decision to focus on character and humour, rather than sudden shocks, that seems to have put off most viewers. Perhaps they missed the film’s tagline: “A Ghost Story for the Minimum Wage”, which implied that this might have more in common with Clerks than Insidious.

Adding to the unusual mood of the movie is former Hollywood pin-up Kelly McGillis, playing a one-time actress who’s now a spiritualist and healer. Looking almost as lived-in as her shabby hotel room, McGillis represents one of the most enduring archetypes of paranormal cinema – the ‘Madame Arcati’ figure. And yet, despite the build up, McGillis isn’t given a whole lot to do, other than gaze blankly out of windows, and occasionally swing a crystal pendulum. Even her panicked exposition in the final act seems like more of an afterthought than a major plot driver, adding to the sense of ennui around the entire proceedings. As a consequence, it’s hard not to think about the fact that, whilst Tom Cruise presumably keeps an aging self portrait in the attic, his Top Gun co-star seems to have spent the last decade living in one.

Nonetheless, things do pick up in the final half-hour, and there are a handful of decent scares to be had. But die-hard horror fans complaining about the film’s insouciant tone are perhaps missing the bigger point. Midway through the movie, it becomes clear that, irrespective of any supernatural disturbances, the real ghosts haunting the hotel are its aimless and disenfranchised employees. As played by Sara Paxton (perky and cute) and Pat Healy (A Connecticut Yankee in Simon Pegg’s Court), the two front-desk jockeys are trapped in the limbo of their own unfinished business. But before they can set their spirits free, they need to figure out what their business actually is.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

What we've become

I’ve seen some pretty horrendous things, thanks to my old pal the internet. I’ve watched that disturbing footage of a guy being hit by a train that he didn’t see coming. And I’ve witnessed two girls demonstrating the kind of behaviour that would get them kicked out of the crockery department of John Lewis. The fact is, there’s no shortage of troubling sights just waiting to make you regret having eyes. But I can safely say that I’ve found my limit - I’ve finally discovered something that I just can’t watch. It runs for ten minutes and nine seconds; and I lasted about a minute and a half.

It’s a bunch of middle-school students yelling abuse at their 68 year-old bus monitor. Having called Karen Huff Klein a “dumb-ass”, a “fat-ass” and “elephant”, they threaten to “piss all over [her] door” and “fucking take a crap in [her] mouth”. In addition, they speculate that “she probably eats deodorant because she can’t afford real food” and tell her  "you're so ugly your kid should kill themselves." As it happens, her son had done just that ten years previously.

The video is here. See how long you can stand it:

As the story went viral this afternoon, it popped up on a number of news sites, along with transcripts of the kids’ astonishingly malevolent attacks. At least that saved me from having to watch the whole thing. I don’t need to see a near seventy year-old widow being bullied until she cries.

It wasn’t long before the story hit Reddit, as the social news site’s users quickly voted it up to the front page. Somewhat predictably, incensed Redditors  were soon posting details of the school in question, emailing district officials in the area, and even adding a link to Karen’s facebook page. Other users, looking for a more vengeful outlet for their disgust, chose to post links to the kids’ own pages, as well as their parents' addresses. Threats to vandalise their homes, beat them senseless and harass their families swiftly followed.

Thankfully, not everyone was quite so filled with blood-lust. One Redditor, calling himself Max S, decided to set up a donations page on Indiegogo. Since Karen’s Bus Monitor salary is a matter of public record, Max wrote on his page “She doesn't earn nearly enough ($15,506) to deal with some of the trash she is surrounded by. Lets give her something she will never forget, a vacation of a lifetime!” When I started writing this, the figure was at $5,500. It’s now at $25,040, and appears to be increasing exponentially.

As well as monetary donations, a number of facebook pages have been set up in tribute to Karen, offering people a chance to add their sympathetic messages of support. Many have shared their own stories about suffering at the hands of bullies. Others are content to call her a saint, a role model, and tell her that the whole world loves her.

Some people will look at this story and see it as a pointed commentary on how an era of lazy parenting has created a generation of vicious, amoral monsters. Others may choose to see the silver lining, and celebrate the fact that over $25,000 dollars has been raised in a matter of hours, as a charitable gesture to make someone’s day.

In fact, this isn’t really a story about good vs evil at all. It’s a story about the internet, and how its omnipresence in every aspect of our lives has changed the way we think, communicate and behave.

It’s a reminder that, when witnessing tragedy or misfortune, our first instinct is not to stop and help, but to record and upload.

It’s a reminder that the act of trolling has become so prevalent, that anonymous online cruelty is no longer enough of an outlet. Face-to-face attacks are what really count.

It’s a reminder that anyone can achieve worldwide notoriety at a moment’s notice, sometimes for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And it’s a reminder that, all too often, we imagine that any humiliation and suffering can be endured, just as long as there’s some kind of financial reward at the end of it.

In an interview with her local news station, Klein said that she just wanted an apology. In all honesty, I wouldn’t even know where to start.

Monday, 18 June 2012

In celebration of the great British Shitcom

There was bad news for lovers of quality comedy recently, as it was announced that both 30 Rock and Community would only be returning next year for a half season each – enough for the writers to give their characters an appropriate send-off. The problem for both of these shows is that, from day one, they’ve been perceived by audiences as being too clever for mainstream success. People want their TV comedy to be like Gemma from TOWIE; broad and easily accessible. 

Look back at the history of the humble sitcom and it’s easy to see that this is not a recent phenomenon, nor is it limited to American shows. Indeed, the UK TV archives are littered with inexplicably popular, long-running shows that were about as funny as a mislabeled blood test.

The reason for these shows’ durability and appeal is a hard one to fathom. The closest I can come to an explanation involves an analogy from early on in my career. At the time, I was attending a meeting with the marketing manager of Britain’s number one family restaurant chain. She told me that they had a problem recruiting people because of how the brand was perceived. As she put it: “Our research tells us that we’re the UK’s favourite restaurant for people who don’t actually enjoy food.” This depressingly contradictory scenario works just as well for TV. Perhaps these woeful examples of the sitcom format were made for, and lapped up by, people who simply didn’t enjoy laughing. Anyway, here are some of the worst offenders – see how many you remember…

Duty Free

A cheap hotel set, and a bunch of stereotypes about lazy Spanish waiters. It’s not hard to see why ITV thought they’d stumbled onto a blinder with this Costa-set misfire about two cheating couples. Unfortunately, the similarities to Fawlty Towers end there. Instead, we were treated to countless scenes of cabbie Keith Barron attempting to get his end away with the imperious Joanna Van Gyseghem. Boasting the kind of lazy ‘quick, hide in the wardrobe’ farce that would shame a regional theatre company, Duty Free ran for three painful series. During that time, the would-be couple’s illicit liaisons became increasingly improbable, not least because Van Gyseghem constantly wore an expression that suggested she’d located the source of an unpleasant smell in her Marbella hotel room. My money’s on Brut aftershave and a pair of sweat-damaged espadrilles.

That’s My Boy

After the runaway success of Are You Being Served? producers were on the lookout for another vehicle for Molly Sugden’s impeccable comic credentials. Or just another chance for her to say “pussy” every couple of minutes. The concept they settled upon involved Sugden playing housekeeper to a young couple, only to discover that the master of the house was the child she gave up for adoption years before. As with many similar sitcoms of the early-mid eighties, much of the humour was derived from feeble attempts at class conflict, as the earthy Sugden repeatedly clashed with the upmarket Mrs. Price, her son’s adoptive mother. It’s painful to think that half an hour in the local Planned Parenthood clinic could have saved us five years of suffering.


Nothing screams ‘laugh a minute’ quite like the idea of a show built around a noxious Salvation Army busybody, attempting to eradicate sin from a depressed northern town. Clearly, that’s the opinion that drove Dick Sharples to write this perplexingly dour showcase for Thora Hird’s unique brand of unsympathetic judgement. As if the sight of Captain Emily Ridley stalking the streets of Brigthorpe, with an exhausted-looking brass band in tow, wasn’t depressing enough, viewers also had to contend with the fact that the closest this show ever got to glamour came in the homely form of Patsy Rowlands - a woman who couldn’t even give Bernard Bresslaw a doughie.

Last of the Summer Wine

Perhaps the most bafflingly popular member of this grim rogues gallery, Last Of The Summer Wine seems to have been running since John Logie Baird first entered his living room and thought a box might look nice in the corner. Over the course of 31 series, veteran TV legend Roy Clarke single-handledly wrote all 295 episodes, occasionally including as many as two jokes in each. Aside from fetishizing varicose veins, and mistreating old people so badly that it’s a miracle the undercover Panorama crew weren’t called in, the show was most notable for ending every episode with a scene of a stuntman in a dirty wool cap being pushed down the hillsides of Holmfirth strapped to a hospital gurney.

Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps

Occupying the opposite end of the age spectrum is this appalling show about a group of obnoxious twenty-somethings in Cheshire. Less a sitcom, more a halfway house for Hollyoaks actors not ready to re-enter society, this scatologically-inclined mess managed to run for nine interminable series. Although it was notable for relying on swearing, rather than jokes, for most of its humour, the producers decided that they would only include ‘fuck’ in the last episode of each series. Which is ironic, since viewers were muttering it throughout every other episode.

Terry and June

One of the qualities that distinguish 30 Rock and Community from their peers, is their meta handling of sitcom tropes and clichés. The characters seem archly aware of the fact that they’re stuck in a universe of humorous asides, plot contrivances and mild farce. But when it comes to reducing sitcom convention to a bubbling jus, neither of these shows come close to the accidental genius of this long-running curio. In the early days of computer programming, we learned about lines of code that could be written to create a simple wallpaper effect or basic animation. Conspiracy theorists believe that a similar algorithm was used to generate the scripts for the 65 episodes of Terry & June that ran between 1979 and 1987. The only factors that needed to change were the status symbol Terry acquired, the domestic crisis that June was facing, and what time the boss was supposed to arrive for supper. Time and time again, these simple variables were amended in order to generate an all-new script. Car alarms, mink coats, lawnmowers – the possibilities were as seemingly endless as the episodes themselves.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Happiness is not an option

Eighteen months is a long time to wait between seasons of a TV show. As viewers found when 24 took an extended hiatus, off the back of the writers’ strike, it can be hard for a well-loved property to regain its mojo after too long off the air. So I know I wasn’t alone in worrying that Mad Men could have lost its edge, after extensive contract wrangling saw Matthew Weiner’s ratings-winner drop off the radar for a year and a half.

Thankfully, those fears proved unfounded, as the recently concluded season five showed that the glamorous but hollow world of Cooper Sterling Draper Pryce is still as perfectly constructed and aesthetically bewitching as Joan’s formidable décolletage.

Its critics may carp that not a lot happens in any given episode, but only because we’re so used to season-long narrative arcs, packed with incident and excitement in other, lesser shows. In fact, every episode of our latest saunter down Madison Avenue, was rich with layers, subtext and seemingly inscrutable motivations.

If anything, the theme for the season seemed to be the joy and pain of growing up. Roger finally realised the true meaning of maturity, as he separated from his avaricious trophy wife and came to terms with fifty-something bachelorhood. He even seemed surprisingly content to sit back and let Pete Campbell step into his executive loafers as the head of accounts. As Roger explained, when handing over a set of skis to his one-time protégé, he’s happy to relax and watch the money roll in while Pete devotes his life to sucking up to unworthy clients.

Don, on the other hand, found maturity a little harder to contend with. As his daughter Sally crashed headlong into the painful petulance of adolescence, his young trophy wife ably demonstrated that she was much more than a pretty face and abundance of teeth. Upsetting the preconceptions of audiences and CSDP employees alike, she proved to be a surprisingly adept creative force, even surpassing Peggy by landing the Heinz beans account in a tag-team pitch with Don over dinner.

But happiness in Mad Men is as fleeting as a 30-second TV spot. So the sting in the tail came when Megan announced that she didn’t love advertising the way Don did. As she threw herself into countless auditions, in search of that elusive big break, Don begrudgingly acknowledged that his love of the industry was as transient as his passion for anything else in his life. A sense of going through the motions, in lieu of any real passion, came out again as Don felt increasingly threatened by Ginsberg, the erratic but prodigious young copywriter hired by Peggy. Fearful of being usurped by a generation from which he was feeling increasingly disconnected, he was reduced to sabotaging better concepts, simply to stay in the game.

Having scowled his way through a landmark birthday party, Don spent the most of the season struggling to understand the generation biting their thumbs at him from the right side of forty. This conflict seemed to culminate in an aborted attempt to sit through The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows, from the Revolver album. The music rights to that one track might have cost the show’s makers quarter of a million dollars, but it was worth every penny for the scene’s eloquently wordless encapsulation of Don’s dwindling grasp on the zeitgeist. He may have no trouble understanding what makes men and women tick, since that was always his stock-in-trade, but the younger generation may well prove to be his undoing.

She may have been sidelined since her divorce from Don, but Betty experienced her own growing pains this season, only hers were physical rather than age-related. Resigned to her role as decorative politician's wife, Betty's been hitting the whipped cream with a vengeance, even scarfing down Sally's leftover sundae when nobody was looking. January Jones gets a lot of stick for her curiously immobile performance, and the convincing but restrictive prosthetics certainly didn't help matters. But despite her supposed shortcomings as an actress, she still managed to add some extra layers (literal as well as figurative) to a woman who, until recently, was as cold as a penguin's mimsy. Suggesting that she's just as out of touch with sixties youth as her ex-husband, she seemed unable to connect with Sally until the day her daughter rather graphically "became a woman." 

What’s been most remarkable about Mad Men, and this season in particular, is how the writers have utilised a broad range of cultural touchpoints from the era and seamlessly integrated them into the narrative of the show. Rather than taking a contrived Forrest Gump approach, where the characters are little more than tour guides to lead us through the mists of time, here the significant events are pushed to the background, and used as context to explore the complexities of the characters’ relationships.

A great example of this was the Richard Speck murders, which provided the historical setting for an exploration of fear, both real and imagined. The case itself involved the rape and murder of eight student nurses, with a ninth avoiding a similar fate by hiding under the bed. As news of this horrifying crime broke across the TV screens and newspapers of 1966, its significance became something of a motif for father and daughter, as Don and Sally confronted their own night terrors in different ways.

Feverish and hallucinating, Don imagined himself strangling the ghost of a one-time fuck buddy, pushing her corpse under the bed in a half-hearted attempt to hide his transgressions. Despite the sudden and shocking violence, this was Don trying to do the right thing; using brute force in an attempt to recommit to the concept of commitment. Meanwhile, his daughter Sally ignored instructions not to read about the Speck murders, and reached out to her step-grandmother for comfort. With a carving knife resting on a sofa cushion, just in case, the old woman gave the girl a sleeping pill. When we next saw Sally, she was cocooned beneath the sofa, safe and sound in her pharmaceutically enabled slumber.  

Continuing the theme, this particularly eventful night also saw two other female characters confront their own nocturnal anxieties. Peggy invited Don’s new black receptionist to spend the night at her apartment, but had to think twice about leaving her handbag in full view of a woman she’d been socially conditioned to fear. Joan, on the other hand, finally found the confidence to spend the night alone, before telling her husband that their marriage was ending over a cup of coffee. 

As always, with Mad Men, the show’s money shots tend to be quiet moments of brilliance. Snippets of dialogue, aborted ad concepts, or beats of silent understanding between two characters, that manage to transcend the period setting and achieve a timeless resonance. Anyone working in advertising today will have winced with uncomfortable familiarity as the Heinz client barked at Peggy: “Stop writing down what I ask, and start trying to figure out what I want.”

Even Pete Campbell, the closest Mad Men has to a villain, achieved his own stand-out moment this season, with his sophisticated handling of Megan’s father’s interrogation: “You’re an accounts man. So, what exactly do you do all day?” With unflappable confidence, Pete proceeded to charm the crabby Canadian by praising his scientific accomplishments, only to then pause and announce to the newly enchanted old man, “That’s what I do all day.” 

Five years in, and a thousand obtuse exchanges later, Weiner has at long last revealed the real meaning at the heart of his extraordinarily detailed show. It came in the form of a heated pitch to the management team of Dow Chemicals, as Don made a play for their account, even though they were happy with their existing agency and a fifty percent market share:

"Happy with 50%? You're on top and you don't have enough. You're happy because you're successful, for now. But what is happiness? It's a moment before you need more happiness. I won't settle for 50% of anything. I want 100%. You're not happy with anything. You don't want most of it. You want all of it."

That's the conundrum that drives these Mad Men and women. They spend their days (plus nights and weekends) trying to project unrealised wants and needs onto the populace at large. The irony, of course, is that they have no idea what they really want from their own lives. Equality, love, happiness - who knows? Because even when they do achieve the seemingly unattainable object of their desire, it's always fleeting and insufficient.

The only drawback with Mad Men, is that an entire season can be greedily consumed in under a week. Which then leaves the best part of a year until we once again get to pull up a barstool alongside Don and co. So thank goodness that we’ve got the 'Season one-to-four' boxset, with five due for release before Christmas. To paraphrase the winning Jaguar campaign, Mad Men on DVD is beauty you can truly own.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Here we go again...

So here we are again, ready to welcome a new crowd of inmates into the world's most over-designed borstal. The ratings may be on the decline, but Big Brother is still enough of an audience draw to warrant Channel 5's continued investment in the format. The difference is, the live launch event is now practically the only episode that anyone watches - a chance to see exactly what you won't be missing for the remainder of the summer. If I'm honest, I'm only watching this because it's probably the only broadcast in the last 96 hours not to feature a grimacing octogenarian or any Union Jack bunting.

There's a bit of a dance party opening, with feathered showgirls and a faintly embarrassed Brian Dowling, who certainly looks as though he hasn't been reduced to living on basic rations for the last few weeks. In "less than three months' time, the winner will be crowned." That's right, three months. Brian talks us through the house using the word 'amazing' for every element. He also promises some 'swanky' housemates, but there may be a rogue consonant in that statement.

Hinting at a big twist later in the show, Brian introduces us to Deana, who's an Indian beauty queen and has been coached in how to come across as a supercilious bitch in her introductory video. Haughty air aside, she seems quite articulate and it's nice to see an attractive woman on this show who doesn't look like she drives a pink plastic Corvette. Although she's won immunity for the first week's eviction, she's going to be nominating three housemates live, later on in tonight's show. Thankfully, she seems utterly unfazed by task, and promises to "Get the boring ones out first." Something tells me those three votes may prove somewhat inadequate.

Arron is a male model, who also describes himself as a 'player' and 'class clown'. There's lots of background footage of him lifting his vest and flicking his hair. Meeting Brian, he admits that he might have come across a little self-obsessed on his video. He'd rather be good looking than rich, and rather be a martial artist than a model. I'd rather be kicked in the head by him than listen to him speak, but then you don't always get what you wish for.

Caroline is quite frightfully posh, and could have been scraped together from the various pieces that have been cut off the cast of Made In Chelsea. She failed her exams, and is currently enjoying her second 'garp' year. There are a lot of sounds coming out of her mouth, but none of them appear to be words.

Shievonne is from London and gets bored quickly. Well, at least we've got something in common. She spent a year as a Playboy bunny and believes that she's still a bunny on the inside. She reckons that she's ultra positive and has fun every day, so it's odds on that she'll be hiding in the bathroom and cutting herself by Friday lunchtime.

Conor knows he looks good, because people tell him he looks good. He has no pubes anywhere on his body and can wrap his cock around his wrist. I'd be more interested if he could wrap it around his throat. He tells Brian he spends most of his time naked, so he's going to be showering in his pants. I'm getting the hang of these interview snippets now.

Lauren is a 'party student' with a mouth that you could park a minivan in. She's the daughter of a potato farmer and has three world championship karate medals. A reformed tomboy, she's probably the least annoying housemate so far, even if she is a little bit like a spare Olsen twin.

Luke is a married 32 year-old chef. Prior to getting hitched he used to be a bit of a ladies' man, but it turns out he also used to be a bit of a lady. He's keen to change people's opinions about transexuals, so let's keep our fingers crossed that he does a better job of it than Nadia.

Adam has a foreskin and a passport. I'm not sure how that works with the retinal scan. Turns out that this is just his way of telling us that he was born in the UK but grew up in Los Angeles. He doesn't know too much about Big Brother, but he's worried about 'rubbing one out, and taking a shit and a shower'. Since he's spent eight months in jail for breaking and entering, I'd have expected that he'd be used to doing all three things at once.

Sara is a Scottish model, meaning that the house is soon going to be full of short-skirted, high maintenance women. She's a big fan of Margaret Thatcher and Meatloaf, which would make for a particularly awkward threesome. She also has a thing for chavvy men, so at least she should be replete in the house.

Scott is almost as posh as Caroline - the main difference being that his airs and graces are as fake as his badly bleached hair. He's spent years cultivating an upper class persona to rebel against his low-end roots; describing his own father as a 'ruffian'. He's never told his family that he's gay, but unless they're profoundly deaf and blind, I can't imagine there'll be too many surprised faces in their front room tonight.

Ashleigh is totes Essex, and describes herself as 'bubbly, nutter, psycho'. I could think of a few other choice words. She keeps swearing, which has got Brian rather nervous. Apparently, they can say 'fuck' as much as they like on the VT, but not on a live broadcast. When she's not cussing like Joe Pesci with a migraine, she's screaming constantly. It's like listening to one of those recordings of an emergency services call about a home invasion, but more disturbing.

Here's the other Luke, another self-confessed 'player' who rattles through all of his best body parts. It's telling that his brain doesn't make the list. True to form, Big Brother seems to have cast two very specific types this year. And they're not 'homely' or 'intellectual'. So far, the only guy in the house who isn't a complete cock, may not even have one.

Lydia is a dancer, photographer and, you guessed it, model. She's engaged to Andy Scott-Lee, and is keen to step out of his considerable shadow. Somewhere in Hollywood, Katie Holmes is nodding empathetically. She's decided that she's not going to tell her housemates who her fiance is, which is probably wise, unless Big Brother's lifted the ban on Google in there.

Benedict is a stripper and porn star, which led to him being sacked as a secondary school teacher. He's actually quite normal, and launches into a staunch defence of people's right to watch porn. He promises to 'come down hard' on his housemates. Cue Penfold-levels of eyebrow raising, and Brian hoping that the persistent rain will disguise his growing damp spot.

Remember Teddy Ruxpin? Well, after the cartoon ended, he retrained as a doorman and bailiff, and renamed himself Chris. He's always been very lucky with the ladies, which he puts down to 'something that he sprays on himself.' I guess the women of Luton aren't big on hygiene.

Victoria is an ex-glamour model, who likes attention and gets naughty when she's had a drink. She sounds like Cheryl Baker and looks every day of her forty one years. She enters the house and shouts "This isn't happening, is it?" The glazed expression on my face suggests that it really is.

And finally, we get to that dramatic twist. I've long since given up on my hope that the producers would take a tip from the success of the Hunger Games, and hand out weapons instead of glasses of Cava. Instead, we get to see Deana nominate the three housemates for eviction. She picks Conor because he didn't make enough effort to speak to her, Victoria because she has evil eyes, and Lydia. She doesn't get the chance to give a reason for picking Lydia, because Lydia is playing the aggressive disbelief card. The rest of the group are supportive but insincere, offering up "No-one judges you because no-one knows each other" and "But we love you anyway." Brilliant.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Keep your dignity as well as your cool

What is it about warm weather that makes us throw self-respect and fashion-sense to the non-existent wind? I love a sunny day as much as the next man. But what I don’t love, is the fact that so many people see a cloudless sky as an excuse to dress like they’re auditioning for a Black Lace tribute act? Over-exposed body parts, clashing patterns and footwear so heinous that it’d make Douglas Bader thank his lucky stars. Forget about ugly Christmas sweaters – summer’s where all the true fashion crimes occur. Let’s take a look at the repeat offenders.

Hawaiian shirts

This is one terrifying creation that, like Jason and Freddy, simply refuses to lay down and die. Loud, obnoxious and tasteless, and that’s just the people who insist on wearing them. Despite their vibrant colours and shouty designs, they’re usually worn by sad-sack middle-aged men dressed by their passive aggressive wives, who are still punishing them for some unspoken, decades-old transgression.

Improvised swimming trunks

When I was in school, exercising in your underwear was traditional punishment for leaving your PE kit at home. And it worked, since we all dreaded having to run around the gym in y-fronts and a vest, when the class waiting to use the facilities were all lined up outside the window. And yet, weirdly, what was once the height of teenage humiliation, has now become de rigeur for lazy sun-worshippers. There’s a whole generation of lads who feel that it’s not only acceptable, but preferable, to sunbathe and swim in their underpants. Although it’s a generally unpleasant trend, I reserve particular scorn for the ones who choose to wear Calvin Klein boxers. They’re apparently oblivious to the
transparent qualities of white fabric when wet. No-one wants to see your junk smeared across your groin, like commuters in a rush-hour Tube carriage.


Despite their inherent blandness, Polo shirts are a convenient and inoffensive suitable-for-all-occasions wardrobe staple. Which is probably why some think that the way to give their generic outfit a lift is to pop the collar so they look like Sesame Street’s resident numerologist. Even Elvis looked like a twat with his collar popped, and this was a man who could pull off a rhinestone-encrusted jumpsuit.

Pastel sweaters

Given the British weather’s inclement nature, it makes good sense to prepare for any occasion when planning an outfit. The easiest solution is to wear several light layers – loose and airy when it’s warm, but easily buttoned up when the clouds inevitably gather. Unfortunately, some men take their tips from our continental cousins, and choose to dress for the warmth, only to then drape a light-coloured pastel sweater across their shoulders. Fine if you’re an antique dealer weekending in Sitges, but otherwise it’s a very bad idea. The only people who can get away with wearing a sweater this way spend their days running around the playground shouting “Ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner Batman.” 

Long shorts

Long shorts are fine if you’ve got long legs. If you’re of less-than-average height, however, they’ll make you look like Mickey Rooney. Even so, many men aren’t comfortable wearing anything above the knee. Hey, we’ve all got issues. What I don’t understand, is the ones who insist on wearing board-shorts, only to roll them right up to the crack of their arse when they’re laying in the sun. As the temperature rises, the legs get rolled higher and higher, until they mutate into some kind of monstrous, plaid man-nappy. I know there are plenty of guys out there who get their kicks by being wet-nursed by matronly women who charge by the hour, but that doesn’t mean it looks good on the beach. 


I have a confession to make. A few years ago I went through a phase of wearing flip-flops to work. In my defence, I worked in a creative agency and our manager decided to have a tonne of sand, some deckchairs and a fake seagull installed in our little corner of the office. He thought an indoor beach might inspire us to do better work. I just found that I was able to slip off my flip-flops and scrunch my toes into the cool sand whenever I got stressed. The work didn’t improve, but at least I realised how stressed I’d been getting. But the fact remains, unless your workplace is littered with sea-front accessories, there’s really no excuse for inflicting those cracked heels, hairy toes and oddly discoloured nails on your work colleagues.


Seriously. Just fucking stop it. I have enough trouble believing that someone once thought “If only there was a way of combining the clunky shapelessness of the clog, with the gaudy, rubberized awfulness of the jelly shoe”, without having to acknowledge the fact that countless millions of other people thought “Oooh, they’ll look nice with my leggings when I pop down the Co-Op.” Growing up, we were taught to frown on people who left the house in their slippers. Crocs are no better. Even worse are the ones that have been carefully accessorized with the gaudy tchotchkes that the Crocs people have Christened ‘Jibbitz’. It’s enough to make you wish that the four horsemen would get a move on.
Linen trousers

As if the current trend for ‘fucking red trousers’ isn’t distressing enough, white trousers are also making a worrying comeback. Unacceptable even in the eighties, when all kinds of fashion abominations were tolerated, these linen monstrosities reached the apotheosis of awfulness when featured heavily in a now legendary ad campaign, as four chinless wonders sauntered down a jetty to leap onto a waiting speedboat (“The last bus home IF you’re drinking Bacardi”).  But those who forget the past are condemned to pop into Top Man and repeat it. As if the look itself isn’t bad enough, consider the fact that the tiniest droplet of
moisture around the groin will spread until it looks as though your prostate needs a once-over from a dexterous medical professional.

Hot pants

When Kylie made her big comeback in 2000, it wasn’t the song Spinning Around that everybody was talking about. It was the tiny pair of spangled hot pants she modeled in the video. And thus, a terrifying new trend was born. Whereas Kylie has a derriere so peachy that the Man From Del Monte would nod his approval, many of the women who insist on pouring themselves into their summer micro-shorts really ought to consider a lower hem. The unpleasant truth is that your underdressed back-end gives onlookers the sensation of following Julie Goodyear up a loft ladder.

Braided hair

It’s not just adults who fall victim to summer’s many fashion disasters. Every year it’s the same old story, as swathes of kids come swarming out of regional airports after two weeks in Malaga, like the child slaves escaping the mines beneath Pankot Palace. Only instead of shackles and rags, these kids are recognized by their fair hair, scraped and sculpted into painful looking cornrows. At some point during the 1990s, parents decided that the best souvenir of two weeks on the Spanish mainland wasn’t a straw donkey or comedy sombrero, but a red-faced child with hair braided so tightly that the slightest sneeze could detach a retina.