Posts Tagged ‘bbc’

In December this year there will be a UN climate change conference in Paris. Scientists and environmentalists have said that this is the last chance for governments to act to keep the increase in global warming to within 2 degrees. The effects of a 2 degree rise in the temperature of the atmosphere are serious enough, but rises above this level will increasingly threaten human life on the planet.

Population, Consumption & Global Warming

Increasing population and increasing consumption have caused global warming by the continued burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. Global warming is causing more extreme weather, droughts and reduced crop yields, more wildfires, rising sea levels and flooding, loss of sea ice and glaciers, changes to the range of animals and plants. But increasing population and consumption have had other consequences as well. The resources of the planet that we rely on: the forests, rivers and lakes, the seas and oceans, the diversity of wildlife, the soils and minerals, are all being depleted or destroyed. The current world population today is 7.35 billion (considered by some environmental scientists to be already two to three times higher than what is sustainable). This is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 (and it is not expected to level off as previously thought).

And humans are living in increasingly crowded and polluted cities in a state of growing inequality and scarce resources. Desertification and conflicts over water scarcity and land grabs are leading to increased migration.

People in Developing Nations Want the Same as Us

The over-consumption of food, fuel, building materials, and manufactured goods in developed countries has played a major part in the depletion of the earth’s resources, but people in the developing world understandably desire the same things: more and better housing, heating and lighting; more cars and roads, more electrical goods, more shops and malls, more food and more meat, more flying as people want to travel overseas, and so on. An obvious example is China. China today has 78 million cars. If China was to have as many cars per person as in Britain (approximately one car for every two persons), then the number of cars in China would increase ten-fold to 705 million. This alone would require the current number of barrels of oil produced in the world today to increase from 87 million a day to 132 million a day. To build this number of cars (and to build their replacements when they become obsolete) would require a dramatic increase both in the materials that would have to be extracted from the earth, and of the energy required to build them. Also to be considered are the additional roads that China would have to build and the effect of a huge increase in pollution in its cities, many of which are already heavily polluted.

It is self-evident that the resources of the earth on the planet are finite; our exploitation of those resources is unsustainable. With the UK general election taking place on 7 May, are people in Britain aware of these issues?

ofcom, bbc one, itv, bbc website, sky news

According an Ofcom survey in July 2014, the most used news source is BBC One, which is used by 53% of people. 33% of people use ITV as their main source, 24% use the BBC website or app, and 17% use Sky News

How do people find out what’s going on in the world?

People in Britain get their news from an average of 3.8 different sources ie. newspapers, TV, radio, website or app, or social media. The main reason given by people in Britain for following the news, almost three in five people, is to find out ‘what’s going on in the world’. The top ten media news sources in 2014 were, in descending order, BBC One, which is used by 53%, ITV by 33%, BBC website/app by 24%, Sky TV by 17%, BBC News channel by 16%, The Sun by 11%, BBC Radio 2 by 10%, The Daily Mail by 9%, BBC Radio 4 by 9%, and Channel 4 and Google jointly used by 8% (Ofcom figures)

And so for the first time, adults are more likely to access the internet or apps for their news rather than newspapers, 41% compared with 40%. In any case, you will read very little about what is happening in the world, let alone the issues referred to at the beginning, in tabloid newspapers in Britain, and I don’t think that you will much about them either in some of the broadsheet newspapers.

So newspapers are no longer so influential. Television and websites are now the main sources of news for the majority of people, and the effects of global warming and environmental issues are covered by these media, though the depth of the reporting is extremely variable. But these global issues are overwhelmed by other hard news such as the economy and jobs, housing, the NHS, education, crime, immigration, welfare and pensions.

What are the issues that voters are most concerned about?

2015 general election, most important issues for voters. ipsos mori survey

These are the most important issues facing Britain today according to an Ipsos MORI survey of a 966 British adults between 6th and 15th February 2015.

Pollsters have been out and about trying to find out the issues that voters are most concerned about. When it comes to global warming and sustainability, the issue doesn’t seem to come up at all. The nearest seems to be the vague ‘care for our environment’ or the all-embracing ‘environment/transport’. This may be because pollsters have pre-determined what should be on the list of issues that voters are asked to rank as ‘very important’ or ‘fairly important’. Of course they might be right: that it isn’t on their lists as global warming is not a priority issue for most voters.

But it is not as if the threat to the human race is below the news radar. On Wednesday this week, the Independent reported climate scientists as saying that there is now is a one in ten risk that atmospheric temperatures could increase by 6 degrees by 2100. This would lead to cataclysmic changes in the global climate with unimaginable consequences for human civilisation. Would you fly on an aircraft if there was a one in ten risk of it crashing? Are we all keeping out heads in the sand. Is it a case of tomorrow being just another day?

What are the political parties going to do about global warming & sustainability?

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bbc, alexandra palace, london, television, transmitter mast

The first public television programmed transmissions in the world were sent from the BBC studios at Alexandra Palace in north London. A picture of the transmitter mast would appear at the start of the day’s programmes which were introduced with the words ‘This is direct television from the studios at Alexandra Palace’. Well into the 1950s, the news was introduced by stirring music, Girls in Grey by Charles Williams, and the words ‘BBC News & Newsreel’ revolving around the top of the mast.

On 1 September 1939, a Mickey Mouse cartoon, Mickey’s Gala Premier, was the last television programme to be broadcast by the BBC before the service was suspended due to the imminent outbreak of the Second World War. There were fears that the single VHF transmitter at Alexandra Palace would serve as a direction-finder for enemy aircraft approaching London. Also, there were only about 20,000 viewing families in London and the Home Counties of the regular ‘high-definition’ service with 405 lines that had been first launched on 2 November 1936, and it was a luxury the nation could not afford.

When I was born on 13 January 1946, it was only eight months since the end of the Second World War in Europe. The previous November, David Lean’s film Brief Encounter starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard was released, and on the last day of 1945, Britain received its first shipment of bananas since the outbreak of war. Four days after I was born, the first meeting of the United Nations Security Council was held in London; a month later the American dance craze, the Jitterbug, swept Britain; and in early March, Winston Churchill delivered his ‘Iron Curtain’ speech warning of the Soviet Union’s intention to block itself and its satellite states from open contact with the west.

Even if my parents had not otherwise been occupied, they wouldn’t have been thinking about what was on the TV that night as television broadcasts were not resumed until 7 June 1946. One of the first programmes that was then shown, it is hard to believe, was the same Mickey Mouse cartoon from 1939. There again, my parents didn’t get a television until the late 1950s. But I can remember watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953 on a tiny rented set with a 9″ screen in a crowded upstairs room at my aunt and uncle’s house in Earlsfield, south-west London.

radio rentals radio, bakelite, bush television, coronation, bbc

Left: a typical Radio Rentals set from the 1950s with a Bakelite cabinet. Right: a 1950 Bush black and white television set, model TV22, with a 9″ screen and again with a Bakelite body. There was only one channel, the BBC. This was the set from which millions of people watched the coronation in 1953. It was sold at a price between £36-2-6d (£36.12 in decimal currency) and £42 guineas or £44-2-0d (£44.10), about two month’s pay for the average worker.

So if they hadn’t been busy dealing with me or my older brother, they might have sat down to listen to the ‘wireless’. The BBC had been broadcasting on radio, though only in the London area, since November 1922, so by 1946 there must have been a good choice of programmes to listen to. So what was on, and how can I find out?

Luckily, the BBC has just launched a test version of an online searchable archive of the listings that appeared in the Radio Times from 1923 to 2009, which you read about here.

It’s called the BBC Genome Project. 4,469 back copies of the Radio Times have been scanned using optical character recognition software (OCR). The archive is still in its early stages as inevitably many scanning errors have crept into the data, and members of the public are being asked to let the BBC know of these errors, as well as changes to the advertised schedules that would obviously not have appeared in the Radio Times. Nonetheless it is an amazing resource for serious research, to check obscure facts for a quiz, or like me to find out what was on, on a notable date in the past.

Incidentally a genome is the genetic material of an organism, which is encoded in DNA, or in some cases in RNA, and the Human Genome Project is the huge international scientific research project with the goal of mapping all of the genes of the human genome. The BBC says it chose the name because the corporation likened each of its programmes to ‘tiny pieces of BBC DNA’ that will form a ‘data spine’ once reassembled in the archive. I think the BBC use of the word genome is misplaced. Anyway back to the 13 January 1946.

Here is the link to the archive. At the bottom of the page under ‘Browse the issue archive’, you are asked to either ‘Choose a year’ or ‘Choose a decade’. The latter option didn’t work for me so having selected the year 1946, I then selected issue 1163 dated 11 January, the London edition. The contents of this issue then appear, and I see that on 13 January, there are two stations, the BBC Home Service Basic and the Light Programme.

radio times, alexandra palace, transmitter mast, princess elizabeth, queen elizabeth, aircraft carrier eagle

Left: this cover of the Radio Times from 23 October 1936 shows the new transmitter at Alexandra Palace. Right: this black and white cover from 17 March 1946, with the sub-title ‘The Journal of the BBC’, still shows the effects of post-war austerity. The top photograph is of HRH The Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen, who was due to attend the launch of the new aircraft carrier, Eagle, in Belfast.

The Home Service provided news, serious drama, discussion, classical music etc, and the Light Programme arose from the wartime success of the BBC Forces and General Forces Programmes and provided light entertainment such as popular drama, comedy, bandshows etc. The Third Programme, predominately classical music, wasn’t broadcast until September 1946. In September 1967, the Home Service became the current Radio 4, the Third Programme became Radio 3, the Light Programme was re-branded as Radio 2, and a new radio channel, Radio1, was added.

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How is the copyright on a liquorice allsort and a caricature of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher connected?

In February 2010, Sylvester McCoy who played the seventh Doctor Who from 1987 to 1989, claimed, according to DailyTelegraph, that he and Andrew Cartmel, a script editor at the time, were part of a conspiracy in the late 1980s to give episodes of Doctor Who an anti-Thatcher plot. In the article, McCoy, who took over as Doctor Who three months after Margaret Thatcher’s third election victory in 1987, said that they brought politics into the show ‘deliberately’ but ‘very quietly … We were a group of politically motivated people and it seemed the right thing to do. Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying than any monster the Doctor had encountered’.

Cartmel, who was asked by the programme’s producer at the time, John Nathan-Turner, what he hoped to achieve in being the show’s script editor, recalled ‘My exact words were: I’d like to overthrow the government.’ In an article in The Guardian however in 2013, John Nathan-Turner is said to have replied ‘Oh you can’t do that on Doctor Who, all you can do is say that purple people and green people are equal and should live in harmony’.

sheila hancock, ronald fraser, happiness patrol, doctor who, bbc, margaret thatcher

Sheila Hancock with Ronald Fraser as Joseph C. Though Sheila Hancock was not told that the character of Helen A was based on Margaret Thatcher, she realised this early on and ‘went for it’. Hancock stated that she ‘hated Mrs Thatcher with a deep and venomous passion’.

The Happiness Patrol written by Graeme Curry was broadcast in three episodes in November 1988 and was part of the 25th series of Doctor Who. It featured a transparent caricature of Thatcher, Helen A, the vicious and egotistical ruler of an Earth colony Terra Alpha, played by Sheila Hancock. On Terra Alpha, sadness is against the law – a law zealously enforced by the Happiness Patrol. The penalty for those found guilty of gloom or melancholy is death in a stream of molten candy prepared by Helen A’s chief executioner and confectioner supreme, the psychopathic and robotic killer, Kandy Man, played by David John Hope.

The first episode opens with the Doctor, and his young companion Ace, travelling to Terra Alpha to investigate why its citizens are disappearing without trace. The last episode shows the time travellers helping to foment rebellion amongst the downtrodden population who toil in the factories and mines. The Doctor calls on the ‘drones’ to down their tools and revolt. The script-writers intended this to be an echo of the miners’ strikes and printers’ disputes during Thatcher’s first two terms in office.

doctor who, kandy man, happiness patrol, bbc

Doctor Who confronts the Kandy Man. The appearance of the Kandy Man has been variously described as the weirdest or most ridiculous monster of the era. The Doctor however simply outwits the Kandy Man by gluing him to the floor with lemonade.

In the final episode, while a revolution rages outside the palace walls, the Kandy Man is destroyed by a flow of his own ‘fondant surprise’ which dissolves his external candy shell. And in a low-key comeuppance, the Doctor confronts Helen A and tries to explain that happiness can only be understood if counterbalanced by sadness. As Helen A weeps over her dearly departed lapdog monster Fifi, she experiences her own sadness.

Cartmel said that ‘Critics, media pundits and politicians certainly didn’t pick up on what we were doing. If we had generated controversy and become a cause célèbre we would have got a few more viewers but, sadly, nobody really noticed or cared’. The story has been described as a political allegory of Thatcher’s Britain, and as a morality tale. The Daily Telegraph article added that a spokesman for the BBC said it was ‘baffled’ by the claims. Following falling viewing numbers, no further series of Doctor Who were commissioned after the 26th series in November 1989. Except of course in 2005, the BBC relaunched Doctor Who after a 16-year absence.

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How do you decide what is the most featureless place? The Cambridge dictionary defines featureless as ‘looking the same in every part, usually in a way that most people consider to be boring’. Even the wildest parts of Scotland or the flattest fen in East Anglia have a ditch, bridleway, stream or hill to break the monotony.

Over ten years ago a listener to John Peel’s Home Truths show on Radio 4 asked about boring places in Britain. This triggered the search for Britain’s most boring place. The BBC turned to the Ordnance Survey to see if looking at maps would provide the answer on the basis that their large-scale maps show almost all features in the landscape. Maps are divided by grid lines into squares that are a kilometre wide and tall, and features are identified by various symbols. The obvious thing to do therefore was to find the grid square that had the least symbols in it. Was there a completely blank square among the 320,000 squares in the widely-used Landranger map series? This series of maps are at a scale of 1:50,000, that is one centimetre on the map is 50,000 centimetres on the ground, which is half a kilometre.

map, featureless, britain, ordnance survey, grid square, pylon, electricity, overhead line

This is how it looks on a map. The blue square in the middle has nothing in it except a single electricity pylon (the v-symbol) and the bit of overhead line between pylons.
© Ordnance Survey 2013

map, featureless, britain

The blue spot in the middle of this map, to the east (right) of Goole, marks the location of Britain’s most featureless place.
© Ordnance Survey 2013

After setting a computer to look at every one of the squares, the Ordnance Survey came up with answer! A field in the East Riding of Yorkshire is the most featureless place in Britain.

The square kilometre of farmland on the outskirts of the village of Ousefleet, just south of the River Ouse, near Scunthorpe, has nothing in it except a single electricity pylon and some overhanging cable. The square at grid reference SE 830 220 (the south-west corner of the square) on OS map 112 is as near as cartographers can get to a completely blank square in the Landranger map series.

featureless, britain, pylon, electricity, overhead line, ordnance survey, grid square, farmland

This is what the most featureless place looks like on the ground. The electricity pylon and the overhead line to the left lie just in the kilometre grid square, and that’s it. The rest is flat farmland.
© Roger Gilbertson/Creative Commons Licence.

Philip Round from the OS said at the time ‘We’re not saying it’s the dullest place in Britain. It might be the most fascinating place on earth but on our Landranger maps it has the least amount of information. No ditches, streams or buildings are shown on this particular scale of map. That’s quite some going, considering the low-lying areas of East Anglia and remote parts of Scotland.’

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PointofViewIn the UK, the BBC is often seen to be the protector of the English Language and in particular how it is spoken. It is not unusual for listeners and viewers to contact the BBC to express their dismay about one programme or another because the characters have not spoken clearly enough.

It’s interesting to learn that the new BBC DG, Tony Hall, has taken to heart viewers’ criticisms of actors mumbling their words in TV productions, and generally not speaking clearly.

tony hall, director-general, bbc, actors, lines, mumbling

Tony Hall, the new Director-General of the BBC, has declared war on actors who mumble

It might be said that it’s not unrelated to age, but I increasingly find it difficult to keep up with the dialogue in dramas and films etc., which, in some cases, is of no great loss as I can usually catch the general drift by simply watching the visuals.

I have a hunch that Mr Hall’s decision to tackle this trend is touching on a wider problem and not just the mumbling. Is it just coincidence that the popularity of European, and particularly Scandinavian, crime dramas like Wallander and The Bridge, has grown enormously?  Is this connected to the use of sub-titles? I know that some people hate having to rely on sub-titles, but personally I find them a boon and they allow me to keep pace with the dialogue despite the characters speaking an obscure Danish dialect understood by just a few rural pig farmers in northern Denmark? It’s no exaggeration to say that I find it much easier to keep pace with Inspector Montabello as opposed to Midsummer Murders, the UK’s closest equivalent.

life of brian, film, cheesemakers, monty python

‘What’s so special about the cheese makers?’
Life of Brian (1979)

Then there is the issue of music superimposed over dialogue in the questionable quest to enhance the emotional impact of a programme. Sometimes the accompanying music almost obliterates the sound of voices and the viewer is left to guesswork and speculation about what exactly the actors were saying. It reminds me of one of my favourite comedy scenes from Life of Brian, where the crowds have gathered of the hillside to listen to a sermon by Jesus. The people at the back can hardly hear what Jesus is saying and a growing murmur spreads with people asking each other ‘what’s he saying’. Some bloke straining to hear says ‘I think he’s saying blessed are the cheese makers’ adding to the general confusion and to the annoyance of others. Someone asks what’s so special about the cheese makers. What about the tailors and the cooks? What Jesus was actually saying was ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’. It just shows what confusion can flow from a misunderstanding of what some character said.

Maybe producers and directors are regressing back towards the silent era where whole films needed to convey a story by just visual depiction and the limited use of sub-titles. Maybe they think that the words spoken by characters are not so important and that mumbling and music are not issues to be overly concerned about.

Perhaps the answer is to turn on the sub-title option on your tellys, even for English spoken programmes, and then provided you can read them, you won’t need to worry. I must also add that US-produced programmes are often much worse than UK ones in their excessive use of music and mumbling.

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