Inside No. 9 – ‘The Bill’

insideno9thebill

Series 3, Episode 2

CONTAINS SPOILERS

After the Christmas episode ‘The Devil Of Christmas’, the remaining 5 episodes of series 3 are being shown in a continuous run in the standard one episode a week. The music used in the trailer for the rest of series 3 was ‘Perfect (Exceeder)’ by Mason vs. Princess Superstar. That’s a blast from the past!

‘The Bill’ was the first. I’m going to start putting a cut under posts which have spoilers in, and as I’ve said before this review CONTAINS SPOILERS,  so click at your own risk.

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The BRIT Awards 2017

britawards2017

The Brit Awards returned for another year, once again broadcast on ITV.

The presenters were Dermot O’Leary and Emma Willis, both likeable, reliable, experienced good presenters. In recent years The Brit Awards seem to be trying to move away from the reputation the show has of being chaotic. When it comes to hosts they’ve been very much going for a safe pair of hands each year. Well, two safe pairs of hands in this case and last year with Ant & Dec.

Dermot O’Leary and Emma Willis weren’t the first choice however. The original choice for presenter was singer Michael Buble, but understandably he chose to pull out after his son was diagnosed with cancer.

Dermot O’Leary and Emma Willis both did well, and had decent chemistry together. Though they did it almost too smoothly, it came off as if TV presenting is a bit like kineasthetic memory to them, they present so many shows they’re not even thinking, they just do it. Sometimes it looked like a fanmade YouTube video which spliced together Dermot O’Leary scenes from The X Factor and Emma Willis scenes from Big Brother.

Little Mix opened the show with a cover of ‘Ugly Heart’ by GRL. Oh, sorry, my mistake, it was just a song that sounds almost exactly like it, ‘Shout Out To My Ex’. They won the British Single Of The Year award with that song too!

To be fair, I can’t complain about that result too much, as it could have been much worse. Both Jonas Blue’s cover of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ and Calum Scott’s cover of Robyn’s ‘Dancing On My Own’ were nominated. Both awful cover versions that are in some ways the polar opposite of each other. Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ is a thoughtful, poignant song that Jonas Blue turned into an air-headed, emotionless piece of dance bubblegum. Robyn’s ‘Dancing On My Own’ is an intriguing, elegant electropop song which Calum Scott turned into a dreary, clumsy dirge.

Emeli Sande won the British Female Solo Artist award and brought her sister with her as she went up to receive the award, saying she was giving it to her. It was almost like someone getting the same birthday present every year and passing one of them on to a relative. Emeli Sande performed her track ‘Hurts’ later in the show, which is exactly how you’d expect an Emeli Sande track called ‘Hurts’ to be like. It’s overwrought, it’s downbeat, it’s a big, boring ballad.

Bruno Mars performed smoochy R&B track ‘That’s What I Like’, all about stuff like silk bedsheets, eating strawberries, bottles of champagne on ice, making sweet love by the fire etc.

The 1975 won the British Group award. Frontman Matthew Healy made a speech that despite artists being told to “stay in their own lane” and not comment about political/ social issues, if you have a platform you should use it. I agree, to be honest. Everyone’s entitled to voice their opinion, and frankly the sort of people who object most to famous people doing so tend to be loudmouths who never stop telling everyone they encounter how they think the world should be run, despite being no more qualified than anyone else, and certainly not ones who just stick to what they do for a living. They also tend to be the sort of people who hate experts as well, but let’s stay on topic.

While ‘The Sound’ is a brilliant song, The 1975’s performance of it here was a little odd. Some viewers thought the show had been hacked when it flashed up messages slating the band onscreen, even though that was from the video for the track. I’m not sure it came off well in a live TV performance compared to how it did in the music video though.

Surprisingly, Katy Perry‘s performance of her new single ‘Chained To The Rhythm’ featuring Skip Marley was a highlight. Let’s be real, singing live has never exactly been Katy Perry’s strong point, though she was alright this time. But the best thing about this performance was the remarkable staging!

It began with a load of small white houses with Katy Perry walking among them, and at first I wondered if they were going for an Attack of the 50 Foot Woman thing.

Then it turned out the houses were dancers in costume, so the houses started swaying and dancing, and got up and walked about. What became the big meme this year was one of the houses falling off the edge of the stage!

The best bit came at the end of the performance, with two giant puppet skeletons dressed like Donald Trump and Theresa May, and they mimicked that photo of them holding hands! How often do you get political satire at the Brit Awards? Perhaps not the most unique way to do it, but it was funny and satisfying, I’ll take it.

There was the Global Success Award, the Special Award For Being: One Direction/One Direction again/Sam Smith/Adele/Adele again.

Rag ‘n’ Bone Man won both the Critic’s Choice Award and the British Breakthough Act, well deserved I think. He said he would use the two awards as bookends, and said his cat had nibbled on the Critic’s Choice Award.

One Direction won the Best Video award for the fourth year in a row, but frankly that award is really the Most Stans on Twitter award, as it’s decided by asking people to tweet their votes. Only Liam Payne turned up to collect the award this time. He is looking handsome these days though. I never got it before, but I think he’s quite good looking now.

Skepta performed ‘Shutdown’, and I liked the red lasers and staging looking a bit like a demonic computerised hell. As for the performance, well I can’t really say if I liked it or not, as ITV audio muted a lot of it, even though this was after the 9pm watershed! What is apt is that the performance featured the voice of a snooty woman phoning into complain that “dancing extremely aggressively” was “just not what I expected to see on primetime TV”. It’s said to be a reference to Kanye West’s performance of ‘All Day’in the Brit Awards 2015 which also had a lot of audio muting.

They sped through the International categories! Drake won the International Male Solo Artist award, and gave a video acceptance speech. Then the people presenting that award quickly announced the International Female Solo Artist winner (Beyonce) and the International Group winner (A Tribe Called Quest) as well. There wasn’t
even a video acceptance speech from either, in fact they didn’t even go through the list of nominees!

The late David Bowie was the big winner of the night, winning the British Male Solo Artist award and the MasterCard British Album of the Year award for his final
album Blackstar. It’s a fine end to an amazing career.

Actor Michael C. Hall came to accept the British Male Solo Artist award, and made probably the funniest comment of the night. “If David Bowie could be here tonight, he probably wouldn’t be here tonight”. David Bowie’s film director son Duncan Jones accepted the album award and said his father always stood up for those who are different.

2016 was a year which saw a lot of deaths of celebrities. There was a video tribute to people in the music industry who died last year. It included icons such as David Bowie, Prince and George Michael as well as young band Viola Beach whose lives were cut short in a tragic accident, and the video showed that there were many deaths of people working behind the scenes too, songwriters, producers and managers.

This led to a moving and heartfelt tribute to George Michael by his Wham! bandmates Andrew Ridgeley and Pepsi & Shirlie.

Chris Martin performed a quite nice cover of ‘A Different Corner’, with video clips of George Michael in the background, including him performing some of ‘A Different Corner’.

Chris Martin returned to the stage later, joining the rest of Coldplay and dance act The Chainsmokers for a new collaboration ‘Something Just Like This’. Despite the colour vomit staging, I really like this song. Coldplay and the Chainsmokers surprisingly make a good mixture of sounds. The lyrics to the song seem mainly about superheroes, which makes me wonder if they are angling to be included on any summer blockbuster superhero movies that might be fishing for songs for the soundtrack.

The best performance of the night was Ed Sheeran doing both his current hit songs ‘Castle On The Hill’ and ‘Shape Of You’.

‘Shape Of You’ in particular was good, a different mix of the song with a slightly rockier sound in parts, and featured a rap by Stormzy which was a great addition. An official remix version of ‘Shape Of You’ featuring the Stormzy rap is going to be released too!

Closing the show was Robbie Williams, who having won 18 Brit Awards (!) has won more Brit Awards than anyone else, ever. By this point in the night though I think everyone was a bit fed up. Robbie Williams said in an attempt to perk the crowd up “Come on! It’s nearly over! You can nearly go home!”

The Brit Awards 2017 ran smoothly, and was one of the slicker-looking ceremonies. It felt overlong though. I know I’m in no position to throw stones about going on too long given some of my blog posts, but this years ceremony did sometimes make you wonder if there was even going to be an ending. But looking back at clips, there was a lot to like . A case of the whole not being greater than the sum of its parts I guess.

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Celebrity Big Brother 19

cbb19Celebrity Big Brother 19‘s theme was that it was “All Stars vs. New Stars”, though it came off more as two CBBs a year has scraped the barrel of Z-list celebrities so much they’ve worn a hole in the bottom of it, so now they have to resort to calling back people who have already done it.

I liked the pop art style and designs for the eye and the house. Bright colourful, cartoonish stars and font like comic books, both superhero comics and stuff like The Beano. It got a bit colour vomit at times, but on the whole gave the series the upbeat, fun feel they said they were going for.

That fun, upbeat feel ended on launch night however, with a task designed to split the house and create a massive power imbalance. The All Stars had to judge which of the New Stars would be “edited out”, which on launch night involved whoever was chosen being made to wear a white hoodie with ”edited out” written on it, and be made to literally sit out in the cold watching everyone else have a party. The unlucky edited out housemate was Stacy. It just looked pointlessly mean-spirited and didn’t exactly set the series off to a great start.

The best part of launch (no pun intended), was Angie Best coming down the stairs, and her son Calum’s stunned reaction with his jaw wide open and the chewing gum still in his gob! As the line-up had already been leaked in various websites, magazines and tabloid papers many thought this can’t have been a genuine reaction, but it was still pretty funny.

You’ve got to love the variety in the initial cast though. It included three white women in their 30s with blue eyes and long blonde hair, and four white men in their 30s with blue eyes, light brown hair and beards. One was a footballer, one was a footballer’s wife, two were footballer’s children, and the mother of one of them was also in the cast, and she was a white woman in her 60s with blue eyes and long blonde hair, and also a footballer’s ex-wife.

While a series can usually take a while to get going, it wasn’t very watchable at first, a bit dull at times. Early on Stacy and Ray J spent a lot of time talking about their connections to people more famous than them, such as Kim Kardashian.  One day we’re going to end up with a CBB cast full of people Kim Kardashian has farted in the general direction of, aren’t we? Both also had connections to Whitney Houston. Apparently, Ray J was going out with her and Stacy fell out with her a few days before she passed away.

There was an incident with Speidi hiding bottles of water, and Austin losing his rag over it. It came off as ridiculous, not least that the house has a tap with running water! Not that I’m defending Speidi. Austin is clearly someone who is an emotional wreck, has a bad temper and no self-control whatsoever, he starts shouting and bawling over, well, things
like bottles of water being hidden. But Spencer kept going out of his way to goad him, which was asking for trouble.

James J wanted the wind-up merchant role himself, so obviously there were clashes between him and Austin, who doesn’t need much to be wound up.

Then there was the complete non-starter of a showmance love triangle between Jasmine, Calum and Jamie. They were clearly attempting a gender-flip of the CBB13 love triangle with Jasmine, Lee Ryan and Casey Batchelor. Jasmine even said so. But it didn’t work this time. For one thing, nothing happened, and even if it had, Calum and Jamie are kind of variations of the same type, both in terms of looks and personality. They aren’t really different enough for them to do the whole Betty and Veronica storyline that these kind of  love triangles need.

It’s usually better TV when things occur that aren’t following some sort of pre-written script. This happened in a cringey, car crash way when after a few drinks, Nicola drunkenly started flirting with Jamie… even though she is married and Jamie is supposed to be friends with her husband!

The “surprise housemate” entrance that everyone saw coming was Jedward entering on Day 5.  Jedward are of course John & Edward, twins who were the joke act in The X Factor series 6, and to be fair have been in the public eye longer than some former winners. In their introduction video this time they said “The last time we did Big Brother we were teenagers, now we’re 25″. Christ. Where does the time go? Good on them for when going up to the fat middle-aged git in the audience who was shouting “OFF! OFF! OFF!” at them though. They entered the house via the garden dressed as astronauts lip-syncing one of their songs.

While he doesn’t technically count as an All Star return,  Tony the Show Pony probably should. He last appeared as part of Gemma Collins’ birthday celebrations in CBB17.  This time James C had to walk him through the house, and other housemate had to eat lots of pizzas among other things without Bianca finding out.

Another task saw some housemates having to go without sleep or hot water and sit turning over sand hourglasses just before they ran out. Some housemates were then invited to a Slumber Party, but the ones who weren’t had to continue the task throughout the night. Jasmine and Stacy had been bitter rivals for most of their stay, but this was a moment they made unlikely allies from being on the same page. Jasmine simply said “I’m not staying up all night minding that fucking sand!”. Angie had a go at Stacy for being upset about it, but I don’t blame Jasmine and Stacy for getting angry about it, they were being treated unfairly. Stacy in particular had a horrible week. She was “edited out” on launch night, she had the most nominations from the other housemates to be evicted, and Big Brother told them how many nominations each had got but not the reasons, and now this. I think it’s understandable that a week like that would get on top of someone.

Rapper Ray J is probably best known to most of the viewers for a sex tape with Kim Kardashian. Career-wise, his biggest solo hit was ‘One Wish’, but I remember him mostly from his duet with his sister Brandy on a cover of Phil Collins ‘Another Day In Paradise’, which I liked better than the original to be honest. There, I’ve said it.  He slept a lot of the time he was in the CBB house. He left the house apparently because of some health problem involving toothache, but it’s a bit unclear. Either way, it looks like he and the producers have fallen out as he has said he is planning to sue them.

DJ Brandon Block walked out a day later, he also had a health scare. He barely made an appearance on the highlights shows, so yeah, not much to say about him except he quit.

The third exit this week but the first proper evictee was Angie Best, George Best’s ex-wife. She’s also a fitness coach. She is a bit of a “my body is a temple” health and fitness fanatic type, which is fair enough, but she got pretty sanctimonious about it, not least when she was lecturing Coleen in particular and the rest of the house in general. “You’re poisoning your body”. She got a task where she could enforce her tyrannical rule with a January detox. Having said that, I quite liked her response to Spencer telling her he posted a video on social media of him eating 40 tacos. She said “And people actually wanted to watch that!”.

Three more new housemates entered on the same night. Jessica Cunningham from the last series of The Apprentice, Chloe Ferry from Geordie Shore and Kim Woodburn of Kim and Aggie How Clean Is Your House? fame.

The producers had time to squeeze a almost-certainly pulled-out-of-their-arses-at-the-last-minute eviction in too. The housemates had to vote for “the dullest housemate”, and it all got spread fairly evenly, with the one going with just 3 votes was Austin, with Calum and James C on 2 votes it could easily have been them. The housemates were then told that this would mean instant eviction!

Austin Armacost had one of the most unenviable ways to be evicted. The other housemates paid no attention as he left, he got a rushed interview and no Best Bits. But in some ways it was probably a blessing in disguise for him, he looked as if he was heading for doing or saying something that would get him removed from the house. Either way, he wasn’t missed.

Putting in the new housemates was a good idea though, it gave the series a much-needed kick up the backside. The ratings went up.

Some housemates were “sent to Hell”, though the main house wasn’t exactly a peaceful, tranquil heavenly place to be. Chloe was an incoherent motormouth. She was a bit rude calling James C “Santa”, but to be fair he has played the character a couple of times according to his filmography.

Chloe got drunk, had her tits flapping out, jumped in the hot tub and then in the pool. Kim told her off like a stern school marm. Jessica defended Chloe saying she was just having fun. Kim just told Jessica to shut up and called her a “little bitch”. Jessica counted that Kim was “rude, arrogant and mean”. While I thought Chloe was annoying, I thought Jessica came out of this argument a lot better and made a lot more sense than Kim.

Nicola wasn’t keen on Kim’s tendency to go into a pompous, shouty tirade. Nicola said of Kim “She looks like Mrs. Trunchbull from Matilda. She’s going to swing me round by my ponytail and make me eat chocolate cake!” Then Nicola joked that she’d be prepared to push Kim in the pool and pay for the damaged mic!

The Hell housemates were sent back to main house to collect their personal belongings. James J led the others to mess up the kitchen then take and eat some of the food supplies.

After a while there were only three housemates left in Hell, and the others had to pick who would be evicted. There were 3 doors, two led to brick walls (well, cardboard painted to look like brick walls) and the third was an exit. The housemates chose Jasmine, and when she left she was walking through the door fascinated by a bright light as if she was a ghost passing on to the afterlife in Being Human.

Jasmine Waltz‘s time as a housemate was short but chaotic, and she still managed to last longer than her first appearance in CBB13. Her, erm, memorable moments include grabbing Calum’s crotch, singing to Calum “sausages and bacon!” as an innuendo that they should sleep together. She once threw her microphone away then fried the microphone with olive oil in a frying pan!

Chloe fancied Calum and threw herself all over him. He looked vaguely embarrassed by it and told her to go to bed. Then Chloe had an argument with Jessica after it turned out Jessica fancied Calum too! Stacy talked sense here to the pair of them. “You got in this house yesterday, you don’t know this dude, you look like clowns! Fighting over who fancies him the most, you don’t have a chance!”

After face to face nominations which involved nominating by marking housemates photos with ‘blood’ from a bloodbath (!), not to mention several arguments, the nominations went to public vote this time, and James J went.

Former Strictly Come Dancing dancer James Jordan was such a smug prick. He overused the word “banter”, or even worse, “bantz”, and most of his stay was try-hard “wind-up merchant” nonsense. So basically it all involved him being rude and provocative to everyone. I was glad to see him turfed out early.

One of the key moments of the series was a huge argument in the bedroom. Kim vs. Nicola was probably always going to happen, and this incident was far from the last, but it was the most memorable. It was so hilarious and car crash. Kim was hamming it up something rotten. Kim called Nicola “Mother Bunny” as a way of saying she had control over most of the other housemates. Well I suppose it’s a different animal metaphor to Queen Bee. Nicola had been in the middle of removing her contact lens, so had one hand over her eye throughout the row and while going to the Diary Room saying she wanted to quit and leave the house.

Jamie got involved (I suspect mainly as a way to look macho in front of Bianca) and eventually security came in taking Kim away, with Kim spilling her drink all over the unfortunate security guard. Kim had to sleep in a separate room for the night.

In a superhero task, James C refused to dress up. Jedward, in contrast, got really into it. They liked that their outfits were green. “Green for Ireland”, “The Land of Shamrocks and Enya!”. They pretended Britney Spears was on the red superhero hotline phone and namechecked a lot of her songs.

Some of the housemates had to pretend to fly in front of a greenscreen, which showed a sky (so they were pelted with seagull white poo), an ocean (so they were pelted with fishguts), then a city (so they were pelted with rubbish, dirt and leaves), then the sewers (so they were pelted with buckets of sewage). James C went along with this task, so apparently this wasn’t demeaning, but dressing up in a lycra superhero costume was? OK, James C.

Who would be up for eviction was decided by the housemates being put into pairs, then split up and put in separate rooms given a chance to press a button. If one pressed it first, they would be immune, but the other in their pair would be up. If neither pressed it, both would be immune. Jessica and James C both didn’t press their button, so both were immune. (Looking at it, just realised that pairing. Jessica and James C – Jessie James! Quite clever if that was intentional. It reminds me more of Team Rocket in Pokemon than the 19th century American criminal they were named after though. But I’m getting sidetracked again).

Jessica said she was glad she didn’t press the button, calling it a “test of my character”. Stacy was one of the people who did press it to save herself, and felt insulted. Stacy seemed to take issue with Jessica being a newcomer, and went on about “what [the originals] have been through in this house” and that “we’re family, we’ve been here for two weeks”. Which was bizarre, frankly. What exactly did they go through that was so traumatic that the newcomers would never understand? I mean, to WATCH it was a bit of a slog before the newbies entered. Really it’s just good old fashioned Big Brother housemate entitlement, this delusion that you’re inherently better just because you’ve been in since the beginning.

Jessica just saw it as Stacy taking her insecurities out on her. Later in the series, Stacy was slagging Jessica off while Jessica was still in the room, to which Jessica said, calmly, that Stacy should have a conversation with her if there’s a problem. Stacy, for once, shut up! The show’s presenter Emma Willis noted “Someone’s silenced Stacy!”

Chloe Ferry was evicted. She had been a bookies contender to win, but that was based on nothing more than her being from Geordie Shore when fans of that show tend to vote shedloads for people from there when they are on other reality TV shows, not least CBB where Charlotte Crosby and Scotty T have both won. I suppose they forgot that Marnie Simpson didn’t win, and that Ricci Guarnaccio didn’t even make the final. While Chloe infuriated me to begin with, by the time she left I didn’t mind her, she’s relatively harmless I suppose, though she did get a warning after going a bit far with John when he didn’t seem comfortable with it.

I was relieved that the “scripted reality” cast-offs were kept to just one this series. CBB has been in danger of basically morphing into The Only Way Is Made In TOWIE Shore On The Island Beach.

The house had a washing machine and a tumble dryer this series. This is a long overdue change to be honest. I mean, why did they keep having them hand wash their own clothes for so long? Sure, in the earlier series when they were growing their own vegetables, getting eggs from chickens, making their own bread, and using a mangle it kind of made sense, but why of all things was having to handwash their clothes the last social experiment/living without technology/cut off from the outside world thing to go? They give them info from the outside world via tweets, presenters, celebrities, friends and family drop in and they even sometimes let the housemates out to film other stuff now! It’s like the fact that whales still have a ruminant-like stomach as a leftover from when they were a land dwelling species.

Anyway, having a washing machine and tumble dryer has already started some drama, with Stacy leaving some washing in a machine and Kim taking it out and putting it on the floor to put hers in. It caused a huge argument. Nicola said she was going into the bedroom where Stacy and Kim were rowing because she wanted to put her make-up on. (Yeah, right. She wanted a closer look at the argument!). Rylan’s “airing their dirty laundry in public” pun on BBOTS was pretty dead on, as that is both literally and metaphorically what Kim and Stacy were doing!

Nicola and Kim’s feud continued, with one particularly vicious argument. Kim shouted “You’re a mum, grow up”, and Nicola replied “And you’re not, and that’s your problem!”. Ouch. That’s cold. That’s crossing a line. Very Andrea Leadsom of Nicola too. (Actually, maybe that’s not fair. Andrea Leadsom’s 15 minutes were much shorter than Nicola’s have been!). But no, to be serious, even if Nicola didn’t know Kim’s backstory, what she said then was taking things too far.

James C was granted a pass to the final by the other housemates, and he had to pick one to have a Killer Nomination. He chose Speidi, and Spencer held a grudge about that for the rest of his stay, slagging off James C, mostly behind his back. He tried to get a rise out of Coleen, who was close to James C, saying he must be bad because “Why did he get stabbed in Game Of Thrones?” Coleen replied “Because it said so in the script?”, her funniest line of the series.

Former contestant on the US version of The X Factor Stacy Francis was like a foghorn trapped in the body of an also-ran in a Diana Ross lookalike contest. She probably played the game better than housemates who go on about how they’re playing the game, as Stacy saw off many rivals and enemies. (Angie, Austin, Jasmine, arguably Chloe). But she said in her interview with Emma she didn’t get the game. (“No girl, I haven’t [got the game], because I’m out here with you!”).

Stacy’s interview was one of the best of the series actually. I liked her reply to being accused of stashing food. (“I stashed an egg, and it fed five people pancakes!”). Then she sneaked a plug for one of her shows in right at the end. But Stacy left at the right time to be honest. As a housemate, she’d very much run her course.

Jessica Cunningham looked and sounded very similar to BB15 winner Helen Wood, but their personalities were quite different. Jessica was very bubbly and wanted to be on friendly terms with everyone. She had a very caring side to her, such as one time she was like a therapist sat at a table with Nicola trying to help her out. Jessica seems to be such a genuinely nice person. She disliked the nomination process and having to say bad things about people. Helen, well, wasn’t like that. Basically, you could see Jessica as the Good Twin and Helen as the Evil Twin. Yet Helen won her series, and Jessica finished in 10th place. That’s Big Brother for you I guess. Jessica was a lot better on The Apprentice than she was in CBB though, on The Apprentice she was funnier and more lively.  She felt she’d blagged her way in CBB, having only really been in the public eye a few months from being on The Apprentice. That’s probably why she hadn’t built up enough of a fanbase to vote for her compared to some of them. I liked this from her eviction interview.

Jessica: “I literally felt like I’d walked into the Celebrity Big Brother set”
Emma: “You had!”

Heidi & Spencer went next. I don’t know why their official name wasn’t Speidi considering John & Edward went in as Jedward. Anyway, Heidi & Spencer came 2nd in their last run in CBB11. This time they didn’t have tasks designed especially for them and a series devoting 50% of the screentime to them so they didn’t do as well. Spencer Pratt really isn’t the Machiavellian gameplaying genius he is made out to be in some quarters. Opening the sliding door over and over again to let the draft in! Shouting at people when they are trying to get to sleep! It’s a wonder they didn’t win this time with remarkable chess-playing strategic planning like that! Heidi might as well have been Spencer’s imaginary friend for all the impact she had. They were mostly just two-faced. I didn’t like Speidi the first time round, but they were fairly pointless this time. Seriously, they have to be the most overrated CBB housemates ever.

What was most interesting about this eviction night though wasn’t who went, but who stayed. Bianca was in the top 2 of the vote which was a shock! Jedward were the other one, and I suspect they were at the top of the vote. Either way, it’s kind of ironic that Jedward (probably) topped the vote in Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5 at around the same time Lucie Jones was selected to represent the UK at Eurovision on BBC 2. Their initial entrance into the public eye was both being on The X Factor series 6, and it was a minor scandal after Lucie was eliminated against Jedward when they were both in the bottom 2.

Towards the end of the series, the house became increasingly a divided. As often is the case a Big Brother, there was a “cool kids” in-crowd (Nicola, Calum, Jamie, Bianca), and they block voted nominations. They were against the two O.T.T panto housemates (Jedward and Kim), but then so were the other two left, Coleen and James C, who were rather like those parents in that episode of The Inbetweeners, sat in the bedroom bored while the teenagers had their party downstairs.

I wonder if I’m the only one who hates these court tasks they have at the end of every series? It’s just yet another shit-stirring task. Yet again they brought in ex-housemate “witnesses”, who as usual just showed why they were disliked in the first place. Austin (obnoxious), Luisa Zissman (hammy), Saira Khan (condescending), John McCririck (ridiculous).

Vanessa Feltz acted as the judge, which was a bit random, but to be fair, she played the judge role well. I liked that she didn’t permit the word “bully” to be used. That word has lost all meaning in the context of Big Brother.

At the end of this task, Jamie had the fewest public votes to stay, so was “found guilty”, and led away in handcuffs!

Footballer Jamie O’Hara was like Calum’s sidekick. The beta male to Calum’s alpha. I admit, I thought Jamie was somewhat cute at first, but his general sleaziness put me off. After not getting anywhere with Jasmine, and the weird situation with Nicola, his stay was dominated by the bland showmance with him and Bianca.  The plastic bland pretty boy with the plastic bland pretty girl, with both spending much of it insisting it wasn’t a showmance.

I am glad they didn’t bring Danielle Lloyd back as a guest though. She is Jamie’s ex-wife, and 10 years ago was on CBB5, the infamous series which almost killed off the franchise altogether. I bet if someone told you back then that the show would still be on the air ten years after that happened nobody would have believed you. But I still think bringing her back 10 years after that would be far too crass and tacky even for this show.

Calum Best, George Best’s son, began to act like he was king of the house. He had the alpha male role in the house very much by default, and it seemed to go to his head. He tried to tell everyone else in the house what to do. His arrogance increased as the series went on, which is probably why he went in the final eviction having the fewest votes to win. Calum is admittedly a good looking guy, and I don’t think he’s a terrible person, but he’s pretty much just lived off his father’s legacy all his adult life and done little except reality TV. He probably needs to wind his neck in a bit.

I’m sure Jamie mentioned Calum hugging him during the night while they were sharing a bed. I would have liked to have seen that. Courtney from The Apprentice had been going out with Jessica, and joked that he fancied Calum too. I wished they’d put him in as I’d have liked to have seen if that led to anything. I’d better stop, this is getting a little, er, fanfic-ish.

Calum at one point said “This show’s all over the place. What happened to the structure?”. Yep, many viewers are wondering that too.

I liked the live at the house bit after Calum’s eviction which saw the housemates talking about pets, particularly Nicola talking about her sister’s cat.

Towards the end of the series there was an awards ceremony, which had to be stopped after yet another argument between Kim and Nicola. Then there was another during
a “who said this about so-and-so” task a few days later.

The penultimate episode ended with James C sat in a bedroom among teddy bears reading from a giant fairy tales book. Though his delivery was less like a fairy tale and more like a creepy horror story. The story was one of those mixed up fractured fairytales. We saw it acted out with the housemates cast in certain roles. Bianca was the princess, Nicola was the prince, Kim was the Evil Wizard, Coleen was the Fairy Godmother, and Jedward were the Two-Headed Troll.

This part of James C’s narration was quite funny; “The princess was known throughout the land for getting shitfaced on an empty stomach!”, so she had to select from three bowls of porridge. Kim was excellent in her role. She said the porridge “Smells like a penguin’s chuff!”. It ended with Bianca and Nicola kissing, very like in pantomimes where the Principal Boy is often played by an actress, but I liked it as it was another fairy tale lesbian couple after Red Riding Hood and Snow White in BBC’s recent Revolting Rhymes adaptation. We could probably do with more lesbian fairy tale couples! Then they all danced to ‘Celebration’ by Kool & The Gang.

In the final, Bianca Gascoigne, Gazza’s stepdaughter and a glamour model, was out first in 6th place. A lot was said about her launch night look where she had spikes on her head making her look like a dinosaur, plus the massive false eyelashes she wore in most of her stay. I liked some of Bianca’s clothes. I liked the black hat she wore now and again, and the long pink coat. In the final, I think she might have been going for some kind of Roman Goddess look, but it came off more She-Ra: Princess Of Power. Unless she was trying to spin a “journey” narrative. She went in dressed in red wearing horns on her head, she left dressed in white with a gold halo-ish crown on her head. Look, I realise it’s probably a bit regressive to focus so much on her outfits, but showmance stuff aside, there isn’t much to say about Bianca is there? She likes killer whales and great white sharks, so I think I’d probably get on with her. She seems nice enough. She’s very pretty. Well done for making the final, thanks for coming. Next.

5th place was glamour model Nicola McLean, who had a lipstick on teeth incident in her finalist interview. Nicola was kind of the classic Mean Girl Bitch type. She even wore T-shirts with Mean Girls quotes on, “Plastic” and “Fetch”. She improved on her last CBB9 position, where she was evicted just before the final. From this series, Nicola will probably mainly be remembered for her clashes with Jedward and Kim. She was never a likely winner, but Nicola was one of the more interesting housemates.

James Cosmo is an actor probably best known for being on Game Of Thrones. A lot of people saw him as the only “real” celebrity on there, but I guess it shows the difference between success and “fame”. He has a good C.V., he’s been in a lot of high profile stuff, but he isn’t really famous. In the CBB house he ended up with a role like a grandad, but it was kind of by default. He seemed fed up with the whole thing and hating even being there after a while. He won an “under the radar” award at the CBB awards ceremony, which he didn’t have a problem with. There was definitely a bit of a “jobbing actor, this is just a gig, this is just a paycheque” vibe with him, but he seemed alright most of the time. He finished in 4th place.

Kim Woodburn was 3rd. Kim was a good housemate, providing a lot of key moments and some memorable quotes. “Ganghanded” was definitely one, with a few fans beginning to use it themselves. Kim also shouted “adulterer” at people, calling them “chicken livered shits” and “chicken livered buggers”. She said this of Spencer. “Scum. We don’t mix with it, we wash it down the sink!”. She also said “If television doesn’t come in after this, I’ll be on the bloody sex lines!” However, as entertaining as she may have been as a housemate, she also came across as a bit of a nightmare, starting arguments with people for no apparent reason and going into melodramatic rants.

The runners-up were Jedward. It was an improvement on their last performance in CBB8, where they finished 3rd. They now equal Sam & Amanda in BB8 as the highest placing twins. Yes, twins have never won a Big Brother UK series. Well, Kate Lawler in BB3, but she doesn’t count as she went in on her own.

While Jedward improved their position from last time, in CBB8 they got no nominations at all, while this time they got more than anyone else in the series.

Jedward made robot costumes out of pizza boxes. There wore those green jackets with black question marks on like the Riddler in Batman.  They wrote ‘Jedward’ on the bathroom mirror with shaving foam, then shaved if off with a razor.  They poured washing up water on the kitchen floor to make a slide. They snorted sugar for a rockstar themed task.  More than last series, we got to see them more as individuals than as a double act. John is the slightly more argumentative, driving force of the two, Edward is more camp and sweet. But the real reason they were easier to tell apart was that John wore the traditional Jedward style hair, while Edward had his hair down. While they can be funny, they slated people plenty of times, and they appear to believe their own hype and are delusional about how high up the celebrity ladder they are. This is what happens to people who spend their whole adult life as a “brand” I guess. I did like that their “video from home” would have been from Tara Reid, who they became friends with after meeting on CBB8.

The winner was Loose Women panelist Coleen Nolan. She also improved her position from last time, having finished as runner-up in CBB10. She didn’t really do very much this series though. She sat smoking cigarettes in the rain most of the time. Despite lack of screentime she topped a save vote during an eviction where eight housemates were up, which was a shock as she didn’t seem all that popular online, but I guess there is a “silent majority” who watch and vote but don’t make a noise about it on social media. Coleen is probably relatable to a lot of the audience, and there are also her well publicised marital problems, she and her husband were having a trial separation, so perhaps some viewers felt for her and thought she needed something positive to happen in her life? Coleen herself was surprised, she thought she’d been boring. But, let’s face it, most people are normal and boring. Coleen is quite dull and miserable, but she has a sense of humour about herself, she can brush off most things with a joke at least. I do think she was a bit of a poor winner for the series, but it is what it is. Bit of a damp squib, bit of a shrug.

I’m not too bothered about Coleen winning, and I’m certainly not bothered about Jedward and Kim NOT winning. They were both a little too exhausting and over the top at times, and I definitely don’t think either were bully victims like they were sometimes spun as, they gave out about as much as they got.

As Hercule Poirot once pointed out, you’re highly likely to find a J name in an English speaking family, that was evident in this series. We had James C, James J, Jamie, Jasmine, Jessica, Jedward (i.e John), and Ray J.

CBB19 wasn’t bad. It felt like a very long series, but it was fine. There’s very little else on TV during January, and it was a decent distraction from real world news and how awful things are at the moment, with Brexit and President Trump. (I mean, seriously, President Trump. This isn’t some sitcom joke or dystopian sci-fi. This is actually happening!)

The All Stars Vs. New Stars thing became pretty irrelevant after a while, which is a good thing.  It became mainly about the mix of housemates. The tasks worked well for the most part. Not everything went perfectly, but things ticked along smoothly. Recently the trend has been for the winter CBB to be good, with the civilian and summer CBB series being pretty bad, so we’ll have to see if that continues this year.

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ABBAMania

1999 was a big year for ABBA nostalgia. The jukebox musical of their songs Mamma Mia! started in the West End in 1999, and there was the ITV tribute programme  ABBAMania and a spin-off tribute album was released. It was a charity cause for the National Foundation of Youth Music.

The ’90s had a lot of ’70s nostalgia in general, just like there’s ’90s nostalgia now, there was ’80s nostalgia in the noughties, ’60s nostalgia in the ’80s and ’50s nostalgia in the ’70s. But there was a big revival of interest in ABBA in particular in the UK in the late ’90s.

I watched ABBAMania when it was first broadcast 18 years ago. Babies who were born when this was broadcast will become adults this year! One of those “makes you feel ancient” moments.

Watching ABBAMania back now, it has to be said, a lot of it hasn’t aged well. It looks even older than 18 years ago. It looks so cheap as well! Is that really what production values were like back then?

It was hosted by Denise Van Outen, and she did a great job, she got the right balance of being professional and light-hearted. She said at the beginning  “I might do a bit of karaoke myself later”. Oh, everyone’s doing karaoke on here. In fact, karaoke is too generous, because I think everyone was miming!

Steps, let’s face it, made a career out of sounding like ABBA (while covering Bee Gees songs), so no surprise they opened the show. In fact, they were the only act to perform twice.

The first one was ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’. They were dressed all in white, which had the effect of looking like a laundry detergent advert. The song certainly sounded as if it had come out of a washing machine with an alkaline substance cleaning out anything interesting about that song.

Westlife also had spotlessly clean straight out of the washing machine white outfits, but their performance wasn’t as bland. Yes, Steps managed to make an uptempo dance song blander than Westlife singing a ballad! That takes some doing.

In Steps’ second performance they were dressed all in black instead. It wasn’t an ABBA song though, but a cover of ‘I Know Him So Well’ written by ABBA’s Benny and Björn with Tim Rice for the musical Chess. While not a patch on the Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson original, the Steps version is quite nice, the girls’ voices sound lovely on it. It’s certainly the better of their two performances on this programme. They later released it as a single in 2002 from their greatest hits album Gold. (Yes, they even copied the title of ABBA’s megaselling greatest hits album!)

Madness performed ‘Money, Money, Money’, and it was one of the most enjoyable performances. They had a lot of fun with the costumes and staging. The costumes included Rich Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly with a top hat, a bankers bowler hat, a suit made of notes, a cartoon burglar complete with striped convict shirt and mask, and a bag with “$wag” written on it, and yes the dollar sign was used as an S. Money notes rained down throughout, and at the end Suggs used a TNT box to blow up a safe. Their version of ‘Money, Money, Money’ was good as well, it was probably the only one to do something truly different with the song.

Culture Club performed a pretty fantastic version of ‘Voulez-Vous’. Boy George singing an ABBA classic surrounded by lots of shirtless male dancers oiled up and covered in glitter. You can’t get much more gaymazing than that!

Westlife did ‘I Have A Dream’. I had forgotten how “Oirish” their version sounded. Mind you, I’d forgotten how it sounded full stop. Nicky Byrne would later say on CD:UK that he never liked the song. In this performance, Westlife had loads of candles around them, plus some poor kids who had to sit among the candles in the dark until they pretended to sing-along when the lights came on after Westlife got off their stools at the end.

Martine McCutcheon did ‘Mamma Mia’, but is mostly memorable for saying to Denise afterwards “We could be ABBA now, couldn’t we? I could be the dark one, you could be the blonde one, but I don’t want to be the ugly one!”. In an ABBA tribute show as well! Stay classy, Martine.

B*Witched performed ‘Does Your Mother Know?’. So, the girlgroup sings one of the few ABBA songs with male lead vocals? To be fair, it worked better than you’d expect, but I still always thought this was an odd choice.

Stephen Gately‘s version of ‘Chiquitita’ was nice enough I guess. Denise flirted with him a bit afterwards, which was a bit awkward. I think this was after he came out, but I might be misremembering. Seeing him on here is obviously tinged with sadness now as he is no longer with us, but he seemed to be enjoying himself here. He introduced the final performance at the end.

This was Denise Van Outen’s, and it was undoubtedly the highlight of the whole show. She sang ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’.

She sang and danced well, there were pyrotechnics, and it was a decent remix of the song too, sort of a ’90s update. It was definitely the most fun performance of this show. I’m not trying to say its as good as the original or anything, but I do quite like this version. I’ll admit I’ve listened to it a fair bit.

I can’t help but wonder who’d be in the bottom 2 in X Factor ABBA week based on these performances? There was even a recap of them all at the end! Denise Van Outen was by far the best though, and deserved to get the pimp slot.

Anyway, my personal ranking of the performances, best to worst.

1) Denise Van Outen – ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’
2) Culture Club – ‘Voulez-Vous’
3) Madness – ‘Money, Money, Money’
4) Steps – ‘I Know Him So Well’
5) Stephen Gately – ‘Chiquitita’
6) B*Witched – ‘Does Your Mother Know?’
7) Westlife – ‘I Have A Dream’
8) Martine McCutcheon – ‘Mamma Mia’
9) Steps – ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’

The ABBAMania spin-off album was released later and featured covers not performed on the TV show. One was the 1999 BRIT Awards ‘Thank ABBA For The Music’ medley by Steps, B*Witched, Tina Cousins (of “Sash! featuring…” fame), Cleopatra (of “Cleopatra, Comin’ Atcha”, “Cleo was on The Voice a couple of years back” fame), and Billie (Piper, but this was back when she was just using her first name).

S Club 7’s version of ‘Dancing Queen’ is on the album, but didn’t appear in the ABBAMania show. It was from their own TV show, Miami 7, where they performed it in the episode ‘Bermuda Triangle’, which saw them sailing in a boat through the Bermuda Triangle and ending up back in time in the ’70s.

Finally on the album, but not on the show, is The Corrs cover of ‘The Winner Takes It All’. I don’t know the backstory behind this one, but this version is AWFUL, and I say this as someone who prefers Andrea Corr’s cover of ‘Tinseltown In The Rain’ to the original. This version of ‘The Winner Takes It All’ is so feeble and drippy, it’s a John Lewis advert cover before we had them. The only difference between this and the John Lewis advert covers actually makes it even worse, as there’s a tacky, unsuitable electrodance beat in it. In partial defence, it’s hard to do that song well. Saara Aalto in last years X Factor is probably the ONLY time anyone has done a good cover version of ‘The Winner Takes It All’.

It might have been nice to see Ash on here. They did once do a gig with nothing but ABBA covers.

Many things on the programme were stuff you’d expect. It had the usual factoids. “ABBA are Sweden’s second biggest export after Volvo cars” etc. The usual comments about the weird outfits and the videos you’d see on stuff like Top Of The Pops 2, such as wondering what the giant snowman in the ‘Chiquitita’ video is doing now, and the usual stuff like singing in your bedroom in front of the mirror using hairbrushes as microphones.

While this ABBAmania show was far from great, all of the versions on it aren’t as good as the originals, it is a lot better than most shows of its type, and it had a few good moments. Even if it gave us nothing else, I’ll always appreciate it a little for giving us the Denise Van Outen version of ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’.

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Extreme Sea Monsters

Channel 5 did a documentary about the strange creatures of the deep, both mythical and factual.

The narration pointed out that underwater is “an alien environment”, and that it is also in fact “the majority of the Earth” rather than land. Water covers 70% of the Earth’s surface but only 5% of our oceans have been explored. To use a sea-based metaphor, we are just at the tip of the iceberg. It’s little wonder thoughts of what might dwell underwater have inspired myth and legend in the past and present.

Giant squid were likely the basis of the Kracken myth, which has most often been described as a gigantic octopus or squid-like creature which attacked ships and grabbed sailors with its tentacles and took the whole ship down with it. What it is said to look like varies wildly, but reports of it go back to the time of the Vikings.

The programmed showed squid biologist Dr. Kat Bolstad leading an autopsy on a giant squid that was washed up on a New Zealand beach. She said that while it may have been the basis for the Kraken, it is and never has been able to bring down ships, as it would not be strong enough to do that outside of the water.

The giant squid they were examining was 25 feet 11 inches long. Dr. Bolstad explained that the squid kills its prey by eating into the back of the prey’s head and severing the spinal cord! It has a razor sharp beak that works a bit like a pair of scissors. Its brain suggests that, while it has limited intelligence, it has excellent vision, as well as enormous eyes, which will be needed to see in the pitch black of the deep ocean.

The examination of the squid at times brought to mind scenes in sci-fi films where there is an autopsy of an alien which has crash landed on Earth. Right down to all the squelchy noises! The squid has a form which is so different to us as humans because they have evolved for life in the deep ocean as opposed to life on land. Very often, aliens have been depicted as having squid-like tentacles. As well as being the likely inspiration for the Kraken, the giant squid and creatures like it continue to inspire modern mythical creatures.

Like with the classic cliche of fishermen claiming they caught a massive fish, but it got away, its possible that is where some of the reports came from. However, it may not always have been just made up. Sailors and mariners probably encountered such creatures and misinterpreted or exaggerated what they saw.

Leviathan is referenced in the Old Testament in the Bible among other places, and has been depicted in several ways, often demonic, sometimes even said to be an incarnation of Satan. But another popular image of it is as a giant whale.

Dr. Alistair Dove at Georgia Aquarium scuba dived in the aquarium and used a rig fitted with green laser beams to measure whale sharks and took photographs. He said that the limit whale sharks have ever grown is 40 feet long. He said that he believes that it is because their skeleton is made of cartilage rather than bones, so larger than 40 feet long wouldn’t be possible, as cartilage cannot support a body that size. In contrast, the blue whale, the largest animal on Earth, does have bones.

Dr. Dove went on to say it isn’t just the skeleton that would need to be strong to support a huge body. The heart would have to be big too to pump all the blood around,and it takes time for the nervous system to get a signal to the brain, and the larger the body the longer that takes, which would prove difficult for survival.

Leviathan is something else that was, at best, greatly exaggerated and probably never existed at all. However, in prehistoric times, similar creatures to it did exist.

Livyatan melvilli was named after Herman Melville who wrote Moby Dick, a famous novel about a sea captain’s obsessive quest to find a legendary white whale. Livyatan wasn’t bigger than modern whales though, in fact it was smaller than the blue whale, and about the same size of a sperm whale.

Megalodon was around at the same time and lived in the same area as Livyatan. Megalodon was similar to today’s great white shark, but much bigger. Shark researcher Professor Dan  Huber stated that it is difficult to get an idea of what prehistoric sharks would have been like, even more difficult than it is to get an idea what dinosaurs would have been like. Dinosaurs had bones so left behind a full skeleton, Megalodon had cartilage, so left behind only its teeth. But we see a great white shark’s tooth compared to Megalodon, and it is the exact same shape, but is huge in comparison.

As with a lot of long extinct creatures, scientists have to make an educated guess a lot of the time, sometimes based on similar animals that exist today. As there is so little to go on with Megalodon, what it is thought to have looked like is mainly scaling up a great white shark.

The programme compared how when today great white sharks sometimes battle orcas, so they recreated a scene using CGI how that would look like if Megalodon and Livyatan encountered each other. But it could be wide off the mark, as we have no idea if Livyatan behaved remotely like the orca.

Possibly the most famous cryptoid in the world is the Loch Ness Monster, also known as Nessie. Described as either like a sea serpent or a plesiosaur it is said to swim in the lake of Loch Ness in Scotland. There have been many reported sightings of it, some now confirmed to be hoaxes such as the famous Surgeon’s Photograph from 1934. Loch Ness researcher Adrian Shine stated that he also doesn’t believe all reports of it are lies and hoaxes. However, he thinks many are mistaken. He suggested that it could just simply be a case of people seeing something quickly, and the image being confused in their mind as they try to make sense of it, especially if the idea of the legendary creature living there is already in their head. Explanations for it include water birds or even waves left behind by boats.

Marine ecologist Professor Ben Wilson used an underwater hydrophone to record sounds in Loch Ness. Most of them were nothing out of the ordinary, but there was a brief, low, growling, rumbling sound… however, that could just as easily have been a lorry going past!

In Canada and the USA, there is a similar legendary creature the Caddy. Cryptozoologist Paul LeBlond stated that reports of it all mention similar features. It is often described as having a horse-like head, a whip-like tail and a snake-like body with several humps. There have been several reported sightings of of them or remains of one being found, though, once again, they could just as easily be explained as being known animals such as shark, whales or even moose, which are known to go in the water with only their head visible.

In 2003, on New Zealand’s Pukehina Beach, Luana Lovell found the carcass of a creature that had been washed up on the shore. She was struck by how strange it looked. It was 30 foot long, had sharp teeth and a long, ropey tail. She took pictures and videos of it using her phone and posted it on social media, where it went viral. Some saw it as proof of aliens, some accused her of making a fake monster herself.

Scientists observed it, and concluded that it was in fact the remains of an orca. It didn’t look much like one, but in the programme marine biologist Annie MacAulay explained that what happens is that an animal decomposes and stops looking like the living creature. The parts of the body biodrgrade at different times and they get eaten away by other creatures and sometimes pick up other substances before being washed ashore. She said it wasn’t at all surprising people think they might be a sea monster, as they look so peculiar. It’s possible they too would have inspired stories of sea monsters in past centuries.

These deceased sea creatures that end up washed up on beaches in this state and are mistaken to be sea monsters are known as globsters.

Annie MacAulay herself was called in to identify what initially looked like a weird sea serpent on Cataline Island, California, in 2015. But it was actually an oarfish. They can grow up to 56 feet long, have large eyes, sometimes amputate their own tail ends and have red plumes on their heads. There are illustrations that look very like them on old maps, along with other sea monsters.

As often is the case with mythical creatures, the illustration would come from someone’s description, and certain things can get confused. An example is with medieval drawings of whales. They were likely described as looking like a giant fish, and illustrations showed them as having gills and scales like that of fish, when in fact whales have neither as they are mammals. As a result, the illustration looks bizarre and overworldly.

Extreme Sea Monsters was interesting, looking at scientific natural history and how it could offer and explanation for the origins of mythological creatures. It was a bit of a patchwork I suppose, with so many different things focused on; the modern natural world, extinct animals, and creatures which are just figments of people’s imagination. But it was all presented clearly, and again it was interesting.

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The Secret Life Of The Zoo (Series 2)

secretlifeofthezoo2

CONTAINS SPOILERS 

While this finished its run on Channel 4 some months ago, this review was another I had to put on the backburner. But better late than never. The second series of The Secret Life Of The Zoo was once again narrated by Olivia Colman, and continued in the same vein as series one, showing the lives of the animals in Chester Zoo, with contributions from the zoo keepers.

Lions

Asiatic lions, male Iblis and female Kumari have been together for five years but have produced no cubs. As there are less than five hundred Asiatic lions in the wild the zoo wanted to try and help them get together.

In the wild, lionesses only mate with the strongest and most aggressive lions, who will protect the pride from attacks. That is the male lion’s job. The lionesses do the hunting and raise the cubs, the lion protects the pride.

Keeper Chris said “In the wild [male lions] are ripped. And they need to be, otherwise they wouldn’t survive.” Ibris might have let himself go a bit. He’s become out of shape as the zoo feeds him steak every day. He’s got too comfortable and lazy. He doesn’t need to hunt to survive (which he would need to do if he wasn’t part of a pride, or to prove himself worthy of joining one), as he knows he’s going to get a bit of meat served to him anyway, which unfortunately means he’s lost aggression and muscle.

The zoo decide to set up some carcasses hanging from a tree, meaning Iblis has to put a bit more effort in pulling the carcass down and tearing it to eat, regaining some of his wild instincts and building up his muscles. The keepers compared to training at a gym. It seems to succeed, and the lions mate.

Tigers

The tiger family we saw last series, mother Kirana, father Fabi, sons Topan and Jaya and daughter Kasarna remained close, but that presented a problem. Fabi was moved to another zoo to start a new family, and the sons will be following in their fathers footsteps in a way, as they too are destined to become breeder males. It’s crucial to keeping their species alive, as Sumatran tigers are very endangered. But it is still upsetting for the tigers. Kirana was very affected by Fabi’s departure, more so than the zoo expected. In the wild, tigers tend to be solitary and beyond mating adults very rarely see each other. Kirana started calling for Fabi after he left, was increasingly protective of her cubs, and the keepers struggled to get her to eat.

After Topan and Jaya had gone, it was sad to see Kirana looking for them afterwards. But it was Kasarna who was more affected by it, withdrawing and spending more time by herself. The keepers got mother and daughter to bond again – using a sack of rhino dung! -and plan to introduce a new male to possibly mate with Kasarna.

Bears (oh my)

Lima and Bernie are two spectacled bears. Lima was described by keeper Lucy as “a real little diva, she does what she wants in her own time”. Lima likes to climb on top of a tree and “watch the world go by” and look around at the rest of the zoo.

Lima was pregnant with Bernie’s cub, and she started to build a nest. Sadly, the cub didn’t survive, and we heard the heartbreaking events afterwards, that Lima apparently didn’t realise it had died, and kept nuzzling it, and even after the cub’s body was taken away she stayed in the nest for a while.

In order to get Lima and Bernie to mate again, the keepers decide to spread honey around on the trees in the paddock so that the bears will try to find it, and hopefully it will help them bond.

Bernie is twice as strong, but Lima calls the shots in the relationship. Bears, according to Lucy, have more romance involved than a lot of animals. Spectacled bears make a “trilling” sound when they are together. Lima starts building a nest, so she may be pregnant again.

Elephants

The elephants are another family we met in series one. They lost two youngsters to a virus last year, which has affected them badly. In particular, Sundara has become depressed and isolated herself more from the herd since the death of her son, Hari.

What does still bond the herd together is the one baby they still have, Nandita. She loves playing in the mud and being washed with a hose pipe. She tries to cheer up her auntie Sundara. She’s also a real daddy’s girl, as she and her father Aung Bo really enjoy each other’s company. In the wild, bull elephants aren’t part of a herd, and therefore not part of a family, but here it seems to work having the father around.

The keepers believe the best thing for the herd would be to have more calves. Nandita is pretty much the glue holding the family together, when she isn’t around they are more separated from one another. Playing is also important for the development of calves just as it is for human children, so having no other calves around could cause problems for Nandita.

Aung Bo enters musth, a period heightened sexual excitement, and mates with Sundara , who becomes pregnant, so hopefully the family will have a new calf soon.

Zebras

Grevy’s zebras have new additions to their small herd after mares Florence and Nadine are pregnant. Florence gives birth to a male foal, Angus. When he is born at first he spends a lot of time on the floor. Florence kicks him so he will get up. In the wild, zebra foals are very easy targets for predators, so they have to get on their feet as quick as they can, and while the zebras are safe from predators in the zoo, they have no way of knowing that.

Nadine suffers a long and difficult pregnancy, but successfully gives birth to a female foal, Elinor, who is on her feet very quickly. They have different personalities. Angus is quite cocky while Elinor is very timid.

Florence and Nadina are fiercely protective of their new foals, even protecting against other members of the herd. Nadine’s older daughter Merida for example, who is jealous of her new baby sister and is starting to act a bit like a sulky teenager.

Orangutans

Willie has been brought in to be the breeding male. He’s still a bit of a “gawky teenager” and a bit idle, so not that attractive to the breeding females Sarikei and Leia. He does spend a lot of time with Martha, who has been at the zoo since 1966. It’s a bit of an age-gap relationship, as Martha is quite elderly, and is too old to conceive.

Because orangutan DNA is so similar to humans, the zoo can use an ordinary high street pregnancy test on them! Keeper Chris gives Sarikei ten litres of blackcurrant juice, and holds a jug underneath her cage for her to pee in. The urine comes out light pink! Anyway, it is tested, and she is pregnant.

The huge alpha male Puluh is described as the keepers as “a brilliant dad” and good with the kids.

The orangutans are moved next door to an area that is bigger and more designed with orangutans in mind specifically. But keeper Tim pointed out that orangutans dislike change and prefer comfort and familiarity, especially as they get older, but the kids tend to be more adaptable.

The family includes two adult sisters Subis and Emma who occasionally don’t get on well as they have very different personalities.

Subis is more confident and goes in to explore the new surroundings with her daughter, Tutti. Keeper Claire said it’s good for the orangutans to explore their new home, comparing it to when people move to a new area and “wandering down the street to figure out where the local shop is!”.

Emma is more cautious and likes to think about something before taking a risk and is very protective of her son, Tripper, so she doesn’t venture into the new territory for a while. Again, this is understandable as while the zoo is a safe place, the orangutans have no way of knowing that for sure.

After the move, both sisters cause concerns for the keepers in different ways. Emma isolates herself and Tripper more from the group. Subis, however, escapes from the new area, along with seven of the youngsters!

They climb onto the roof, with Subis heading for the skylight. We see it via the CCTV camera. It reminds me a bit of when Big Brother contestants break into the camera run. Subis tips out the contents of a black binliner, opens a box of rubber gloves and tries them on. She also tries on a red fire hydrant cover. It was interesting to see how analytical she looked at those everyday objects though, orangutans are very inquisitive. An hour and 15 minutes after escaping she and her kids were lured back to the enclosure with bananas.

Babirusa and Otters

The zoo sometimes does “mixed species exhibits”, where they put together animals of different species, but who they would encounter in their natural habitat. A pregnant babirusa Kendari is in the same enclosure as two otters Wallace and Annie, described by keepers as “the neighbours from hell”. They crap in the hay in Kendari’s enclosure and bang pebbles on her door. The keepers decide to evict the otters because they are stressing Kendari out, and this is deadly serious when babirusas are pregnant. It is not unknown for a stressed mother pig to eat her newborn piglets! They also may accidentally crush them.

The otters are moved in to the orangutan’s area. The orangutans aren’t keen on their new neighbours either. They all grunt to show their disapproval! Willie throws a stick at them in the water (which is often how dominant male orangutans act when they spot what they think is a threat to the group). Willie and Sarikei start banging on the otter’s enclosure (Serves the otters right! See how they like it when it happens to them!).

The otters become hard to find, not turning up to be fed unlike usual. When they look into the otter’s holt it turns out that unknown to the keepers, Annie has given birth to five otter pups!

The otters are moved back into their old place. Wallace looks after the pups, while Annie goes out to look for fish. Kendari has given birth to her piglet now, and there is a clash with the two new families at first, but they seem to tolerate each other better now.

Aye-Ayes

Nocturnal primates aye-ayes are apparently considered to be ugly, but I think they’re quite cute! They have a long finger which they use to tap on a tree to search for grubs, and then use the finger to get them out to eat. Raz, an aye-aye at the zoo was hand-reared by keepers after his mother rejected him. Poor Raz is cripplingly shy around the zoo’s female aye-aye, Mamy. He checks her out, but the second she sees him he runs away! The keepers decide to try and help Raz gain more confidence by introducing him to more animals, in this case two jumping rats. Raz is very nervous about them at first, but gets used to them. He also gets more confident around Mamy, but it is still his first time, so lots of clumsy fumbles and advances so far.

Macaques

When the dominant female, Lisa, becomes pregnant and then gives birth to a baby, Han, all the other macaques are excited. It’s similar to humans in a way, when there’s a new baby they introduce it to the family and everyone wants to see it.

The group fuss over the new arrival, in particular the lower ranking females, as being seen with the new baby is a way of raising their social status.

All this gets a bit exhausting for Lisa though. The father, dominant male Mamassa, doesn’t show much concern for the baby, but to be fair, that isn’t unusual. Generally, the job of male macaques is to protect the group from invaders and to mate with the females, and most of the time they have nothing to do with raising the young.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s true every time. Lisa’s son Beaker is eager to be a babysitter and looks after Han to give Lisa a rest. When the macaques have three more Beaker is the group babysitter and looks after all of them when needed, which the mums appreciate.

Capuchins

The narration described the “monkey business” going on with the capuchins, both literal and metaphorical.

The dad, Eubank, is quite fickle. One minute he wants to play with the kids, next minute he gets bored and wants to do something else. Mum Maud teaches their young, five sons, how to get food, such as showing them how to strip bark from trees. Their eldest son, Rocky, is quite rebellious though. He doesn’t pay attention in “class”. He’s described as a troublemaker by the keepers. At one point he nuts the camera! But if he doesn’t buck his ideas up, he’ll never be a successful dominant male.

The keepers placed mealworms in tubes for the capuchins to find. They’re always curious but hesitant about anything new. Maud examined them first, with the sons, including Rocky, watching and learning from her.

The keepers gave Rocky was given pinatas for his birthday. As he had to break the pinata open to find the food, it looked a bit like a kid unwrapping a birthday present.

Emperor Tamarins and Pygmy Marmosets

The zoo has to be careful when mixing species, but sometimes it can work out well.

Emperor tamarins have a what looks like a wispy white beard as part of their fur, and the one we meet here, Ting, was bullied by his twin, Tong and younger brother Ming. The zoo decided to separate him and move him in with a family of pygmy marmosets. The baby of the family, Gus, liked Ting a lot. Ting carries Gus around on his back. This sort of mixing and friendship very rarely happens with monkey families in the wild, but it is good training for Ting as it will give him experience in raising youngsters when he starts a family of his own.

Tortoises

71-year old tortoise Bert has spent 13 years as the zoo’s dominant male tortoise and had his pick of all the females. His favourite was named Smooth Sides by the keepers, as Bert had mated with her so often the markings on her shell had been smoothed down!

But, things changed for Bert when a new, younger and stronger male arrived, named Football. He wanted the dominant male position and all the females for himself, so he kept bashing and ramming into Bert’s shell like a car, and tipped him upside down a few times. Bert became depressed and stopped eating.

It got to the point where the keepers were worried Bert might die, so they brought in two Swedish females, Lynne and Sandra. But Football mated with them too! The keepers decided to build a fence to seperate Football. With Football gone, Bert was back to mating with all the females. Football saw this and tried to squeeze through the fence, but it had been measured to make sure he wouldn’t be able to squeeze through it. Serves him right, really.

Bert started to get better. At night though, while Bert slept, Lynne and Sandra, who are small enough to squeeze through the fence, sneak off to mate with Football! Well, I suppose this way everyone’s happy.

Sloths

In the wild, sloths move so slowly moths make a permanent home in their fur!

Keeper Sam described the female sloth Tina as “the Marilyn Monroe of sloths”. The male, Rico is more like the dorky boy who fancies the pretty, popular girl. The keepers try and get them together. Sam described it as “It’s a little bit like setting a room up with candles and Barry White, but instead of candles and Barry White you’ve got nice little enrichment feeders”.

Rico and Tina appear to be getting together by the end.

Meerkats

The dominant female has been named Mum by the keepers, possibly because of how many kids she’s had. She’s now on her fifteenth litter! However, her eldest daughter, named Thirteen, is attacking her every day. She wants to overthrow Mum and become the dominant female! She’s also envious of her mother having more pups, not just in a sibling rivalry sense. Thirteen wants some pups of her own, and in meerkat groups only the dominant female is permitted to have them.

After Mum has given birth to two meerkat pups (which are super cute) there are quite vicious, violent fights between Mum and Thirteen. What looks so weird though is that at the end of the episode, Mum and Thirteen are sleeping peacefully next to each other as if nothing had happened! As strange as all this might seem to us, for meerkats this is all normal and just another day, which is why the keepers have to be careful not to intervene too much.

Warthogs

(Yeah, if you’re wondering, I did put the meerkats and warthogs close together mainly as a reference to Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King.)

Magnum and Tamzin are parents to eight warthogs. Magnum, the father, is not an early riser, likes to take all the best food for himself and to spend all day wallowing in the mud. He has the end of his tail bitten off at some point though. Two of his sons, Dobby and Neville are a duo of mischievous boys.

Capybaras

Capybaras look sort of like a giant guinea pig. The females can have up to 100+ offspring in their lifetime. The pups look a bit like ordinary sized guinea pigs.

Jeff is the father, but his contribution was, er, the minimal it could get. As keeper Dave put it, Jeff  “just did the business” then “relaxed and chilled out”.

The mother, Lochley, looked after them. She had some help though, from her own mother, Lilly. The pups even sometimes suckled from grandma Lilly!

Things took a tragic turn when Lochley became ill and died from an infection, so Lilly had to raise the pups. Jeff surprisingly started to take a more active role in bringing them up though!

Anoas

Anoas have pointed horns like a devil’s, the keepers said they are known as “the Demon of the Forest” and are known to have bad tempers.

The keepers never know where they stand with Oana. She can be nice, bad tempered or anxious at different times. She gives birth to a new female calf, Nani. There is a worry that sometimes the mother and calf don’t bond. That isn’t the issue this time, quite the opposite. Oana starts overgrooming Nani. The purpose of cleaning is to prevent disease and infection, but ironically if they overdo it then they can increase the risk, and the mother’s rough tongue can strip away the calf’s protective skin.

When the mother and calf were reunited with the rest of the family, Oana’s eldest daughter Lasolo was pleased to see her mother again, but not so sure about her new little sister. To start with Oana pushed both Lasolo and the father Teal’C away if they came too close to Nani, but after a while things settled down and they worked as a family unit.

Penguins

Penguin Island has a new batch of chicks, and the keepers decided to name them after brands of crisps. Two the chicks were called McCoy and Munch (after Monster Munch). Their parents are Indigo and Amber.

Penguin parents share the responsibilities and take turns. They’re not always successful though. Some chicks don’t make it to adulthood. As keeper Anne put it “Penguins haven’t got Social Services, so we have to keep an eye on them!”

Many of the chicks were losing weight rapidly and were dying. Keeper Beth pointed out that if chicks start losing weight that fast they’ll become increasingly weaker. Because of that, they won’t have the energy to beg for food, so the parents stop feeding it, making the chick even weaker until it dies. The zoo tries to supplementary feed in those cases.

They tried it with McCoy, but he died just two hours later. His brother Munch was also cause for concern, he had lost half his body weight. The vet was called in, and he diagnosed Munch with a lung infection that could kill him. It’s possible this same infection may have been what killed the other chicks.

In cases like this, the keepers have to consider the possibility of euthanising the ill animal if they are just going to suffer and never get better. Before they take that course of action though, they try one last treatment for Munch.

It is nebulisation, which involved putting Munch in a small white box, pumping in microscopic droplets of medication in a mist and Munch would inhale the medication that way. Luckily, Munch responded to the treatment and pulled through which was amazing to see!

The programme has a lot of personification and anthropomorphism, but again I think it helps viewers relate to what is going on, and the animals do have personalities and their life stories have similarities to that of humans. As many of the keepers said, perhaps we’re not so different to them.

There will be issues that the keepers have to think about, difficult decisions. They clearly bond with and care about the animals as individuals, but they also have to be objective and logical at times. Such as if an animal is ill, hasn’t responded to treatment, will never get better and is just going to suffer a slow death, sometimes it’s better to euthanise them.

There’s also that there are wider issues. If a species is critcially endangered and they need to have as much of them bred as possible, it means that, in the case with the tigers here, they had to break up a happy family. In the wild, that sort of tiger family is highly unlikely to ever happen, but it is still sad that they had to be broken up so that the males could breed elsewhere.

The Secret Life Of The Zoo was a great programme to watch. I think everyone was elated that Munch the penguin chick survived. It is interesting to see the surprising ways the animals behave and what bonds they can form. I can see why the second series came round quickly.

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Planet Earth II – ‘Cities’

planetearthiicities

CONTAINS SPOILERS 

Very late, I know. I’m not going to review the clipshow episode, so sorry if you were waiting for that one.

Cities are the newest habitat on Earth, and a fast growing one. The increase in cities has been bad for many animals as it has resulted in them losing their habitats. But some have used cities to their advantage. There is a large and easy supply of food if they know where to look, and cities are often warmer than the countryside.

In Jodhpur, India, an alpha male langur rules over an urban territory, but he has to defend his position every day. A gang of 15 bachelor males challenge him. Only one will be able to take his place, but he has to drive away each challenger. He succeeds, and lucky too, as he would lose not only his territory, but all the females that are there, and all the infants would be killed as they would have been fathered by him.

That aside, this is a great place for langurs to live. Langurs are associated with the Hindu god Lord Hanuman, and people feed the langurs biscuits, flowers, vegetables. They get a LOT of food too. There is so much food for them it has led to a “baby boom”, with twice as many young born here as would be for the average group of langurs that live in a forest. There is even a mother langur who has twins, something that is very rare. There was some amazing and funny scenes of them relaxing in the temple gardens and sitting on park benches.

Elsewhere in India, in Jaipur, rhesus macaques descend on a market gorging themselves on all the nuts, crisps fruit and vegetables that are on sale there.

The city of Mumbai has leopards which come after nightfall. They are rarely seen, but have been known to attack humans, 200 people in the last 25 years. But what they hunt for are domesticated animals and livestock. We see some leopards catching piglets.

A scene from Toronto, in Canada, shows a mother raccoon keeping her offspring in a chimney. However, her young have grown, and they need to move to a bigger place. She has to carry them down the house with her mouth. The baby raccoons begin to explore a garden, climbing in watering cans, drinking from fountains and eating seeds from birdfeeders. Raccoons, to us in the UK anyway, look extremely cute. I thought so myself, especially seeing them poke their head out of the chimney. But then, they aren’t found here. They don’t seem to be so popular in countries where they are found, as they can be a terrible pest, because they cause damage and carry disease. But, they are still cute.

In Harar, Ethiopia, butchers from the meat market dump bones they didn’t want outside, so they can be eaten by spotted hyenas. Some people even feed the spotted hyenas by hand. The hyenas behave themselves more than they would normally. It’s likely they appreciate being given the food, and know it’s in their interest to be co-operative, and that it’s easier than having to hunt. Unsurprisingly, this area is prized among hyenas, and we see two rival clans fighting over the territory.

In Australia, the male bowerbird builds elaborate nests, as usual it’s to impress females. They decorate their nests with brightly coloured objects they find. Anything from string, pipes, drinking straws, plastic forks, toy cars, clothes pegs. They’re not above stealing from the competition either, they will rob from rival neighbouring bowerbirds if they leave their nest unattended too long.

One bower bird pilfers a small red heart-shape! Appropriate object I suppose, given that this is about romance. A female comes and he shows off his collection. She doesn’t seem interested… and it turns out “she” is in face a “he”. Young male bowerbirds sometimes resemble the females, and this one quite literally steals the other bowerbird’s heart, and flies off with it! Still, he nicked it from another bowerbird in the first place, so you could argue it serves him right.

In New York City, wild peregrine falcons perch on cathedrals, nest on building ledges and the high buildings work similar for them as tall trees do. They prey on pigeons. Watching the falcon and the pigeon in the sky was almost like seeing two spitfires.

Pigeons have a very surprising predator in Albi, in France. The pigeons like to wash themselves in the river, but the oil from their plumage drifts downstream and is sensed by… wels catfish! Strange but true, a fish that eats birds. I first saw this on an episode of Nature’s Weirdest Events, so this didn’t surprise me, but it is still an odd sight to see. Catfish normally stay at the bottom of the river, so coming up to surface is an unusual enough development in their behavior in itself, let alone eating pigeons.

When turtles hatch, their instinct is to find the sea, and they go towards the light of the full moon reflected in the water. However, with beaches you will often find humans, and if there are humans at night there will be electric light. This confuses some of the turtle hatchlings, causing them to go in the wrong direction towards the electric light. Predators, like crabs, have become aware of this and wait. But even if they aren’t caught or escape the crabs, the hatchlings are still in danger. The further they go, the more electric lights, and the more it confuses them. They head towards roads, where they can get run over by cars. They get caught up in litter people have dropped. They can fall into storm drains. Even if they somehow manage to avoid all those dangers, there is very little chance they will last the night, as they will die from exhaustion from spending all that time travelling on land. They are developed to spend most of their life in the sea. This has happened to 80% of the turtle hatchlings on this beach.

This was one of the most distressing parts of the programme. It’s sad to see the baby turtles die so needlessly, and it is our fault, unintentionally, we as humans have caused this to happen.

The programme mentioned that every ten years, an area the size of Britain will be covered in concrete. Of course, there are attempts to try to redress the balance, such as tree planting. Singapore have planted 2 million trees in 45 years, and have gone to lengths to keep their water clean. They have also tried to create “super trees”, which are shown on the picture. They are made of metal, but with creepers planted on them and allowed to grow. There has been observed to be an increase in wildlife since making these changes.

The super trees do look like something from a distant future. Usually when fiction shows things in the far future everything is metallic and silver, but seeing that  it could be green is interesting, and optimistic I suppose.

Similarly, in Milan, they have tried to make “vertical forests”, skyscrapers with trees planted on the roofs and on ledges. The idea is that it will contain the same amount of trees as a forest, but within a city and taking up less space than a forest needs.

The success of such attempts is unknown at this point, but I very strongly believe we should try. In fact, I’d say we have a responsibility, as it is humans who are causing the damage to the planet. We are intelligent enough to know this, and as the top species on the planet we have a duty to look after it, not least for our own sake. David Attenborough made an appearance on camera at the end of this episode to deliver a similar message, and that we shouldn’t lose contact with the natural world.

Planet Earth II was a truly brilliant, awe-inspiring programme. It was fantastic, and it was hugely popular, it had high viewing figures , and it certainly had an impact on the public. A lot of people were talking about it. There were reports that it was more popular with young people than this year’s The X Factor, and it made a lot of people’s top TV show of 2016 lists.

The programme has been criticised saying it glosses over extinction and how small natural habitats are becoming, but I thought it did address a lot of those issues.  But if the situation is even worse than they said, then I think that makes its final message all the more important.

I’m certainly up for Planet Earth III.  It would at least be something to look forward to for 2026 anyway.

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