So… What Did I Think About The Snowmen

Posted on January 15th, 2013 in Culture | 2 Comments »


I have neglected my post shamefully and will try and rewatch the episode soon to give some more cogent thoughts, but here are some quick observations…

  • New title sequence and music seem to lack focus and drive, although the glimpse of Matt Smith’s face is welcome and stylish.
  • Moreorless everything in the set-up is great – Jenna-Louise Coleman acquits herself splendidly, and Matt Smith is excellent as this darker, more lonely version of the Doctor.
  • The nods to the Patrick Troughton Yeti stories are lovely and to have Ian McKellan and Richard E Grant is almost spoiling us
  • Welcome returns too from Vastra, Jenny and especially Strax
  • Don’t like the new TARDIS much. Too small, too boxy. I thought the previous version was the best since the series returned and possibly the best ever. I remember hating the Eccleston version when it debuted and I got used to that, so maybe this will grow on me too (mind you, they did adjust the lighting when Tennant took over).
  • Fantastically bold to actually kill off Clara, although the storytelling was a bit wobbly there. If she’s dead, kill her off. If she’s not dead yet, then give her a line or two at least.
  • Resolving the plot with “tears at Christmas” is almost unforgivably nonsensical and rather makes me wonder if the resolution to the Sherlock cliff-hanger will be that Watson closed his eyes and wished really hard that Holmes wasn’t dead.

I’m shortly turning this blog over to movies and especially The Oscars, but before I do a quick word about the New Yes Prime Minister which began on Gold tonight. As a writer myself of a satirical play about the, and called Coalition, I was duty-bound to take in the recent stage version of the venerable 80s sit-com which I found very disappointing. Trapped in a single set and playing out in real-time did the storytelling few favours, but worse was the way that the elegant wit and supple characterisations had desiccated over time, becoming hack imitations of their former selves. Naturally, the new actors couldn’t help but be compared to their progenitors, but the writing never added anything new, while simultaneously failed to resurrect glories past, and the plotting was glacially slow, and rarely managed to raise the stakes appreciably.

Putting this new incarnation back on the television seems scarcely wise, but I was stunned to realise that the first half hour installment is essentially the first thirty minutes of the play, with all attendant faults and compromises, and several jokes made appreciably less funny in the minimal rewriting. Too see such good actors as Henry Goodman and David Haig struggle with this third-rate material, while spectres of Nigel Hawthorne and Paul Eddington loom over their shoulders is a very discomfiting sight. I shan’t be watching any more.

Update Feb 2012

Posted on February 18th, 2012 in Blah | No Comments »

A quick update – there will be a more substantive post tomorrow.


My weight today is 145.8lb meaning I have lost about a stone since early January and putting me exactly on target to lose 20lb by mid-March. With a little help from the iPhone Get Running app, I’ve successfully completed a 25 minute run (albeit not at a ferocious pace and on my second attempt). I’m even considering keeping up the calorie counting and running after mid-March, although my resolve may eventually crack, especially where my late evening cheese-and-biscuits is concerned.


A small interregnum but I hope to see War Horse tomorrow. I also have gained access to copies of Tree of Life, Moneyball and The Help but so far I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch any of them. Instead, I’m going to see The Muppets tonight.

Other writing

As well as working on the next edition of The Improv Handbook, I have finally found a publisher for my Columbo book, provisionally titled “My Wife Thinks You’re Terrific”. This complete episode guide will be published by Miwk in early 2013. And I am now contributing Doctor Who articles to the What Culture blog. The first one is here.

More news will follow shortly about Coalition, my satirical play which is going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year. You can also see photos of my new flat here.

That’s my life. How’s yours?

December catch-up

Posted on December 13th, 2011 in Blah, Culture | No Comments »

Well, it has been a long time since I was here!

This has been for a couple of reasons, largely, we’ve bought a flat which we will be renovating in the New Year – expect lots of bloggy fun covering that. And also, I’ve been writing my first play with my good friend Robert Khan. Coalition had its first reading on 30 November and is currently seeking producers.

Let me do a quick cultural round-up to keep you all up-to-date. In recent weeks I have seen…

  • One Man Two Guvnors – a gloriously playful take on a classic farce, blessed with four stand-out performances from Oliver Chris, Tom Edden, Daniel Rigby and of course James Corden. A more purely joyful night at the theatre you couldn’t wish for. And a skiffle band too!
  • Matilda – I knew it would be good, I didn’t dream that it would be astoundingly good. Tim Minchin’s lyrics and music are heartfelt, delectably clever and roaringly funny, Bertie Carvell turns in an award-winning performance as Miss Trunchbull, the sets and lighting are perfect and Dennis Kelly’s additions to Roald Dahl’s story fit seamlessly. All this without mentioning Matilda herself – there are four in rotation, but if the one we saw is anything to go by, then they are all stars in the making. Go!!
  • Dave Gorman’s PowerPoint Presentation – Unfussy, unencumbered by a deadening theme, just an hour and a half in the company of one of the cleverest, most affable comedians on the circuit. A delight.

We also saw The Kitchen and Daniel Kitson both at the National Theatre. The former’s slight story is transformed by stunningly choreographed playing and the latter is his usual detailed, hilarious, heartbreaking self. But both have finished now, so you can’t go.

Come and see the next reading of Coalition instead though – 20-22 January, afternoons at The Leicester Square Theatre and follow the progress of the play on its new website.

Let’s make up and be friendly

Posted on May 18th, 2010 in Politics | No Comments »

So, it’s a Lib-Con coalition. Hooray! Everyone’s done the grown-up thing for the sake of the country and for the sake of a strong and stable government. And just to make sure it’s really, really stable, there won’t be another election for five years, since the new government has changed the rules and introduced fixed terms. In fact, it’s even more stable than that since the other rule-change which has whizzed by is that you now need 55% of the commons voting with you to topple the government. This apparently arbitrary figure just happens to ensure that the Tories will stay in power even if every single Lib Dem MP joins forces with Labour and votes against them. Funny that.

I mention all this, not simply as an expression of sour grapes, but because further electoral reform is likely and it’s worth looking at some of the different options which are being considered. I’m not going to bore you with the difference between Alternative Vote and Single Transferable Vote, (although god knows I could thanks to many ill-spent days and nights hacking around my student union where such things were talked of with the excitement I now reserve for a new iPhone), I’m going to take a considerably wider view, beginning with just what is so “broken” about the current system anyway.

Basically, there aren’t that many votes which actually matter in a UK general election. Only about 26 million people voted this time round (out of about 40 million who were eligible, a 65% turnout). Of those 26 million, the great majority – like me – will always vote for the same party, come what may. We don’t decide the election, only the floating voters do. But of the 650 parliamentary seats, the majority are safe. At the last election only 100-odd actually changed hands. So, politicians are attempting to influence the 500,000 or so voters who are going to vote, and are undecided, and live in marginal constituencies. The rest of us might as well not bother turning up, except to keep the BNP out.

So some voters are understandably peeved that their vote hasn’t really affected the outcome all that much, but this peeve is a trifle compared to the staggering injustice which Nick Clegg believes that the electoral system has dealt him – 23% of the popular vote, but only 9% of the parliamentary seats? In fact, such are the vagaries of our first-past-the-post system that although their share of the vote went up (by just less than 1%), they ended up with a net loss of five seats. The injustice of it all!

Now, you might argue that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats have actually done all right out of first-past-the-post this time round, given that they have around half-a-dozen cabinet positions and Clegg himself is now deputy PM. You might also argue that the Lib Dems are moaning about a problem which is somewhat, if not entirely, one of their own making – if there was no significant third party, the distribution of seats in the House of Commons between Labour and Conservative would much more closely resemble the distribution of votes in the country. In other words, the Liberal Democrats could come pretty damned close to proportional representation without any complicated change to the voting system or the role of MPs, just by giving up and disbanding.

This of course is not going to happen, and here it becomes important to state the Golden Rule of Electoral Reform, which is that anyone in politics who is advocating a particular system of voting (including the existing one) is almost certainly advocating the system which would be most advantageous to them and their party, regardless what justification they give. Hence, the Liberal Democrats want a strictly proportional system, which would gain them about ninety seats. Not surprisingly, neither the Tories nor Labour want such a system as the Lib Dems’ gain is their loss.

The Tories, despite long-standing opposition to electoral reform, appeared to be offering an olive branch to the Lib Dems on this issue with David Cameron saying that he would like to see fewer MPs and constituencies of equal population sizes. Ignoring for the moment quite how it is possible to claim that anyone’s vote can count for more if the number of representatives is significantly reduced, a look at what I must call “the electoral math” reveals why. Conservatives tend to win big majorities in large, rural constituencies. Labour politicians tend to win by smaller majorities in smaller urban seats – they use their voters more efficiently. Cameron’s plan effectively means taking pairs of small Labour-held seats and pushing them together to make one Tory-sized seat, costing Labour one MP in the House of Commons every time they do it. Not surprisingly, Labour isn’t keen on this plan, and it is unlikely to help the Lib Dems out much either.

So, Labour voters (like me) favour the status quo, which – on some calculations – would hand Labour a small but workable outright majority if the votes across the country were split exactly equally across the three parties. This is not what we tell people in wine bars, however. What we generally tell people is that given the tribal, adversarial nature of our political system, where opposition parties will tend to oppose anything the government proposes simply to test those proposals, hung parliaments tend to lead to instability, indecision and deadlock. If we don’t want a rudderless ship of state, we need an electoral system which will deliver a decisive outcome and hand the party with the most support in the country a clear mandate and the political tools to get its legislation passed.

And history shows us that most attempts to run Britain in a cross-party fashion have been short-lived failures, which is why – up till recently – I’ve been banging the drum of “decisive outcome” vs “making every vote count”, pointing out that almost any proportional system would deliver a hung parliament at pretty much every election (so why is it only now that this has happened that people are saying that the current system is broken and must be fixed?). However, looking at what is actually happening at number ten at the moment, I wonder…

Politics in Britain has changed in the last thirty years. Tony Blair essentially conceded that the right had won the economic argument. Free market – yes; all-powerful unions – no; get rid of that embarrassing business about the workers controlling the means of production from the party constitution and we’re all set. It worked. New Labour was seen as a friend to business, a chum of the City and stayed in power for three historic terms. After several years of flailing about, shellshocked, the Conservatives had little option but to concede that the left had won the social argument. NHS – yes; safety net for society’s least fortunate – you betcha; and hey presto suddenly they aren’t The Nasty Party anymore.

This leaves precious little left in the way of ideology to argue about, and this does give me hope for the future of the Lib-Con Coalition. It’s not quite Lab-Con, but given that Nick Clegg’s an old Etonian toff (oh okay, he went to Westminster School, but that’s not as catchy) whose first job in politics was working for Leon Brittan, but whose party is generally seen as rather to the left of New Labour, it does sort of balance out. Far from electing the party whose spirit and values is most aligned with theirs, I think many of those undecided voters will feel like they are trying to pick the most capable management team and may be wondering why they have to pick all the people with red rosettes vs all the people in blue rosettes. Can’t they pick-and-choose?

Turns out, you can, if you’re Cleggeron. And this means that cabinet meeting might start to mean something again. And more than that – if you have to convince someone of the rightness of your policy and that someone is fundamentally motivated through years of conditioning to disagree with everything you say, then there’s a chance that we could get policy-making which is genuinely for the good of the country, and might even be evidence-based rather than locked to ideology. Now there’s a thought.