BBC BLOGS - Magazine Monitor

Archives for April 20, 2008 - April 26, 2008

Your Letters

17:19 UK time, Friday, 25 April 2008

The minister for Urban Planning in Uganda is called, wait for it, Urban Tibamanya. Thought you should know.
Esther, Kampala, Uganda

I see you've rebranded mankind as 'humankind' half way down this article.
Could you also adjust the last word in the piece to include all those phenowomena out there? Thanks.
David, Hong Kong

Spelling error alert. In Snipes jailed for three years, the plural is snipe. At least they'll be a bit of company for those ducks.
Graham, Purmerend, Netherlands

I've found that you can make a highly effective Dalek voice by turning an ordinary desk fan on to the fastest setting, cupping your hands and speaking into it by getting as close as possible. By simply saying "Exterminate!" into the fan it is possible to frighten the bejesus out of folk of an fragile disposition.
Stuart, Croydon

Not just one, but two appropriate names in this story.
David, Romford, UK

Flexicon suggestion - conjest.
Jill B., Detroit

10 things we didn't know last week

14:52 UK time, Friday, 25 April 2008

Snippets from the week's news, sliced, diced and processed for your convenience.

1. A mother's diet at conception influences the gender of her baby.
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2. Elvis visited Britain.
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3. Gordon Brown did not send a Christmas card to Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel or Russia's outgoing president, Vladimir Putin.

4. Staff at the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop were only offered six-month contracts when it opened 50 years ago, because the corporation feared the work would drive them mad.
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5. There are 109 journeys between London's Tube stations that are quicker to walk.
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6. Astronauts at the International Space Station must spend two hours a day exercising their legs.
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7. The language of space is English.
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8. The UK's most valuable tree is the plane.
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9. Children are more likely to injure themselves falling out of bed than out of a tree.
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10. A woman's chances of quitting smoking is linked to her hormones.
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Sources: 3 - Times, Tuesday

Seen 10 things? Send us a picture to use next week. Thanks to Anna Bostock for this week's picture of 10 American 1950s-era cars, spotted in Havana, Cuba.

Congratulations, Clive

13:22 UK time, Friday, 25 April 2008

Our own Clive James has won a prestigious journalism award for his body of work, including his weekly Point of View column for BBC Radio 4 and the Magazine.

James has received a special honour at the Orwell Prize for political journalism for his writing and broadcasting, a career which began in the UK in the early 1970s.

He has worked for the Listener, New Statesman, the Observer, the Spectator, the Times Literary Supplement, many BBC programmes on radio and television - and more recently, the news website.

As James explains in this interview with the Magazine, his love affair with the web began long ago and he has carved his own niche in cyberspace for his work.

Agree with his Point of View or not, Magazine readers seek out his column for its neat turns of phrase and vividly imagined scenarios.

"Clive James is a master, in the Orwell tradition, of the essay," says Jean Seaton, chair of the Orwell Prize. "Whether written or broadcast, his words are sharp but humane."

Paper Monitor

10:54 UK time, Friday, 25 April 2008

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

The Daily Mail is very pleased with itself today.

The London Press Club awards were last night and the august journal has picked up the gong for Daily Newspaper of the Year.

It's worth a story on page two and an addition to the masthead. But come on Mailites, the ante has been upped. You are in direct competition with the Daily Express, which carries in its banner the legend "THE WORLD'S GREATEST NEWSPAPER". The provenance of the awarding body is not immediately obvious from a quick scan through the paper, but it must be some respectable organisation.

You can almost hear the call of: "My name is Desmond, proprietor of proprietors, look on my titles, ye mighty, and despair."

You must do better Mailites.

And so to the Weak-Headline-of-the-Day Award.

A strong contender is on page three of the Daily Mirror. Little Britain USA is filming and the headline is "Little America".

Over in the Daily Star there is an extraordinary yarn about Bruce Willis playing Formula One commentator Murray Walker in a movie. The headline: "DRIVE HARD". Do you get it? Do you?

On the front of the Sun there's a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow, wife of Chris Martin, in a relatively short skirt showing bare legs. You will have seen it, as the photo makes every font page bar the Independent's. The Sun's pithy piece of headline mastery? "Feeling Coldplay, Gwyneth?"

It's almost like the elite subs of Fleet Street were absent last night, perhaps at some sort of boozy awards ceremony?

Friday's Quote of the Day

09:04 UK time, Friday, 25 April 2008

See the Quote of the Day every morning on the Magazine index.

"Flags and stickers are for mad people" - Columnist Matthew Parris takes a dim view of St George's day.


Not everybody is enamoured with the day allotted to half-hearted remembrance of England's patron saint. Columnist and former Conservative MP Matthew Parris lambasts enthusiasts as the equivalent of activists at party conferences with lapels bedecked with badges, labels and slogans.

Your Letters

16:06 UK time, Thursday, 24 April 2008

Good job the caption comp isn't back, because the first thing that popped into my mind was " one looking at me? Is one? Is one looking at me?..."
Rob McKay, Banbury, UK

Re If only the Caption Competition was back. "Go ahead, Witchell. Make my day."
Dave Godfrey, Swindon, UK

If only there was still a caption competion, my immediate thoughts were that Charles was going to new levels to gain the throne.
Marie, Sheffield

I know I run the dual risks of being either (a) cretinously wrong, or (b) a pedantic twerp, but should the (wholly justifiable) lament not read "If only the Caption Competition were back (pt7)"?
Neil Franklin, Chandlers Ford, UK

Monitor: This has been changed pending further pedantry.

I think we need a new flexicon entry for things which eerily resemble contests, but are definitely not in fact contests. I suggest "nontest". Which, incidentally, is an anagram of "ten tons".
Paul T, Manchester

Re the story about the cabbie with the unhelpful sat nav - what a prophetic name for the cab firm.
Sarah, Farnham, Surrey

Am I the only one that thinks that the new portrait of Tony Blair makes him look like Jim Hacker?
Nick C, Egham, UK

Another anagram of interrobangs, (Wednesday's letters, David, Maesteg) another Monitor reminder. Did you know that one of the many thousand anagrams for "this is not a competition" is "The Motion? It is: Captions!?"
Stig, London, UK

Sorry, James (Wednesday's letters), that is nonsense. "Translation" does not mean a one-to-one word correlation. If it did "I'll get my coat" could not be translated into Chinese.
Mark Esdale, Bridge

If only the Caption Competition were back (pt 7)

12:47 UK time, Thursday, 24 April 2008


Prince Charles shoots a Taser stun gun. To see what Camilla has to say about this, click here. And remember, it's not a contest.

Paper Monitor

11:36 UK time, Thursday, 24 April 2008

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Last week it was Happy Monday dancer Bez, this week it's Coleen McLoughlin who lists her profession as journalist.

But is she? This question posed in the Guardian's G2 may have Fleet St veterans coughing into their morning ciggies, followed by a short, sharp "NO!" but long-time hack Roy Greenslade gives the young lady - and the times we live in - a fair hearing.

On the wedding banns posted at Crewe register office by Ms McLoughlin and her beau Wayne Rooney, her profession is given as "journalist" rather than the more immediately obvious options of, say, clotheshorse or TV presenter. (His, the Sun points out, reads "proffesional" footballer. The Guardian, needless to say, doesn't pick up on this misspelling.)

"I can imagine the thin smiles from veteran reporters as they question her credentials. How many doorsteps has she been on?" Greenslade writes. But journalism is a far broader church than when he started out 40 years ago. "In the old days one possible route to fame was becoming a national newspaper columnist. Now, in the age of celebrity, it's fame that lands you a column."

And the OED defines a journalist as "One who earns his living by editing or writing for a public journal or journals" and that is indeed what Ms McLoughlin does, raking in a reported £100,000 for penning a few hundred words on what she's bought in the past seven days for Closer magazine. Plus a bit of pin-money from other sources.

The Daily Mirror's Brian Reade notes that whereas he used to struggle to give advice on how best to get into the profession, thanks to Coleen it's now easy.

"In future I will let it be known that the best way to become a journalist is to date a Mr Potato Head and be seen leaving the hairdresser's with big curlers in your hair."

Paper Monitor is clearly not the only one wearing the green cloak of Dame Envy.

Thursday's Quote of the Day

09:26 UK time, Thursday, 24 April 2008

"Don't press any buttons" - the Duchess of Cornwall to the Prince of Wales as he's handed a Taser gun.

taser.gifWise words from Camilla, as the royal couple visit Charing Cross Police Station in central London.

If the Monitor ever finds itself in the company of someone holding a Taser, these will be the first words to pass its lips. But Charles did indeed push a few buttons, firing the stun gun at a foil target and sounding the siren on a police car. Well, you would, wouldn't you? He can be seen in action here.

Your letters

16:51 UK time, Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Just thought I'd add to the inevitable enormous pile of mail you'll receive about this headline.
Alex Knibb, Bristol

Re: not the anagram competition. Not that I want to appear to be competitive in any way, but my anagram for interrobangs would be Go Rent Brains.
David, Maesteg, South Wales

Monitor: Reminder - this is not a competition.

Ooh, I've just found one I like even more! Interrobangs: Bring Treason!
David, Maesteg, South Wales

So now a fish needs a man like a woman needs a bicycle?
David Roberts, Derby

Re: A high calorie diet to conceive a boy - the best way I know to have a boy or a girl is to keep having babies till you get the required gender. It doesn't usually take more than four children.
Henri, Sidcup, mum to: a boy, a girl, a boy, a girl, a boy, a girl, a boy, a boy, a girl, a boy, a boy and a boy (all dearly loved and wanted, regardless of gender).

The new McDonald's uniforms seemed designed to emulate a burnt burger - brown inside, black on the outside, and utterly unappetising.
Michelle B, London

Ed, Clacton - what they have given is a definition not a translation. A translation would be just a word meaning the same in a different language rather than a description of the word. Are we still doing the coat gag?
James, Dudley

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all readers of MM's letters a very happy St. George's Day.
DS, Croydon, England

Re: England's most patriotic town. Given that St George was supposedly a third century AD Roman soldier, why is he shown in medieval armour, and why are the people of Morley dressed up in pseudo-medieval costumes?
RJ Tysoe, London, UK

"I hope the force will soon be with him" - I'm tempted to say that two grown men playing with light sabres got everything they asked for, but that would be beneath me.
Louise Holder, Gloucester

Perhaps DJ Shaw really meant to say 'May the force soon be with him' or to quote Yoda 'With him may the force be soon'.
Rollo Prendergast JP, Hemel Hemsptead

Paper Monitor

11:45 UK time, Wednesday, 23 April 2008

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It's not often that a designer will put the likes of Catherine Zeta Jones, Sienna Miller, Queen Rania of Jordan and Jerry Hall on the backburner to instead craft outfits for the burger-flippers of McDonalds. But that is what Bruce Oldfield has done, giving the fast food chain's workers an a la mode new look.

And the fashion editors of the press have duly elbowed their way nearer the front of the papers with the story of the McDonald's uniform being reinvented by the couture designer.

The main amusement across the red tops and the qualities is how adaptable Mr Oldfield has proved himself to be. The man is used to dressing A-listers who figure prominently in male fantasies (speaking of which chaps, Kelly Brook is single once more, and the Sun has the exclusive). But Bruce can't half turn a dab hand to the size 30 polyester job demanded of him with the McDonald's brief.

His ruched silk creations have clung to Anjelica Houston's curves for a Vogue cover but the Times is appreciating his machine washable ties and sleeves cut short enough to dodge ketchup.

Female front-of-house staff will now wear a patterned blouse with a smart black skirt and "jaunty" neck scarf at the tills, says the Guardian. Deputy fashion editor Hadley Freeman extracts a decent bit of fashionista bitchery as she quotes Bruce saying that he wanted to wring the necks of Trinny and Susannah as he watched the pair fuss over redesigning a hospital uniform.

The skirt and blouse look puts Lisa Armstrong, the Times fashion editor, in mind of Pan Am flight attendants in the days when it was all glamour to be repeatedly offering passengers beef or chicken.

And the Sun's fashion editor Erica Davies also notes the "Fly me" influence but with a more tabloid verdict: "This is one duty-free perfume short of a budget airline look."

The Sun also runs a visual appreciation of McDonald's outfits across the years, from 1970s stripes to the red tabards of the 80s.

One more thing. The Guardian seems to overlook something in quoting Mcdonald's chief people officer observing that customers are treating the new-look staff better. Never mind that the star pattern on the blouses is "a bit Louis Vuitton" - what sort of job is a chief people officer? And do they have to wear a polyester uniform?

Wednesday's Quote of the Day

09:23 UK time, Wednesday, 23 April 2008

"I hope the force will soon be with him" - Judge issuing arrest warrant for man due in court on charges of assault while dressed as Darth Vader.

darthvader.gifWhen Arwel Wynne Hughes, 27, of Anglesey, failed to show up in court on time, District Judge Andrew Shaw issued an arrest warrant and this witty aside. Once in court, Hughes admitted assaulting two Star Wars fans with a metal crutch, an attack he carried out while dressed in a black bin bag and shouting "Darth Vader". The pair, who recently founded a Jedi Church in the area, had been playing with light sabres in the garden when Hughes jumped over the wall, drunk and in costume. They suffered minor injuries.
More details

Your Letters

16:20 UK time, Tuesday, 22 April 2008

If you cross your eyes and stare just behind the double "Your Letters" you can see a dolphin.
Philly, Wolfsburg, Germany

Monitor: Due to an error, Monday's letters were published twice. The person responsible has not been disciplined and is likely to repeat the error at some unspecified point in the future.

Of course anagrams of "interrobangs" (Monday's letters) isn't a competition. If it were, I'd suggest "sober ranting".
Simon Robinson, Birmingham, UK

Am I the only one to be disgusted at the story about rentable dogs? Never mind the cruelty to the animals involved, but the sheer inhumanity to English in this article is breathtaking. Even with the extra time I have on my hands, as I'm currently "pre-employed", I can't for the life of me work out what the hell a word like "pre-registration" means. You register for something, then things will flow from there; no need for the "pre". I demand that the BBC not only ceases the use of this vulgarity, but also hits any interviewee with a ruddy great big stick if it passes their lips. I don't pay my licence fee for nothing.
Duncan Hoffmann, Sheffield

So The Telegraph writing a story about itself (Paper Monitor). That wouldn't be anything like this now would it?
Sarah, Uxbridge

In the story "Snow hampers Snowdon cafe build" it ends:
"There is no translation for 'Hafod', an old Welsh term for residence on high land."
Please help me - I'm trying to understand how there isn't a translation when you then give one.
Ed, Clacton, UK

Why have we only just been alerted to the exploits of Robert Dee. This man should be a national hero in the great tradition of Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards.
Richard, Aberdeen, UK

Re Mecca at centre of earth claim story, despite having neither religious or scientific expertise, even I struggle to see how anywhere on the surface can lay claim to be at the centre of the earth.
Richard Place, Barnstaple

Paper Monitor

11:40 UK time, Tuesday, 22 April 2008

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Habitues of Paper Monitor will know of its fondness for the occasional forays newspapers make into writing about their own titles - usually an exercise that accompanies a relaunch (Sarah Sands' Sunday Telegraph iPod moment perhaps being the high watermark of this particular genre).

But what of when papers write about each other? Broadsheets are grown-up enough to do so with a degree of detachment, but the tabloid tradition has tended to be a solipsistic attitude whereby each paper believes it stands alone; there is no competition. Rivalry is in their blood, but taking on another paper is done through witty allusion rather than head-on attack.

But these days the Daily Express doesn't have much truck with subtle allusion and Fleet Street traditions of gentlemanly conduct. Hence yesterday's p2 broadside at the Daily Mail, for a multitude of sins including raising its price to 50p and campaigning against plastic carrier bags while packaging its weekend editions in polythene bags (a point previously noted by Private Eye). Not to mention the pollution caused by its free sister paper, Metro.

"Day in, day out it produces thousands of trashy free newspapers which nobody wants and which clog up our streets and our public transport until they end up in a landfill site."

Ouch. The Express is unrepentant, today goading its mid-market tabloid rival with a banner across the front emphasising how it is 10p cheaper than the Mail.

Meanwhile, over in Red Top Land, there's an all-out battle to bond with the kidz by latching on to the Bafta winning comedy Gavin and Stacey. But how to follow up the show's awards success?

"We're the REAL LIFE Gavin and Staceys" - Daily Mirror.

"We're the real-life Gavin & Stacey" - the Sun.

Paper Monitor is having a bit of a Spartacus moment. Will the real, real-life Gavin and Stacey please stand up. Actually, the Mirror pips its rival here as one of the couples it has is called Gavin and Stacey although evidence for the claim that "they based the show on us" is decidedly thin.

The Sun however, won't be winning any awards from eating disorder campaigners for its sensitive tackling of the John Prescott bulimia tale. After the ex-deputy PM said he used to think about eating his way through the entire menu of his favourite Chinese restaurant, the Sun despatches a heroic scribe to attempt just such a feat. He fails.

A final word for the headline in the blissfully unreconstructed Daily Telegraph, about how Jaguar's design boss has started a relationship with Ford's head of PR. "Jaguar chief has designs on Ford model".

Women, isn't liberation sweet?

Tuesday's Quote of the Day

09:12 UK time, Tuesday, 22 April 2008

"Are you as good as me?" - Elvis lays down the gauntlet to Tommy Steele in hitherto unknown visit to UK.

It has the ring of a milk bar showdown between a teenage Cliff Richard and some interloping daddio. Picture the scene - it's the mid-1950s and Elvis' star is in the ascent when Britain's very own demon hip-swiveller Tommy Steele gets a phone call. An unidentified voice poses the challenge and next thing we didn't know, the King and our Tommy are hanging out in old London town for a day. The significance of this tale, which comes from the lips of theatre impresario Bill Kenwright, speaking on Monday, is that until now it had always been said Elvis had never visited the UK but for a stop-off at Prestwick airport on his way back from National Service. Unfortunately, Kenright didn't record the result of Elvis' challenge.
More details (Daily Mirror)

Your Letters

15:36 UK time, Monday, 21 April 2008

Surely they should have handed in their petition a year or two ago?
Angus Gafraidh, London UK

Another hit here for Brent-watch - the gratuitous use of a David Brent photo in any office-related story.
Jane, Southampton

Anagram competition: "interrobangs". "Bring on tears"?
Scarr, Dublin

Monitor: This is not a competition.

Until I read the detail of the story, I was very impressed with the apes' handiwork in creating that banner.
Kat Murphy, Coventry

Am I the only person who saw the headline "Avon is calling again 40 years on" and thought of the return of Blake's 7?
Phil, Cardiff

Re "Clarke Launches Attack on Balls". Ooh, that headline made me wince with manly fear.
Ben Foster, Aylesbury

"Darling: I can't rewrite Budget" - amongst the most read stories this weekend, possibly one of the most common phrases recently as well...?
Pip, Corby

Paper Monitor

11:26 UK time, Monday, 21 April 2008

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

"Le Stink" is such an evocative phrase. So redolent of both whiffiness and - crucially - finger-pointing at the French. When an agro/chemical pong wafted across southern Britain on Friday, the tabloids in particular wasted no time in laying the blame firmly on our Gallic cousins.

The Evening Standard, the Daily Express and the Daily Mail promptly dubbed it "le stink" - short, pithy and easily squeezed into a tight headline space. The Dutch didn't get away scott free, either. Saturday's Guardian saw the National Farmers' Union seeking to make political capital out the belief that the hum was caused by Dutch farmers spreading slurry en masse at the end of their winter no-spread period.

"We are grateful to the Dutch farmers for laying on such a pungent demonstration of what could happen every spring here in the UK if the government presses ahead with its ill-conceived proposal to implement a blanket ban on winter slurry spreading," said the NFU's communications director Anthony Gibson. A serious point, although the Guardian omitted to point out that the Netherlands' seasonal slurry-spreading ban actually ended on 1 February.

But now German pig farmers have owned up to all muckspreading at once, and "le stink" has become "der stink" in the Mail. Hurrah! Other than trying to wind up the French (who never notice), the favourite national pastime is to rile the Germans. Hence the Daily Telegraph headline, "It's called Der Gestank and those German swine have owned up".

Meanwhile, the Telegraph devotes most of pages one, four, five and six to Max Mosley. There are extracts from his interview with sister publication the Sunday Telegraph (the wife's "not best pleased"; the prostitute who sold her story did something "that most people wouldn't do for any amount of money"... selling her story, that is). And a profile of the man himself - his recreations in Who's Who are "snowboarding and walking"; and he'd have gone into party politics if he had a different surname.

"He remains convinced that were he not a Mosley, he would never have been considered such a prime target by the News of the World," the profile concludes.

Of course not. Because if he wasn't a Mosley, he'd be a politician - and the papers are rarely interested in the sexual shenanigans of those in Westminster, are they?

Monday's Quote of the Day

10:23 UK time, Monday, 21 April 2008

"Continuing drama" - Bafta's euphemism for soap opera


The straight up British Soap Awards are fronted by Phil and Fern and sponsored by the Sun newspaper to celebrate what we all know as soap operas. The Bafta TV Awards, of course, are too posh to have a dirty word like "soap" among their aspirational awards. Holby City won the Continuing Drama title at last night's do, beating that other popular "continuing drama", EastEnders: "It's fantastic not being the bridesmaid," exclaimed Holby's executive producer, while acknowledging that the upmarket validation of a Bafta would make watching the weekly show "less of a guilty pleasure".
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