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Grab your towel and celebrate the greatness of Douglas Adams

March 12, 2013

Douglas Adams would have been 61 on Monday. Probably best known for his brilliant work, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Adams may be gone, but will never be forgotten. He’s just eating at the restaurant at the end of the universe waiting for the rest of his party to join him. Friend and fellow British storyteller, Neil Gaiman, summed it up when he said: “Douglas Adams was a genius. He was a profound and brilliant British humorist who was also a very reluctant novelist”.

Any celebration of Adams’ life and work wouldn’t be complete without a towel. From Chapter 3 of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

  • A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so readily on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
  • More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have ‘lost’. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
  • Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

—Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Don’t forget…only 74 days until 25 May and Towel Day 2013. For a list of events happening around the globe, check out the official Towel Day website. If you have an event planned or want to get something started in your community, let them know!

And…if you happen to be in the neighborhood on Tuesday, 12 March, check out Royal Geographic Society on 1 Kensington Gore for the Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture 2013. hosted by Dr. Adam Rutherford and introduced by Stephen Mangan, who starred in another of Adams’ works, Dirk Gently.

From World War to Cold War, new Foyle’s War set for mid-September return on PBS!

March 11, 2013

At long last (3 years to be exact) a new series of Foyle’s War starring Michael Kitchen in his new role as Senior Intelligence Officer has tentatively been scheduled for a mid-September run as part of PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! series. The new series of 3, two-hour programs will be set during the early period following World War II with Foyle focusing his attention on the world of espionage, gathering secret intelligence in support of Britain’s security, defense and the Government’s foreign and economic policies. Going from World War to Cold War, the first of three mysteries, “The Eternity Ring”, begins in New Mexico in 1945 before switching to London a year later.

Originally part of PBS’ Mystery series in 2002, it’s been three years since we last crossed paths with Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle. According to novelist and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, who wrote episodes 1 and 3, the new Foyle’s War will begin in a post-war era Britain. Besides Kitchen returning as Foyle, Honeysuckle Weeks returns playing the established character of Samantha Stewart. It’s been three years, but remember that Foyle ‘retired’ at the end of series 7 (series 6 in the U.S.). Retirement is short-lived, however, as someone is stealing documents from the Soviet Embassy. Folks over at MI-5 (not Harry Pearce) want him to investigate the suspected Russian who defected with the documents and the possible passing of secrets to the Commies. Why Foyle, you’re asking at this point? Because his former driver, Samantha, has been photographed with a suspected Russian agent.

While UK audiences refer to this as series 8, this will be series 7 for U.S. audiences given that series 4 & 5 were combined as series 4 in the States. Even though Foyle has retired more times than Brett Favre, it’ll be good to have him back this September.

Pivotal Doctor Who ‘lost’ episode getting an animated makeover

March 10, 2013

On 29 October 1966, just shy of three years after Doctor Who premiered on the BBC, a seemingly innocent broadcast of the fourth episode of “The Tenth Planet” transmitted showing the Doctor appearing increasingly old and frail and telling Polly that his ‘old body’ was ‘wearing a bit thin’. The First Doctor, played by William Hartnell, then collapsed at the controls of the TARDIS and miraculously transformed into a younger man.

I say ‘seemingly innocent’ as that final pivotal episode of the series has been lost from the BBC Archives since the 1970′s, with the exception of a very short clip of the regeneration itself. Pivotal given that ‘The Tenth Planet’ saw both the introduction of the menacing Cybermen and the departure of the First Doctor, William Hartnell.

Earlier this year, doctorwho.tv revealed that The Tenth Planet would be animated by Planet 55 Studios, who had earlier animated ‘The Reign of Terror’, thus recreating the lost episode. Dan Hall, commissioning editor of the classic Doctor Who DVD range, speaking at the Gallifrey One convention said: “It’s a real thrill to be bringing such an iconic Doctor Who episode back to life. Without the events established in The Tenth Planet episode 4, there would be no Doctor Who as we know it!

Now, the same folks over at doctorwho.tv have released a first look at the work of Planet 55 Studios. Head of Studio, Austen Atkinson, said “We are about to finish two years of development and production work on the project – the first scene was animated all the way back in 2011! You have no idea how hard it was to keep that secret!“. Chris Chapman, Lead Animator on this sequence, said “We knew that we had to throw everything at this scene and in fact the whole story is historic, with the first appearance of the Cybermen, so we really worked very hard on it. It was a real pleasure. It has definitely made me a fan of Doctor Who.

The animated version of ‘The Tenth Planet’ will be released on DVD in late 2013. What a brilliant present for Doctor Who fans to get to celebrate the 50th!

O’Brien packs her bags and leaves Downton Abbey

March 9, 2013

With sadness, it’s my unwritten obligation to alert Downton Abbey fans across Planet Earth that when series 4 begins in September in the UK and in January 2014 on PBS in the States, you won’t have the greatness of O’Brien to talk about each week. Following in the footsteps of fellow actors Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley) and Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil), who both asked to leave the highly successful series after series 3, Siobhan Finneran, who played Lady Grantham’s maid, Sarah O’Brien, will not return for series 4 at her request.

I’m not doing any more,” she revealed. “O’Brien is a thoroughly despicable human being – that was great to play.” Her love/hate relationship with the audience stems from her lengthy and bitter feud with under-butler Thomas Barrow, as well as causing Cora Crawley to miscarry. The most ‘love to hate’ piece of work on telly since J.R. Ewing

Finneran fans can hold out hope of the possibility of an O’Brien return to Downton but that seems unlikely at this point. In the interim, she is in the cast of the second series of BBC1′s The Syndicate, playing a nurse who wins millions on the lottery with her colleagues.

I wonder what the over/under was on the thought that O’Brien would leave Downton Abbey before Thomas the under-butler….Who knows, maybe she’s just off to India with Shrimpy given his head maid doesn’t want to leave Scotland. Hey, it could happen…and she’d be back and nastier than ever for series 5.

Could Mr. Stink become the next It’s a Wonderful Life?

March 8, 2013

Our last report from the 2013 BBC Showcase saw a simple one-time-only special with a big name cast grab the hearts of most of the cynical television program executives remaining in Liverpool. Although it had already aired on BBC One this past Christmas Day, the hope amongst all attendees was that this would become the perennial holiday classic along the lines of It’s A Wonderful Life in the U.S.

David Walliams’ best-selling children’s novel Mr Stink tells the touching, twisted and hilarious tales of Mr Stink, who is befriended by a local girl Chloe. Chloe sees Mr Stink every day, but she’s never spoken to him, which isn’t surprising, because he’s a tramp, and he stinks.

When it looks like Mr Stink might be driven out of town, Chloe hides her unusual friend in her garden shed. As she struggles to make sure no one sniffs out Mr Stink, her dad tries to hide a secret of his own, and the stage is set for an epic family confrontation. There is also one other person with an extraordinary secret: it turns out that there is more to Mr Stink than meets the eye… or nose.

David Walliams, who will play the role of the Prime Minister in the show, says: “I am beyond thrilled that BBC One is adapting my children’s book ‘Mr Stink’ into a family film. I have written the script, and can’t wait to see actors bring it to life.” Equally as effusive, BBC One Controller Danny Cohen added: “Mr Stink is a heart-warming, nose-clenching and funny tale which will appeal to viewers of all ages. It’s brilliant to be working with David to bring his magical tale to BBC One.

Adapted by Walliams himself with Simon Nye of Men Behaving Badly fame, this 60-minute family comedy tells the story of lonely 12-year-old Chloe (Nell Tiger Free), who invites local tramp Mr Stink (Hugh Bonneville) and his dog Duchess (Pudsey) to hide out in her family’s garden shed.

Chloe also has to cope with an overbearing mum (Sheridan Smith) who is more interested in her own political ambitions and her infatuation with the Prime Minister (Walliams), than her daughter. ‘Perfect’ younger sister Annabelle (Isabella Blake-Thomas) and nasty girls at school also make Chloe’s life miserable. Chloe’s only allies are her put-upon dad (Johnny Vegas) who is harbouring a secret of his own, and newsagent Raj (Harish Patel).

What transpires over the course of the 60-minutes is as magical as the Jimmy Stewart film, It’s A Wonderful Life. All you have to do is believe…

As UK ‘Spy’ comes to an end, the future of a U.S. ‘Spy’ is looking up with the addition of Rob Corddry

March 7, 2013

There are things in this world that defy logic. In the case of the British comedy, Spy, we have two opportunities to defy logic on both sides of the pond. East of the Atlantic in the UK, the Darren Boyd version of Spy was great telly. For two seasons, Boyd brilliantly played Tim, a single father trying to win back the respect and affections of his horribly precocious nine year old son, Marcus. In the hope of proving that he is not a complete loser, Tim quits his dead-end job but his life changes forever when he is accidentally recruited as a trainee spy for MI5. Enter…The Examiner. The Examiner teaches the recruits his own unorthodox approach to the espionage game. If that wasn’t enough, the chaos of Tim’s life are his acidic ex-wife, Judith, her enthusiastic new boyfriend Philip and his anti-social friend Chris.

Sadly, that has all come to an end with the announcement by Sky1 that, inexplicably, there will not be a third season of Spy. Oddly, the announcement comes on the heels of Boyd winning Best TV Comedy Actor at the 2011 British Comedy Awards and in 2012, the series was awarded a BAFTA for Best TV Comedy Series.

Sad face aside, it’s time to defy logic west of the Atlantic and admit that, for the first time, I’m really holding high hopes for an American remake of a British comedy with the U.S. pilot version of Spy from ABC. UK series creator, Simeon Goulden, is currently working on translating the comedy for American audiences. It was recently announced that Rob Corddry, perhaps best known as a correspondent for The Daily Show, will be taking on the role of Tim for the US pilot. Mason Cook will play Marcus and Ken Jeong, a star of Community and The Hangover, will take on Lindsay’s role as The Examiner.

While the UK version of Spy has had very limited exposure in the U.S through Hulu, look for the full two series of 17 episodes to broadcast on a public television station near you in 2014. And, hopefully, the ABC pilot version will be picked up and you can do your own side by side comparisons.

Jonathan Creek returns – the dufflecoat lives on

March 6, 2013

One of the hidden gems of this years BBC Showcase was the upcoming Easter special, “The Clue of the Savant’s Thumb”, from the world of Jonathan Creek. The series (there were four of them), starring Alan Davies, was a fixture in BBC households from its’ premiere in 1997 through 2004, receiving the BAFTA for Best Drama Series in 1998. There were several one-off specials between then and now, but never anything that gave viewers a sense that it would return on a regular basis. With the specials, including the new one being broadcast on Easter in the UK, the great Sheridan Smith returns as Creeks’ fellow investigator. Smith was most recently seen in the soon-to-be Christmas classic, Mr. Stink, which also stars Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, Twenty Twelve) and introduced the telly world to Nell Tiger Free.

Now, comes word from Davies himself through Twitter that there will be three additional Jonathan Creek specials produced later this year. Thankfully, it looks like Davies has agreed to be separated from his following of Arsenal FC long enough to give long-time followers of the cult classic what they want…more Creek!

Speaking to RadioTimes.com earlier this year at the National Televison Awards, Davies cryptically said: “I don’t know about more episodes of Jonathan Creek – there may be. David Renwick’s got a bit of a twinkle in his eye and I think he’s enjoyed getting back to it and while BBC1 are keen on it, maybe we will do more…” Renwick is also well-known for creating and writing the classic comedy, One Foot in the Grave.

Now, if only the chef’s coat would follow the dufflecoat and Davies fans could see the return of Whites alongside Creek, telly life would be where it needs to be.

Moone Boy and Last Tango to possibly land stateside in 2014

March 5, 2013

As we finally are being drug kicking and screaming from the UK and 10 days of amazing telly, Tellyspotting takes one final look back at the hits of this years BBC Showcase in Liverpool. If our daytime screenings weren’t enough, at night it was brilliant to be able to watch great telly live such as Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeover, Heading Out, the next-to-last ever episode of Being Human, the premiere of Broadchurch with David Tennant and, admittedly, a somewhat bizarre episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

Chris O’Dowd’s Moone Boy

From a Showcase standpoint, one of the early leaders in the comedy clubhouse to potentially appear on public television in 2014 is Moone Boy, written by and starring Chris O’Dowd (IT Crowd).


The Irish comedy, which was commissioned for a second series before series one had even premiered, tells the story of the relationship between Seán (O’Dowd) and 12-year-old Martin Moone (David Rawle), the youngest child of a family living in a small town in the rural Ireland. Martin, aided by his imaginary friend, has a unique perspective on life. His imagination comes into play both in his childish drawings, which come alive through animation, and in the ridiculous schemes he comes up with, against Seán’s better judgement. With Seán’s help, Martin negotiates life as the youngest in a chaotic, scatter-brained family.

Last Tango in Halifax

From a drama perspective, we’ve already paid more attention than the law allows to Father Brown, but another high on the list to make its way to public television as soon as possible was Last Tango in Halifax, starring Sir Derek Jacobi, Anne Reid and Nicola Walker. With six episodes having already aired in the UK and a second series already commissioned, looks like Last Tango… will be around for awhile. Well, I guess you never know. Just ask the producers of The Hour.

Jacobi and Reid star as would-be childhood sweethearts Alan and Celia who are reunited after 60 years. As their lives collide for a second time, Alan and Celia lament over what might have been as they take us on a life-affirming journey of what can still happen.

While the storyline may be a bit familiar to longtime fans of the British comedy series, As Time Goes By, the Sally Wainwright script is brilliant. Wainwright, who is also responsible for Scott & Bailey, has said that Celia’s story was also that of her own mother, who married an old friend she’d met via Friends Reunited. “Every time I told anyone that story, their face would light up in utter joy that two people had found something so special so late in life. It was just so obvious that I should write about it.”

It’s been a great 10 days of watching television on your behalf to see what might make its way to your telly in the coming year. Before you line-up to take my job, however, remember I also watch bad television so you don’t have to. See you back on the other side of the pond.

Downton Abbey adds six to cast as Shirley MacLaine returns

March 4, 2013

Downton Abbey producers, Carnival Films and PBS’ Masterpiece announced yesterday that six new cast names will be joining the series when production begins later this month on series 4. The newest installment will also see the return of Shirley MacLaine, who reprises her role as Martha Levinson. Unfortunately, Downton fans will have to wait until the season finale before getting a chance to see the fur fly between Martha and the Dowager Countess.

Managing Director Carnival Films and Executive Producer Gareth Neame says: “Downton Abbey has seen many great characters visit the house over the years and we couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome the new faces that will be joining the regular cast of Downton in series 4. We hope audiences will be as excited about them as we are.” Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton added: “The addition of these characters can only mean more delicious drama — which is what Downton Abbey is all about.”

The new cast and characters will ‘officially’ include:

  • Tom Cullen as Lord Gillingham, an old family friend of the Crawleys who visits the family as a guest for a house party
  • Nigel Harman as Green, a valet
  • Dame Harriet Walter as Lady Shackleton, an old friend of the Dowager
  • Joanna David in a guest role as the Duchess of Yeovil
  • Julian Ovenden as aristocrat Charles Blake
  • Dame Kiri Te Kanawa as a guest who sings at the house

UK and PBS viewers will likely remember Ovenden as having played Andrew Foyle, DCS Foyle’s son in <em>Foyle’s War</em>. Tom Cullen’s character may be ‘an old family friend of the Crawleys’ but be prepared for the fact that he’s also a potential suitor for Lady Mary Crawley .

Joanna David’s television credits have included The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Foyle’s War, Rumpole of the Bailey, Inspector Morse and an episode of Rosemary & Thyme. Harman, best known for his role as Dennis Rickman in the UK soap, Eastenders.

Grab your Downton Abbey countdown calendar, as of today, there are only a mere 307 days until the January 5, 2014 premiere of series 4 on PBS’ Masterpiece. I’ll be there, will you?