Although you won't see my name, I was another proud signatory to the advert supporting Greg Dyke in today's Daily Telegraph. Placed and paid for by thousands of members of BBC staff it appears demand was so great and the deadline so tight that not all the petitions from our department were submitted in time.

Although it smarts that I'm not in print (especially galling because several people erroneously appear more than once) I know it really doesn't matter when I read through the names that did make the cut: stars like Lenny Henry, Radio 1's Edith Bowman, Jonathan Ross and Dawn French; elder statespeople of broadcasting such as Joan Bakewell and John Peel; old colleagues from the God Squad whom I've not heard from in years; current workmates; senior editors from BBC News; tea ladies and techies; even Shane Ritchie.

All these people wanted to express their dismay at the boss's departure, effectively forced from office because the government and civil service squirmed out of their shares of the blame for David Kelly's death.

More than a little embarrassing is the literal at the end of the ad. The BBC really should know the difference between "whose" and "who's". But as many TV and radio journalists will tell you, they're paid to be articulate and not necessarily literate.

I may not be in the list, and have nothing to show the grandkids when I tell them that I stood up and was counted, but the fact that the people of the BBC are refusing to let this miscarriage of justice stop them from doing their jobs is something I'll carry with me for a long time.

I'll continue to be objective in my professional capacity - my belief in the importance of the BBC's impartiality far outweighs any personal leanings I may have - but Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell and Brian Hutton can be sure they've just attracted the ire of a whole load of very passionate people.


As I'm too pissed off (and pissed, having spent an evening drinking to suppress my anger at Dyke's resignation) to properly comment on the Blair-backed coup d'etat within the BBC, I've invited a guest blogger. My mother. A commander of the English language, this letter of hers to the Guardian was too good to avoid sharing:

The last few months have been painful for British democracy. The Hutton Report has now set the seal. Under this government, we have seen a chance to reform the Lords decline into a package undermining parliamentary checks and balances. We have witnessed the drafting of a communications bill which threatens the independence, integrity and variety of our press and media.

This week has been saddest of all. Government MPs have been bullied into voting against their own manifesto, and their consciences on university fees. We now watch the Prime Minister, buoyed by Lord Hutton’s biased findings, attempt to bludgeon the BBC into the submissive posture of a government lackey.

The BBC is a vital part of our beleaguered democratic process. It has erred and paid great penalty. But Alistair Campbell’s unappealing appearance on Newsnight left us in no doubt as to the ethos of this government and its will to punish those who exercise their right to question it.

The BBC has apologised. The government should now apologise to the country for damage it has inflicted on democracy, and learn its lessons. Otherwise, as a middle road Labour voter of 39 years’ standing, where shall I now put my vote?

I only hope that I get to use those skills I have learned from her in a medium that will make a difference. And whatever happens, let's make sure Blair is made to pay.
This is all so fucked up. It's nothing less than a coup.


I write this as a voter, a taxpayer, a licence fee payer. I am a BBC employee but as I write without the consent of the Corporation, my words should not be interpreted as being the opinion of the BBC. They are not.

Today has been very bad for the BBC. After months of speculation, Lord Hutton castigated the Corporation and exonerated the political classes over the death (seemingly suicide) of government weapons expert David Kelly.

And I'm furious.

Not because I believe the BBC was not at fault - it was, at least in part, as admitted by the boss. Only concern for my own job stops me saying anything more on this matter. I may be angry, but I'm not suicidal.

The government and civil service, however, seem to have got off with barely a stern look or raised eyebrow from the man investigating the whole sorry affair.


I'm not saying the inquiry was a fit-up from start to finish but...

Hutton criticised the false claims, inaccuracies and choice of language in Andrew Gilligan's reporting, but when commenting on the September dossier on Iraq's WMD, he said:

The Prime Minister's desire to have as compelling a dossier as possible may have subconsciously influenced the Joint Intelligence Committee to make the language of the dossier stronger than they would otherwise have done

So if I'm reading that right: yes, they used the words that would make the strongest case for war, but it was okay because, hey, you know, it's like a really big deal for the boss, and we want him to know that we care too.


Am I wrong in thinking that a document which carries the argument for going to war should be anything less than fastidious (or as Mum put it "have military precision") with its use of language? If journalists reporting sources should be 100% accurate in their choice of words for a fairly routine two-way or package, then shouldn't those sending men to their possible death be expected to meet even higher standards when articulating their arguments?

Hutton also said that it had not been within his remit to assess the quality of intelligence in the WMD dossier. Quite apart from the fact that this immediately let the government off any kind of hook, I can't see how he could satisfactorily complete his inquiry without looking at the wider issue of whether everything the government's document claimed was true.

And whether by fault or by design (of which the government's been cleared), it wasn't.

We now know the claim that Saddam posed a threat to the UK with weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed within 45 minutes was less than watertight. Or, putting it bluntly, wrong. 45 minutes to hit the deserts of Iraq or Iran, maybe. Ipswich or Ilfracombe? Not quite.

Whether the result of careless research or careless writing, Blair still used this misleading information - albeit probably in good faith - to help persuade both the Commons and the nation at large of the need to go to war. And someone should answer that charge.

But according to Judge Brian, that doesn't matter either, and nor does anything else the intelligence services may have got wrong.

In failing to address the issue of accuracy in the dossier, Hutton conveniently spared the civil service and the government the tongue-lashing that he gave the BBC for pretty much the same reason. Now, class, can you say double standards?

There's much more to the story than meets the eye, or than I could attempt to cover here, even if I had the energy or ability to do so. But after the day I've had, getting these couple of things off my chest will have to suffice.

Long ago I learnt that life isn't fair. But this really takes the piss.

And as a great spin doctor once wrote, something's definitely rotten in the state of Denmark...


Nice to see Ricky Gervais and The Office win big at the Golden Globes the other night, especially as it should have been the last hurrah for Friends. Unlike some people, I'm no Friends-hater - it may be easy-going, populist and (sin of sins) very popular, but it's made me laugh on far too many occasions for me to do anything but admire it - but a Best Comedy Actor award for Matt LeBlanc would have been the perfect start for his Joey spin-off series.

Not so nice to see is the news that NBC plans to remake The Office for Middle America. Now kids, we've been through this before. You know you always screw these things up. It didn't work with Men Behaving Badly (cancelled as a flop). And it didn't work with Coupling, which dropped from primetime to the sidelines before being cut altogether.

(On the subject of Coupling, the UK version is coming back for a fourth series, but apparently without Richard Coyle as Jeff. I can't help but feel the rest of the cast and writer Simon Moffat will have to work twice as hard to fill the gap he leaves behind. This is, after all, the man who gave us the Melty Man, the Giggle Loop, the Breast Octopus, the Foot-matic artificial limb, and possibly the best strip tease of the 21st century. May his caravan shake for evermore.)

It's not that an American audience is incapable of appreciating British humour. After all, our stuff has made sufficient waves to gain a following and catch the attention of the networks. It's just that American television executives seem incapable of understanding which elements of our TV comedy work and which don't (which isn't to say that British executives aren't often guilty of the same crime).

What makes it more frustrating is that there are so many things they're good at, there should be no need to try and reproduce our successes, period, let alone badly. Yet in their desperation to claim ownership, standardise and sanitise everything, they reinvent the wheel with four sides.

Even using what were essentially the same scripts as the BBC version, NBC's Coupling managed to be deeply unfunny and lose the spirit of the original - how could something so right go so wrong? Maybe they'll give The Office to someone with the same jaded world view as Ricky Gervais - but I doubt it.

Comedy's something I've been thinking about quite a bit in recent days, especially after having got the chance to put a couple of questions to Armando Iannucci at a work event last week.

He was talking about satire and the news, something he's well qualified for, even 10 years on from the seminal The Day Today.

He was pretty bemused that TV news had become more like his outrageous parody rather than take the hint and move away from it, something I've argued for a good many years.

He also laid into Michael Moore, saying that he now seems to believe too much of his own press, and in becoming as self-important as those he targets, has himself become fair game for satire and disdain.

As for everything else he said in the four or five minutes he answered my questions, I'm not entirely sure. I was too busy being in shock after having spoken to one of my comedy heroes. Even though it was an informal thing for the benefit of Beeb people, rather than an official presser, journos shouldn't really be starstruck. But next time I'll take a mic and minidisc just in case.

What would the US networks make of Armando, the unraveling chaos that is Johnny Vegas, or the demented genius of Chris Morris? Let's hope we never have to find out.


Hidden Gems from the BBC Newsroom: an occasional series

A dog is being treated at a Wirral vet after crashing a milk float into a lamppost.

It is understood that a 75 year old milkman was giving his dog a biscuit on Derwent Road in Meols shortly before 10.30 when its paw slipped and knocked the accelerator.

The man was dragged along the road by his clothing until the float collided with the lamppost.

The dog has been taken to a local vet and its owner to Arrowe Park Hospital where he's received treatment for a minor knee injury.


Compare and contrast
Yesterday, as The Leader Of The Free World had his minions put the finishing touches to his State of the Union address, the Independent published a Real State of the Union on its front page. Presented as a list of statistics - many of them unsavoury - it made for shocking reading, even by such committed anti-Bushies as me.

But this approach by the Indie upset Robin, not on any political grounds, but because of the simple, tabloid nature of the stunt. He felt that a newspaper with such a title should not be making such a bold political statement, particularly in the lack of any context, or without an alternative view from the Bush camp.

And although, emotionally speaking, nothing could ever hope to justify figures like those printed by the Independent, the old darling's got a point.

So here, for the benefit of all those who, like Robin, want to see the two views side by side, is a selection of both the stats and key quotes from Little George's Show and Tell on the hill...

Pride in the troops
Many of our troops are listening tonight. And I want you and your families to know: America is proud of you.

0: Number of funerals or memorials that President Bush has attended for soldiers killed in Iraq

36%: Increase in the number of desertions from the US army since 1999

The economy
In the last three years, adversity has also revealed the fundamental strengths of the American economy.

$127 billion: Amount of US budget surplus in the year that Bush became President in 2001

$374 billion: Amount of US budget deficit in the fiscal year for 2003. This year's deficit is on course to be the biggest in United States history

$1.58 billion: Average amount by which the US national debt increases each day

$23,920: Amount of each US citizen's share of the national debt as of 19 January 2004

I ask you to give lower-income Americans a refundable tax credit that would allow millions to buy their own basic health insurance... A government-run health care system is the wrong prescription. By keeping costs under control, expanding access, and helping more Americans afford coverage, we will preserve the system of private medicine that makes America's health care the best in the world.

43.6 million: Number of Americans without health insurance in 2002

The world's policeman
America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire.

130: Number of countries (out of total of 191 recognised by the United Nations) with an American military presence

Congress has some unfinished business on the issue of taxes. The tax reductions you passed are set to expire.

88%: Percentage of American citizens who will save less than $100 on their 2006 federal taxes as a result of 2003 cut in capital gains and dividends taxes

$42,000: Average savings members of Bush's cabinet are expected to enjoy this year as a result in the cuts in capital gains and dividends taxes

$116,000: Amount Vice-President Cheney is expected to save each year in taxes

America's growing economy is also a changing economy. As technology transforms the way almost every job is done, America becomes more productive, and workers need new skills... So we must respond by helping more Americans gain the skills to find good jobs in our new economy.

2.4 million: Number of Americans who have lost their jobs during the three years of the Bush administration

1,000: Number of new jobs created in the entire country in December. Analysts had expected a gain of 130,000

+6%: Percentage change since 2001 in the number of US families in poverty

My administration, and this Congress, will give you (the troops) the resources you need to fight and win the war on terror.

9: Number of members of Bush's defence policy board who also sit on the corporate board of, or advise, at least one defence contractor

Justice for all
America is the land of second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.

As Governor of Texas, George Bush executed more prisoners (152) than any governor in modern US history.

3: Number of children convicted of capital offences executed in the US in 2002. America is only country openly to acknowledge executing children

There's plenty more where all that came from, about the greed of the Bush administration, the desperate state of Iraq, and many other issues.

But it's that last figure that probably sickens me most. Does the world really want a man who allows children to be put to death leading the most powerful nation in the world for another four years?

Take all this information, from both sides of the story, and share it with whoever you can. Hopefully the figures will speak for themselves.


Another modest addition to the Fell Video Library: some mountain gorillas to go with November's orang-utans. Better voice this time, but still not there.

Whatever, if I keep this up they'll be forced to appoint me official BBC Great Apes Correspondent.


Why does this time of year always throw up a movie that makes me depressed? Last February About Schmidt got me in an incredibly maudlin state. Now it's the turn of Lost In Translation to leave me feeling sad, cold and alone.

Here be spoilers... Lost In Translation plot points revealed

It's a great film, looks absolutely beautiful, and Sofia Coppola's script and direction allow Bill Murray (Bob) and Scarlett Johansson (Charlotte) lots of room to breathe.

But the central story and its characters are themselves so heartbreakingly lost and lonely - him in a long-term marriage, her just two years in, both in a foreign country - that the sense of isolation can't help but rub off. Because of how quickly and innocently it develops from novelty friendship to unconsummated infatuation, the strength of their bond is overwhelming. When Bob actually sleeps with the lounge singer (rather than Charlotte, whom he only ever kisses, and even then only right at the end), it's Charlotte one feels he's betrayed, rather than his wife. Despite the fact that they bring something to each other's life for a short while, they know that they can't really be together.

And it's that pain derived from not having, rather than the joy brought about by their brief connection, that really stayed with me. I suppose I should be used to it, and learn concentrate on the positive rather than the negative, but the downside to this story is so hard to ignore, especially when it's an emotion with which I'm so well acquainted.

Thank goodness for small mercies, otherwise I might be really down.


It's the time of year when the BBC seems to have spent its budget on late night programming with three months left to go, and nothing but dodgy TV movies with which to fill their broadcast hours... and how glad I am.

In as much as I love a good movie (one day I'll divulge my top ten - Mary Poppins certain to be there, but no, Jim, no Mallrats), I'm equally drawn to a bad one, and never more so than after a late shift in the newsroom.

No, there can be few better ways to follow a long day letting nation speak peace unto nation, than to collapse in front of a televisual potboiler starring someone you've never heard of.

More often than not they're American, and if I'm especially lucky, based on a true story. Woman's young son is kidnapped by her batty religious mother and moved all the way across the US? Check. Biopic of one of Hef's first Playboy bunnies? Check. Young man murders his whole family to inherit his father's trucking business? Check. Yup, they've all kept me up way past my bedtime.

And just the other night we were treated to Atomic Train, starring Rob Lowe as a train expert trying to stop a runaway engine bound for Denver carrying a Soviet nuclear warhead. But to no avail. Everything that could go wrong did, and Colorado found all its future winters would be of the nuclear kind. I'm sure the film was meant to act as some kind of morality tale for the Great American Public, but can't quite work out the lesson one was supposed to learn.

So why am I drawn to movies like this? My father would be so ashamed. They're a dreadful habit, cultural chasms, utterly unedifying, bereft of benefit, the worst (or best?) examples of why too much TV is bad for you.

And long may they continue.


Ah me. The end of an era. Get your Seaman gags in while you can.


This morning I came close to understanding why Harlesden used to have such a high murder rate.

At some ungodly hour, somebody's car alarm went off. Admittedly it wasn't one of those excruciatingly multi-tune alarms, but it did have the additionally annoying foible of sounding like it was about to stop before going right back to the start of the loop. Noise-wise I've led a pretty protected life, never really having had my bedroom overlook a busy road. And this one is just more heavy residential rather than busy.

So early morning car alarms: irritating but unremarkable for many people. It'll go away in a minute and I'll get back to sleep.

But whereas in civilised society the owner would rush out to turn the alarm off as quickly as possible, this motorist just let it carry on. And on, and on, and on. After 20 minutes I was just about ready to pop a cap in his ass myself.

Whether it got turned off, the battery wore down or I passed out through fatigue, I can't remember. However, I have no memory of gunfire. Next time he surely won't be so lucky...


To Infinity and Beyond!
Not content with buying the Mexican vote for November's election, George has decided to woo the Great American Public by going after a completely different kind of alien. Some time next week, he's expected to go S Club on us, reaching for the stars with the promise of making the moon the 51st state, to be swiftly followed by putting men on Mars.

(Talking of Mars, my theory on why Beagle 2 has gone missing is that Martians are big Damien Hirst fans. Think about it. Aliens are alleged to mutilate cattle in the US Midwest - just like Hirst - and Beagle used one of the artist's multi-coloured dot pictures to calibrate its instruments after landing. When the little green men saw that a genuine Hirst had dropped into their back garden, they quickly ripped it out of the Martian lander and opened Tate Mars. Makes sense to me.)

Unfortunately for America and the world, this has got to be a big vote winner. I mean, I hate the guy, but promise me the moon and I'll vote for you (as Tony Blair will attest).

It also neatly ties in with the Project for the New American Century's stated aim to develop a US military Space Corps. Not content with policing this world, George wants to stamp his authority on the cosmos before it gets out of hand.

Or maybe he's just getting his own private off-world retreat ready for the day when he and his energy pals finally screw our planet beyond all redemption.

Of course, if you fancy making a buck when Nasa builds its moon space station, I recommend investing in lunar real estate before it really takes off. There are over nine billion acres of land on the moon, most of them still available for sale, but if you own the plot that the starship troopers want to build on, they'll be sure to pay top dollar.

Don't get me wrong, I think space exploration is incredibly exciting, and it's been neglected for far too long. There's far more out there than we can ever hope to know about, so the sooner we start chipping away at it the better.

So despite the fact his daddy failed in his attempt to do something similar, Bush Lightyear's big ambition is something that really catches my imagination.

But then there's also so much we don't know about the Earth's oceans. And there's so much more on which the vast amounts of money the project will need would be better spent: a cure for Aids and cancer, writing off Third World debt, educating the 20% or so of the US population who struggle to read or write at a functional level, developing renewable and environmental sources of energy, feeding the millions still starving to death in Africa, rebuilding Iraq properly... feel free to weigh in with ideas of your own.

This evening someone at work rubbished the whole idea of space exploration, saying she had no time for fantasy or the unreal - a world view that I find incredibly sad. After all, what hope is there when people give up on their imagination?

This needn't be science fiction, it can be science fact.

I want to go to infinity and beyond. I want to find the truth that's out there. I want the moon on a stick.

I just don't want to sell the Earth in order to get it.


So once again the Benmobile rumbles on. Yesterday Notting Hill, today Harlesden.

With the return of Thomas and clan from their month Down Under, and not being overly keen on the idea of sleeping in their living room for anything up to three months, I'll be looking after my colleague Charles's flat until my biscuit comes through.

What to make of Harlesden then? Well, it's not the most chic part of London I've ever lived in - indeed last night's cabbie was keen to tell me about the regular stabbings and shootings he thought went on there.

But I'm more inclined to take the word of Charles and his girlfriend Kate, who say Harlesden doesn't deserve the reputation it's developed.

It does have a reputation, to be sure. But since a nasty spate of gang violence four years ago which left 11 people dead, the neighbourhood's been very quiet. Sure, it's ethnically vibrant - the neighbours speak Portuguese rather than English - but there's no point skulking in Waspish surroundings the whole time. One can't always hide from other people's lives.

My first experience of Harlesden came in the form of an old black woman getting off the same bus as me. Cackling heartily she engaged me in a mostly one-way conversation. Anywhere which still produces people with that much spirit can't be all bad.

The flat itself is charming, it's close to work, my first night's sleep there was very deep, the shower works, and it's got a fully functioning TV. It's got no big black cat to keep me warm at night, but then you can't have everything.

I think things are going to be okay.


Hopefully this won't come as much of a surprise, but I think it's fairly safe to say that I'm not a transvestite.

One could be excused for wondering why this had ever come into question. Well, it's because I spent most of last week resisting pressure to dress up as a nun. And it came to a head on Saturday evening at a 119th birthday party in Bristol (actually more than one person celebrating, hence the age). With a filmic fancy dress theme, my parents and their friends decided it would be highly amusing if there was a mass attendance of nun puns.

So with a Nun on the Run, Nun Shall Sleep, High Nun, and The Nun With No Name already on board, they were eager to bolster their ranks. With me.

But I was having, erm, nun of it. This is partly because I didn't have anything with which to embellish my habit and wimple, and partly because I didn't want to cheapen the effort put in by such luminaries as Colin (broadcasting visionary responsible for animations such as The Wrong Trousers, Belleville Rendez-vous and Robbie the Reindeer reaching the screen) and Dad (whose fake beard both confused and frightened me).

I've never had any desire to dress up in skirts and make up, not even as an experimenting child. Eddie Izzard may be able to carry it off and look fabulous, and that's all good. Me, at 6'3" and pretty much brick shithouse stature, I'd just frighten the horses, worry the sheep, and scare children. And their parents.

I first experienced pressure to doll myself up during my first year at Secondary School. As is the custom in many places, my class had to devise and perform an assembly presentation for the rest of the lower school.

I can't remember the subject of the sketch, but what I do know is that I was cast as then-Prime Minister and every 11-year-old's dream woman, Margaret Thatcher. And everyone wanted me to play the role in her trademark blue dress. Despite the whole class wanting to see tubby little four-eyed Ben in a skirt, it was so never going to happen.

Eventually, I just went in completely the opposite direction, and played the witch as her predecessor Ted Heath, sailor's cap, pipe and all. I like to think, even 20 years on, that it was more of a satirical statement than me in drag.

Maybe it's me, but I just don't find men in women's clothing intrinsically funny. It's the clever not the clobber that makes me laugh.


Strange but true...
Blogger's internal spell checking tool doesn't naturally recognise the words 'blog' and 'Blogger'. Hmm... someone missed a trick there, methinks.


Happy New Year, I suppose, although I've never been a fan. It's long been accepted in Fell family folklore that as the rest of the world gets itself in a tizz about the change of date, I usually adopt my most Eeyoreish behaviour.

My earliest memory of defying the dawning of a new year is from age 11, angrily reading in my room while the rest of the family did the Auld Lang Syne thing, wondering why little Ben wasn't having fun with the rest of them.

And last night was true to form spent trying to hide from horrendous Hogmanay hoolies, admittedly with more than one eye on a 5am start for work.

So what's my beef? It's the overwhelming communal pressure to have a good time that makes me uncomfortable more than anything else, much like with Carnival. If the rest of society appeared more laissez-faire about the knees-up, I imagine I'd be more willing to join in.

There's also the chorus of "Happy New Year" that seems to replace more conventional greetings for the first week or so in January. I just feel that if people concentrated more on ensuring the happiness than lauding the newness, the sentiment wouldn't feel quite so empty.

And Rabbie Burns's most famous contribution to global culture - all hands crossed and bloody cups of kindness - I hate that song with a passion.

Of course, there have been exceptions to this rule, occasions when I've enjoyed New Year, principally since I discovered the therapeutic effects of drinking unhealthy amounts of alcohol. One such event was the Real Millennium party in Plymouth at the end of 2000, while last year the booze once again helped in washing away the blues.

And there are other benefits that come with this time of year, such as the annual airing of movies like The Sound of Music (any chance to see Julie Andrews in her heyday, even if it is only her second best film), and the heated debate that always surrounds the honours list (a whole other blog entry, missing so far due to the fact that Thomsk's home PC isn't working).

So the New Year thing isn't all bad, and I'm not 100 per cent Scrooge deferred by a week.

But I do guarantee you this: the slightest whiff of auld acquaintance, and you won't see me for dust.