Wednesday, August 23, 2017


Hello. Long time, no see.

I thought it was worth posting something here because I had dozens of people getting in touch with me yesterday about the same thing - largely on Twitter - and I didn't find the limits of Twitter very helpful as a way of responding...

It started when the announcement was made for the "Funniest Joke Of The Fringe" award.

The award is sponsored by the TV channel, Dave and the joke that, scooped the top prize - because as we all know, scooping is how top prizes are won - was as follows:

"I'm not a fan of the new pound coin, but then I hate all change" and it's attributed to a comic called Ken Cheng.

A lot of people were immediately scathing about the selection - with the comedy website Chortle writing,
"The choice is likely to inflame accusations of unoriginality for a gag that has done the rounds on Twitter. Cheng himself tweeted it as long ago as March 21, 2014, when news of the design first broke, but he was still beaten to it by many people."

I doubt there is anyone attending the Fringe who really thinks that is the funniest thing being said on a stage throughout the thousands of comedy shows being performed at the world's largest arts festival. What's more, I'd lay good money that it's nowhere near the funniest joke in Ken Cheng's show either.

Stand up is a more nuanced art form than that. You almost certainly can't extract the words that lead up to the biggest laugh in any given show, type them up and present them as a one-liner that will work well on the page.

I think that's true, even for those comics whose stock in trade is one-liners. Even then, the jokes aren't discrete units of comedy that can be assembled in any order, each standing or falling purely on its own merits. There's always more going on than that.

And it seems unfair for people to pick on Ken Cheng for telling the joke when we're unaware of the context in which he tells it.  Ken Cheng is a relative newcomer, but at least two of the other jokes in the top ten list - both told by very experienced (and brilliant) comics - are every bit as old as that one, if not older. (One of them was even in my original set when I was starting out at 19, but I soon dropped it when I realised it was a thought that had been had by hundreds of people before me.)

The truth is of course that the short list of "best jokes" aren't the best jokes at all. Not at the fringe and not even in the shows from which they've been culled. If you compiled a list of the things-that-made-people-laugh-the-longest-and-loudest-at-the-fringe-this-year it wouldn't make any sense in print and would have to be book ended with countless but-it's-the-way-she-tells-it and you-had-to-be-there and but-of-course-it-won't-make-sense-because-you-didn't-see-the-first-fifteen-minutes-where-he-set-up-this-idea codicils. So instead you get a list of these-are-the-only-things-we-could-extract-that-are-understandable-as-jokes-in-isolation-when-put-in-print-but-it's-destined-to-get-a-lot-of-coverage-and-that-works-well-for-all-concerned-okay?

At this stage, you might be thinking there's no reason why I ought to feel compelled to offer an opinion either way. But it gets more complicated (for me) because a version of the winning joke had been in one my TV shows. The shows that are broadcast by Dave. The channel that gave Ken the prize.

It was in Series 2, episode 8 as it goes.  We're currently working on Series 5 - so it's more than 3 years old. But by sheer coincidence it happened to be the episode that was repeated last night... on the same day as the announcement.

Now this raises the obvious question: why were you telling a joke in your show if you know it's unoriginal and don't think it's very good?

Good question. I'll explain.

Here's the thing. In that episode there was a found poem about the new one pound coin. I road test all the material. That found poem always went over well. Found poems basically work best when the people writing the below-the-lines comments are pompous. It's an exercise in pointing out how seriously they take themselves by taking them even more seriously in jest. So people expressing outrage and upset about a topic that ought to generate none are perfect.

And I like it best when the end results contains comments both for and against because it helps underline that none of the opinions are mine. (You'd be amazed at how many times people write to express their upset at something I said in a found poem believing it to be my heartfelt opinion).

But in setting the poem up, I often need to give a precis of the topic. I need to explain why people might be for or against. I need to provide that tiny bit of context that will make people understand where these things have been found.

In this case I needed to express the idea that some people were upset about the new pound coin because they don't like it when things change in life. And the simplest expression of that thought is simply, "of course some people are upset about the new pound coin because they fear change."

Like I say, before we get to the recording of the show, I run it in over several live shows to try and find the best way through the material. And this simple thought - necessary to make the found poem work - was something of a road block. There basically wasn't a way of saying it that didn't lead to some form of negative judgement.

If you say it in a straightforward way, without a pause before the word 'because' then some people  still hear the joke and some of your audience think you've told a bad joke badly. If you put the pause in and acknowledge that it's a joke the whole audience thinks you've told a not-very-original-joke. If you rephrase it and say, "of course some people don't like it because they don't like it when things are different" some people think, "why are you going round the houses?" and other people think, "oh, you've missed a joke there, you should have said, 'some people fear change'..." and so on and so on.

Basically the joke is so obvious that some of the audience will think of it whether or not it is spoken aloud. And so even its absence casts a shadow over proceedings. And yet the singular meaning - that some people don't like things changing - needs to be expressed to make the next section work.

Our solution was to acknowledge the sentence for what it was. And so the show started with a warning that later on I would be telling an accidental, but unavoidable joke involving the words 'fear change', that I shouldn't be judged for it etc etc... and then, 20 or 30 minutes later, when it came in to play, I'd be able to play with the audience's reaction, whatever it happened to be.

But of course I don't expect everyone to have a 100% recollection of the show and the way in which every word was said. And so a lot of people who had seen the show had a vague recollection that I'd once said something about the new pound coin and the fear of change and then they read the story about the prize and suddenly I was receiving dozens of tweets from nice people saying things like this...

and also this...

And plenty of others like it.

At which point the 140 character limit makes it tricky to explain.  Because what I want to say is, "yes you heard something similar on my show, but you've forgotten the fact that I was sort of disowning it because it's not my joke it's one of those jokes that everyone thought of but I had a good reason for saying it, but at the same time please don't think I'm being really judgemental about the person who won the prize because I don't know the context in which it sits in his show but I do know that every joke in the list has been taken out of context in some way but people are happy to receive positive PR during a very competitive festival so let's not rain on his parade."

In acknowledging that the joke had appeared in the show, some people thought I was claiming it as mine and wanted to tell me that it was a shit joke I shouldn't be proud of. In explaining that I knew the joke was unoriginal and had been in the show in that context, I appeared to be critical of Ken Cheng. Which I don't think is fair either. Good luck to him.

Also: it's only a bloody joke.

By the way, if you want to watch the show, it's on UKTV Play as are the 28 other episodes from series 1 to 4.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Yahoo Spokesperson Speaks

If you're not sure what this is about, it's probably worth reading yesterday's blogpost... and possibly the long post before that one...

But here's Yahoo's response. I've screen grabbed it from the email so that I make sure I maintain the context.

It doesn't specifically answer any of the questions I raised yesterday but, at face value, it looks like exactly the right thing to say. They agree that these ads shouldn't be there. And they're telling us that they do take steps to stop it. Regularly.

It's just a shame that those steps don't seem to, y'know, actually succeed in stopping them...

Let me give you an example. On February 9th, I sent an email to Michael Todd and Gavin Patterson at BT with a screen grab of this ad:

The business name for the ad has been squeezed on the page, but it was businesscasestudies. The title for the ad is How Bannatyne Got Rich and the tag line is Learn more about Duncan's investment secrets.

The ad was also being served on Yahoo's home page etc.

If someone clicked on the ad they were taken to a URL that starts:

I've removed some digits from the end of that URL so that it no longer works - I don't want to send anyone there - but here's a screen grab of the page it lands on.

If you click on the picture and enlarge it, you should be able to read the text.

Or you could not bother and just trust me that it is  transparently untrue.

You know the sort of thing. There's a secret system. It always beats the market. You can't lose. And anyone can use it.

And Duncan Bannatyne's found out about it. And one of his friend's has accidentally revealed it. The way you do. And now there have been loads of national TV and newspaper articles about it - you know, you've seen them! Haven't you?

No wonder the establishment is running scared that everyone will find out about it. I mean, it won't be long before everyone's a millionaire.

Anyway... the important detail is that BT knew about this ad on February 9th.

On March 1st I sent Michael and Gavin another email. And this time I also included Charles Stewart (PR Manager, Public Policy, Yahoo). The email included a screen grab of this ad that was on Yahoo's home page that day.
That's an ad from businesscasestudies for How Bannatyne Got Rich with the tag line: Learn more about Duncan's investment secrets. The URL it pointed to started with

That's the same ad. With the same wording. Using the same company name. And pointing to the same website.

I also emailed them on March 2nd. Because it was still showing up that day.

I emailed them again this morning. Because it's still showing up today. Same picture. Same words. Same ad.

But it's okay, because we have their statement. So we know that they regularly take action to block ads in violation of their policies, as well as bad actors who work to circumvent their human and automated controls.

It's just that they haven't done so on this advertiser in the 22 days since they first became aware of them.

That's 22 days in which this deceptive and misleading ad appears to have been accepted by Yahoo. But let's not be misled by that evidence of fact. Their statement is more important than the facts before my eyes. The statement makes it perfectly clear: ads like this are unacceptable. It's just that it is, as I type, still accepted.

So that's that sorted.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

At what point does it become okay to say that British Telecom and Yahoo are knowingly profiting from fraud?

If you are against fraud but then find out that you're unwittingly profiting from it... and you could take steps to sever your connection to that fraud immediately... but you choose not to do so... and days - even weeks later - you're still profiting from that fraud... well then, at some point, isn't it fair to reach the conclusion that you're just, y’know, knowingly profiting from fraud?

And if that's the case, in what way are you, y'know, against fraud?

Marissa Mayer May 2014 (cropped)
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, who profit from fraud
Photo used under CC licence.
Attrib: By Yahoo from Sunnyvale, California, USA
Gavin Patterson at Chatham House 2016
Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT, who profit from fraud.
Photo used under CC licence, attribution: By Chatham House

At this point, I guess I ought to say that this blog post probably won't make a lot of sense unless you've read my post from a couple of days ago. It's long so I recommend making a cup of tea before you start, but it details how I frequently see BT and Yahoo carrying ads for fraud on their networks and how those ads continue to appear on their networks, often for days after they're reported.

By the way, when I say "fraud" I don't mean "things I don't like" or "products that I think don't work, grrr" I mean actual, criminal, steal-your-money, fraud.

Sometimes, weeks after they've acknowledged an ad is fraudulent, identical ads leading to the very same websites will still be appearing on their networks.

This seems to me to be negligent on their behalf. And as I've been corresponding with the two companies about it since July last year - and with particular frequency throughout February - I don't really see how either entity could claim to be ignorant of their role in enabling these scams to prosper.

This morning, I emailed Michael Todd (Executive Level Technical Complaints, BT), Gavin Patterson (CEO, BT) and Charles Stewart (PR Manager, Public Policy, Yahoo) the following few questions:

Question 1: Every time you run one of these ads, you expose your customers to the risk of fraud. Are ads subject to any kind of editorial review before they are accepted on to your network?

Question 2: If ads are subject to editorial review - how did these ads pass? Even allowing for human error, initially - how is it that ads you have been made aware of, continue to get through?

Question 3: It is now abundantly clear that, even after a month of pushing, Yahoo is a) unable to remove ads quickly and b) unable or unwilling to adequately block ads. In which case, do you agree that continuing to run ads through this system means you are now aware that fraudulent ads can and will get through and won't be removed promptly, exposing your customers to harm?

Question 4: BT's CEO has made it very clear that BT people should turn down business when it would force the company to compromise their principles. Does this compromise your principles? Or is there an acceptable amount of fraud that you are happy to expose your customers to?

They seem kind of shy of answering straight questions and have previously expressed a desire for me to not publicise the contents of our interactions thus far... but I don't think these are complicated questions - and I don't think there's anything here for companies of this scale to shy away from.

If they come back to me, I'll let you know what they say.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

British Sell-A-Con

The world was a bit simpler when I was a kid. I was brought up in Stafford, which is in the West Midlands. Which meant that the Midlands Electricity Board provided our electricity. and Stafford is in England which is a part of Britain and so, naturally, British Gas provided our gas. And British Telecom provided our telephone line. Simple.

Of course that was in the days before such things were privatised. And it was before the internet and mobile telephones were a part of our everyday lives. Nowadays everyone seems to offer everything. Sky TV don't just deliver satellite televison, they're internet service providers. British Gas provide electricity. Marks & Spencers provide gas. Tesco are a bank. And British Telecom are a TV sports channel, a satellite broadcaster, an internet service provider and a hawker of fraud. Admittedly that last one isn't something they do on purpose. But they do it. And - perhaps more to the point - even when they know they're doing it they seem unable to stop it happening.

Allow me to explain...

BT are my internet service provider. I have a btinternet dot com email address. I use my BT email for friends and family and other non-work related stuff. Adverts are a part and parcel of the experience although I don't often see them because I mostly deal with that email address on my desktop computer's mail program. It's only when I log in to webmail that I see the ads. The top of the page looks something like this:

As you can see BT provide their email in collaboration with Yahoo and, at the top of my inbox, there's an ad. It's normally for something innocuous. In the example above it's for Californian holidays. I don't mind that. I do mind when it's an ad for something that's altogether less wholesome... like this next example:

 That's an ad for something called The Oxford Method.

... and if you saw the fourth series of Modern Life Is Goodish last year, it might be ringing a faint bell or two.

Because last year, one of the episodes had a section about something called The Brit Method. And also the Aussie Method and the Canuck Method and the Irish Method and a whole lot more.

The Brit Method is a a con that sells the idea that a man has found a foolproof way of investing in Binary Options; a special method that guarantees success and will make anyone a millionaire... and that is mysteriously being offered, for free, to a select few.

All you have to do is invest some money. And then wait until you become rich. Unsurprisingly, there's no such thing as a foolproof way of making millions. People who fall for it will lose their money.

Now, Modern Life Is Goodish isn't Watchdog. We're not there to warn you off these sort of things - it was in the show to make some other point entirely. That said, I'm sure that nobody who saw the show could be in any doubt as to the nature of the thing. (If you're curious to know how and why it appeared in the show the episode is currently available on UKTVPlay, here.)

As you've no doubt twigged by now, The Oxford Method is just another Brit Method clone. I'm used to seeing ads for dodgy offerings such as this on awful clickbait sites and in other dark corners of the internet but I was surprised to see it being advertised somewhere as mainstream as British Telecom's network.

I might be wrong about this, but I reckon BT's history as a fundamental part of British life means they're likely to have an older client base than a lot of other internet providers. They're the trusted British brand that people have known all their lives. They represent 'the establishment' as much as is possible for a company in that business. I reckon a lot of people who find the internet a bit intimidating probably trust BT to deliver the service.

If that is the case then I think it follows that BT's customers are more vulnerable to this kind of con. And I think the BT brand confers a touch of respectability on the ads they carry. Doesn't an ad that appears as part of BT's branded content carry just a bit more authority than one that appears on one of those, "You won't believe what Susan Boyle looks like now" pieces of guff that so litter the information superhighway?

To be clear, I don't think any part of the internet should be carrying ads for this sort of fraud. Of course they shouldn't. But I can't help thinking that if a giant company like BT - who trade on a reputation of trust and respectability - are prepared to run ads of this nature then there's no hope of anyone else acting responsibly. It's like discovering your gran is dealing drugs. You know that people do it. But not her. Surely, not her!

It was July last year when I first saw the ad for the Oxford Method. I can't remember whether it was before or after we'd taped the show with the Brit Method content, but I know it was at a stage when it was too late to go messing around with the material and adding in more details. I knew what the Oxford Method was because of the research I'd been doing for the show - and it may be that the research I had been doing was one of the reasons the ad popped up on my inbox, but even so... if they're serving me the ad, they're serving it to other people too... and they shouldn't be.

It seemed obvious to me that BT weren't aware that this ad was on their network. The ads were probably bought and sold without much human interaction or oversight. I figured that once they discovered the ad was there, they'd remove it immediately. So I sent an email to BT letting them know it was there.

That was on July 4th. I sent it to the email address that shows up online if you search for the CEO of BT, Gavin Patterson because, in my experience, emailing a CEO is a pretty good way of accessing the highest level of technical support. I don't know if Gavin actually reads the emails that arrive at that address or not... but I'm pretty sure there's a team of people employed to respond to them that are more empowered than the regular staff on a regular helpline.

So I emailed Gavin explaining my concerns. And I thought the ads would disappear overnight. Only on July 5th they were still there. And on July 6th too. They did get back to me. On July 6th I spoke on the phone with someone called Michael Todd. He's an Executive Level Technical Complaints man, apparently. He was very polite and seemed genuinely concerned that the ads had been there. I don't remember the details of the call - because I wasn't expecting the thing to drag on and become this sort of a tale - but I'm pretty sure he explained that the ads weren't solicited, were sold via some kind of online auction process. More importantly, I got the impression that they'd now been dealt with.

And then, on the 7th July, I saw another ad for The Oxford Method.
The wording has changed. But even so. If the Executive Level Technical Complaints people aren't capable of blocking ads for a given name, something has to be amiss. If it takes them three days to try - and still they fail - then that's three days in which I think they can - and should - be held responsible for the ads.

If the people behind the ad are changing the wording in order to get around the block, doesn't that suggest that the ad is worth their while? And doesn't that suggest that a BT customer or two have fallen for it? Of course, I can't prove that someone fell for it, but I can't see why the scammers would persist if it wasn't a fruitful route for them, so it's surely a strong possibility. And that seems like an awful thing to have on one's conscience. 

Anyway. It was a busy time and I thought little more about it. I happily assumed that BT had got to grips with the issue. And for all I know they had. I was at home a lot more and so I had little or no need for webmail and so I wasn't seeing the space where the ads appear.

But then, on February 1st - nearly 7 months after our first exchange of dialogue on the subject - I saw another dodgy ad at the top of my BT mail. This time it wasn't for The Oxford Method. It was for The Brit Method.

So I emailed Gavin again. And again, Michael Todd was the man to reply. On February 3rd he explained that the scammers had got through by changing the name of the con. Which makes sense from one point of view. But is also basically admitting that the system is very easily abused that they're powerless to prevent it. In which case, I wonder if the system is fit for purpose?

We exchanged a couple of emails and on February 8th (Wednesday) Michael wrote telling me that he'd get back to me by the end of the week.

I didn't give him the time to do so... because I spent Thursday and Friday letting him know about other Binary Options scams being advertised on BT. Like this one:

This is even more alarming when I know that the bosses are aware of the problem and are trying to stop it. Especially given that they've explained they have category blocks and word blocks and other systems in place... because this means that words like "Increase your income" and "gets rich" and "over £10,000" aren't setting off any alarm bells...

Yes, those words could be used in a legitimate ad... but how often are they? And wouldn't having oversight of just those ads at least be possible?

Oh... and there was also this:

Which landed on this page of obviously fake newsiness about "secret money systems" and of-its-time references to the "political elite getting nervous about this secret getting out". Which tells you all you need to know about who this ad is aimed at. It's the already-feeling-beaten-up-by-life folks they're trying to seduce. It's the already-shafted who might end up getting shafted further.  

And those are just the two I saw on the 9th. On the 10th, I also let him know about this little lot...

... so that's DiCaprio, Dwight, Stallone, Winfrey and Hewson all dragged into this. It seems it's not just businessmen from popular culture... anyone from pop culture is up for grabs.

(Incidentally, while this is far from the biggest issue here... I reckon DiCaprio, Dwight, Stallone, Winfrey, Hewson, Bannatyne and Branson would all be rightly irked to discover their names and faces are being abused to help con people in this way... I wonder, what, if any recourse is available to them?)

All of these ads pointed to fake facebook pages using the domain fb dash biz dash news dot com... :

All these pages are essentially the same - if you click on the pictures they should enlarge enough to make the text legible.

Personally, I'm most fascinated by this man... 

He seems to be the closest friend of all five of these hugely famous showbiz legends. It's quite a feat for someone to be quite so well connected!

Especially when his un-pixellated face reveals him to be the Cyprus Government Spokesperson and Director of the Diplomatic Office of the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nikos Christoulidis

You think he'd have enough on his plate dealing with Cypriot politics without finding time to hobnob with the stars.

Hmmm... maybe he isn't their closest friend after all. Maybe some crooks have just stolen his photo online and stuck it in their fake facebook page to make it look a bit more real somehow. 

I've exchanged plenty of emails with BT about these ads which continued to appear on my email for a good few days. I can't think of a good reason why an ad pointing to fb dash biz dash news dot com should be appearing on BT's network a day after BT know about the problem.. let alone two or three days after. But they were.

I asked Mr. Todd (Executive Level Technical Complaints, BT) if it was okay for me to quote our email exchange in this blog and he replied to say that it wasn't and that the information he'd given me was for my private use only. Although I'm not sure if I'm really allowed to tell you that as it was a part of the email exchange that I now know was for my eyes only.

But then it's not as if I have much information from him that I could not divine from the situation. It turns out - I believe - that the Oxford Method/Brit Method ads were all from one advertiser and that they have now been blocked. Which rather begs the question: why didn't they block them in July last year... why were they still allowed to be posting adverts seven months after they were first discovered.

Really the only information I have is that a lot of these ads have been getting through. And days after BT acknowledges them - and sometimes, days after BT tells me they've dealt with them - they still get through.

I know that nobody vets the ads before they go into the system... but I find it utterly bamboozling that everyone accepts this as the status quo. The advertising world has made a technological leap that streamlines the process and reduces the cost and that is just how it is. But the consequence of it appears to be that there is little anyone can do to prevent it from being abused by people who are trying to con the vulnerable. And that's a consequence that ought to make everyone involved a little uncomfortable.Isn't it?

And you can't have it both ways. BT makes in excess of 2 billion pounds a year. Either the ads are profitable enough to afford human oversight. Or they're not profitable enough to bother with at all.

Maybe they'd say that this new system allows for huge numbers of advertisers to push ads to fewer people? And maybe that makes human oversight impossible because of the sheer numbers of ads involved? In which case, don't accept the status quo. It means the system doesn't work. Implement a system where new advertisers have to go through some vetting that established advertisers don't have to endure. But make it a privilege that can be revoked. I don't understand the world in which a corporate giant just shrugs its corporate shoulders and accepts that they'll occasionally be used to advertise fraud.

Oh, incidentally... the CEO of BT, Gavin Patterson used to be the President of The Advertising Association. As I type this, Wikipedia still says that he is...

As it goes, his presidency ended a few years ago, but I'd like to think that an ex-President remains as committed to the aims of the group as anyone else. And according to Wikipedia, the role of the Advertising Association is...

"to promote and protect advertising in the UK by creating and maintaining a climate of responsibility amongst advertising practitioners, encouraging moderation from regulators and building trust with consumers"

Way to go, Gavin.

I suppose there's something broader at work here - something that is an internet-wide problem. Sites like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Flickr etc would be unable to function if they had to take legal responsibility for every tweet, post, video and photo that was uploaded to their site. It's not possible to check every bit of content before it's published.

And so, by analogy, maybe we have to accept that in this democratised, online world of ours, companies like BT and Yahoo just can't be held legally responsible for the ads they carry because they work in the same way. But there is a counterweight to that situation - and that's a responsibility to remove inappropriate content in a timely fashion the moment they are aware of it.

I might be wrong, but I can't see anywhere on the BT/Yahoo mail page that acknowledges there's even a possibility that fraudulent ads might appear there or that explains a quick and easy way to report one. And my experience demonstrates that they're simply not able to act quickly enough when they are aware. Ads like these simply shouldn't still be in the system days after a company knows about them.

I know this is an extremely long post. And I don't know what I hope to achieve by it... but I can't help thinking that the idea that online-fraud is just one of those things we have to accept is just bizarre. And if a company with the clout of BT is unable to deal with it properly... then who the hell can?

PS: a couple of days after I emailed Michael Todd and asked if I could quote our email chain on my blog I was contacted by someone called Charles Stewart who works for Yahoo PR in the States. He asked if we could have an off-the-record chat about it all. I wrote back explaining that I'd love to chat but that I didn't want to make it off-the-record. It seems to me that what's needed is more transparency here, not less... That was six days ago. He hasn't got back to me yet.

It's only fair to point out that in those past six days I haven't seen a dodgy ad on my BT/Yahoo webmail page.

But today, on Yahoo's home page, I saw this...
... which is an ad for - drum roll please - The Brit Method. The website it takes you to isn't some new URL that could have easily slipped past their radars... it's Brit dash Method dot com.

Which, by my reckoning, means one of two things.
1: Yahoo and BT are aware of this issue, are trying to stop these ads and are still failing
2: Yahoo and BT are aware of this issue, have successfully stopped these ads from appearing on their shared webmail page, but are happy to allow ads they know are fraudulent to appear elsewhere.

I'm not sure either of those casts them in a flattering light...

Last night - after posting this, I checked my email on an ipad... and the ad for the Brit Method was there also...


Monday, February 20, 2017

Warm Up Dates For Series 5

Hello there. I hope this finds you well... I'm writing this from a new production office where I'm currently sitting around, trying to remember how we make Modern Life Is Goodish. You'd think that after four series and 28 episodes I'd be able to remember something of the process... and yet, every time we start again I find myself cowed by the sheer scale of the task ahead. I'm sure we'll muddle through.

Still, there's a table-tennis table down stairs, so that's a good start.

That's not the only good news. It seems the series has been nominated for a Chortle award. That's nice. It's one of those where people vote online. What's the correct way of handling this? Not mentioning it seems a bit wilfully aloof. Begging your indulgence feels a bit needy. It is what it is. Do what you do. Let us never talk of this again.

More tangible is the news that some of the warm up shows for series 5 have been scheduled.

It would be lovely to wait until they were all organised and to then tell you in one, complete post... but they are more spread out than in previous years so that won't work. So far there are shows in both Andover and Aldershot in May, in Cambridge in July and in Reading in November. The details for all of those are on the Live Dates page of my site. There will be another set in September and there'll be a new season of Screen Guild shows being announced soon too.

Of course, all this means that the free tickets for the fifth series recordings will be released soon enough. My mailing list always gets first dibs for these and for the last two series all the tickets have gone on the first day... so, if you're interested in coming along, now would be a timely time to sign up...

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Radio Times...

Well, this is a nice list to be in...

... of course, you don't have to use the catch up service... you can also watch it on telly. There's a new episode on tonight as it happens.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Mickypedia... and a Taskmaster shirt

Well I've been blown away by the response to episode 1 of series 4... thanks to everyone that has been in touch. Doing live continuity on the night sure makes it fly by...

I'm going to try and keep this relatively spoiler-free... but if you haven't seen the show yet - and want to, well it's repeated on Saturday night at 10... or you can watch it on UKTVPlay, here.

It's often the case with these shows that a lot of people ask the same question... and the nature of social media means that it doesn't matter how many times you answer it... the answer never gets seen by everyone. I like to try and reply to people if I can... and sometimes the easiest way is to put an answer here. I know people will still ask it... but at least I'll have something I can link to by way of reply.

And with this episode, the thing people most want to know about is Mickypedia...

So, to answer your questions... we couldn't have an obvious camera in the green room because its presence would have flagged up that something unusual was going on. But we did have a small, hidden camera in there capturing something. But we haven't used it for very good reasons.

Firstly... that first episode is absolutely packed. There isn't really anything we can cut to make room for it... and what you see on the show is what the audience in the venue saw.

Secondly, Micky is a smart chap. Imagine you were him. Play the show through in your mind... and imagine being him watching it unfold. The moment that makes the audience gasp in shock and delight, isn't the moment he realises what's been going on... if you're him and you know what he knows, there have been plenty of clues before that. And there isn't really a way of playing the moment he does realise into the show because at that point the audience hasn't yet got the full picture.

I suppose what people are really interested in, is seeing how Micky reacted when I came into the Green Room after the show was finished. The truth is he took it very well. I think people in that situation are mainly pleased that things finally make sense. And there was obviously no malice involved, indeed it was all done with a great deal of affection. I think the fact that it had spiralled beyond its original target and become something bigger - made it feel like it wasn't just about him.

But Micky's first reaction was, "I'm not having my face anywhere near it... and please don't put my surname in." And I think he's wise to think that way. It's a courtesy we always afford to people who's tweets or facebook posts we use.... assuming they're not celebs anyway. Because we don't want them to have to deal with people getting in touch - for good or bad reasons. And Micky's no different. He's very happy that it happened... but doesn't want to deal with the fall out every time the show is on. And that's fair enough!

Oh, if you're on my mailing list, you might remember that, throughout the previous three series I've given away various bits and pieces from the show from time to time. I've had a few people asking if I'm going to do the same this year. And seeing as you've asked... yes I will.

I'll start with the next episode... and seeing as there's no obvious thing to give away from episode 1, I'll give away one of my Taskmaster shirts instead.

The one in this photo...

At which point, I expect a few people who watched the series will say, "hang on, Dave... didn't you take a knife to that shirt? Hasn't that shirt been cut up and distributed to far flung corners of West London?"

To which the answer is... "that did happen to an identical shirt... but it wasn't actually that shirt."

The thing with Taskmaster is that the tasks happen over several days spread across various months. I'd spend a day at the house doing various tasks by myself alone (well, with a camera crew and Alex) and the others would all do the same. And when that's happening, they don't know which tasks will sit together in which episodes. And so the easiest thing is for everyone to have a particular outfit that they wear for all of those filming days. And because the tasks are sometimes messy - for example, one of them involved some people rolling in goose poo - it's essential to have more than one outfit so that you can change into something less goose-poo-y. So I had more than one of those shirts.

And the publicity shots were taken after the tasks... so I know that the one I'm offering up as a prize is the one I was wearing that day. Phew, I think that's clear.

Some people ask me why I do it via the mailing list rather than, say, on Twitter. The reason is... I don't want to use the competitions to spread the word about the show. Obviously, I'm delighted if people want to spread the word about the show - but doing so because you want to means much more than doing so because you want to win a prize. And it's not exactly a big prize. In fact, I think it's medium. But you know what I mean. I don't want to generate a load of twitter spam.

I also think it's nice to do things uniquely for those on the mailing list. So if you'd like to be in with a chance of winning that shirt... or you just want to have advance notice of what I'm up to, or when tickets are released for series 5 etc etc... then you can sign up below. 

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