Archive | TV RSS feed for this section

Why are there ravens at the Tower of London?

22 Mar

Today’s knowledge quest started off with a focus on Blackadder. Specifically I had it in my mind to find out who wrote Baldrick’s infamous line “I have a cunning plan My Lord”, which so often preceded disaster by mere seconds.

Yet in a strange twist of fate, I ended up veering well and truly off course. And it’s all Wikipedia’s fault.

You see I was reading up on Baldrick when I came upon a suggestion one of the Tower of London ravens was named for the character. And while the inspiration doesn’t seem to have ever been formally acknowledged, it’s held to be true.

So clearly, ravens are a serious business at this most English of historical/tourist attractions. And I wanted to know why.

The answer lies back in the hands of time, with a legend that says the kingdom will fall if the birds ever leave. So Charles II, who ruled in the 1600s, decreed there must always be at least six in residence.

Responsibility for maintaining the status quo falls to someone called the Raven Master, whose responsibilities range from trimming their feathers to feeding them 6oz of raw meat and blood soaked bird formula biscuits every an egg once a week and an occasional rabbit (apparently the fur is good for them).

You can read more about them here, but the current seven inhabitants – six and a spare – are as follows…

* Porsha (female)
* Hugine (female)
* Pearl (female)
* Erin (female)
* Merlin (female)
* Rocky (male)
* Munin (female)

 Here’s a few other raven facts..

  • The tower’s oldest ever raven resident was Jim Crow, who died at 44.
  • Escapes are rare but do happen. One bird, appropriately called Grog, was last seen outside a pub in 1981.
  • There are also occasional sackings such as George, who was let go in 1986 because he kept chewing on TV antennas. As you do.

And now for a moment of Baldrick.

“I’ve got a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel.”

How did Bear Grylls break his back?

14 Mar

Bear Grylls is no more. Actually wait, that sounds a bit too dramatic. What I mean is, Man vs Wild is no more. At least not for the foreseeable future.

I was very sad to learn today the Discovery Channel had fired the action man over a contract dispute. I mean I know the show drew a lot of criticism for its staged elements, but I always found him an amazing role model. He certainly encouraged plenty of kids I know to spend a bit more time outdoors and a bit less time glued to a TV or video game screen.

Anyway, the news got me thinking about what an interesting life Bear has led, with feats including scaling Mt Everest. And it’s all the more remarkable when you consider he fought back from a broken back in 1996 when he was just 22.

Now, I knew he suffered this injury in a skydiving accident. And I was even in the audience at a live show where he shared the story. But somehow I missed it. Probably because I was out getting a drink. For the record not my own urine.

Fortunately, it wasn’t too hard to track down this excerpt from his book Mud, Sweat and Tears

“I was in the SAS Reserves, and though I was years away from my TV career, life was perfect. I was fit and doing a job I adored. What young man wouldn’t love being trained in blowing stuff up, climbing cliffs and high-speed driving?

“That summer, I was helping out on a game farm in South Africa and decided to head to Zimbabwe for some down time before going home to the UK. Fun, for me, meant skydiving with good friends. Little did I know how much I was going to rely on the qualities that first got me a place in the SAS.

“One evening, as the brilliance of the African sun was being replaced by the glow of dusk, my friends and I huddled together in a small plane as we climbed to nearly 16,000 feet. The plane levelled out. Someone reached for the door. One by one, the guys dropped from the door and fell away. Soon I was alone. I looked down, took that familiar deep breath, then slid off the step.

“Three thousand feet. Time to pull. I reached to my right hip and gripped the ripcord. I pulled it strongly. Initially, it responded as normal.

“The canopy opened with a crack that interrupted the noise of the 130mph free fall. My descent rate slowed to 25mph. Then I looked up and saw something was wrong. Instead of a smooth rectangular shape, I had a very deformed looking tangle of chute, which meant it would be a nightmare to control.

“I pulled hard on both steering toggles to see if that would help. I started to panic. The desert floor was coming closer. My descent was far too fast. I was too low to use my reserve chute. I was getting close to the ground, coming in at speed – and then I smashed into the desert floor.

“I bounced like a rag doll and landed directly on my back, right on top of the tightly packed reserve chute. It felt as if something had driven clean through the centre of my spine. I could only roll over, crying in agony. In the pit of my stomach I feared that my life would never be the same again.”

Of course, as we know, Bear’s life never was the same again as it took off in ways he couldn’t have imagined. He climbed Everest, became a global TV star and in the meantime managed to eat any animal not quick enough to get away.

So what I want to know is this. Who will now fill the void of TV presenters willing to give themselves an enema while floating on a raft at sea? RIP Man vs Wild.

BTW you can read the full extract with the story of his accident and recovery here. And here’s another interview I liked in which he revealed the answer to a question I’m dying to know. Here it is.

Question: What is the worst food you’ve eaten in a survival situation?
Answer: Raw frozen yak eyeballs; camel intestine juice; raw goat testicles; live snake; maggots as big as a hand, pulsating with yellow pus; and giant live spiders.


Is Shirley Manson from Garbage a natural redhead?

9 Mar

Friday. The end of a very long and stressful week. Then suddenly, salvation comes in the form of a press release. Garbage has a new album coming out and I a massive fan. Suddenly I am happy and the countdown to release begins…

In background, I discovered this band many, many years ago while living with a friend who made it his mission to properly introduce me to groups ranging from the Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins to REM and, of course, Garbage.

While some REM of them failed to make a lasting impact, I loved Shirley Manson right from the start – her sass and strut, her rebellious attitude and her ability to just make damn good music. So naturally, when the news of a new album came through, I decided to make her today’s knowledge quest. And the first question I wanted to answer? Is she a natural redhead?

Now, this might seem like a pretty shallow query given her pedigree and talent, but as someone with a good deal of red up top myself, I’ve always felt an affinity with other women whose hair apparently offers fair warning of their temper. Plus, I’ve seen her try a wide variety of shades, most notably that eye-catching blonde do in the video for Cherry Lips.

After a good deal of research, I happened upon this slightly NSFW story, which confirmed without doubt she is indeed a natural redhead. So with a bit of time up my sleeves, I decided to find out a handful of other interesting things about the performer. Here they are. She . . .

* Is a cast member of video game Guitar Hero 5.
* Once modelled for Calvin Klein.
* Dropped out of school at 16.
* Suffers from body dysmorphia.
* Featured in TV show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
* Wrote a song called Sleep Together for the Love and Other Drugs soundtrack.
* Was named after an aunt who was herself named after Charlotte Bronte’s novel Shirley.
* Was invited to join Garbage after producer and muso Steve Marker saw her in the Angelfish video for Suffocate Me.

So there you have it. And in case you’re wondering what my favourite Garbage song is, I can’t narrow it down. Instead, let’s just say there are six that hold court – Only Happy When It Rains, Androgyny, Vow, Why Do You Love Me, Paranoid and Cherry Lips. The latter particularly holds a special place in my heart as I used it to start teaching my nephews about good music from when they were very little and could only manage to sing the “Go baby go” bit of the lyrics. And no, for the record, I did not let them watch the film clip. But you can…

So finally, back to the new album. It’s called Not Your Kind Of People and is due out in May. The first single, Blood For Poppies, will be released on March 20. And this is what Shirley has to say about it: ““The song is meant to feel sort of like an abstract dream. The inspiration came from a story I had read in The Los Angeles Times about the opium trade and also from watching the documentary Restrepo. It’s not literal in any sense whatsoever but it’s a song about disorientation and delusion and the human struggle to stay sane in the face of insanity.” Hear the band reveal the track listing below.

How many voices does Hank Azaria do on The Simpsons?

6 Mar

After dinner with my friend Angie tonight, we sat down to watch some TV. And naturally enough, we switched away from current affairs to an episode of The Simpsons neither of us had seen before.

That itself is a miracle as I thought I had seen EVERY episode at least 10 times. But it made for even happier times as a new episode meant new opening credits, which I loved. Although disturbingly, they involved a naked Homer.

Anyway, with that mental picture locked firmly in my head (and probably yours now too, sorry!), the episode, called Eeny Teeny Maya Moe, focused mainly on Moe. More specifically, his search for love online.

In an unexpected twist the boxer turned barman managed to meet and then hook up with a gorgeous woman, even after she had seen his real photo. But naturally, there was a twist. Her height. Or lack thereof, given she was only about half as tall as he was.

Even though he loved Maya in spite of her small stature, she wanted someone who didn’t even notice it and called things off. This left Moe back where he belongs – alone behind the counter of a bar that is so filthy it would probably survive a nuclear explosion.

Anyway, as the episode came to a close, I once again thought what a great actor Hank Azaria is, especially as he voices not only Moe but also my absolute favourite Springfield resident – Comic Book Guy. So I decided I should find out what other characters he does. And it turns out there’s more than 30.

Here’s a selection …
*Apu Nahasapeemapetilon
* Chief Clancy Wiggum
* Frank Grimes
* Carl
* Dr Nick Riviera
* Disco Stu
* Captain McCallister
* Superintendent Chalmers
* Professor Frink
* Cletus
* Bumblebee Man
* Snake
* Kirk Van Houten
* Dredrick Tatum

All have helped Hank to populate some truly hilarious episodes of the show. But I wondered what his favourite was. And the answer was easy to find as the series has just hit the big 500 and Entertainment Weekly put the question to him.

The answer is (drum roll please) Cape Feare in Season 5 where Sideshow Bob tries to kill Bart when he is sprung from prison in an hilarious homage to the movie Cape Fear.

“I laughed at that the hardest,” Hank says. “It just destroyed me from beginning to end. The rake thing is the hardest I ever laughed at a gag on The Simpsons. I love that humor where you just repeat something beyond all reason.” And if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. So let’s end with that clip.


What inspired Suzanne Collins to write The Hunger Games?

3 Mar

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As mentioned yesterday, I finally got around this week to buying The Hunger Games trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins.

It’s something I’ve meant to do for a while but I’m glad I waited until I had a relatively free weekend. Because I haven’t been able to put book one down.

It is, in a word, phenomenal. Brutal yet caring, heartfelt yet sympathetic, incredibly detailed but also a broad enough canvas on which to showcase issues such as poverty, the corrupting nature of power and the ability of reality shows – and TV in general – to de-sensitise viewers.

Then there’s a kick-ass heroine called Katniss, who I CANNOT wait to see on the big screen portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence.

Anyway, as I so often do, I went looking for more information on Suzanne Collins as it’s never enough just to enjoy a book. I always want to learn more about an author – who they are, what their writing ritual is like and, most of all, where they get their inspiration from.

And I found her answers in an interview on the official Scholastic website.

Here’s an excerpt from the story..

You weave action, adventure, mythology, sci-fi, romance and philosophy throughout The Hunger Games. What influenced the creation of The Hunger Games?
A significant influence would have to be the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. The myth tells how in punishment for past deeds, Athens periodically had to send seven youths and seven maidens to Crete, where they were thrown in the labyrinth and devoured by the monstrous Minotaur.
Even as a kid, I could appreciate how ruthless this was. Crete was sending a very clear message: “Mess with us and we’ll do something worse than kill you. We’ll kill your children.” And the thing is, it was allowed; the parents sat by powerless to stop it. Theseus, who was the son of the king, volunteered to go. I guess in her own way, Katniss is a futuristic Theseus.
In keeping with the classical roots, I send my tributes into an updated version of the Roman gladiator games, which entails a ruthless government forcing people to fight to the death as popular entertainment. The world of Panem, particularly the Capitol, is loaded with Roman references. Panem itself comes from the expression “Panem et Circenses” which translates into “Bread and Circuses.”
The audiences for both the Roman games and reality TV are almost characters in themselves. They can respond with great enthusiasm or play a role in your elimination.
I was channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage when Katniss’s story came to me. One night I’m sitting there flipping around and on one channel there’s a group of young people competing for, I don’t know, money maybe? And on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting an actual war. And I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.

Suzanne also tells of the delicate balance in transferring her story from page to screen and of the research she did into hunting and gathering techniques. But the other Q&A that really drew me in was this…

The Hunger Games tackles issues like severe poverty, starvation, oppression, and the effects of war among others. What drew you to such serious subject matter?
That was probably my dad’s influence. He was career air force, a military specialist, a historian, and a doctor of political science. When I was a kid, he was gone for a year in Vietnam. It was very important to him we understood certain aspects of life. So, it wasn’t enough to visit a battlefield, we needed to know why the battle occurred, how it played out, and the consequences. Fortunately, he had a gift for presenting history as a fascinating story. He also seemed to have a good sense of exactly how much a child could handle, which is quite a bit.

I don’t know about you, but I find that fascinating. What an interesting life and perspective she has. I love it when an author feeds part of their own life experience and soul into what they write.

I will certainly be looking into her other books, but for now you can check out The Hunger Games trailer and more here.

How many people know the Oscar winners before the ceremony?

27 Feb

I love watching the Oscars. But I love watching the pre-ceremony arrivals even more. There’s just something so breathtaking about some of the beautiful gowns that waft down the red carpet. Like the gorgeous sparkly creations worn by Octavia Spencer (pictured) and Milla Jovovich today.

Then you get to the frock shockers, and I must confess this is actually my favourite bit. I mean these women have millions of dollars and access to the best stylists and designers and they STILL manage to get it so wrong. They’re almost begging for a public backhanding.

But while I unleashed my claws on Facebook earlier, I feel obliged to hold my tongue here, since I’m a big believer in karma. But let’s just say my least favourite gowns were all well acquainted with the category of Best Actress.

Anyway, on to the awards themselves, and I’ve always wondered if the winners’ names are really kept secret before those envelopes are opened. And the answer is, yes. Very much so! In fact only two people know their identities in advance.

They are non-household names Rick Rosas and Brad Oltmanns, who are accountants with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the firm which has long been entrusted with counting the thousands of ballots lodged in 24 categories.

Among the measures they take to ensure absolute confidentiality are to count each ballot by hand, and in utter secrecy. As Oltmanns further reveals on the PWC website: “All of the counting is done in a secure, private, undisclosed location. No computers in the room and phones aren’t used. We are sequestered, just counting the results.”

Once they’re in, the names are kept locked up in a vault. Then, on the big day, the two men attend the show separately, travelling by secret routes and accompanied by police officers. They each carry a briefcase containing an identical set of winners envelopes and stand backstage during the entire ceremony, handing each envelope to the presenters as they walk onstage.

Here’s some other crunched numbers about PWC’s 78 years of Oscar balloting.

* 450,000-plus – the rough number of ballots counted.
* 2600-plus – the number of winners’ envelopes stuffed since the envelope system was introduced in 1941.
* 1700 – the approximate number of “person-hours” it takes each year to count and verify the ballots.
• 7 – the number of days it takes to count the ballots for nominations.
* 3 – the number of days it takes to count the final ballots.

And OK, you partly got me, I’ll come clean on my trio of worst ever Oscar frocks (Cher is ineligible as she gets a category of her own.) 3. Uma Thurman’s milkmaid. 2. Celine Dion’s back to front shiny white pantsuit. 1. Gywneth Paltrow for that black goth ensemble a few years back. But since she looked hotter than hot tonight, I think we can agree she’s more than made up for it.

Check out the red-carpet action here.

Who is Tabatha Coffey and why is she taking over?

26 Feb

If I owned a hairdressing studio in America, I would live in fear of Tabatha Coffey taking over. I mean the woman is shear genius (see what I did there?) but absolutely terrifying.

I’ve been ever so slightly addicted to her reality TV show, Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, for several years now. And when I say I’m addicted, there’s good reason. This is reality TV at its most engrossing (OK equal most engrossing as I also love Project Runway) as she takes on struggling salons, turns them and their staff upside down, and puts them back on the road to success.

But what gives her the right and the gumption to do it? I had to learn more about her background. And I’m glad I did as she’s just as fascinating off screen as on.

The biggest surprise came from something I already knew, which is that she is Australian. With all the black she wears I had her pegged as a Melburnian, but she actually hails from beach country – Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast.

It’s the land of sun, surf and sea, but clearly this held no real appeal or interest as career inspiration. Instead, it seems she was always destined to work in hair, as she details in this anecdote from Pink News.

“I can honestly never remember a time not doing hair,” she says. “I was the quintessential kid, playing with and chopping off dolls’ hair. I would play with the hair of anyone who would let me. My parents ran transsexual strip clubs in Australia, and I spent a lot of time in the back with the girls when they were getting ready. At a young age they put me to work setting their wigs for them, which I loved. I learned not only how to set wigs, but also how hair could transform someone. I would sit there and watch the drag queens get dressed and the last thing they did was put their wig on. They’d put on their make-up and costume, but it was only when they put on their wig that everything came together. That’s how I fell in love with hairdressing.”

Heading to London at an early age, Tabatha worked with the likes of Vidal Sassoon and Toni and Guy before America beckoned. She then ran her own salon in New Jersey, but her career really took off like a shot when she entered the reality TV show Shear Genius. Although not the winner of season one, she proved a fan favourite and was soon asked to headline her own show, the aforementioned Tabatha’s Salon Takeover.

It’s now had a slight tweak to Tabatha Takes Over, where she puts her skills to use helping a range of small businesses turn themselves around. Then, of course, there’s associated projects such as her book, The Honest Truth About Life, Love and the Business of Beauty, which reveals, among other things, how breast implants nearly killed her. It’s fascinating stuff. And for the record, she says she’s a natural blonde.

Check out some of her best moments from the show below…

Why did they replace Darren on Bewitched?

10 Feb

Growing up, there were many times I wanted to be Samantha Stevens, aka the magical housewife from Bewitched. But when I grew older, my allegiances turned more to Endora.

She just always seemed to be having more fun. And she really didn’t care for ‘Derwent’, who I always thought was a stick in the mind. I mean seriously, who asks their wife not to do the housework with a twitch of her nose?

Anyway, there was one thing I never knew about the show – why they suddenly replaced Dick York, the actor who originally played Samantha’s husband, Darrin. I had always assumed it was because of creative differences or whatever term Hollywood likes to use, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

It seems Dick had a debilitating back condition that stemmed from an injury he suffered while filming a movie in Canada. As the series went on it began to cause shooting delays and script rewrites, before he eventually collapsed on set and was rushed to hospital. He was then replaced by Dick Sargeant who saw the role until out until the end of the series.

But enough about them. Let’s have some Endora . . .


What is a tennis Grand Slam?

27 Jan

If I were commentating a game of tennis, it would go something like this. “Oh look, someone hit a ball. And oh look, someone else hit a ball. And then, wait for it, someone else hit a ball.” Rivetting stuff.

But while I probably make it sound boring – and truthfully, I don’t watch it much – I can appreciate the skill and sportsmanship involved. After all, I couldn’t handle a game that went for hours on end.

At the moment, tennis is on my mind because we’re nearly at the end of the Australian Open, noted as one of the Grand Slam tournaments.

So my question for today is, what is the Grand Slam?

In a nutshell the term refers to when a player wins the Australian, French and US Opens and Wimbledon in a single season. The term was first used in 1933 by American journalist John Kieran, who compared the feat to “a countered and vulnerable grand slam in bridge”.

The reason these tournaments were chosen is simple – at the time they were the main international championships held in the only four countries that had won the Davis Cup.

The last person to claim one was Steffi Graf in 1988, while Aussie Margaret Court achieved the feat in 1970, as did Rod Laver in 1962. However, many more players have been recognised for a Career Grand Slam, which involves victory in all four events in different years.

You can read more here or here, but in the meantime, go Nadal!

Who invented Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

24 Jan

Once upon a time Kevin Bacon was every young girl’s teenage crush.

I mean, who didn’t dream of being whisked away in his VW from Footloose? Or being privately depositioned in A Few Good Men. Or of testing out his rocket and thrusters in Apollo 13. Or of…

Wait, where I was? That’s right, his career.

Anyway, over the years, he has starred in some absolutely fantastic films, from Mystic River and Sleepers to Murder In The First and Frost/Nixon.

Along the way he’s also compiled a heavyweight list of co-stars, from Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep to Colin Firth. And it’s these myriad relationships that helped spark his most intriguing legacy – Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

For those people who’ve been living under a rock, the premise of the game is that Kevin Bacon can be linked to any actor in movies or TV via six or less shared connections, each one adding to their Bacon number.

For example, here’s how he connects to Robert Pattinson.

Robert was in Twilight and New Moon with Edi Gathegi, who was in X-Men: First Class with Kevin Bacon. So R-Patz has a Bacon number of 2. Easy, right?

But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s not genius and I had to find out who invented the game. And yet again I found myself at an American college with students who seem to have a lot of free time.

In this case it was Albright College, home to students Craig Fass, Christian Gardner, Brian Turtle and Mike Ginelli. They were watching Footloose in a heavy snowstorm, and when it was followed by The Air Up There, they got chatting about how many films he’d been in and people he’d worked with.

As Brian later explained: “”It became one of our stupid party tricks, I guess. People would throw names at us, and we’d connect them to Kevin Bacon.”

From there, and with a little help from people such as Jon Stewart and Howard Stern, the game began to spread, eventually begatting a book and board game. And while the star himself initially wasn’t a fan he has since come around.

Which is a good thing considering how many websites are devoted to the cause, including The Oracle of Bacon where, try as I might, I couldn’t think of someone with a higher Bacon number than 3. Damn those ensemble pieces such as Crazy, Stupid, Love and Animal House.

In the meantime, here’s how some other celebs feel about the game’s popularity.

PS: Here’s a fun fact– Kevin’s middle name is Norwood.