Archived posts: Television

The Story 2013

Last Friday we were lucky enough to go along to The Story 2013 – a rather wonderful little one-day conference about stories and storytelling organised by Matt Locke. The Ministry of Stories were doing a short presentation about their work, and a portion of the proceeds from the ticket sales went to the Ministry too.

Matt asked us to create a small gift to give away to all the delegates on behalf of Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, so we put together these pouches of Witches’ Brews:

“Featuring some of the very rarest ingredients, our Witches’ Brews deliver perfect potions every time. This classic blend includes Scale of Dragon, Wool of Bat, and Scraping of Lipstick; wonderfully enhanced with Roasted Toenails, Plucked Fairy Wings, and of course, Blackberry Leaves. For each brew, simply steep one bag in a cup of boiling water for about 5 minutes, while chanting the appropriate spell or incantation.”

The back of the packs featured the running order of the event:

(We’ll be producing the Witches’ Brews as a product for Hoxton Street Monster Supplies in the near future, so stay tuned.)

The conference itself was really fascinating, with many highlights.

It opened with the wonderful Edwyn Collins discussing his life after suffering a devastating stroke in 2005. He was chatting with director Ed Lovelace, who is putting together a documentary In your voice, in your heart, about Collins’ journey back after the stroke.

A bit later, Laura Dockrill exploded onto the stage to talk about her new book Darcy Burdock. Laura’s fantastic, and her reading from the book was electrifying.

After lunch, animator Ben Boucquelet spoke about the genesis of his totally brilliant TV show The Amazing World of Gumball, which airs on Cartoon Network. Based around a kid called Gumball Watterson (is that a nod to Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes?), and his family and friends, it’s a glorious mish-mash of animation styles, all anchored in really brilliant storytelling – heartfelt without collapsing into sentimentality.

“The Wattersons are a totally normal family. Dad is a big pink rabbit who stays at home while Mom works at the Rainbow factory. Their kids are pretty standard too: there’s Gumball, a blue cat with a giant head. Anais, a four-year-old genius bunny rabbit and Darwin, a pet goldfish who became part of the family when he sprouted legs.”

Around them live a host neighbours and schoolfriends, who include Anton, a crumbly piece of toast; Alan the balloon who’s in a doomed relationship with Carmen the cactus; Tina the T-Rex, who’s the school bully; and Banana Joe, the happy fool. Here are a couple of short clips:

If you’ve more time though, check out this episode, where Gumball’s dad gets a job, a situation which threatens the very existence of the universe:

Quite wonderful.

A bit later we were treated to more animated brilliance by Mikey Please, with his Bafta-winning short film, The Eagleman Stag:

Just brilliant.

Huge thanks to Matt for pulling together such a brilliant set of speakers. Already looking forward to next year.

What a wonderful world

This ad played out at last night at the end of BBC’s latest stunning series, Frozen Planet.

It’s kind of cheesy (and with more than a hint of William Shatner’s version of Pulp’s Common People) but it’s also a touching reminder of the brilliant natural history work that the BBC, and more particularly David Attenborough, has consistently produced.

We can’t help feeling that it’d make an even better ad for someone like Friends of the Earth or the World Wide Fund for Nature. Perhaps with the tag line “It’s a wonderful world. Help us look after it.”

So how about it BBC – how about you just donate it to them?

The Beauty of Books

Yesterday we caught up on the first episode of The Beauty of Books, the new four part BBC4 series (screening as part of their Free Your Imagination season about books).

The show focused on two books in particular, the Codex Sinaiticus and the Winchester Bible.

The Codex Sinaiticus is the oldest surviving complete New Testament, created around 350AD; and also one of the earliest surviving bound books: 800 pages of vellum, written in four equal columns of 48 lines. We learnt that it was mainly created by female scribes, using an ink created from Oak galls, which was more acidic than standard carbon inks, and therefore more resistant to rubbing off the page.
The Winchester Bible is a stunningly beautiful illuminated manuscript, created in the 12th Century, which still lives at Winchester Cathedral.

It’s a great show, we’re looking forward to the next three instalments. The next one airs on BBC4 on Monday 14 February at 8.30pm, and looks at Medieval books including the Luttrell Psalter and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

As little design as possible

We found a bit of time this weekend to catch up on the BBC’s Genius of Design series, which is available on the iPlayer for just a few more days.

The first show took a look at the birth of the design industry at around the time of the industrial revolution, and we were particularly taken with the No.10 Double Bow Drummer Boy sheep shears, which they picked out as an exemplary piece of design.

The steel shears are made by Sheffield firm Burgon and Ball, and have been hand-made in more or less the same way since 1730. They’re designed to be used single handed, so that the shearer’s other hand can hang onto the sheep. As they point out in the show, they have been stripped back to their absolute essence – two single pieces of steel, shaped and sharpened, part rigid cutting blade, part flexible handle. A truly beautiful instance of form following function, fitting well with Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles for Good Design (which feature earlier in the programme):

1. Good Design is innovative

2. Good Design makes a product useful

3. Good Design is aesthetic

4. Good Design helps a product be understood

5. Good Design is unobtrusive

6. Good Design is honest

7. Good Design is durable

8. Good Design is thorough to the last detail

9. Good Design is concerned with environment

10. Good Design is as little design as possible

We’ve been musing on the idea that products can evolve into a perfect form, much as an animal might, given a stable environment.

We’d love a shop that sold only those distilled, pure products; the ones that exemplified the form. Somewhere where you could get the most perfectly evolved mug, glass, watch, chair…

Lovely stuff.

Lost Land of the Volcano


Well, heck, the BBC's gone and done it again: it's created one of those programmes that makes you rejoice the very fact that the corporation exists.

Lost Land of the Volcano is a three-part nature documentary that follows an international team of scientists, film-makers and cavers as they explore the jungle islands of Papua New Guinea hoping to find and document rare and endangered animals, and perhaps even discover some new species.

The film-making is breathtaking, but it's the sense of discovery, of pure scientific awe, that really blows you away. In the final episode, in the extinct volcano Mount Bosavi (on the island of New Guinea), they even discover two new species of mammal. 

And, brilliantly, the BBC has even seen fit to upload the PDF of the final report made by Dr George McGavin (the show's bug expert) about the trip – here's its summary:

"An international team of scientists and filmmakers spent six weeks in the forests in and around Mount Bosavi in the Southern Highland Province of Papua New Guinea. In the course of the expedition, it is estimated that at least forty new species were collected. These include at least sixteen new species of frog, two new species of lizards, three new species of fish, one new species of bat and an undescribed, endemic subspecies of the Silky Cuscus were documented. Another mammal and the largest new species of animal discovered during the trip, was a Woolly Giant-rat, found in the forest inside the crater of Mount Bosavi. In addition there are undoubtedly many new species of insects and spiders represented in the material collected. Our findings show that Mount Bosavi and the surrounding area is unusually rich, especially in local and regional endemic species. It is therefore vitally important for conservation organisations and the government of Papua New Guinea to work in partnership with local landowners to ensure that the forests of Mount Bosavi are incorporated into Papua New Guinea’s protected area network as soon as possible."

Great stuff eh? Makes you glad to pay the licence fee.

UK folk can watch the show on the BBC's iPlayer, and there's more info about the show on this Out of the Wild page. 

Design for life

Design for life

So, who caught the opening episode of BBC2's Design for Life just now?

The show is the design version of The Apprentice, with Philippe Starck hamming it up as a gallic  Sir Allan. 


In the first episode we were introduced to the group of 12 British wannabe product designers*, who applied to the the show in the hope of winning a six month placement at Starck's design group. They were whisked off to Paris, where their first challenge was to scour a supermarket in search of examples of good and bad product design.

Starck held up an army jeep as an example of really great design, "its the only vehicle which have the elegance of intelligence, because it's not driven by marketing, it's driven by function". Which is fair enough, but more than a tad ironic coming from the man whose most famous product is the almost entirely non-functional Juicy Salif lemon-squeezer (below). He went on to lament the fact that designers are churning out too many unnecessary products… a case of the designer pot calling the kettle charcoal-grey?


Still, it's always good to see design getting an airing during prime-time. And Starck is at least entertaining. But what did you make of the programme? Answers on an inflatable postcard, or chuck us a comment just below.

More info on the show here, and it runs for another five episodes, and you can catch it on iPlayer too.

*What's the right group noun for that? A CAD of designers? A sketch of designers?)

Armando Iannucci in Milton’s Heaven and Hell


When's the last time you read a poem? And when's the last time you read an epic poem?

At once, as far as Angels ken, he views
The dismal situation waste and wild.
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,
As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames
No light; but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed.

The BBC is in the middle of its Poetry season, and last night screened a simply fantastic documentary, Armando Iannucci in Milton's Heaven and Hell

As the name suggests, the show is presented by the horribly talented Armando Iannucci (the man behind the TV show The Thick of It and the movie In The Loop), and is all about John Milton's Paradise Lost

Watching the programme is like sitting in on a brilliant lecture: Iannucci is passionate, entertaining, informative, and above all engaging. He fleshes out the historical context to the poem, looking at the social and political environment in which Milton was writing; but also examines the text in detail, honing in on words and phrases, to see how they create their effect.


It's genuinely a real treat, and worth checking out, even if your last experience of poetry was on the inside of a greetings card.

Nature’s Great Events


It's not often in life that you get to use the phrase 'awe-struck' with any kind of real meaning. But heck, Nature's Great Events, currently running on BBC1, seems to be determined to change that. Repeatedly.

The series is just mind-blowingly good. Every episode manages to show us something we've never seen before – be it beautiful, inspiring, heart-warming or tragic, this is the real reality TV. And it's made truly perfect by the ever-brilliant narration from the god-like genius David Attenborough

For a taster, check out the show's video gallery. You can catch the full programme on BBC1 on Wednesday evenings, or on the BBC's iPlayer. The Nature's Great Events [DVD] is released on 16 March in the UK.

Truly brilliant television.

(Oh, and the image above is from Jason C Roberts, location manager from Episode 1 of the series: The Great Melt. Check out the full gallery of images.)

Here’s Johnny


This looks like it should be really interesting: More 4 are showing the award winning documentary Here's Johnny (February 17, 10pm) about the comic book / horror artist John Hicklenton.

Hicklenton has worked on raft of fantastic strips, including the daddy of British comics, 2000AD, and the groundbreaking Crisis. He's also suffering from MS, and the show explores both his work and the frustrations of living with the disease.

Be seeing you

Patrick McGoohan, actor, writer and director, died on Wednesday.
He's best known for his incredible work on the series The Prisoner, one of the truly great TV shows from the 60s (if you've not seen the show, go get the boxset - it really is staggeringly good). 

We only posted the clip above recently, but it seems fitting to give it another airing today.

Read McGoohan's obituary from The Guardian.