BT scam news reports

As they promised, the BT phone scam report was on BBC Breakfast a few times this morning. I was woken by various texts and emails from people who spotted me, which was fun. The video’s here, and the main article is here1. Hopefully it helped spread the word about these kind of scams.

The only unfortunate part came after the 9:30ish showing, when BBC Breakfast had a consumer advice guy in the studio. He recommended you ask “BT” for your account number, which makes sense, but also that you should ask for your address, as “they won’t have it”. That’s not so sound – the guy who called me knew my address and immediately read it out to me. Still, the overall message was great.

  1. UPDATE: These have since merged, and the three minute report has inexplicably become 30 seconds of just me. Argh. []

Filmed for breakfast news

BBC News filmed me this morning for a piece on phone scammers who pretend to be from BT. A business news producer had found my blog post on the topic, and emailed to ask if I’d be willing to talk about it on-camera. I was happy to, and today I spoke to one of their reporters for about an hour, explaining the details and the trick the scammer had tried to pull on me – apparently it’s doing the rounds at the moment.

Quite exciting, really. There was a reporter, producer and cameraman (plus a couple of inquisitive and adorable dogs), all of whom were very friendly and nice to me. I’d never been filmed like that before, and it was fascinating to see how these segments work, especially with my upcoming uni module on video. After speaking to the reporter they filmed a few general shots of me at a laptop, answering the phone etc., and I’ll be interested to see how it gets cut together.

Apparently it’ll be on BBC Breakfast on Saturday morning, barring monkeys invading Cheltenham or similar. I was not looking my best, though. My hair is bulging over the tops of my ears, I hadn’t shaved in three days, and upon arriving I promptly dropped chocolate down my shirt.  Still, hopefully they won’t use the take where, upon being asked how the phone call made me feel, I decided to say ‘dirty’. Ahem. It got a laugh, anyway.

Strictly 2009 will be less about dancing, more about entertainment

Strictly Come Dancing news now, and judge Arlene Phillips (66) is to be replaced with Alesha Dixon (30). It’s sexism, says Mark Lawson. Which is odd, given they’re replacing a woman with a woman – if anything, it’s surely ageism. But the outraged coverage misses the implied radical shift in the programme’s ethos: the dancing will be less important.

Until now, the Strictly format hasn’t changed much: couples dance, judges judge their ability to dance, the public do whatever they like. This worked ok until last year, when the John Sergeant affair devolved into hysterical tedium. He couldn’t dance, the judges told him so, and a vocal proportion of the public accused them of bullying and elitism. It all boiled down to one question: is Strictly a dance competition or an entertainment show?

Obviously, it’s both. Everyone treats it differently, and the question has no objective answer. But in all situations the judges have to be there to judge the dancing, or what’s the point of them? Their expertise is in dancing – if they start judging entertainment, taking into account people’s age / how-hard-they’re-trying / etc., they’re no more informed than the general public, and so don’t deserve an important vote. Whether competition or entertainment, that the judges value skill is, I think, a crucial foundation of the show.

It’s important because the competitors know the judges’ marks are the most important factor. All competitors need the votes of the judges and the public, but the latter are notoriously unpredictable. The judges, though, are the opposite: you get good marks by dancing well. So, the competitors learn to dance. Sure, plenty work hard on the wow factor, but the footwork comes first – without it, they’ll be slated. And I like this about the show: it’s the only reality TV programme I watch precisely because dancing is difficult. The competitors have to work very hard, for a long time, to achieve good results. I admire that. But replacing Arlene changes this entire interaction.

Arlene was a dancing expert, but Alesha isn’t. She can’t be there to judge dancing ability: she must be there to judge entertainment value. She’s the public’s representative on the panel, and essentially there to stick up for the John Sergeants of the next series.

But if the judges are watching for entertainment as well as dancing ability, the competitors’ priorities change. Putting on a good show becomes as, if not more, important than the dancing. Yes, there’ll still be three judges watching for skill, but Bruno’s capricious, and Alesha plus (much of) the audience will be after something else.

Whether you think this is a good thing is up to you. Hell, for all I know the show may be better for it. But it’s still a fundamental change: Strictly will be less about dancing, more about the whole performance. And when Alesha stands up for the entertaining dancers, the other three judges will appear curmudgeonly and old-fashioned: exactly how the John Sergeant fans portrayed them. That’s a cheap trick, and unfair on them.

Personally, I find this less interesting. Thinking up novel ways to entertain an audience is an entirely different skill (and one that could be outsourced pretty easily). I like that competitors put in huge amounts of effort, and it would be disappointing to see people’s hard work trumped by a flashy gimmick or comedy moment. I’m the polar opposite of the viewers complaining about John Sergeant.

I can actually understand the BBC’s motivation. Alesha’s presence should avoid a repeat of last year’s shenanigans, as she’ll break the judge’s united ‘bullying’ front. Alesha is also extremely easy on the eye, which should help bring in the younger viewers1. And I can even see why Arlene should be the one to go – the head of BBC1 said:

It was not an easy decision to take. When I looked at the four people we had, Bruno is the joker, Craig is the Simon Cowell of the show and Len is the head judge. Arlene has elements of all of them, but when you look at it, Arlene was the obvious one to change.

I can buy that – if you have to lose one, you lose least if it’s her. I’ll let them off the ageism/sexism charges. But at the same time the BBC1 controller admits Strictly is shifting from dance-competition to overall-entertainment-show:

Strictly is not the Olympics for ballroom dancing, it’s an entertainment show. Alesha has lived through it, [but] we’ve still got all the experts who understand the technicalities of the Argentinian tango. Strictly will feel like an event on the channel that you haven’t seen before.

That’s a shame. I adore Strictly, and I hope it doesn’t become Britain’s Got Dancing Talent. I like that it’s difficult. I like that it’s an unpredictable mixture of competition and entertainment, but I liked that the dancing was always the top priority. I hope the changes don’t spoil it.

  1. I love that the head of BBC1 said “The average age of the BBC1 viewer is 52, so why would I take older women off the channel?” – I think 52-year-old men still want to see attractive young women. []

*pops head above parapet* *waves*

Hello! I am still alive. Apologies for pulling a vanishing act – I think that’s one of the longest periods I’ve gone without blogging since I started. You noticed, right?

I’ve been in London since last we spoke, sorting out family stuff. It’s been a curious couple of weeks, as – I feel bad saying this – independent of home stuff I’ve actually been having a great time. I photographed the big BHA Darwin / Humanism / Science day, as well as a memorial celebratory service, a book launch, and the International Humanist & Ethical Union international conference. I was also in the audience for the Radio 4 News Quiz, as well as upcoming BBC3 sitcom We Are Klang. Someone flirted with me in a coffee shop. I failed to understand bus routes a lot. And this morning I nearly got splatted.

So a strange mix of highs and lows, but starting to calm down now. I’ll head home – officially the most charming town in the world (they clearly haven’t met the swans) – soonish.

David Mitchell on the post-Sachsgate BBC

Seven months after the Ross/Brand affair, David Mitchell nails the reactions of the tabloids, the BBC, and the government:

The BBC is an institution of genius, one of the great achievements of the 20th century. It’s famed for its news reporting, drama, comedy and documentaries; it provides the best radio stations and website on Earth. But there is a plot to destroy it; a plot to which Ross and Brand’s childish remarks gave an unwitting but enormous boost; a plot led by people who say they support the BBC but not the licence fee, by people who find the word “fuck” more offensive than Holocaust denial. By its competitors.

The whole thing is perfectly put, and seems completely accurate. Bravo.

Tweeting Brand

Just FYI. Don’t tell the Mail.

I enjoyed Jonathan‘s return to the BBC last weekend. There were immediate complaints about a crack on his radio show (that made me laugh), but – for what seems like the first time in ages – the BBC actually stood up for themselves. Hooray!

They seem to be doing that quite a bit this week, in slightly odd ways. I admit to being baffled by their refusal to screen a Gaza aid appeal on the grounds of impartiality. But – as with anything related to Israel / Palestine – I have no idea what I’m talking about, so I won’t.

The BBC is very, very sorry. Again.

Yesterday’s One Show discussed Wallace and Gromit, and a message in the end credits promised a festive W&G video for anyone who texted in. It cost 10p.

I quite like W&G, so I duly sent a message. Now, The One Show finishes at 1930, and at 1931 – according to my phone – I got a text saying my request had been received. At 2144 the video itself came through. I watched it. It was short, but funny.

24 hours later and I’ve just received another text from the BBC. They’re very sorry for the delay I experienced in receiving my video. They’ve let me know two separate ways to submit feedback.

FFS, BBC! You don’t have to apologise for every little thing. You’re trying to send a 125k video-MMS to thousands of people simultaneously – I’m impressed you managed it in two hours, frankly, and anybody with half a brain can appreciate that it might be technically challenging. And those with less – The Daily Mail and the Conservative Party – are always going to hate you. It’s what they do. Look at the evidence: you’re already the best television network in history; you already produce content that’s the envy of the entire world; you’ve already spent the last three months caving to their every desire. None of it’s helped. What are you expecting to happen?

Look, here’s why I care. I’m very interested in the skeptical community, who are in turn pretty interested in the BBC. I recently explained to a friend that while the skeptical community goes nuts when the BBC reports uncritically on woo1, nobody cares much when it’s other channels. C4, maybe, but ITV or Sky? As if. Nobody expects high standards from them. But when the BBC get something wrong we anticipate it being fixed. How is this different from the above? Because when we complain, we think you will understand the complaint. We think that because you’re only beholden to high standards, rather than shareholders or advertisers, you’ll actually think things through and assess complaints for their merit. This is entirely different from rolling over because somebody’s not happy. That’s what everyone else does, because they suck. That’s not the BBC way.

If, say, Panorama produce a ridiculous, scare-mongering piece on the dangers of wifi, we’ll complain about it. We then expect you to independently research the dangers of wifi, in order to find out who’s correct. We like this, because it works both ways: when you produce a sane, rational piece on the dangers of wifi and the woo community go mental, you’ll assess their complaints logically too. And they’ll be wrong, and we’ll be right. And you’ll figure this out for yourself, because you’re the BBC and that’s what you do. And of course it can’t work all the time, but at least you try.

That’s just one of the reasons the BBC is so important. So please stand up for yourself, and stop bloody apologising. It’s embarrassing.

  1. incidentally, I prefer ‘woo’ to ‘pseudoscience’, because last month I overheard someone explain applied kinesiology with ‘there’s no evidence for it, so it’s only a pseudo science’. Which actually caused me to pull a muscle in my brain []

You don’t think the BBC are running scared, do you?

Here’s an Official Statement from John Barrowman:

“I was joining in the light-hearted and fun banter of the show and went too far,” he said. “I was wrong to do this and it will never happen again.”

Oh noes. Another controversy is just what the BBC need! What did he do? Insult the Pope? Look askance at John Sergeant? Take Andrew Sachs’ name in vain?

Torchwood star John Barrowman has apologised for exposing his genitals during a live BBC Radio 1 broadcast.

On the radio? He exposed his genitals on the radio?

The BBC has also apologised for the incident on Sunday’s Switch show, which prompted one listener to complain.

The Switch show is on from 1900-2100. On Radio 1.

The show has now been taken off the BBC’s iPlayer service.

So, just to sum up: someone exposed their genitals on the radio, one person complained, and the BBC surrendered while violently flagellating themselves. I think the BBC should grow a pair. They can probably get a cast of John Barrowman’s.

BBC to transfer HQ to Kent

BBC Director General Mark Thompson surprised BBC staff this evening by announcing a surprise move of the corporation’s headquarters: from December, all management will operate out of a new, purpose-built building in Tunbridge Wells. Mr Thompson described the move as ‘exciting and necessary’ and praised the architectural innovation: exterior walls will be completely transparent, with large magnetic letters that can be rearranged into letters of complaint by local residents. Describing the plans, Mr Thompson said:

We’re clearly out of touch with public sentiment, so we’re going to run all our programming decisions past the most important people: the man in the Tunbridge Wells street. We’ll set up drop-in centres to canvas local opinion, and we won’t do anything without the say-so of the Tunbridge Wells public. They do pay the license fee, after all. This will allow us to be ‘brave and creative’ in our future broadcasting.

The move comes after a turbulent week for the corporation, and follows Mr Thompson’s comments on the BBC’s intentions to pay less to its most popular entertainers – statements widely interpreted as being directed at the tabloid press. Mr Thompson confirmed this:

We at the BBC were faced with a stark decision. We could stand by our presenters, explaining that they made a mistake and would be reprimanded in an appropriate, grown-up manner. We would also point to the history and character of the pair, point out that they were showing appropriate remorse, and perhaps mention that the media hysteria is being driven by those who despise the BBC. In short, we could have grown a pair. But that was too hard, so we’ve instead decided to prostrate ourselves in front of the Daily Mail. This is now our primary goal.

Asked how this would affect the BBC’s investigations into the matter, Mr Thompson said:

It’s obvious to everyone that our comedians went too far, although anyone listening to the show could quite easily see that it happened without any malice or intentional cruelty on the part of our presenters. However, we’re sure Tunbridge Wells residents will confirm this pales in comparison to the outrage felt by people who write us letters. We’re still not clear on how this pre-recorded show came to be broadcast – perhaps someone failed to realise the seriousness of the situation, as in hindsight it’s obvious the Prime Minister would need to get involved.

Tunbridge Wells residents are said to be delighted with the news, and have already established an action committee to “go apeshit the moment Jonathan Ross completes his suspension and says ‘cock’ on BBC1”.

In related news, a study by Oxford University sociologists has quantifiably established that Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand are the only participants to end the week with any class or dignity1. Researchers say this is due to the manner of their apologies and their general handling of the incident, which has seen the BBC and much of the UK print media ’embarrass themselves beyond belief’.

  1. although an appendix notes considerable sympathy for Lesley Douglas []