Farrah Fawcett has died in a Los Angeles hospital after a long battle with cancer. The actress, who rose to fame as the star of the U.S. TV show "Charlie's Angels" was 62 years old. Sky's Mark Stone reports.
Charles Bremner has an interesting article about the appearance of Christine Lagarde, France's Finance Minister, on Jon Stewart's Today Show (you can watch the interview below).
If you have only seen Lagarde inside France, it's an eye-opener. She is at ease, bantering in near perfect English, drawing applause when she says she had fired a few bankers because "they did a crappy job". Her advisers were initially nervous about exposing her to one of Stewart's comic grillings but she did well, batting off questions such as "Is America now more Socialist than France" and on France's debt to the US from the war.
A non-politician, Lagarde is considered a liability to President Sarkozy and has a reputation for making gaffes in France, but her command of English has made her an international star:
Lagarde is the only member of the government who is at home in the Anglo-Saxon world. As such, she is invaluable to a President who, though an Americophile, is unable to construct a sentence in English. A former member of the French synchronized swimming team, Lagarde worked for 20 years in the USA as a lawyer with Baker & McKenzie, the Chicago-based firm. She was its international chairwoman when President Chirac recruited her as Trade Minister in 2005. Full article >>
The moral seems to be that, in France, you don't have to be good at your job as long as you speak fluent English. A great example for our students!
I hardly ever watch television. French TV is mostly rubbish, and nearly all the English feature films and series are dubbed into French. I'm not into downloading either, so I mostly watch DVDs. Luckily, the library in Le Havre has quite a good selection of films and DVD box sets, and I also buy some from Play.com or Amazon (if the price is right). Here are some of the series I've seen recently:
• Spooks (BBC spy thriller. Better than '24' in my opinion).
• The Prisoner (Cult series from the 60s. Uneven, but way ahead of its time.)
• House (Just started watching this. Who'd have thought that Hugh Laurie had it in him?)
• Desperate Housewives (The first 3 seasons are wonderful. Haven't seen 4 & 5).
• Lost (Looking forward to Season 5. I'm worried about how they'll resolve it all though.)
• Heroes (The first series was excellent. Apparently it goes downhill fast after that.)
• Deadwood (Great if you like westerns. Lots of swearing though.)
• The Thick of It (Hilarious UK political drama/comedy. Lots of swearing.)
• Mad Men (Set in 60s advertising agency. Brilliant—and some great teaching clips).
What prompted me to write about this topic was TimesOnline's feature The 50 best US televison shows. Each show comes with a link to a clip. The following are on my 'must-see' list.
• The Wire (some critics think its the best show ever. N° 1 in TimesOnline Top 50.)
• 30 Rock (starring Tina Fey, nemesis of Sarah Palin.)
• The Sopranos (haven't seen a single episode, but it's N° 3 in TimesOnline's Top 50.)
• Battlestar Galactica (N° 2 in TimesOnline Top 50. Star Wars it is not.)
• Prison Break (A glaring omission from the TimesOnline Top 50 according to several comments.)
Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention that watching DVDs with subtitles IN ENGLISH is a great way to improve your English.
I'm watching Mad Men on DVD at the moment. It's "a compelling drama about a prestigious ad agency in New York's Madison Avenue"—Mad Men, get it? Besides being brilliant, it also contains several scenes which I'll be able to use in my English for Marketing class. In Episode 1 there's a meeting to discuss the Lucky Strike ad campaign; in Episode 4 there's a great pitch for a steel company, and Episode 6 has a brainstorming session for lipstick. Unfortunately, none of these are available on YouTube, so here's a clip from the end of Episode 6, which will give you some idea of the atmosphere.
The Guardian has an excellent opinion piece on cult 60s TV series The Prisoner, whose creator and star Patrick McGoohan died earlier in the week:
The Prisoner is supreme drama - mixing Harold Pinter with John le Carré, combining gnomic, elliptical sentences and urgent action. And then there are the catchphrases, essential to any cult programme. British popular culture would be poorer without McGoohan's declaration: "I am not a number; I am a free man." Read full article >>
Comments: I'm old enough to have watched The Prisoner when it was first shown on TV back in the 1960s. I've been debating whether to get it on DVD, but was worried that it might seem dated or not be as good as I remember it. The Guardian has convinced me. Here's a clip:
I've just been reading The Guardian's guide to what's on the box (= television) this Christmas in the UK. There's plenty of good stuff (Wallace and Gromit, Dr Who, Top of the Pops) but we don't have satellite, so I won't be watching any of it. Christmas TV in France is rubbish, by the way.
I was fortunate to have experienced the golden age of UK Christmas television back in the seventies and eighties. For much of that time, the biggest telly event was the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special. In 1977 their show was seen by 28 million people—half the country's population. That could never happen now.
Of course, tastes—and people—change and there's always a risk that what seemed funny 30 years ago might not even raise a laugh today. However, I think Morecambe and Wise (or Eric and Ernie, to use their first names) have stood the test of time pretty well. Here's a classic sketch from 1971 featuring guest star conductor André Previn—or Mr Preview, as they call him. Those were the days...
Trivia note: André Previn was married to Mia Farrow, who later married Woody Allen.
One of my favourite sections of The Economist is the Obituaries (an obituary is an account of someone's life which appears in the printed or online press soon after they die). There's usually something surprising, inspiring or thought-provoking.
This week's obituary made me feel quite nostalgic about life in seventies Britain. It concerns Jack Scott and Reg Varney, two British icons of the 1970s. The former was a TV weatherman and the latter a comedy actor, who found fame playing a bus driver in a sitcom called 'On The Buses'.
What's fascinating about this article is the way it links the two themes - the weather and the buses - whilst giving an insight into Britain's changing society.
STOICISM is something the British are world-famous for. They carry on; they make do; they seldom complain, but form an orderly line to take whatever Fate may throw at them. At very bad moments—the Blitz, for example—they laugh and tell jokes against the enemy. Modern Britons are by and large a feebler and non-queuing race, as hedonistic, wasteful and complaining as anyone else; but the stereotype persists, and a moment of crisis is sure to bring it out again. For the British are subject to two utterly random forces that regularly test their stoicism and their patience: the weather and the buses.
The weather and the buses are known to be in league with each other. The worse the one, the fewer of the other, and the more dismal life in general. All the more so in the 1970s, when meteorology was a less exact science, bus-shelters ran no digitalised information, no one had mobile phones to explain what they were doing or where they were going or when they might be expected, and pre-Raphaelite hair, beards, flares, maxi-skirts and platform shoes turned any encounter with the elements (as any attempt to descend at speed from the upper deck) into serious drama, if not trauma. Read full article >>
Here's a seasonal clip from the original black and white On The Buses TV series (OK, it's not exactly Fawlty Towers but it seemed quite funny at the time):
Footnote: I'm asking Father Christmas for The Economist Book of Obituaries, which contains over 200 obituaries published in The Economist since 1995 including Arthur Miller, Estée Lauder and Alex the African Grey, science's best-known parrot.
Fed up with all those trashy low-fi clips on YouTube? Then check out the new 'official' Monty Python channel. It's something else!
And here, in their own inimitable way, is how they describe it:
For 3 years you YouTubers have been ripping us off, taking tens of thousands of our videos and putting them on YouTube. Now the tables are turned. It's time for us to take matters into our own hands.
We know who you are, we know where you live and we could come after you in ways too horrible to tell. But being the extraordinarily nice chaps we are, we've figured a better way to get our own back: We've launched our own Monty Python channel on YouTube.
No more of those crap quality videos you've been posting. We're giving you the real thing - HQ videos delivered straight from our vault.
What's more, we're taking our most viewed clips and uploading brand new HQ versions. And what's even more, we're letting you see absolutely everything for free. So there!
But we want something in return.
None of your driveling, mindless comments. Instead, we want you to click on the links, buy our movies & TV shows and soften our pain and disgust at being ripped off all these years.
According to Telegraph.co.uk an opinion poll has found that most people in Britain think the f-word should never be used on air:
The survey for The Sunday Telegraph also shows that a majority believe that there is now too much swearing on television and radio, and that comedy programmes have become too vulgar.
It comes after monitoring by this newspaper found that the f-word and its derivatives were used 88 times in a single week's evening television viewing.
The findings have prompted calls for broadcasters to "eradicate" the use of the most offensive swear words from television and radio.
In the nationwide poll of 1,005 adults, by ICM, 56 per cent felt the word f*** should never be broadcast. Only 36 per cent said it should be allowed, while nine per cent replied "it depends".
More than half – 57 per cent – said that there was too much swearing on television and radio, while only two per cent felt that there should be more, and 38 per cent felt that broadcasters had got the balance right.
Asked whether television and radio comedy is too vulgar, 57 per cent replied 'Yes', 39 per cent 'No' and four per cent 'Don't know'. Full story >>
What do you think?
I'm assuming that most of you know what the f-word is. If not, just watch the video below!
Language note: Although the f-word was probably the precursor, the use of a letter of the alphabet plus the suffix '-word' as a euphemism for the actual word has become commonplace. See if you can guess what the following examples refer to:
Fans of House might be interested to see Hugh Laurie in a previous incarnation - as one half of the comedy double act Fry and Laurie. This is a sketch from their TV show 'A Bit of Fry and Laurie', which was broadcast by the BBC from 1989 to 1995 (hence the poor quality picture). It's meant as a parody of the sort of 'intellectual' TV talk show that was in vogue in those days. How things have changed!
Here's the latest sketch from Saturday Night Live featuring Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. This one is a spoof of last week's VP debate. Tina Fey was already a big star in the USA but her imitations of Sarah Palin have brought her global recognition. The BBC has a good article on the Fey phenomenon. Apparently, Palin likes Tina Fey's mimicry and would like to appear on SNL. Now that would be fun!