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Location, location, location

In which Ipswich is apparently a suburb of Bristol


Regular readers – if there are any left – might recall that back in January I spotted some TV filming going on in our neighbourhood, that turned out to be for a drama about prostitutes, drugs, etc. that wasn’t set “specifically in Bristol.”

Well, indeed. Because it turned up on the telly last weekend, and it turned out to be Five Daughters: a drama-documentary about the Ipswich prostitute murders of 2006. Apparently, the film-makers thought that Bristol’s distinctive Victorian terraces look just like Ipswich’s (former) red-light district. Or that Bristol’s highly-distinctive market, on hilly Corn St, looks just like Ipswich city centre.

Now, I know telly is all about editing, and it’s not actually real. But, even so, we were slightly amused by moments such as: a car driving past the same restaurant (“Al’s Tikka Grill”, also known as the “Hungry Bite Cafe”, on Ashton Road”) three times on the same journey, twice shot from the same angle.* Or, the way that Ipswich seems to consist solely of Ashton Road, a handful of roads off Ashton Road,** and Corn St. The way that they had used a real BBC Bristol reporter for their mocked-up news footage; and the way that the programme cut from clips of real news footage showing the real Ipswich, to shots of supposedly the same location, filmed in Bedminster and looking entirely different. I know it’s a drama, and I know their budget might have been a bit stretched, but I would have thought the crew would have put slightly more effort into suspending people’s disbelief.

* Well, he could have driven round the block

** There was also the A-One Cafe, near the junction of Duckmoor Road and Luckwell Road, and very definitely the A-One Cafe, its name visible all over the place.

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Local Transport

In which we consider the Wensleydale Railway


Sometimes, when we’re idly sitting on the sofa after work, we put the telly on and can’t even summon the energy to change the channel. Instead, we leave it showing things we’d never normally bother watching; but sometimes that throws up an interesting gem.* Like tonight’s One Show for example. We wouldn’t normally watch The One Show, but occasionally it does have some interesting inserts. Tonight: an item on the Wensleydale Railway.

Coming from Oop North, I’ve been on the Wensleydale Railway a couple of times. It’s pretty long, for a private railway, pushing the length of busy, popular private railways such as the West Somerset, the Ffestiniog or the North Yorks Moors.** Unlike those railways, though, it’s something of a quiet backwater, slightly ramshackle, with a sparse service operated mostly by 1950s diesel trains which main-line companies retired in the 90s. Being a bit of a backwater, appearing on the telly will hopefully be a big boost for it: not many people tend to know it’s there. It may be in the Yorkshire Dales but it stops just short of the National Park; it may be on the A1, but it’s damn hard to notice from the road. If you want to see what it looks like, I run a small Flickr group for Wensleydale Railway pictures, largely because I had some Wensleydale Railway pictures on there and there wasn’t a group for it already.

One of the Wensleydale’s directors appeared on The One Show, and told the world what a unique railway it is; and how it performs a vital link in the community, and in Wensleydale’s regeneration, providing services to commuters and enabling them to get to major regional centres. Neither of those claims, really, are true. The director carefully skirted around the issue of whether the Wensleydale provides those services right now. Certainly, they’re hoping that it will do: that the company will be able to connect to the main line at Northallerton, and thence provide a connection to Newcastle, York, Teesside and Manchester. Right now, though, it stops short, and completing the connection seems to be on a distant horizon. When it does, the company will need a fuller timetable to be a reliable link: at present it operates three trains a day, on about 185 days of the year. The first one starts moving just after 9 o’clock; the last has stopped by 5.

Running a community rail service is hardly a unique aspiration to have, too. In fact, almost every private, preserved, or steam railway in the country has aspired to run a commuter and/or community service at some point. Very few have even got as far as trying it; the Worth Valley Railway did, in the late 1960s, and rapidly found it to be unviable. One private railway has done it successfully: the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch, operating services for schoolchildren. They do not, unlike most private railways, rely on volunteer workers to operate. The Ffestiniog also provides a genuine service for local residents; but it is strongly subsidised by their tourist revenues, which the Wensleydale doesn’t have.

There are two big problems with trying to operate a community service; well, make that three big problems. Firstly, there are two connected problems: price, and workforce. Railways are workforce-intensive, and private railways have to either pay staff, or get volunteers to turn out every day. Moreover, if they want to run a commuter service, they have to persuade those volunteers to start very early in the morning. Paying the staff, and the running costs, is very expensive; when you’re operating a railway which was considered too expensive to run at a profit, you end up charging fares which are too expensive for commuters. A return ticket on the Wensleydale already costs over £10, for the full line.*** Moreover, there’s a third problem: speed. Nearly all private railways have to operate with a blanket speed limit of 20 or 25mph. Over the sort of distance the Wensleydale operates, that means a long journey. Fine for a summer jaunt; not good for serious travel. It’s the speed, more than anything else, that makes the Wensleydale’s long-term aims rather impractical.

There’s nothing wrong with the Wensleydale aspiring to their aims, of being a community railway operating a non-tourist service. I would be very surprised, though, if they do manage to complete them, purely because so many have gone before and so many have failed. If the Wensleydale think they are unique, and if they don’t realise that they are treading down a well-trodden path once more, they are very unlikely to reach that path’s end.

* such as a local news item about the wildlife of the BS3 district which made me laugh, for entirely the wrong reason – but that’s a story for another day.

** Incidentally, the local news has been annoying me recently, by proclaiming loudly that the West Somerset Railway is the longest steam railway in the country. It’s one of the longest, certainly, at just under 20 miles operational and 3 more miles not regularly used; but the Welsh Highland Railway, owned by the Ffestiniog, is longer and not yet fully open. By the end of the year, the Ffestiniog Railway Company will be operating a network pushing 40 miles in length. Longest steam railway in England, maybe.

*** The Ffestiniog gets around the price issue by having local residents’ discount cards.

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Cute Fat

In which Doctor Who is getting silly


We turned to each other and said: “it was never this silly in the Old Days,” was it? And I don’t think it was.

In Doctor Who of Olden Times, you might well have got little creatures made from body fat. The difference, though, is that they wouldn’t have been so damn cute. They wouldn’t have had happy smiling faces and stubby hands to wave with. It’s always been a children’s show, but the old series was never so consciously one.

There are hints of something darker, I’ll admit. A minor character dying purely because of the doctor’s assistant fiddling with something she doesn’t understand, for example. Not fiddling with it because she wants to know what it does, but fidgeting and giving her hands something to do, and killing someone directly because of it. Maybe that will come back up later in the series. There are rumours, after all, that things are going to get much darker later on; but I’ll have to see it to believe it.

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The Doctor

In which we watch the Tenth one


I hate to say it, but I’m still not convinced.

I’ve been a David Tennant fan ever since Takin’ Over The Asylum, one of his very first telly jobs. I was, therefore, expecting to love Doctor Who with him in it. But, I have to say, I’m still not convinced.

His moods are all very good; but they flip very very quickly. In one second he’s his usual playful self; in the next he’s invoking divine retribution.* The quick-change makes him feel rather too capricious, although there is the occasional reminder that when the Doctor is being playful he’s still alert, and paying attention.

I’m going to keep watching, of course. For one thing, I want to know if he’ll ever start using his natural Scottish accent.

* or, rather, Doctorly retribution.

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