DVD review: Bad Education Series 3

Bad Education S3 DVD

BBC Worldwide

Release date: 31st August 2015

Starring: Jack Whitehall, Matthew Horne, Sarah Solemani, Harry Enfield, James Fleet, Harry Peacock

Bad Education is currently following the likes of Alan Partridge, The Inbetweeners and (ahem) On The Buses in moving from the small to the big screen. What better time then, than to revisit the final series of Jack Whitehall’s school-based sitcom first broadcast on the now doomed BBC Three in 2014?

Little has changed at Abbey Grove as the incompetent History teacher Alfie Wickers (Whitehall) embarks on a new term. Eccentric head teacher and self proclaimed “succeed-o-phile” Fraser (Horne) is now sporting a Peter Andre style haircut, there’s a new sassy kid in class (Cleo played by Weruche Opia) but Alfie is still pining for Miss Gulliver (Solemani) as before. However, his embarrassingly sex-obsessed father (Enfield) ha s now been rather improbably appointed deputy headmaster, much to Alfie’s horror and his whole career as a teacher is soon thrown into doubt.

As usual, there’s good stuff here, an excellent extended silent sequence during the “Exam” episode featuring Roger Allam and cameos throughout from the likes of Cardinal Burns, James “Vicar of Dibley” Fleet and Harry “Toast of London” Peacock. On the other hand, the series remains patchy and the final episodes become annoying over-sentimental and indeed, bearing in mind, Whitehhall is a co-writer, incredibly over-adulatory towards Whitehall’s character as the end nears.

Bad Education has enjoyed a good run but the final episode is only the 19th of a moderately successful sitcom which has formed an at best very minor role in most of our lives and which has returned in film form already. It is doubtful many viewers will feel as emotionally involved as the over-sentimental finale expects us to.

Still, this remains enjoyable stuff.

Book review: The Eye of the Storm: The View From The Centre of A Political Scandal by Rob Wilson

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What is it like to be at the centre of a political scandal? We are all keen enough to criticise our politicians when they fall into difficulties, but how many of us would have the strength of character to withstand the ensuing media storm which usually follows?

Although never the victim of such a scandal himself, Tory MP Rob Wilson is well placed to provide an insight into the behind the scenes action which has provided the backdrop to a number of the scandals which have been endured by a number of his colleagues in the last decade. It is a well written and well researched book which goes some way to redressing the balance towards the currently much maligned political class,

Wilson’s political leanings occasionally show, however. Andrew Mitchell of Plebgate in a chapter on the scandal called “Andrew Mitchell’s heartbreak” is described as being “now viewed sympathetically across the political spectrum as the victim of a dangerous conspiracy”. This isn’t true. There is definitely a lot of murkiness surrounding the police allegations about Mitchell but his reputation has certainly been at least as tainted as the Met’s by the affair. Terrible as his ordeal may well have been, a cloud still hangs over Mitchell’s character. The book was published before Mitchell lost his libel case against News Group Newspapers in November 2014, however, so on this Wilson can perhaps be excused.

It is frequently clear, however, where his sympathies lie. Labour MP Tom Watson is labelled as a “witch-finder general” for his perfectly legitimate and necessary investigations into the phone hacking scandal. Lib Dem Vince Cable is portrayed as “never lacking in self confidence in his own ability”. Tory Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, meanwhile, who somehow survived suggestions of improper collusion with the Murdoch press presumably because his Prime Minister felt vulnerable on the same ground himself, escapes the same criticism even though he was assured enough to say goodbye to another promising colleague on leaving university with the words, “see you at Westminster!” Both did indeed become MPs before long.

In fairness most of the chapters in here though are thoroughly researched and compelling reading. Anyone interested to know more about the falls of Liam Fox, Chris Huhne or Jacqui Smith should check it out.

But the inclusion of “William Hague’s four-year ordeal” as Opposition leader seems dubious in a book about scandal. Hague undoubtedly had a hard time as everyone does as Opposition leader and was not a great success. But despite the inclusion of some now forgotten gossip about his relationship with his special advisor when he first became Foreign Secretary in 2010, Hague has never yet been at the centre of a major scandal. Hague certainly has experience of being at “the eye of the storm” but so has every major politician. He should not have been included in this otherwise decent book.

Published by: Biteback, 2014

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Book review: Five Year Mission: The Labour Party under Ed Miliband by Tim Bale

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Five Year Mission: The Labour Party under Ed Miliband by Tim Bale

The Miliband years are never likely to be viewed with much nostalgia by Labour supporters.
The rot began early with the reaction of David Miliband’s supporters to their candidate’s surprise defeat by his younger brother Ed in September 2010:
“Rather than pulling themselves together or else walking away and sulking in silence, they would begin badmouthing ‘the wrong brother’, telling anyone who would listen, that his victory was illegitimate, that it had been won only by cosying up to the unions and telling the party what it wanted to hear, and that Labour had made a terrible mistake…”
Thus the legend of the “wrong Miliband”” was born with David’s reputation grossly overinflated most commonly by the Tory newspapers who would undoubtedly have savaged him every day had he become leader.
As Tim Bale notes in this excellent account of Ed Miliband’s leadership “anyone who thinks David Miliband would have proved a model of decisiveness and a master of political timing probably did not work very closely with him in the Brown government.”
Nor did it seem to matter that Ed had been elected wholly legitimately, David suffering from an arrogant tendency not to take his brother seriously. The next five years would be a struggle. Ed Miliband’s spell as Opposition leader was probably the most difficult since Iain Duncan Smith’s disastrous tenure a decade before.
It certainly wasn’t all bad: Ed enjoyed successes during the phone hacking scandal and in the battle of energy prices. He also fought a generally good election campaign (although this book stops before then). Before the exit poll on election night, Cameron and his entourage were gloomy, almost universally anticipating some form of defeat.
But Miliband undoubtedly failed to convince the public he was up to the job of national leadership. This was partly the fault of the hostile media but he must take a fair amount of the blame for this failure himself.
His worst failing was his almost total failure to defend the generally good record of the Blair-Brown years. As Bale notes:
“…it is certainly true that Brown, with the help of his Chancellor, Alistair Darling, actually handled the truly terrifying possibilities thrown up by the global financial meltdown as well as – maybe even better than – any other world leader”.
But Miliband, keen to distance himself from the past allowed the reputation of one of the most successful governments since the war to be wrecked.
The Labour Party will live with the consequences of this for some time to come.

Published by: Oxford University Press

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Solar eclipse fun

From March…

Chris Hallam's World View

The_Sun_in_extreme_ultraviolet

Opposition leader Ed Miliband has come under fire after a speech which arguably exploited ignorance of today’s partial solar eclipse. “People of Earth, make me your leader or I will use my power to blot out the sun forever,” Mr Miliband said. “As a portent of things to come, I will blacken most of the sun’s light for a short period this morning. You have been warned”.

This is thought to have been a rare instance of the sun helping the Labour Party.

It is thought that the eclipse will consume 83% of the sun’s light. Prime Minister David Cameron admitted this was a substantially lower figure than he had promised a few years ago but warned that solar blackouts would become a regular feature of life under a Labour Government. UKIP leaders meanwhile have blamed the eclipse on EU migration and have called for a temporary boycott of the…

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Presidents on screen

Chris Hallam's World View

Ronald Reagan

So Daniel Day Lewis has nailed Abraham Lincoln. Bill Murray also apparently masters FDR in the forthcoming Hyde Park on Hudson while Anthony Hopkins (amongst others) have recreated Richard Nixon on screen while Dennis Quaid and John Travolta have (sort of) portrayed Bill Clinton. But what about all the other presidents who have never had a decent shot at being on screen? Here are a few possible contenders:

George Washington

Who was he? Only the first US president (1789-97) and victor in the American War of Independence (or as the Americans more excitingly call it, the Revolutionary War).

Who could play him? Tricky. Tom Hanks? Washington doesn’t actually look much like any contemporary actor.

Prospects? On the one hand, it’s surprising there haven’t been more films about Washington. On the other, films about the early days of the Republic (Revolution, The Patriot, The Alamo) often perform badly at the box…

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Six of the best fictional UK TV politicians

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Jim Hacker

In: Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister (sitcom 1980-1984, 1986-1988)

Played by: Paul Eddington

Written by: Antony Jay, Jonathan Lynn

Indecisive, bumbling but ultimately well intentioned. Hacker is generally thwarted at every turn as Minister of Administrative Affairs by civil servant Sir Humphrey (Nigel Hawthorne) who sees his role as to block any attempt at change or reform. Despite this, Hacker (who unusually is never given any party affiliation by the show’s creators) succeeds in becoming Prime Minister, largely on the back of a plan to save the British sausage from European interference.

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Michael Murray

In: GBH (drama, 1991)

Played by: Robert Lindsay

Written by: Alan Bleasdale

The charismatic far left Labour leader of a far left unnamed northern city council (Derek Hatton suggested the show was about him, something creator Alan Bleasdale denied), Murray leads an unholy war of terror against Jim Nelson (Michael Palin) a special needs teacher who refuses to take part in Murray’s headline-grabbing “Day of Action”.  Although totally corrupt, a womaniser and prone to a nervous twitch, Murray grows more sympathetic as a character as we learn he is both the victim of a traumatic childhood prank and a modern day plot by the security services to brand him as a racist.

PIcture shows: Francis Urquhart (IAN RICHARDSON) WARNING: This image may only be used for publicity purposes in connection with the broadcast of the programme as licensed by BBC Worldwide Ltd & must carry the shown copyright legend. It may not be used for any commercial purpose without a licence from the BBC. © BBC 1990

Sir Francis Urquhart

In: House of Cards, To Play The King, The Final Cut (dramas 1990, 1993, 1995)

Played by: Ian Richardson

Written by: Andrew Davies (based on Michael Dobbs’ books)

A very different kettle of fish to Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood of the recent US House of Cards remake, Urquhart is an apparently charming old fashioned upper class Tory chief whip, who begins plotting a bloody path to Downing Street after moderate new post-Thatcherite Prime Minister Henry Collingridge (David Lyon) fails to honour a promise to promote him to cabinet. As PM himself, Urquhart continues to occasionally murder his opponents and overthrows the Prince Charles like new king after he gets left wing ideas.

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Harry Perkins

In: A Very British Coup (drama, 1988)

Played by: Ray McAnally

Written by: Alan Plater and Mick Jackson (based on Chris Mullin’s book)

When former Sheffield steelworker turned Labour leader Perkins leads his party to a dramatic surprise election victory, the establishment are thrown into a state of panic. Perkins is committed to re-nationalisation, nuclear disarmament and probable withdraw from NATO. The press barons, CIA and MI5 thus soon decide to ignore the people’s verdict and get rid of the new boy in Number 10.

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Alan B’Stard

In: The New Statesman (sitcom, 1987-1994)

Played by: Rik Mayall

Written by: Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran

A true Thatcherite to the core, Mayall’s flamboyant occasionally murderous backbench Tory MP easily lives up to his name whether engaged in blackmail, adultery or tormenting fellow backbencher Sir Piers Fletcher Dervish (Michael Troughton).

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Nicky Hutchinson

In: Our Friends In The North (drama, 1996)

Played by: Christopher Eccleston

Written by: Peter Flannery

Nicky encounters numerous politicians in this drama spanning the years 1964 to 1995 but his own bid for parliament on behalf of Labour in 1979 proves a woeful failure. Having initially been led astray in his youth by corrupt civic leader Austin Donohue (Alun Armstrong), a character based on the real life T Dan Smith, Nicky’s campaign is sunk by press hostility, internal divisions, a right wing smear campaign and an attractive female Tory opponent. The son of a disillusioned Jarrow marcher (Peter Vaughan), Nicky rejects politics in favour of a career in photography soon after.

15 things you should know about Jimmy Carter

Former US president Jimmy Carter has cancer. Here are some things you should know about the 39th US president and peanut farmer…

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  1. Jimmy Carter ceased to be president in January 1981. No one else has ever lived for as long after his presidency ended (thirty four and a half years as of August 2015).
  2. He is 90 but is only the second oldest former US president alive. George HW Bush (1989-1993) who is also 91 was born four months earlier (Carter in October 1924, Bush in June 1924).
  3. Carter saw a UFO in 1969, in his home state of Georgia. He said later: “There were about twenty of us standing outside of a little restaurant, I believe, a high school lunch room, and a kind of green light appeared in the western sky. This was right after sundown. It got brighter and brighter. And then it eventually disappeared. It didn’t have any solid substance to it, it was just a very peculiar-looking light. None of us could understand what it was.” He does not think it was an alien space craft.
  4. He was the first future US president to be born in a hospital.
  5. He appeared on the TV show What’s My Line? in 1973. None of the panel recognised him as the Governor of Georgia.
  6. On his second day as president in January 1977 he pardoned everyone who had evaded the draft during the Vietnam War.
  7. Carter won the presidency very narrowly in November 1976, winning fewer states but more votes and crucially more electoral college votes than his Republican opponent President Gerald Ford. Ford was harmed by a gaffe in the presidential TV debate in which he appeared to deny Eastern Europe was under Soviet rule.
  8. He himself lost the presidency to Ronald Reagan in 1980, becoming only the third elected sitting US president in the 20th century to be beaten in his bid for re-election (after William Taft in 1912 and Herbert Hoover in 1932).
  9. Initially keen to pursue Detente, Carter became fiercer in his anti-Soviet stance after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, beginning the big 1980s defence build up and leading the boycott of the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games. The USSR countered by boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics (after Carter had left office).
  10. He contributed to the Oscar winning film Argo.
  11. He has a first class degree in nuclear physics. The Three Mile Island nuclear incident (ultimately a very minor leak but big news at the time) occurred under his presidency.
  12. He gave a controversial interview with Playboy magazine while as a presidential candidate in 1976. A deeply religious man, he admitted he had “committed adultery in my heart many times”.
  13. His presidency was blighted by the Iranian hostage crisis from 1979 until 1981. The hostages were freed jus after Carter had left office, a final act of humiliation by Ayatollah Khomeini.
  14. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
  15. He has written 23 books including a novel about the American War of Independence.

**FILE**Former President Jimmy Carter takes a question during a conference at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Tuesday, June 7, 2005. An independent panel Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2005 reversed a Pentagon recommendation that the New London submarine base in Connecticut, base be closed. One of the panel members even said a letter from Carter _ the only president to ever serve as a submariner _ pleading the panel to keep the base open was one of the reasons he voted against closure. (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File)

Maggie vs Tony Benn

Chris Hallam's World View

Politics - Anthony Wedgwood Benn
Two giants of the post-war political stage have died within the last year. Margaret Thatcher and Tony Benn were both born in the year 1925 and both died within twelve months of each other.

Benn’s influence was enormous and wide ranging and he is rightly hailed as one of the great British statesmen of the last century.

But the reaction to Lady Thatcher’s death was both greater and more enduring. For there is no denying it: in the Game of Thrones battle of post-war British politics, she was the victor.

A betting man (or woman) observing the two rising stars at almost any point before the late Seventies would doubtless have favoured the young Anthony Wedgewood Benn to succeed over the young Margaret Roberts. Benn was both the son and the grandson of former MPs. Roberts was of humbler stock and had to overcome both the snobbery and sexism of…

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