The digital revolution has brought its prophets and mystics - the breathless theorizing of Wired or William Gibson’s disembodied cyberspace - but what it has so far lacked is a sober, wry, realist account. It is as though the Late Gothic Age were to be remembered solely through Acquinas’ theology or the visions of Dante, without a Chaucer or a Rabelais to chronicle carnal irreverent, everyday life.
Douglas Coupland has taken us a step closer with his new book Micoserfs - perhaps the first great work of cyberrealism.
Until a few years ago, you could be climbing any chalk down in Southern England. Trails lead up from a council estate, past a recreation ground. On the slopes above, young men with tattooed arms walk their dogs. The grass is like an old rug, woven with wild flowers, cabbage whites and meadow browns. Then the next step you take is empty air.
Few cliff tops drop away so dramatically as this corner of coast where the North Downs are truncated by the Channel. Wave erosion caught the escarpment on an upswing: the sudden panorama is enough to make the heart miss a beat. Sea-level is only some 350 feet below but you can't test the overhang. Clouds could be a few feet distant, or a few miles. Even the chalk underfoot seems to shift.
On Shakespeare Cliff, just west of Dover, vertigo has a good precedent. In October 1604, at the time Shakespeare was probably writing King Lear, his company, The King's Men, visited Dover. In the tragedy, the Earl of Gloucester, blinded for his loyalty to Lear, meets an itinerant beggar 'Poor Tom' and asks him 'Know'st the way to Dover?'.
If you want to make contact about any Non-fiction or Poetry item, you can contact me direct on peter at peterjukes dot com.Otherwise, when it comes to anything concerning Film, TV, stage or radio drama, the best first point of call is probably my UK agent.Howard Gooding at Judy Daish Associates (howard at judydaish dot com)
Over the last few years I've created some attention with my live coverage of the phone hacking trial in London, the most expensive and longest concluded criminal trial in British history. There are various accounts and articles about this on the web, including a radio play. My Twitter feed can be found here, and a collation of evidence from the trial, and all my live tweets, can be found at my Fothom Wordpress blog. There's also a Flipboard magazine and a Facebook Page. My Klout ranking is here.
More Journalism and Books
Various journalistic articles of mine are scattered throughout the web. There's some kind of portfolio at Muckrack. The most extensive reporting is for the Daily Beast and Newsweek, but there's more at the New Statesman, the New Republic, Aeon etc. I have two non fiction books published in the last year: The Fall of the House of Murdoch, available through Unbound or Amazon, and Beyond Contempt: the Inside Story of the Phone Hacking Trial, available via Canbury Press or also on Amazon. I am currently contributing to a new site for open source journalism, called Bellingcat.
Getting in Contact
2 ST CHARLES PLACE LONDON W10 6EG TEL: 020 8964 8811 FAX: 020 8964 8966
Bernstein on the Watergate Analogy and the Culture of Lawlessness
If you think the Watergate analogy is hyperbolical or fanciful, don't forget it was first made by Carl Bernstein himself in The Daily Beast nearly three months ago
The circumstances of the alleged lawbreaking within News Corp. suggest more than a passing resemblance to Richard Nixon presiding over a criminal conspiracy in which he insulated himself from specific knowledge of numerous individual criminal acts while being himself responsible for and authorizing general policies that routinely resulted in lawbreaking and unconstitutional conduct. Not to mention his role in the cover-up. It will remain for British authorities and, presumably, disgusted and/or legally squeezed News Corp. executives and editors to reveal exactly where the rot came from at News of the World, and whether Rupert Murdoch enabled, approved, or opposed the obvious corruption that infected his underlings.
And here he is, in a Guardian interview today where he makes the same point
The parallels with Watergate... Had to do with the culture itself that made this possible. In the Nixon Whitehouse Nixon was responsible for the sensibility that permeated the place, that had to do with unconstitutional acts with a cynicism about the political process and how it was practised, and a disregard for the law. And it became apparent to me, as I read more and more what was happening here, that really at bottom what this hacking furore is about,but rather has to do with serving up both the lowest common denominator of information and calling it news, and obtaining it through a methodology which is outrageous, whether you're talking about hacking or other kinds of invasions of privacy, and that the atmosphere in that newsroom is a product of the culture that Murdoch in the News of the World .
it's about a culture in the newsroom that has nothing to do with real journalism, real reporting (which is very simply put the best obtainable version of the truth)
I've always said that Murdoch's Wizard of Oz like appearance before the House of Commons Select Committee this summer - the first time the most powerful man in my country had faced the people's elected representatives - was the crucial moment. Murdoch ruled by fear, by politicians self censoring and second guessing his movements. The revelation that he was a rather frail crank oldy man suddenly undermined the fear, and frankly did much to diminish his effective power. As Bernstein says:
I think his power as it were is diminished, because I don't think he's held - as a result of what we've heard and seen - in the same kind of awe by both his peers and those who feared. At the same time I think it's a mistake to oversimplify any of this. Is his power over? Is he all good or all bad. I think that's much too simple.
Let me state for the record. I have no personal opinions of Rupert himself. I've never met him. I've heard he can be a deeply loyal father and boss. However, the empire he has accumulated , the modal monopoly it deployed to create a 'market in news' which was corrupt, was used to game legislation, blackmail politicians, intimidate opponents and destroy the lives of innocent people through tabloid exposure using illegal mean...
That was unequivocally bad, and we should keep campaigning for that empire to be dismantled.
Quiet Intensity: The Raft of Ongoing Investigations
So, while things may seem to be quiet on the Murdoch scandal front, but with three police investigations ongoing in the UK (into phone hacking, computer hacking and payments to police), a public inquiry and two parliamentary committees, it won't stay like that for long in the UK. Like all criminal scandals, the onus on investigators is to compile evidence - and much more is coming to light.
Just this week it's been revealed the James Murdoch's senior PR advisor has resigned: one of the arrested journalists is joining Andy Coulson in suing News International; continued threats to Tom Watson who tirelessly campaigned on this issue in Parliament, the revelation of 11 million emails, and details of illegal practices in other Murdoch tabloid titles, apart from the now defunct News of the World.
So the culture Bernstein talked about extended to Murdoch's other titles. What is the chance it didn't extend to the US too?
Ad has been diaried before, there are now three prongs to the ongoing DOJ investigation into Newscorp: the most salient being the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (it's illegal to bribe foreign officials as Newscorp seems to have done with British police officers), rumours still of hacking victims on US soil, and by far the least known, but potentially the most deadly, an investigation into an old anti-trust suit from a few years ago, the Floorgraphics case, which could leave Newscorp vulnerable to RICO statutes.
U.S. investigators are looking into potential antitrust activities of Murdoch's News America Marketing Group, which specializes in producing in-store ads, coupons, advertising inserts and other promotional materials for supermarkets and retail outlets worldwide.
Investigators reportedly are seeking documents relating to a 2009 trial of a suit against News America by a New Jersey advertising company, Floorgraphics, which had accused News America of, among other things, hacking into its computer systems and lying to its customers. The case was settled for an undisclosed sum, and News America subsequently acquired Floorgraphics.
All told, News America has shelled out $655 million to settle suits against competitors alleging unsavory business practices.
As Crains put it two days ago (hat tip to the ever watchful Ceebs)
Investigations of News Corp.'s illegal conduct initially involved just News of the World, which represented only 1% of annual revenue for the New York-based media company, publisher of The Wall Street Journal and operator of the Fox television networks.
The marketing unit, which promotes products through supermarket coupons, accounted for four times that revenue and about 12% of profit for fiscal 2011.
Rivals of News America Marketing have claimed in court papers that it prospered by violating antitrust laws. It also hacked into a Floorgraphics password-protected website, one of its own lawyers told the jury at the 2009 trial.
“There is a pattern of anticompetitive behavior by News Corp.,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group. “We've seen it in Britain, and we've seen it in America.”
Remember, News America Marketing provides 12% of Newscorp profits. That's a really compared with the 1% provided by the biggest English language paper, the News of the World, before it was closed.
So though it seems quiet, that doesn't mean a lot isn't going on under the surface. Indeed the 'unnamed source' regularly talking about Newscorp affairs is either a whistleblower, or some desperate damage limitation..
Remember all the Presidents Men? The movie ends with Bernstein and Woodward filing more stories: it took two years before Nixon resigned, and another year or two after that for the final criminal indictments to be handed down.
Don't despair: watch this space
Originally posted on DailyKos
I Blame Time – featuring Julie Atherton as Patrizia Gucci
Abandoned by luck
No one to turn to
But the stars above
The ice in your eyes
But I don't blame you
I blame time
I'll blame time
I blame time
Locked in my mind
Fighting my demons
I didn't hear your cries
So hate me
Say what you want
But I won't blame you no
I don't blame anyone I don't
I don't blame me
I blame time
I'll blame time
I blame time
I'll blame time
I see the long years ahead
Tearing our good will to shreds
But one day this madness will pass
One day you'll repay
I blame time
I'll blame time
I blame time
Cold and cast out
But nothing will shake me
From this rock of love
I'll wait here
And hold to the last
No I don't blame you no
I won't blame anyone I don't
I won't blame me
I'll blame time
Who was rich and she was poor,
Her mother was a laundress
Her father bought her pearls,
The world owed her a living
But it never could be hers,
So the beginning of this story is
That poor rich little girl.
Ten years after it was first broadcast, In Deep is out on DVD. I really should have mixed feelings about this. The first series was all over the place. As I explain below, the pilot episode which had got the show commissioned - Darkness on the Edge of Tow which was quite Wire-like in its exploration of the drug economy - was arbitrarily scrapped a few months before production, leaving an impossibly disturbing hard core ep about child abuse in the opening slot.
Manic scramble then ensues to come up with new opening episode within the tight framework, budget and commissioning system... Blue on Blue then ends up being my least favourite episode.
But after that, despite at every point being in danger of being booted from the show, I really began to enjoy it. The two hour framework, though dauntingly long, gave me a chance to have a major thriller story accompanied by a major domestic story, which made it all worthwhile: thriller plus character realism.
This was unified by the role of the mandatory police psychologist both undercover officers had to see. I found this fact in US research on undercover work and thought it a great way of joining deep character issues to the main plot. I'd heard about the Sopranos, and the role of the psychiatrist in the narrative, but hadn't seen any episodes when In Deep was first devised in 1999.
Lenny Henry returns to BBC Radio 4 as irreverent police chaplain Jake Thorne in a new series of Peter Jukes's acclaimed drama Bad Faith.
In this first episode, Unoriginal Sin, Jake is on secondment to a new police force.
After the death of his father and the breakdown of his marriage, Jake needed to get away from home, so accepted his old friend Sufiq Khan's invitation to come on secondment as police chaplain to Khan's West Yorkshire division.
Jake arrives in his new posting the week before Christmas with a mission to clean up a rough division, but he is immediately plunged into the question of original sin as an 11-year-old is investigated for murder.
Vincent Ebrahim also stars as Chief Supt Sufiq Khan.
Producer/Mary Peate for the BBC
BBC Radio 4 Publicity
To add to the dark setting, his first task is to help a police artist unravel the religious imagery contained in a picture that was described to her by a young boy accused of murder. The 11-year-old’s vision has all the trappings of Satanic abuse, but is this something he’s actually suffered or a mish-mash of Catholic iconography and violent movies? Thorne turns to the elderly local priest for some advice but is met with a most unexpected response.
Having seen the excellent TV series, I'm disappointed by the novelisation of Middlemarch. George Eliot's book lacks the rigour and economy of Andrew Davies' original. Long authorial interventions ruin the immediacy and the balance between the characters of Lydgate and Dorothea has been lost. A brave attempt, but the adaptation begs the question posed by To Play the King: why reduce a good television series to a lesser book?
If this inversion of the usual literary bias doesn't seem entirely absurd, it's a tribute to the quality of British television drama. We often overestimate the international appeal of our output (it doesn't sell so well abroad) but there is little doubt of the medium's importance to our national culture. In Luton and Latin, from Breakfast Time to the Late Show, television is a central part of the dialogue we have with ourselves. And if one dramatist had to be thanked for high esteem of the medium, it must be Dennis Potter.
The works Potter is hurrying to finish before his death, Karaoke and Cold Lazarus, will be his farewell to the form he shaped so much and to which he devoted his life. They could also be a long goodbye to the writer's eminence in the industry. Potter is recognised in the street, vilified in the tabloids. His plangent voice, mesmerizing in his last interview with Melvyn Bragg, has amused and accused on the broadest platforms. Potter has put television writers up there with the best of them and will be considered, without doubt, along with Pinter, Betjeman, or Amis as a key figure in postwar British writing. Less certain of survival, however, is the peculiarly British tradition of the TV author he helped invent.
Script writers abound on television, but an author, one who originates form and content is a rare breed. Even the most successful writers today such as Andrew Davies or Lynda La Plante tend towards the adaptation of books or work within fixed genres such as the police or detective serial. For all their merits, To Play the King or Prime Suspect have not shaken the boundaries of what television drama can be. Anyone watching last week's BAFTA ceremonies would have heard writers constantly praised. They would have been hard-pressed, however, to spot one between the anonymous executives and famous actors gathered in Drury Lane. Appropriately, the awards for Best Drama Series and Best Single Drama, won by Between the Lines and Safe, were collected by the programme producers.
Here I must declare an interest: a lurking desire to fluff a BAFTA acceptance speech. Having written for stage, radio and print, I know that TV writing is one of the least respected forms. I also believe that, in technical terms, it is one of the most demanding. The closeness of the camera shows up any falsity of dialogue or character. Meaning has to be conveyed in action and, though it remains unseen, a good script should read like a good novel, the visual storytelling and mise-en-scène setting the rhythm for everything the actors and directors do. Despite this, in financial terms, the writer is near the bottom of the heap. TV drama costs about half a million pounds an hour and the script is usually a small fraction of the budget. Writers can be jettisoned at relatively little expense, while an aberrant director or star can lose millions.
This leads to a strange twilight existence for TV writers: long bouts of waiting-around interspersed with moments of panic. Over the last five years I've 'developed' six original screenplays or pilots. These I've had months to polish. They represent my best work, calling cards for new commissions. All remain, largely due to external reasons, unproduced. In contrast, last minute production decisions create the opposite problem when writing for existing serials. In just over a year I've completed seven scripts - most in less than a month.
Many blame the decline in the writer's profile on the demise of the single play. ITV has almost entirely dispensed with one-off dramas, and the BBC has transmuted them into high cost, director-led, producer-controlled 'screenplays'. When Potter started out, a dramatist could hone his or her skills in Armchair Theatre or Play for Today at relatively little cost. Today's aspirants either have to survive years of high casualty 'development' or cut their teeth in genre formats. Whatever the merits of The Bill, or Brookside or Casualty they are not the ideal grounds for experiment and, increasingly, storylines are provided by script editors, storyliners, producers or executive producers. In such an environment it is easy to become just a writer of dialogue and fail to take responsibility for the entire shape of a piece.
It would be wrong, however, to suspect a managerial conspiracy. The single play has been largely abandoned because the audience abandoned it. If the demand was there, ITV would fill its schedules with single plays (just as, if it made films the public wanted to see, the British film industry would not be in such a poor state). Besides, even in its heyday the studio drama was a strange hybrid between stage and film. Series such as Z-Carsnurtured as much writing talent and the most original television writing has been in serial form. In Potter's case, his two greatest achievements to date are both serials, Pennies from Heaven and - still unsurpassed for narrative brilliance - The Singing Detective.
Television's great dramatic innovation has been the series or the serial (who cares which - most the audience don't). The recurrent slot, the sense of development and repetition, is unique to the form. Trevor Preston has called the series the 'television novel' and to this extent Andrew Davies is the best contemporary representative of George Eliot. The popularity of the Victorian novel, with queues forming for the latest weekly instalment of Dickens in Household Words, is much closer to Shepherd's Bush than Bloomsbury.
But the novel is a solitary form and drama, by definition, is collaborative. For every new Alan Bennett, Bleasdale, or Debbie Horsfield, are ten dramas whose authorship is unknown or dispersed among many. This needn't necessarily dilute the quality. Both Morse and Cracker owe their origin to a number of hands and in America, where authorship is even more nebulous, team writing is the norm. The result is not always writing by committee. On the contrary, in recent years, imports such as LAPD, Twin Peaks, thirtysomething, or Hill Street Blues have shown more narrative innovation than home-baked material. One has to go back to Boys from the Blackstuff or Edge of Darkness to find a British series at the cutting edge, changing the way we tell our stories as well as the stories we tell.
When people complain about the decline in television authorship, therefore, they actually bemoaning a general lack of originality and invention. Budget and production values may have increased, but so too have the number of formulaic lego-built dramas. This sense of sameness and caution is not a mystery. It has a simple explanation: the massive concentration of commissioning power in a few hands.
Despite the flourishing of independent companies in the 1980s, the apparent diversity conceals a sharp and disturbing centralisation. You may now devise a project with any number of small companies, but it can only be given the go-ahead by an decreasing circle of people. The base has widened, but so have the decision-making layers, each layer trying to second guess what the one above will say. At the top, the pyramid has become almost perfect. The decision what millions will watch every week is effectively taken by only four men.
In any other industry this structure would come in for some kind of investigation. No matter how brilliant these four men are, how broad their minds, diverse their tastes, such a funnelling of the cultural power must be inhibiting. Ironically, it was the Office of Fair Trading that imposed the central commissioning and scheduling Network Centre on ITV. The BBC has no such excuse. Ever since El Dorado drama has been make or break for BBC controllers so both Yentob and Jackson patrol the commissioning process ferociously. Like cold war enemies locked in combat, BBC and ITV have begun to resemble each other with the same mad monolithic structures.
In this climate, authorship, like authority, is the prerequisite of a few. How can writers feel responsible for their work when producers, their executive producers, even their heads of department can't feel responsible? Like so many other apparent 'reforms' in health and education, deregulation in Television has disguised an increase in control from the centre. Perhaps it's a perverse tribute to the cultural importance a writer like Dennis Potter gave to the medium that the government has done so much to stifle it. But it's a tribute we can do without.
The Smell of the Coast
After our games had ended
in squabbles and in kicks
our mouths raw and garish
from too many boiled sweets
once we'd spied A to Z
on registration plates
over the blistered tarmac
then up we would pipe
from the back seat:
When shall we see the sea, Daddy
When shall we see the sea?
Through by-passes, fields, industrial estates
lay-bys where we'd stop to pee, stretch legs,
and sip a thermos of milky plastic,
we'd hark for the cries
of gulls overhead,
desolate for the smell of the coast
and though they only wheeled
over rubbish tips
not five minutes passed
before we begged
When shall we reach the sea, Mummy?
How far is it to the sea?
Hardly any closer, she'd say,
since last time you asked. Or Dad:
the more you look forward
the longer it'll take.
So we'd pipe down, tune to the radio news
bulletins unchanged all afternoon,
stare out the window
unable to credit or count
how many seconds make up an hour
how many waysigns between here and there
and if it isn't ages until we arrive
it won't be forever until we leave
But over every ridge
behind the tree silhouettes
the sky seemed to ripple, brighten
with a marine light
and soon there'd be bungalows
with portholes instead of windows,
yachts on the curtains, toothpaste blue,
shells in the pebbledash. The street
would dip away
and between b&b's, candy-floss, tar
I see the sea. I see the sea. There it is.
Here we are.
What was it all about?
Two weeks to scour up and down the beach
dodge turds bobbing by the outflow pipe
lick sand off a molten ice-cream.
But nothing could defeat us
even at night
sunburnt between the cool white sheets
we'd cup the shell
of our ears to our heads
and drift off
to the waves milling the shingle
tide rummaging the shore
sounding like the ocean sounds
I hate the sea
not for it's salt or violence
but for it's quiet desperation
it's terrible monotony
Dad took us out from the harbour years ago
cadging for mackerel on nylon lines:
when almost by mistake we hauled one in
it just wouldn't die
thrashing in the boughs
like a slice of battered aluminium
and Dad just laughed the more I cried
He said he'd felt exactly the same
when he was my age and that
one day I'd be telling my son
the same thing he was telling me
as we lost sight of land
the mackerel thrashing in the boughs
like a slice of battered aluminium
And that's why I hate the sea
Not for it's salt or violence
but for it's quiet desperation
it's terrible monotony
The Green Belt Boy
Where does he come from
the Green Belt boy
and where can he go?
Far from his plain
vanilla heart from
his suburban soul
Grinding to a halt
around Northwood Circus,
dark in the afternoon
having spent all morning in a queue
for a waxworks or a zoo,
less frightened by the chamber of horrors
than the puce wallpaper in Crippen's room,
the Green Belt boy stares out the back of the car
face round as the moon.
Sunday evenings seem to stretch forever
like the red tail lights ahead.
The night glows sodium orange
behind high-rise silhouettes.
Soon he'll be staring out of his bedroom
Mum ironing in the kitchen
while the radio divas croon
till the forecast for inshore waters
and next day school.
He came from nowhere
the Green Belt boy
sitting in his little room in his little house
watching the sun set
over his own small world
Him and his big ideas
Once he believed Northwood Circus
a circus: tigers, peanuts, stilts,
a monkey photographed on his shoulder,
a Clown mask on his shelf.
For years he couldn't pass by here
without a looking for a tent.
It took a long hard education
on the roads of Outer London
before he would accept
there is no castle at Elephant and Castle,
no palace at Crystal Palace,
and no circus at Northwood Circus.
Just a traffic roundabout
(the odd pelican or zebra crossing)
a ring of tarmac and kerbstone
round a patch of dead grass
like a big top would leave
when a circus has moved on
He comes from nowhere
the Green Belt boy
so where does he go?
Deep into his plain
vanilla heart into
his suburban soul
The Green Belt Boy Comes Home
England is anxious as an airport
when fog has delayed all flights.
Passengers grin, but their smiles
are as forced as an air-hostess.
Truculent husbands, worried wives
count the minutes eating crisps.
This is his land, these are his people
this is just his luck.
On the train back through the suburbs
brambles purple, green and black
even the railway verge is maudlin
and he wishes he hadn't come back.
To think he missed it in the tropics
dreamt of rain and Sunday roast
condensation on the windows
food that tastes like boiled fog
Starting school, the Green belt boy
black-haired, brown-eyed, aged five
asked by his schoolmates if he was Indian,
thought a moment, lied.
Said yes when they asked if he was a Prince
if he rode on an elephant said yes.
Eighteen years later, he arrives in India
still apologizing for his provenance
And in Delhi he joins other travellers
selling their clothes on the street.
In Benares, hidden under a turban,
he still can't change the colour of his face.
But in Darjeeling, delirious with dysentery,
three goddesses dance around him and say:
‘See how we change, see how we change
the English boy into an Indian shape’
Till he wakes and finds himself
lying on a luggage rack
in a compartment filled with strangers
lulled by the rattle on the track
of a train bound through the night
over a continent, alien and vast,
and he like a spark burning
going nowhere going there fast
To the chill of an English station,
the quiet backstreets home,
neighbours windows on a winters evening
like tropical aquariums:
a dog with eyes like saucers,
pot-plants crying out for water,
this is his land, from which he's made
so foreign and exotic and strange