Thursday, December 28, 2006

I Was There

The onset of modern technology means that television programmes have never been cheaper to produce. After all, what is the point in spending large amounts of money on directors, film crews and technicians, or royalties to other production companies, when it is possible to produce a television programme entirely from ‘scraps’ of video footage taken by members of the public on their camcorders and mobile phones.

ITV’s flagship news review programme of 2006 does just this, the programme which is to be broadcast at 10pm on New Year’s Eve is called ‘I was there: The People's Review 2006’ and has been produced by Endemol UK from dozens of clips of video footage of the news events of the year, as taken by members of the general public.

I myself was invited to contribute to this programme with video footage of the media awaiting Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond’s exit from Leeds General Infirmary, which an Endemol researcher found on my YouTube page. Unfortunately I have never received confirmation that the footage is being used, which probably means that the footage wont be featured in the programme. Never the less, my video recorder will be set….just in case!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Season's Greetings (tinged with sadness)

It's Christmas time, with mistletoe, wine and X-Factor winner Leona Lewis taking the number one spot in the charts - well done to her, and I'm sure that her future music career will be longer lived than previous reality TV music show winners such as Hear'Say and Michelle McManus.
A very sad piece of news is that music industry legend, and 'Godfather of Soul' James Brown has sadly passed away in the early hours of Christmas morning. Brown, whose 50 year career has generated such hits as 'Sex Machine', 'Living in America' and 'Say it Loud, I'm Black and Proud' died of Pneumonia in a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. He was a true entertainer, a 20th Century showbiz legend, and will be sorely missed. RIP James Brown.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Media Labelling

The tragic murder of five young women in Suffolk has highlighted a distasteful trend in labelling that is inherent in broadcast media institutions. Rather than refer to the five dead women as ‘women’ they are referred to as ‘prostitutes’. In doing this the media is subversively creating a mental image to its viewers, listeners and readers that five dead prostitutes are not as ‘good’ or ‘worthy’ as five dead other women. Indeed it may also imply to some that perhaps the women deserved it because they worked as prostitutes. Had the women all worked in factories it would be unlikely that they would have been referred to as five dead factory workers. Even the BBC is guilty of labelling the dead women as prostitutes, as in this example here.

It may be a bitter pill for those wanting to create attention grabbing headlines to swallow, but the dead women were people, and that is how they should be remembered, rather than as the profession that they were forced into to aid their drug addictions.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

REVIEW: Flat Stanley, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Flat Stanley is a children’s story that was written by Jeff Brown and first published in 1964. In the story Stanley Lambchop becomes flat when he is crushed by a bulletin board that falls on him in bed whilst he is sleeping. Stanley is discovered the next morning by his parents (Mom and Dad Lambchop) and brother Arthur. They set about trying to find out if he will recover, by taking him to the doctor, to discover that nobody knows what his fate will be. During the story Stanley gets into all manner of adventures including being lowered down a drain to find a ring, sliding under doors, being turned into a kite and flown in the park, and disguising himself as a painting to catch an art thief.

Flat Stanley has been adapted for the stage by Mike Kenny and performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse by a cast of four British actors: Stewart Cairns (Stanley); Ian Bonar (Arthur); Lisa Howard (Mom); and Robin Simpson (Dad). All actors also play a variety of other characters including New York Cops, Doctor, Museum Manager and thief. Their performances as an all American family (and others) are superb, with the accents and mannerisms down to a tea.

When Stanley becomes ‘flat’, he is walked around as a puppet by ‘round’ i.e. ‘normal’ Stanley – actor Stewart Cairns who is also plainly visible working the puppet – as a concept this works well, and after a while you tend to stop noticing the presence of the actor, and focus on the Puppet. The play also features several annoyingly catchy tunes – especially the egg song ‘fried, boiled, poached, scrambled, yum, yum yum, yum, yum’ being one of them (which four days later is still in my head).

The suggested ages that this play would appeal to, are three to seven year olds, however there are a sprinkling of ‘adult’ jokes that the kids just wont get to keep Mums and Dads amused too (a few more would have been even better). This is the first ever stage adaption of Flat Stanley, and after seeing it, one can’t help but wonder if in future years a big screen version will follow.

Flat Stanley is running at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until the 13th January, tickets are priced £8.00.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

VISIT: Tropical World

Picture this, a desert island situated somewhere in the tropics, where sandy beaches meet both rain forests, and arid deserts. A place where all manner of flora and fauna surround you, including palm tress, cactus, bearded dragons and meerkats. A mysterious island, where tropical birds and butterflies fly past in abundance, and where giant carp swim in misty waters. At night there is only darkness, yet nature is still active, as fruit bats fly silently past and snakes hunt blindly for the infra red signature of their next rodent meal. This could be Fiji or Papua New Guinea, but it isn’t, this is Roundhay, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. Welcome to Tropical World – one of the cities most popular attractions, the location of our last visit this semester, and a great place to spend a cold and windy day in December.

A resting butterfly

A meerkat

Tropical World is owned and operated by Leeds City Council’s Department of Learning and Leisure, and is a part of Roundhay Park Estate. It was originally a Victorian greenhouse that featured tropical plants. In the 1980s it opened as a tourist attraction and a registered zoo, in 2005 it received 400,000 visitors. It is covered by the Zoo Licensing Act, and was inspected only last week. As a zoo it has an education and conservation remit, and participates in rare breeds breeding programmes. It is also a member of the Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland.

Waterfall posers

We were met by Catherine Bowhill Roundhay Park’s Visitor and Retail Manager, Catherine’s team looks after all of the parks retail, customer service, and admissions functions. There is also a garden team, who maintain the gardens and parkland, and an animal team who are concerned with looking after Tropical World’s animal collection. We began the visit with some history and background information from Catherine, before walking around the facility and then meeting Catherine again for a question and answer session. What follows is some of the information that we found out about Tropical World.

A row of butterfly chrysali

Human Resources

Tropical World has ten members of staff most of whom are full-time and a volunteer worker. Staff are employed in a variety of roles, including the gift shop, and animal carers. The calibre of applicants for vacancies is usually high, as roles in an attraction such as this are in demand from professionals who want to work in this type of environment. Animal specialists are recruited via the BIAZA website.


Tropical World has no set marketing budget, yet it does participate in a variety of marketing activities, including promotion via the Leeds and Breeze Cards websites, which gives card holders free admission into the facility. Admission prices are normally Adults £3, Children £2, and under eight year olds free. This means that the attraction, being family orientated receives many non-paying visitors.

Tropical world is also promoted via the council website, and through leaflet drops. Typically 80,000 leaflets are produced annually, 60,000 of which are distributed via Audiences Yorkshire. The attraction also has membership of the Yorkshire Tourist Board via Leeds City Council, and is also promoted through Gateway Yorkshire. It also has tie-ins with local media such as Magic 828 who promoted the recent Roundhay Park bonfire, and Real Radio who are promoting the forthcoming ‘Totally Tropical Christmas’ that will feature a steel band, Christmas lights, and ‘Rum Shack’ (serving orange juice!).


During Summer Tropical World is open from 10:00am until 18:00, and in Winter from 10:00am until 16:00 – this is because the attraction does not have any lights in the main glass house and relies on natural light for visitors to see where they are going. The attraction has a capacity of 1,500 visitors at any one time, and during peak periods (School Holidays, Public Holidays and weekends) regularly reaches capacity levels, which can cause congestion problems. Accidents are rare, risk assessments need to be carried out wherever visitors and animals can come into contact – including ‘meet the keeper’ sessions where the zoo keepers can bring out animals for visitors to see, touch and hold.


Tropical World does not consider any of the other Leeds attractions that have animals as direct competitors, as none of them offer what Tropical World does, in Leeds the attraction sees itself as being unique, with the closest other Zoo being at Flamingo Land in North Yorkshire. Other animal attractions in Leeds include: Lotherton Hall; Harewood House; Temple Newsam; Pudsey Pets; and Meanwood Valley Urban Farm.

As a group we spent an hour looking around the facility, a highlight of the tour was Paul the Zoo keeper introducing the group to a bearded dragon, and a carpet snake. Most of the group went with a pre-conception that Tropical World would be an attraction for children, and that it probably wouldn’t appeal to them. I’m pleased to say that the general consensus was that it was it was enjoyed thoroughly, leaving positive comments in the visitor book, and no doubt a repeat visit in future.

Above, the girls get to grips with some of Tropical World's residents.

Meet the Keeper

Many thanks to Catherine Bowhill, and Carol Fenner (Visitor Services Manager) for their valuable time and making this visit possible.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

REVIEW: The Wonder Stuff @ The Cockpit, Leeds, 04/12/06

The Wonder Stuff have been around for twenty years (albeit with a six year break from 1994 to 2000). Their debut album ‘The Eight Legged Groove Machine’ received much acclaim from independent music fans from across Britain and beyond, in an era when the youth were being swept along in a late 80s / early 90s tide of alternative rock and indie Brit pop. At the time the Wonder Stuff were one of three bands (‘Pop Will Eat Itself’ and ‘Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’ being the others) from Stourbridge in the West Midlands who were laying down their own regional challenge to the might of ‘Madchester’ and the plethora of alternative and indie artists coming out of what was (and arguably still is) the North’s most ‘mad for it’ musical city.

Due to personal differences with band members (including lead singer Miles Hunt) original bassist Rob Jones (known as ‘The Bass Thing’) left in the late eighties, and later died of a suspected drugs overdose in 1993. Drummer Martin Gilks also sadly died earlier this year in a motorbike accident. Today the band line up is Miles Hunt (lead vocals and guitar), Malcolm Treece (guitar and vocals), Andres Karu (drums), Mark McCarthy (bass), and Erica Nockalls (fiddle).

Not only has the Wonder Stuff’s present line up altered, their image has certainly (and thankfully) changed, gone are the long hair, eccentric tartan suits, smiley bandanas and round sunglasses, replaced with dark faded casuals, complimented by black dress and bold lipstick chic from Erica. The band have lost little of their energy in the last twenty years, and are still producing punchy indie-pop tunes with good humoured lyrics, there most recent release being the single ‘Blah Blah La Di Da’.

The last time I saw the Wonder Stuff was as the Friday night headliners at the Reading Festival in 1992, where they rocked a 60,000 strong crowd, on this particular night they were playing at the Cockpit in Leeds, to an audience of less than 500. The band began with several more recent tracks from their 2004 album ‘Escape from Rubbish Island’ and their 2006 album ‘Suspended by Stars’, which were pretty good, but evidently not what the crowd of mostly thirty-somethings had come to hear. A calm began to descend over the audience, at which point lead singer Miles Hunt made a remark about ‘playing in a morgue’. At this point the crowd started shouting out old song titles, and the band duly obliged creating movement in front of the stage to classics including ‘It’s yer Money I’m After Baby’, ‘Poison’ and ‘Unbearable’.

The Cockpit allows the audience to get very close to the band on stage, which opens up the opportunity for banter between band and audience, something which Miles relished. ‘I went to see the Cult recently’ claimed Miles ‘Ian Astbury actually apologised for playing new stuff….well I wont’ what followed was a mixture of contemporary Wonder Stuff heavy on Erica’s Fiddle, which certainly gave the band a very ‘Levellers’ sound, and more classic tracks from the albums ‘Hup’, ‘Never Loved Elvis’ and ‘Construction for the Modern Idiot’. The audience relished it, and something that actually resembled a mosh pit appeared in front of the stage participated in by a smattering of over dressed thirty-somethings, teenage indie-kids, a young punk rocker, and a t-shirtless skinhead!

The band overplayed their 10:30 curfew with red wine swigged from bottles and three encores, again featuring a cross section of Wonder Stuff music from the 1980s to the present day. It had been over fourteen years since I last saw the Wonder Stuff, and I have to say that I enjoyed this gig as much as I did the last one, on that barmy evening in a Reading field.

The Wonder Stuff began life as an indie-band, they grew to the dizzy heights of headline act at both the Reading 92 and Phoenix 94 festivals, as well as holding their own stadium gig at Walsall Football Club. In Miles own words ‘last night’s audience in Sheffield have paid for us to get to Leeds…we’re an indie band again now’, they certainly look and sound like they are enjoying it.