Friday, August 20, 2010

Gratuitous Brunette: David Walliams


In addition to talents for acting and writing, David Walliams recently rediscovered an affinity for swimming, which he first took up as a youth to combat a weight problem; since July 2006 he's made charity swims of the English Channel (which raised £1,000,000 for Sport Relief) and a similar crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar alongside James Cracknell in March 2008.

Born on this day in 1971, David Walliams has been very busy indeed since he made his TV debut (as 'Lesley Luncheonmeat') on Sky1's Games World; not only have he and comedy partner Matt Lucas appeared on Bang Bang, It's Reeves and Mortimer (starring Vic and Bob) they wrote and co-starred in Rock Profile.

It was their hugely popular gallery of grotesquerie Little Britain, though, that made them household names in Britain and cult favourites elsewhere in the English-speaking world following its debut in September 2003. Little Britain was followed by a concert tour (appropriately called Little Britain Live) and in Little Britain Abroad; going from success to success, Walliams and Lucas took things up a notch for Little Britain USA - which aired on HBO in September 2008.

Walliams' first children's book The Boy In The Dress (illustrated by Quentin Blake) was released the following month, and was reviewed positively for its themes if somewhat less so for its writing; another, Mr Stink, was published in November 2009 with the same illustrator.  He's also continued making forays onto the silver screen - having appeared in such films as Plunkett & Macleane, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, and Run Fat Boy Run among others - voicing the character of Bulgy Bear, in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.  He's also a popular addition to that perennial British telly fave, the panel show...

Then this year the world's most effeminate womanizer did the unexpected thing and got married - to a lady! (Dutch model Lara Stone) - in a swanky affair at Claridge's...

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In Memoriam: Rajiv Gandhi

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Rajiv Gandhi's first impulse was to stay out of the family business, namely the governance of India; both his grandfather and his mother had been Prime Minister. But it was the death of his brother Sanjay in an air crash in June 1980 which made him abandon his job at Indian Airlines and follow in his mother's footsteps.

Problem is, he followed a little too closely; she was assassinated in October 1984, and he in May 1991. In the intervening years, though, he did his part towards modernizing one of the world's oldest cultures (not to mention secularizing a country too often awash in sectarian strife). India's burgeoning middle class owes itself to the soft-spoken, Cambridge-educated Jewel of India, born on this day in 1944.
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Happy Birthday Peter Oakley

Peter Oakley - aka geriatric 1927 - is a genuine Internet phenomenon; since joining the YouTube community in 2006 his videos have received millions of hits. Best of all, any rude and abusive comments he's received* have been dealt with abruptly by his legion of fans in the same manner they usually are on YouTube, where a unique kind of etiquette has begun evolving over exactly what kind of behaviour and language is appropriate on the Internet.

Oakley's video memoirs are entitled Telling It All, and run the gamut of his life and experiences as seen from the mellow perspective of his eighth decade. There are more than 60 of these online already (more than 250 videos in total) with many more to come.

From what I've seen it couldn't happen to a nicer chap...

The video posted above deals with how he deals with the blues... As usual sage advice dispensed in such a warm and gentle manner has brought a tear to my already sentimental eye; hearing Peter Oakley discuss how he handles melancholy has ensured my life will be melancholy-free for many days to come.

*You know who you are - you should be ashamed of yourselves for treating such a nice man that way.
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"The Island" by Milton Acorn

Since I'm Island-born home's as precise
as if a mumbly old carpenter,
shoulder-straps crossed wrong,
laid it out, refigured
to the last three-eighths of shingle.

Nowhere that plowcut worms
heal themselves in red loam;
spruces squat, skirts in sand
or the stones of a river rattle its dark
tunnel under the elms,
is there a spot not measured by hands;
no direction I couldn't walk
to the wave-lined edge of home.

Quiet shores -- beaches that roar
but walk two thousand paces and the sea
becomes an odd shining
glimpse among the jeweled
zigzag low hills. Any wonder
your eyelashes are wings
to fly your look both in and out?
In the coves of the land all things are discussed.

In the ranged jaws of the Gulf,
a red tongue.
Indians say a musical God
took up his brush and painted it,
named it in His own language
"The Island".
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Remembering... Milton Acorn

In many ways Milton Acorn was the quintessential Canadian; born in Prince Edward Island, he lived in Toronto, moved to Montreal following military service in World War II, and latterly found himself in Vancouver, where he lived for years before returning to the place of his birth.

PhotobucketAcorn's contribution to the social and cultural life of Vancouver can be seen every Thursday, when new issues of The Georgia Straight are released. Although the paper he helped to found has since strayed far from its counter-cultural roots (a person like I, for instance, could not write for them today because I lack the adequate formal education) it still functions as a pretty effective hammer against the city's free enterprise* over-class.

Acorn died on this day in 1986, broken-hearted over the death of a beloved sister and having spent most of his life wracked with pain from wounds he sustained in the war, living with bi-polar disorder, and diabetic besides. Nicknamed 'The People's Poet', in his life he published 18 volumes of verse; in death the annual Milton Acorn People's Poetry Award was established by Ted Plantos in his memory.

*'Free enterprise' is code in BC for 'rabidly fascist'.

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In Memoriam: Yootha Joyce


The most constant element in the life of any comedian is the grief or rage or self-loathing that lurks behind the amusing mask; such was certainly the case with Yootha Joyce, who did yeoman service in theatre, film, and television throughout the 1950s and 1960s, only to be undone at a tragically early age by success, or more specifically typecasting.

The fame she found as Mildred Roper (alongside Brian Murphy) made them one of the finest comedy teams working in British sitcoms during the 1970s, and made her a household face (if not name) besides; yet the role - which she originated on Man About the House and continued in George and Mildred - is what she is best remembered for today. In fact, it's the main reason why I'm writing about her, truth be told.

In many ways, the bane of typecasting* isn't the scourge today it once was, due to the proliferation of chat shows and PR gurus, whose job it is to shoehorn celebrities into high-profile charity work and so get their real name in front of the public more than their character's; the situation likely changed, in part, because of people like Yootha Joyce.

Born on this day in 1927, Joyce died in 1980 - four days after her 53rd birthday, her costar Brian Murphy by her side - from an advanced case of alcoholism. At the time it was generally agreed that she drank herself to death, having imbibed as much as half a bottle of brandy daily for ten years. So terrified was she at the prospect of having to play some derivation of Mildred Roper for the rest of her life, she saw to it the remainder of that life was as short as possible...

*Generally manifested by members of the public calling you by your character's name dozens of times a day, but also by narrow-minded producers who can't see any potential beyond that one big role; in Joyce's case, this would have meant a plethora of offers to play scolding wives or sex-starved social-climbing working class suburbanites.
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Happy Birthday Connie Chung

As a journalist, Connie Chung's career has been all over the map, geographically as well as professionally; from giving dispatches to her idol Walter Cronkite during the Watergate proceedings to giving douchebags like Gary Condit the easy interview to a brief and embarrassing foray into the sleazy territory of her husband Maury Povich Chung's brand has been consistent only in its inconsistency...

PhotobucketYet, as one of the few female Asian faces on American television, I feel it's my responsibility to go as easy on her as others have gone rough*; after all, she was fired from her job for suggesting that emergency services were having trouble dealing with the Oklahoma City bombing, which no white or male anchor would have been.

It seems like (if I may stray into the oleaginous verbiage of the HR professional for a moment) Chung just hasn't 'found the right fit' regarding her job, which anyway hasn't stopped her from trying them all, from reporter to anchor to host.

Personally, I can't wait to see where she turns up next...

*For precisely the same reasons as well...
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"Ship Of Fools" by Robert Plant

Birthday wishes go out today to Robert Plant, founding member of Led Zeppelin and a successful recording artist in his own right; Ship of Fools originally appeared on his 1988 solo album Now and Zen, and was co-written with keyboard player Phil Johnstone.

The phrase 'ship of fools' is an ancient one which dates to at least the 1490s and is depicted both in a well-known German woodcut entitled Narrenschiff as well as a painting by Hieronymous Bosch, representing the relationship between Earth (the ship) and the humanity (or fools) piloting it. It would be just like Robert Plant to draw the inspiration for the song from such a source, as he's pretty deep that way.

Katherine Anne Porter's most famous novel*, published in 1962, bears the same name, and updates the allegory to the modern day, with an ocean liner bearing an international passenger list and the folly of World War II representing the eternal struggle humanity has had with self-destruction; the book was sold (reportedly for $400,000) and adapted by Abby Mann into a 1965 film, which was directed by Stanley Kramer and starred Vivien Leigh** at the head of an all-star cast.

*Also her only novel.
**In her last film role.
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Pop History Moment: Fergie's (First) Comeuppance


On this day in 1992 Britain's Daily Mirror published a ten-page spread featuring photographs of the Duchess of York in a compromising position with Texas multimillionaire John Bryan; despite having insisted that Bryan was her financial manager, he was photographed with her toes in his mouth, which is surely not the sort of thing likely to come up at an audit...

The former Sarah Ferguson was already well on the way to being estranged from her husband when these revelations surfaced; it was widely rumoured the year before that Her Royal Highness had also favoured the company of one Steve Wyatt - also a multimillionaire and also from Texas. In much the same way she was always on holiday or always eating, at least she was being consistent in her cuckoldry.

The scandal broke as the Royal Family was enjoying its annual sojourn at Balmoral Castle in Scotland; many late nights were reportedly spent as Sarah and her best chum Diana tried their best to do damage control. Naturally, none of their efforts came to much, and the Yorks were divorced in 1996, at roughly the same times as the Waleses.
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POPnews - August 20th

[Not only would the cover of Abbey Road inspire the whole
'Paul is dead' hysteria, but it's also been parodied untold number
of times since by any prat with a camera and four friends.

636 CE - Following the six-day Battle of Yarmouk - during which Arab forces of the Rashidun Caliphate led by Khalid ibn al-Walid, Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, Amr ibn al-A'as, Shurahbil ibn Hassana, and Yazid ibn Abu Sufyan took control of Syria and Palestine away from the Byzantine Empire - the first great wave of Muslim conquest and the rapid advance of Islam outside Arabia began. Although the Byzantine commander Heraclius managed to survive the slaughter - as did Jabalah ibn al-Aiham, Buccinator, and Gregory - his colleagues Theodore Trithyrius, Vahan, and Dairjan fell in battle.

917 BCE - At the Battle of Anchialus Bulgaria's Tsar Simeon I invaded Thrace and successfully drove the Byzantine Empire (commanded by Leo Phocas) out.

1083 - Stephen I - who'd first established Hungary as a Christian kingdom 83 years earlier - was canonized by Pope Gregory VII.

1391 - Konrad von Wallenrode became the 24th Hochmeister of the Teutonic Order.

1775 - The Spanish presidio which would one day become Tucson, Arizona, was completed.

1804 - The Corps of Discovery - the team that accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition's exploration of the Louisiana Purchase - suffered its only death when its quartermaster, Sgt. Charles Floyd, died (apparently from acute appendicitis) en route; the site of his burial is now called Floyd's Bluff in his honour, despite an 1891 ruling by the US Board on Geographic Names that such features (such as Pikes Peak) cannot bear a possessive apostrophe.

- President Andrew Johnson officially declared an end to the US Civil War.

1882 - Tchaikovsky's masterpiece, the 1812 Overture - commemorating the unsuccessful attempt by Napoleon Bonaparte to invade Russia - made its concert debut in Moscow.

1920 - The first commercial radio station in the US began operating in Detroit; originally known by the call letters 8MK, in October 1921 it was given the letters WBL, and since March 1922 the station has been known as WWJ.

1940 - Exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky was fatally wounded at his home in Mexico City by NKVD agent Ramón Mercader, who did the deed with an ice pick to the skull; Trotsky died of his injuries the next day.

1968 - 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 5,000 tanks invaded Czechoslovakia in order to end the so-called Prague Spring, a period of political liberalization.

1969 - All four of The Beatles were together in the studio for the final time as they finished recording their album Abbey Road with producer George Martin.

1975 - NASA launched the Viking 1 planetary probe toward Mars as part of its Viking Program.

1977 - The Voyager 2 spacecraft was launched as part of the Voyager Program, intended to explore the planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as well as their moons; it is still in operation after more than 11,000 days, and is considered the most productive probe ever launched by NASA.

1979 - The East Coast Main Line rail route between London and Edinburgh was restored when the Penmanshiel Diversion opened.

1986 - American postal employee Patrick Sherrill gunned down 14 of his co-workers before committing suicide in Edmond, Oklahoma; the incident is attributed with introducing the phrase 'going postal' into the collective lexicon.

1988 - The single worst day of the Yellowstone fire at Yellowstone National Park - dubbed 'Black Saturday' - brought about a major change to the 'let it burn' policies favoured by the Reagan Administration.

1991 - Estonia seceded from the Soviet Union, taking advantage of the confusion caused by the military's anti-Gorbachev coup attempt in Moscow to do so.

1998 - The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Quebec could not legally secede without the approval of the federal government.
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