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A Date with BBC Three and A Newcastle Experience

When I heard about the impending loss of BBC3 last year I felt I had to write something. The first thing that came to my mind was my recollection of working on a show that would be broadcast on the station, and the reminder of having worked with a colleague I’d not seen since then (when she visited my place of employment last month) sparked off the chance to share that story with you now.

In 2011, shortly after moving to North Tyneside (about 10 miles East of Newcastle City), I got an email from a woman named Beth (I think) in BBC London asking me if I was available to work on a TV production in my area. There was nothing particularly special about the day on which the email came – it was a Tuesday as I recall – and I’d almost given up on the hope that anybody from the BBC would ever get in contact with me about anything. But sure enough here was an offer of work. And on television too.

Prior to that point I’d only ever worked on Radio productions, either at high end commercial stations or low end community projects, never really giving any thought to the idea of actually getting involved in TV production. To this day I’m still completely clueless as to how this woman got my email, and at first I was so convinced it was a hoax, I didn’t respond and actually sent it to trash.

A few minutes later – after realising the only thing I was doing that day was posting comments about Guns N’ Roses on the Here Today Gone To Hell website (a great fan forum by the way) I reconsidered, dragged the email out and responded in the positive.

I heard nothing for about two days and convinced my then girlfriend that I was either the victim of a cruel April Fools (it was February) or I was slowly going insane and imagining that somebody was sending me phantom emails when really I was just spending too much time listening to ‘Chinese Democracy’ and talking with the cat. The response came quick and fast with a telephone number and an affirmative for my services, so I was quickly pencilled in after a short telephone conversation and began my expected period of absolute joy and delight that I’d landed a job with the BBC!

‘Geordie Finishing School For Girls’ (to give the show it’s full title) was originally broadcast on BBC3 in the Autumn schedule of 2011. It was filmed between March and April 2011 on location in Newcastle Upon Tyne and it was (without doubt) the biggest wake up call I’d ever been given. From what I remember the initial schedule involved me attending some introductory meetings at the production’s base in Walker and basically discussing various practicalities of both working on this production and general health and safety of a BBC production. We were then asked to speak about ourselves and give a brief introduction to some of the bigger production officials about who we were and what we were doing there.

Shortly thereafter we were arranged into teams (generally speaking either “day team” or “night team”) and were told about the immense amount of filming that would be done to bring this show to the screen. Four girls, all from affluent backgrounds, would be invited to come and live in a Council house in Walker for two weeks and experience life in an area of the country which had vast economic/social living conditions to what they’d experienced. To help them along they’d be “coached” by four Geordie girls who would act as their “sisters” along various quests – such as visiting social housing projects, doing charity work and going out for a Newcastle night.

What followed was perhaps the most incredible introduction to TV production I’d ever been given. I had personally been somewhat or a social hermit in the past year or so (especially after undergoing a heart operation in March 2010) so living 10 miles away from the City Centre of Newcastle was enough to keep me from ever visiting it – especially when Silverlink and Metro Centre were within easy and commutable distance by car. But this program opened me up fully to places of Newcastle I’d just never been – and these weren’t even places filmed on the show!

I remember one particular morning at the Production office when myself and (I won’t mention his name just in case) a fellow Production Assistant were called over to the HQ and told that the girls would be doing some work renovating a house and that we would have to go and source the supplies from B&Q…basically given a shopping list and told to get whatever was needed…after this we were sent into the City Centre itself, to collect materials from Fenwick’s and Grainger Market that the girls were able to use for Bunting and Cake Making in order to hold a party for some of those they were helping.

Another interesting task involved going around department stores seeking soft furnishings for dressing the house in which the girls lived. I can remember that we were standing around cleaning and preparing the house when the first of the four London girls were arriving on the train into Newcastle. When we did the clean up day, and helped take down the beds and materials needed to convert the house back to regular Council use, I found several lottery tickets underneath each girls pillow. Unbeknownst to the crew they’d been using their small allowance every day to purchase raffle tickets attempting to get more money. It was a sobering moment which I regret not seeing captured.

My experiences on this show were so positive and so rewarding that you’d reach the end of your shift (on the “day team”) and not want to go home! It was the kind of work that you’d gladly do for free because you enjoyed the whole process – especially for someone like me who’d gone from Internet forums and starring at the cat one week to filming a major BBC3 reality show the next!

Even after the show wrapped up filming the money I earned allowed me to actually achieve one of my all time dreams and travel to Holmfirth to see a performance from Joe Elliot’s solo project the Down n Outz – I was able to witness the frontman of Def Leppard in this tiny village in the English countryside and just enjoy the spoils of knowing I had earned the money working in something I loved. Added to that the night we did the Speed dating event in the Cluny was one of the funniest things and most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Something that stays with me even now.

When I heard about BBC3’s programming coming to an end so suddenly I felt saddened and disheartened. The service appealed to a certain demographic who I personally don’t feel will be able to obtain the right information from a similar service. I think it was increasingly obvious that the same young people who watch BBC3 will not watch BBC2 and see it as a simple switchover. BBC3 had a niche, and a need, that made it ideal.

But most of all I feel for the productions that will be lost – the chances and the inspiration that won’t be given. Geordie Finishing School wasn’t a massive ratings hit and attracted a lot of (unfair) comparisons with Geordie Shore when it was released, but the fact remained that it gave me a Golden Opportunity that I will never EVER forget.

Metal Gear Solid (PC, 2000)

Every few years a video game comes along which changes and defines a generation. For all the sex and violence in Grand Theft Auto V we have seen an advance, and depth, in what game play manages for free roaming titles that have raised the bar. GTAV continues to release new and innovative updates, well over two years after the original release, perhaps because of the choices present in the game play mechanics, perhaps because of the millions of players on line who are intently engaging with it; or because the game cost so much to create that the developers have just managed to break even.

In any event, games like this frustrate and compliment in equal measure, taking a forceful side swipe at what (up until that point, anyway) we’d considered the norm and changing our views on conventional video gaming. Metal Gear Solid is one such title.

Originally released on the Sony PlayStation in 1998, the title was actually the third in a trilogy of releases defined as action-adventure stealth. The original, Metal Gear, was released on Japan’s MSX2 in 1987 and received relatively little attention in the West outside a closed circle of mindful gamers. A sequel to the first was quickly coded and released, but again, saw no real Western release to speak of. The relatively “simple plot” of the game revolves around Solid Snake, a former black ops operative coaxed out of retirement to attempt to stop a group of international terrorists from launching a nuclear weapon on a remote US military base in Alaska. Snake also has to rescue two hostages being held at the base and establish the means, motives and abilities of the terrorists.

The Simple Plot of Metal Gear Solid – StarBomb

While the idea of stealth action (as such because Snake has limited to no weaponry and must avoid detection to progress through a large portion of the story) was no stranger to games at the time, it is the cinematic cut scenes, advanced effects and professional dialogue which garnered the installment so much praise. Topics discussed within the game include gene manipulation, the plight of the Kurdish people in Iraq and nuclear disarmament, which translates as it having a fairly “adult” story in a political sense. When we think of titles like Last Of Us there is definitely a more adult and complex story line to modern gaming because of the benchmark set by Snake in this installment, and then subsequently raised on further installations.

For this review, I replayed the PC version, which contains relatively little difference to the original console release; despite finding its way onto computers some two years after the release on PSX. The main difference is an addition of a 1st person view mode, a camera angle that grouped together the largest amount of criticisms during the games original release and also one which featured as a noted improvement on the games re-release on GameCube some years later. While the GameCube title, Twin Snakes, is the same game; it was modernized so extensively that its graphics bear only a familiarity to the original release. In fact, all of the original actors returned to record their voices again for this title.

The PC version also contains a VR disc, featuring everything that was released separately on a Special Missions disc on PlayStation 1; this means MGS on PC mirrors Metal Gear Solid Integral; a Japanese only PSX release which essentially combined both the original discs and the special missions together for one release. I’m always curious as to why, in the West, games companies specifically try and release these projects separately (or even as today’s version of DLC). The VR missions themselves could be considered ahead of their time, as a subsequent “data disc” release on PSOne in 1999 in the West would have been rare enough, so I guess in that sense Metal Gear Solid also introduced a generation of players to the idea of add on content. As true visionaries as Konami were, they were also a corporation.

The soundtrack to this game is incredible. It was an achievement of it’s own, though it went somewhat unnoticed in the grand scheme of things, when considering the technical triumphs that were occurring on games like Final Fantasy VII and the more modern soundtracks appearing on Wipeout. I challenge you not to shed a tear during the heartfelt “Enclosure” as Sniper Wolf breathes her last, or not to be moved by the incredible “The Best Is Yet To Come”, a song sung in traditional Gaelic which was translated from Japanese as the games creators felt it would be sung more poetically in Irish. They were correct. Anyone who has heard the more recent ‘English version’ from the additional Phantom Pain compilation will know the song looses all meaning in the translation.

As Snake progresses through the game the player learns more and more about the world in which they inhabit, what is real and what is counterfeit, but in a strange turn of events for game play of the generation it demands a more involved approach from the gamer. While Final Fantasy VII had it’s hours of dialogue, but no voices, Metal Gear Solid cannot be faulted for the sheer dedication given to the hours of dialogue and recordings made from characters far and wide. Yet, it is the additional information, the briefing found in the options menu before the game even begins or the codec conversations with Natasha (a character who you don’t, technically, even have to speak to in the entire game) which divulge a whole new level of technicality and involvement. And that’s the incredible thing about this game, players chose to become as involved as they wished, or didn’t. But the more effort you placed in learning about these things, the more rewards you gained. Such as strategically using a cigarette to detect lasers in the Tank Hanger. Guess you had to be there? 

The game’s entire campaign is relatively short and asides from the two possible endings based on a pivotal choice within the game, you should be able to finish it (and enjoy the bulk of additional content) within 4 to 6 hours. So replay value was a huge selling point for this title, especially considering its huge launch price and the fact that – let’s be fair – you wouldn’t spend much time doing anything as you watch the interactive nature of some scenes unfold. You should therefore be prepared for a few surprises, additional costumes and files, which make replaying the game a whole new experience. The Tuxedo? Meryl without her trousers? Say no more.

Things like unlimited ammo and stealth essentially make you a BETA tester for the game and you can do so much more. My personal favorite is the Crimson Ninja, which has him looking like Spiderman, though you still won’t be able to play as him outside the select VR missions on that disc.

Overall, Metal Gear Solid is a fast paced, action packed game which – despite its near 20 year age – still holds up incredibly well. Some may even prefer this version, at a time when having limited choices meant every choice was savored, as opposed to the over saturation and high expectations players now come to expect as they critically assess everything that happens on screen. A second hand priced copy of the game should cost between £15 and £20, depending on the condition of the case, inclusion of the manual (which I’d personally insist upon) and whether the game is black label or platinum version. Again, the artwork on the original black label discs is worth the extra.

Revolving World of Colour

Even though Colour Television was a staple of the American diet from 1958, the UK had to wait until John Newcombe won the Men’s singles at Wimbledon nearly a decade later, before the first colour images were projected onto European TV screens.

John Logie Baird, the inventor of television, first demonstrated colour television in 1927 but despite its popularity, high prices and the resulting scarcity of colour programmes, the format was not as widely used in its initial outing. As time moved on, however, cheaper alternatives and formats were created in order to make the expansion of colour film a reality for all mediums and budgets.

Barry Sandrew, PHD, an internationally recognized entrepreneur, digital imaging expert and visual effects pioneer invented digital colourization in 1987. “I invented digital colorization in 1987 at my company, American Film Technologies, as an alternative to the very poor quality that was being delivered using the initial analogue process.”

But new technology is not necessarily always greeted with Universal acclaim. Back in the mid-80s, there was a well-known and controversial campaign to colourise classic movies which led to heated public debate. Ted Turner (the media mogul and founder of CNN) spearheaded a movement in which he believed classic films, among them Orson Welles “Citizen Kane” and Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”, should be colourised for the benefit of future generations. He believed that classics such as these were being ignored by viewers in favour of colour film.

This is an argument that goes back to Thomas Edison, in the late 20th century, who colourised film by hand as he perceived that audiences would not enjoy his own black and white work. It’s a popular misconception; therefore, that colour film was a more modern cinema trait. Victor Fleming’s 1939 musical fantasy “The Wizard of Oz” is one of the most well-known pieces of the time to have been shot purposely in colour (using two tone Technicolor), although the basic technology had existed for almost 40 years beforehand, with the earliest examples going back to 1902.
Technology aside however, there were also plenty of examples where black and white films were colourised in pre-production. Howard Hughes and Alfred Hitchcock created films in black and white, only to remake them in colour, citing both artistic and financial reasons.

Kevin Shaw is a colourist, with over 30 years’ experience in the industry. He believes there is some truth in the notion of a stigma towards black and white on film. “There is a feeling that black and white is “missing” colour rather than being seen as an alternative medium,” says Shaw, “and I believe this inclination persists today.”

Sandrew argues the very objections to colourization is what made it popular. “The fact that colourization was a “hot button” issue actually helped AFT become more popular with both clients and fans of colourization,” says Sandrew. “If people didn’t like colourization they didn’t have to buy nor watch it. Guess what…they did both!” Before Turner, there had already been a counter argument that colour film was damaging to cinema. French director Francois Truffaut argued that colour should not be used at all, making a statement in 1978 that “colour has done as much damage to cinema as television.

It is necessary to fight against too much realism in the cinema; otherwise it’s not an art. From the moment that a film is in colour, it’s not cinema anymore.” Shaw agrees somewhat with Truffant’s statement. “A director has to have a good, artistic reason to use black and white, and that doing so invokes a particular meaning to the project, it is a genre in its own right so not appropriate for all concepts.” Certainly there are examples of this. Alfred Hitchcock shot “Psycho” purposely in black and white to meet what he felt was the required tone for the film, as did CBS Productions with Rod Sterling’s original “Twilight Zone” television series. In both cases colour was offered and refused as a medium.

In the 21st century, it’s perhaps hard to imagine a time when directors had such creative control over their own productions, especially productions with such important financial outcomes for their respective studios. Barry Sandrew agrees that films such as these are classics, which he says have been helped significantly by colourization. “The directors and actors were paid for their work,” says Sandrew, “that does not give them perpetual creative rights to the film. They do not own the film nor did they, in most cases, put up a dime to make the film. Colourization has actually served to subsidize the restoration and preservation of some of our most treasured public domain black and white feature films. In that regard, I believe that colourization has actually done a great service to these classics.”

Professor James O. Young, of the University of Victoria, wrote an academic paper entitled In Defence of Colourization in 1988 that stated once a work is modified it is no longer able to express its creators original intentions. His paper was written at a time when the first Turner produced colour films came under criticism, namely because low quality colourization, restricted by the technology of the day.

But Young still believes its possible colourization can have a negative effect on a film’s artistic merit. “Appropriation from earlier art ought not to be prohibited,” he says. “Artists frequently borrow from their predecessors in a variety of ways and do so (some of the time) with good aesthetic results.”

Shaw argues that, regardless of 21st century technology, the same rules of artistic filmmaking merit apply. “We design images to fit the concept, to be emotionally evocative and to be easier for an audience to interpret.

It is a creative decision that should be made at the creation stage.” It would seem that the image (and colour choice) of a film is therefore essential to its concept. Sandrew agrees with this up-to a point. “When I re-invented colourization in 2000 the film critics were no longer saying that the work looked shoddy or unrealistic. Instead they were saying that the colourization looked so natural. This raised a new concern from critics that the quality was too high and young people would never know what the film looked like in its original black and white format. So surprisingly, high quality colourization earned negative feedback as well!”

Ted Turner had the ability to spearhead a movement which, he personally felt, was of benefit to his consumer and made the business steps necessary to do this. But perhaps more ironically, as Young concludes, “the use of colourisation has increased the distribution of original black and white versions, since these are now often packaged with colour versions.”

Ironically, the greatest benefits come to those who feared their legacy might be jeopardized in the first place. While there’s no doubt life looks better in colour the facts seem to indicate that audiences would rather see them as they were originally intended, sparks of geniuses intact. Colourization, like everything else in Film, has its place.

Plus Booking Fee…Goodbye Yellow Brick Road… (Original Draft, Exclusive)

I wrote an article in 2013 that was published in the fantastic music magazine NEMM. This is the original, second draft, which actually featured an extension of 300 words. The facts, figures and quotes relate to the time when the article was published and do not reflect the current opinions, moods or figures of the 2016 economy – however, it is still worth reading. Your feedback is welcomed.


Homer: What? This is the highest tax increase in history!

Lisa: Actually it’s the lowest tax increase in history, Dad.

Homer: I pay the Homer tax. Let the bears pay the bear tax.

Lisa: That’s Home Owners tax, Dad.

The Simpsons, Much Apu About Nothing (1996)

On Wednesday July 2nd Elton John (and his band) is set to perform at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena. The website quotes that he is “undeniably one of the most acclaimed and adored solo artists of all time” and you’ll get no argument from me. His career success parallels few artists of any genre and his recordings are, quite literally, embedded into popular culture.

Tickets for the event are listed at £55 and £75, a look beyond the home page and prices have now risen to £62.75 and £83.75 respectively with the click of a mouse. The rise in price equates to a booking fee of £8.75 for purchasing tickets online, with an optional “missed event insurance” of £3.75 and a further, mandatory, minimum mail or venue collection charge of £2.50 – none covered in the previous charges.

England, like most other first world countries, is a market economy. In a world where we’re more readily checking our pockets and bank balances it seems unusual to pay an additional £2.50 for sending a letter by first class post. Even more unusual when the £8.75 booking fee doesn’t, on its own, include any form of insurance and is more than what you’d be paid for doing an hour’s work on minimum wage.

With new rules introduced in April 2013 by the UK Government to cut down on credit card surcharges, Booking Fee’s for performances have remained unaffected, with Elton John’s performance at Nottingham Arena also demanding a £9.25 fee atop a £75 ticket price via Ticketline. This is far from a regional occurrence.


In 2013 Ticketmaster UK appointed Chris Edmonds as their new chairman. He’d spoken to the BBC about ticket pricing as managing director, in Dec 2012, saying that “there’s a misunderstanding about what the fee’s are for…in reality we wouldn’t see any share of the actual ticket price. That would be shared between the promoter, venues and the artist” and went on to say that “the actual per ticket fees that we charge to our consumer are our sole source of revenue…in some instances some of those may be shared with the actual event organiser”

By that logic, the Metro Arena has already been paid prior to Booking Fee; a quick survey of their website informs us that all online sales are powered by – the English branch of CTS Eventim AG, a German registered company who purport to be the largest ticket seller in Europe and who reported a turnover of €520 million in 2012. What it doesn’t tell us is why £8.75 per ticket is being charged for simply clicking a few buttons. Do we blame the Arena, Eventim, MasterCard and Visa, the tax man or Elton John?

So, how can you save money? Phones4U Arena in Manchester is just one venue who informs consumers – through its website – that all tickets purchased from the venue box office, and with cash, will not be charged a booking fee. It might seem like small consolation but if you live near the venue and don’t believe the gig will sell out within moments of tickets going on sale then the advice is clear, visit your venue and purchase tickets in person. Organise a pooling system with friends or relatives.

I spoke with Paul Tappenden, the General Manager of Metro Radio Arena, to establish some facts. Mr Tappenden first assured me that all tickets purchased as cash transactions from Metro Radio Arena are not subject to any booking fee. But Paul was clear to state that the Arena would receive absolutely no money from any tickets sold in this way and that they only offer this service as an alternative to their customers who wish to forgo what he called “the convenience of booking online or by telephone”


Using the Elton John example, Paul went onto say that of the standard £55 or £75 ticket price the arena will not receive a penny – with that money shared out between the promoter, event organiser and performers – with the additional booking fee being the only chance for profit the arena has prior to the event itself.

As more and more artists are employing larger productions and bigger crews for Arena shows the average ticket price has risen for a variety of reasons which include everything from life on the road to EU custom and excise duty.

But there is hope for the future on excessive booking and admission prices as the EU plans to crack down on credit card surcharges and online fee’s, calling for them to be more representative of the services offered, though it’s more likely that artists and performers should be made accountable for their personal fee’s and the scope of their own productions. Audiences demand entertainment but an entertainer should be able to relate to his audience.

@Metallica – Ride The Lightning #Metallica #RideTheLightning


“Slaves. Hebrews born to serve, to the Pharaoh. Heed. To his every word, live in fear. Faith. Of the unknown one, the deliverer. Wait. Something must be done, four hundred years”

For as long as I can remember people have been debating the sound of Metallica’s music and their musical direction. The band caused controversy and upset in 2008 when they released their “clipping wars” album Death Magnetic, even leading the album to feature in a BBC radio documentary that suggested the album’s “alternative mix” in the popular video game Guitar Hero Metallica was proof the band had tampered with their own sound. There was backlash over St Anger, an album which drummer Lars Ulrich was quoted as saying was “the album Metallica needed to make to survive” and yet didn’t sit right with fans. In 1996 fans complained about the direction of music in Load and in 1988 complained about the lack of bass on And Justice for All. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned their self titled “black” album from 1991.

The longer Metallica have continued to make music, the more controversial their fans have seemed to be about it, yet I’d wager there are only a handful of “original” fans left. Those who were standing on the front line when the band released their debut album Kill Em All in 1983. A mere ten months after the release of their album, Metallica had recorded its follow up in Denmark, an album in which the band broadened its approach by employing acoustic guitars, extended instrumentals, and more complex harmonies. The result? 1984’s Ride The Lightning.

Now hailed as a masterpiece of modern metal, it’s perhaps easy to forget that this album attracted almost as much criticism from “fans” as St Anger had in 2003, those who had already accused the band of selling out. On the other hand the musical press were quick to commend the album for it’s maturity and depth from a band who hadn’t long since released their debut record. Part of this credit must go to Cliff Burton, the bands bassist, whose study of music and composition was heavily influential in teaching the band more about the music they played and gave Burton a more pivotal role in writing for the album. It’s his subsequent death, just two years after this album was released, that is perhaps the biggest tragedy of all as we review the 2016 reissue.

Released on Metallica’s own ‘Blackened Recordings’ with a gate fold sleeve and mini vinyl quality, there is unfortunately nothing particularly special about this release. It is a real shame that Metallica included none of the demo material from larger box sets on the standard …Lightning re-release, likewise both the linear notes and CD art are carbon copies of the original, giving us nothing new to look at and no new retrospective from a band (or one band member, at least) who are usually very eager to reflect on their material. It’s highly probable that if you’re a Metallica fan you’ll own a copy of this album already, so no new incentive (beyond that of the highly priced box set alternative) seems rather unusual.


Re-listening to this album it’s easy to see why Kerrang! Magazine gave Metallica their first UK cover story in December 1984, as tracks like ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, ‘Fade To Black’ and ‘Creeping Death’ are some of the most well written thrash songs ever composed. Infectious, powerful and harmonious the sound of this remaster is extremely clear and crisp, with it obvious that the up most care has been taken, to preserve the sound of the original recording. With that said, there is only so much that can be done, meaning that perhaps only the strictest of audiophiles will have something to shout about.

The real joy in this issue is coming to terms with tracks such as ‘Trapped Under Ice’ and even the self loathed ‘Escape’, songs that have plagued Metallica for decades, either as parodies of themselves or have simply failed to become the live staple of a track like ‘Nothing Else Matters’ or ‘Enter Sandman’. When reviewing certain tracks in this way it’s a chance to take another look at songs that serve almost as their own B-Sides within an album, lost and forgotten in the shadow of their more famous brothers and sisters. Whether you consider them silent gems of the Metallica catalog or just whether you’d rather they stayed that bit more silent is completely up to you. But it just remains to be said that from ‘Fight Fire with Fire’ to ‘Call of Ktulu’ this album remains one of the strongest jewels Metallica have, even if that misspelling is going to piss off an entire new generation of fans.

Wayne Madden