(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘BBC

“Good taste is the first refuge of the non-creative. It is the last ditch stand of the artist”*…


Filmmaker Samantha Horley recently posted an image of this set of “Guidelines,” which she found among her father’s effects, on her Facebook page. Horley told me that her aunt worked at the BBC as a secretary in the 1960s and 1970s; she thinks the page originally came from her aunt’s papers.

The BBC’s press office told me, over email, that the page looks like it came from The BBC Variety Programmes Policy Guide For Writers and Producers, published in 1948. Although the BBC spokesperson couldn’t confirm this theory, I think this sheet was probably printed up for the amusement of employees in the more free-and-easy 1970s.The BBC reprinted the entire document as a book in the late 1990s; it’s now out of print, but here is a version in PDF. The longer document includes provisions that are less overtly amusing than this section but are interesting nonetheless, offering guidelines on libel and slander, religious and political references, and jokes about physical and mental disability.

Under the heading “American Material and ‘Americanisms,'” the anonymous authors of the handbook observed that “American idiom and slang” were often found in scripts and that “dance band singers for the most part elect to adopt pseudo American accents.” This “spurious Americanisation” should be avoided, the handbook urged, since it was “unwelcome to the great majority of listeners and … seldom complimentary to the Americans.”

Via the invaluable Rebecca Onion and her blog, The Vault.

* Marshall McLuhan


As we mind our P’s and Q’s, we might recall that it was on this date in 1782 that Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, escaped from prison… only to be quickly apprehended.   The French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, philosopher, author, and libertine spent much of his adult life behind bars.  In 1778, de Sade had been imprisoned by order of the king: ostensibly his offense was licentious behavior; but historians note that his mother-in-law, at whose urging the king acted, believed that the young Marquis was spending her daughter’s money too quickly.  (There were also accusations of an affair with his wife’s sister… and it may have further motivated the mother-in-law that her daughter was rumored to be complicit in de Sade’s sexual escapades.)  In any case, it was in the Bastille that he battled boredom by writing– among other things, The 120 Days of Sodom.

He was freed from prison in 1790, and ingratiated himself with the new Republic (calling himself “Citizen Sade”).  de Sade began writing again, anonymously publishing works including Justine and Juliette… until, in 1801, Napoleon ordered his arrest (again for indecency and blasphemy).  de Sade spent two years in prison, until his family had him declared insane, and moved him to the asylum at Charenton (the scene of Peter Weiss’s remarkable play Marat/Sade), where he died in 1814.



Written by LW

July 16, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Maybe the only significant difference between a really smart simulation and a human being was the noise they made when you punched them”*…


The nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is tiny; it has only has 302 neurons. These connections have been completely mapped in the OpenWorm project, which is building a complete simulation of the worm in software. One of the founders of OpenWorm, Timothy Busbice, has embedded the connectome in an an object-oriented neuron program– which he has installed in the simple Lego robot pictured above…

And the result?

It is claimed that the robot behaved in ways that are similar to observed C. elegans. Stimulation of the nose stopped forward motion. Touching the anterior and posterior touch sensors made the robot move forward and back accordingly. Stimulating the food sensor made the robot move forward…

email readers click here for video

Are we just the sum of our neural networks? More at “A Worm’s Mind In A Lego Body.”

* Terry Pratchett, The Long Earth


As we cram for the Turing Test, we might recall that it was on this date in 1967 that the BBC banned “I Am The Walrus” for play on their air.  The Beatles had grabbed and used a snippet of a BBC broadcast of King Lear (which has also influenced Lennon’s lyrics), but that wasn’t the problem.  Rather, the lines “pornographic priestess” and “let your knickers down” were deemed inappropriate.



Written by LW

November 22, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast…”*


Last Friday in Norway, 1.3 million people watched strangers knit on television. For four hours they tuned in as people talked about knitting, and then they stuck around for eight and a half extra hours of actual knitting. I’m serious.

National Knitting Evening is not the first program belonging to a genre called “Slow TV”: Norway’s public TV company, NRK, is responsible for several. Its predecessors include behemoth-size studies on a train trip from Bergen to Oslo (the station’s first, in 2009, clocking in at seven hours), a cruise ship (a record-breaking five days), salmon swimming (18 hours) and a fire burning (12 hours, and very reminiscent of our nation’s own Christmas Yule Log broadcast). Norway’s population is just more than 5 million people, and more than half of them watched a cruise ship’s voyage for the better part of a week…

Read more at the always great Grantland in “Wait For It: Norway’s Slow TV Revolution.”

* Shakespeare, Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 3


As we take our time, we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 (though some records hold that it was this date inverted– November 21) that the BBC broadcast the first televised gardening program, a special based on a radio staple:  In Your Garden, hosted by C. H. Middleton– known throughout the British Isles simply as Mr. Middleton.  The son of a head gardener in Northamptonshire and a gardening columnist for the Daily Mail, Mr. M, Britain’s first celebrity gardener, introduced and championed the “Dig For Victory” campaign in 1939.  His Sunday afternoon program reached 3.5 million listeners, over a third of the available (licensed) audience in the U.K.

Mr, Middleton



Written by LW

November 12, 2013 at 1:01 am

Top of the Pops…


It was 80 years ago (more specifically, 80 years ago last month) that the BBC conducted its first experimental broadcast.  In grateful commemoration, Paste has created a list of its favorite BBC TV series.  Like any “best of” list it begs for bickering (e.g., while Jools Holland’s wonderful series is included, the honoree of this post’s title is not); but then, that’s the fun– and there’s not a ringer in the bunch.

Check them out– and then add your own– at “The 16 Best BBC TV Shows.”


As we acknowledge our Anglophilia, we might recall that this was not a banner date for British-American relations in 1774: in response to Parliament’s enactment of the Coercive Acts in the American colonies, the first session of the Continental Congress convened at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia.

Colonists had gathered before to protest the Stamp Act (1765) and the Tea Act (1773); indeed, the “Tea Party” (and related acts of violent protest)– “Intolerable Acts” as they were called by Parliament– precipitated the Coercive Acts, which closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops.  The Continental Congress was called to consider a united American resistance to the British… and so it did.




Written by LW

September 5, 2012 at 1:01 am

Treading lightly…

In this 1974 clip from the BBC news magazine Nationwide, Mr. Tony McCabe demonstrates how to jump on eggs without breaking them:

 click here for video

Slow news day…

[TotH to The Presurfer]


As we struggle to balance “nimble” and “quick,” we might light a candle for Lucifer Calaritanus, bishop of Cagliari in Sardinia; he died on this date in 370 (according to St. Jerome; it may have been 371).  Though the status is elsewhere disputed, Lucifer is considered a saint in Sardinia, and today is his feast day.  In any case, his name– which means “bearer of light”– is a reminder that “Lucifer” had not in his life time attained its Satanic connotation.  Indeed, it was St. Jerome, in his translation of the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate) in the 390s, who made “Lucifer” synonymous with the Dark Lord… Given that Jerome was a theological antagonist of (Bishop) Lucifer, the naming may not have been altogether coincidental.


Written by LW

May 20, 2012 at 1:01 am

The Annals of Cultural Relativity, Vol 12: Christmas Giving in Different Countries…

Why do kids wish that their parents behaved like Luxemborgers, while parents wish their kids had more Dutch expectations?  The Economist explains it all:

When it became an independent nation in the seventeenth century, the Netherlands pioneered what today would be called austerity chic: think of the plain interiors painted by Vermeer or ruddy-faced merchants in their black smocks by Frans Hals. Today’s chart, which shows a correlation between Christmas spending (culled from various sources) and wealth (in purchasing-power parity terms), suggests that the disapproval of those Amsterdam merchants still has some sway over their descendants. Lightly-taxed Luxemborgers, by contrast, are exceedingly generous outliers. Footloose readers would be well advised to head there for December 25th.

As we reach for the wrapping paper, we might recall that it was on this date in 1932 that the world received a gift from Britain:  The BBC World Service began as the BBC Empire Service operating on shortwave frequencies.  Its broadcasts were aimed principally at English speakers in the outposts of the British Empire, or as George V put it in the first-ever Royal Christmas Message, the “men and women, so cut off by the snow, the desert, or the sea, that only voices out of the air can reach them.”

Expectations for the new Empire Service were kept low. The Director General, Sir John Reith (later Lord Reith; see almanac entry here) said in the opening program: “Don’t expect too much in the early days; for some time we shall transmit comparatively simple programmes, to give the best chance of intelligible reception and provide evidence as to the type of material most suitable for the service in each zone. The programmes will neither be very interesting nor very good.”  (As recording hadn’t yet been mastered, Reith had to read the same statement, live, five times over a 7 hours period to account for different time zones.)

From that modest beginning, the politically-independent, non-profit, commercial-free Empire Service, now the World Service, has become the world’s largest international broadcaster, operating in 32 languages to bring current affairs, culture, education, and entertainment via shortwave, internet streaming and podcasting, satellite, and FM and MW relays to over 188 million listeners the world over.

Alistair Cooke reading “Letter from America” on the World Service (source)

Written by LW

December 19, 2011 at 1:01 am

All Reith Now!…

Bertrand Russell delivering the first Reith Lecture

The Reith Lectures were inaugurated by the BBC in 1948 to honor the contributions of its first Director General, John Reith (more formally known by the end of his career as “John Charles Walsham Reith, 1st Baron Reith”).

Lord Reith had operated on the principle that broadcasting should be a public service that enriches the intellectual and cultural life of the nation. In that spirit the BBC invites a leading figure to deliver a series of radio lectures each year– the aim being “to advance public understanding and debate about significant issues of contemporary interest.”

And so, over the last 63 years, British listeners have been treated to Arnold Toynbee on “The World and the West,” Robert Oppenheimer on “Science and Common Understanding,” John Searle on “Minds, Brains, and Science,” John Keegan on “War in Our World,” Marina Warner on “Managing Monsters”… and dozens more extraordinary minds explaining and provoking.

As of a few weeks ago the BBC has made the entire audio library of Reith Lectures available online, from Bertrand Russell’s kick-off through 2010’s Martin Rees on “Scientific Horizons.”


[TotH to @brainpicker for the link]

As we listen and learn, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908 that “SOS” (. . . _ _ _ . . .) became the global standard radio distress signal.  While it was officially replaced in 1999 by the Global Maritime Distress Safety System, SOS is still recognized as a visual distress signal.

SOS has traditionally be “translated” (expanded) to mean “save our ship,” “save our souls,” “send out succor,” or other such pleas.  But while these may be helpful mnemonics, SOS is not an abbreviation or acronym.  Rather, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the letters were chosen simply because they are easily transmitted in Morse code.

click image above, or here


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,158 other followers

%d bloggers like this: