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June 21 2012

Grayson Perry signs exclusive two-year Channel 4 deal

Artist continues partnership with broadcaster and independent producer of recent hit series All in the Best Possible Taste

Channel 4 has signed the Turner prize-winning artist Grayson Perry in a two-year exclusive deal following the success of his recent series.

The first programme in the deal will see the broadcaster working with the artist on a new series made by independent producer Seneca for next year. Seneca made All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry, which finished this week.

Details of the new commission are still to be thrashed out but a Channel 4 source said it was likely to "follow themes from Hogarth's interest in modern moral subjects and look at modern manners and aesthetic values. We are extremely excited but discussions are still at an early stage," the source added.

In his recent three-part series Perry explored modern British tastes, ranging across the working classes of Sunderland, the middle classes of Tunbridge Wells and the upper classes of the Cotswolds.

As part of the project, Perry created six tapestries called The Vanity of Small Differences, which were his take on the tastes of 21st century Britain. The tapestries are currently on display at the Victoria Miro gallery in London until August.

Channel 4's commissioning editor for arts, Tabitha Jackson said: "I'm delighted that Grayson has agreed to continue the creative partnership which produced the taste series.

"His skill not just as an artist, but as an artist-anthropologist somewhere between William Hogarth and Bruce Parry, gives us a unique opportunity to really explore the texture of contemporary life and to understand it in a different way."

Perry, who is known for his work with ceramics, was awarded the Turner prize in 2003. He is also a cross-dresser and images of his alter ego, Claire, often appear in his work.

As well as ceramics, Perry has also worked in printmaking, drawing, embroidery and other textile work, film and performance. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 15 2011

Rewind TV: Comic Strip Presents: The Hunt for Tony Blair; Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey; Who Do You Think You Are: Tracey Emin – review

The Comic Strip's handsomely made political satire had mischief at its heart, while Joanna Lumley proved that a little charm goes a long way during her adventures in Athens

Comic Strip Presents: The Hunt for Tony Blair (C4) | 4oD

Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey (ITV1) | STV Player

Who Do You Think You Are: Tracey Emin (BBC1) | iPlayer

We see so little of the Comic Strip ensemble these days that it's easy to forget how long they've been in the trenches of British spoof, tossing out a grenade every now and then, as if cursed to spend the rest of their days striving to match the perfection of their hilarious first episode, Five Go Mad in Dorset, which introduced high jinks to Channel 4's inaugural broadcast in 1982 and the term "lashings of ginger beer" to the cultural memory.

The Hunt for Tony Blair – a parodic splicing of noughties politics and 1950s British film noir (though what Herman's Hermits were doing on the soundtrack I don't know) – wasn't uproariously funny but it was handsomely made, with melodramatic shadows and enough money for fog, flat-footed policemen and steam trains. The plot, such as it was – a madcap chase across country, with the PM on the run for murder – threw up knockabout humour and vignettes from Blair's WMD fiasco, featuring a cast of the usual suspects: a languid Nigel Planer as Mandelson; Harry Enfield in East End shout mode as "Alastair"; the excellent Jennifer Saunders as Thatcher in her dotage (and full Barbara Cartland drag), watching footage of her Falklands triumphs from a chaise longue.

Director Peter Richardson, whose comic talents aren't seen enough on screen, played George Bush as a rasping B-movie Italian mobster ("I'm gonna get straight to the crotch of the matter here"). With the exception of impressionist Ronni Ancona (whose 10 seconds as Barbara Windsor seemed puzzlingly extraneous), no one went for a direct impersonation. Stephen Mangan didn't make a bad Blair, though he could have worked on the grin, and he couldn't quite make his mind up between feckless and reckless as he capered from one mishap to the next leaving a trail of bodies. Did Blair's moral insouciance ("Yet another unavoidable death, but, hey, shit happens") call for a look of idiocy or slipperiness?

The comedy had mischief at its heart in mooting that Blair had bumped off his predecessor, John Smith, and accidentally pushed Robin Cook off a Scottish mountain, while Robbie Coltrane's Inspector Hutton (aha!) tacitly invoked the spectre of Dr David Kelly (we never found out who Blair was charged with murdering). But it was hard to squeeze fresh satire from the overfamiliar stodge of the politics ("Tell Gordon to run the country and trust the bankers"). Mangan was at his funniest hiding among sheep in the back of a truck or kicking Ross Noble (playing an old socialist) off a speeding train, though there was amusement elsewhere. I had to laugh at variety theatre act Professor Predictor, shoehorned into the story to enable Rik Mayall in a bald wig and boffin glasses to answer questions from the audience. Would the Beatles still be at No 1 in 50 years' time?

"No. The Beatles will no longer exist. But Paul McCartney will marry a woman with one leg."

How the audience roared. "Pull the other one," someone shouted. Arf, arf.

My heart sank a little when Joanna Lumley started her Greek Odyssey with the words: "I'm in Athens, the capital of Greece." Well, OK, I suppose she could have meant the one in Ohio. But it wasn't long before she won me over, not least by climbing what looked like a homemade ladder to the top of the Acropolis to watch restorers scraping away, using toothbrushes and dentists' drills. You wouldn't have got me up there. "Don't look down," said her interpreter. Joanna, bless her, tried to take her mind off her vertigo by telling us about the traumatic day she got stuck on a ladder as a girl and had to be rescued. She was only up here now, she said, out of duty to the viewers. "Because I love you," she said, shooting a toothy smile at the camera.

After a day at the ruins she was ready for a night on the town and was soon heading for a club where it was tradition for the customers to pay 60 euros for a plate of flowers to throw at a singer on stage. Apparently, a wild evening here could cost five grand. Economic crisis? Pah!

"We live only for this day," reasoned one reveller. "Tomorrow, maybe everything boom!" Maybe? Still, it was good to see philosophy alive and kicking in the home of Aristotle and Plato.

There were gods to be worshipped, in particular 1960s bespectacled diva Nana Mouskouri, whom Joanna met at the remains of a huge amphitheatre. She was taken aback when Joanna asked her to sing, but she didn't need asking twice. The tourists were stilled as Nana trilled, as if required to observe a minute's silence. Joanna does make friends easily. She wooed the odd women of Evia who communicated by whistling at each other. They could speak, too, but if you wanted to banter with a goat on a roof – as one did – only whistling would do. Admittedly, the goats could only say "meh" but frankly it's eerie to see one converse in any tongue. Whistling was a dying language, though, with most of the children in the tiny community of 40 unwilling to learn it, perhaps seeing English or Chinese as a more attractive option in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Then on a remote peninsula, Joanna stumbled upon an old woman living in a deserted hill village. Everyone had left, she said, when they built a road in the 70s. What on earth did she live on? For her answer she took Joanna out to forage for wild asparagus, which she cooked with oil and salt, and lemons as "sweet as oranges". Tucking in, Joanna asked if she didn't get lonely out here in this ghost town in the middle of nowhere. "I'm not afraid of anything," she said. Homer would have put her on the itinerary.

Art's tough girl Tracey Emin has spent her career answering the question Who Do You Think You Are?, or at least creating an effigy of who she wants us to think she is. As a medium of revelation itself, WDYTYA? admits no such cunning. After all, you can't choose your own family. Tracey was a nervous wreck. Would she get the ancestors she deserved – gritty swashbucklers, salts of the earth, creative mavericks – or would they turn out to be loss adjusters from the home counties?

It didn't start well, with maternal great-grandfather Henry having been a product of reform school. Tracey's inventive mind fizzed with wishful thinking. Perhaps young Henry had been plucked out of poverty and earmarked for an education by a rich patron, impressed by his native gifts and promise? In fact, he had stolen two brass taps. But, hang on, he had a spotless record during his years there and acquired skills with saw and lathe that would stand him in good stead if he now emigrated to Canada, which was all the rage with former inmates. Tracey's eyes lit up, but no – he burgled a house instead and stole some cocoa, £8 and a violin. Tracey was sad for poor Henry (whose mother had died) but not without hope: "Maybe he wanted the violin to play," she suggested, adding that there had been guitar players in the family.

Perhaps, said the researcher gently. Tracey blamed the father, but then it transpired that he'd done a year's hard labour for thieving in the 1880s, when hard labour meant walking the treadwheel six hours a day – and that was the equivalent of climbing Ben Nevis twice, said the narrator, who throughout this fascinating programme talked us through pictures of grimy urchins, old lags and scenes of corrective punishment.

But just as Tracey was losing heart, the next archive provided thrilling evidence of a "besom-maker" in the family and then, blimey, a line of tent-dwellers, pedlars, tinkers and Gypsies as long as your arm – kindred free spirits to the blood and bone! Tracey's face said it all. You couldn't make it up and yet it looked as if someone just had. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

September 03 2011

Banksy's 'war of the walls'

Artist complains of inaccuracies in programme about his feud with the underground graffiti hero King Robbo

Graffiti artist Banksy is demanding an investigation into a television documentary about a "battle of spray cans" between him and underground graffiti hero King Robbo. Banksy says it implies that he was responsible for putting his rival in a coma.

The film focused on the extreme rivalry between Banksy, known for his stencil-based images, and the London-based Robbo, famed for his old-school style. Banksy is outraged by what he calls inaccuracies and distortions in "a wilful and malicious attempt by the film-makers to damage [his] credibility and reputation". The artist is so disturbed by his portrayal in Channel 4's Graffiti Wars, shown last month, that he has resorted to more conventional protests – a formal letter of complaint to the broadcaster.

In the programme, Robbo claimed to have slapped Banksy at their first meeting for treating him like "a nobody". Later Banksy painted over the "retired" Robbo's last surviving graffiti along the Regent's canal in London dating from his 1985 heyday. "What started off as tit-for-tat one-upmanship … degenerated into a wider battle of vitriol," the narrator told viewers, as footage showing the defacing of each other's work was screened.

Just after Robbo was shown setting out into the night to target another Banksy work, the film ended, reporting: "Robbo would never get his chance to retaliate against Banksy. Just days after this filming took place, he was found unconscious in the street with life-threatening head injuries and he's been in a coma ever since."

In a statement Banksy said : "Graffiti Wars contained some inaccuracies that I've asked to be investigated and some facts that need to be corrected. They alleged I painted over a piece by Robbo and led viewers to believe I had something to do with him being in a coma. I wish Robbo a full and speedy recovery."

Some claim Robbo was injured in an accident. A source close to Banksy said: "He fell down stairs and hit his head, which was nothing to do with Banksy. There was no police case."

Banksy admits painting over Robbo's Regent's Canal graffiti by stencilling a painter-decorator wallpapering over it, but he is angered by the programme's allegation it was "an act deemed so hostile it shocked the graffiti world".

Banksy argues that Robbo's 25-year-old canal graffiti was in such a poor state his signature was not even legible, and says the programme makers were "biased" in using a photograph of Robbo's work in its pristine state immediately before showing Banksy's defacement of it, only later showing the deteriorated Robbo original. He also criticises the programme's filming of a reception for Robbo's first gallery exhibition, focusing on a couple who refused to be interviewed, wrongly identifying them as "two members of Team Banksy … a business associate and Banksy's PR agent", implying they were scouting the opposition. Banksy's official PR agent, Jo Brooks, said she had no idea who the couple were and denied that they were associated with Banksy.

Channel 4 has edited the couple from its website version and denies the other allegations: "Graffiti Wars in no way suggests that Banksy was responsible for the injuries sustained by King Robbo … The documentary clearly states that Banksy did not realise he was painting over Robbo's work and includes a picture of the deteriorated work." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 16 2011

TV highlights 17/08/2011

Village SOS | Natural World: Heligan – Secrets Of The Lost Garden | Who Do You Think You Are? | Frank Lloyd Wright | Timothy Spall: Back At Sea | Pendle Witch Child

Village SOS
8pm, BBC1

What could be better than taking ownership of your village pub and trying to make it the hub of the community that so many rural villages now lack? Such is the situation in Honeystreet, Wiltshire, as residents start running ailing hostelry The Barge Inn, hoping to relaunch it with a music festival. This second episode of the Sarah Beeny-fronted Village SOS, in which struggling communities attempt to regenerate with the help of the functionally entitled Big Lottery Fund, sees rows and tears before last orders. Ben Arnold

Natural World: Heligan – Secrets Of The Lost Garden
8pm, BBC2

The historically restored gardens of Heligan in Cornwall are home to myriad animal wildlife. Cameraman Charlie Hamilton James has been taking a look at what goes on behind the scenes throughout the year, revealing a family of badgers that tour the grounds foraging for food; barn owls that are kept busy feeding their chicks; a somewhat lost green heron (it should be in America) and a newborn fox cub exploring its habitat for the first time. There's also a look at the insects attracted by the plants, including bumblebees and a red admiral feeding on flowers. Martin Skegg

Who Do You Think You Are?
9pm, BBC1

Jo Rowling never got to tell her late mother about Harry Potter. Now the author goes in search of her French ancestors on her mother's side. And so begins her fascination with her great-grandfather Louis. He came to England from France at the start of the 20th century to work in the hotel trade and was soon supporting an English wife and child. She gets to see incredible documents, and on one branch of the family tree hangs the possibility of heritage from another country altogether. Julia Raeside

Frank Lloyd Wright
8pm, Sky Arts 1

As part of the Sky Arts architecture season, this two-part documentary delves into the life and work of Frank Lloyd Wright who, by his own reckoning, was the greatest architect ever. Wright was one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, loosening up the designs of homes and buildings with his "organic" architecture, which culminated in the magnificence of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. But his life story is fascinating, if troubled: he scandalised society by running away with his mistress, who, upon their return, was butchered at Wright's self-designed home by an employee. MS

Timothy Spall: Back At Sea
8.30pm, BBC4

Second instalment of Timothy Spall's barge-borne circumnavigation of Britain. Tonight, Spall and his wife, Shane, leave Wales to creep along the coast of England's north-west. The footage shot at sea is quite engaging, as Spall struggles grumpily with the boat, the sea and the bureaucracy of ports. Unfortunately, a lot of the episode is based on land, where the narrative drifts into the cut-and-pasted potted histories of the locations that disfigure many travel programmes. Andrew Mueller

Pendle Witch Child
9pm, BBC4

The 1612 trial of Alizon Device in Lancashire is considered one of the most controversial in British legal history. Device was accused of being a witch, and was ultimately damned by the testimony of her nine-year-old sister, Jennet. Forensically analysing the socio-political context of the trial, poet and playwright Simon Armitage presents a portrait of a pre-modern Britain struggling to balance reason and superstition. Armitage's skilful reading of events makes this another welcome addition to an excellent summer season of documentaries from BBC4. Gwilym Mumford © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 10 2011

Tom Lubbock obituary

Collagist, illustrator and chief art critic of the Independent

Until the last months of 2010, Tom Lubbock, who has died aged 53, was mainly known for his work as the chief art critic of the Independent. Two events changed and broadened that public profile. The first was the publication, in the Observer, of When Words Failed Me, his long, painful but at times strangely beautiful memoir of two years' suffering from the brain tumour that was slowly killing him, and which eventually robbed him of the power to write or speak. But it was more than just a fine writer's eloquent lament for the tragic loss of eloquence: it was a prose poem about language and mortality.

Just a few weeks after this, the Victoria Miro Gallery, London, mounted an exhibition of the collages that Tom had made for the Saturday editions of the Independent between 1999 and 2004. It was widely and warmly reviewed, notably by the Turner prizewinner Mark Wallinger, who praised the way in which these "exquisitely crafted" pieces "addressed the world in many different registers – sardonic, caustic, erudite and celebratory, with instinct, intelligence and wit". The exhibition announced to the world something that Tom's friends had long known: Lubbock the art critic was also Lubbock the artist.

When I first met him, more than 30 years ago, he was Lubbock the cartoonist. It seemed as if within days of arrival at Cambridge University – he read philosophy and English at Corpus Christi College – he was adorning the pages of student magazines with ferocious daubs and scatological caricatures.

In those days, before he grew the trademark beard that gave him the air of a 19th-century Russian anarchist, his face was like that of a cherub who had done a sneaky deal with the devil. He tended to dress in odd headgear and old formal suits – part scruff, part dandy – and his fingers were perpetually stained with ink. He was charming, if a bit frightening and had the most infectious laugh I had ever heard: a kind of sustained bronchial explosion. When someone uses the word "glee", I can see the boyish Tom, grinning hugely (he had terrible teeth), blue eyes wide open as he thrilled to some fresh joke or conceit, body convulsed, almost breathless with mirth. He was a superb mimic, too.

Tom was a serious student, busy laying the foundations for what became a formidable erudition, but he threw himself into all manner of other activities, including journalism (he edited an edition of Granta, in its old incarnation), student theatre, and a series of elaborate pranks that are probably best left unrecorded. It was said that whenever the Corpus porters discovered some new Dada-style atrocity, the cry would go up: "Where's Lubbock?"

One college contemporary, who was in the habit of arranging his loose change in neat piles on the mantelpiece, recalls how Tom used to love knocking them over in pure relish of chaos. Another remembers going to Tom's room for the first time and finding a note pinned to the door by a hunting knife: "You will die, Lubbock", it read. He did not seem greatly perturbed.

After graduation, Tom moved to London and began to scrabble around in the world of newspapers and magazines. His family was rather grand – Liberal politician Sir John Lubbock was an ancestor; so was the distinguished literary critic Percy Lubbock – and he had been to Eton. But there was no money to underwrite a life of scholarly ease, so, like most of his college peers, he learned to survive on his wits. He was theatre editor of the exceptionally short-lived magazine Bad News, and a jack of many trades for Richard Branson's Event listings magazine; and he produced lots of illustrations, often in collage form. Gradually, his reputation as a writer of uncommon talent became recognised, and his byline became more frequent.

His career gathered momentum in 1985, when was taken on by the producer Tom Sutcliffe as a regular contributor to BBC Radio 3's arts programme New Premises, for which he wrote both serious essays – his debut piece was a searching appreciation of George Stubbs's equestrian paintings – and spoofs or satires. One of these was a cod-documentary about a Thatcherite agit-prop theatre company, which toured banks and wine bars and gentleman's clubs with such shows as Piss on the Fire, Jack, My Toast's Done. His collage-cartoons began to appear in the Mail on Sunday, and then the Observer, and he designed the opening credits for the Channel 4 television programme A Week in Politics.

Tom also appeared on TV himself, as a contributor to BBC2's The Late Show in its early days. In collaboration with the director Roger Parsons, he also wrote an innovative six-part comedy series for BBC2, The Wolvis Family (1991). As its fans have pointed out, there were elements of this comedy that anticipated both The Royle Family (six characters confined to a single room) and The Office (a deadpan, apparently earnest approach to its characters' absurdities). Wolvis bombed in the ratings, but fared surprisingly well in Australia. Perhaps its best audience was Tom himself, who sat in the studio control room all but exploding with delight, until he had to be thrown out.

Meanwhile, he worked as a radio reviewer for the Independent and then the Observer, and wrote many book reviews. Tom was exceptionally well-informed in several areas – literature, music, philosophy – and as a book reviewer, he could turn his hand to almost anything editors asked of him, but it was becoming increasingly clear that his mind was at its most forceful and innovative when he thinking about the visual arts. He wrote long essays for the journal Modern Painters between 1990 and 2002, and won the Hawthorden prize for art criticism in 1993.

His full-time work as a reviewer and essayist for the Independent began in 1997. Apart from his keen eye and his wide range of reference, Tom's virtues included bracing clarity (he never used art-speak or any other kind of higher waffle), utter honesty (he was never intimidated by reputations), and originality (even if you thought you knew his tastes, he could surprise you). He could also be howlingly funny. His essay about conceptual art, based on various things you might do with a toaster, should be mounted in every modern art gallery as a contribution to public sanity.

When not engaged in journalism or family life – he married the artist Marion Coutts in 2001; their son, Eugene, is three years old – Tom worked at more substantial projects. He wrote major catalogue essays on Goya and Ian Hamilton Finlay, and monographs on Thomas Bewick and Carol Rhodes. A collection of essays from his popular Independent series Great Works will be published this year, and there are three manuscripts of completed books: one on Bad Art, one on the English graphic tradition, and The Donkey's Head, on 17th-century painting. His friends also hope that the full-length version of When Words Failed Me will become a book soon.

The last word should go to Tom: they are the last words of that essay.

The final thing. The illiterate. The dumb.


Quiet but still something?



My body. My tree.

After that it becomes simply the world.

• Thomas Nevile Lubbock, critic and illustrator, born 28 December 1957; died 9 January 2011 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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