Worzel Gummidge and other classic kids’ TV makeovers

Worzel Gummidge is set to make his return to the small screen – in a new BBC series, starring Mackenzie Crook.

The show will be based on the books by Barbara Euphan Todd, rather than the late 1970s TV show.

Crook will play the lead, a talking scarecrow, who was previously played by Doctor Who’s Jon Pertwee.

A statement for the star of The Office confirmed he is working on “a new contemporary adaptation of the original Worzel Gummidge books.”

“It’s in the very early stages of development, so scripts have not yet been written,” the spokesperson said.

The BBC has yet to confirm the remaking of the show.

Pertwee played Worzel from 1979 to 1981 over the course of four ITV series. He went on to make a further two series when the show was reprised in 1987.

But what other classic kids and teen shows have been remade? We take a look at some of our favourite shows that have been given new life, so that a new generation of young viewers can enjoy them for the second (or third… OR FOURTH) time round.

Well, if you’re onto a good thing…


Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Worzel Gummidge isn’t the only classic kids TV show to be getting a makeover at the moment. The first photo from Netflix’s new version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch was released last week.

It’s getting a darker format than the ’90s show so will be more like The Exorcist than Lizzie McGuire.

Doctor Who

Doctor Who first made its way onto screens in 1963 and ran for 26 series before being retired in 1989.

Tom Baker, Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy are some of the most well-remembered Doctors in the original series.

The sci-fi show was brought back in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston as a Doctor for the 21st Century.

The latest – and first female – reincarnation of the Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, will be seen taking the reins in a new series reported to hit screens this autumn.

Charmed

Charmed followed three sisters who were known as The Charmed Ones because they were the most powerful good witches of ALL time.

The show, which aired from 1998 to 2006, is set to be rebooted by American network The CW. It’s being written by Jennie Urman, creator of Jane the Virgin.

The Mickey Mouse Club

The Mickey Mouse Club will be best remembered for launching the careers of Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake back in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

This was actually the third reboot of the show, with the variety show previously running from 1955 to 1958 and from 1977 to 1979.

It returned again in 2017, this time as a Facebook exclusive broadcast.

Beverly Hills, 90210

This American drama followed the transition from high school to college of some of the most privileged teens in California.

It ran for 10 series from 1990 to 2000, with as much drama happening behind as in front of the camera.

Shannen Doherty famously didn’t get on with the other female cast members, with physical fights ensuing between them.

The show was remade in 2008 with a new cast and new name – 90210. It followed the same premise as the original and ran for five years.

Knight Rider

David Hasselhoff played Michael Knight alongside talking car KITT in ’80s classic Knight Rider. The show first aired in 1982 and lasted four series.

It went on to spawn two remakes: Team Knight Rider in the late ’90s, and a series in the ’00s – also called Knight Rider – that followed Knight’s estranged son.

Last year The Hoff revealed he was working on a new Knight Rider series with James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy.


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The thriller writers who are making a killing with crime fiction

British readers have become more gripped by crime and thriller novels, with sales up by 19% between 2015 and 2017, new figures suggest.

The rise has been fuelled by the growth of psychological thrillers and the success of big names like Lee Child, James Patterson and Dan Brown.

Last year, 18.7 million crime books were sold – 19% more than in 2015, data company Nielsen Bookscan says.

They overtook sales for general and literary fiction, which were down 16%.

Relative newcomer Shari Lapena is among the female authors to enjoy the boom. Her book The Couple Next Door was the bestselling novel in the genre last year.

Overall, Child topped the UK crime sales chart in 2017, selling 1.2 million books worth £7.5m – followed by Patterson and Brown.

Paula Hawkins, whose 2015 novel The Girl on the Train led the recent wave of psychological thrillers, was in fourth place after publishing her follow-up Into the Water.

She’s one of a number of authors who have enjoyed recent success with intense personal stories centred on troubled female characters. They include:

Shari Lapena

A Canadian author who switched from comedy to thrillers with 2016’s The Couple Next Door, about Anne and Marco whose baby goes missing while they’re having dinner with neighbours. Her follow-up, A Stranger in the House, came out last year.

2017 UK sales: 445,005.

Clare Mackintosh

The former police officer’s 2014 debut I Let You Go, which starts when a boy slips out of his mother’s grasp and runs into the road – and is knocked down by a hit-and-run driver – was a huge success. Her second book I See You arrived in 2016.

2017 UK sales: 233,719.

Sarah Pinborough

After establishing herself as a fantasy author (and screenwriter for the BBC’s Torchwood), Pinborough switched to psychological thrillers. The twist-tastic Behind Her Eyes took her career to the next level at the start of 2017.

2017 UK sales: 135,459.

Julia Wisdom, crime and thriller publisher for HarperCollins, said the rise in sales of crime fiction was mostly down to the “phenomenal popularity” of psychological thrillers.

“People have got sucked into these stories which are told from the first person, usually, and often with an unreliable narrator. It immerses you straight into someone’s psyche rather than seeing them from the outside,” she said.

“They often don’t have very complicated plots but it’s all about the build-up of suspense and fear, and you have to be completely immersed in the voice.”

Wisdom, who is also on the programming committee for the annual Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, which takes place in Harrogate in July, said big names like Lee Child and David Baldacci “just get bigger and bigger”.

And people “still take comfort from crime novels where bad is punished and good comes through in the end”, she said.

“There’s also intrigue, suspense and mystery solving en route. But in the end, right wins out. There’s some comfort in that. Those sorts of stories tax your brain a bit but they’re not miserablist. In the end they make you feel better.”

2017 best-selling crime and thriller authors Name UK sales

Lee Child1,181,937James Patterson1,150,856Dan Brown482,176Paula Hawkins472,469John Grisham449,138Shari Lapena445,805David Baldacci380,191Martina Cole288,653Peter James274,009Michael Connelly244,905

Source: Nielsen Bookscan

Crime author Ian Rankin said that as well as having fascinating characters and gripping stories, crime fiction can show us “the darker side of ourselves”.

He told BBC News: “Crime tells us a lot about our society, it tells us a lot about ourselves as human beings… All we human beings are capable of doing good, but we’re also capable of doing terrible things to each other.

“There is a rise in these domestic noir novels, where it’s pretty much ordinary people caught in these extraordinary situations. So the reader goes, well, that could be me.”

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Lady Leshurr: How tooth brushing made a YouTube star

Ten years ago, Lady Leshurr would’ve been considered a rapper, pure and simple.

But today, the 29-year-old’s hugely successful online videos make her difficult to categorise.

“I never thought I’d be classed as a YouTuber, but I guess I am technically,” she tells BBC News. “YouTube has done everything for my career.”

Leshurr (whose stage name is a play on her real name, Malesha O’Garro, and nothing to do with being a lady of leisure) is gearing up for her debut album this year after releasing a string of viral videos.

Just a few years ago, the Birmingham-born star was an underground rapper – you’d have been more likely to catch her playing small gigs or releasing mixtapes than uploading YouTube clips.

But then, she launched Queen’s Speech – a series of videos, inspired by battle rap, each filmed in one continuous take.

“I never expected Queen’s Speech to do what it did,” Leshurr says.

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“I took a year out before I started those. I used to just fling out songs here and there, but I took a break, and started to get to know myself.

“Because, even though I had been doing music for ages, I didn’t feel like I had a proper trademark sound.

“So I was watching a lot of people that came out in 2015, and I just realised what’s missing from the music industry is fun. A sense of humour, like old-school Eminem.”

Each of the Queen’s Speech videos took a different theme, and sees her rapping in locations as diverse as the Woolwich tunnel, a residential street in Los Angeles, an underground car park – or while riding a camel on a dual carriageway.

(As you do.)

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But the lyrics of the songs attracted just as much attention as the videos she filmed for them. Their playful, comedic element rapidly became a crucial part of her identity.

“People associate grime with violence and aggression, and I wanted to be the person to change that,” she says.

“The lyrics that I use – I don’t swear, I don’t talk about drugs and violence.”

Instead, garlic bread, Tetley’s tea, Postman Pat, cheesy Wotsits, Brexit, Snapchat, beans on toast and The Jeremy Kyle Show are among the things she has referenced in her songs.

Her lyrics blend such pop culture references with politically-conscientious rhymes while also reading like an etiquette bible for the social media age.

“I can’t stand girls who take their heels off when they’re in a rave / I’ll step on your big toe, just to remind you how to behave,” she spits on Queen’s Speech 3.

“What you Snapchatting in the club for? Just dance man,” she advises on Queen’s Speech 4.

“And there is just one thing, that I never understood / Girls are learning to twerk, but don’t know how to cook,” she raps on Queen’s Speech 6

However, lyrics such as these – and others where she refers to girls who go to sleep with their make-up on or whose “lips look like crispy bacon” – have earned her criticism from some quarters, who have accused her of being anti-feminist.

But Leshurr says her words are intended to be read as light-hearted and funny rather than aggressive.

“Some people just think I’m trying to slander women and put girls down. And it’s not that – it’s just the fact of me loving battle rap,” she says – referring to the live hip-hop clashes where two MCs take turns to diss their opponent.

“It’s never that I’m trying to put someone down. It’s always like ‘Oh my friend always walks around in the club with no shoes on, that’s funny’, it’s not a thing where I’m trying to go directly at someone.

“I say certain things in Queen’s Speech because I know it’s going to be relatable to the common man.”

It was the fourth instalment of QS – complete with the catchy “brush your teeth” chorus – that took her to the next level.

It racked up more than 100 million views across all platforms, including 40 million alone from DeLorean, a prominent US Facebook account which shared it.

Leshurr credits DeLorean with giving her the exposure that eventually led to Samsung using the song in one of their commercials.

She had initially planned the Queen’s Speech series to be a quartet of videos, but after the fourth instalment went viral in such a big way she decided to continue them – and they got considerably more ambitious.

“We went to Woolwich tunnel pretty late one night because we thought people wouldn’t be going through, but there were,” she says of the filming of Queen’s Speech 6.

“So that took us about four hours to shoot because we wanted to do it without anybody else there.

“And a lot of Americans thought that tunnel was CGI, because they didn’t believe we’ve got long tunnels like that in the UK,” she laughs.

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Another key Lady Leshurr trait is her distinctive accent, which shines through on every song.

She was born in Birmingham, but her parents are originally from St Kitts.

“When I was really young, I was rapping in an American accent, I didn’t really embrace my own accent back then,” she says.

“But when I heard Ms Dynamite, I just thought, I respect what she’s doing, I wanna be like that – she’s using her accent, I should be able to use mine.

“And now I love it, I’m happy that I’m from Birmingham, and it did work to my advantage eventually.”

But perhaps the most striking thing about speaking to Leshurr is how removed she is in person from the loud, brash, flamboyant personality you see in her videos.

“I’m basically the opposite person of who I am on stage,” she says. “I keep to myself, barely go out.”

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She’s hinted at her introverted nature in songs before.

On her Unleshed 2 freestyle, she rapped: “Nowadays I’m low, feeling sad… my anxiety is killing me, making my mind go mad. I’m scared to go to the shop because people know who I am… so I lock myself away.”

A year on from its release, she says little has changed.

“I’m shy, I’m nervous, I don’t look in people’s eyes when I’m talking to them,” she explains.

“I decided to put that song out because it’s how I felt, and it’s powerful. If I’m going through something, I’ll write sad music… I have to write it just to turn the page.”

“But when I’m doing a Queen’s Speech I just come out of myself, and I’m down to try everything.”

As she works towards the release of her first full-length studio album, Leshurr is now winding down the Queen’s Speech project (although she does say she’ll continue to do them “now and again”).

In the meantime, she’s releasing freestyles and stand-alone videos (the most recent of which have included Black Panther, filmed on London’s DLR network, and the brilliantly-titled New Freezer) to keep her brand alive and fans happy.

She also recently lent her support to a campaign to encourage responsible drinking, and has a number of live dates lined up – including an appearance at the Reading and Leeds festival this August.

“Now I think it’s going to be more just proper music,” she says, adding that her first full-length album should hopefully be released this year.

“A lot of people think I can’t make songs, they just think I’m a comedian rapper, but I’m still delivering punch lines, content, flow and technique so it’s a bit frustrating, but I definitely want to show the grown-up side now.”


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Millionaire cough scandal: ‘The most British crime of all time’

James Graham’s latest play, Quiz, tells the story of what the playwright describes as the “most British crime of all time” – the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire coughing scandal of 2001.

Charles Ingram, a former British Army major, was accused of cheating his way to the jackpot on the ITV show by conspiring with his wife, Diana, and another contestant, who would apparently cough when the correct answer was mentioned.

Ingram maintained his innocence throughout his court trial. Now, West End audiences are (literally) being asked to decide for themselves whether or not he was guilty – by voting via a keypad at the end of both the first and second half.

“I think quizzes and game shows are fascinating, they’re a very British obsession and I love that,” Graham tells BBC News.

“But I think the story about whether or not a few middle class people tried to steal a million pounds with questions and coughing, feels like the most British crime of all time. And almost ludicrous in its simplicity.

“It just felt really delicious to me, and I thought if we could just try and turn that into an Ocean’s Eleven-style thriller, but with a major and a Welshman coughing, that felt really exciting as a proposition.”

Ingram was found guilty but did not go to jail – the judge instead gave him a 20-month suspended prison sentence.

Quiz, which transferred to London’s Noel Coward Theatre this week after a run in Chichester last year, has received broadly positive reviews from critics.

When it was playing in Chichester, The Telegraph advised readers to “phone a friend and go,” while The Stage described it as “a fascinating, multi-textured and very entertaining play”.

After the show’s London press night on Tuesday, Fiona Mountford awarded it four out of five stars in her review for The Evening Standard.

“I was a lone naysayer for Quiz’s Chichester premiere, finding the play frantic and unfocused,” she said.

“It’s not perfect now – there are still too many distracting bells and whistles; tantalising ideas are left hanging – but it’s sharper and more streamlined and, vitally, more sure of its central thesis: what is ‘true’ when so many aspects of modern life have become a type of blended reality?”

Writing for The Independent, Paul Taylor also awarded it four stars.

“Quiz manages to register the personal tragedy of the Ingrams, analyse the notion of fair play, touch on present politics, overflow with information and ideas – and to be huge fun,” he wrote. “Another hit for Graham? No question.”

But Alun Hood of WhatsOnStage said: “Quiz is a lot of fun but it lacks the warmth, clarity and sometimes surprising emotionalism of Graham’s finest work,” he said.

Speaking to BBC News after the show’s London premiere, director Daniel Evans says: “I’m feeling very relieved, because it was a nerve-wracking evening.

“There were many challenges bringing it from Chichester, because the Minerva theatre is a 300-seater, whereas the Noel Coward is a 900-seater.”

  • Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’s best bits
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    Several changes have been made as a result, and the show is now more ambitious.

    “We put audience members on stage to replicate the studio conditions from the TV show,” Evans says.

    Graham, meanwhile, estimates that around 40% of the play has been rewritten between its staging in Chichester and London.

    “Not because we weren’t happy with what happened in Chichester, but you learn so much when you do a tryout for a show, so we streamlined the narrative, I reordered some of the structure, we had to think about a West End proscenium Victorian theatre, which is very different to a studio theatre in Chichester.

    “Also, so many people involved in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire came to see it, and they called me, asked to meet up, and I learned new stuff, new facts, new anecdotes, so it evolved because of that as well.”

    Theatregoers are invited to vote via keypads on Ingram’s guilt or innocence, both at the end of the first half (when the case for the prosecution is put forward), and the second (after his defence has been heard).

    It’s a case of quite literally asking the audience.

    Evans advises: “Audiences should stay to the very end of the show, because we display some data about the last 10 performances, so people can compare the votes on the night they see the show, to previous ones, which is really interesting.”

    The results, of course, vary each night – but Evans and Graham both say that audiences generally vote guilty after hearing the prosecutors’ case, but are more likely to take Ingram’s side after hearing the defence.

    Presenter Chris Tarrant left little doubt about his own feelings towards Ingram this week, writing in The Daily Mail that he was “guilty as sin”.

    Graham explains: “[Tarrant] came to see the show in Chichester. He came in disguise so we didn’t know he was there. The actors knew when he was leaving because his driver was there.”

    Will Graham reveal his own thoughts on Ingram’s guilt or innocence? “I wouldn’t dare,” he laughs.

    Several of Graham’s plays – such as Ink, This House and Labour of Love – have been staged in London over the last two years, cementing his status as one of the industry’s most prolific and sought-after current playwrights.

    In 2016, Graham revealed he was also working on a TV drama about Brexit – a project he now confirms should hit screens before the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.

    “There is a script, we have a director, we have a channel, we’ll start shooting, we think, over the summer,” he says.

    “And we’ve now focused it down. We now know that it’s very much about the campaign behind the scenes, so we go behind the scenes of the Leave and the Remain offices.

    “We’re very lucky to have source material from people like Tim Shipman of The Sunday Times, who wrote two books [on Brexit], and Craig Oliver, who was David Cameron’s communications director [during the referendum].

    “It’s not necessarily an adaptation, but they’re sources for us, they’re consultants on the show, so hopefully it feels like an authentic behind-the-scenes [portrayal].”

    Quiz is playing now at London’s Noel Coward Theatre.


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Kylie Minogue ‘thankful’ for first number one album since 2010

Actress turned singer Kylie Minogue has said she is “overwhelmed, happy, proud [and] emotional” to have her first UK number one album in eight years.

“I don’t know where to start,” said the Aussie star, who last held the top spot in 2010 with her album Aphrodite.

“Thank you to everybody who has been involved in getting Golden to number one,” the 49-year-old continued.

Golden, Kylie’s sixth UK chart-topper to date, finished 13,000 sales ahead of its nearest rival in the album chart.

Its success pushed the soundtrack to Hugh Jackman’s film The Greatest Showman down to second place.

Golden, Minogue’s first album since her Christmas disc in 2015, sees the pop star experiment with a new, country-influenced sound.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, the singer said she had “put everything into” an album which followed the break-up of her relationship with actor Joshua Sasse.

Golden is one of six new entries in this weeks’s Top 10, which also sees debuts from 30 Seconds to Mars, The Courteeners and Cardi B’s new albums.

Further down the chart, Arctic Monkeys’ former chart-topper AM made a return to the Top 40 at number 31 following the announcement of their new album.

In the singles chart, Drake has stormed to the top spot with Nice For What, which he surprise released last Saturday.

The track is the Canadian rapper’s fourth UK number one single and his second this year after February release God’s Plan.

One Kiss, Calvin Harris’s collaboration with New Rules singer Dua Lipa, makes its Top 10 debut in third place.

There’s a new entry too for Ruti, whose cover of The Cranberries’ Dreams enters the chart at 14 following her being crowned the winner of The Voice UK.

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Will Gompertz reviews David Mamet’s Chicago ★★★★☆

If you’re thinking of going on a creative writing course, don’t.

Save your money and read David Mamet’s new thriller Chicago instead. It’s a whole lot cheaper and you’ll learn all you need to fulfil your literary dream.

Mamet can write. We know that.

He’s got a Pulitzer Prize to prove it.

Plays and movies are where he has made his literary name. American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Untouchables, The Postman Always Rings Twice: it’s not a bad CV.

Dialogue is his thing.

He’s got a reputation for it.

So much so, it has its own name, Mametspeak.

This novel is packed with it: dense passages of jargon-laden conversations between earthy, cynical protagonists who finish off each other’s sentences, if the sentences get finished at all.

The bulk of the chat in this instance is between two old-school, hard-boiled, inky journalists called Mike Hodge and Clement Parlow who work in Coffin Corner at the Chicago Tribune, so called because “it was the place stories went to die”.

“Is non-coterminous a word?” Parlow said.

“It is if you want it to be,” Mike said. “Read Walt Whitman.”

“I can’t. It makes me sick with envy,” Parlow said.

And so it goes.

We’re in Prohibition-era 1920s Chicago where the rat-a-tat speed of their conversations matches the sound of guns being fired around the mean streets and back alleys of the corrupt, violent, crime-ridden city on which they report.

It is a story soaked in illicit whisky and the warm blood of dead mobsters. The Italians run one side of town, the Irish the other. Between the two are the Jews. Everyone is on the make; the only thing going straight are the bullets.

The story takes a while to get going. The first third of the book, the set-up, is about getting the atmospherics right; dragging us back a century, filling in the characters’ back-stories, hearing them bicker about journalism.

“What do you think they’re paying us for?” Crouch [the news editor] had said.

“Man bites dog,” Mike had said.

“Bullshit.” Crouch said. “Man bites dog is too interesting to be news.”

“Then what is news?” Mike said.

“News,” Crouch said, “is that which makes its consumer self-important, angry, or sufficiently whatever the hell to turn to page twelve, and, turning, encounter the ad for the carpet sale.”

Most of our time is spent hanging out in speakeasies and brothels, where new characters emerge and plot lines are planted with the subtly of a brown paper bag changing hands on a park bench.

By the time the story finally kicks off, Mike has fallen in love, two local “faces” have been murdered, and a couple of goons wearing unusual overcoats are lurking ominously in the background like an old score about to be settled.

At this point the novel morphs from being a thoroughly enjoyable period piece into a slug of genre writing that belongs to the era in which it is set. We’re talking Pulp Fiction.

“They said that knowledge is power.”

“Power is power,” Ruth said. “People say differently don’t understand power. Or knowledge. Knowledge is what gets you killed.”

The pace changes. There’s less chat and more action.

Al Capone makes a cameo.

Things turn nasty.

And life gets complicated, as Mike discovers the people on whom he is relying are more unreliable than backstreet gin.

It is not a perfect novel.

There are some bum notes to go alongside the groovy chords Mamet creates with his rhythmic dialogue.

He undermines his character Peekaboo, the all-seeing African American madam at the Ace of Space whorehouse, by making her reveal far more information than she ever would to Mike – without getting anything in return.

And there are moments, not many but some, where he overwrites in a way that the masters of the American crime novel like Raymond Chandler or Elmore Leonard, never would.

That though is being picky.

If you like your language dense, if you’re interested to see it being toyed with by a maestro, and if you fancy a blokey whodunnit to while away the hours until some half-decent weather arrives, then you could do a lot worse than hang out in David Mamet’s Chicago.

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Dame Helen Mirren says streaming is ‘devastating’ for cinema

Dame Helen Mirren has said the rise of watching films on streaming services at home is “devastating” for people who want to make films for the big screen.

“It’s devastating for people like my husband, film directors, because they want their movies to be watched in a cinema with a group of people,” the actress told Total Film magazine.

Dame Helen, 72, is married to Taylor Hackford, director of 2004 biopic Ray.

She said the “communal” experience of cinema is in danger of dying out.

“An audience, a movie, and you’re all in it together,” she said. “You’re frightened, you laugh, you cry all together. So it’s a communal thing. And that’s beginning to disappear.”

The Oscar winner’s comments continue a debate about services like Netflix, which has bought films like Annihilation and Mudbound for its own subscribers.

Its business model generally bypasses cinemas – a fact that has unsettled many in the film industry.

Netflix films have been banned from this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which has introduced a rule saying all films in competition must have a cinema release.

Streaming services may be able to offer fans advantages in terms of price, selection and home comforts – but the attraction of the cinema doesn’t seem to be waning.

Last year, UK cinemagoers spent a record £1.38bn on tickets, up 6.1% on the previous year.

Cinemas v streaming – which is best?

We put Dame Helen’s comments to our Facebook group. Here’s a sample of what people said:

  • “I love the cinema experience but it’s so expensive that I only go to see a movie I’ve been waiting ages for (next trip is Avengers: Infinity War!). With Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriptions there are so many movies I can watch at home in the comfort of my living room and movies tend to come out faster for streaming than they used to on DVD.” Rosie Smith
  • “I love seeing great films on huge screens in the dark in comfy seats and with treats to eat. However, my husband will no longer go any more because of the cost and the fact he can now download for free so feels there’s no need nor justification to go.” Claire Stokes
  • “I love going to the cinema, as nothing compares to being completely enveloped in that room with that sound and vision! Yes the price has risen a lot but where hasn’t it these days? If you’re watchful you can get two for the price of one or become a member for reduced prices. Compared to the cost of a meal out or the price of a few drinks, it’s much less expensive.” Louise Prior
  • “The cinema has become so expensive, so I’ll only go a few times a year. Love the experience, but will only go for films I am dying to see and have been waiting to come out. Otherwise I feel these films do come to Sky or online pretty quickly, so I’m happy to wait.” Eve St Claire
  • “I love the cinema and my hubby and I would like to make it a weekly treat. However the cost means we wait until a film we desperately want to see comes out rather than seeing less exciting films. With travel and ticket price a cinema trip has become a luxury and not a regular outing.” Bbev Hall Palfreyman
  • “I still go regularly. I like being at the cinema but also like having a closer look at the production, maybe because I also enjoy the theatre. Film is definitely a big screen medium and it’s a shame to see the works ignored at the cinema. Lots of times I have seen only three or four people at a screening for something that was really good and that a lot of effort had gone into.” Alex Pinfold

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Isaac Gracie: From choir boy to the charts

Isaac Gracie’s life changed forever the day his voice broke.

From the age of seven, the London-born singer had been a chorister, rehearsing and performing six times a week with the Ealing Abbey Choir.

“I was in the full cassocks and everything,” remembers the 23-year-old. “And by the end of it I had a big, fat chain because I was the [head chorister].

“I was the Flavor Flav of the choir. It was pretty cool.”

In his teens, Gracie could hit the notoriously difficult High C in Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere Mei.

“Then all of a sudden one Sunday, your voice doesn’t go there,” he grimaces.

“That’s a traumatic experience that no-one really talks about. I had to leave the choir.”

Gracie intended to wait until he was 18 and could re-join the group as a tenor… But then he discovered the guitar.

“And obviously playing guitar meant I went down that road of music. I rejected the choir – like, ‘All your structure is lame, I play the guitar now!'”

He taught himself the instrument, picking up Jeff Buckley, Radiohead and Bob Dylan songs by ear until, one day, he nervously entered a school music contest.

“Everyone else was singing Pie Jesu, but I brought my guitar and I was like, ‘I’m going to do [Bob Dylan’s] It Ain’t Me Babe,'” he recalls.

But halfway through his performance, the guest judge (“some famous cellist, I think”) interrupted.

“He puts his hand up and goes, ‘OK, that’s enough’.

“And there’s an audience with all my friends and peers – and I just went, ‘Yo! Don’t interrupt me and my flow, bro!‘ I slammed my guitar on the floor and stormed out.

Pivotal moment

“I don’t know what came over me, because I’m not that kind of guy, but in that moment I became enraged. I walked out of the school entirely and I was crying on the phone to my mum.

“But, long story short, the judge ended up saying the reason he cut me off was because I was going to win – and I ended up going to the final and winning the whole competition.”

It was a pivotal moment for the young singer. One that made him double-down on his ambition to pursue music.

He retreated to his bedroom (“it’s got a low-hanging ceiling like a hutch”) and started making demos on Garage Band, using a “terrible” USB microphone and drawing inspiration from lyrics he’d scrawled across the walls.

One of his first compositions was a rusty, intimate ballad called Last Words. Gracie posted it on Soundcloud, where it immediately caught people’s attention.

It caused such a stir, in fact, that the head of Universal Music flew from LA to see Gracie’s first London show. He was quickly signed to Virgin EMI and dropped out of his creative writing course at the University of East Anglia. But his head was spinning.

“I was the opposite to being prepared,” he says. “I didn’t know where the road was taking me – but I also didn’t know that the road was even open to people like me, to ordinary people.

“For some reason, I thought anyone who was successful in music came from a different realm of existence.”

The dissonance triggered a crisis of confidence. Gracie started comparing his “rough and awful-sounding” demos to the singers he idolised.

“I thought I was a fake, you know? All of a sudden I hit a wave of inertia and self-doubt and depression that I’d never really experienced before.

“The terror of it all started coming over me.”

To make things worse, the sudden acceleration of Gracie’s career tore him away from his girlfriend, and they eventually broke up.

“It completely twisted our relation not only to each other but also to the world,” he says. “Because all of a sudden I had to disappear and do this stuff and she had to watch me go.

“Because life pulled us apart, rather than us deciding we were going to separate, there was a lingering sense of unfairness.”

That relationship, and the rubble of its remains, inspired most of Gracie’s subsequent songs, from the contemplative Silhouettes of You to the angrier, desolate Death Of You & I.

The singer never absolves himself of blame. “I’ve never given so little and promised so much,” he sings on When You Go; while admitting he “faked interest” in his girlfriend’s stories on the flute-assisted One Night.

He says his relationships are haunted by the sins of his father, who deserted the family when Gracie was young – and whom he hasn’t seen for three years.

“I would have said all of those songs were about my ex-girlfriend but in many respects my mum and my dad exist in them as well,” he explains.

“A lot of the songs are about block emotions of abandonment or guilt or heartbreak.”

The singer’s insecurities surfaces in other ways on Terrified, which was written as a riposte to his own hype.

I’m terrified that maybe,” he sings, “I wasn’t cut out for this.”

Those feelings caught up with him during the two-year creation of his debut album.

“I set moronically high expectations for myself,” he laughs. “I wanted it to be the best record of all time.”

Key to the problem was that he had to re-record those bedroom demos without diluting their essence. Last Word, in particular, was revised and re-versioned several times.

“The song is like a little hymn,” he explains, “so you can’t just say, ‘Let’s produce it like Hold Back The River’ because it won’t work on those terms.”

The first attempt, recorded by Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Florence + The Machine), bludgeoned the song’s delicate beauty, launching into the first verse with a double kick drum and starving Gracie’s angelic vocals of oxygen.

In the end, the singer went back to the arrangement of the original demo, adding subtle embellishments that combust in a cathartic climax which puts his choral training to excellent use.

“I only realised fairly recently how much choral music had played a role in how I record songs,” he says. I really try to carry through the evocative, emotional anguish.”

Now that the finished version of Last Words is out in the real world, the singer is finally satisfied.

“I really love it,” he says. “It’s a great song and everyone should listen to it – but I’m also going to say that it was a frickin’ trial and all the pressure and stress I felt boiled down to that one song.”

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Getting out of the studio and playing live has finally restored Gracie’s confidence.

Taking to the stage in London earlier this year, he was in playful mood – “Is a handsome nipple showing?” he asked the audience, tugging at his unbuttoned shirt. “No it isn’t. I’m sorry.”

During The Death of You & I, his long, dirty-blonde hair explodes around him in a thrash of guitar noise the youngster would never have contemplated in his childhood bedroom (“we’ve got neighbours!” he protests)

“Do I look forward to that part of the set? Oh hell, yeah!” he grins, in a rare moment of eye contact.

“Playing with the band made me realise I enjoy singing these songs, and I enjoy seeing the reaction people are having – and therefore they must have merit.

“Now I have a desire, a real drive, to get back in the studio.

“I’m sure all of those questions – all those emotions and confrontations with myself – will come back up again. But now I’ve got a roadmap for where I want to go.”

Isaac Gracie’s self-titled debut album is out on 13 April.

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Hotel auditions should be banned, acting union says

Acting auditions should no longer take place in hotel rooms or homes, the leading US actors’ union has said.

Sag-Aftra, which organises the Screen Actors Guild Awards, has called for an end to the practice “to help protect members from potential harassment”.

Such auditions have “allowed predators to exploit performers behind closed doors”, Sag’s Gabrielle Carteris said.

The announcement comes in the wake of a slew of sexual harassment allegations against high-profile Hollywood figures.

Disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein has been accused of harassing and abusing dozens of young actresses, models and employees.

Many of the alleged incidents are said to have taken place in hotel rooms. Weinstein has denied all allegations of “non-consensual sexual conduct”.

Sag-Aftra’s new Guideline No 1 forms part of a “Four Pillars of Change initiative” to tackle harassment in the workplace.

UK actors’ union Equity released its own report into sexual harassment last month.

Sag-Aftra’s announcement came on the day that two of Weinstein’s accusers appeared at the Women in the World summit in New York.

Actress Asia Argento and model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez spoke about the backlash they have faced since coming forward with their allegations against the movie producer.

“For speaking truth to power, I have been called a whore, a liar, a traitor and an opportunist,” wrote Argento on the event’s website.

“The one thing I will not be though, the one thing none us will be, is silenced.”

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Will Gompertz reviews Monet and Architecture at London’s National Gallery ★★★★☆

This is what you will hear at the National Gallery’s blockbuster Monet and Architecture exhibition, which opened to the public this week:

“Excuse me.”

“Excuse me.”

“Excuse me.”

“Can I just…”

“Sorry.”

“Ouch!”

It is the sound art-lovers make when gathered en masse in a confined space full of eye-popping pictures by one of the finest painters to have ever picked up a brush.

Call it the Monet Mumble: the polite but insistent whispers uttered by well-dressed ladies and gentleman making their way around packed galleries.

Much has been made about the amount of money the National Gallery is charging punters for the privilege of seeing its Monet show while having their toes trodden on (I was on the receiving end twice, and the apologetic perpetrator once).

If you have the audacity to go for the ‘Admission Only’ option and ignore the explicit and assumed ‘suggested’ £2 donation, tickets purchased online for those over 11 years old cost £18 during the week and £20 at the weekend (they are £2 more if bought in the gallery). That works out at around 25p a painting (there are 78 in the show).

Value for money, you could argue.

Particularly when you take into account the ever-increasing costs incurred by museums when putting on such ambitious, ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ exhibitions.

That said, there must be scope to be a bit more innovative and flexible on pricing when planning a sure-fire box office smash, which will be too pricey for too many (e.g. students, families with teenagers, the currently unemployed, low paid workers).

The gallery has clearly thought about the visitor experience.

For the first time, there are no wall texts beside the paintings, just a number, which you then refer to in the small booklet that comes with your ticket.

The upshot is rooms full of earnest, bespectacled faces peering down at this bijou publication like race-goers studying the formbook at the Grand National.

From time-to-time we look up and cross-reference text with picture, before an “excuse me” and move on.

It is a better system than having mini essays by pictures, which causes large huddles of people to gather to the side of paintings like giant barnacles. But I’d prefer a half-way house that had a sparse wall caption stating the artwork’s date and title, and a booklet for the details.

As for the show itself, well…

It is very good.

Although the title is misleading. Monet had no formal interest in architecture.

Canaletto painted architecture.

You could argue Ed Ruscha paints architecture.

But not Monet.

Never Monet.

His concern was with the immaterial.

Monet only ever really painted two things, both of which are as ephemeral as a snap-chat. His subjects were light and air.

Other painters paint a bridge, a house, a boat” he once said,

“I want to paint the air that surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat – the beauty of light in which they exist.”

Yes, there are buildings in every one of the paintings on show at the National Gallery.

Sometimes – as is the case with his spectacular depictions of the medieval façade of Rouen Cathedral – the same building many times over.

But Monet is not exploring its architectural characteristics.

For him it is a superficial motif: a compelling surface on which light falls to create an all-enveloping “atmosphere”.

He painted the same façade from the same spot dozens of times in the early 1890s.

Not to show the intricate details of every nook and cranny, but to capture how the changing light and weather conditions physically altered the ‘impression’ of what he saw.

Colour, a single colour, lasts a second, sometimes three or four minutes at most. What can one do, can one paint, in three or four minutes?” He said to the dealer René Gimpel.

Monet was the ultimate Impressionist; an on-the-spot improviser reacting to Nature’s every move, however small.

Buildings were useful to him in terms of providing a compositional structure, a consistent reference point, and a means of evoking mood. As you can see in Snow Effect at Giverny (1893), which is an utterly wonderful, beautifully rendered psychological depiction of a rural landscape covered in snow.

It is not a literal account of what was before the artist, nor is it of what he felt about what he saw (that was Van Gogh’s shtick); it is a sensational interpretation of the experience of looking at that particular moment: a manifestation in oil paint on canvas of Monet’s senses reporting back live from the scene.

His best paintings, of which there are several examples in this show, have an almost electric sense of immediacy.

Whether it is Normandy, the Netherlands, the Mediterranean coast, or Venice – he takes you there in an instant.

If you can afford the ticket price and don’t mind crowded spaces (there’s still plenty of room to see the paintings and no sense of being rushed through), I would thoroughly recommend you see this show.

You will meet a Monet you know and one that you don’t.

You’ll see how he progressed from Courbet-type realism in his early twenties into a dare-devil picture-maker who changed the way we look at our world.

Nobody thought about art in the way he did:

“When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact colour and shape, until it gives your own naïve impression of the scene before you.”

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