In Pictures: Helen McCrorys acting career

Helen McCrory, who has died aged 52, became well-known in recent years for playing the commanding matriarch, Polly Gray, in the TV series Peaky Blinders.

But much of her career was spent in the theatre. She met her husband, Damian Lewis in a 2003 play called Five Gold Rings at London’s Almeida Theatre.

She continued to take to the stage even as the period drama about the Shelby clan became a hit – playing the leading role in the National Theatre’s production of Medea in 2014.

McCrory juggled her West End performances alongside roles on the big screen, portraying Narcissa Malfoy in the final three Harry Potter films.

As the film franchise drew to a close in 2011, she set her sights on other international hits – playing Mama Jeanne in Hugo, which received 11 Oscar nominations in 2012.

That year also saw her play the MP Clair Dowar in the James Bond instalment Skyfall.

It was not her first time playing a figure in the British political world, having appeared on screen as former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife Cherie twice – in the 2010 film The Special Relationship and in the 2006 release The Queen.

The National Theatre’s artistic director Rufus Norris said McCrory was “unquestionably one of the great actors of her generation”.

Jim Steinman: Bat Out Of Hell and Total Eclipse Of The Heart composer dies

Jim Steinman, the colourful composer behind hits like Bat Out Of Hell and Total Eclipse Of The Heart, has died at the age of 73.

His brother Bill told the Associated Press that the songwriter and producer had died of kidney failure on Monday after being ill for some time.

“I miss him a great deal already,” he added.

Singer Meat Loaf, with whom Steinman scored his biggest hits, said goodbye with the words: “Fly Jimmy Fly”.

Bonnie Tyler also paid tribute, saying she was “absolutely devastated” by news of her friend’s death.

Outside of music, “he was also a funny, kind, supportive, and deeply caring human being,” the Welsh singer wrote.

“The world is a better place for his life and his work and a worse one for his passing.”

Known for his bombastic, operatic compositions, Steinman hit the big time in 1977 with the Meat Loaf album Bat Out Of Hell.

Styled as a rock opera, it contained hits like You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth and Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad as well as the title track – and became one of the biggest albums of all time, with more than 50 million copies sold around the world.

The high-camp, over-the-top production was often imitated but never bettered – including by Steinman himself, although he came close on Bat Out Of Hell’s 1993 sequel, which spawned the worldwide number one single, I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).

He later won the album of the year Grammy for his work on Celine Dion’s Falling Into You; and worked on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Whistle Down The Wind, which opened in the West End in 1998.

The Bat Out Of Hell album trilogy received its own stage musical in 2017, with every song penned by Steinman.

And while rock critics often looked down upon his extravagant and expansive style, the composer remained nonplussed.

“If you don’t go over the top, how are you ever going to see what’s on the other side?” he once asked.

“There is no other songwriter ever like him,” Meat Loaf said as Steinman was inducted to the Songwriters’ Hall Of Fame in 2012.

“I can never repay him. He has been such an influence, in fact, the biggest influence on my life, and I learned so much from him that there would be no way I could ever repay Mr Jim Steinman.”

Among the composer’s other famous hits were Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For A Hero, Barry Manilow’s Read ‘Em And Weep, Air Supply’s Making Love Out Of Nothing at All and the Cher/Meat Loaf duet Dead Ringer For Love.

Born and raised in New York, Steinman started his career in musical theatre, writing a score for a college production of Bertolt Brecht’s A Man’s a Man in 1968.

He followed that up with an original musical, The Dream Engine, which he later described as “a three-hour rock epic with tons of nudity”.

The show, in which he also starred, caught the attention of a Broadway producer, who offered him a job at New York’s Public Theater upon graduation.

There, he worked on several projects, including an adaptation of Wagner’s Das Rheingold. But his first big success came when Yvonne Elliman recorded his song Happy Ending for her 1973 album Food of Love.

The same year, an actor called Marvin Lee Aday auditioned for Steinman’s musical More Than You Deserve. The pair struck up a close friendship and, after Aday changed his name to Meat Loaf, they started work on the Bat Out Of Hell project.

It took several years to complete, and was rejected by four record labels. But when it was finally released in 1977, it became an immediate success in the UK and Australia. US fame followed a year later, after Meat Loaf performed on Saturday Night Live.

Despite the record’s success, Steinman maintained that his best song was Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

“That song never goes away. It’s the biggest karaoke song in the world and it’s been covered dozens of times,” he told iHeartRadio in 2017. “It’s one of my children and I’m as proud of it as I am the others. I try not to play favourites but yeah, it’s special.”

He had several fallings out with Meat Loaf over the years, which often ended up in the court room, but they reconciled just as frequently, last working together on the 2016 album Braver Than We Are.

A statement posted on Steinman’s Facebook page confirmed the composer’s death.

“There will be much more to say in the coming hours and days as we prepare to honour this giant of a human being and his glorious legacy,” it read.

“For now, do something that makes you feel young, happy and free. He’d want that for you!”

His manager David Sonenberg said Steinman suffered a stroke four years ago and that his health had recently been declining.

Celine Dion also paid tribute, calling the composer a “musical genius”.

“Having the opportunity to work with him was one of the greatest privileges of my career,” she said. “My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.”

Oscars 2021: The female directors tackling tough truths

The inclusion of two female film-makers – Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell – in the nominations for best director at this year’s Oscars has been hailed as historic. But two other women directors are also competing at the 2021 ceremony with their feature films.

Both The Man Who Sold His Skin, by Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania, and Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanić’s Quo Vadis, Aida? are nominated for the best international film award.

And at the Baftas, Quo Vadis, Aida? is competing in the same category, while Žbanić is in the running for best director.

Quo Vadis, Aida? is the story of a fictional UN interpreter, played by Jasna Đuričić, and her battle to save her family in the massacre at Srebrenica, where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in 1995 by Bosnian Serb forces. The film was funded by nine European countries, including Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“When we started on the film five years ago it looked like mission impossible,” Žbanić explains.

“Bosnia doesn’t have a film industry. We produce around one film a year, with a budget of around €1m (£850,000). But this film, partly because of the extras we needed, would cost at least four times that and so had to be a co-production with other countries.

“This is also a sensitive and painful topic, and as soon as we mentioned the word ‘genocide’, many people shied away, saying, ‘It’s too difficult.’ Now I think, no, it’s you who thinks an audience doesn’t want to see difficult things.

“The awards nominations are such an incredible honour. A director always hopes their story will reach people’s hearts in big numbers, and now we have the Bafta and Oscar nominations, I know how many more people will now see the movie.”

One inspiration for the film was the book Under the UN Flag: The International Community and the Srebrenica Genocide by Hasan Nuhanović, but the director describes the main character of Aida as “a combination of many people we met or read about”.

“Hasan was an interpreter who was there at Srebrenica and his family was expelled from the space,” she explains. “So I did approach him, but it was hard for him to have a film based upon him, and also I wanted a woman as the main character, who wanted to protect her sons and her husband. In the development there were many women as inspiration whose sons were at Srebrenica.”

Kaouther Ben Hania’s film, The Man Who Sold His Skin, stars Yahya Mahayni as Sam, a Syrian refugee who agrees to make himself into a human canvas and be displayed around European galleries. Italian actress Monica Bellucci has a supporting role as a gallery owner.

The story is inspired by the real-life example of Tim Steiner, who agreed for his back to be tattooed by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye and then sold to a German art collector.

The director says she wants to show audiences how hard it is for a refugee to move around the world, compared with the movement of goods.

“It’s not only easier for art to move around, it’s easier for everything – for goods, for pasta, for fruits, for perfume, for fashion,” she argues.

“My purpose is for the audience to live the experience of this refugee, who was a normal human being, but not ‘born in the right place’, as he says to the artist who meets him.

“So, I wanted to give the possibility of empathy, to understand the journey of a refugee. But his journey is not a typical refugee journey. We don’t have the boat, and it doesn’t sink. He becomes a work of art. I wanted this combination between the survival world of the refugee and the luxurious world of contemporary art to make this contrast.

“The art market, like any institution, they have their codes, their way of functioning,” she adds. “So in the movie, the gallery owner, the museum guard, the museum director, they have the reflex of working with a work of art, because they signed a contract, and this is what they know. They can’t deal with Sam as a human being.”

Ben Hania describes her Oscar nomination as “totally crazy”.

“It’s the first ever nomination for Tunisia, and I’d love to bring Africa an Oscar,” she says. “I’m also Arab, and it’s my dream to offer all the Arabic-speaking countries an Oscar too.”

Žbanić won a Golden Bear – the highest honour at the Berlin Film Festival – in 2006 for her first feature film, Esma’s Secret: Grbavica.

Set in contemporary Sarajevo, it told the story of a single mother who was a victim of the systematic rape of women, most of whom were Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), by Serbian soldiers during the Bosnian war in the 1990s.

“Many things have changed since I studied film as a student,” she comments. “We never mentioned any female director in the history of film-making, so for four years I learned about genius men.

“I was 17 when the war started so I didn’t have access to many sources. Later, I was told by many of my colleagues that I should be with my small child instead of working when I was making my first film.

“They just tried to put this guilt on me. But now audiences and film crews are getting used to the idea of a woman directing.

“And with this film it shows the female gaze is really different in war, and a different mindset. For me, war can’t be sexy. I can’t find pleasure in framing this with my camera.”

Ben Hania’s previous film, Beauty and the Dogs, premiered in 2017, months before the Harvey Weinstein scandal led to the #MeToo movement. It’s the story of a young woman who is raped by male police officers.

“I think it’s an international experience of women not being heard and not being believed,” the director says. “That film is the story of a young woman who is raped by policemen and she has to then go and report her rape to policemen.

“I think it was a very important movie for me to do, because when you are a woman, you face at some point in your life something like this. Somebody telling you to shut up, somebody reminding you that you are helpless, that you can’t fight. So, I was doing this movie with all the anger and indignation I have as a woman.”

The Oscars Academy’s increasing diversity drive “is changing things slowly, but it is really changing,” she adds.

“There are now more voters outside the USA too, in Africa and Asia and Europe, so we definitely see this in the movies that are nominated. And we have two women directors in the main section, and two women directors in the international film section.

“And they are beautiful movies – it’s not just because they’re women.”

Quo Vadis, Aida? is available on Curzon Home Cinema in the UK. The Man Who Sold His Skin is yet to receive a UK release date but will be available in the US from 4 April.

BBC Talking Movies’ award season specials are available to watch throughout March and April on BBC News and on BBC World News. Viewers in the UK can also watch on BBC iPlayer.

Oscars 2021: The lowdown on the international feature nominees

Last year was a turning point for the Oscar category which had for decades been known as best foreign language film.

First came the name change. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided the word “foreign” was starting to feel out of date.

Then, the newly-named best international feature award went to the South Korean satire Parasite. A hit with audiences and critics around the world, it won a total of four Academy Awards including best picture.

Bong Joon-ho’s film took more than $250m (£182m) at the worldwide box-office and challenged the assumption that this category is basically arthouse fare for a niche audience.

Rule changes now allow all Academy members to participate in the voting process, not just a specialist panel. But the two basic requirements for the international feature category have not altered: countries can still submit a single film and it is permitted very limited English-language content.

The 93 entries came down to the final five, which are outlined here.

What’s it about?: Martin (played by Mads Mikkelsen) is a middle-aged teacher at a school in Copenhagen. He has an attractive wife and children and his closest male friends are three fellow teachers. All the men are to varying degrees jaded with life and all four enjoy a drink.

Martin, in particular, has lost all pleasure in teaching and perhaps even in being alive. At a colleague’s 40th birthday meal the men discuss a scientific theory that maintaining a certain level of alcohol in the bloodstream optimises an individual’s abilities and generally makes life more bearable.

As a result Martin becomes more dependent on alcohol and starts to drink at work. There are moments when drinking gives him, his friends, and those around them, a profound relish for life and a new self-belief. But his wife grows tired of no longer knowing the man she once loved. A tragedy follows.

Chances of winning: Widely tipped to win this category, Another Round has already taken a raft of awards elsewhere, including the Bafta for best film not in the English language. It’s beautifully crafted and acted; Mikkelsen – who was also a Bafta best actor nominee – reminds us he may be the best screen actor in Europe. The film isn’t judgemental about heavy drinking: it’s clear that some characters in the film benefit from it though the screenplay is honest about the excessive role drink can play even in the lives of Denmark’s school students.

There are surprisingly few films where the audience cares about the characters and wants things to end well for them: Vinterberg manages it. About the only false step is the lame English title – the original Danish title Druk means binge drinking or heavy drinking.

Another Round will be released in UK cinemas on 2 July.

What’s it about?: Chen Nian (played by Zhou Dongyu) is a teenager whose life is made a misery by an ingrained culture of vicious bullying at the school she attends. The authorities seem incapable of controlling the violence and a school friend takes her own life in despair.

Chen Nian, whose mother is struggling to escape poverty, becomes the main target of the bullies. But she meets a handsome street kid known as Xiao Bei (Jackson Yee) and she starts to find an unexpected strength and tenderness in their relationship. With his help she begins to turn her life around.

Chances of winning: Better Days was withdrawn at short notice from the Berlin Film Festival – perhaps because the Chinese authorities disliked the film’s negative picture of the country’s education system and the spotlight it throws on the problems impoverished people face in the big cities.

But the story is expertly designed to appeal to a young adult audience and its two leads (both big stars in China) are convincing and sympathetic in their roles.

The problem is that in its last third the film becomes a slightly turgid police procedural: early scenes in the school feel much fresher. And there’s a striking parallel with Another Round – both show the social pressure school students now face to do well in examinations.

Better Days is available to view in the UK on various video on demand services.

What’s it about?: An observational documentary – there’s no narrator – about the aftermath of the terrible fire at the nightclub Collective in Bucharest in 2015. Twenty-seven people were killed at the club itself with a larger number dying later in hospital. (The phone footage of the fire is brief but utterly terrifying.)

The film is mainly about the reaction of the then Romanian government and of its health system. Bucharest’s hospitals couldn’t cope with the injured and anti-bacterial medicines turned out to be useless because they had been diluted.

It was widely believed that the hospital fatalities were mostly avoidable; corruption and incompetence were blamed. Newspaper journalists pursue the guilty. The country’s health secretary resigns and his successor pledges to improve the system.

Chances of winning: Documentaries are rare in this category, though not unheard of. The first half of Collective is moving; the 2015 disaster isn’t the only fire which has shocked a nation in recent years. The persistence of the journalists in pursuing powerful men in a post-Communist society is admirable.

The director was fortunate that the incoming health secretary allowed him to film vital meetings and telephone calls. The documentary loses a little focus in later stages as it tries to follow victims of the fire as well as what’s happening politically. Will the film’s separate nomination as a full-length documentary divert some support in this category?

Collective is available to watch in the UK on various video on demand services.

What’s it about?: Loosely inspired by a work by the Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, this is partly a satire on the contemporary art scene. But the fictional story of Sam Ali also reminds us how indifferent people in the west can be to events in Syria.

Sam has to leave Syria for Lebanon after he makes a casual comment taken as critical of those in power. To secure travel to Europe he reluctantly agrees to have his entire back tattooed by the wealthy but vacuous artist Jeffrey Godefroi. The contract gives Sam money and a passport (except when it’s purloined by his agent, played by Monica Bellucci). Godefroi now owns Sam, who wants to get back to the woman he loves before she marries a man she can’t stand. Will he escape his fate?

Chances of winning: The film is attractive to look at and Yahya Mahayni is strong in the central role. But a satire needs teeth and this film has fewer than it thinks. As a parody of the avaricious mega-bucks art scene (possibly now beyond parody) it needs more energy and verve. Once we leave Syria the storyline is a bit predictable, though there’s a late attempt to surprise us.

The Man Who Sold His Skin has yet to receive a UK release date.

What’s it about?: Aida (Jasna Đuričić) is a teacher working for the UN as a translator in Srebrenica in 1995. Initially she has a guarded faith in the Dutch soldiers who run the UN compound outside the town. But they prove totally inadequate faced with Bosnian-Serb troops under General Ratko Mladic (today a convicted war criminal imprisoned in The Hague).

The film isn’t heavy-handed in apportioning blame for the real-life massacre of more than 8,000 Muslims which followed – but it’s hard to have sympathy for anyone who administered the base. The story creates a personal story for Aida to dramatise the horrific events around her: her UN pass keeps her safe but her husband and her sons are clearly in peril in the compound. The story adds a last chapter in which director Jasmila Žbanić offers us hope that things in the former Yugoslavia have moved on.

Chances of winning: The film – which was also Bafta nominated for best director and best film not in the English language – is gripping with a sense of dread building efficiently. Yet this is built around a shocking and true story so it’s impossible to enjoy in any normal sense. It’s a powerful and well-made reminder of shameful events in Europe barely 25 years ago. But as a film it’s unlikely to have enough support from Academy members to dislodge Denmark from the top spot.

Quo Vadis, Aida? is available to watch in the UK on various video on demand services.

Brazil Amazon: Celebrities urge Biden to refuse deal with Bolsonaro

Dozens of US and Brazilian celebrities have urged President Joe Biden to not sign any environmental deal with Brazil as deforestation in the Amazon rises.

In a letter, they said an accord risked legitimising a government that was encouraging environmental destruction.

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio and singers Katy Perry, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso are among those who signed it.

President Jair Bolsonaro has weakened protections and called for economic development in the rainforest.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged to a 12-year high last year. The far-right leader, who took office in January 2019, has encouraged agriculture and mining in the area, and rolled back environmental legislation.

The US and Brazil have been holding talks since February on the possibility of collaborating to stop the increasing destruction of the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest. A deal could see Brazil receiving financial aid in return for protecting the region.

President Bolsonaro is among the world leaders who will join a virtual US-led climate summit on Thursday. A deal is unlikely to be announced at the event.

In the open letter, the 35 celebrities told President Biden to “not commit to any agreements with Brazil at this time” and that any deal should listen to indigenous and environmental groups as well as state and local governments first.

“We join a growing coalition… in urging your administration to reject any deal with Brazil until deforestation is reduced, human rights are respected, and meaningful participation by civil society is met,” the letter said. “A deal with Bolsonaro is not the solution.”

President Bolsonaro’s office has not commented. The letter was also signed by American actors Jane Fonda, Sigourney Weaver and Alec Baldwin, Brazilian actress Sonia Braga and filmmaker Fernando Meirelles as well as British singer Roger Waters and actor Orlando Bloom.

The document follows another letter earlier this month in which more than 200 Brazilian groups urged President Biden not to sign any deal with the Bolsonaro government, saying it did not have legitimacy to represent Brazil.

The environmental policies of President Bolsonaro, who is supported by powerful agribusiness leaders, have been widely condemned at home and abroad.

Environmental enforcement agencies remain underfunded and understaffed, and indigenous groups and activists frequently denounce the impunity for illegal logging and mining in protected areas.

The president often rejects the criticism, saying Brazil remains an example for conservation and that more farming and mining in protected areas are the only way to lift the region out of poverty.

But in what was seen as an attempt to show a change in tone, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said last week the government would need $1bn (£720m) in foreign aid to support efforts to reduce deforestation by 30% to 40% in a year. Critics say the authorities should show results first before any financial commitment is made.

Dame Floella Benjamins youth to become uplifting stage musical

Children’s TV legend Dame Floella Benjamin has said she’s “thrilled” that a new stage musical is to tell the story of her arrival in 1960s Britain.

Coming To England is based on her 1997 book about her journey from Trinidad and how she overcame the racism she encountered when she arrived.

It is being adapted by David Wood, one of her former co-presenters on classic children’s TV show Play Away.

“It’s about overcoming adversity, this story, and it’s uplifting,” she said.

Dame Floella moved to England with her family in 1960 at the age of 10, but was met by hostility and prejudice from classmates and neighbours.

The story is about “determination, never giving up, standing up to bullies, and standing up for what you believe in”, she explained after the musical was announced.

Coming To England has already been turned into a BBC children’s TV drama and used as a CBeebies Bedtime Story.

The theatre version will receive its premiere at the Birmingham Rep next February as part of the venue’s 50th anniversary season, and will be aimed at family audiences.

“What I want them to get from it is understanding differences and what it’s like to be different,” Dame Floella, 71, told BBC News. “For various reasons, we might be different, whether it’s our religion, the colour of our skin, the colour hair we’ve got, our size, whatever it is.

“I want them, when they come to see the show, to leave the theatre singing and dancing, and knowing that they too could change the world, and to feel inspired.”

Dame Floella started her career on the stage before becoming a household name in the 1980s as the host of TV shows like Play School and Play Away. She was made a dame last year for her services to charity.

She will now help choose the actress who will play her younger self on stage. “I’m excited to find that Floella, and try to find my brothers and sisters,” she said.

“I started off in showbusiness 50 years ago in the theatre, and so I know that feeling of auditioning and trying to persuade people that the part’s for you.

“I’ll be the producer now in the audience, watching people come on and telling me that they want the part. I think we’ve come full circle. Isn’t that wonderful?”

Coming To England will run from 19 February to 6 March 2022, and Dame Floella has also been appointed the Birmingham Rep’s patron of youth and education.

Other shows in the theatre’s anniversary season will include What’s New Pussycat?, a musical setting Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel The History of Tom Jones to the hits of Sir Tom Jones; a 25th anniversary production of East Is East; and a revival of The Play What I Wrote.

Man denies murdering T2 Trainspotting actor Bradley Welsh

A 30-year-old man has appeared in court accused of murdering a man who appeared in the Trainspotting sequel T2.

Sean Orman is alleged to have shot 48-year-old Bradley Welsh outside his home in Edinburgh’s Chester Street in 2019.

The High Court in Edinburgh has heard Mr Orman is also alleged to have attempted to murder another man with a machete a month before.

He denies a total of 15 charges and has lodged a special defence on four of them.

Mr Welsh was found seriously injured in a stairwell to a basement apartment in Edinburgh on 17 April 2019. He later died from his injuries.

The trial continues.

Golden Globes organisers expel ex-president over Black Lives Matter email

The organisation behind Hollywood’s Golden Globe Awards has expelled its former president over an article he shared about Black Lives Matter.

Philip Berk, 88, had been a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) for 44 years and its president for eight years.

In a group email with HFPA members, Berk reportedly shared an article that described BLM as a “racist hate group”.

He later said he regretted sending the email, the Los Angeles Times reported.

He told members he had “forwarded it as a point of information”, according to the paper.

The Golden Globes are the most high-profile film awards in the US after the Oscars, but Berk’s departure has deepened a crisis at the HFPA.

Earlier this year, a scathing LA Times exposé alleged, among other things, that the secretive organisation did not have any black members.

The HFPA, which is made up of almost 90 international journalists based in LA, has vowed to announce substantial reforms in the coming weeks.

“Effective immediately, Phil Berk is no longer a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association,” its board said in a statement on Tuesday.

The original email chain, which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times, appeared to show other members calling Berk “racist”, “vile”, and “a thundering disgrace” after he shared the post. A senior HFPA figure also told him it was “not appropriate” behaviour.

Berk replied that he “only intended to illustrate the hypocrisy that engulfs us”, adding: “I forwarded it as a point of information I had no hidden agenda, I now regret having sent it.”

The article he shared was heavily critical of the the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of last summer’s protests that were sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer. It also personally criticised one of the co-founders of the BLM movement.

After the email chain came to light, the HFPA said in a statement: “Since its inception, the HFPA has dedicated itself to bridging cultural connections and creating further understanding of different backgrounds through film and TV.

“The views expressed in the article circulated by Mr Berk are those of the author of the article and do not – in any way shape or form – reflect the views and values of the HFPA. The HFPA condemns all forms of racism, discrimination and hate speech and finds such language and content unacceptable.”

The email was not the first time Berk has caused controversy. He took a leave of absence after writing a 2014 memoir that did not reflect well on the organisation. In 2018, he was accused by Brendan Fraser of groping the actor’s buttocks at an event in 2003.

More than 100 PR firms are said to have threatened to cut off access to their stars unless the HFPA announces major reforms.

But those efforts were dealt another blow after the email chain was made public when Dr Shaun Harper, a University of Southern California professor who was hired to be the HFPA’s a diversity and inclusion adviser, also stood down, as did crisis management consultant Judy Smith.

The Hollywood Reporter said Dr Harper’s proposal to add 13 new black members – which would bring the overall total to 100 – was criticised by many within the organisation, who said the scope of the problem was bigger than he realised.

“Having now learned more about the association’s deep systemic and reputational challenges, I no longer have confidence in our ability to collaboratively deliver the transformational change that the industry and the people in it whom I deeply respect are demanding of you,” Harper said in a resignation statement obtained by the publication.

Vernon Kay on Game of Talents and why autocue ruined T4

Fresh from his recent stint on I’m A Celebrity, presenter Vernon Kay talks about his new ITV series Game of Talents and why he really, really hates autocue.

TV presenters make their job look easy. They exude confidence, seem effortlessly in control of their show and rarely stumble over their words.

It helps, of course, that those words are normally being projected on a transparent screen under the camera lens – known as the autocue. It reflects the host’s script, kind of like a window, and allows them to read their links while still looking directly into the camera. It’s invisible to the viewer at home, and saves the presenter from having to memorise lines or improvise.

But it’s safe to say not everybody is a fan of using them.

“Autocue is the death of entertainment television,” presenter Vernon Kay tells BBC News.

“I hate autocue. It’s horrible, because you’re just doing what’s on a screen in front of you. I guess I’m a traditionalist, but I personally feel shackled with autocue because you’re reading the words that you spent the day preparing in the office.

“But when you’re in a studio and the adrenaline is pumping and you go back to reading something you created while eating a Carrs pasty, you’re like, ‘Ugh, it doesn’t really fit.’ But then you’ve got to kind of change yourself to go back and read what is on autocue. I’d rather just learn it, and have a laugh in the studio.”

Kay’s dislike of the device – also known as a teleprompter – can be traced back to the early noughties, when he got his big break as a presenter on T4, Channel 4’s weekend youth strand.

T4 ran from 1998 until 2012, and was the ultimate hangover TV for a generation. It thrived when its young presenters were goofing around, seemingly unrestricted.

It launched the careers of, to name just a few, Dermot O’Leary, June Sarpong, Nick Grimshaw, Ben Shephard and Alexa Chung, all of whom have gone on to enjoy success across media, fashion or entertainment.

“I’ll say this to you, autocue ruined T4,” Kay continues. “All those people who you mentioned there have all got something to say, all really energetic, all extremely talented, and they’ve all gone on to prolong their careers. But as soon as T4 went on to autocue and you start reading something that isn’t reactive, it just kind of takes the spice out of it.”

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when T4 made the switch. Channel 4 have said they are unable to respond, and the show has been off air for nearly a decade. But it would’ve been after Kay’s departure in 2005. By that point, he had been on the programme for five years, and developed a particularly good chemistry with Sarpong, who now works for the BBC.

“June and I had such a laugh just riffing around nonsense, really,” Kay says. “And that was the joy of it, we’d go in, we knew what we were supposed to talk about, but it wasn’t written by a producer or a writer, we got the point across by just ad-libbing.”

Which is presumably why T4 acted as a springboard for so many careers, because it was a showcase of what the hosts’ real personalities were like.

“Exactly, exactly,” replies Kay. “And I think there should be more youth-oriented TV to really give new talent an opportunity to shine by not being on autocue. Young people expressing their personalities and talking about what’s going on in the world. And use those shows as a great training ground for the next Phillip Schofield, Ant and Dec, Tess Daly, Claudia, Dermot, Ben.”

Which raises an interesting question: where is the next generation of presenters going to come from? Radio 1’s former controller Ben Cooper has previously said it became harder to scout new talent without shows like T4. And YouTube and TikTok haven’t really filled the gap.

“At the moment, it looks like your new entertainment presenter is either going to be a sports star – a Premier League footballer or rugby player – or a comedian,” says Kay. (Sports stars who have moved into TV presenting include Peter Crouch and Top Gear host Freddie Flintoff.)

“That’s the trend we’re seeing, and it’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing that we have a variety of personalities on television,” Kay continues. “But if you want to train as a TV presenter, you have to give them a platform to learn the basics. And we were so lucky to have T4, to have CBBC.”

Over the years, Kay has presented shows like All Star Family Fortunes, Splash, and more recently has been fronting coverage of Formula E (electric car racing).

He’s now turning his attention to Game of Talents – a new ITV series which launches on Saturday night. The show sees contestants asked to guess what a member of the public’s talent is, for a chance to win cash prizes.

“It’s dead simple,” says Kay. “It’s everything that we’ve seen on telly past and present – a game show element, a variety element, a guessing element that shows like Masked Singer have been built on. It’s got all of that.

“And it’s got two contestants who compete against each other to win large amounts of money by guessing complete strangers’ talents… just by looking at them.”

The contestants are given multiple choice answers. So they could be told, for example, that the performer is either a guitarist, ventriloquist, yodeller, opera singer or carnival dancer – but they have to figure out which.

Game of Talents is one of several shows based on guessing which are suddenly dominating the TV schedules. In addition to The Masked Singer (which Kay describes as “a game of hide-and-seek on steroids”), there’s BBC One’s newly-launched I Can See Your Voice, which is about spotting a good singer based on their appearance.

“You’re right, it’s a new trend, which seems to have really exploded,” says Kay. “And it’s really something quite simple. Every game show has a guessing element, but not every game show has the guessing element as its main USP. But everyone knows that the best game shows are the simplest. The guessing element is so simple and I think that’s why it works.”

Craig Revel Horwood and Tess Daly (Kay’s wife), both from Strictly Come Dancing, feature as guests in the first episode, helping the contestants.

Asked how he became involved in the show, which is the first mainstream Saturday night format Kay has presented in several years, he replies: “It was obviously the effect that I’m A Celebrity had.” Kay came third (after winner Giovanna Fletcher and runner-up Jordan North) in the recent series, which was relocated from Australia to Wales.

Taking part in such programmes can often provide a career boost – JJ Chalmers and Alex Scott both landed presenting gigs after appearing on Strictly, for example. Was that also Kay’s motivation for taking part in I’m A Celebrity?

“To be honest, no, it wasn’t, because I’m more than happy presenting Formula E, the rugby, the American football, the golf, because those are my hobbies. And I always said if I was doing entertainment, I don’t want to be directing traffic, I want to come back and do a show that I believe in.

“I’ve believed in everything I’ve done in the past and some have worked and some haven’t, but this is a great show, and I’m really pleased I got offered it, because it’s got everything I want to do as a TV host.”

Game of Talents begins on ITV at 19:30 BST on Saturday.

Bridgerton: Netflix commissions third and fourth series

Netflix has announced there will be a third and fourth series of its hit period drama Bridgerton.

The announcement comes before its second series has even completed production.

Netflix has previously said Bridgerton is the biggest series in its history, with 82 million households watching the show in its first month of release.

However, the streaming giant counts a view as anybody who watches more than two minutes of a single episode.

Therefore, a subscriber who only watches five minutes of one episode and switches off is given the same weight as somebody else watching all eight episodes in full.

Bridgerton is based on Julia Quinn’s series of romance novels and produced by Shondaland, which was set up by Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes.

In a statement, the fictional Lady Whistledown said: “Esteemed members of the Ton. It seems we have a rather special announcement. Bridgerton shall return for seasons three and four.

“This author shall have to add more ink,” the elusive lady added.

The first series of the show, which starred Phoebe Dynevor, Nicola Coughlan and Regé-Jean Page was released on Christmas Day.

However, it was recently announced that Page will not be returning for series two.

Shonda Rhimes said: “From the first time I read Julia Quinn’s delicious Bridgerton series, I knew these were stories that would captivate a viewing audience

“This two-season pickup is a strong vote of confidence in our work and I feel incredibly grateful to have partners as collaborative and creative as Netflix.”

Bela Bajaria, the vice president of global TV at Netflix said: “Bridgerton swept us off our feet. The creative team, led by Shonda, knew the material and delivered a beautiful, emotional, romantic drama for our members. They have some exciting plans for the future, and we think audiences will continue to swoon for this show.”

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