MasterChef: Rescheduled final to air on Wednesday

The final of BBC One’s MasterChef will air on Wednesday night after being postponed following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh on Friday.

Announcing the rescheduled air date, the BBC confirmed it will be shown at 8pm and made available on BBC iPlayer.

The finale of the cooking series was due to air on Friday, but the BBC suspended its scheduled programming to cover Prince Philip’s death at 99.

The change meant that the MasterChef UK final was replaced by news programmes.

EastEnders was similarly affected, while BBC Four was taken off air completely.

The coverage of the duke’s death reportedly sparked a large number of complaints from viewers.

In response the BBC said: “We are proud of our coverage and the role we play during moments of national significance.”

In a tweet on Tuesday, the BBC Press Office confirmed the new broadcast date for the final of the long-running cooking show, that began in 1990.

It means fans will finally get to see amateur chefs Mike Tomkins, Alexina Anatole and Tom Rhodes battle it out in front of hosts Gregg Wallace and John Torode to be crowned winner of the 17th series.

The Simpsons: Hank Azaria apologises for voicing Indian character Apu

Hank Azaria has apologised for voicing the Indian character Apu on The Simpsons.

Hank – who’s white – had played the convenience store owner since 1990.

He first announced he was stepping down from voicing Apu in January 2020.

Speaking on Dax Shepherd’s Armchair Expert podcast, the actor said: “Part of me feels like I need to go around to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologise.”

The character has been criticised for years for reinforcing racial stereotypes.

Pressure had been mounting on the show since 2017, when Indian-American comic Hari Kondabolu made a documentary saying Apu was founded on racial stereotypes.

The criticism stung.

But Hank told the podcast he initially didn’t know whether to stop doing the voice or not – because he didn’t want to make a “knee-jerk reaction” to what could’ve just been “17 hipsters in a microbrewery in Brooklyn”.

So he spent the next year or so “doing the work”.

The actor says he “read, spoke to people who knew a lot about racism, spoke to lots of Indian people and went to seminars”.

“I realised I have had a date with destiny with this thing for 31 years.”

Although he insists the character was created with good intentions all those years ago, he says the show was part of “structural racism”.

“I really didn’t know any better. I didn’t think about it. I was unware how much relative advantage I had received in this country as a white kid from Queens.

“Just because there were good intentions it doesn’t mean there weren’t real negative consequences to the thing that I am accountable for.”

He then apologised to the podcast’s co-host, Monica Padman, who’s Indian-American.

“I really do apologise. I know you weren’t asking for that but it’s important. I apologise for my part in creating that and participating in that. Part of me feels I need to go round to every single Indian person in this country and apologise.”

Speaking to Radio 1 Newsbeat in February 2021, the show’s creator Matt Groening, admitted change was needed – after The Simpsons initially tried to laugh off the criticism.

In one episode, Lisa looked directly into the camera, saying: “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”

Now though, the show is re-casting some of the characters – including the news that Harry Shearer is to be replaced as the voice of Dr Hibbert by Kevin Michael Richardson, known for his voice work on American Dad! and Family Guy.

Apu is currently sidelined while another actor is found to play him.

“Bigotry and racism are still an incredible problem and it’s good to finally go for more equality and representation,” Matt told Newsbeat.

Given the actors on The Simpsons play multiple characters, some people say it’s overly sensitive to change the voices.

“I have people say to me, ‘Oh does this mean you can’t play Wiggum because you’re not a real cop?’ That’s just ridiculous,” Hank says.

“If it’s a character of colour, there’s not the same level of opportunity there. The first argument is, if it’s an Indian character, Latin character or Black character, please let’s have that person voice the character.

“It’s more authentic, they might also bring their experience of their culture to it – and let’s not take away jobs from people who don’t have enough.”

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Another Round: How a film about a drinking experiment became a celebration of life

In the most diverse film awards season to date, a Danish film about four middle-aged white male friends experimenting with alcohol has become one of its biggest success stories.

Another Round, directed by Thomas Vinterberg and starring Rogue One and Casino Royale actor Mads Mikkelsen, won four European Film Awards in December.

It’s nominated for four Bafta awards, including best director and best actor for Mikkelsen, and is also up for two Oscars, including in the best direction category.

Yet the director says any award the movie wins is, like the film itself, in memory of his teenage daughter Ida who died in a car accident, four days after filming started. The 19-year-old was to have a part in Another Round.

“This film is extra special to me because I lost my daughter while making the movie and so we made it for her, to honour her memory,” he explains. “She loved and adored the project, and so every shine it gets, it’s a shine for her.

“At first it was almost impossible to continue, we were all shattered. The only way to continue was to make it for her. That’s why my daughter’s name is at the end of the film. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning, I was doing something for her. It felt meaningful, even though everything seemed meaningless.

The director adds that the circumstances of making the film “made it grander”.

“It started as film about alcohol and friendship, and then we had an ambition to elevate Another Round to be about life. Not just being alive but living. The film takes place in her classroom amongst Ida’s friends, in their school, and it’s a celebration of youth somehow, and the life she was in.”

Co-written with Danish screenwriter Tobias Lindholm, Another Round sees Mads Mikkelsen play Martin, a history teacher, who together with his colleagues Tommy, Peter and Nikolaj (played by Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe and Magnus Millang) conduct an experiment to see if alcohol can help them discover the lost joie de vivre and mental agility of their youth.

The writers were inspired by a theory put forward by Norwegian psychologist Finn Skårderud that humans are born with a 0.05% blood alcohol level shortfall.

“If we had it, it would, in his words, enhance creativity, courage and inspiration,” says Vinterberg.

“I also looked at world history and acknowledged and enjoyed the fact that a huge amount of great accomplishments have been done by people who may have been drunk at the time.

“Tobias Lindholm and I found it fascinating, that liquor, which is socially accepted, can both elevate people and elevate situations, but it also kills people and destroys families at the same time.

“We wanted to create a tribute to alcohol, but it goes without saying we also wanted to paint a nuanced picture. We never wanted to be moralistic about drinking, but also we did not want to make an alcohol advertisement.”

The director adds that “the film set was completely dry, no alcohol there”.

“But in the preparation time, the rehearsals, we did play around with drink a bit, for the process of research.”

Another Round is the latest Danish language collaboration between the director and Mikkelsen, who made The Hunt in 2012, a film about child abuse that was also nominated for an Oscar, Bafta and Golden Globe, as well as earning Mikkelsen the best actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

“He is Another Round,” Vinterberg says of the actor. “And so are the three others, it’s written for them and of course Mads in particular. They’ve become the movie and they’re inseparable.

“Mads is such a fine-tuned actor, he’s like the best instrument you can get in an orchestra, I feel we’ve come very far and it’s thanks to him.

“This film proves his range, from being a destroyed man on the verge of depression, and ending as you’ll see him, in a dance. It shows his strength as an actor. It’s amazing what he’s done.”

The film was a box office hit in Denmark when cinemas were open last year – which the director says was a relief, “as I was nervous of a film filled up with liquids, silly drinking and dancing opening in a world of confinement and death and financial crisis”.

“I was worried it would feel slightly irrelevant, but the opposite happened. I think there was a need for this irrational, very physical behaviour. People seem to have loved the movie which is even more lucky.

“We had youngsters of 19 years-old with a bag of beer going to see it for the fourth time and next to them you had anonymous alcoholics who fear this movie is about them.”

The high profile of Another Round is a success story for independent European cinema at a time when its future seems uncertain, after a year of mostly closed cinemas. Vinterberg pays tribute to organisations such as the Academy Awards for continuing with their ceremonies.

“They’re fighting for cinema and for these things to demand attention, and to throw light on it,” he says, “and though they might not succeed as well as in the days before the lockdowns, I think they deserve standing ovations for all the work they do.

“I’ve never won an Oscar. I would be very proud if I did and would be thinking very much of my daughter. This particular film means more to me than any other film I’ve made. And it already being embraced and awarded makes sense, as I feel it’s honouring her memory.”

Another Round is expected to be released in UK cinemas on 25 June 2021. BBC Talking Movies’ awards 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 Talking Movies on the BBC iPlayer.

BBC receives 100,000 complaints over Prince Philip coverage

The BBC has received 100,000 complaints from members of the public over its coverage of the Duke of Edinburgh’s death, according to the Sun newspaper.

The corporation cleared its schedules to cover the news when Prince Philip died on Friday, at the age of 99.

EastEnders and the MasterChef final were replaced by news programmes, while BBC Four was taken off air completely.

The BBC said: “We are proud of our coverage and the role we play during moments of national significance.”

However, it declined to confirm the number of complaints it received.

The figures are due to be included in the broadcaster’s fortnightly complaints bulletin on Thursday.

A figure of 100,000 would make the coverage of Prince Philip’s death the most complained-about piece of programming in BBC history.

Other programmes that attracted a high volume of correspondence included the broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera, which received 63,000 complaints in 2005; and Russell Brand’s prank call to actor Andrew Sachs, which drew 42,000 complaints in 2008.

The BBC was not alone in adjusting its schedule to reflect Prince Philip’s death, with ITV and Channel 4 both broadcasting extended news coverage.

However, many viewers turned away as the day wore on, with ITV’s Friday night audience declining by 60% in comparison to the previous week, according to overnight figures.

BBC One’s audience also dropped six per cent week-on-week, while BBC Two lost two-thirds of its audience, with just 340,000 people tuning in at any time between 7pm and 11pm.

The most-watched programme on a single channel on Friday night was Channel 4’s Gogglebox, with 4.2 million viewers.

Late on Friday, the BBC put a dedicated form on its website to allow viewers to complain about the TV coverage, in recognition of the volume of complaints.

The form was removed on Saturday afternoon, after the number of complaints began to fall, the corporation said.

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West agree joint custody after divorce

Kanye West has agreed to joint custody of his and Kim Kardashian’s four young children.

His response mirrors Kardashian’s divorce filing from 19 February, which began the process of ending their almost seven year marriage.

In both of their filings, the US rapper and the TV reality star agreed that their marriage should end over irreconcilable differences.

They have also agreed that they do not need spousal support.

West and Kardashian have two daughters – North and Chicago, age seven and three respectively- and two sons – Saint, five, and Psalm, who turns two next month.

According to Kardashian’s filing, they kept their property separate throughout their marriage because of the terms of a pre-nuptial agreement.

The couple are among the most recognisable stars in the world and are both hugely successful in their own right. Their marriage was one of the most closely followed in recent decades.

Kardashian, 40, first found fame in 2007 as the star of reality TV show about her family, Keeping Up With The Kardashians. The show has remained popular since then and is due to air its final series on the E! cable network next year.

Last week her multiple business ventures – including make up, shapewear and mobile apps – saw her gain billionaire status.

West, 43, is one of the biggest names in rap music, known for global hits like Stronger, Jesus Walks and Gold Digger. He has also found success as a fashion designer.

Last year, West unsuccessfully ran for US president. During his campaign, a series of erratic public appearances and online postings by the rapper sparked concern and led Kardashian to speak out.

She said her husband had bipolar disorder, was a “brilliant but complicated person” and called for greater empathy surrounding his mental health from the public and the media.

David Beckham joins Disney+ for grassroots football show

David Beckham will mentor young grassroots footballers in a new factual series for Disney+.

The sports star, who captained England and played for clubs including Manchester United and Real Madrid, will return to the east London pitches where he played as a child.

His mission is to help a struggling side survive in their amateur league.

Disney says the team and their community will go on “an uplifting, transformative journey of a lifetime”.

Beckham said: “It is fantastic to be making Save Our Squad and to shine a light on the kind of grassroots football that I experienced growing up and which gave me so much at the start of my life in the game.

“I was so fortunate to have a long and successful playing career and now to have the opportunity to give back to these communities as a mentor is incredible.

“Developing and nurturing young talent is so important in the game and it is great to be working with Disney+ on this project.”

The show will be made by production company Twenty Twenty and Studio 99, a production studio Beckham co-founded.

It’s not yet known when the series will air.

He made his Manchester Utd debut in 1992 and went on to win six Premier League titles and the Champions League.

He captained the England team, making 115 appearances for his country.

Born in Leytonstone in east London, the midfielder also played for Real Madrid, Los Angeles Galaxy, AC Milan and PSG.

Since then, he has gone on to found his own MLS team in the US, Inter Miami.

The former footballer has also been a regular on the celebrity circuit over the past 20 years or so, thanks in part to his marriage to former Spice Girl turned fashion designer Victoria.

Taylor Swift releases a perfect replica of Fearless

Most pop stars, if pressed, will tell you they don’t listen to their old records.

Years later, they can still hear all the imperfections, the missed opportunities, the things they’d have done differently.

So when Taylor Swift announced plans to re-record all of her first six albums, starting with 2008’s Fearless, it seemed likely that she’d take the opportunity to rewrite history.

After all, one of the best tracks on Fearless, the lilting Fifteen, is about going back in time to “tell yourself what you know now.”

But somehow she’s resisted that temptation. Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is an almost perfect replica of the original, right down to the giggle Swift lets slip in the middle of Hey Stephen.

The new recordings are cleaner, perhaps. It’s easier to pick out little details like Swift dampening the strings of her guitar on White Horse, or the rattle of the hi-hats on Forever And Always.

Most impressively, Swift seems to have regressed her voice to its teenage state. The maturity she discovered on last year’s folk-pop masterpieces Folklore and Evermore is gone. In its place is a wide-eyed innocence that the album’s giddy recollections of prom dates and first kisses requires.

With everything the star has been through in the last 13 years – from failed relationships to public vilification and a career resurrection – it’s an impressive feat. It would be fascinating to know how she pulled it off: Was it simply a technical process of studying the original tapes, or did she delve deep into her psyche to find a former version of herself? Either way, it’s hard to overstate the complexity of pulling it off.

One song that does seem to have been tweaked is, appropriately enough, called Change.

Leading into the final chorus, Swift corrects her pronunciation of the word “revolution” and adds additional harmonies on the closing “hallelujahs”. It’s a subtle tweak, but it gives the song’s climax a little more oomph.

Overall, the experience is a bit like hearing Fearless on a brand new pair of headphones. Minor details stand out because your brain is attuned to the novelty of having “a new thing”. A week from now, the new versions will seem indistinguishable from the originals.

And that is the point. Swift’s decision to re-make her old music isn’t an exercise in vanity, it’s about taking back control.

The backstory is complicated – but here’s a brief overview: Swift’s recording career started in 2005, when she signed a 12-year deal with Nashville’s Big Machine Recordings. Her first album went seven-times platinum in the US and after switching lanes to pop music on 2012’s Red, she became a global superstar in the process.

In 2018, she signed a new deal with Universal Records, and Big Machine sold the rights to Swift’s first six albums to Scooter Braun – Kanye West’s former manager, whom Swift claimed had “bullied” her for years.

Braun later sold the rights to an investment fund for an estimated $300m, although he reportedly retains a financial interest in the music.

Swift was incensed that he would profit from her records, characterising the sale as an act of aggression that “stripped me of my life’s work”.

She immediately began blocking requests for her old songs to be used in films and TV shows – thwarting one potential source of revenue – and vowed to re-record her back catalogue entirely.

In doing so, she regains control of her songs – with the hope that the new versions will “replace” the originals on streaming services and download stores.

So far, the plan seems to be working. Dedicated Swifties have flocked to the new version of Fearless, sending it to number one on iTunes within hours of its release.

They’ve been enticed by the inclusion of 14 bonus tracks, six of which are previously-unreleased songs from the era. (Among them is the casually-scathing Mr Perfectly Fine, supposedly written about her relationship with Joe Jonas, which the star’s wife Sophie Turner has described as “not NOT a bop”).

But once the excitement settles down, will fans stick with the new recordings, or go back to the beloved originals? Swift will undoubtedly be watching to see what happens next.

NME: “Swift never cringes away from her younger self. Instead, she revisits the songs with kindness and affection, celebrating the success of her teenage releases.”

Variety: “The 18-year-old Taylor Swift is a great place to visit, but Folklore and Evermore are the places you’ll want to return to and live, unless you have an especially strong sentimental attachment to Fearless.”

Clash: “Like a restored photograph brightening from black and white into colour, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is the same, but better.”

The Guardian: “Swift has resisted any temptation to alter the songs’ pop-country arrangements or lyrics, even when the latter could have used a nip and tuck.”

LA Times: “As for the lightweight bonus material… none of it argues that it deserved a place on Fearless, though Mr Perfectly Fine comes close.”

The Telegraph: “Fearless was always an exceptionally fine album of country-pop songs, detailing the romantic fixations of a wholesome teenage American girl on the verge of adulthood, and guess what? It still is.”

Jake Paul: YouTuber denies assaulting TikTok star Justine Paradise

YouTuber Jake Paul has denied sexually assaulting TikTok star Justine Paradise, after she accused him online.

Paradise shared a 20-minute video last week in which she alleged that Paul forced her to perform oral sex on him and touched her without her consent, at his home in Los Angeles in 2019.

“He didn’t ask for consent or anything,” said Paradise. “That’s not okay. On no level at all is that okay.”

In a statement posted on Twitter, Paul said the allegations were “100% false”.

Paradise said she had waited for two years to speak out because she had signed a non-disclosure agreement, something which was allegedly required of all guests who entered Paul’s home.

The pair met several times in June and July 2019, when Paradise would visit Paul’s home – known as his Team 10 house – in California. Paradise says she was introduced to Paul via a mutual friend.

Paul, who is preparing for a boxing match versus UFC fighter Ben Askren on Saturday, said the allegations were designed to distract attention from the fight.

“Sexual assault accusations aren’t something that I, or anyone should ever take lightly, but to be crystal clear, this claim made against me is 100% false,” he wrote in a statement shared on Twitter.

“Not only have I never had any sexual relationship with this individual, but this claim is solely a manufactured accusation and a blatant attempt for attention during a highly visible fight week.”

He went on to note he was in a relationship at the time of the alleged incident and added he’s a “momma’s boy”.

“I respect women and mothers more than anything,” Paul added: “I most certainly have never laid a finger on a girl without their consent.”

The online star, who has more than 20m YouTube subscribers, intendeds to sue Paradise for defamation for the “irreparable damages” to his reputation.

Paul’s representative Daniel E. Gardenswartz said in an additional statement provided to the BBC: “Our client is aware of the recent allegation against him.

“While others have already begun to debunk the claim alleged against him, our client categorically denies the allegation and has every intention of aggressively disproving it and pursuing legal action against those responsible for the defamation of his character.”

He added: “Our client believes that any false allegations diminish the credibility of those who have truly been victims of misconduct.”

Prince Philip: Matt Smith and Tobias Menzies on playing the duke in The Crown

“Don’t. Be. Ridiculous.”

That, according to actor Matt Smith, was apparently the Duke of Edinburgh’s terse response when asked whether he had ever watched The Crown.

Smith relayed the anecdote during a 2017 interview with the Guardian, as he reflected on his time playing the duke in the hugely successful Netflix drama.

The series portrays the inner life of Britain’s modern-day Royal Family, from the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 to the break-up of Prince Charles’s marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales, in the early 1990s. The drama is set to continue in a new season in 2022.

It has been showered with praise for its lavish sets, immense budget, compelling script and accomplished cast, and the awards have followed. More controversial though has been its relationship with the truth.

The royals are notoriously guarded about their private lives.

Even the duke’s supposed stinging rebuke when asked whether he had watched the series is a matter of debate.

“Whether it’s true or not, I don’t know, but I just think he’s a bit of a cool cat,” said Smith, after relating the second-hand anecdote.

“And that’s what I love about him: he’s done what he wants, when he wants, how he wants, with whom he wants. He hasn’t asked permission. And his wife’s the Queen.”

The former Doctor Who star played the dashing, young Philip Mountbatten, who wooed Princess Elizabeth and became her royal consort.

Yet there were, in reality, limits to how much the duke really did what he wanted. Smith’s portrayal of Philip takes in many of the compromises the prince was forced to make – giving up his title as Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, resigning his career in the navy and, ultimately, swearing allegiance to the Queen.

When Elizabeth was crowned in 1953, Philip is depicted in the show asking her if he can be excused from kneeling to pay homage to her during the ceremony.

So what did his role teach Smith about the man himself?

“In this day and age, with all the conversations we’re having about being a man and maleness, and what it is to be empowered and respected as a woman – I just found that thrilling,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.

“And also, I kind of sided with him, which is controversial. I felt, ‘Yeah, I wouldn’t really want to kneel to my wife’.”

His enthusiasm for the character continued into season two when Smith said he saw the duke as a “roguish, brilliant man”, adding: “I just found a lot to celebrate in Philip.”

The actor, who was Emmy-nominated in 2018 for playing the role, told Variety that year: “I sort of loved Philip, and there was a lot that I could identify with: the competitiveness, the sporting nature, the battle, the defiance and the maleness.

“One of the interesting challenges for me was that I felt there was a sort of a misconception and a preconception about him, which reduced him a bit.

“And actually all the research I did found him to be brilliantly funny, very clever, very popular. In the royal house he’s the most popular of all of them. If you’ve talked to any of the staff, Philip’s the one they all love really. I think more than a lot of them, he’s a bit more of a man of the people.”

Smith was no less complimentary when reacting to news of the duke’s death. “Prince Philip was the man. And he knew it. 99 and out, but what an innings. And what style,” he said. “Thank you for your service old chap – it won’t be the same without you.”

The role of Philip was passed to Tobias Menzies in season three, when the middle-aged duke played opposite Olivia Colman. Speaking in the immediate aftermath of the duke’s death on Friday, Menzies was the essence of modesty.

“If I know anything about the Duke of Edinburgh I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t want some actor who has portrayed him on television giving their opinion on his life,” he said, going on to quote the character of Orlando in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

“O good old man! how well in thee appears

“The constant service of the antique world…”

Before adding: “Rest in Peace.”

But some time before that, Menzies, who bleached his eyebrows for the role of the duke, was asked by the LA Times if he knew whether Prince Philip had watched his portrayal.

“‘The crown doesn’t comment.’ I think that’s the motto,” he replied.

He played the prince in seasons three and four, covering 1964 to 1990, and said that by this stage in his life, he “has acclimatised” and “seems to be chafing at the bit less… and seems to have found his feet”.

The Outlander actor told the New York Times that for Philip, season three was “a continuation of themes in the first seasons: being second to his wife, sacrificing his own life and career to some extent”.

Menzies told the LA Times it was a challenge playing the duke.

“They’re quite guarded, both him and the Queen. Having watched a lot of footage of Philip and having read about him a lot, I find him quite a hard man to pin down. That makes him interesting to play.”

The actor, who was nominated for a Golden Globe last year for his role in the show, told Screen Daily playing the royal was “primarily a technical challenge… But it’s a subtle thing to pitch – you don’t want it to be pastiche or caricature”.

Season four’s storylines featuring Prince Philip include a depiction of the early relationship between Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.

The show suggests Prince Philip and Diana shared an affinity with each other.

Speaking to Vanity Fair, Menzies said: “Someone in production managed to get hold of copies of some letters between him and Diana.

“I was really struck by the kind of balanced, calm, quite tender kind of atmosphere to those letters. He clearly, behind the scenes, worked quite hard to mend that relationship. And if those letters are anything to go by, he does seem to have been a keen supporter of hers.”

The final actor to play Prince Philip in the series will be Oscar, Bafta and Golden Globe-nominated Jonathan Pryce, who starred in The Two Popes with Sir Anthony Hopkins in 2019.

He said playing the duke was a “daunting prospect” but added doing it with the Crown’s creator Peter Morgan, along with Imelda Staunton playing the Queen, and Lesley Manville as Princess Margaret, would be “a joy”.

Cressida Cowell: Childrens Laureate leads call for £100m primary school library fund

Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell has published an open letter asking the prime minister to ringfence £100m a year to help primary school libraries.

The How to Train Your Dragon writer told the BBC she wanted “something hopeful” to come out of the “darkness” of the pandemic.

“If you want to level up, libraries have to be a key part of that.”

She wants funding to be guaranteed for primary school libraries in the way that it is for physical education.

The PE premium was introduced in 2013.

“It’s just as important as sport – it’s about children’s life chances,” she said.

“Children reading for joy is one of the two key factors in children’s future economic success… they will also be healthier and happier.”

The letter has also been signed by former Children’s Laureates including Michael Rosen, Quentin Blake and Jacqueline Wilson.

Cowell noted how one in eight primary schools don’t have a library.

That statistic doubles in schools with a higher proportion of children on free school meals.

She also noted that in prisons, libraries are statutory – but not in schools.

“Parents don’t always realise, it’s about awareness. I want all children to have the same chances.”

Cowell said that pre-pandemic, literacy was “already a huge problem” with disadvantaged children being 11 months behind at school.

“Post-pandemic, that figure is set to get worse,” she added.

In a statement, Cowell wrote: “How can a child become a reader for pleasure if their parents or carers cannot afford books, and their primary school has no library, or that library is woefully insufficient?”

Earlier this month, Boris Johnson spoke about his concern for thousands of children in the UK who have fallen behind because of lost learning during the pandemic.

Cowell’s flagship project during her two-year tenure as Children’s Laureate is called “Life-changing Libraries”.

Over the course of a year, six primary schools across England – all of which have at least 25% of pupils eligible for free school meals – will be helped to develop a reading for pleasure culture, with the support of Cowell and the charity BookTrust.

Each school will have a bespoke library space built, with building work set to begin in April ahead of officially opening in June 2021.

Professional training will be offered to school staff, and books and other resources will be given including furniture and wall art.

The project will monitor the impact on pupils’ engagement, attitudes and reading behaviour across 12 months – collecting qualitative stories and case studies.

Cowell said these libraries would be “like a gold standard… the library that I would really love every school in the country to have”.

The schools involved in the project are as follows: