Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Historic Day - and an evening with Andrew Marr

You may ask yourself in years to come where you were on the day the country got a new Prime Minister. And who were you able to discuss it all with. Well, I was extremely privileged to be hosting an event at Cobbetts Solicitors where the guest speaker was BBC journalist Andrew Marr, presenter of the most wonderful TV series Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain. In time I'll even get to review the book he signed for me.

Regular readers of the Marple Leaf will know I am a Tony Blair fan, always have been, always will be. We will miss him when he's gone. He has left office with grace and gratitude. He will have been haunted by the pictures of Margaret Thatcher leaving in tears with the knives in her back. He has walked tall, and so he should, we will not see his like again.

If it were not for the hugely unpopular war in Iraq, Blair would be heralded as a great leader. But this was the issue that has laid bare the spin.

The measure of Blair's rule is that he sees the Middle East as unfinished business and wants to put right what he couldn't sort out as PM. Gordon Brown will be planning the withdrawl of troops right now.

Here are ten thoughts on today, from Andrew Marr.

* Ken Clarke is Andrew Marr's favourite politician, both he and Norman Lamont laid the foundations for the last ten years of stability.

* In 1994 Blair was ready to pack it in and go back to being a barrister, he thought Labour was a lost cause.

* Manchester is one of the success stories of the Blair years. The Labour conference opened the eyes of the world's media to a friendly city, in contrast to Blackpool.

* Gordon Brown is a charmless, dour and obsessive character who believes the world was a better place when it rained in Manchester, buildings were black with soot, and we all worked hard. He has a pessimisstic view of human nature that he shares with Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail.

* Brown would not have known how to react after Diana's death, or 9/11, or 7/7 in the way that Blair instinctively did.

* Sarah Brown will be much more in the background than Cherie Blair, who was always the most political one in the Blair household.

* Tony Blair will be feeling absolutely wretched tonight.

* David Cameron is very clever, but people don't know what to make of him yet.

* Gordon Brown will call an early election, but the Conservatives will win, the country is ready for change.

* Andrew Marr is a gentle hamster, he says, and definitely not a feral beast.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Liverpool v Manchester

The ongoing debate about Liverpool v Manchester takes an intellectual leap forward. Hat tip to my pal Boz for forwarding this link from the New Statesman, where Paul du Noyer makes a plea for Liverpool as the heart of Britain's cultural soul.

A flavour is here:

It is scruffy, careless, brazen and kind. This city has soul. It knows how to throw a party. For all that it's heavy, it is extravagantly welcoming to anyone without airs and graces. After all, it has been entertaining sailors for centuries. If you want a quiet life, then don't choose Liverpool. But if you're on board for the mind-scrambling adventures of an unknowable, violent, tragicomic, globalised 21st-century world, here is a city that knows no other state of being.

The full link is here.

This is a flavour of Dave Haslam's case for Manchester:

The similarities between Manchester and Liverpool are great, but they belie deep cultural differences. Both cities have a history of cultural endeavour, and both have been blessed with gifted local writers. Both suffered a postwar economic decline that appears to have been reversed recently. Both cities have underachieving football teams that play in blue, and red teams that are internationally known. But while Manchester United fans' favourite players include Eric Cantona and David Beckham (most definitely not local boys), in Liverpool the heroes are Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher; that they are proper Scousers is key to their status. Manchester is fluid, ever-evolving, whereas Liverpool is more like an enclave.

The full link is here.

As my pal Dougal Paver might say: cracking stuff.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Going forth

My oldest son Joe took part in a very special Going Forth Mass at Holy Spirit Church today. He took his first holy communion ages ago, he's since even taken communion in France. Anyway, his whole class did it in shifts, but today was about the whole class from St Mary's celebrating their joining of the Catholic faith together. Joe read a prayer beautifully and contributed to the homily. We were all there, as was his Grandad and Nana. But it was great to see all the kids together.

I'm quite new to the Catholic Church and have only experienced good things in my life as a result. I see the same positive things influencing the lives of my children too: a moral compass, a purpose, companionship, and a strong sense of justice. A state of grace. I owe a great part of that, as do many people round here to Deacon Stuart Adlington and Father Marianus Kullu who provide such warm and human guidance to the community.

At the risk of this turning into "kids say the funniest things", we were so touched when Jamie Oldfield, one of Joe's mates, stood up and said the high point of his first communion was that God and Jesus came into his heart. Lovely. But as his Dad, top chap Mark Oldfield, said to me after, "when we asked him he said the best bit was going for an Italian meal. My heart was in my mouth when he stood up and said he had something to say."

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ten thoughts on - a parallel universe – the ten most powerful North West exiles in the world

Each year we produce a list in Insider magazine of the 100 most powerful people in the North West. This year I've thought about the native North Westerners who have risen to the very top. I think this is a credible ten. No celebs, so no room for ex-Beatles, footy players, or even the son of my mate who I had a splendid lunch with today.

1. Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive, Tesco
Sir Terry Leahy is the ultimate Scouser done good, rising through the ranks of Tesco to be its chief executive since 1997. Stands up for business, which you expect he’d have to when his company is frequently cited as “too powerful” because it makes £2 billion. Retains strong connections to the North West through Liverpool Vision, the university of Manchester and Everton.

2. Lewis Booth, chairman, Ford Europe
A board director of Ford and another natural born Scouser. He started his career in trucks, moving to Germany, South Africa, then America, Japan, where he ran Mazda, pitching up in America. Also the chairman of Volvo.

3. Kevin Roberts, chief executive, Saatchi and Saatchi Worldwide
The board of Toyota require Kevin Roberts to sign off all their global advertising campaigns. He’s also close to the board of Proctor and Gamble. An authority on global brands and the author of world reknowned Lovemarks, he is one of the international media jet set and a leading thinker on modern life. A citizen of the world, he lived in Canada from 1987-89 while he was president and chief executive of Pepsi Cola, Canada then moved to Auckland, New Zealand, which he still calls home. Has recently bought a house in Grasmere to add to his pad in New York and a villa near St Tropez. Who would have thought that Kevin Roberts would have achieved any of this when he was expelled from Lancaster Royal Grammar School in the 1960s?

4. Michael Platt, co-founder and chief executive, BlueCrest Capital Management
One of the top hedge fund guys in the world, he was listed in the Sunday Times Rich List in the same spot as the Queen. A Lancashire lad, he was a currency trader and formed BlueCrest which boasts assets under management of £5.7bn.

5. Keith Harris, chairman, Seymour Pierce
Stockport lad Keith Harris is currently selling off English Premiership football clubs one by one. Financial entrepreneur, football fan, loyal adviser, outspoken pundit, devoted Manchester United shareholder, he had a rough ride of his time as chairman of the Football League but remains a heavyweight in the City of London.

6. Sir Howard Davies, director, London School of Econmics
Manchester Grammar School old boy has an impressive track record which have included chairman of the Financial Services Authority, Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, Director General of the Confederation of British Industry, and Controller of the Audit Commission. He was also a non-executive director of engineering company GKN between 1989-1995.

7. Nigel Morris, founder, Capital One
Another Lancaster Royal Grammar School old boy, Nigel Morris co-founded Capital One before retiring in 2004. He lived in Wshington, but now has hoem in London where he is active in politics and business again. He lent the Labour Party £1,000,000, is a governor of the London Business School, and a director of The Economist Group and Quanta Capital Holdings.

8. Nicholas Hytner, director, National Theatre
One of the fabulous Hytner boys is now one of the top luvvies in the world. Son of former Granada grand dame Joyce Hytner, Nicholas Hytner went to Manchester Grammar School and worked his way through the arts world directing numerous plays and films, such as The Crucible, The Madness of King George, The Object of My Affection and Center Stage. Scored a world-wide hit with Miss Saigon won tons of arts awards.

9. Cherie Blair, barrister
The Liverpool born founder of Matrix Chambers, one of London’s top practice of barristers, may now be able to fulfil her ambition to become a High Court judge. Oh, and her husband used to be something big in politics.

10. Sir James Crosby, city titan
Another big shot at the top table of British industry, the Lancaster-born Crosby took the top spot at the merged HBOS in 2001 but also build a portfolio of board positions with ITV, Compass Group and the Financial Services Agency. Handed over to Andy Hornby in 2005, but has since taken on big jobs with Bridgepoint.

Race for Rovers, City sold

I mentioned in a post yesterday that there were names in the frame for Rovers that would make fans weep. I did not mean this in a positive sense.

Anyway, another name has cropped up. But I'm sure that this kind of unseemly public discussion is the last thing the Walker trustees wanted.

The South African billionaire Johann Rupert has emerged as a potential bidder to take over at Blackburn Rovers, rivalling the US-based businessman Daniel Williams, as the club continues its dialogue with prospective suitors.
Rupert has contacted other businessmen, including Wayne Huizenga, the owner of the Miami Dolphins NFL team, with a view to putting together a consortium to buy out the Jersey-based Jack Walker family trust's 99.8% stake.

Full story in today's paper is here.

Anyway, looks like Man City are being bought by Thaksin Shinawatra. For what it's worth I share the opinion of Real Journalism's David Conn in the paper today.

Yesterday's announcement expressed nothing about City being the Manchester club, about pride or heart, nor anything about Thaksin's criminal charges or the cloud hanging over him. Instead City's board said: "The offer presents an opportunity for Manchester City shareholders to realise their entire shareholding in Manchester City for cash, at a significant premium."

Which says it all. Many City fans were rejoicing yesterday as if the club had found another saviour, not caring, as predicted, about Thaksin's background; wanting only his money. Really, City fans, those who are not eight years old any more, should grow up.

Real regeneration

Went to a midsummer nights feast at Gorton Monastery last night. The magnificent former franciscian friary had fallen on hard times, the roof was in danger of collapsing and the Catholic Church had abandoned the site, and the people of Gorton, in truth.

Back in 1989 a developer had the mad idea of coverting it into flats, that didn't work and eventually the bank (RBS) handed it over to a The Monastery of St Francis and Gorton Trust trust to restore. Elaine Griffiths did just that, raising £6.5m to restore it. She used lottery funds, European pots of money and pledges of support. The trust has now created an awesome public space.

The event was set up by Sir Howard Bernstein, the chief executive of Manchester City Council. He has this great skill of calling in favours for good causes. And one by one his business and property developer partners pledged their support for the trust. There is truly no such thing as a free dinner.

We'd certainly like to host events in such a place. We hosted a round table there three years ago and the transformation has been remarkable. Go and see it for yourself, the link to their website is here and there's a more historical account here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Football money go round

The young ginger lad who wants to buy Rovers has done an interview with the Lancashire Telegraph. The link to it is here. It's clear he's a front man for some kind of bid. The names I've heard that are backing him will make some Rovers fans weep.

Here's his website for his business making houses Gabon, west Africa, here.

There's also a thread discussing it on the Rovers fans site. Strangely, including a contribution from Alan Nixon, the freelance footy hack from Hale who broke the story. You can link to that discussion here.

Still, it could be worse, you could be a Manchester City fan.

Launched on the BBC website this morning…

07:40 – Thaksin targets Eriksson for City
07:41 – Thaksin lodges bid for Man City
07:43 – Thai ex-PM accused of corruption

It could only happen to City. And what's the question the fans want answering? If his assets are frozen, will he still have enough to buy "our" club? Dignity. Certianly makes the Man Yoo anti-Glazer protests look even more righteous.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Meeting the editors

I did a talk this morning to an event called Meet the Editors. Also presenting were Chris Barry from the Manchester Evening News and James Wilson from the Financial Times. It was organised by How Do, a new portal for the media industry in the region and held at the offices of Cobbetts Solicitors. This is what I had to say:

When I was a kid there were just three TV channels, our home took a daily paper and a weekly local paper. At different stages in my life I’ve had a magazine – or comic - that’s touched my life and my interests.

Beano - Victor – Roy of the Rovers – Smash Hits – the NME – The Face – When Saturday Comes – Loaded – Private Eye – Golf Punk and most latterly – a new magazine called Monocle, which is basically 'The Economist in Prada'.

We can plot our lives with what we read.

People engage with their media. And now more than ever we spend more time at work, more time thinking about our careers. What we learn in our work affects what we earn. Knowledge is power and how we use information and intelligence gives us a critical advantage.

I was faced with a choice at a difficult age. My first two jobs were on an Australian music magazine and – unlikely as it looks today – on a monthly glossy fashion magazine.

Fashion is as shallow as you'd expect, but I soon learned that music journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, in order to provide articles for people who can't read.

It’s a career trajectory that – all going well – I’d probably have been sacked from Heat Magazine five years ago and would now be appearing on those Channel 4 nostalgia programmes talking about why Magpie was better than Blue Peter.

My next job back in the UK was the most important in my career – in 1989 I worked for a magazine called IBM System User. It was for IT managers when there weren’t that many of them. Instead of the appalling cycle of arse kissing I’d have to do to get a ten minute interview with a soap star promoting a new type of shoe. I was getting my calls returned from board directors of Johnson & Johnson, Midland Bank while executives from the software suppliers would want to talk to us.

Now, I didn’t get computing. I used to pretend to laugh at incomprehensible in-jokes about programmers.

What I was experiencing for the first time were the close ties that a B2B magazine can build with its readers. Ties that are far superior to those a mass-market consumer magazine will have.

You might see the editor of Heat on TV from time to time, but does he regularly want to get in front of large part of the mass market that reads his title? We do. We are part of the market we serve, part of the fabric of that community and that's good fun.

As a media form we are unique in that we enjoy the trust of our audience. And trust is very important.

In our industry publishers must put this audience at the heart of their businesses and build exciting new models and ways to touch their community in ways that work, be they print, online and physical events tailored to suit each different part of the business community.

When I think of the successful business titles they are the ones that offer a range of opportunities for readers to engage. Broadcast, Computer Weekly, Real Deals, Retail Week and Accountancy Age spring to mind.

I’ve used that word a great deal. Community. It’s why I think regional newspapers are declining and having to reinvent themselves as media providers that touch their readers in different ways.

Does technology hold any fear. No, not at all. You have to embrace it, but wisely.

The technology world is incredibly adept at providing pretenders to challenge any King. Publishers have a duty and responsibility to be astride of this.

As for the threat to our business from a blog, or a user generated site, I’d refer back to the trust issue again. You hear some news, or some comment regarding your own world – which one do you trust more – one attached to a magazine brand like Insider, or a media brand like the FT, the BBC or Insider or some blogger trying to build a following by being controversial.

This is an incredibly exciting time for our industry and a great opportunity for us to seize.

Business coverage in the national papers is enormous now compared to what it used to be.

On TV entrepreneurs are genuinely hailed as heroes now. Who would have thought the Apprentice and Dragons Den would have taken off in the way they have.

The liberal leaning media in this country has woken up to the fact that wealth is created by risk takers.

How have we come to this place at this point in time? The answer, and I apologise for sounding a bit grand, is the fundamental shift in power in the global economy away from governments, politics and our elected representatives and towards the power of the corporation and of the global economy. Interest in politics is low – more people voted in the final night of Channel 4’s Big Brother than voted in the local council elections.

Newspaper editors have been forced to reassess the traditional view that politics is the priority on the news agenda.

The media's heightened interest in finance reflects the growing awareness that real power is shifting from politicians to big business.

That brings with it certain attentions. Business has always been there to be knocked down in the free press of a free society. Private equity seems to have become the bogeyman of corporate Britain at the moment.

It’s easy to see why. Inward investment into a region and the economic effects of a new factory, call centre or a retail outlet has profound implications for the communities in which people live.

The genesis of public involvement in share ownership was the large-scale privatisation of the Thatcher era. In the 90s, that was cemented by the windfalls from demutualising building societies and insurers. According to the department of social security, a third of Britons now own shares.

Interest has also been raised by widespread home ownership, providing many with a sizeable lump sum of capital for the first time - another Thatcher legacy. Cash in the bank and a private pension invested in the stock market produces a vested interest in the economy and sharpens your interest in the financial pages.

But what of magazines now?

At Insider we cover stories that effect business people in the North West. Insider has always been seen as strong in the professions, in the property market and has a strong tradition of investigative journalism and independent editorial. We have a shelf full of awards.

But we’re not a magazine about stuffy business issues, we’re a magazine about people in business. Not a magazine about business processes. That would be pretty dull for you, and for me.

We have seen our magazine change and evolve to reflect changes in the regional economy, to highlight the regeneration process and the development of new economy industries. This has resulted in a building boom, an increase in the way investments are made and therefore a shift in the types of advertisers who want to reach our target market.

At the heart of our philosophy, which has seen the company radically change since I arrived in 2000, has been our regional place. We believe we fill in the gaps where the national media just don’t get. We seek to be a media that you guys want to read, we want to host events that you want to come to and create a community that you want to your advertising messages to reach.

As you know we also have stories relating to the activities of the professions, the property market, and how these industries can help business people. Our lists of achievers such as the Power 100, the 42 under 42, and the North West Rich list– a list of the region’s wealthy - are popular, but we are constantly revising these and are open to new ideas to keep the magazine fresh.

Business is exciting, you deal with people who are driven by a passion and an energy to succeed. They create wealth and success and they ooze confidence and enterprise. It’s very infectious. Business communications has to convey this. It has to be the broker of quality conversations. You will find people have high standards, if you are willing to match those, then we can all thrive and prosper as a result.

Thank you.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Racist bullies

This from Manchester Confidential today about the confused moral tone following Bernard Manning's death:

This is clear in today’s priceless Manchester Evening News. The main headline reads ‘Bernard has the last laugh’ and mocks the ‘politically-correct’ who turned their backs on him. Meanwhile the back page has a headline reading ‘Don’t let those race bullies win’, about City’s Nedum Onuoha being racially insulted during England’s match against Serbia. But surely dear MEN, the Serbians didn’t really mean it did they? They were just having a laugh like good old Bernard, weren’t they? Don't be so politically correct.

The link is here, but spare yourself the trouble of the unmoderated comments.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bernard Manning - the last laugh

I have never laughed as hard as I did when I saw Bernard Manning perform. He dared you to laugh at him, and he always surprised. Manning, who died today, was a genius of comedy, but had become reduced to a relic. I first saw him at his Embassy Club in the 1980s when he whipped up the audience to a jingoistic frenzy, introducing "a couple of army lads just back from the Falklands", how the crowd roared, some standing to their feet in fist waving approval. "Pedro and Carlos, they're Argentinian," he said.

The last time, a couple of years ago at Mere Golf Club, and after many many debates over his racism and supposed hatred, he was as sharp as ever, but more reflective. He didn't use the P word or the N word, which I was pleased about at the time as it showed he'd realised the offence he caused. He'd never admit he'd toned it down though. He told the joke about the old Jewish guy on his death bed that was on the news tonight - "Becky, you're a curse" - and he worked the room for a good couple of hours.

He was a comic genius, Peter Kay is but a cleaned up version with tamer references to his Nana. The world moves on, quite how much is perhaps exemplified by the delivery of the news of his death; sandwiched as it was between the furore over the award of knighthood to the inpenetrably pretentious Salman Rushdie, and reports that Serbian football is supported by, and played by, a particularly nasty type of racist.

I have to say though, I had him in our death sweep at work, but some chiselling crook changed the rules without telling me.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

New regime at Rovers

Alan Nixon, a well connected freelance journalist in the Cheshire footballer belt has smoked out who has bought Rovers (his mate the chairman, John Williams, probably told him). The new owner is an expat called Daniel Williams (no relation to John), based in New Jersey, and he's been working with Walter Hubert, a director from the old days.

The full story is here. The price tag of £67m is way off beam, my source reckons it's £30m.

The other name in the frame is Nigel Morris, the founder of Capital One bank and a Lancaster Royal Grammar School alumni. He's a Spurs fan but may be interested in an investment. Kevin Roberts is also sniffing around football. Another LRGS old boy, KR is a Man City fan, but really loves the egg chasing variety of sport: "The global rugby community is something special and is unparalleled in sport," he says.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Book review in a lift - Cider With Roadies

Book review in a lift - Cider with Roadies by Stuart Maconie. I've always enjoyed Stuart Maconie's writing, but this book takes a while to get going and I asked its owner (Neil Tague, business journalist of the year) why he enthused. Taguey advised me to fast forward to the NME bits. Good advice. Superb tale of journalistic shenanigans and making stuff up. Best bit: hanging out with the Happy Mondays. Initially 5/10, rising to 9/10. Bit like the NME in the 80s and 90s.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Nearest the pin

I'm rubbish at golf. I don't play enough, but I'm not going to give up because I like the game immensely. If I can keep my head down and play through the ball I can hit some decent shots. Putting is OK for a hacker, chipping needs a bit of work. Driving is simply atrocious. Playing with my pal Pat Loftus yesterday showed me how far I've got to go.

Still, one of us won "nearest the pin" on the 7th at Worsley Park. It wasn't Pat. To date it is the only thing I've ever won at golf apart from a few Euros from a badly hung over accountant called Jason Hiley.

This pic is the proof, though the word of a chartered accountant of some repute should be enough too.
A pro on the same competition, Harry Proos, also got a hole in one. But he's a pro.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The law of the jungle

This week has been fascinating observing the behaviour and attitude of road users. Everyone's back at work at the moment. The roads are full again and the rain has made people a bit more edgy.

I'm not a particularly aggresive driver. I tend to let more people out of drives, turn right and merge than I have to, but kindness costs nothing and you hope people will do it for you. Well, until a month ago they did, but that's because I was driving around in a 4x4. I tell you what, people got out of the way. When you came to merge, they would let you merge. Now I'm in a rented regular car until my new one arrives I get nudged out of lanes and flashed at the rear by flat track bullies. One graceless idiot this morning on the M67 at Denton island was driving a Golf (a woman, as it goes), a pushy berk was revving his Mondeo as if the most important thing in his world was not letting me merge in when three lanes become two.

This NEVER happened when I drove the beast.

Also, I will be calling a company in Sheffield this morning to inform them that their van driver on the A57 at Gorton is unfit to drive a commercial vehicle.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Where good men die like dogs

I used to write about the television industry. Indeed, I worked for a TV production company for a year. Compared to just about every other industry I have ever had dealings with it is a nasty snake pit of egos and talentless dorks stabbing each other in the front.

It was with amusement that this blog - The Secret Blog of a TV Controller - has been so widely talked about in telly land. I've already spotted a couple of people I used to know. The author is clearly having a great time putting reputations to the sword. As one Marple Leaf reader commented - "Levels of cruelty you just don't see in the Marple Leaf."


It really is the silly season for football. Our Weekly News service today reported that the Manchester City deal is close to collapse, but that Rovers are close to a sale with an American buyer. I heard this story yesterday and have failed utterly to stand it up today, but Rovers have confirmed that talks are ongoing. I've heard the deal is done, the price was £30m.

The whole business of football defies the logic of any other kind of businesss. And the football media - the amiotic fluid of the whole football circus - plays an unwitting game in releasing nonsense. Take Manchester City (no-one else will, story here), a deal to sell the club to a foreign politician in exile is dead in the water. To keep that story off the back page of the Manchester Evening News, the club con supporters into thinking the board have a clue and hope they'll renew season tickets after they concoct the speculation that they want Mark Hughes as manager. I'm sure they do! I expect they'll be lucky to get Graeme Souness.

As for Rovers going west - I'd have preferred it if the Walker family had taken more interest, it's what Jack Walker wanted his settlement to do, or for other wealthy and professional Lancastrians to have taken the club on and run the club as a supporters trust. The key for any owner is a stable management that can keep us in the top half of the Preimership and qualifying for Europe.

I think one of the risks of football is that young fans are being priced out of attending matches and are getting out of the habit. Strangely at Rovers the 16,000 hard core and 10,000 soft core are younger and more rooted than the core support of other clubs. The pricing policy of the present regime is wise to this fact and seems to be taking a long term view.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Talk of the Town

Had the great pleasure of appearing on Talk of the Town on BBC Radio Manchester today, live from the Cornerhouse Cafe. Apparently it's possible to download from here.

Presenter Anthony Wilson was on great form as ever. He's looking thinner, as you would having been zapped so much in his scrap to beat cancer, but he's doing OK.

Also on the (not so) comfy sofas were top PR man and my occasional fixer Chris Bird and Iain Lindley, a fresh faced Tory councillor from Walkden, who has his own blog, here.

We put the world to rights between us, subjects ranged from: Cameron, Blair, Marple, local cinemas, Channel 4, the London Olympic logo, Big Bloody Brother, Diana, Food, Manchester City, local politics, the G8, Barcelona, the Bruges rosette, dogs, cricket, drugs, Liverpool and finally, why Iain Lindley needs to get a proper job.

Friday, June 08, 2007

My mistake

I make a point of absolutely avoiding anything at all to do with reality TV shows. I think they are a scar on our culture. Exploitative, appalling, mind numbing and the very epitome of the shallowness and craven stupidity they need to feed off and grow and mutate.

So there I was listening to a discussion on institutional racism in the police this morning on Radio Five, which ended up being about Big Brother. Aaaaaggghhh. I don't care, I don't need this rubbish in my life. Go away. Please report on something useful that matters.

I leave the final word on this subject to Lord Puttnam, deputy chairman Channel 4.

"I am not proud of the Big Brother row - I am not even proud of Big Brother. But Big Brother accounts for 15 per cent of the total revenue that keeps Channel 4 afloat."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Damned United - review

I did manage to read a couple of books on holiday. The best was Damned United by David Peace. Here's how I'd review it if someone asked me, in a lift, "any good?".

Brian Clough so hated dirty dirty Leeds and that cheating bastard Don Revie that he took the job as their manager when "he" got the England job. Clough lasted 44 days. This remarkable novel, written as a diary, is a raw, blistering and believable tale of envy and ambition in football. You have to remember though, that after the bitter conclusion he went on to manage Forest and conquered Europe, young man.

It also had a feeling of a Gordon Burn novel, who I like very much.

The dangers of swagger

I presented to a CBI event this morning.

This is an abridged version of my speech here. I think I may have upset one or two people with references to Manchester getting a bit uppity.

Lately there have been cries that Manchester is – according to the Lonely Planet guide – the UK’s capital city in waiting.

There were claims on a recent visit to New York by several senior members of the slick suited Manchester illuminati that Manchester was many things. "The first modern city of the post industrial age." "The original modern city." "The cradle of the second industrial revolution." "The birth place of the computer." Reading them back verbatim in the pages of the New Yorker was painful. It must serve as a warning that Manchester at times has a tendency to disappear up its own backside of self importance.

Then there is the whole minefield of standing up to London wherein lies a second danger in challenging London. It’s fine to come up with smart slogans that say – it’s grim down south – as the NWDA did - if you can back it up with enough evidence that Manchester is really challenging London. Think carefully though about what kind of city London has become – the centre of music, food, fashion, theatre, finance, retail, brands, major global companies, home to some of the richest people in the world, the home to new ideas and major media voices.

And yet, It IS economically unsustainable. You need to earn £150K a year to really enjoy London.

London is also:

Unaffordable housing.
Crowded infrastructure.
Crime out of control.

Manchester is none of these things - good or bad - and nor should it aspire to be. A touch of humility and a touch of realism can continue to project Manchester on a trajectory of economic and cultural growth that can make it desirable.

If Manchester is to forge a bright future then some integrity and aspiration would not go amiss. Yes, have the swagger, but take everyone with you.

There are gaps in London’s offer
Finance for real businesses
A proper meeting place and a trading community.
Manchester has always been where people come together to share. And is it not true that the art of good business is being a good middleman – putting people together.

The UK needs places for its best creative and entrepreneurial people to live and to be a home to growing businesses in sectors that Britain needs to steal a march on – interactive gaming, environmental technologies, the next generation of the internet.

Business tourism also needs to up its game – by that I mean Manchester as a thriving convention city where there is much to attract everyone from software programmers to tripe dressers.

But what this country needs more than anything is new ideas for a new century. They don't necessarily have to be original, or modern, just the right ones.

Instead of looking to what London has, civic leaders can look at what London can no longer carry, but which the UK needs. And which no other city can offer it in anything like the same way as Manchester.

Picture this

One of the most enjoyable aspects of an editor's job is judging awards. We're supporting a photography competition called This Working Life. You can link to it here.

The idea is to encourage the best student photographers to produce a piece of work - up to 10 photos - of a workplace. I've really enjoyed being involved. Admittedly, some of the photography was pretentious rubbish that betrayed the immaturity of the students - work is something to be portrayed as grim, stifling, oppressive. But there was a great deal of humour and character revealed too.

I can't reveal the winner, but I think we made the right decision. One of the things about judging is meeting people with a totally different background to me. We had a curator, an exhibition director, a picture editor from the Economist, some proper arty photographers and a venture capitalist.

Most impressive was the work where employees took pictures to reflect their own workplaces.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Rule Bretagne

We've just got back from a longish break in Brittany. It rained for pretty much the whole time we were there, apart from the last two days which were so hot most of us got sun stroke. My good pal John Dixon appeared to have had a damp time of it in the Vendee as well. Here are ten random thoughts about our holiday:

Most French towns and villages are like the creepy town in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The restaurants were nearly all devoid of children, even the one we went to in Paris. Adults stared in horror at our brood. They don't greet you like the Spanish and Italians do.

The nicest most fun meal in France we had was on the campsite.

The best meal of the whole trip was in Abingdon, Oxfordshire at Pizza Express on the way home.

I struggle to find good French wine at home, we didn't have a bad glass all week when I was there. Wish I'd brought more back.

French trains are great.

If you're stuck on a soggy campsite in France then a day trip to Paris is great fun. Don't try and pack too much in though.

Campsites are great fun - when it's sunny.

Adventure sports in France -like a high wire are more relaxed than the health and safety stricken equivalents at home.

Sliding down a waterslide with your bum cheeks exposed makes you go faster.

Pedalos with two wheels are much faster than the ones with the one single wheel in the middle.