Sandy Ross's TV Festival Diary, Pt Two

Introducing James Murdoch as the Edinburgh TV Festival keynote speaker, the festival's executive chair, Tim Hincks, said there had been some great MacTaggart Lectures but the first one he had been involved in booking was John Birt. The McEwen Hall erupted in laughter. It’s obviously the way you tell them.

As for Murdoch, he gave a pretty good imitation of John Birt as he lectured his audience on the benefits of the free market and how we should all worship profit. It was as if the downside of Thatcherism had never happened. His main point seemed to be that all regulators are bananas and we should be buying our grannies mobile phones that are easy to operate.

* The Royal Scottish Museum is shut, so the post-MacTaggart drinks reception moved to Dynamic Earth, next door to The Scotsman building and the Scottish Parliament. Scottish Screen and STV hosted the do but our hosts were nowhere to be seen as delegates knocked back the beer and wine. The quality of the wine was a definite improvement from the last time STV had hosted the reception and STV's then head of current affairs, David Whitton, now an MSP and no oenophile, served up lukewarm Leibfraumilch to the delegates.

But the question on everybody’s lips was what do you get if you combine beer, wine and no snacks, canapés or other food at a reception and the answer, of course, is “very drunk”. It was a very Edinburgh reception: “You’ll have had your tea.”

* The George Hotel Bar only really comes to life during the Edinburgh TV Festival and last night was no exception. It was packed and almost impossible to get a drink so those in the know sashayed along the road to the private bar at the Assembly Rooms where mine host – Assembly director and former Granada TV executive, William Burdett Coutts – welcomed allcomers to the performers’ bar. TV executives mingled with comedians and promoters but the undoubted star of the evening was veteran comic, Arnold Brown, making a rare visit to Edinburgh.

Arnold held court and everyone remembered that he was part of the first wave of the so-called alternative comedians. Arnold’s comedy has influenced almost everyone who followed him but he had a style that was never really made for television.

Sample Arnold gag: “My father lived in Edinburgh, my mother lived in Glasgow. Now that’s safe sex.”

Next day…… In conversation with Mark Austin, Ant and Dec lived up to their very-likeable-boys-next-door image. They said their whole career was based on the fact they were friends and the lamented the fact that their training ground – the children’s Saturday morning magazine show – had disappeared from our screens. They said they loved what they were doing but both of them agreed that they would have given it all up to play for Newcastle United. They also agreed that one of their lowest moments was when they had finished recording the pilot of their US game show, 'Wanna Bet', which had gone down a storm with the studio audience. The producer told them of course it had because the audience had all been paid $15 an hour to whoop and holler at every one of their gags.

For the whole day there has been a man in a suit of white armour on a horse standing guard outside the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. He is obviously advertising something but because this is Edinburgh during the festival and we are so used to jugglers, fire eaters, stilt walkers and other assorted street acts his presence doesn’t even get a second glance.

* Comedian, Frank Skinner, turned reporter for a BBC Panorama on broadcasting compliance and took part in a session on the subject with the BBC’s Jana Bennett and Hat Trick’s Jimmy Mulville.

Frank said that when he moved from the BBC to ITV he found that he could use almost any language he wanted on ITV, including the 'c-word', but he couldn’t say 'Kit Kat' because it was considered product placement.

Sandy Ross is a former managing director of STV……

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