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I'm back and so is Sally ...

Well Hello again! It’s been a month more or less seen my last blog and the only excuse I can give is that I have been busy moving home- I’ve not moved far and I am still in Princes Risborough in the heart of the Chiltern Hills but I am slowly making my new residence ‘home’. Huge thanks to those people who helped me unpack boxes, drive unneeded stuff to the skip, re-design my home, find places to stick stuff that should never squeeze into that space- you all played your part immensely and your reward/punishment was a corporate gift, so that serves you right! You know who you are but if not, take a bow, David, Nigel, Jonathan, Carol & James….

OK, back to ‘business’ and it isn’t just me making a return this week. Another – and more important one – was that of Sally Owen, personal assistant to Ian Fletcher, Head of Deliverance at the Olympics Deliverance Committee (ODC). If this means nothing to you then you really need to catch up with the second series of BBC Two’s superb Olympic mockumentary ‘'Twenty Twelve' now nearing the end of its run.

The series is like ‘The Office’ before it, so feasible and close to the bone that you can really believe that the real-life London Organising Committee of the Olympics and Para-Olympics Games (LOCOG) is run as portrayed in the series – especially in light of the current G4S security guarding fiasco.

What marks it out as being so special? I think it’s the mixture of the absurd (but highly likely) scenarios and the collection of rich and vivid characters as written and directed by creator John Morton that keep you laughing and trying to stifle your embarrassment.  Who can the forget the plan to unveil outside Tate Modern an Olympics countdown clock that goes backwards, the coach trip to the Olympics park where the driver gets lost, the plan to open an equestrian centre that backfires on the ODC with a horse load of manure dumped on their front door, and that is just for starters. Hugh Bonneville plays Ian Fletcher as ‘Head of Deliverance’  who is as close as the fictional ODC  gets to having someone reasonably competent. Going through a messy divorce he is confronted by idiots and dysfunctional staff who obstruct any chance of getting the games run successfully. His personal assistant is the hugely impressive Sally Owen (Olivia Colman), who may be of modest beauty but she is hyper-efficient and is carrying a serious candle for her boss. Ian Fletcher is ‘aided’ although that should really be ‘harmed’ by his senior management team of Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes) as Head of Brand from PR company ‘Perfect Curve’- try and keep a straight face I challenge you when she utters “OK guys, this is what we are going do, Ok? Cool, Totally!”- anyone who has dealt with a Management Consultant will get her.

Kay Hope (Amelia Bullmore) is Head of Sustainability and the running joke throughout the series is the difference between ‘sustainability’ and ‘legacy’ (but don’t think about it too hard)  with Graham Hitchens (Karl Theobald) as Head of Infrastructure suggesting that you could ease air traffic by getting competitors to fly in over nuclear reactors to reduce the burden on Heathrow (nice). A degree of common sense is offered by straight talking northerner and Head of Contracts Nick Jowett (Vincent Franklin).

It’s an incredibly funny, dangerously realistic satire on the Olympics process but like most great comedies at its heart is something more poignant and that is the relationship between Ian Fletcher and Sally Owen. He depends on her and is probably the only reliable person in his personal and office life- there is something between them- certainly an unrequited love at present, and the interplay between Hugh Bonneville and Olivia Colman is a master class of emotional understatement. But, Sally has been missing for most of the second series and she/Olivia Colman have been missed and truth be told, the series has suffered for it. But a sneak peak of the last episode of this run showed her return, holding flowers for a overwhelmed and injured Ian Fletcher. What can this mean? Will she finally be able to express her true feelings, will Ian return those feelings or will he be more concerned about how the 2012 Security Committee Special Catastrophisation Unit is performing. Tune in next week to find out but welcome back Sally!

Harry Potter Studio Tour: It's potter-fantastic!

As far as film franchise’s go, there is none so bigger as that of the Harry Potter series. Bigger than Bond,  the Carry On’s, Batman, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, the J K Rowling set of 8 movies are without equal.

I am a great fan although I have to admit that I came to ‘Potter’ late on. The books had pretty much passed me by – which is fair enough as I was never the target audience- and even the earlier films that I had seen had, for some reason, just not gripped me.

But then I saw the fifth film in the series – ‘The Order of the Phoenix’ which just pulled me in- the story  and film tells how the Ministry of Magic attempt to instil a kind of Stalinist control over the students at Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as the Dark Lord (Voldermolt) makes a return from oblivion. It leads to the students themselves having to take a stand and fighting for what they believe in through the self formed ‘Dumbledore’s Army’ – think a non Muggle French Resistance movement.

And it’s strange how something like Harry Potter can pass you by but when it ‘gets you’, you then soak up the mythology and the ethos that surrounds it. It's like suddenly liking a record of a particular artist, you get hooked and then start going through their back catalogue and look forward to the next release.

So with Potter, it was a case of having been won over by the movie, to go back to the earlier films and the books and get enmeshed in them. The Potter series has of course now ended. The final book ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ was published in July 2007 and the film version (split into two parts) was released in November 2010 and July 2011 respectively.

For me, its appeal is not just the fantasy and sorcery element although I think all great movie series need to have some kind of fantasy adventure aspect because escapism is at the core of most great cinematic entertainment. Potter also has some great themes, rich characters and engrossing plots weaved together by a truly brilliant story teller (J K Rowling). At its core, Potter is about Death or at least about how to deal with Death (Harry is an orphan, he is surrounded by the people dying and ultimately he has to accept having to sacrifice his own life to save his friends), Racism (Voldermolt is a Hitler like figure who wipes out those who don’t fit his picture of ‘pure blood’ wizards) and faith/loyalty (Harry is linked in his adventures with loyal committed partners in Hermoine, Ron and his fellow students in both the old and new Order of the Pheonix.

But despite the end of the books and the films, there is still Potter magic out there. Back in March 2012, Warner Brothers opened the Harry Potter Studio Tour London - based at Leavesden Studios just outside Watford (not exactly ‘London’ but close enough), which I visited this last weekend (9th June).

For a Potter fan or in fact anyone interested in how films are put together it is a wonderful place to visit. It’s a kind of shrine for Potter die hards as it is based at the studios where all the films were made and there you can visit the Great Hall of Hogwarts, Harry Potter’s original home at Privet Drive, look at Dumbledore’s office, ‘The Burrow where the Weasley family lived, the Ministry of Magic and best of all- it is one of only two places in the world where you can buy and taste a ButterBeer!

At £28 a ticket it is not cheap but I felt thoroughly entertained and moved, although I did have the good fortune to share part of the tour with probably the most enthusiastic potter fan I have ever met (take a bow, Sam!). The Store at the end of the tour is very commercial (a Hogwarts scarf will put you back almost £25) but that is not the case with the tour itself. You are not rushed, the staff there seem very keen for you to have a wonderful experience and it makes for a great day out as the tour takes around 3 hours depending on your pace.

Well worth a trip out to Hertfordshire (there is a good connection from Watford Junction station –served by London Euston) and for Potter fans deprived of no more books or films, it is a must to visit…

Rumer: a Songstress worth listening to...

We all know Adele- the raspy-sounding London ingénue who sold over 5 million copies of her ‘19’ & ‘21’ albums/CDs in the UK alone – is hot and of the moment, and anyone who has listened to ‘Chasing Pavements’ or ‘Hometown Glory’ knows what an exceptional gifted writer and singer the girl is.

But for my money it is Rumer who is the most interesting female singer at present.

Born Sarah Joyce, in Pakistan and renamed after the author Rumer Godden, she has many admirers – including Jools Holland, Burt Bacharach, Elton John, John Prescott (!) and Obama (who invited her to sing at the White House recently).

Like Adele, she is not your typical pop singer either in appearance or attitude- she loves music of all eras, she is not a ‘natural’ on stage, is acutely self-aware and is pretty much an antidote for the ‘X-Factor’ kind of ‘star’ that is currently produced.

Listen to her –as 500,000 did for her debut album/CD ’Seasons of My Soul- and she comes across as a combination of Eva Cassidy and Karen Carpenter with a unique sound to her voice which is at the same time, smouldering, jazzy and soulful. She writes too, of her life and those around her. ‘Seasons of my soul’ is really referenced by the death of her mother and traces a road of discovery. Stand out tracks are ‘Slow’ (taking a relationship at its own pace), ‘Aretha’ ( a girl being inspired through the soul queen) and ‘On my way home’ (coming home to bury her mother).

Her second album – Boys Don't Cry - has just been released, which is a selection of covers from male artists from the 1970-1978 era, from the likes of Richie Havens, Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates and Gilbert O’Sullivan. The theme of the songs are men in pain- men drinking, men suffering, men wanting to run away and men just wanting to be loved, which may all echo how Rumer herself is feeling, as she has openly talked about the challenges of adapting to be a singer on the road and in the studio and how relationships are affected.

‘Boys don’t cry’ is though a great listen and wonderful background music to soften your soul. Easily the stand out track is the sublime ‘P F Sloan’ – originally a Jimmy Webb creation- with a colourful history of its own, being about P F Sloan, the  American singer song writer responsible for the stunning ‘Eve of Destruction’ (reputed to have helped change the voting age in the US (“You’re old enough to kill but not for voting”), wrote songs for Herman’s Hermits, the Manchester 60’s pop group as well as writing the theme song for the brilliant ‘Danger Man’ spy series.

In a lament to where P F Sloan has gone (he had reputedly spent 30 years fighting various ailments) Rumer’s lush tones will keep yoy humming the song for days on end.

Rumer doesn’t really hit the headlines like an Adele, or a Lady Ga Ga, or even the late Amy Winehouse which is probably a good thing for her, but she is worth listening to, as she has one of the most distinctive and unique sounds around. Go listen.

Robert Jay QC - He wears a beard and he is the star!

Maybe it’s just me but in my moments when I am not being a daytime HR Consultant or writing this blog, I am spending more of my time watching the exquisite ‘cat and mouse’ drama that we best know as the Leveson Inquiry.

For some this might sound as exciting as watching the proverbial paint dry but I am quite drawn to it. Maybe it has something to do with my time as an Internal Auditor investigating a range of malpractices and abuses, my interest in TV and Film court cases (I kind of grew up on ITV’s ‘Crown Court’) or my special interest on how to interview people.

The real ‘star’ of the Inquiry is Robert Jay QC  who has already been inducted in the ‘Beard Hall of Fame’ by the previously unknown Beard Liberation Army (I kid you not). Jay as lead inquisitor (sorry, senior counsel to the inquiry) gets the prime picks of people to question- Rupert and James Murdoch, Alistair Campbell, Rebecca Brookes and yesterday and today (24-25th May) Adam Smith, one of the Culture Secretary’s political advisers.

Yesterday was a master class in forensic investigation from Jay in his questioning of Smith who tried to play a straight bat throughout but Jay got the better of him. Jay’s approach is not that of what you might call the Jeremy Paxman school of interviewing (although Jay also questioned him) where you are aggressive towards the interviewee in the hope that they will blurt out something they don’t mean to say. Rather, he has a understated kind of style, engaging but always in control of his brief and ready to point out any inconsistencies or falsehoods.

Witness his examination of the young Adam Smith who in his initial evidence tried to argue that his boss (Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP) had no opinion of the News International bid to secure the remaining shares of BSKYB. But after a 15 minute period of taking Smith through the evidence exhibits, Jay pointed out the memo that Hunt had written to the Prime Minister which championed the BSKYB bid. With some lovely dexterity, Jay put it to Smith that this showed that Hunt was in fact in favour of the bid, which after some prompting he accepted, only for Jay to point out that this was the opposite of what he had said 15 minutes before.

Jay is very good- he has a wonderful way when trying to establish why a text message was sent or what the meaning of it was, to just say “Can you help me with that please, Mr….?). The tendency is to want Jay and others to ask the obvious killer question when evidence given does not match up and although it may take time, Jay gets there. And in the process we are entertained hugely…