The Newsreader

Anna Torv and Sam Reid, Stars of the Newsreader

The Newsreader, the hit breaking news drama made by Film Victoria, starring Helen Torv and Sam Reid as co-presenters and reporters in love with news and each other is the drama you have to watch on BBC iPlayer and the ABC network. This restless, brilliantly authentic drama also reinforces why I truly madly, deeply love journalism.

It's a crazy profession. It is also terrific fun and never boring. Nothing will ever come close to interviewing David Attenborough at his cottage in Richmond or having him tick me off for watching my tape recorder go round and around ( to ensure it was working) or interviewing Brian May over ice cream in his favourite Italian.

Nothing comes close to writing or live reporting on the cultural icons and momentous events we live through as a generation. It's a buzz. The Newsreader captures that thrill to a riotous eighties soundtrack from Bowie to the Cars and Cindi Lauper by reporting on the real-life major news events of 1986 from the Challenger crash to the Lindy Chamberlain Dingo Baby story, the AIDS crisis and The Chornobyl nuclear disaster.

Then it does all this against the backdrop of the behind-the-scenes newsroom drama, which is laced with intrigue, adrenalin and egotism that drives the news and creates the big personalities and media stars that deliver world events and analysis straight into our living rooms.

Of course, given how high the stakes are, it's no surprise that the star anchors are as interesting as the subjects they cover on the daily bulletins.

This is what the media is like on a national newspaper or a tv station. It's all quick-fire reactions to global events, tantrums, egos and showmanship.

No one goes into the media for a quiet life. Just ask John Simpson, the BBC World Affairs editor.

Anna Torv delivers a coruscating portrait of brilliance and instability as Helen Norville the star of News at Six. Helen started out as a gameshow hostess and has to put up with put-downs and sexism from her co-anchor Geoff, a steely former war reporter, played by actor Robert Taylor with an authentic mixture of gravitas, hard-drinking, pre-meditated bias and Machiavellian briefings in darkened car parks. His worst fear is the idea of the news becoming fluffy entertainment. So, he refuses to slow down and stabs Helen in the back every which way he can with the air of a man who can't keep up with past glories in a relentless news environment.

Helen is still the winner in the battle for the best ratings and she gets to power dress in eighties style in iconic fashion from Helen of Troy column sequin gowns to the pussy cat bow blouse, the wrap dress and the trench coat beloved by female news anchors. She also gets to play very badass female rock n roll from the era, notably the amazing Suzi Quattro. Now isn't Can the Can the best girl-power anthem ever and Suzi was doing it before Madonna.

Helen is an irresistible character to observe.

She can cooly deliver news bulletins about world events with flair and poetry and then fall apart when she is off camera. Melodramatic? Yes, but gripping too. Torv plays Helen with a daring mix of hunger, fine acting, instability and empathy.  She runs on gin, adrenalin and sleeping pills punctuated by moments of sweetness, compassion and generosity and heartbreaking vulnerability.

Sam Reid, as the talented producer and rookie reporter she falls for, is equally exciting to watch on screen. He has the hunger, drive and intelligence to be a great news reporter, coupled with a tragic backstory about sexual identity and conformity and how that might affect his success in a media world that is not exactly a beacon of diversity, tolerance and fairness as we see brilliantly brought to life with coverage of the AIDS crisis.

Helen and Geoff During a News at Six Bulletin

That's where the drama comes in and The Newsreader is adept at holding our interest both on an off the bulletins.

The ensemble cast that makes up the News at Six is superb from Nolene as the super smart, ambitious, put-upon newsroom assistant to the all-seeing, wily, pa who misses nothing and the station controller who is a foul-mouthed, populist puppet for the CEO and ad money.

Special mention also goes to actor Stephen Peacocke as Rob, the cheeky, likeable and rather noble footballer turned reluctant anchor who is being promoted above his ability and he is not afraid to admit it. This happens a lot. I was told that someone is often promoted to deputy status in the media because the boss knows they will never outshine them or try to take their place!  When I watched the series to review, I noted many personalities that I have encountered in my career as a journalist, and some of them are far too familiar and crazy for comfort!

That's all the news I can take for today!

Watch The Newsreader on BBC iPlayer.

Pamela Anderson Documentary

Pamela Anderson in Baywatch

Pamela Anderson, the goddess from British Columbia who was to the nineties what Marilyn Monroe was to the fifties, finally gets to tell her story in her own words devoid of makeup, husbands and Bardot artifice and via her charismatic diaries, in a fly-on-the-wall documentary - Pamela - a Love Story on Netflix - produced by her son Brandon from her marriage to Motley Crew drummer Tommy Lee.

The film is a tour de force for stripping away all the artifice of celebrity and things you think you know about a public figure, which is mostly based on conjecture or made-up opinions in the tabloid press. A gossip columnist once told me, " I never let the facts get in the way of a good story."

So, this, at last, is Pamela Anderson as herself, in her own words, in her own habitat. The real Pamela is a kooky, devoted mother, animal lover, serial bride, activist and wild romantic who floats around in white cotton and over-sized cardigans like the girl in the shampoo ad and still declares that "to love more" is the only answer.

It is not an easy film to watch. It is haunting, intimate, raw and at times tragic and heartbreaking.  Though there is joy and laughter too.  

Like Monroe, Anderson was abused by a babysitter entrusted to look after her when she was four years old. She was so distressed that she wished the person dead and when the woman subsequently died in a car crash, little Pamela thought she had made it happen with her 'magical' powers.

The tragic moments in Anderson's life, are mercifully lightened by her own personality. There is something immensely likeable about Pammy. She is like Tinkerbell and you will want her to be happy, to find a real knight in shining armour and to be celebrated for playing Roxie in Cabaret; for her talent for writing and telling a story... oh and for looking naturally beautiful with clothes.

What makes the film so compelling and charismatic is the remarkable footage from every decade of Pamela's life. The home movies also reveal her innate star quality and sprinkle the story with stardust. The film is a love affair or perhaps a love letter to a shy Canadian girl who went to a football match at the end of the eighties and became a star.

Pamela Anderson at The Play Mansion for Her First Shoot

If you thought that you knew Anderson as the superannuated sex Bomb - all hair, breast implants, false eyelashes and caricature Barbarella clothing, who married a rock star after knowing him for four days, posed for Playboy and turned running slowly into an artform as CJ in Baywatch, this film will blow away all your prejudices.

Pamela was very beautiful in her teens and twenties, and yet, she didn't have a clue that she epitomised the dream of the California girl. Instead, she mostly felt ashamed, and was very shy about her body, until she was invited to pose for Playboy.

Anderson is a survivor of rape and sexual abuse from the earliest age and one of the saddest comments in the film comes when she says, "I don't know whether I am dead or alive."

She jokes that she is a "spawning salmon that has come home to die," to her native Canada.

Pamela on the Set of Baywatch

Anderson was born in 1967 and she grew up on Vancouver Island, the daughter of a waitress and poker player and itinerant con man who wore a top hat like Bob Dylan in the Rolling Thunder Review. Her parent's marriage was volatile and insecure and it was frequently punctuated by physical fights and wild, romantic reunions, right in front of the children.

It is important to make clear that the violence was never directed towards the children. Pamela doesn't blame her parents for their wild behaviour and the star is especially close to her mother, who has always supported and cheered her daughter on and told her to "live her life."

Remarkably, Pamela's crazy parents have stayed together and have recently renewed their wedding vows.

Pamela and her Mother

The Andersons were poor and Pamela recalls surviving on powered milk and welfare. Her parents were teenagers when she was born and her mother went through a car windscreen when she was carrying her daughter because her husband liked to race cars.  Thankfully neither mother nor unborn child was hurt, although Anderson says she and her mum like to joke that it's the reason she is a bit 'crazy'.

By the time Anderson was sixteen, she had been abused by a female babysitter from the age of four, raped by a 25-year-old man when she was 12 years old and raped by a boyfriend and his friends when she was 14.

Pamela constantly pulls an oversized cardigan around her as she wanders by the rocky shore or around her garden in BC, her face dusted by freckles, talking about the terrible details of her childhood through her charismatic, candid and wistful childhood diary and directly to the camera. Some of the details are too painful for her to speak so an actor speaks them for her so that she doesn't have to go through it again.

Pamela Anderson's Diaries, Written on Legal Pads

She even reveals that she probably won't watch the documentary, giving the sense that she is always just trying to keep moving on.

The diaries are remarkable and reveal a charismatic voice. Anderson loves words and it shows. : The world opens up when I write," she says. She's a natural storyteller.

In one entry she tells her diary: " I am either very creative or very dramatic."

At 22, Pamela went to an American football game with her best friend and her life changed in a single day. She was plucked out of the audience as a mascot for Labatts.  A photoshoot and advertising campaign followed and then Playboy came calling. The year was 1989.

Devoid of the lipliner and big hair, Pamela Anderson is beautiful at 55. In 1989, she looked like the American Dream made flesh and blood. She was supermodel beautiful, with perfect features, flawless skin, a beatific, huge smile and long flowing hair. Even a disaster with a bottle of Sun-in couldn't subdue her evanescence or that huge smile. She has the same kind of smile as Julia Roberts.

Pamela Anderson in the Film Stacked

Anderson would go on to pose for Playboy more times than any other centrefold. She also insists that she was in charge and that Hugh Heffner was good to her.

"I am not a victim," she says, although it is hard to agree with her given her horrific childhood. During the course of the film, she argues that she took charge of her sexuality and turned her body and face into a career. But I wonder. Would she have posed for Playboy if she had not been exposed to sexual violence at such a formative age?

Perhaps that explains the Barbarella mask, the hair and the over-the-top makeup. She is far more beautiful without makeup. By the mid-nineties, she was the most famous blonde on the planet during the Baywatch years and as one half of the hottest global love-in - Pammy and Tommy between 1995 and 1998.

Pamela as CJ in Baywatch

Then it all went wrong.

Pamela says she will never love anyone the way she loved Tommy. "I loved his soul."

The couple documented everything with home movie footage of them goofing around at home, with their two toddlers, for sweet trips to London and Venice, including the requisite scene in a gondola where Pammy scolds Tommy for smoking.

The videos certainly capture the intensity of their love, its early sweetness and the desire to document everything from hundreds of birthday balloons to their most intimate moments and baby-making fun.  

Pamela and Tommy on the Set of Barb Wire with the Director

The videos were locked in the safe at home along with Pamela's wedding veil and Tommy's guns. One day they discovered the safe was gone.

The videos had been stolen and were subsequently sold to be turned into the world's first 'Sex Tape'.  

It is hard to imagine the trauma or invasion that Tommy and Pamela suffered over their most intimate, private moments being made into a video and then ultimately released on video and then the internet, without their permission for criminals to exploit and make money.

The couple were offered millions of dollars for the rights to the stolen tapes, but to this day they have not accepted a dime for them.

Nor have they received justice for that crime.

Pamela Anderson

The couple went to court and Pamela's career at Playboy was used as a legal argument denying her the right to privacy. The case became so distressing and difficult that she pulled out. By this time, the couple's marriage was under severe strain with two young children and Tommy went to jail for six months for throwing his wife and child at a wall in their home after demanding that he wanted his wife back.

The fairytale and crazy romance was over. Despite Lee asking for reconciliation, Pamela wouldn't take Tommy back. She divorced him and brought up their sons, mostly on her own until they were older.

In true hypocritical style, Anderson was publicly shamed over the Sex Tape. She describes the experience as 'torture'. The same male chat show hosts (ugly old men) who were happy to drool over her in Baywatch and Playboy Magazine laughed and humiliated her over her sex life becoming public property.

The hypocrisy doesn't stop there. As her sons make clear, their mother's career never recovered from the fallout of her most private, intimate moments landing up in the public arena without her permission. Nor has her career made her wealthy and financially secure. Bradley says that his mother has been in debt most of her life and that she does not receive royalties from Playboy.

There is a sense that Pamela is searching for peace and a reason to stay still, which is clear in every frame.

Amazingly, and inspite of everything, Pamela believes in love, marriage and romance. She has been married five times and she often marries on impulse. And yet, she declares that no one can come close to Tommy and there is no doubt they loved each other.

You can witness that love in all their goofy videos. Tommy is very appealing and charming when he is happy and calm.

Pamela Anderson in Cabaret on Broadway

Now more than two decades later, Pamela Anderson has found her voice and people are finally discovering Pamela the actress, activist and storyteller. She has brought up two remarkable sons; she has starred in Cabaret on Broadway, to standing ovations; she has written a memoir and made this authentic, honest, funny and life-affirming documentary about her life which shows the ugly and disturbing mania that surrounds celebrity culture and the right to privacy. It also shows how urgent it is to nurture and educate young men like Pamela Anderson's sons Bradley and Dylan to become woman's allies.

At the end of the film, Pamela declares that she is trying to live alone and to have a love affair with herself.

I want to say to her that you have your real knights in shining armour, right here, in front of you.  Your two remarkable sons. Born out of love and sex and crazy rock 'n' roll.

Now if that isn't a testament to the joys of baby making I don't know what is!

Pamela - A Love Story is Streaming on Netflix

Classic Film of the Week

Blithe Spirit

Blithe Spirit, the original 1945 film version based on Noel Coward's hit play is an early piece of spooky film magic by Sir David Lean, who would go on to direct Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. The film stars sexy Rexy- Rex Harrison, Dame Margaret Rutherford, Kay Hammond and Constance Cummings.

The actors are each in their element in this sassy, sophisticated, waspish comedy of manners and social mores about an urbane writer who accidentally summons the spirit of his dead wife much to the outrage of his not-so-blissfully content new wife. Shot in luscious black and white, this lends the cinematography a brilliant, otherworldly allure and Rutherford steals the film as the far from the deceptively avuncular medium.

I want to steal the forties fashion along with the chic props from country houses to curvaceous automobiles.  Watch the film for its fizzing performances from the four leads and a daring script for the times about sex, infidelity, money and marital discontent.

Noel Coward hated the film version of his hit play. I am not sure why. It fizzes and crackles from start to finish. It's perfect to watch on a chilly winter's evening with a glass of ice cold Champagne.

Watch Blithe Spirit on ITVX

More Films to Watch on ITVX

The Scarlet Pimpernel -  Leslie Howard, the most dazzling Pimpernel of all time, is charismatic, audacious and brave as the master strategist, nobleman and soldier who saves his fellow aristocrats from the guillotine. Merle Oberon plays his mysteriously beautiful wife, the woman he almost loses when he forgets the importance of matrimonial harmony.

His Girl Friday -  More journalistic capers with Cary Grant and Rosland Russell in a delicious rom-com about the wicked media, and how it never sleeps, not even for love.

Timbuktu -  A Malian cattle herder and his family have their lives disturbed by Islamic fundamentalists after a tragic accident.

The World's Fastest Indian - Anthony Hopkins portrays New Zealand bike racer Burt Munro who decides to test out the 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle he spent his lifetime doing up.

Millions Like Us - A young woman leaves her family to join the war effort at a factory. After making friends with her new roommates, they each discover the power and importance of friendship and true love in a time of war.


BBC Sounds Highlights

Desert Island Discs -  Steven Spielberg, the director of Schindler's List, Indiana Jones, ET, Bridge of Spies and The Fabelmans talks to Lauren Laverne about his Life in Music. His soundtrack is rooted in his life, friendships and family from Bruce Springsteen to West Side Story, Frank Sinatra, Bach and The Beatles.

Steven comes across as a profoundly sensitive, warm-hearted observer of the human condition, which is clearly what makes him such a fine film auteur and a nervous desert island dweller! Steven admits he wouldn't fair well on the island for long without human companionship, however, his movie camera might help.

He grew up in Arizona, the child of a Jewish engineer and computer whiz kid and a mother who was a restauranteur and concert pianist. Orthodoxy was out unless the grandparents came to stay and lobsters were in!  Steven started making his first films at the age of ten and movie-making transformed the nerdy kid into a college film nerd whom the cool captain of the university football team would drop everything for to star in his first films.

More Radio

Michael Mosley - How to Sleep Well - Breath -  Dr Mosley demonstrates how to reclaim your sleep and your bedroom as a place of sanctuary and restoration. This series of soothing and relaxing podcasts introduce the listener to quiet, calming ways to sleep deeply and well.

You're Dead to Me  -  The comedy podcast that takes history very seriously.  Valentine's Special - Georgian Courtship.

I'm Not a Monster - The award-winning series takes a fresh look at the divisive story of Shamima Begum.

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