One of the reasons I'm such a fan of what Derren Brown is doing at the moment is that I'm a sucker for 'events'.
To give a quick non-televised example, I enjoyed following the Harry Potter books upon the release of the last few. A big part of this was the shared experience of waiting for the release of the latest book, and the shared experience of knowing that a lot of other people were reading them at the same time.
Actually, that's short changing it. What really made the last two were being part of the thousands of people across the country (and world) that queued up at midnight to buy the books as soon as they came out.
It's an event that I can't remember happening with a book before. It had happened with albums, obviously. It happened with movies, of course. Even then, though, it was a rare thing. But for years, we've been being told that people are less interested in reading, kids especially. Ten years ago, it was inconceivable that a book could become so popular that there was a half kilometre long queue on Oxford Street for the last book.
I found the idea that this could happen for a book to be amazing. Whether or not I remember fifty sodding pages of the kids camping in the woods while nothing happens for the rest of my life, I'll remember the atmosphere of people from all over the world sharing an experience at once. I'll remember being part of that queue, and the comraderie with the people around me for those hours, knowing we were doing something that had no real rhyme or reason, except for enthusiasm.
I think we all remember the sense of excitement over the opening of event movies. The 'Star Treks', the 'Dark Knights',The 'Lord of the Rings' 'The Phantom Menaces' - a lot of the time, the event can overshadow the movie, and yes, I am thinking of 'The Phantom Menace'. Can you tell?
The Blockbuster is one thing. That's the movie that comes out that's been hyped up and delivers a huge audience. Ideally a record breaking one. The perfect example I can think of is the second 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movie, which didn't feel like an event, but ended up killing off Superman at the box office like it was shot on kryptonite.
The event movie, though - that's something different. That's something that isn't just built up because the studios want to push it, but because the interest in the movie is genuine and goes across the spectrum. By the time the movie comes out, it isn't just a huge audience going to see it - it's a huge audience absolutely salivating to see it.
'Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince' is a blockbuster. 'The Dark Knight' was an event.
With television, it's something slightly different. Because television tends to involve programmes that run over a long period of time, it means that the shows primarily appeal to those people who are already fans, and a blockbusting series attracts more fans. Look at 'Doctor Who' as an example.
However, an event on television has, by necessity, become something rather different. There are now too many channels and too many shows for a regular show to easily gain viewers in the way that, say 'Den divorcing Angie' did. It has to be something rather more unique.
The main one I remember from the early nineties was the superb BBC event, 'Ghostwatch'. Possibly the most terrifying (indeed, shittifying, as Charlie Brooker would say) thing that has ever been broadcast on television, 'Ghostwatch' was the latest in the spate of '...watch' shows, like 'Crimewatch', 'Hospitalwatch' and the wildlife programme 'Badgerwatch'.
It was broadcast on Halloween Night, and was trailed as being a live exploration of a haunted house. They found a more regular house than you may expect, being in the middle of an estate. The show was partially based in a studio (with Michael Parkinson as host, taking calls from the public) and partially in the house (with Sarah Greene and Craig Charles) itself.
We would watch for an hour and a half, then would get regular updates through the night.
The audience was enormous. Not only was this something that promised to be scary, but it was also a one-off. A unique show. If you didn't watch this once, you wouldn't catch it again - not least since the show ended up being so controversial that it never got repeated.
This is what Derren Brown did this week. He created event television - at short notice, no less. The first most people heard about the show was probably the press release which talked about 'sticking you to your sofa'. It wasn't until much closer to the event that he talked about predicting the lottery.
I have no idea about the ratings for the show, but based purely on 'water cooler' conversation and the amount of forum discussion it has caused here on the GeekPlanet forums and on every other forum I visit, it appears that a lot of people were intrigued.
Whether he did it using 'the wisdom of crowds', a projector carefully set up to show the numbers on the balls, LEDs in the balls, a split screen or mirrors isn't the point. Whether he did it flawlessly or not isn't the point (one of the balls appears to move on its own at the same time that the 'camera shake' stops for two seconds).
The point is, for ten minutes on wednesday night, Derren Brown created the rarest of things on TV these days - true event television. And, rather scarily, he did it effortlessly.
Now, let's burn him.
The A to Z of the London Underground: Bank
I was nervous going into Bank. Although it's a station that I pass regularly, I've never actually gotten off a train in it, and it's by far and away the biggest station I've done so far. Gulp.
It's a very strange station, and not one that I think I like. On the northern line, the station is grey marble, with cream and grey tiles. Griffins adorn the 'Bank' logo. I'm here at rush hour, which is incredibly busy as I walk against the sea of human traffic. There are lots of cameras and animated posters on the platform, and it feels extremely modern. Mind you, it also feels clean to the point of sterilisation.
Walking out to the corridors adjoining the different lines, I get my first idea just how big this station is - there's a set of lifts halfway to one of the exits on the streets above. I take a long walk (and I have no idea how many people I passed in that time, but I know it was a lot) to the Waterloo and City line, which goes through long curved tube-corridors that feel a little like I should be running down them shouting 'TO THE CRYSTAL DOME!'.
Getting to the Waterloo and City Line, I find out something that I didn't know. I was surpised by how small the platform and the trains were, being only about four carriages long. This is because the Waterloo and City Line is the smallest one on the underground, being only a mile and a half long, and linking only two stations - Bank and Waterloo.
The 'small' factor continues with a strange little door marked 'Keep out. Disused room'. I can only assume that the platform is manned entirely by Oompa-Loompas. The line is white with grey and red trims, and despite dating back to the eighteen-eighties, it feels bizarrely unfinished. It only operates until 9.30pm, and is closed on saturday nights and sundays (meaning that you've probably seen it in films, as it's a good place for filming).
I take a different way out, via an excitingly-named 'Trav-O-Lator', which is an upwards-sloped moving walkway. With quotes from 'Preacher' going through my head (and credit goes to anyone who can guess which bit I'm thinking of), I make my way to the first set of exits, to get the feel of the place. Exits eight and nine, just to give a further idea of the ludicrous size of this place.
Going up the stairs (which, similar to Balham, split into two smaller exits either side of the sign), it's a little overwhelming. There are huge buildings with lots of columns, pillars and statues. There are some gorgeous little entrances to the station which seem older and more discreet than most. This really is the heart of the banking district of one of the oldest financial centres on the planet.
Unfortunately, other than that initial impression, I became less enamoured the more I walked around. I spent the next forty minutes walking around the area, feeling increasingly scruffy as - despite wearing a shirt and trousers - everybody else was wearing expensive suits.
The Bank of London museum looks interesting, but is closed - and does have free admission, which is always good. The building is just one enormous concrete brick, which takes up the entire block of buildings. Seriously, there are four roads around this building. On top, it is adorned with various statues, showing off the wealth. I begin to feel that the money police are going to come and move me on for being too poor to be in this area.
I note a sign for 'The Ward of Coleman Street', which has led me to this. Apparently the business votes greatly exceed the residential voters. This doesn't really surprise me, because as I wander around the area, I begin to feel that this just isn't aimed towards human beings. It's aimed towards businesses alone. I just wasn't expecting to see it be made official when I looked further into it.
My mood is not improved any by the fact that the Parish Church of St Margaret has one of those bloody 'Alpha Course' posters (the ones with the tick boxes for 'Does God Exist? Yes, No or Probably. They annoy me because they've left out the option 'Probably not', revealing their utter and obvious bias while pretending not to). It also has nice, handy ten minute worship sessions, to cram God into a working lunch. I'm not religious, and yet I find that idea really strange. I've got to give them credit for streaming them online, though.
Not as strange as I find the idea of paying for meditation space, though, which is something else being advertised nearby - with your first hour as a free trial. Nor is it as strange as the 'Worshipful Company of Gardeners', which I like to think is a cult.
The station is basically under a roundabout, and the entrances for the station are numerous, but there isn't an obvious 'entrance'. There's another church in amongst the takeaways and banks (and seriously - that's all there is here for human beings. A couple of churches and takeaways. Otherwise, it's banks). It's the Parish Church of Clement Eastcheap, and although it's in an ugly building, it looks quite nice, with charmingly handmade posters and no bloody Alpha Course posters. It also has 'Clements Court' around the corner, which immediately raises my spirits. After a lot of grey (with statues, etc, yes, but still just a lot of grey stone) in the rest of the area, a hidden court is just the thing to cheer me up.
Unfortunately, it's just the smoking area for the bank next door. Which is a shame, because it has the potential to be a nice little garden, with some very old looking tombs in. But it's overgrown and with six visible rat-traps and plastic chairs dotted about. This should have cheered me up, but instead it depressed me more. The area should be nice but has no soul, and it has no soul because nobody cares, because nobody sodding lives here. Because this isn't an area for human beings. It's not even an area for bankers - it's an area for banks.
As a result, I'm in a bad mood as I go back to the station (passing a fast food place selling penne arrabiata in a cup. In a cup, you unspeakable bastards. That's not what you do with penne arrabiata. It isn't McDonalds). I headed towards the Circle and District lines, to find that they're technically in Monument, which is connected to Bank. Well, technically, they're the same station, but I'll do Monument separately.
I go through an old, larger set of steps downwards (with, rather excitingly, the fire brigade turning up for a fire alarm on the Waterloo and City line), I begin to wonder why I dislike the area so intensely. It's actually put me off the station a lot. This is summed up when, despite quite liking the entrance, I notice that every single poster on the way to the Central Line is for an airline. Because, obviously, if you work here, you use planes regularly. Because they're important for people like you. Because you're more important than other people.
Ugh. I hate this place now. Everything is aimed at the idea that banks are hugely important. Which I suppose they are - but they're not as important as they seem to think they are.
The Central Line is identical to the Northern Line. I haven't seen a pub the entire time (with the exception of a very expensive looking brasserie/bar), and I really need a drink now.
I wasn't expecting to end up hating this place this much. I am so not a banker.
1 - Baker Street
2 - Amersham
3 – Aldgate
4 - Balham
5 - Arnos Grove
6 - Aldgate East
7 - Angel
8 - Arsenal
9 - Acton Town
10 - Archway
11 - Alperton
12 - Bank