Category Archives: life the universe and everything

CRM – it’s supposed to be multi-channel you muppets! (Scottish Power)

muppet1You all know what a CRM system is don’t you – it’s a “Customer Relationship Management” system – it helps you deal with customers in the right way…….

Well as some of you will no doubt already know I’ve had a few run ins with Scottish Power and here as well – dear god they are really shite at this CRM stuff you know.  It’s not just me that thinks that way either…

Scottish Power gets ‘record number of complaints’

Well the saga continues.  Clearly my letter to Lynda Clayton back in 2015 hasn’t worked – after all she’s still the Customer Services Director – how did that happen!!

Despite changing to a new provider a year ago I am still having to deal with their inability to do several things you would think a large company might have got sorted by now:

  1. Communicate with me via a channel which I can easily reply to them via – “” is not good.
  2. Stop asking me to log into my account to read a message when the system doesn’t allow me to set up an online account in the first place because I have 2 meters at my property – a night storage one and a general electricity one. I was promised that this would have been sorted almost 18 months ago…..nada!
  3. Calculate my bill properly – in the past year, since I have switched provider, I have had 3 separate and completely different “final” bills – they varied by 300%!  Interestingly the last one was the highest one!
  4. Respond to emails and tweets I manage to send to them promptly – the last email has still not been responded to and the most recent tweets has taken about 9 days to be answered.
  5. Don’t expect me to be left hanging on the phone for over 30 minutes while I wait for one of their operators to get round to talking to me – if my call WAS important you’d answer faster! Too many calls?  Get more operators FFS – or improve your service!

I could go on but I thought I’d just copy and paste their most recent threat –  note that it ignores any communication I have had with them – CRM – it’s supposed to be multi-channel you muppets!

Is this acceptable behaviour from a large company?  I wonder what the board of directors would think about it?


The Board of Directors is currently made up of the following directors:

Title Type Of Director
Mr. Ignacio S. Galán  Chairman Non-Independent, Non-Executive
Lord John Kerr of Kinlochard GCMG  Vice Chairman Independent, Non-Executive
Mr. José Miguel Alcolea  Member Non-Independent, Non-Executive
Mr. José Sáinz Armada  Member Non-Independent, Non-Executive
Mr. Juan Carlos Rebollo  Member Non-Independent, Non-Executive
Ms. Susan Deacon  Member Independent, Non-Executive
Mr. Keith Anderson  Chief Corporate Officer Non-Independent, Executive
Sir Tom Farmer CBE  Member Independent, Non-Executive
Professor Sir Jim McDonald Member Independent, Non-Executive

The Secretary of the Board of Directors is Ms. Marion Venman.

muppet2Perhaps it’s time to raise another complaint with OfGen or maybe add some more pithy comments to the Scottish Power Facebook page – yeah they don’t respond to them either.  Twitter?  Well this post will end up on my Twitter feed and I know they’re monitoring it – perhaps they’ll respond – who knows – they clearly don’t care – except about getting money and threatening customers….

I’d quite like to see them here….

Oh and here’s the letter threat…sorry it’s an email!!

From: Scottish Power []
Sent: 26 January 2016 04:03
Subject: ***SPAM*** Make your final payment to avoid charges and credit default


Urgent action required


Make your final payment to avoid charges and credit default


Dear   Mr XXXXX


You still haven’t made your final electricity payment. If you do not pay or make a repayment arrangement, we can register a credit default against you and add collection charges to your account.


Please make a payment online of £xxx.xx as soon as possible or by calling us on our 24 hour payment line on 0800 001 5115.


Or you can call us on 0800 001 5168 to discuss an affordable payment arrangement. We’re open Monday to Friday 8am – 7pm.


More ways to pay and what can happen if you don’t pay can be found in My Messages.


Yours sincerely
Lynda Clayton

Customer Service Director


P.S. Already made a payment? We will update your account as soon as we receive this payment. Please ignore this letter.


Account: 93619097028

Postcode: **** 0BS





Make Your Payment





For security, full details of this message can be found when you log in to
My Messages




Any questions?


View our help & advice



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This is a service message containing important information about your ScottishPower account. Please do not reply to this email as it is sent from an unmanned mailbox.


We understand the importance of keeping your personal details safe. To find out more, visit


Scottish Power Limited. Registered Office: 1 Atlantic Quay, Glasgow G2 8SP. Registered in Scotland No: 193794


But what I’d just like to say to Scottish Power is this…..



Amazon – not the friend of geeks

Sadly it is true!  The global brand – remember that “GLOBAL” brand that Jezz Bezos has built is a sham, a piffling little national operator that can’t seem to get it’s act together!

Hi folks, yes I’m back! 🙂

In a world where you have to be global to be any good it seems that our schizophrenic friends at Amazon don’t know wtf is going on!  Allow me to elucidate….

Amazon has an excellent – and well deserved – reputation for allowing you buy stuff and get it physically delivered to your doorstep.  Let’s be honest, if you’re reading this you’ve used their service before, probably loads of times.  Over 15 years ago we used to test just how fast they were – I even managed to order a book at 4pm and got it delivered by 1st class post (hah, try that now!) the following morning..honest guv, I did!

Since those very early days they’ve added just about everything you could possible think of to their range of products.  One obvious thing where they have totally disrupted the market is books – audio-books.

They’ve also got into technology and as you know I love a bit of tech!

So it should come as no surprise to you that I own a Fire TV stick AND an Amazon Echo.

The Echo is awesome but unfortunately as they don’t yet sell it direct here in the UK – why not FFS! – I had to buy it in the States and get it shipped over, just like many other people.  Whilst I was aware that not all of its functionality would work here in the UK I was ever hopeful.

Unfortunately it appears that the Echo is linked to their US servers so it sees me living NOT in the USA and blocks a lot of my requests – including my Amazon Prime account.  So I’m paying them £99 per year or whatever it is to get them to store some of my music, allow me to purchase music – from them, etc etc but I can’t play any of it using the Echo.

Why I hear you cry?  Surely Amazon is a global brand and that should be easy-peasey? Sadly that isn’t the case – because my Prime account is a UK account and not a global account.  The technology won’t allow me to transfer music I’ve already paid them for once across to a new US account – not that I am prepared to pay them double anyway – doh!

Now the ability to ask a box some questions and get a response may not be your cup of teas but as you can see from the image it does a lot of stuff (well, if you live in the USA!) and they seem to keep adding new features to it see below:

What’s new?

Kindle Books by Alexa

Alexa can now read your Kindle books out loud, using the same text-to-speech technology that already reads Wikipedia articles, news articles, and calendar entries. Relax with your latest book or have Alexa help with bedtime stories for the kids. You can switch seamlessly between listening and reading—start an eBook on your Echo, then continue reading on your Kindle, tablet, or smartphone, right where you left off.

Find out which of your eBooks Alexa can read by opening the Alexa app and tapping “Kindle Books.” Or just ask:

  • “Alexa, read my Kindle book.”
  • “Alexa, read [Kindle book title].”
  • “Alexa, skip back.”
  • “Alexa, pause.”

Don’t have any Kindle books yet? Get started with a free collection of excerpts from Star Wars novels. And don’t forget, you can always listen to professionally narrated audiobooks on your Echo from Audible.

To learn more about this feature, go to Read Kindle Books with Alexa.

Oh did I forget to say I’ve got a Kindle?  Well 2 actually.  And yes I’ve bought quite a few books from them and had them downloaded to my Kindle…..well now we reach an interesting conundrum.

If I wanted to I could ask my Echo to read my Kindle books to me and it would!  Look here’s part of the list of books that I can get it to read to me…..


This is a screengrab taken from the Alexa website 🙂

So it appears that Amazon has got it cracked in regard to the printed word AND the digital word – it’s global!


Music is different!  They don’t seem to be able to get their s**t together at all.

As you might expect I have previously contacted Amazon to highlight this incongruity and to ask when they might sell the device in the UK  thus opening up it’s full functionality to me…..

I love the geekiness of this device, the sound is good enough, it’s funny – just look at the number of easter eggs it has built in, it’s practical – timer and countdown applications, it syncs with your Google calendar as well.

So, I wonder to myself…

  • Is Amazon a global brand?
  • Do they really want to provide a complete hardware/software ecosystem?
  • Or are they just taking the ****?

They have to wise up to the fact that they are competing with Apple and Google – two fiercely competitive and land-grabbing organisations.  The last thing that Bezos and Co want, surely, is to become the next Betamax, the next AOL or the next Yahoo!!

This is most definitely NOT a case of “act in haste, repent at leisure” – rather the opposite!!

October “Rant-Fest”

Ladies and gentlemen, many apologies for my absence but c’est la vie!  Now I’m back with a bumper multi-target rant for you all to enjoy.  So this October “Rant-Fest” contains a couple of pops at the government’s idiotic approach to big society, the A34 as it goes past Oxford and the Daily Mail’s online site!  Enough to keep you going for a while?  I think so!!

OK – Big Society – aka how can  the Tory government give you the impression that they’re spending less on public services when in fact it’s all going to their cronies in the private sector.

2 classic examples of bonkers budgeting in as many days.  Yesterday we had a press conference from Clive Grunshaw, Police and Crime Commissioner for Lancashire and Steve Finnigan, Chief Constable, Lancashire Constabulary about  ‘CATASTROPHIC’ PROPOSED GOVERNMENT FUNDING CUTS

Lancashire Police will “not be viable” after 2020 because of cuts to funding, the chief constable has warned.

It’s happening elsewhere too – today we have an announcement that nn RAF air rescue team based at Chivenor in north Devon has handed over its role to a private firm.

Bristow took over from the military at RMB Chivenor at 13:00 BST and will fly out of St Athan in south Wales.

Astonishingly and extremely concerning is the fact that the handover was delayed by four days because Bristow said it needed extra time.  Needed extra time?  I’m sure those people in need of rescue from today onwards are delighted to hear that phrase.

Aberdeen-based Bristow has won a 10-year contract to take over the service, which is being privatised around the UK.  The £1.6bn search and rescue deal with Bristow ends 70 years of search and rescue from the RAF and Royal Navy.


Yea gods the mind boggles at the potential waste of skills, resources and the decline in the quality of the service that will be provided!

The A34 to the west of Oxford – or specifically the cretins that are responsible for the planning and delivery of road improvements in this area.  Basic physics will tell you that if you have a circular pipe of diameter let’s say “2 lanes” and you also have a another pipe of  let’s say “2 lanes” again and you want the flow from both of them to go through a single pipe of say “2 lanes” you’re going to have problems at peak flow times.

So why do you not plan to increase capacity in the area where this is likely to happen?

Because you’re cretins that’s why!

So not only do thousands of motorists like me on their way to work in the morning end up spending too much time crawling from jam to jam we are all increasing our petrol consumption alarmingly and adding to the levels of pollution as well!  Now for a council that is so right on they want you park outside the city and pay for the privilege of getting on a bus to get in this seems counter-productive.

The issue is compounded by the apparent lethargy of the contractors to finish existing road improvements- I believe the end date for some work going on on the ring road to the north of Oxford is November 2016 – 2016!!!

Finally, and I apologise for having visited the site in the first place, I have to blame Google for this, let’s look at the Daily Mail’s website.  We all know it’s a right wing rag so the political bias of its owners and editors – neither are the sort of people you’d want your daughter to bring home are they? – aside it’s the prurient nature of its celeb reporting on the home page that is so revolting – specifically the section they headline as “Don’t Miss” it’s just trash!  It’s offensive, idiotic, rude, dumb- in fact everything you’d use to describe a daily mail reader!

Right I’m outta here!

Apple store acolytes – blind faith or ignorance?

My son’s iPhone 4 has developed an issue – the WIFI connection is not working – the button has been greyed out and resetting it to factory settings doesn’t work.  So, off we went to the Apple store in MK, waited in line for an audience and listened while a young man tried to tell us because we’d updated the software it was obviously “a latent hardware issue” and that Apple were not aware of any Wifi issues….!

Resisting the temptation to reprise John Cleese in the Dead Parrot sketch and not being prepared to pay them, far too much, for the opportunity to let them have a look at it we left.

Anyway it seems that the network operators are aware of the problem – according to helpful chap in the Vodafone shop “everyone knows it’s a software problem” and so apparently does the internet….let’s see what Google comes up with shall we?

Oh look, “About 22,100,000 results (0.70 seconds)”

Search Results

iOS: Troubleshooting Wi-Fi networks and connections › Support
Learn how to troubleshoot Wi-Fi1 issues you may encounter while using your iPhone, … Follow these steps to troubleshoot the above issues:.

Having Wi-Fi problems with iOS 8? Here’s how to fix it

30 Sep 2014 – Is Wi-Fi sluggish, not working or disconnecting after upgrading youriPhone or iPad to iOS 8? Here are some tips to fix the issue.

iOS 8 Wi-Fi Connection Problems? They Are Probably

22 Sep 2014 – If you updated to iOS 8 and started experiencing some peculiar wi-fi issues, typically manifesting as an inability to join wireless networks, …

No need for iOS 8 hate. Here are fixes for Wi-Fi and battery

http://www.techradar.comNews by technology

 24 Sep 2014 – Like clockwork, iOS 8 bugs are making Apple’s flat-looking operating system feel a little more uneven partially due to Wi-Fi connection glitches …

How To Fix iOS 8 Wi-Fi Issues On iPhone And iPad

25 Sep 2014 – Experiencing slow or Wi-Fi related issues on iOS 8 running on iPhone, iPad? Try this simple fix to get things up and running in no time.
How to Fix iPhone 4S Wi-Fi Grayed Out – iFixit…/22167

A common problem in the iPhone 4S, sometimes the Wi-Fi button will be grayed out and unclickable. This problem seems to be related to thermal shock—the …

How to fix iPhone WiFi connectivity issues? | CopyTrans Blog

28 Aug 2013 – Do you experience one or more of the iPhone WiFi connection problems … This is by far the most common iPhone WiFi connectivity problem.

iOS 8 Users Seeing Issues With Battery Drain, Slow Wi-Fi

22 Sep 2014 – As outlined by PCMag, iOS 8 users on the Apple support forums have been complaining about Wi-Fi problems in a thread that now spans …

iOS 8 Hit By WiFi And Battery Life Complaints – Forbes…/2014/09/…/ios-8-wifi-and-battery-life-problems

22 Sep 2014 – Reports are spreading of WiFi and battery life problems for iPhone 5S, iPad Air and iPad mini owners. Apple is yet to respond.

Solving Wifi issue on iPhone 4S – YouTube

5 Jan 2014 – Uploaded by Kapil B

After upgrading my iPhone 4S to iOS 7.0.4, i noticed that the Wifibutton had greyed out. This meant i could …

Hmmm there seems to be some sort of pattern here…

  1. Design some fantastic products that everybody loves.
  2. Make these devices and introduce business practices that stop the people who’ve bought them from doing anything with them that you don’t sanction (i.e. make money from)
  3. Become sufficiently arrogant that you believe that you can do no wrong.
  4. Deny that you’re wrong even when you are wrong
  5. Refuse to apologise when the world has proved that you were wrong
  6. Become a tarnished brand making products that people no longer love
  7. Lose!!

Well I think Apple may have reached its peak and now the emperor’s new clothes have been seen for what they are.

Back to the specifics of the greyed out wifi issue, which even Apple seem to be aware of,  and I’m now having to control myself as I’m beginning to chortle having read the way that some people recommend you deal with this “KNOWN”  problem – that’s KNOWN” young Mr Apple acolyte – remember that “KNOWN”.  What’s that you ask well :

“A common problem in the iPhone 4S, sometimes the Wi-Fi button will be grayed out and unclickable. This problem seems to be related to thermal shock—the problem may be temporarily fixed by simply putting the phone in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, or under a lamp for 30 minutes.

If this is the case, then the necessary permanent solution is to reflow the Murata SW SS1830010 Wi-Fi chip on the logic board.”

And “WTF is “reflowing” when that’s at home” I hear you ask – well it basically means giving the chip a blast of hot air…you’ll need one of these:

..and then you need to do this:

  • Set the temperature of the air gun on 280-300°C
  • Set a low air flow; 1 or 2 (on a 1 to 7 scale).
  • Now, doing circular movement, you have to reflow for 4-5 minutes.
  • Be careful to reflow only the wifi chip and not any of the surrounding ICs or circuits.
  • After 5 minutes, set the temperature to 250-260 °C for other 5 minutes.

Alternatively you could probably collect all the acolytes wearing their red t-shirts in the MK Apple store together and get them to stand around your phone spouting the messages they’ve learned by rote – I’m sure it would have the same effect!!

If the thermal shock doesn’t work it might be time for the man in the MK outdoor market to have a go and see what he can do.  I certainly won’t be asking Apple for any more help, I won’t be trading it in for a new one either.  If this is a dead (Wifi) phone then the slug is probably a good swap – either way I’m not paying for any more Apple products – and I absolutely loved the first iPhone I had.

So, “Blind Faith” or “Ignorance”?  I’ll leave that up to you dear reader!

First Direct Failure

I have been a customer since the early 1990’s – I love this company – not only do they produce the best ads…

…but they have traditionally offered the best customer service – what other bank (or any type of company for that matter!) answers your call within just a few rings?

However I’m sad to report their first failure.

Now we all know that the world is becoming too Americanized – not just the way they want us to spell words such as Americanised(!) but also the culture of suing companies because you’re too dumb to take responsibility for your own actions – well First Direct (and the rest of the UK banking industry no doubt) have fallen into the trap too!

As the growth in mobile access to data grows traditional “conservative” companies are seeking to grab their share – unfortunately unlike Walmart which is aiming to get rid of chip and pin in 2 years time they’re simply loading layers of supposed security – one on top of another. If I want to use their mobile app I need to have a password for that, I need another one for their website and yep you guessed it another one for their phone service….er, whatever happened to supposed customer benefit of a true multi-channel relationship with your trusted partners?

And that’s what at the heart of the matter – they don’t trust us anymore!

This lack of trust will lead to customer defections – or customer “churn” as some would have it. Right now I’m seriously considering my position as a First Direct customer. I’ll give you an example of this lack of trust:

I wanted to set up a regular payment to my son’s account – it’s for his monthly allowance. I’ve previously been able to do this, no problem, online or over the telephone and having set it up I could then use it via the phone or the web…but now we have mobile in the mix so FD have decided they need to use that to make things easier for us make things more secure – allegedly.

  • I could if I wanted use the telephone and set up that payment and then if I chose to phone them again to make another payment to my son’s account they’d do that over the phone
    • But it won’t be visible online….
  • To arrange a web based payment it takes a bit more time, effort and you need multiple devices to hand.
  • So log into your internet banking site
    • requires username, password, memorable information
  • Next try and set up the payment
  • You’ll find that you need either your mobile phone with their app on it or that horrible little calculator they provide to create codes.
  • The website asks me to generate a security code
  • I have the phone app but not the calculator
  • So I need to log into the app – username and a different password
  • Then the security code generator asks me to enter my mobile password again – why?  I’m already in the app and you’ve already taken me through security.

Well I did it eventually and then phoned them to let them know how p*ssed off I was.  They answered in a few rings…. Apparently if I register a payment over the phone that’s fine but it will not be listed online as an option I can use again and again – it’s due to security you know!  YES I KNOW you’ve taken me through it several times.

People this sucks – I want a multi-channel relationship with the companies I trust to do business with me – I don’t want to have to jump through hoops security-wise just to do simple tasks.  Does anyone know the name of better bank out there?


Coogan of London’s customer service team – take a bow!

Normally you’ll find me on here moaning about another example of poor customer service – but not this time!

Coogan of London – take a bow!

I purchased a pair of size 10(EU44) black leather driving shoes on eBay back on 23rd October. The shoes arrived as promised around the 28th/29th. Unfortunately when I tried them on they were way too small – both in terms of the length and also I fear width-wise as well. Obviously designed for the young trendies with their narrow footprints!!

Over this past weekend, I’d been away for a few days visiting family, I tried them again – definitely too small for me! so I went online to request a return authorisation code. Unfortunately as I’d bought them via eBay I didn’t have an order number – I only had the eBay item number. Also as I’d paid via paypal using a credite card neither they nor eBay were going to help me sort the problem out so I sent Coogan and co an email yesterday afternoon.

I received a nice email this morning from them:

Dear Mr West

Thank you for your email. I’m sorry to hear that the shoes have come up too small
for you.

We’ll be happy to send you out a free pair of shoes in a size 45/10.5 if you would
like to try the next size up, and if you choose to do this then there would be no
need for you to send the first pair back to us.

However if you would prefer to just get a refund then please let me know and I will
organise this for you.

Please let me know how you would like to proceed. I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards

Web Sales

Telephone: (020) 8945 5745 (Mon-Fri 9.30am to 5.30pm)

Well as I said I’d already tried them on a couple of times and was pretty sure the design was such that I’d probably need a size 13 to get my plates of meat in so I said no thank you and could I have a return authorisation code please.

Within a few minutes I got an email saying my paypal transaction had been refunded and then this fantastic reply:

Dear Mr West

Thank you for getting back to me so quickly.

I have issued you refund of £36 back to your PayPal account. To save you the hassle
of sending the shoes back to us, you can just keep them and dispose of them as you
see fit – maybe as a gift or to charity.

I’m really sorry that it didn’t work out this time but thank you for trying us.

Kind regards

Web Sales


Ok these might have been an end of line or the last items left in stock, whatever the reason the response was totally unexpected. I will as Sophie suggests be donating them to charity – along with a note to make sure that the prospective purchaser tries them on before buying!!

I may also spend some time on the Coogan London website to see if they do any shoes with wider fittings.

But one thing is definite I commend you to consider this company – clearly they understand how to treat customers properly!

The truth about the A34 Oxford southern bypass works

Here what the council says and what the reality is!

What is happening?
Improvements to the Hinksey Hill interchange and Kennington roundabout were identified as critical to reducing congestion on the ring road and A34.

We realise we ***ed up by not widening the A34 (a major trunk road!) when we decided to use it as the bypass for Oxford but we’re still going to ignore that issue!

The Kennington Roundabout will be converted to a ‘hamburger’ style layout. A new carriageway for eastbound traffic will go through the central island providing a more direct route through the junction.

However we’ll still ensure that there plenty of queues as we’ll make sure there are loads of traffic lights to stop you!

For westbound traffic the roundabout will be widened to provide two segregated lanes for people travelling towards the A34. There will also be two lanes for traffic turning at the roundabout to travel into Oxford via the Abingdon Road.

Yeh, whatever

The improvements at the Hinksey Hill Interchange on the A34 that will include a new ‘free flow’ slip road from the Southern Bypass south onto the A34, by widening of the approach to the roundabout and removing the need for traffic to stop at the traffic lights.

Because we’re ignoring the fact that the problems are actually for traffic trying to get off the A34 both South and North at peak times – not getting onto it!

Traffic will be able to travel through the area during the work, and businesses will be open as usual. However drivers are advised to plan their journeys in advance to take account of anticipated severe delays, however, this improvement work will bring major benefits to the flow of traffic to this congested part of the city.

We’re going to make you suffer – and if you believe that this will improve your journey to work if you have to go past Hinksey Hill – you’re living in cloud cuckoo land!

The decision to allow the A34 to be used as a ring road for Oxford – without widening it in the first place – ranks along side the decision to allow Esso to build a garage in what was the obvious place to continue the ring road around Bicester. Both the product of deluded minds!

RIP Customer service

It took me a couple of days to realise that I’d referenced one of the late great Rik Mayall’s characters in my last post – Sir Richard Dangerous.  I’ve still got a DVD of Bottom – Live “The Big Number 2 Show” that will form a sort of rite of passage for my 16 yr old son, I think he’ll get it – but not just yet!

Was he a genius – I don’t know it’s a devalued word these days – but what I do know is that he made me cry with laughter!  Repeatedly…

The level of customer service that seems to be provided by the likes of EE and Twitter is equally laughable but it’s not the slightest bit funny!

Twitter don’t even use er, Twitter for their customer service-  they send you emails from and then, when you dare to reply, send you other emails saying: “Twitter does not monitor or send any emails from this address (” Doh!  They don’t offer a chat service, they won’t speak to you on the phone so how the f*** are you supposed to get a response from them?  My personal choice is try and shame them into responding – seems a harsh thing to do As I used to work with Dick Costello at 724 Solutions and I thought he was an OK guy – shame his standards seem to have fallen!!

My current other fav rave (NOT!) is EE.  As our friends at Vodafone are about to shaft us all by upping their prices (naughty EU telling them to stop profiteering from roaming charges like that!) both here and abroad I thought I’d check out the competition – sadly with no US style T-Mobile service it’s a harder call, but I thought I’d check out EE – they’re claiming all sorts of nice things, so nothing ventured…well nothing other than my time and my patience that is.

They made it ridiculously easy to order a 4G sim online – which arrived promptly – but that’s the end of the good news folks!

I know I haven’t got 4G at home so I thought I’d test things at work.  I read the instructions – the fact that removing the card with the sim in it from the packaging tore the backing card with the phone number on it wasn’t a good start.  But I persevered and worked out what the number was. It said go online to top up – so I did…..but each time (4 times before I gave up) I completed the form and tried to pay using either my credit or debit cards it failed to go through – I even checked both accounts to see all was in order (it was)….oh deary me!

I did one final check – to see if there was actually any 4G where I work – silly me, of course not!  Just as well then that their payment piece wasn’t working – I’ve saved myself some money – although wasted a lot of time.

I suppose it’s therefore no surprise that these tech companies down’t even sue their own technology to deliver customer service – they obviously know how flaky it is!!  Better buy some shares in the Post Office – oh how forward thinking is that? 😦



Has Jolla really delivered on its promise?

jolla-sailfish-phoneIs it May already? It was a year ago that I, along with many others, put down my deposit to make sure I got one of the first Jollas that came off the production line. I knew there was going to be a long wait and sure enough they delivered as promised in time for Christmas. So, I’ve had the phone now for around 5 months but I’m still undecided as to whether they’ve delivered on what they promised.

I’ll point out at this point that whilst I’m an early adopter of technology I’m a user and not a coder – I see the benefits that a piece of technology can (or cannot) deliver equally I can see flaws and things that are missing but I can’t fix it myself 😦

+ I am totally supportive of their drive to deliver a “new” operating system – Sailfish which has so many really neat touches and which seems to require far less battery power than the competition – that said just about every screen of the UI features a black/dark background which as we all know requires far less power than some of the flashy, colourful, maybe even garish Android OS versions out there!

+ I’m so used to the guesture control that the experience of using my Nexus 7 tablet has suffered – I keep tapping the damn thing to try and get it to wake up!!! That said I’m becoming more at ease using my touch screen Windows 8.1 laptop!!!

– But on the other hand I do frequently find that I have to flick up the lock screen more than once before I get it to display the next screen properly as it keeps rebounding!! The home screen where the running apps are displayed is an absolutely brilliant feature but one I’ve yet to use properly – with running apps come data costs and my work sim means those are limited :(.

– I’m generally not sold on the “severity” of the look of the UI. Apps such as the calendar app which display a series of numbers – you need to pull down the page to reveal the days they relate to – are so far behind other apps such as the beautifully presented Cal android app – sadly that app doesn’t work properly with my Jolla….it doesn’t “see” the calendars on the device.

+ When they did the original launch I thought the concept of “The Other Half” [TOH] was brilliant – just brilliant. You get bored with your phone you change how is looks and what it offers you – there was also mention of independent people being able to develop their own TOHs – really cool, hey I was up for that!!

– Unfortunately the reality of the TOH has fallen a long way short of the potential. I’ve got several TOHs but all they do is change the colour scheme and the sounds a bit like an Android theme changer but you have to swop the backs and it costs you more… There have been some interesting TOHs proposed and there have been prototypes but there aren’t any really top notch TOHs out there yet – and it’s been a year….

+ That said I totally exclude this from that analysis – perhaps it’s the exception that proves the rule.  Kimmo Lindholm‘s TOHOLED is brilliant! In fact the man seems to be exactly the kind of innovator that Jolla were thinking about when they came up with the TOH concept. Shame there aren’t more like him.  This is such a great idea. Now, if it could be fed some steroids it could become a full sized e-ink rear display and the death knell for the YOTA phone!! I’ll also give an honourable mention to Dirk van Leersum at Funky Other Half . com – even if he didn’t use my suggestion for his logo – I’ve got his wireless charging TOH and it works a charm!!

+ Regular updates – again brilliant thinking. Guy Kawasaki said once “Create something, sell it, make it better, sell it some more and then create something that obsoletes what you used to make.” He also said “Don’t worry, be crappy. Revolutionary means you ship and then test… Lots of things made the first Mac in 1984 a piece of crap – but it was a revolutionary piece of crap.” This could said to be true for the Jolla phone. OK it’s not a piece of crap but equally it’s not perfect and the use of regular updates helps make it better.

– On the flip side is the actual content of those updates. There’s a whole community of users feeding in their needs and wants but unfortunately there seems to be a disconnect between them and the updates themselves. Now that maybe due to the “purity” of thinking that the key Jolla personnel have about the project but it still means that even though they are now publishing what
future updates will contain there are still some glaring omissions – folder support for apps and galleries, LTE support, syncing with Google accounts (partially solved) and it took several updates before MMS was released. The most recent snapshot of opinion is on the community forum of particular interest to me is the connection issue when switching from wifi to mobile data, or from areas of no network coverage to those with it. There are still too many issues for me to be completely happy with my purchase.

So what are the alternatives….? If I decide to jump ship…..

Well as of today there are 3 that intrigue me – I’ve done the big manufacturer route [feature rich but boring (Samsung) and locked down walled garden (Apple)] – so they are – in no particular order:

Yota phone



The Yota phone makes it onto the list due to its innovative e-ink rear screen. The Ubuntu phone – or phones it seems to be – look interesting but hard details on them are still to be confirmed. Slim, sleek and feature rich the OnePlus One from Cyanogenmod seems to be the strongest choice.

As I said at the beginning the jury’s still out – there are new updates on the way for the Jolla phone, hopefully the band of busy bees working on innovative TOHs will see their projects come to fruition and Jolla will take its rightful place amongst the major mobile phone providers – the clock is however ticking – the early adopter in me may see something new and shiny that takes my fancy in which case it would be a shame because I’m just the sort of person that Jolla needs to help them move from geek to greater market share.

Watch this space!!

‘West Wing’ Uncensored aka Aaron Sorkin is a genius

I absolutely loved the West Wing – I have the complete series and have watched it from beginning to end several times. The writing was just fantastic, something that Sorkin has proved again with The Newsroom but the West Wing was special….how special? Well sufficiently special for me to post the text of the Hollywood Report’s recent web article – in full – read, enjoy and then go watch it yourselves.

‘West Wing’ Uncensored: Aaron Sorkin, Rob Lowe, More Look Back on Early Fears, Long Hours, Contract Battles and the Real Reason for Those Departures

A version of this story first appeared in the May 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

NBC executives stood before a sea of media buyers in Avery Fisher Hall 15 years ago this month and unveiled a series they hoped would defy television’s odds. The show, titled The West Wing, from Sports Night producers Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, would explore the personal and professional lives of those in the White House who worked directly for the President of the United States. And if viewers embraced it, the drama would become the first White House drama in the medium’s history to succeed.

The following May, that same Madison Avenue audience would rise to its feet when the West Wing cast, led by Martin Sheen, took the upfront stage, this time at the Metropolitan Opera House. “A standing ovation. I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is a phenomenon,’ ” recalls Warner Bros. Television chief Peter Roth. Although the unapologetically liberal drama only would crack Nielsen’s top 10 once in its seven seasons, it was showered with awards (26 Emmys, including four best drama series wins), critical praise and a high-profile fan base that included President Clinton.

Over the course of its run, The West Wing weathered its share of loss, both onscreen (Rob Lowe departed midway through season four; star John Spencer died during season seven) and off (Sorkin and Schlamme exited after season four).
Here, the cast, creators and executives involved look back at the series that paved the way for a new generation of political series from Scandal to House of Cards.

AARON SORKIN: I didn’t really know anything about television beyond watching a lot of it, and my plan was to come up with an idea for a new play or movie, but my agent wanted me to meet with John Wells, and I said, “Sure.” The night before the meeting, there were some friends over at my house, and at some point [Akiva Goldsman and I] slipped downstairs to sneak a cigarette. Kivi knew about the meeting and said, “Hey, you know what would make a good series? That.” He was pointing at the poster for The American President. “But this time you’d focus on the staffers.” I told him I wasn’t going to be doing a series and that I was meeting with John to meet John — I wanted to hear stories about China Beach and ER, and I especially wanted to hear about his years as stage manager for A Chorus Line. The next day I showed up for the lunch, and John was flanked by executives from Warner Bros. and agents from CAA. John got down to business and said, “What do you want to do?” And instead of saying, “I’m sorry, there’s been a misunderstanding. I don’t have anything to pitch,” I said, “I’d like to do a series about staffers at the White House.” And John said, “We’ve got a deal.”

JOHN WELLS, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: I had a deal at NBC because they wanted me to continue to be involved in ER. So we developed West Wing there, but they didn’t want to do it right away. “The American audience isn’t interested in politics” and “there’s plenty of that on Sunday morning television” were some of the things I recall hearing. But I insisted on getting it made if I was going to stay with ER.

SORKIN: Don Ohlmeyer and Warren Littlefield were running NBC at the time the pilot script was delivered. Sitting in a meeting in Warren’s office with John, my sense was that the network executives were respectfully underwhelmed. Referring to one of the stories in the pilot that was about Cuban refugees fleeing to America on inner tubes and should we or should we not send the Coast Guard out to help them, one of the execs suggested that it might be better if [Bradley Whitford’s character] Josh Lyman went out and saved them himself. I tried not to make it an awkward pause before I said, “You mean actually swim?” He said, “No, that would be ridiculous. I mean he rents a boat. A motor boat, a skiff, but the boat’s too small to get all the refugees on board and he has a moment like Oskar Schindler where he’s saying, ‘I could have rented a bigger boat! I could have saved that guy over there and those kids over there!” It was hard to avoid the awkward pause then because I honestly didn’t know if I was being messed with or not, and I didn’t want to insult the executive or appear to be difficult to work with (even though I badly needed the network to pass because by this point ABC had ordered 13 episodes of Sports Night) so I said, “That’s worth thinking about.” Sometime in the middle of shooting the first season of Sports Night, Don Ohlmeyer and Warren Littlefield were replaced at NBC by Scott Sassa, who took The West Wing out of the drawer.

SCOTT SASSA, THEN-PRESIDENT OF NBC ENTERTAINMENT, WEST COAST: I was inexperienced enough in that job that I didn’t know why I should not like it, so we set it up.

PETER ROTH, WARNER BROS. TV EXECUTIVE: I joined Warner Bros. in February 1999, and the script had already been written. My introduction to Aaron Sorkin was when I called him and said, “I think this is the most brilliant script I’ve ever read, but you should know that in the history of television, there has never been a successful series set in Washington, D.C., on broadcast television.” To which he said, “Why should I care about that?”

SASSA: It was one of the first shows greenlighted that season but the last one cast. One of the things we got crap for was not having enough minorities, but what people didn’t realize is we had offered Sidney Poitier the president role.

SORKIN: Those talks didn’t get far. Next was Jason Robards, but Robards was in bad health, and it was determined that if the pilot got picked up for series, he wouldn’t be able to handle the schedule. We also read Hal Holbrook and John Cullum, and they were both great, but one day John Wells called and said, “What about Martin Sheen?” I’d loved working with Martin on The American President but didn’t think we had a shot at him for this. A few minutes later Martin called and said he’d read the script and he’d like to do it. At the outset, I’d imagined that the president was a character we’d only see once in a while, and so Martin was originally signed to a contract that would have him appear in four out of 13 episodes.

WELLS: Martin was the highest-testing character in the pilot, by far. The network said, “We probably want to have more of him.”

SORKIN: I offered Brad [Whitford] one of the leads in Sports Night, but he was also offered a lead in a Carsey Werner show [Secret Lives of Men]. The Carsey Werner show had a guaranteed pickup and Sports Night didn’t, and Brad had recently gotten married and his wife was pregnant with their first child. So Brad, wisely, took the show with the better prospect of long-term employment. The Carsey Werner show was canceled.

BRADLEY WHITFORD (JOSH LYMAN, DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF): It’s hilarious looking back because my biggest concern [about doing Sports Night] was that Aaron, Mr. Big Feature Writer, would have nothing to do with the day-to-day writing. I always joke with Aaron — and it goes for Tommy, too — that The West Wing was a great show about democracy run by a couple of Kim Jong-ils.

SORKIN: I had no idea Rob was coming in [to read for Sam Seaborn], and once I saw that he was, I was determined not to cast him. Tommy, John and I were putting together an ensemble, and while it was all right with me that the president was being played by a movie star, I thought having one play Sam would throw the balance of the cast out of whack. And then he read the first of three scenes he’d prepared. I don’t remember the second or the third because he’d already gotten the part a page into the first, and I was thinking of stories for a character who has no idea he looks like Rob Lowe. “Pay him whatever he wants,” I said.

ROB LOWE (SAM SEABORN, DEPUTY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR): Sam was the only role I ever wanted to play, and I was told that I would have to audition for it. My thought was, “Great.” When I’m given the ammo to kill in the room, I’m all about it.

SORKIN: I told Tommy and the casting directors, “We need someone like John Spencer” [for President Bartlet’s chief of staff Leo McGarry]. Tommy asked, “What about John Spencer?” Toby came down to a two-man race between Richard Schiff and Eugene Levy. Levy was fantastic — strong and sad and very compelling — but you couldn’t take your eyes off Richard.

RICHARD SCHIFF (TOBY ZIEGLER, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR): I ran into [Eugene] at a party years later and he told me, “I was sure I was going to get it because I put my ear to the door when you auditioned and I couldn’t hear anything.”

SORKIN: For C.J. [Cregg, press secretary] it came down to Allison [Janney] and CCH Pounder. The only thing I’d ever seen Allison in was Primary Colors, and she’d made an immediate impression on me with a simple trip on a flight of stairs. Pounder’s auditions were great, but looking back, it would be hard to argue we made the wrong decision casting Allison, who became the heartbeat of the show.

ALLISON JANNEY (C.J. CREGG, PRESS SECRETARY): I remember going back to the hotel I was staying in, the Montage, and I had a huge bouquet of flowers in my room. They were from Aaron, welcoming me to the pilot.

SORKIN: Moira Kelly didn’t have to audition; she was offered Mandy [Hampton, political consultant]. Moira was a joy to work with, a total pro who understood as time went on that for whatever reasons — and those reasons had nothing to do with her considerable talent — it just wasn’t working. She was a model of graciousness. Janel Moloney came in to read for C.J., but when it became clear that Allison was going to get the part, we asked her if she’d like to help us out and play the relatively thankless role of Donna [Josh’s assistant] because who knows? We may see her from time to time.

JANEL MOLONEY (DONATELLA MOSS, JOSH’S ASSISTANT): I was hostessing at an Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills called Il Pastaio, and I kept my job at the restaurant at first. But by the third episode, I knew that they were never going to get rid of me.

ELISABETH MOSS (ZOEY BARTLET, PRESIDENT’S DAUGHTER): The girl who was on The Wonder Years, Danica McKellar, was in the waiting room as well, and I was like, “I’m screwed. She’s totally going to get this.” [McKellar later was cast as Will Bailey’s stepsister in season four.] I was 17 at the time.

DULE HILL (CHARLIE YOUNG, PERSONAL AIDE TO THE PRESIDENT): I hadn’t done much TV, and I was definitely overwhelmed. But the first time I met Martin, he taught me the handshake that Laurence Fishburne had taught him during Apocalypse Now. The relationship that Charlie and the president had started [first began] offscreen with myself and Martin.

STOCKARD CHANNING (ABIGAIL BARTLET, FIRST LADY): I was on a layover in Calgary when my agent called. I was literally wearing hiking boots and a coat, changed planes and went to Los Angeles. The next morning, I was thrown into an evening gown on the set. Martin was sneaking a cigarette, and they shouted, “We’re ready for you.” We had to descend a staircase, and I said, “Hi, how do you do?” never having met him before. He said, “Oh, hello, we’ve been married like 35 years, and we have three children.”

GARTH ANCIER, PRESIDENT, NBC ENTERTAINMENT: It is rare in your career to see [a pilot] that absolutely must make it to air. The West Wing was one of those rare instances. The only challenge was NBC internal politics. Senior management was dead set against it: “Too liberal.” “Isn’t this Aaron Sorkin guy difficult to deal with?” The attitude was, essentially, you can put it on the air, but it’s on your head.

SASSA: We started having our writers meetings that summer, and the first meeting we have is for Third Watch, John Wells’ other new show with us. The room is packed, and they bring in these gigantic white boards — each episode has one. There are columns for A stories, B stories, C stories, and it’s done with color codes — firemen are red, police are blue, paramedics are brown — and they have these five boards filled out. Aaron walks in afterwards, and he’s got nothing. He goes, “Uh, well, I don’t know what this guy had for breakfast or where he went to school. This morning I woke up and said he’s a two-term governor from New Hampshire because it sounded good. That’s just how I write, OK? The script you have is what you have.” Now I’m terrified.

THOMAS SCHLAMME, DIRECTOR/ EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Before we aired, I remember talking to John, who had just talked to Peter Roth about how this was insane and we’d have to be more fiscally responsible. But then the [episodes] started coming in, and people started to see the kind of show that we were doing. It wasn’t that we didn’t hear from them at all. John shielded most of those calls, and then I would get them and shield them so that Aaron could continue to write.

SORKIN: Tommy created the look of the show, and then he ran the show. He took the heat for cost overruns when the cost overruns were because I was taking 10 days to write a script instead of eight. Tommy put his body in between heat and me.

WHITFORD: The hours on that show were so bad. I mean, just horrible. I remember going to Tommy and saying to him, “The invisible carnage of the unf—ed wives and the children not being read to is just wafting out.”

SCHLAMME: I think Brad thought of that line later and wished he had said it to me. (Laughs.) But I’ll tell you, it’s the truth. Fortunately, our children are still standing, though my three still call it “the West Wing years.” We were doing Sports Night and The West Wing at the same time, and Disney and Warners are five minutes apart. There was one Friday night deep into the season, and it was about 3:30 in the morning. What I realized was at Warner Bros., the massive lot where we did West Wing, there was no one else working but us. And when I went to Disney, another massive lot, where we did Sports Night, there was no one else working but us. And I thought, “Aaron and I might be the worst producers in the history of television.”

SASSA: West Wing didn’t become a hit until the second season. We had Friends, Will & Grace, ER, and then we had Law & Order — they all did better than The West Wing. It was not even in the top five shows on NBC in the first year, though the demographics were really strong. It wasn’t until the second year that it really took off.

ROTH: I vividly remember when the cast of The West Wing came out onstage at the upfront in May 2000. They got a standing ovation. I’ve been doing this for 40 years; I’ve never seen that happen — nor do I ever expect to see it happen again.
In its first season, The West Wing won nine Emmys, including outstanding drama series, the first of four consecutive wins in the top category.

SORKIN: Martin had to be convinced to submit himself in the best leading actor category instead of supporting actor. He felt it was an ensemble and that there was no lead on the show and that to submit himself for leading actor would be an insult to rest of the cast and particularly John Spencer. It was only after telling Martin that he might be taking a supporting actor nomination away from John, Richard, Brad or Dule that he agreed. It was for the same reason that Allison did the opposite. After winning best supporting actress two years in a row she wanted Janel or Stockard to be recognized, so she submitted herself for best leading actress and then won that too.

KEVIN FALLS, CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: When Sports Night went down, Aaron asked me to run the writers room on West Wing, which was going into its second season. Our consultants were Marlin Fitzwater, Bush’s press secretary; Dee Dee Myers, Clinton’s press secretary; Gene Sperling, Clinton and later Obama’s chief economic advisor; columnist Peggy Noonan. On staff was former Carter aide Pat Caddell and Sen. [Daniel] Moynihan’s chief of staff, Lawrence O’Donnell. Eli Attie, a Gore speechwriter, came on in the third season. It was an intimidating room to be in, and I was very nervous my first day. Some of these people answered to American presidents and about the only subject I could address with confidence was when we’d break for lunch.

SCHLAMME: The first time we went to Washington, D.C., it was very difficult to get anyone to let us shoot anywhere. They just thought it was another bad political TV show. Then we came on the air and everything changed. I remember one night, Brad, Janel and I were shooting in front of the West Wing, and somebody had recognized Brad and said: “We’re doing night duty in the situation room downstairs. When you guys get done, come down and have a drink.” Next thing we know, we’ve wrapped and we’re in the situation room at 2:30 in the morning drinking vodka.

FALLS: The [2000] Democratic Convention [in Los Angeles] coincided with the [peak] popularity of the show, and we had these big parties on our stage during the convention. One of the days an office production person said, “Hey, we’re going to take Martin to the convention. Do you want to go?” I thought, “I’ve got to do this.” So we go downtown, and we have to walk a quarter-mile to Staples Center, and as we’re walking, everyone recognizes Martin — hard hats, delegates, everybody — and Martin is embracing it. Martin thinks he’s president. He’s waving, signing autographs. It was surreal.

SORKIN: The series began one year into Bartlet’s first term, and as we went on I began feeling like there were a lot of good stories that happened before the series began — like how they all got together in the first place — and I was looking for a way to start telling some of them. Also, the audience for the show, which started out relatively small, had been building all year. I felt like I wanted to re-pilot the show at the beginning of the second season — to write an episode for the newcomers. In March I went to Tommy with a sketch of an idea I had for the second-season premiere and he was pretty startled because he was used to getting information about an episode two days in advance and not six months. He liked the idea, and I started working backwards from there — having the season-one finale set up the season-two premiere and so on. Except by the time we started filming the season-one finale I still didn’t know which one of the characters was going to be shot, so Tommy had to shoot that exterior scene in Rosslyn, [Va.] — the attempted assassination — in such a way that it wouldn’t disqualify anyone. And instead of shooting both the last scene of the last episode and the first scene of the first episode all at once — which would have made sense — Tommy had to go back and re-create every square foot of every frame in the scene. Tommy, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I think in the end it turned out good and you won your 148th DGA Award for it but, again, sorry.

WHITFORD: I remember in Washington, when we shot the scene at the end of the first year. We knew that somebody was going to get shot, and I remember Aaron saying to me, “I think it’s going to be you,” which just scared me.

SORKIN: His fear didn’t last long. After the table read I said, “Do you want to know why it’s Josh?” and he said, “Cause you wanted your friend to win an Emmy?”

WHITFORD: I hadn’t told anybody, and I remember I called my mom, who has since passed away, on the East Coast the night it aired and said, “I just want you to see the beginning of the show.” I remember her screaming and hanging up on me when she saw it was me.

FALLS: Kathryn Joosten, who played Mrs. Landingham, would have probably survived the run if she hadn’t decided to step out and smoke a cigarette with Aaron and me at an awards show. She told Aaron that she was up for a pilot test, and since she wasn’t a regular he knew he couldn’t hold her. At first I could tell Aaron was bummed, and then after she walked away he turned to me and said: “We’re going to kill Mrs. Landingham …” He wasn’t angry, he was just happy he had a story, and it became the crux of “Two Cathedrals,” where, ironically, Bartlet crushes his cigarette on the floor of Washington Cathedral after a tirade pointed to the heavens where he questions, among other things, a God who would take someone like Mrs. Landingham.

SORKIN: We shot the service at the National Cathedral, and during rehearsals there were a number of clergy standing around watching. I walked up to a priest who was standing nearby and said, “Excuse me, Father? I think you should know that in the scene we’re about to do Martin Sheen is going to curse at God.” He smiled and said, “I know, it’s gonna be great.”

In April 2001, Sorkin was arrested at the Burbank airport with a carry-on bag containing marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms and crack cocaine.

SORKIN: Tommy and I called the cast and crew together the morning after I was arrested. I told them what happened and that I was guilty and I apologized for embarrassing the show. They seemed more concerned with my health than with unwanted attention, but that didn’t surprise me.

WHITFORD: It happened the day after he finished the [second] season, and one of the things that has saved him in that struggle is his writing. Look, I had known he had struggled with this stuff before, and I was terrified for him. I remember saying to him, and it was very emotional, but I said, “Don’t jeopardize all of this. It’s a sweet life you have ahead of you.”

SORKIN: Most of the cast had lowered their quotes considerably because it was an expensive show with an uncertain future, but after two seasons, the future was more certain and some of the actors wanted to renegotiate their contracts, which is both reasonable and common. What wasn’t common was that it wasn’t every man for himself: John, Allison, Brad and Richard wanted to negotiate as a group, and they all wanted to be paid the same. Brad said, “I don’t want to be doing a scene with Allison and know that I’m getting paid more than she is because I have a previous quote and she doesn’t.”

JANNEY: It was a very, very scary time to go through that renegotiation period. I really don’t enjoy that part of the business. That’s why I hire lawyers and then managers and agents. I said, “I am going to go crawl under a rock; let me know if I can come out.”

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
FALLS: Everything we came up with just paled in comparison to what was happening in the world. “Isaac and Ishmael” [a stand-alone episode that for the first time addressed the news] was an effort to be relevant as it pertained to 9/11, but I think doing that every episode would have been a mistake. So it became something that was there, that was the new world, but we never mentioned real historical figures during that time. The show managed to go on for five or six years, but nothing was the same after that.

SORKIN: Because our characters lived in a parallel universe, as opposed to the characters on Mad Men who live in historical fiction, our characters were the only ones not affected by 9/11, and that was a problem.

SCHLAMME: The Clinton administration was unbelievably generous with us and very helpful; then the Bush generation came in, and though we had our fictitious president calling the new president a white-knuckled drunk doesn’t help open doors, it was 9/11 more than that. Whether it had been a Gore administration or a Bush one, all doors were shut to us — and they should have been after 9/11.

The fourth season (2002-03) brought several exits from the West Wing family. First, Lowe decided to leave, reportedly over money and screen time. As big a blow as it was, it was nothing compared to the departure that would follow.

LOWE: It was one of those moments that I think people have where you can stay static or you can invest in yourself, and both choices are legitimate choices. It just depends on what kind of person you are. And here’s what would’ve been the worst thing: to stay on The West Wing only to have Aaron leave like he did.

SORKIN: Tommy, John and I did everything we could to try to change his mind, but Rob had his own plans, and after he gave us his best for three-and-a-half years, we wanted the best for him.

WHITFORD: There’s a natural anxiety when you’re lucky enough to be on a show that’s taking off to wonder who the show is about. And it became very clear that it was about all of us and that there was tremendous strength in that. I think that where Rob was in his career, he felt like it needed to be more focused. He needed to be elite. I thought it was a mistake.

JOSHUA MALINA (WILL BAILEY, DEPUTY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR): I read that Rob Lowe was thinking about leaving, and I really needed a job. I sent [Aaron] an email, the contents of which basically were: “What about a less well-known, less good-looking actor who would work for less money?” It was shameless, but to my surprise, Aaron’s response suggested that he had already talked to Schlamme about the idea. I drove to meet him at the Four Seasons for lunch, and he said, “Here’s the character I’m thinking of for you.”

SORKIN: Tommy and I had been discussing our exits from the show since the third season. It was an impossible decision because we’d built a home for ourselves and even felt like we kind of had kids — although by then we both actually had kids — but we also knew that it was time to do whatever we were going to do next and give the show to fresh legs. On a rainy day in late March, we asked our publicists to work with the publicists at Warners to draft a press release. We gathered the cast in the Roosevelt Room and told them that this was our last episode. We didn’t plan it this way, but the next scene they had to shoot was Bartlet resigning and John Goodman being sworn in.

SCHLAMME: When that decision was made, it was very quick. We’re talking 24 hours. I remember it being an unbelievably difficult thing.

JANNEY: We all felt kicked in the stomach. We felt like we were being abandoned by our parents. We didn’t understand it, we didn’t want it to happen and there was nothing we could do about it.

SCHIFF: I pitched an idea to both to them: “You know what would be amazing? If we lost [the election]. Just imagine. No one would be expecting it. We would lose and we’re gone. That’s the end of it.” Tommy said that was actually an amazing idea but the network and studio would never go for it because they have to make their money back.
ROTH: It was a very difficult experience for all of us. The only thing that mitigated it was the fact that we had John Wells, who brilliantly took over. I’ve thought a lot about what happened during the course of it, things like overages and late material, and you ask yourself: “What happened?” When I really think back, what happened most especially was the country changed post-9/11.

WHITFORD: We were like Branch Davidians and David Koresh left. I think John would tell you that he felt like the first year after Aaron left that we tried to do the show the way Aaron would do it, which was a mistake. But I remember John gathered us all there [after Aaron and Tommy had left]. He stood up and he said, “Jesus, I feel like Ethel Merman’s understudy.”

WELLS: We were all scared to death. The obvious concern that everybody had was, would the quality suffer dramatically while we were trying to learn on our feet how the show was going to operate without Aaron and Tommy? There were episodes that I thought we did very successfully and then ones that were kind of pale imitations. I remember saying to [Aaron] when I took over: “Aaron, you wrote a cliffhanger. What happens next?” And he said, “I haven’t any idea.” That wasn’t a good moment.

SORKIN: At the time I’d been reading stories about Rapturists — people who want to hasten the end of the world by creating the appearance of an international incident so that there’d be an international incident. I decided that’s what happened to Zoey but we wouldn’t know that until the start of next season. In my mind, Nancy McNally [Anna Deavere Smith] was right when she said we’d find Zoey tied to a chair in the back of a muffler shop upstate. But I wasn’t as interested in the thriller aspect as I was in the suddenly powerless president whose daughter’s life is in danger. Are he and his wife being kept under guard in the East Wing? Blair House? A hotel? And what if Bartlet didn’t like some of the commands that were being given by his temporary successor and he gave Leo a contradictory instruction? Would Leo be loyal to the Constitution as Bartlet promises his Cabinet he will be? What if Josh or C.J. or God forbid, Fitzwallace [John Amos], decides to be loyal to Bartlet? In my mind we’d explore all those things over the course of one long night-into-day-into-night at the White House. When I left the show I didn’t leave any instructions or last wishes. I wanted John and the new writers to do what they wanted and not have to write someone else’s idea.

MOSS: I spent that whole summer with people coming up to my on the street in New York and being like, “Are you going to be okay? Are you alright?” and I was like, “Well, I’m fine now. I’m having a good summer, thank you.” I didn’t know [what was going to happen].

LOWE: I can remember vividly doing one of those unending Oval Office scenes. That was always the Bermuda Triangle for us. We died there. Aaron learned the first year not to put all of us in a scene there, and if you watch the show, after the first year you saw less and less of all of us in the Oval.

SORKIN: It would get rowdy in the Oval Office, especially at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning trying to shoot a nine-page scene with 11 actors, one of whom blows his one line on page eight. But I wrote them anyway because I loved them. The worst offenders were Richard and Allison. If they had a scene together they’d be serious geniuses for three takes and then they’d lose it. It got to the point that where we were doing single coverage, we’d have to move one of them out of the room. Many of the best moments of Toby talking to C.J. are Toby talking to the Script Supervisor.

SCHIFF: When I am on that borderline of emotional intensity, I can trip over into hysterical laughter at a moment’s notice. Somebody says something the wrong way and I’m off on a 45-minute laughing binge that the crew starts hating me for. This was a pattern of behavior that went on for many years on The West Wing because there was a lot of very emotionally intense stuff.

JANNEY: Richard Schiff and I would constantly think of terrible ways to spend our time waiting to work. We started doing just ridiculously silly things in my trailer like playing air guitar and lip-syncing to crazy songs. We made Aaron come in to see us do “The Jackal,” and then he put it in the show.

WHITFORD: Josh was the perverse one on set. He’d set everybody’s iPod to Mandarin, or you’d be reading a book on set and the last four pages are torn out. And he had no sense of proportion. One day I am doing a scene and there’s a big crowd of people and Jimmy Smits comes over and he hugs me and goes, “I love you too, man. And those flowers were amazing and the letter means so much to me.” Josh had snuck into my trailer, gotten my stationary and written a vaguely homoerotic thing to Jimmy about working together.

MALINA: I would, with great frequency, find my way into Brad’s trailer when he wasn’t there, just to see what I could do. He’d keep weird, life-affirming Post-its on his mirror and I’d change them into horrible insults. Janel came to me one day and said, “We should send some sort of bouquet from Brad to Jimmy for Valentine’s Day,” and I thought, “Oh my god, that’s brilliant. Plus, I have personalized stationary, which will certainly add artistic verisimilitude.” We bought something ridiculous like 3,000 roses to be delivered to Jimmy.

WHITFORD: I remember I had a check written for $3,000 to the guy who was editing the In Memoriam reel at the SAG Awards because I thought “How great, let’s kill Josh.” But the guy chickened out. So when I wrote my second script, Josh had to say several times on national TV, “I’m a terrible actor. I can’t act.”

MALINA: The entire cast was on the Ellen show just before or just after the airing of the final episode. We were all interviewed together, and at the end there was a cake for each actor with our names on it. They were about to role the credits and I caught Jimmy whispering to Richard Schiff, “I’ll give you $5,000 if you smash that cake into Josh’s face.” I instantly started running. I didn’t really care that I was on TV.

The seventh and final season of the show split its focus between Bartlet’s last year in office and the presidential race between Jimmy Smits’ Congressman Matthew Santos and Alan Alda’s Sen. Arnold Vinick.

JIMMY SMITS (MATTHEW SANTOS): I was in New York doing Shakespeare in the Park [Much Ado About Nothing], and I had gotten a couple calls from my team that John Wells wanted to have a conversation. This was a year after Sorkin leaving, and I’m not going to say there was a slump in the show, but I think they wanted to mix it up a little.

WELLS: We were very lucky to get Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda to come and work. And then I made a phone call to Rob [about returning at the end] just because you want to give fans some sort of closure to it.

LOWE: It was a very easy decision because I loved the show. I always did, and I also just wanted Sam to be there for the end. But The West Wing, with all due respect to everybody, is Aaron, full stop. I turned it on once [after I had left] and saw a flashback to when John Spencer [Leo] was a young man wading through a rice paddy in Vietnam. I thought, “You know, I don’t think I’m really going to watch much more of this.”

MOLONEY: We had joked about [Josh and Donna getting together] with Tommy and Aaron, but I think all of us knew that it wasn’t going to happen until the very end. And it was so much better than I would have imagined. I was always afraid it was going to be a “very special episode of West Wing” and something schmaltzy, but it wasn’t. I don’t think Aaron ever watched the show when he stopped writing it, but I think he would’ve enjoyed how it was done.

SORKIN: I was always scared to get Josh and Donna together. I don’t know why. I know it was something the audience wanted to see and something that would make sense but I didn’t do it.

WHITFORD: Unlike in life, in television there’s nothing more boring than consummation. I remember thinking, “How emotionally constipated is this dude?” But I think they wisely held off. I remember we finished the scene where we finally end up in bed, and I said, “We need to reshoot that. I got shot in the f—ing chest, and there’s no scar.” We never reshot it and nobody noticed.

SCHIFF: Aaron wrote me a very lovely email saying that Toby is one of his favorite characters he’s ever written, and he talked about our relationship building that character. He said, “I’ve heard what’s happening to your character [Toby was fired and faced years in prison during season seven but ultimately was pardoned] and I’m so sorry.” And that’s how I felt: very sorry that they had chose to do what they did. They didn’t tell me in advance like Aaron and Tommy would have. Clearly they didn’t want to tell me because they were scared of my reaction to it. I would have talked them out of it because it was not in line with the six years of work that I built with that character. I was very, very hurt by it.

Another disaster hit the West Wing family, one it ultimately wouldn’t recover from: Spencer’s death of a heart attack on Dec. 16, 2005, days before his 59th birthday.
WHITFORD: I remember getting a call that John was in trouble. I was with him for quite a while after he had passed away. Stockard was there, too. And then I was a pallbearer at his funeral. You don’t want to exploit anything, but we all felt that honoring his character in the show would have been something he’d be comfortable with.

CHANNING: It was devastating. I remember the funeral episode, and I think we did two takes and we were just bawling. John died at Christmas and it was within a month or so that we filmed it. It was raw enough for all of us.

HILL: The episode where we actually had to carry his casket because his character had died … it was an empty casket, but it wasn’t an empty casket.

WELLS: I couldn’t get my mind around how to do the show without him. My heart kind of went out of it. I don’t know if NBC would have picked us up for another year, but I called them and said, “I think we’re finished.”

SORKIN: From time to time, my mind would wander to what a series finale would look like. I didn’t have any ideas — just an image. Bartlet, the now ex-president, would be in street clothes and a baseball cap and just blend into the crowd until we couldn’t make him out anymore.