Is lockdown’s tech bubble about to burst?

Netflix is not signing up subscribers at the rate it once did. Disney+ has stalled. At Boohoo, growth is not as red hot as it was just a few months ago, while Deliveroo’s float on the London stock market was quickly dubbed ‘flopperoo’ by City wags. Zoom’s shares price has stopped, er, zooming, at least in the upward direction. A random collection of snippets of business news? Well, to some degree. But there is also a common theme to all these stories, and one that is significant for investors. We are about to witness a serious bout of what might be termed the post-pandemic blues. The companies that did brilliantly

A last hurrah for the Zoom play

Lockdown is about to end but some theatres are gripped by cabin fever and want to explore the two new formats created by the pandemic. One is the Zoom play with multiple actors, the other is the sequence of filmed soliloquys linked by a theme or storyline. Tim Crouch has directed a Zoom version of B.S. Johnson’s satire House Mother Normal, which is set in an old folks’ home in the 1960s. The inmates are detained in a communal ward run by a sadistic nurse, the ‘house mother’, who enforces a programme of singalongs and party games. The house mother carries a weapon and feels free to beat anyone who

The hidden cost of free technology

Back in late 2019 I met someone from Zoom who was visiting London. The company, then as now, offered free video-conferencing calls for up to 40 minutes, but charged a fee of around £10 a month to users who wanted longer calls. Towards the end of the conversation, I flippantly asked what I thought was a hypothetical question: ‘How much would you charge to give full Zoom access to the whole UK population?’ I didn’t think much more about it, but to my surprise they came back to me a few days later: ‘If you know anyone in the government who’d be interested in this, we’d like to talk.’ In

Zippy and stylish, with a glint of mischief: William Forsythe’s The Barre Project reviewed

In the early Noughties there was a Hollywood subgenre (by which I mean a few cult movies, each with terrible sequels) about ballerinas who shake off their classical shackles and liberate the cool girl within. The crown jewel is Center Stage, in which an aspiring prima sticks it to her ballet masters after they affront her with some light criticism of her turnout. She’s not some faceless, uptight swan! She’s a free spirit who dances for fun, as signalled by the presence of not one but two Jamiroquai songs on the soundtrack. When Tiler Peck strutted on screen to James Blake’s ‘Buzzard & Kestrel’ in the opening minutes of The

This fabulous play is like a Chekhov classic: The One Day in the Year reviewed

The One Day In the Year is an Australian drama about the annual commemoration of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. It was written in 1958 but it could have been dashed off last week. What makes it thrillingly topical is that the personality of Churchill and the truth about Britain’s colonial past are central to the story. The main character, Alf, is a veteran of the second world war who works as a lift operator. He detests the new Australia and he calls the younger generation a ‘stink lot of imitation Yanks’. For him, Churchill is the greatest Englishman in history. But his rebellious son, Hughie, describes Britain’s wartime prime

The rise of Zoom cooking: which classes to try online

Pasta proficiency from Italy, noodle knowledge from Thailand, dumpling education from Georgia, taco tips from Mexico. We might have lost something in the intimacy, the sociability, the hands-on help when it comes to virtual cooking courses, but what we have gained is access to culinary masters from ardour the world, encompassing an extraordinary diversity of cuisines and techniques. There are plenty to get stuck into, but here are a few of the best, taking your tastebuds and your techniques from Tbilisi to Koh Tao. Pasta with an Italian Nonna For the last few years, on the outskirts of Rome, Nonna Nerina has been initiating cooking enthusiasts into the art of

Our obsession with city living is out of date

In March last year, the world made an interesting discovery. We found that a high proportion of knowledge-work could be performed remotely. Significantly, this came as a surprise to everyone. It should be a source of mild shame that, for all their talk of innovation, very few companies or institutions had experimented with this possibility beforehand. Given that this technology might help solve the housing shortage, geographical inequality, intergenerational wealth inequality, the transport crisis, the pensions crisis, the environmental crisis and almost everything else people worry about, it seems odd that it attracted so little consideration until a pandemic forced our hand. If I pay a London-dwelling employee 10 per

My fateful appearance at the Bank of England’s Christmas drinks

Tidings of comfort as the vaccination programme advances, but shortage of joy. That’s my summary of a season in which there’s no Spectator Christmas bash for the first time in my 29 years on the magazine; in which my panto-dame ball gown hangs forlornly as a decoration in the foyer of the theatre where social distancing has made it impossible for us to mount a show; and in which I can’t even offer my customary restaurant tips, because there have been so few opportunities to eat out anywhere and, apart from a brief French escape in July, no chance at all to travel abroad. Nevertheless I count my blessings, the

Can £3,000 make me as pretty as Emily Maitlis?

If you’re a journalist with a fondness for appearing on television — and, let’s face it, most of us are — the Covid crisis has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’re no longer expected to drag yourself off to a studio at the crack of dawn, whether it’s Broadcasting House in the West End or Sky’s headquarters in Isleworth. You simply tumble out of bed, open your laptop and do a ‘down the line’. You don’t even have to put your trousers on. But the big drawback is, you look terrible. In a television studio, you have the benefit of make-up, professional lighting and proper cameras and

Absorbing and beautifully designed: Jane Eyre reviewed

Blackeyed Theatre is another victim of the virus. Its production of Jane Eyre was midway through a UK tour, and due to visit China for a month, when the pandemic shot its plans to bits. Last month the show was revived on stage and committed to film. Kelsey Short (Jane) leads a team of just five actors who tell the story as Charlotte Brontë wrote it. The costumes, hairstyles and habits of speech seem authentically Victorian. The director, Adrian McDougall, has rejected the fashionable habit of presenting Jane as a rad-fem freedom fighter surrounded by grotesque male oppressors. His version reminds us how sympathetic the novel is towards men. Mr

The genius of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue

I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue has just been voted the greatest radio comedy of all time by Radio Times, ahead of Hancock’s Half Hour and the brilliant Round the Horne. The first two episodes of series 73 (can you believe it?) are also the last Tim Brooke-Taylor recorded before losing his life to coronavirus earlier this year. Brooke-Taylor was part of the original cast of the self-styled ‘antidote to panel games’, which first aired in 1972 with Bill Oddie, Jo Kendall and the show’s deviser Graeme Garden as fellow performers (Barry Cryer joined during the first series and Willie Rushton two years later). When Brooke-Taylor’s voice broke through this

Watch: Boris Johnson’s Zoom nightmare

Oh dear. You would think with the Prime Minister still isolating (after coming into contact with a Covid-infected MP) that the Downing Street boffins would have set him up with a decent enough internet connection by now. Unfortunately though, it appears that the PM is still struggling when it comes to the tech. Boris Johnson dialled in virtually to Parliament today to announce his new tiered system for after lockdown. Only things started to go downhill rather quickly when the his audio cut out in the middle of an answer.  The Speaker of the House was left quizzing the PM to see if he’d hit the mute button, before eventually

China’s rockstar-of-tech has fallen foul of Xi

FTSE indices soared as the Biden Bounce met vaccine euphoria, underpinned by the Bank of England’s announcement of another £150 billion injection of quantitative easing. It was heartening to see shares in airlines, hotels and Rolls-Royce, the aero engine maker, perking up — and hardly surprising to see lockdown winners such as Ocado and Just Eat among the fallers. Across the Atlantic, even mighty Amazon shed 5 per cent on Monday. But stock markets are one thing and real life is another. What matters in the short term is whether Boris Johnson can get us out of the lockdown he clearly didn’t want before the tide of redundancies, heading towards

Dear Mary: How can I wind up a Zoom call with a chatty friend?

Q. Is there a tactful way to wind up a Zoom call when one of you has more time on their hands than the other? A friend, living alone in London, Zooms me on a regular basis. He is immensely good value — and as a successful stage actor is clearly missing the audience he would have were it not for lockdown. Much as I would love to be entertained by him for lengthy periods, I need to get things done while the children are at school. How can I halt his flow without wounding his ego? — M.N., Tetbury, Glos A. With a small amount of preparation you can

The case for road rationing

Here’s the quandary. How in future can we make the kind of rapid advances we have made during the Covid crisis without waiting for a lethal pandemic — or worse — to force our hand? We have, after all, made exceptional non-medical discoveries in the past few months. By being forced to adapt simultaneously, we have discovered better forms of collective behaviour which might never have emerged independently. I was an early convert to video-conferencing, yet even I was astounded at the extent to which the world can function remotely. We may soon look back upon commuting and the endless slew of physical meetings in the same way we view

Bob Geldof is an unconventional Zoom host

Gstaad I experienced my first Zoom conference last week, and didn’t think much of it. As the great Yogi Berra once remarked, ‘You can observe a lot by just watching,’ but in my case I observed very little and heard quite a lot. I suppose that one day every meeting will be conducted Zoom-style, but I bet my bottom dollar they’ll never be as preposterous as the annual Pugs Club get-together. As everyone knows, Pugs is the world’s most exclusive club, by a long shot. It once had 21 members, but we lost Christopher Lee, and then our president, Nick Scott, and our commodore, Tim Hoare. Pugs has neither a

Edinburgh Festival is in ruins – but there’s one gem amid the rubble

The virus has broken Edinburgh. The shattered remnants of the festival are visible on the internet. Here’s what happened. The international festival has been reduced to one filmed theatre commission and a handful of videoed musical offerings. The Fringe has survived but in a horribly mutilated form. Two of its most prestigious brands, the Pleasance and the Assembly Rooms (which host hundreds of shows between them every year), have pulled out entirely. They’re so well established that they’ll have no difficulty restarting in 12 months’ time. Another big name, the Gilded Balloon, is offering a few online shows and some recorded highlights from previous years. Lesser-known outfits such as the-SpaceUK

Martin Vander Weyer

Zoom falling: has the video-call novelty worn off?

A takeover battle for BT would bring much-needed excitement to the City — as well as a major political row. The privatised telecoms giant that rarely pleases its customers and regulators has seen its shares fall by four-fifths since late 2015. While many other tech-related stocks have rebounded, BT’s price is still down where it was when the market plunged in February — lockdown having interfered with BT Openreach’s broadband installation programme, slashed new orders from business customers and even knocked out the fixtures that might have been shown on BT Sport’s television channels. On top of all that, there’s a gaping hole in the pension fund. No wonder BT’s

Andrew Marr: Scotland is slipping away from the Union

Staying in Britain for the summer has been, in many ways, entirely glorious. We have zigzagged from Shropshire through Derbyshire to the Northumberland coast, from Fife and Perthshire to Herefordshire and Devon. On the way, beautiful little towns and sweeping coastlines, not empty but not crammed either; excellent local food and plenty to keep us interested, from echoing cathedrals to buzzing bookshops. But it has also allowed me to see first hand just how desolate so many high streets are: not only the shops closed because of plague, but those shuttered, clearly from a long time back. Boarded up doors, bleached posters… If it wasn’t so wet, the tumbleweed would

Will Hancock’s ‘Zoom medicine’ take off?

It’s not unusual that the left and right hands of government don’t know what the other is doing: despite being based in the same postcode, different departments are notoriously bad at communicating. They even stop speaking to one another occasionally, with secretaries of state blocking new policies at what is known as the ‘write-round’ stage of policy development. This is where ministers consult colleagues across government on a policy, which others can then block. Sometimes departments have such a strong objection to a policy in another ministry that they refuse to sign off anything else through write-rounds until this plan is dropped. But this polite form of hostage-taking is far