Sir Elton John performed at the White House for the first time since 1998, and was given an award from US President Joe Biden for his contribution to music.
The veteran star wowed more than 2,000 guests, including teachers, nurses and LGBTQ advocates, with his performance, which was put together to celebrate “everyday history makers”. At the end of the show, President Biden surprised Sir Elton with the National Humanities Medal. The 75-year-old singer is currently on a farewell tour after a career spanning more than 50 years.
Cancer-killing virus shows promise in patients
A new type of cancer therapy that uses a common virus to infect and destroy harmful cells is showing big promise in early human trials, say UK scientists. One patient’s cancer vanished, while others saw their tumours shrink. The drug is a weakened form of the cold sore virus – herpes simplex – that has been modified to kill tumours. Larger and longer studies will be needed, but experts say the injection might ultimately offer a lifeline to more people with advanced cancers.
Krzysztof Wojkowski, a 39-year-old builder from west London, is one of the patients who took part in the ongoing phase one safety trial, run by the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. He was diagnosed in 2017 with cancer of the salivary glands, near the mouth. Despite surgery and other treatments at the time, his cancer continued to grow. “I was told there was no options left for me and I was receiving end-of-life care. It was devastating, so it was incredible to be given the chance to join the trial.”
A short course of the virus therapy – which is a specially modified version of the herpes virus which normally causes cold sores – appears to have cleared his cancer. “I had injections every two weeks for five weeks which completely eradicated my cancer. I’ve been cancer-free for two years now.” The injections, given directly into the tumour, attacks cancer in two ways – by invading the cancerous cells and making them burst, and by activating the immune system.
About 40 patients have tried the treatment as part of the trial. Some were given the virus injection, called RP2, on its own. Others also received another cancer drug – called nivolumab – as well.
The findings, presented at a medical conference in Paris, France, show:
• Three out of nine patients given RP2 only, which included Krzysztof, saw their tumours shrink
• Seven out of 30 who had combined treatment also appeared to benefit
• Side effects, such as tiredness, were generally mild
Lead researcher Prof Kevin Harrington told the BBC the treatment responses seen were “truly impressive” across a range of advanced cancers, including cancer of the gullet (oesophagus) and a rare type of eye cancer. “It is rare to see such good response rates in early stage clinical trials, as their primary aim is to test treatment safety, and they involve patients with very advanced cancers for whom current treatments have stopped working,” he said. “I am keen to see if we continue to see benefits as we treat increased numbers of patients.”
It is not the first time scientists have used a virus to fight cancer. The NHS approved a cold-virus-based therapy, called T-Vec, for advanced skin cancer a few years ago.
Prof Harrington calls RP2 a souped-up version of T-Vec. “It’s had other modifications to the virus so that when it gets into cancer cells it effectively signs their death warrant.”
Boy’s stag photo scoops Wildlife Photographer of the Year accolade
An eight-year-old boy who snapped a stunning shot of a deer in the snow in a London park has scooped a top photography award. Joshua Cox was just six years old when he captured the majestic animal in Richmond Park last January with a camera he had received for Christmas. “He almost looked like he was having a snow shower,” Joshua said. It has been highly commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
Joshua started using a toy camera as a toddler and progressed to a compact camera not long after taking the photo while in lockdown. It had just started to snow when the youngster and his father Julian Cox, who is also a wildlife photographer, arrived in the park. Describing the moment they came across the red deer stag, Joshua, from west London, said: “We were in a blizzard and I saw some snow stags going into the woods and we followed them. “We got quite close but were a good distance away. Luckily we were not disturbing them much.”
His dad Julian said his son was the only UK young photographer in this year’s competition His father added: “Joshua has been interested in wildlife from a very young age, from three, and it’s really about going on wildlife adventures together and sharing with him what beautiful nature we have here in the British isles. If that inspires him to take photographs that’s great. “Joshua only takes photographs when he wants to, when the inspiration takes him and usually when it does he ends up taking better pictures than his dad. “I’m very proud of Josh and very happy for him.”
Gamescom: The Ukrainian video game makers who kept working in a war zone
Like many colleagues in the video game industry, Iryna Bilous and Nika Avayan recently arrived at the world’s largest gaming conference, Gamescom in Germany, to show off their latest title to fans. But for these two Ukrainians, the road to the trade fair has been anything but a normal journey. After Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, Ms Avayan, chief operating officer of the Frogwares studio, decided to leave her small village near the city of Bucha. She and seven family members, including her 76-year-old mother, bundled themselves into a car, driving for six days through queues of traffic and across country borders to make it to Germany.
With roughly 80 employees, Frogwares wouldn’t be considered by most in the industry to be a very large studio compared with the likes of video game giants Electronic Arts or Ubisoft. But supporting their staff during the war has still been a huge task for everyone. “In the morning company meeting, we have a Google doc where everyone comes in and writes that they’re OK or says if they’ve changed their location,” says Ms Avayan. “Some of our employees still live in Kherson, [which is] occupied by Russians, and the communication is very bad. Sometimes they don’t have internet and we do not know… are they safe or has something happened?”
Somehow, despite it all, office morale at Frogwares hasn’t appeared to decline – except for, perhaps, in the initial period after the invasion. “The first two weeks were like hell – I couldn’t work because of the stress,” says Ms Bilous. But she adds that, as more team members have returned, there have been office reunions and even the reappearance of the usual office banter. “We make a lot of memes,” she laughs. “It’s like, the only way to laugh now is to create memes and to joke.”
On 4 August, Frogwares announced a fundraiser for the game it has been making during the invasion. Renowned for its series of adventure games based around fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, the studio’s latest title isn’t too far from what it knows best. Sherlock Holmes The Awakened will be a remastered version of a previous game the studio made, and is described as “a Lovecraftian adventure into the heart of the Cthulhu Mythos” – a reference to horror writer HP Lovecraft and the world he created. In just six hours, the fundraiser met its goal of €70,000 (£59,000). It has now raised more than €200,000 (£169,000), with over a week before it closes. “Maybe the news annoys the public because there’s a lot of news about Ukraine,” says Ms Bilous, sitting in a booth passed every second by throngs of chattering Gamescom visitors. “But we want to tell people what it’s like to be there, in the news. So that’s why we came here.” Ms Avayan agrees: “We don’t want the rest of the industry to forget about us.”https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-62672569
Hold Me Closer: Britney Spears releases first new music since 2016
Britney Spears has released her first new music since being released from a conservatorship that controlled almost every aspect of her life. Hold Me Closer – a duet with Sir Elton John – hit streaming sites on Friday, marking Spears’ return to music after a six-year hiatus. “It’s pretty damn cool that I’m singing with one of the most classic men of our time,” she said ahead of the release. “I’m kinda overwhelmed… it’s a big deal to me!”
The song incorporates three of Sir Elton’s classic hits – Tiny Dancer, The One and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart – over a summer-fresh club beat. Spears and Sir Elton sing in unison throughout the track with their voices drenched in echo, making it hard to assess how Spears’ voice has changed since we last heard from her. However, she lets loose with a few ad libs – including a trademark “baby” halfway through the track – that suggests her vocals have matured and deepened over the last six years. (An unsubstantiated fan theory contends this is Britney’s natural register, and that she was forced to sing in a “fake baby voice” by her former managers). Sonically, Hold Me Closer is cut from the same cloth as Cold Heart, the Dua Lipa duet that gave Sir Elton John a global number one hit last year. That formula proved irresistible to multiple radio formats and streaming playlists, and helped introduce Sir Elton’s hits to a younger generation. It’s no surprise that he’s trying to recreate the magic on this follow-up, which also melds two eras of pop, with the two stars singing nostalgic melodies over an airbrushed disco groove.
According to a press release, the song started life as a solo track, before inspiration struck. “After hearing the first cut of the single earlier this summer, Elton John knew that Britney’s instantly recognisable vocals were the perfect touch to bring the song to life,” it said. “Reaching out to her directly, Britney immediately said yes, and the result holds promise to be the song of the summer.”
Sir Elton previewed the song to diners at a French beach restaurant earlier this week, singing along as a DJ played the track. “I am absolutely thrilled to have had the chance to work with Britney Spears,” the star said. “She truly is an icon, one of the all-time great pop stars and she sounds amazing on this record. I love her dearly and am delighted with what we’ve created together.”https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-62680081
The untold history of black bourbon
“The bourbon world is dominated by middle-aged white dudes with moustaches,” Ramos said. “Bourbon is not something we really associate with black people.” Ramos jokes that he sometimes witnesses shock in a bartender’s face when he orders bourbon instead of cognac.
Bourbon is a type of whiskey made in the US that must comprise 51% corn (or more) and must be aged in new charred oak barrels. One of the reasons cognac is associated with African Americans is because cognac producers in the 1950s made a concerted effort to target their advertising dollars to black publications like Ebony and Jet. “They let the market know that they wanted their business,” said Shannon Healy, owner of Alley Twenty Six, a James Beard-nominated bar in Durham.
Each Wednesday, Healy hosts Whiskey Wednesday at his bar. They pour expensive, lesser-known whiskeys at break-even prices, aiming to educate their customers in a city where the black and white populations are both near 50%. Ramos has a residence at Alley Twenty Six one Wednesday each month where he educates customers on the whiskeys being poured that night. “If we see someone doing something in the community whom we can support, we do it,” said Healy of Ramos. “What Che brings in is a more obvious opening line as how to communicate [the story of black contributions to American whiskey]. And it helps us to show to our market that bourbon is for black folks, too… even though many companies are not focusing on selling it to them.”
Actors to get nudity warning in anti-bullying move for TV work, union says
Equity has committed to ensuring actors are given nudity warnings as part of a move “against bullying, harassment and inappropriate behaviour in TV”. The performing arts and entertainment trade union shared its fresh “statement of commitment”. It brings together 21 major organisations, in the UK and abroad, including the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. The commitment, also backed by Sky, HBO and Warner Bros, comes with the warning that “no one is untouchable”. In a statement, the union said it was part of a “move towards a culture in which everyone working in the TV industry feels able to call out unacceptable behaviour, and that nobody is above being challenged: no one is untouchable”. It added “everyone has a responsibility for creating an inclusive and respectful culture – and that by working together we can deliver real and lasting change in the industry”.
Equity president Lynda Rooke applauded the move, saying: “On behalf of every performer who has experienced bullying and harassment during their on screen working lives, I welcome this commitment by industry representatives to create a safe working environment where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. “But to establish an inclusive and respectful culture requires actions not just words, and I encourage all those working in this sector to recognise their individual responsibility to report inappropriate behaviour and unite against any pressure to remain silent on these issues.”
The union also discussed and agreed to ensuring safe casting and audition spaces, and for producers to have clear respect at work policies, which include a process for addressing concerns and making complaints about bullying and harassment. The statement also included the prominent display of contact information relating to safeguarding and support – from proactive trained senior staff – for each production. Anti-bullying and harassment training will now be mandatory for every cast and crew too.
Ralph Lee, director of content at BBC Studios Productions said it was “important that as an industry we work together to ensure there is a safe and respectful working environment within the production community”. Signing up to the statement of commitment, he stressed, would “strengthen our ability to continue to improve making this happen”.
David Osborn, chief people officer at ITV, said it was “crucial that all contributors to our industry work together to combat bullying and inappropriate behaviour”.
The commitment comes in the period following the emergence of the #MeToo movement, which saw widespread allegations of abuse in the entertainment industry.
Can a sleepy Japanese town become Asia’s Silicon Valley?
Always seen as Japan’s backwater, Tokushima is not where you would expect to see the opening of a special new school for tech-savvy young entrepreneurs. Located on the southern island of Shikoku, the sleepy, rural region doesn’t have a reputation for being a thriving place. But the area, which has been suffering from both an ageing and shrinking population for decades, will soon welcome a bunch of vibrant, young new residents.
In April next year a school of tech entrepreneurship – the first of its kind in Japan – will open in the Tokushima town of Kamiyama. The students, aged from 15 to 20, will be taught engineering, programming and designing, as well as business skills such as marketing. They will also learn how to pitch their business plans to investors in order to raise money. The man behind it is Chikahiro Terada, the boss of Tokyo-based start-up Sansan, which specialises in the digitalisation of business cards. These still play a huge role in Japan’s corporate world.
To build the school Mr Terada has secured 2bn yen ($15m; £12m) in donations via a government system called furusato nozei or “hometown tax”. Under this scheme, mid to high-earning big city dwellers can donate money to a rural region of their choosing in return for a reduction in their income and residency taxes. More than 30 companies are also now financial supporters of the forthcoming school. These are mostly Japanese but there are also some international ones, such as accountancy giant Deloitte.
Traditionally, young people in Japan choose to join a big established firm as a safe career path. But Mr Terada says many are now far more entrepreneurial, and his plans have seen some big interest from prospective students, with more than 200 applications from all over Japan for the first 40 slots. The school is also committed to a 50:50 ratio of girls and boys, a step in the right direction in a country where men still dominate the start-up scene and the wider workforce. It comes as Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund will start investing in the country’s best new start-ups.
Manjula Patel: The 85-year-old India-origin chef wowing a UK town
An 85-year-old Indian-origin woman who came to the UK as a refugee from Uganda is now one of its oldest chefs and restaurateurs. Manjula Patel owns and runs Manju’s, a popular restaurant in the seaside town of Brighton that serves traditional vegetarian dishes from the western Indian state of Gujarat – where Manju, as she is fondly called, was born.
Manju’s is a family-run operation. Manju’s sons greet customers and take their orders, while she and her daughters-in-law Dipali and Kirti run the kitchen and prepare the food. The restaurant, which has around 48 customers a day, has a small menu. “On any given day, the menu will have 12 dishes that change constantly, depending on the vegetables that are in season,” says Kirti, Manju’s elder daughter-in-law. Like other businesses, the Covid pandemic and high inflation in the UK has hit their work as well. But Manju says she has no plans to retire just yet. “I want to continue cooking and feeding people for as long as I can.”
PFAS: Possible breakthrough to destroy harmful ‘forever chemicals’
Chemists have identified how to destroy “forever chemicals” in a low-cost way for the first time, new research says. Scientists have linked exposure to the substances, known as PFAS, at certain levels to serious health risks, including cancer and birth defects. Their resistance to water, oil and stains make them highly useful. PFAS are used in hundreds of everyday objects from frying pans to make-up. But it is these properties that make them so difficult to destroy. PFAS stands for poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances. There are around 4,500 of these fluorine-based compounds and they are found in almost every dwelling on Earth in products including food packaging, non-stick cookware, rain gear, adhesives, paper and paints. They have been identified in low levels in rainwater globally – but if they infiltrate water or soil in high level, they can become a serious concern. Research remains ongoing to determine how different levels of exposure can lead to various health effects.
“There is an association between exposure and adverse outcomes in every major organ system in the human body,” Elsie Sunderland, professor of environmental chemistry at Harvard University, tells BBC News.