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Last Updated: Friday, 21 April 2006, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
Faces of the week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are MICHAEL NESMITH(main picture), with JONATHAN ROSS, BARONESS STRANGE, VANESSA MAE and GUNTHER GRASS.

Written by BBC News Profiles Unit's Bob Chaundy

MICHAEL NESMITH

He was a member of The Monkees, the original boy-band, yet he went on to become a respected musician, a pioneer of the pop video, a film producer and author. Michael Nesmith has just released a new album after a five-year break.

The Monkees were a phenomenon of the 1960s, brought together artificially in America, as a commercial attempt to cash in on the popularity of the Beatles; critics dubbed The Monkees the Pre-fab Four.

They had a long-running TV show of wacky comedy and a host of hit records like Daydream Believer and I'm a Believer.

The TV series ran for 58 episodes and the group sold an estimated 65 million albums.

Michael Nesmith was the one in the woolly hat, the quiet one, but the one with the most musical talent. He had already written hit songs for Paul Butterfield and Linda Ronstadt.

Nesmith in the 1980s
Nesmith sold his mother's patent for 30 million
At first, all the Monkees records featured session musicians. Later on in their three-year existence, it was Nesmith who threatened to quit if they weren't allowed to write and record their own material.

He famously punched a hole in a wall to make the point.

By 1970, Nesmith had bought himself out of the band, and without his creative inspiration, The Monkees soon fell apart. Whereas, some of the other Monkees struggled to maintain even a modicum of success, Nesmith never looked back, at first writing and recording gentle country rock songs.

He'd been born in December 1942 in Texas to a young mother of 18. His father abandoned his wife and son when Michael was an infant, leaving him to be brought up as a single child to a single mother.

As Michael was achieving fame with The Monkees, so his mother, Bette Nesmith, a secretary, hit on the idea for Liquid Paper, the first typing correction fluid. When she died in 1980, Michael inherited the patent and sold it to Gillette for a cool 30m.

But his accumulated wealth did not blunt his creativity.

Pop Video

After recording his best-known solo single Rio, European TV networks requested he supply them with an accompanying film for their pop shows. He and some friends from the film and advertising world got together and made a discovery that was soon to become standard knowledge.

"When you put music and images together, they tended to make each other more powerful, and you could do things when they were together that you couldn't do alone," he said.

He had stumbled into inventing the pop video. In fact, his Elephant Parts was the first video to win a Grammy.

Outside a British phonebox while on the Monkees reunion tour of 1997
On the Monkees reunion tour of 1997
There was, as yet, nowhere in the States for videos to be broadcast. So, as the cable TV era dawned, Nesmith stitched together a series of videos he called Popclips, for the Nickelodeon channel and sold the idea of a 24-hour video channel which soon became MTV.

In the meantime, he formed a company which pioneered the selling of home videos of TV shows, and he began producing such movies as Repo Man, Tapeheads and Timerider. He even had time to write a novel, The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora. A second novel The American Gene appeared last year.

With wealth came philanthropy, and, in his late fifties, he began bringing together American intellectuals from all walks of life to discuss the big issues of the day at brains trusts entitled Councils of Ideas. They were sited at his mother's former studio in New Mexico.

But beneath the layers of entrepreneurism, authorship and philanthropy, Nesmith is still at heart a musician. His 1994 album The Garden was awarded a Grammy, and he even reunited with The Monkees again for a brief tour and subsequently produced their Justus album.

A pioneer of country-rock and the pop video, Michael Nesmith has continued to embrace the opportunities that new technology has offered for musical creativity, particularly on the internet.

"When you get into these big sampler engines and computer-based sequencing, the world opens up to you," he told Wired News this month. His new Rays album is a multi-layered "cinematic journey of sound" incorporating elements of swing, jazz and funk. It's currently only available as a download.

Mike Nesmith may no longer be the young generation, but he's still got something to say.


JONATHAN ROSS

Broadcaster Jonathan Ross, whose ubiquity on BBC Television sees him presenting his own chat-show, appearing on more than one quiz and hosting his own film-review programme Film 2007, has become the target of a fierce bidding battle. The broadcaster is said to have been approached separately by ITV and Channel 4 who are both keen to sign him up when his BBC contract expires next year. It could earn him up to 15m over three years.

BARONESS STRANGE

It has emerged that a Scottish baroness, Jean Strange, changed her will the day before she died last March. Her entire estate, worth millions, now reverts to her 39-year-old daughter, Catherine, as the sole heir. The baroness had six children, the oldest of whom, Adam Drummond, had moved to the family castle in Perthshire, having expected to inherit everything. In fact, all he inherits now is the title, 17th Baron Strange.

VANESSA MAE

The pouting violin vixen, Vanessa Mae, is laughing all the way to the bank. The 27-year-old Singapore-born musician, who became a household name with her electric violin and her skimpy outfits, has scooped first place in the Young Entertainers category of this year's The Sunday Times Rich List. According to the new figures, the musician has raked in a 32m fortune.

GUNTHER GRASS

German Nobel Prize winning author Gunther Grass whose 1959 novel Blechtrommel (Tin Drum) made him the literary spokesperson for the generation which grew up in the Nazi era, has been banging his tin drum about football. He said he is sickened by the role "big money" played in the game. He says there is no fair competition in Germany's first two divisions any more. Germany is set to host football's World Cup in June.




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