Textual Ealing

Warning! Not many laughs at the top of this week’s NEW! IMPROVED! Telly Addict (we have a new crew and we’ve changed the lighting to a more complimentary hue, as well as bringing the caption style in line, and making the first, “wide” shot a little longer, so that you get longer to gaze in awe at the object on the coffee table). That’s because the lead show is National Treasure (Channel 4), an “issue”-led drama from the unstoppable Jack Thorne, which reunites director Marc Munden and composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer from the mighty Utopia. It’s about a beloved entertainer, bulked out in every single way, including emotionally, by the great Robbie Coltrane, accused of “historic” rape, at which his life begins to fall apart.

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I can’t fault it. It’s a fictionalised tale but all too raw, played with sensitivity and ambiguity by a cast led by Tim McInnerny as Coltrane’s comedy partner, Julie Walters as his loyal wife, Andrea Riseborough as his damaged daughter, and Jeremy Swift as a showbiz manager, and pitched at a world that has long since been tarnished by its collective past (whether physical, mental and sexual abuse, abuse of power/celebrity, or the crime of looking the other way). It begins at an awards ceremony – where else? – where Coltrane’s veteran, walking with a stick, is greeted with the respect of his younger peers, represented by Frank Skinner, Robert Webb and Alan Carr, playing “themselves”. A bold move. As was the decision to mic Robbie up so that we could hear his laboured breathing – which reminded me of our intimate relationship with Tony Soprano. Brave, too, to have his character take the name of Savile in vain.

For laughs, we must turn to an even more distant past.

Richard E Grant on Ealing Comedies (Gold – Gold! – a channel whose name should always be sung in the voice of Tony Hadley) is a three-parter designed to tell you again, and again, and again (because it’s true), that the classic comedies made by Ealing studios during and after the war, are quintessentially British. You might say quintessentially English if not for The Maggie and Whisky Galore!, which are quintessentially Scottish – actually, quintessentially Hebridean – but the pitch is usually the same: little people stand up to authority, whether in the form of bureaucrats or industrialists or Americans. The documentary is an excuse for Richard E Grant to have a marvellous time, whether operating a steam train’s whistle or thumbing through the archives at tins of film. He’s a superb guide. But the talking heads are of a top stripe, too – Paul Whitehouse, Celia Imrie, Matthew Sweet – and even though it lacks a certain depth of analysis thus far, there are two more episodes to go. Gold – Gold! – have also been showing some of the films, too. I hope you’ve taped them.

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Dave, the channel, not the Dave who produces Telly Addict, although he also works for Dave, resurrected Red Dwarf for its tenth series, and the eleventh has begun, showing on UKTVPlay first, and Dave second. There are 51 episodes available on UKTV Play, which is handy for me, as when I sat down to review Red Dwarf XI, I checked my records and realised I hadn’t watched it since 1989, somewhere in the middle of series three. It looks amazing in its new incarnation, and draws a huge crowd, but then, reassuringly, it’s exactly the same.

I didn’t much care for Paranoid (ITV), the latest crime drama in which socially inept detectives must solve the grisly murder of a woman – in this case, stabbed horribly to death in broad daylight at a children’s playground in full view of other parents and toddlers – but I commend director Mark Tonderai, who staged the murder well, and who used to be a DJ on Radio 1 when I was, in the early 90s! Solidarity.

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For supreme writing, may I again recommend Ripper Street (Amazon Prime/BBC Two), still hurtling eloquently towards its series-four conclusion, intertwining three series arcs with a case-of-the-week and never once dropping the ball, even during this football-themed episode. My favourite line? “You diagram fastidiously, Sir!”, uttered by Matthew Mcfadyen. No other shows speaks like this, so all hail its writing staff, especially creator Richard Warlow, who minted the technique, and my own personal favourite Toby Finlay, who leads a double life as a Nazi-hunter on Twitter.

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This week’s object on the coffee table is an excellent new non-fiction book, The Bottom Corner, by my old Word magazine cohort Nige Tassell looking at non-league football. When the top of the game looks as dodgy and greed-riven as it does after the Allardyce sting, this book makes an even more pertinent case for those toiling nobly and for little more than a hot meal at the bottom.

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Oh, and if you didn’t catch Keith Richards’ Lost Weekend (BBC Four) – three nights of Keef lustily and chalkily remembering his long life and honouring the films, cartoons, TV shows and footage that helped shape him, as directed by his new medium, Julien Temple, who collects musical icons like football cards – catch it while ti-i-i-ime is on your side. (Temple’s evocative, witty, thought-provoking feature-length doc, London Babylon, was among the delights curated by Mr Richards: a must-see for all Londoner either born, bred or adopted.) All 17 of the interlinking parts of varying length remain on iPlayer, if not the nuggets Keef selected. These three nights justified the £145.50 Licence Fee alone.

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Wow!

Since last week’s Telly Addict, the hoo-hah about the Bake Off hit the fan. And the fans. Actually, I liked the way its BBC audience grew as if in an act of defiance (“We are going to watch the show even more! That’ll show Channel 4 and Love Productions!”), but the outlook is still grim. (Oh, and check the caption on the grab below.)

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It’s all over, too, except without manhandling, for Parks & Recreation (Dave), which also switched channels in the UK, but found a fond permanent home for its latter seasons at Dave, and even though I have to admit the final season was a bit soppy – loads of hugging, plenty of learning – I devoured it hungrily all the same, until the plate was empty. On this Telly Addict, I present a masterclass in glancing to camera.

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Also on Dave, it’s Dara O Brain with his massive briain! This time hosting Go 8 Bit, which is a big-hearted videogame show based around the universally acknowledged truth that games were better in the old days. The first episode, authoritatively co-helmed by games journalist Ellie Gibson, saw Susan Calman and David James throwing themselves all around the sofa-based set in the name of Tetris and Tekken.

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BBC Scotland put together some preeminent talking heads for British Sitcom: 60 Years of Laughing at Ourselves (BBC Four) and the forgot to give their jobs in the captions. I ought to be a lot more bitter about the fact that the one successful mainstream sitcom I have been involved in was tossed off in a quick montage at the end, but 60 years is 60 years, and I’m proud to have made it into a footnote (albeit represented by a clip that I had no hand in writing – I did come up with the title!)

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Joanna Lumley, who might as well just change her name to Joanna Luvley and be done with it, proved a briskly enthusiastic tour guide in Joanna Lumley’s Japan (ITV), a three-parter so full of breathless exclamations it ought to have an exclamation mark at the end of it. (Incidentally, if you think Joanna is being a bit of an air-miles Pollyanna, in Ep1 she does visit the contaminated site of the Fukushima nuclear accident, with a Geiger counter in hand, and in Ep2, which I have yet to see, she watches dolphins being slaughtered on a beach.)

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And it’s safe to enjoy this beautiful cat from HBO whodunit The Night Of (Sky Atlantic) without fear of it giving away who the murderer is, or are.

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Oh, and here’s a little DVD extra:

We, the Telly Addict crew, made a five-minute film at UKTV Live, the industry showcase that took place the other week at London’s BFI Southbank. It was nice to get out.

Top team

Burning question. How do you pronounce Poldark (BBC One)? I sense that it’s perhaps more authentically Cornish to put the emphasis on the second syllable: Pol-dark. But the more homogeneous acceptance puts the accent on “Pole”, as in Pol-dark. Most people are spending no time worrying about this, as they are too preoccupied with the view. As Francis Poldark says of his condemned cousin in Episode 2 of the surprisingly downbeat new series, “Which of us does not secretly adore him?”

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It took just 20 minutes in Ep1 for Aidan Turner to lose his shirt and oil up down the mine, but there are other lovely things to look at: the cliffs, the hills, sky, the exquisite tailoring. Without a masterplan – as I just review what I have watched on the telly – this week’s Telly Addict, #13 if you’re taking inventory, I seem to have reviewed four dramas, but of four different stripes. Pol-dark/Pol-dark covers costume/historical drama sumptuously, while contemporary drama, albeit one that’s been away for 13 years so still feels distinctly 90s, is embodied by Cold Feet (ITV), which I understand drew a consolidated audience (and what other kind is there?) of 7.9 million last Monday. I have no idea if anyone under 40 tuned in, but if not, there are enough of us ancients to keep it a hit.

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It’s not all hugs, pints, amigos and jokes about James Nesbitt’s hair transplant (“Have you got more hair?”) – indeed, it is to life-chronicler Mike Bullen’s credit that the comeback already hits a gloomy note. “I wish my future was still ahead of me,” says Pete. “I’m not happy,” says David, in some of the  best acting of the show so far. This was not melodrama; it was closer, in fact, to Scandinavian theatre.

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It will not be for everyone, but the return of The Strain (Channel W, as I call it) is a camp, comic-book classic from Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan about a vampocalypse in New York (as usual played by Toronto) , and at least star Corey Stoll (above) has been allowed to lose his ridiculous wig. I can’t imagine how much fun it must be for Brits David Bradley and new arrival Rupert Penry-Jones to play this kind of schlock.

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More fine British acting talent dominates the educational re-enactment show Barbarians Rising (the History Channel), where thesps at the level of Nicholas Pinnock (above) battle against the might of diagrams, computer simulation and retired four-star American Generals as talking heads. I love it. That is all of drama, I believe. And Telly Addict’s Moment of Zen is another fabulous, sentient scene from Ripper Street (Amazon Prime/BBC Two), in which Matthew Macfadyen and Jerome Flynn might well be discussing the resurrected show itself.

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Even though literally NOBODY is interested in the unusual, personal objects I leave on the coffee table each week, I’m sticking with the unloved extra. Anybody have any feelings at all about Top Team?

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No?

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Incidentally, after recording this week’s, the big news about The Great British Bake Off (BBC One/Channel 4) broke. None of us knows exactly what went on behind closed doors during production company Love and the BBC, but it has been mentioned that Channel 4 poached the Corporation’s most successful format by bidding three times what they’re currently paying for it. If that’s true, it reflects badly on capitalism and its precarious relationship with a Tory-diminished public sector. I admire Mel and Sue for declaring their independence so soon; this at least means that a commercial incarnation will not be the same. I can think of nothing more irksome than having to watch a show we have come to enjoy uninterrupted shot through with ads and, worse, bumpers paid for by Mr Kipling or Smeg fridges. Such a transfer from public to private has happened to plenty of beloved US imports like Seinfeld, The Simpsons and Mad Men, which, manhandled by the BBC, found happier homes on smaller, commercial channels, but very rarely has a format migrated. When BBC stars have been transferred, it has nearly always been a terrible disaster – I think of Morecambe and Wise, the Goodies, Trinny and Susannah?

I guess we Bake Off fans will have to enjoy this series while it lasts. It’s not been a classic so far. Although the glimpse of a Red Kite almost made up for its deficiencies of contestant.

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Naughty

Again, apologies for the delay, but Telly Addict‘s benefactors at UKTV were not in the office yesterday. I have no idea why. In any case, one of my favourite televisual experiences of last week was All Aboard! The Country Bus (BBC Four), a two-hour journey of the actual kind (as opposed to the emotional “journey” usually taken on TV today) from Richmond in North Yorkshire across the Dales, in real time, as part of the Slow TV movement originated in Norway.

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If you require volume, there’s always Joe Wicks: the Body Coach (Channel 4), a cross between Jamie Oliver and Russell Brand who’s already a superstar on Instagram, which is something you can be in this day and age. If he’s real, and not a sensational hoax played by a genius character comic who created him for an Edinburgh show, then I warn you against him if you find “healthy eating” anathema. I quite like him, in tiny doses. (Spot the difference in the following two photos.)

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I remain vexed by the BBC’s Sitcom Season (BBC One, BBC Two), which marks 60 years since the corporation broadcast but didn’t record or keep Hancock’s Half Hour. Rather more reverence is afforded the form these days, but not in the case of Are You Being Served? (BBC One), a karaoke version with a top-drawer cast having the time of their life doing impressions of beloved characters from the 70s and early 80s. I loved this show between the ages of seven and 12. And I don’t blame seasoned Benidorm writer Derren Litten (with whom I briefly worked on the early days of Not Going Out), for taking it on and pushing the envelope of taste (there’s a double entendre about “seamen” that might not have made it in 1972). But I just don’t know why it was on my telly. Surely you celebrate classic sitcoms by showing them, not remaking and rebooting them?

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Victoria (ITV) started well, and beat Poldark (BBC One) in the overnights. That’s despite Poldark giving its hyperventilating fans (I’m among them) a pumped male torso glistening with sweat in the first 20 minutes. Victoria has no such titilation, just upstairs-downstairs intrigues and protocols for the Downton crowd. I’m hooked already.

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I’m also hooked on The Night Of (Sky Atlantic), a remake, eight years after the event, of Peter Moffat’s legal drama Criminal Justice, re-set in New York and New Jersey and inflated to eight episodes. By the time you read this, I may well have binged on the whole series, which is utterly addictive. Even if, as I do, you remember the original really well, including the outcome, which I hope they’ve changed. One objection: the credit “Created by Richard Price and Steve Zaillian”. Created? Really? Like Derren Litten “created” Are You Being Served?

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A nod to John Bishop, whose In Conversation With (it’s on W, which always look odd when typed) chat show slot is proving worthwhile. It’s no mean feat for a man who talks for a living (I’ve interviewed him – he’s a superb guest) to shut up so respectfully and professionally, leaving guests like James Corden and Charlotte Church to take centre stage for the best part of an hour.

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There is no prize for working out what’s on the coffee table this week (because there never is), but someone out there might get it. Here are all the Telly Addicts gathered in a YouTube playlist.

Do not dicker with me

Ah. The first Bank Holiday-delayed Telly Addict. It feels like a milestone. Shot on Tuesday morning instead of Monday, we apologise for its late running. After a couple of weeks of scouting the listings for shows worth reviewing – and in many cases, finding valuable things that I might ordinarily have missed – it’s all on a plate for me from now ’til Christmas. The new season is with us. And what better signifier than the return of The Great British Bake Off (BBC One)? Back for its seventh series, it is, I am happy to report, the same. This is what we want. Mary Berry makes the early claim that she is “expecting the unexpected,” but she has the wrong end of the spatula. It is the expected we expect.

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There is no point in me trying to convince you of the Bake Off’s value if you remain immune. If you didn’t like it before, you won’t suddenly like it now. Indeed, at some point it will surely have to stop rising, as it were, and plateau, or gateau. The last series averaged 12.3 million viewers, making it the most popular show on the BBC, and possibly on TV, outside of international sporting occasions. It’s a dozen bakers baking. That’s it.

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Certainly, the smutty annotation of Mel and Sue is vital to its appeal, and the cold, hard stare of Paul Hollywood, and the wet bunting, flapping, and the occasional squirrel (or, possibly a first for this series, a pheasant). We don’t need a scandal involving bins, or theft, or fridges, just 12 well-intentioned home cooks, cooking – and helping each other. You don’t get that on most competitive shows.

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By the way, I’ve said this on Telly Addict and typed it on Twitter and it was tumbleweeds both times, so allow me one final crack at it. The Bake Off contestant whose name is Selasi is promising. This is my assessment of him: I rate Selasi highly. [long pause] No? [longer pause] No? [even longer pause] Alright. [tumbleweeds bounce across the lawn at Welford Park]

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I was encouraged to give MasterChef Australia (shown here on the disarmingly named channel W) a look, as I’m such a fan of the UK version, and the first 16 minutes of the opening show of its eighth series – which runs for 63 episodes! – made me appreciate MasterChef UK even more. Gosh, it’s run at such a high pitch. Everybody’s shouting and squealing and fanning their faces (unless that’s just because it’s Australia and it’s hot) and whooping and cheering. I feel tired just typing about it. But for all the reasons I like Bake Off and some of you don’t, you might like the sheer volume of MasterChef Australia. After a brief taste of it, the prospect of Gregg shouting in my ear seems like a blessed relief.

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The big guns are being rolled out by the terrestrial channels. Although Versailles turned out to be a surprise hit, by shoving it out during the summer holidays, the BBC weren’t exactly cooking with confidence. Likewise Brief Encounters on ITV, which also seemed to create a buzz. (Sorry.) Ripper Street (BBC Two) and One Of Us (BBC One) are the first two big new dramas of the season, one returning for its fourth series – having been on Amazon Prime since January! – the other something fresh and seemingly self-contained like an Agatha Christie made by Universal Studios in 1931. I’ve made my ardent feelings about Ripper Street known before. If anything it has improved since Amazon re-mortgaged it. Though three years have passed and a lot of scrubbing up has taken place in Whitechapel, its principals, and its principles, are intact, and we rejoin the story.

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I have never forgotten Matthew Macfadyen’s Inspector Reid warning a wrong’un back in series one, “Do not dicker with me.” Who wouldn’t be thrilled by such rich, fruity, arcane language? I once wrongly attributed an absolute belter of a speech by Reid to chief writer and creator Richard Warlow when it was, in fact, penned by Toby Finlay, and these things matter. His overt presence shall be missed this series (or is it season, now they’ve gone all Amazon?), but I feel him lurking in the dugout.

One Of Us, not so keen. I am hugely enamoured of writing brothers Harry and Jack Williams after their astonishing, fleet-footed first series of The Missing and cannot wait for the second. But this doesn’t hit the same heights of subtlety and nuance. It’s a Gothic melodrama in which everybody’s a suspect and  thunder and lightning and torrential rain stand in for jeopardy, even though there’s plenty of jeopardy already. It’s too hysterical for my tastes. But I look forward to The Missing.

Here’s a pheasant instead. Exit, pursued by air.

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Oh, and the “item on the coffee table” this week is a Puzzled puzzle book from 1987 for which I drew the cartoon cover. It was, at the time, my job. I had to eat.

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