Robin’s quest

It’s – as Noddy Holder says – Christmas. It must be. The lights are up. The crackers are in the shops. And the battle for the hearts, minds and wallets of the nation has begun in over-tinseled earnest. Telly Addict #22 checks to see if indeed the adverts are better than the programmes. They’re shorter. And cost about the same (except The Crown, which costs more than anything ever).  I’ve watched them all, so that you don’t have to, and can keep on fast-forwarding past.

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Britain’s fifth biggest chain Aldi remains very much an outlier when it comes to the annual battle for the hearts and wallets of the seasonally vulnerable, but they did well to hire national treasure Jim Broadbent to narrate their underpowered living carrot fable, which is undermined, festively speaking, by its message of abduction and cruelty. Like the carrot’s family, the little Waitrose girl also leaves a mince pie out, but for a robin. No mythic gift-givers or flying sleighs here, just a non-anthropomorphic bird and a girl. It’s my favourite.

Marks & Spencer plays the celebrity card, with dame-in-all-but-name Janet McTeer as Mrs Christmas. It’s overblown, unconvincing and explicitly links love to consumer goods made in a Chinese factory. Not sure what the colour-coded yetis are saying about Argos. That their products are abominable? John Lewis seems to have captured the national imagination AND annoyed nature charities with its bouncing wildlife (don’t try this with foxes, hedgehogs or dogs at home, kids).

I’m interested in the current campaign, Stop Funding Hate, to pressure big chains to stop advertising in newspapers that peddle hate speech. The link to their Facebook page is here. It may inspire you to put pressure on your local supermarket via head office. It worked on Co-op, and Lego!

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Right, all those mince pies are making me hungry.

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That Steak Diane from last week’s opening round of Masterchef: The Professionals (BBC Two) has taken my appetite away, and it was made by judge Marcus Wareing! As a lifelong fan of Masterchef, I used to be wary of Masterchef: The Professionals – back for its ninth series – as I couldn’t see the schadenfreude in trained chefs competing with trained chefs. But it’s actually fascinating and I’m delighted to have it back. Not least for the little silent movies acted out by the judges. There’s a montage of these, and of Greg Wallace’s best gurns and exclamations in Telly Addict.

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The BBC risks accusations of nationalism and tokenism by branding November #BlackandBritish, but so far, I’ve enjoyed British-Nigerian historian David Olusoga’s Forgotten History (BBC Two), which seeks to look even further back than the current casting crisis for black British actors, to African Roman Centurions and black Georgians.

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I read AA Gill in the Sunday Times knocking this series for being everything that’s box-tickingly wrong with the BBC but I disrespectfully disagree. In light of current global shifts to the “alt-right” – and the belated wake-up at the BBC and elsewhere to actual diversity, it’s a pretty vital warning from history.

Lionised British dramatist Stephen Poliakoff – whose last lauded drama for the BBC, Dancing on the Edge, was about a black British jazz band in the 1930s – is not my cup of tea. I vowed to give his new one, set after the war, a chance, but I only lasted 15 minutes. It’s just decent actors declaiming stuff that nobody says.

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I assume he actually instructed Jim Sturgess to do an impression of Sean Connery.

There’s a lovely moment of Zen comes from Planet Earth II, a series whose only misstep is to not have used the Duran Duran song as its theme.

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Oh, and regular visitors to this blog will know exactly what the object on the coffee table is.

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4 thoughts on “Robin’s quest

  1. I haven’t seen any of Olusoga’s series (though I saw his programmes about Britain’s role in the slave trade earlier in the year, and they were excellent), but did see David Hare’s documentary about the possibility of there being a black PM anytime soon. Most of it the issues weren’t especially new or surprising, I’m familiar with the problems of unconscious bias, institutional bias, and so on (though it doesn’t hurt to have them repeated, and in an engaging way as he did here). But what was surprising was seeing how all of those factors added up to show the probability of a black kid becoming Prime Minister, and how that compared with a white kid’s chances (and compared even worse with the chances of a white kid who went to public school becoming PM). You rarely see or think of the cumulative effect of all of those familiar factors but it is quite a shock when you do.

    Andrew did you watch NW and what did you think? I really enjoyed it. I thought it did an excellent job of capturing much of the feel of the novel (which I also liked), and managed to incorporate most of the key elements despite being only 90 minutes. Felix’s story in particular was especially hard-hitting in the way it ended in violence that was so casual, throw-away, and quiet.

    Planet Earth II must be a treasure trove for moments of zen. The snow leopards were the obvious highlight of last Sunday’s programme, but I did enjoy the strutting parade of the pack of flamingos.

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    • I caught up with NW last night – I wanted to watch it in one sitting – and I really enjoyed it too. I’d feared that reducing a novel with multiple characters (which I’ve read that NW is) to 90 minutes wouldn’t leave us with much, but it felt like a convincing tapestry of that part of London, with an entirely unforced angle on racial and class tension. I don’t read a lot of novels, preferring non-fiction, but if you liked it as a reader of the novel, then it definitely deserves praise. I was knocked out by Felix’s story. I like the actor O-T Fagbenle from other things, particularly Looking, and he made Felix breathe in just that one section. (I’ve lived in London for 33 years. It’s a tough city, but capable of great, multicultural harmony. But there’s tension here, and NW caught that.)

      I’m behind on Planet Earth by one ep. That will be a treat this weekend. I also have to watch Grand Tour on Amazon Prime. Never a Top Gear fan – I don’t give a toss about cars – I look forward to seeing what the team have done.

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      • Glad you liked NW. If there was one criticism I had of the TV adaptation was that it slightly sanitised Felix’s story. There’s a significant section in the novel where he isn’t particularly nice, and does stuff that don’t paint him in a good light, but that was left out completely and he came across as a largely decent person, doing well at rebuilding his life (in contrast, Natalie and Leah were shown, as in the book, to be both likeable and unlikeable in different ways). Perhaps that was to make us more sympathetic to him, and to make the outcome of his story all the more shocking, or perhaps just because of the 90 minute running time. If it was the former then I don’t think it was necessary as, despite the extra information and more nuanced impression you have of him in the book, it’s just as appalling how his story ends.

        I’ve seen reviews of The Grand Tour and the seem universally gushing. Like you, I wasn’t a fan of Top Gear, have no interest in their follow-up, and don’t have Amazon Prime to have the chance to find out. I hope it’s entertaining for you though, it must be a drag at times to have to review certain things that you can’t really overlook.

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      • I’ve watched Grand Tour now and will review this week on Telly Addict. I thought its production values were amazing. All the money is up there on the screen. When the tentful of rednecks and bikers booed the picture of the Prius, I remembered why I don’t watch it. (Mainly because a car is a piece of metal that gets me to the shops; but also because of this macho bullshit that some men read into cars and driving.)

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