Thursday, October 30, 2008

More October (And A Few November) Top Telly Tips

Hello my lovely disciples (and, of course, disciplettes). Lord Keith Telly Topping (the Guv'nor of the Gogglebox) sincerely wishes you all the very best for the forthocming winter and hopes that you are all well and snug and warm on this dark, bitter and frozen night.
It be damned cold in these here parts, y'see. I was out at the match on Tuesday night and that is, I swear, the coldest that I've ever been in my life. I had to leave ten minutes from full time because I was so brass monkeys I thought my unmentionables were starting to develop frostbite.

I suppose I had better say something about Manuelgate before we start with the latest batch of Top Telly Tips. I don't really want to because it's clearly such a loaded subject and one that provokes such strong opinions. But, let's face it everyone else - and their dog - has had their say on the subject one way or the other. Including, it would appear, just about every politician in the country with access to a working gob. And besides, Britain is still - officially, at least - a free country. So, here goes.

Firstly, I must confess my initial thoughts were that it couldn't possibly have happened to two more worthy examples of that strange media creation of the last couple of decades or so: "People who seem to possess the unerring ability to put their foot in their own mouths. Usually at the most crassly inappropriate moments." And that, I suspect, is largely the reason for much of the furore over the issue - not all of it, of course, but all rhetoric about content aside, let's be honest here it's mostly because this is Brandy and Rossy, isn't it? Apart from the fact that what was said was the cheaply offensive guttersnipe utterings of a couple of grown men who spend much of their lives acting - apparently gleefully - like teenagers, both of whom also seem to have an acute inherent narcissism and an apparent belief in their own infallability. If this incident had involved ... I dunno, who else is on Radio Two these days? Terry Wogan, let's say, then I doubt there would have been anything remotely like the same sort of fuss. But then, of course, such an incident would never have happened on Wogan's show because, aside from anything else, he's not Goddamn stupid enough to do something as crass as that. Hell, there's "asking for trouble" and then there's "getting down on all fours and begging for trouble." I work in radio - obviously at a much lower level than these guys - but, as a consequence, I am fully aware of the hugely loaded nature of "the prank call" as a comedy device. It's something we've talked about on The Afternoon Show a few times. In fact, we even did a send-up of such a prank call - a sketch that I provided a couple of lines for - a few months ago. (In it Alfie decides to make a prank call, on air - "because all the other radio shows do it" - so, in the sketch, he rings up a hotel to book a room and ends up ... actually booking a room. Okay, it loses something in translation but it was a good sketch.) The whole point of the prank call concept, however - which isn't exactly new to radio - is that it wholly depends on getting the goodwill of the preson who is the recipient and/or butt of it after the fact. Otherwise - again - you're just asking for trouble and you've got no real defence if you get trouble as a consequence.

"I thought it was really funny to humiliate someone and I can't see why they're taking it so seriously" doesn't really cut it as an excuse, I'm afraid. Additionally, of course, you end up looking just plain mean. Which, sadly, is something that one could argue Rossy and Brandy often seem to quite enjoy looking.

All of the above would suggest that - in many ways - I'm quite happy Rossy and Brandy are in the process of getting a good trousers-down shoeing and will, possibly, end up losing their - very well paid - jobs. They were deliberately offensive to a perfectly harmless old man (and someone who retains, thanks to his previous career, much public goodwill) on a widely-listened to BBC radio show (and the "on the BBC" bit isn't an insignificant thing in this regard however much some of us may like it to have been). And they then had the bare-faced cheek to act all surprised when the poor chap actually got offended by it. If they didn't understand the possibility of that happening before they did it then they really do deserve everything they're currently getting.

However (you knew there was going to be a "however" in here somewhere, didn't you?) as BBC News pointed out last night - in what I thought was a very balanced and fair piece - this does seem to be something of a generational thing. Many younger viewers and listeners are, apparently, e-mailing the BBC genuinely perplexed about what all the fuss is about. I don't happen to agree with them but I can see why, if this had happened maybe twenty years ago, I'd've probably agreed. I believe that the majority of the furore here is directly because it's Brandy and Rossy and because they are both on MASSIVE BBC salaries. Like I say, if it had been somebody on BBC Radio Rutland's Morning Show I very much doubt it would have even been an issue. (Or, even if it was, it certainly wouldn't have been for very long.) In particular, Jonathan Ross's (perceived) power within the Beeb itself is a cause for concern to many both within the industry and outside. I know that there are plenty of people all over the corporation who would really like to see him taken down a peg or several. The fact that his salary was ring-fenced at a time when the BBC were having to make quite severe financial cutbacks elsewhere because of the lower-than-expected licence fee was a particular cause of annoyance to many. The additional fact that he's perceived by a lot of people to be a smug uppity twot ripe for a damned good slapping isn't an insignificant side issue either - it's actually the key to why the story simply refuses to go away. Put simply, if you make enemies on the way up the ladder in the media, you simply cannot expect to escape a torrent of people wanting revenge when you're on the way down. Fact of life, that.

Is that hypocritical? Is it jealousy? Righteous indignation?

Don't ask me, I only work there...

To be honest, the guy I feel sorry for is Andrew Sachs. In particular yesterday when he was suddenly put on the spot by being asked things like "so, do you think they should be sacked, then?" Even by our own, astonishingly low journalistic stands, that's a really dreadful position to put someone in. What's the poor guy going to say in answer to a question like that? Even if he thinks the pair of them could do with a damned good dose of humility being rammed down their throats, he's been around in the business long enough to know that whilst everybody feels sorry for a victim nobody particularly likes a cry baby. It's interesting that reports today suggest his granddaughter has employed Max Clifford and is said to be ready to sell her own the story to the highest bidder. I genuinely hope that isn't the case. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and all that, but I'll tell you what, there's no surer way of suddenly losing any acquired sympathy than to turn yourself from victim to vulture. So, if in the very unlikely event that you happen to be reading this, Georgina, please do think very carefully about doing a kiss-and-tell. The money might well be great but is it really worth it in the long run?

The general consensus from those colleagues whom I've spoken to about the incident - the suspiciously politically motivated agenda behind some of the tabloid outrage notwithstanding - is that it was indefensibley unprofessional, arrogant and not even particularly good radio. And I think it's the last one that is, actually, the most important - when all is said and done, it wasn't even anything WORTH getting the sack over. However, the consensus does go on to suggest that it would probably have been a storm in a teacup if they had just done the decent thing and apologised immediately. Somebody said to me "It's exactly like George Osborne. The second he said 'Yeah, sorry, I got that one badly wrong', it became an ex-story..." By trying to brazen it out for a couple of weeks and then, finally, seeming to have been forced into a humiliatingly grovelling apology Ross and Brand have, effectively, handed the Daily Mail and other like-minded organs plenty of sticks to beat them - and, grossly unfairly, others within the Beeb - with and, possibly, enough rope to hang them.

Those who argue this is another example of "professional BBC bashing" may well have a point. Top Gear starts again on Sunday, I expect all the usual suspects will be out in full force on Monday morning and that, somehow, any controversy which Jezza and co. manage to generate will find itself folded into this mess along with anything else that happens ehich is even vaguely Beeb-related and newsworthy over the next few weeks. On this particular occasion, however, the bashers have been hugely helped by the actions of those that are getting bashed. I have to say, also, that I'm really not at all happy about either the Leader of the Opposition or the Prime Minister gifting us with their - not doubt carefully considered, I don't think - opinions on this matter. The world is on the brink of financial disaster, gentlemen, one would like to believe that the pair of you have far weightier things on your minds than the conduct of a couple of radio personalities. Try getting the housing market stable and the banks sorted out first before you decide you want to dip your toe into the field of broadcasting critique. The former is your job, the latter is mine. I'm far from being the best media commentator out there and, trust me, I'm still MILES better at it than either of you two.

I do have one final observation to make which I, actually, find the saddest aspect of this whole very sad affair. This webpage gives a very good summation of the timeline of the events in question. From that, readers will notice that the piece which caused all of the fuss was recorded on 16 October and broadcast on 18 October. In the forty eight hours following the broadcast, the BBC received a grand total of two (phone-in) complaints about it - neither of which, actually, were particularly concerned with the content, but rather were complaints about Jonathan Ross swearing. Which is fair enough - I think if I had heard the piece live, I might will have dropped the BBC a quick e-mail to say "Look, this really wasn't very professional or ethical, somebody's dropped a bit of a bollock here. Try to make sure it doesn't happen again, eh?" There then followed, later in that week, some stirring-up in a couple of national newspapers (some of it not entirely undeserved stirring-up, let it be said but much of it the usual nonsense from right-wing tabloid scumbags) and that was when the public complaints started to come in. First in a trickle, then in a flood. On Tuesday of this week the BBC stated that it had received "over 4,000 complaints." By late on Wednesday, the figure had risen to 18,000. By this morning (Friday) it was "36,000." So, let me see if I've got this straight? Over the course of about 72 hours, maybe a bit more, seemingly thirty two thousand people suddenly decided - having presumably read about or heard about the incident - to go to the BBC's "Listen Again" feature, listened to it, and THEN complained. Except, of course, that none of them actually did that because by now the piece in question was long gone from the BBC's "Listen Again" facility which only allows listeners to catch programmes they have missed for seven days after initial broadcast.

I'm genuinely interested in the psychology going down here. Noel Gallagher commented that there was something wonderfully British about the whole thing. "Wait ten days after something's happened and then complain." Some people had already complained, that's why the story was a story in the first place. So, therefore, why on Earth would anybody either attempt to seek out material that they know in advance they were going to disapprove of just so that they could add their own complaint to the deluge already received or, in far more cases it would appear, complain about the contents of a radio show that they hadn't, actually, heard at all, merely read about? That seems rather odd behaviour to me - far odder than two men ringing up someone's answerphone and leaving silly messages on it. I'm not criticising anybody's right to complain about something if they feel strongly about - Hell, I do that all the time if it's warrented - but you do have to wonder how many of those 36,000 punters would have ever listened to that particular show, or even knew of its existence, if they hadn't been alerted to it by the surrounding publicity. Or, indeed, how many of them actually have listened to it at all.

I wonder if the Beeb will be announcing record "Listen Again" figures sometime this week?

... And that is quite enough on that subject to last a lifetime.

I suppose, also, that I really should say something about David Tennant and his not wholly surprising decision, announced just last night, to leave Doctor Who after the conclusion of next year's four special episodes.

David, you were - as the guy before you said so very often - FANTASTIC. And, you were my Doctor. Well ... at least, you have been for the last three years (and, you will remain so for the next fourteen months). Good on yersel, Big Man.
    Right, Mr Moffat, now is the time for you to really earn yer corn - your mission, which you've already chosen to accept, is as follows. You merely have the job of casting a replacement for David Tennant who is:
1) Something of a surprise
2) A brilliant, inventive and complex actor ...
3) ... who is also drop dead funny ...
4) ... and just a bit dangerous
5) Is also be-lurv'd by all The Ladies
6) Whom every eight year old in the land thinks is the best thing since sliced bread ...
7) ... and most of the fortysomethings do as well.
8) And, NOT anybody that the bookmakers fancy (I've got bets to win here!)

So ... No pressure, baby!

Right then, kids, let us have some Top Telly Tips in the area. And I suppose I should also use this opportunity to stress - in light of certain current events alluded to at length above - that all opinions expressed here - and, indeed, on this blog generally - are not, necessarily those of anyone other than myself as TV viewer and licence fee payer.

Friday 17 October:
… so, anyway, I says to that Gordon Brown, I says “I am not havin’ that job. You can make me Minister for Floods and Droughts, I’ll even take the Newcastle United manager’s seat but I am not being the head of the Royal Bank of Scotland.” I’m not sure he got the message. He called me Darling. I was a bit taken aback, frankly.

That Have I Got News For You still manages, consistently, to avoid the potholes occupied by similar satire shows (Mock the Week’s occasionally overt crudeness; the triumph of ego-over-comedic esprit de corps you often get on Buzzcocks; Alfie’s mate Jason Manford, etc.) is a testament not only to the genuine chemistry between Ian Hislop and Paul Merton but also to wit that’s so sublime it can turn a simple one-liner about Harriet Harman’s show-size into a comedy diamond. Tonight’s guest host is Once-Big-Fat-and-Cuddly-but-now-Slim-and-Snarky Fern Britton. How long do we reckon it will take Paul to allude to gastric binds and Ian to join in with a joke about a different sort of credit squeeze?

Saturday 18 October:
Raise a cheer, people of Britain, as BAFTA-award-winning comedy, big-collared maestro of the pithy one-liner and the surreal non-sequitar Harry Hill returns to cast his unique gaze over the week's televisual output in Harry Hill’s TV Burp on Saturday. This week, Harry takes aim at Strictly, X Factor and all the soaps – which is a very good thing, of course, as it will give me (and every other TV previewer in the business) a whole bunch of new jokes to rip-off over the coming months. Oh, yes! And the great thing about this show is that Harry does it hilariously but without a single hint of malice. Except when he’s sorting things out with A FIGHT, of course.

The musical theme on tonight’s X-Factor is Michael Jackson. The eleven remaining acts each sing a song from the self-styled “King of Pop” as they try to earn the public's all-important votes. No thanks, I think I’ll stick with Strictly Come Dancing myself. A much warmer show all round.

Sunday 19 October:
The weather is getting cold and Sunday nights are worth staying in for all of a sudden. This week it is an almost quintessential early winter Sunday: You’ve got Stephen Fry and Simon Schama busy educating the nation's masses to love America on the Beeb (and both of them doing it very nicely, thank you), Heartbeat and Frost are back for ITV, there’s a good old reliable Time Team Special on Channel 4 and, for one night only, the Snooker Grand Prix Final on BBC2 which I’m assuming Alfie - for one - will be glued to. Expect, therefore, all subsequent programmes to run late. Or, you know, not at all.

Speaking of Stephen Fry, listener Janice e-mailed me to ask if I knew when the new series of Qi was due to be broadcast. They filmed it a couple of months ago but it has been promoted from BBC2 to BBC1 - or "hijacked" if you prefer - and because of this and a new slot has had to be found for it. So it probably won't be shown until either very late this year or earlier in the New Year. They have, however, done a Children in Need special and I expect that’ll be shown next month (I believe they've also done a Christmas themed episode as well). If you’re missing the show, however, check out Dave, it’s on three times a day there!

Monday 20 October:
We continue to ask all of the questions no one else dares to.
Today, why is the word “phonetic” not spelled phonetically?

Must say I did love Stephen Fry’s use of the word ‘copse’ on In America last night. You simply don’t hear enough uses of ‘copse’ on British TV these days. I would like to see an episode of Waking the Dead called ‘The Corpse in the Copse.’ Just cos, all right?!

The average UK household gas and electricity bill having risen by nearly 40% this year. In Dispatches: The Truth about Your Energy Bill – 8:00 Channel 4 - Deborah Davies examines why our charges are so high, whether changing suppliers can reduce bills, and the impact of Gordon Brown's fuel package. (There’s probably another “not now, Darling, I’m handling my fuel package” joke in there somewhere but this is a serious subject and I’m not sure I should crack it, really… Ooops, too late.) V. important subject, this, particularly at this time of the year. Remember readers, television is not just there to entertain you, it is also to educate and inform you too. All too often we all forget about the other two.

With recent figures showing close to two hundred and fifty women being arrested each day and soaring violent crime by females beginning to stretch police resources, Violent Women – 8:00 ITV - examines why women are becoming more violent and, according to the programmes Press Blurb “whether their rage can be tamed.” I didn’t realise there was a problem, personally. And, maybe there isn’t and ITV have just made one up to justify getting fifty minutes worth of TV out of it. We shall see…

In Corrie, meanwhile, Dev's incestuous love triangle causes problems. That’s the problem with incestuous love triangles generally, I’ve found. Best to stay clear of them. I do. Well, I do now, anyway… And, of course, murderous Tony is incensed by grief-stricken Carla's grief-stricken ways after Liam’s ultimately, and very messy, demise. I also understand we’ve got a climax – or, at least, the first of several climaxes - to the Rosie storyline tonight.

Tuesday 21 October:
Last night somebody broke into my house, stole everything and replaced them with exact replicas... When I pointed it out to my friend, he asked, '... Do I know you?'

Tonight, Manchester United play Celtic on ITV in the Champions League – that’s not going to be for the faint-hearted so here are three alternatives if you don’t fancy watching a replay of the Battle of Bannockburn. Last Man Standing on BBC3 is a series in which six athletic adventurers "compete for glory against tribal champions in some of the remotest corners of the globe." Tonight, they head to a harvest festival in Burkina Faso. Our boys must take part in a brutal inter-village wrestling contest involving some of the country's top fighters. Sounds culturally patronising in the extreme but, you never know, one of them might get eaten by a crocodile or something so watching it for entertainment value may pay off.

What ingredients do you need for a classic love story? The always excellent Imagine – 10:35 BBC1 - sets out to answer this question, examining such standards as Lancelot and Guinevere, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice and Casablanca, all of which deal with the thorny issues of pain, desire and need. Alan Yentob talks to experts on the subject, including authors Sarah Waters and Helen Fielding and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips.

Journalist and single woman Dawn Porter travels the globe to look at the different ways relationships can work. In The Polygamist’s Wife – Channel 4 10:00 - Dawn enters the controversial and secretive world of polygamy. From a whole American town of Mormons for whom multiple marriage is a way of life to a family hiding in the wilderness while the husband searches for a third wife, Dawn meets the women who share their men to find out whether such a lifestyle can really work.

Wednesday 22 October:
We ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today, bees produce honey. What’s that all about? I mean, ants don’t produce marmalade, do they?

I’ve been quite enjoying The Family – 9:00 Channel 4 – which we talked about when the series started but, I feel, it hasn't quite achieved its full potential yet. For four months, the Hughes family of canterbury - mum Jane, dad Simon and their four teenage children - was filmed around the clock by hidden cameras. Tonight, Simon is reluctantly cast as the peacemaker when Jane and Emily row over Emily taking her mum's clothes without permission. I did wonder when this series began if social experiment TV such as this isn’t doomed to (relative) failure these days simply through overexposure to the “reality TV format.” Put simply, watching "real people doing real things" just isn’t a novelty anymore like it one was - particularly back in the 1970s when the first The Family was such a big hit.

Griff Rhys Jones ends his short tour of Great Cities of the World tonight in Paris – 9:00 ITV. Griff encounters some hidden, and sometimes downright bizarre sides of the French capital. We all know the view from the Eiffel Tower - but what’s underneath it? Griff takes his life into his own hands as he tries to negotiate the Arc de Triomphe roundabout. And we go underground with a gang of architectural restorers to see a part of the city most Parisians have never seen.

I know a lot of listeners to The Afternoon Show are fans of Desperate Housewives – Channel 4 10:00 – so I always like to mention it about once every six weeks or so just as reminder that it's still on. Tonight, in the first of a new series, Susan tries to hide a new relationship. Gaby doubts her mothering abilities. Bree is about to publish her own cookbook. And, Edie returns to Wisteria Lane with a new man in tow.

Lastly, one for The Virry Alfster Himself. Dear old Burt Bacharach’s on The Electric Proms at 11:20 on BBC2. So, what's it all about, Alife...? I'll be watching Oasis, myself, on Sunday night. Sorted.

Thursday 23 October:
Telemarketers are odd people don’t you think? Believing as they must, that people who mute TV commercials would gladly get up from dinner, answer the phone and listen to a five minute pitch for a product they don't need or want.

Shot over the course of a year by award-winning documentary-maker Jane Treays Mum, Heroin and Me – Channel 4 9:00 - follows Kate, her heroin-addicted daughter Hannah and Hannah's boyfriend, Ricky. As Hannah moves from pavement, to hostel, to bedsit, the film provides a moving portrait of a mother and daughter trying to love one another through the fog of addiction. Hard, emotional stuff – and not easy viewing by any means but very worthwhile in reminding one that good television isn’t always about soaps, light entertainment and reality TV.

CelebAir – ITV2 8:00 – has to be the reality TV show with the single weirdest (and, possibly, worst) concept ever as it follows a bunch of – alleged - celebrities (and I use that word quite wrongly) as they "battle it out" to become ... airline employees. You simply have to ask yourself why in the name of all that’s holy would anybody who can honestly be called “a celebrity” WANT to be an airline employee? Surely, that’s just a little bit too much like hard work? The “celebrities” left in the fight may, just, give readers some glimmer of an idea: Chico (who is, apparently, "famous" because he didn’t win X-Factor), Lisa Maffia from So Solid Crew, “Page Three stunna” Michelle Marsh and Amy Lamé who was in something delighting in the name Celebrity Fit Club. No, me neither. This is obviously some new use of the word “celebrity” that I hadn’t previously come across.

After Stephen Fry’s triumphant guest captain slot of last week’s Never Mind the Buzzcocks, tonight we’ve got Lovely, cuddly Johnny Vegas trying to pull off the same feat! Note, also, if you were one of the six people in the country watching Natural Born Sellers that, because, of its disastrously poor ratings it is now on at 10:40 rather than 9:00. Where it now finds itself opposite Ricky Gervais on The Graham Norton Show. Life really hasn’t been kind to Natural Born Sellers, has it? Oh dear. How sad. Never mind...

Friday 24 October:
As Keith Fordyce used to say on Ready, Steady, Go! “The Weekend Starts Here.”

Tonight in EastEnders, an angry Max wreaks a reign of savage terror upon his family. Well, he’s large and glowery and with very scary ears so he would, wouldn’t he? Meanwhile, Jay escapes from tragedy, but can he ever forgive the duplicitous Dawn? No. Next … The Masoods struggle to come to terms with the loss of their business while Suzy has no idea that she's become a mere pawn in Ben's devious game. Just another week in The Square, folks.

Sunday 26 October:
Sunday is a big night – quite apart from it being my birthday. The last time that me and Alfie discussed the works of Charles Dickens it almost ended in The Rumble in the Jungle. With that in mind, I supposed I’d better be careful what I say about the over-rated hack this time around. The BBC adapt Little Dorrit into a fourteen-part series. It’s not one of Dickens’ best known works although it is one of his most autobiographical. Cast includes Matthew MacFayden, Claire Foy in the title role, Tom Courtney and Alun Armstrong and it’s written by Andrew Davies, the king of classical adapation – Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House etc. This is going to be one of those where after about three weeks the entire country will be watching it and talking about it at the bus stop – which is, trust me, a good thing - so, if you don’t want to feel left out, get there from the start.

Stephen Fry continues his delightful travels In America at 9:00 on BBC1, hoping to learn more about the country with a 2,000 mile journey up the Mississippi river beginning in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, where he visits the abandoned neighbourhoods destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In the Delta he meets actor Morgan Freeman and then drives guitar legend Buddy Guy round his old stomping grounds on Chicago's South Side. Finally at the river's source in Minnesota, Stephen gets some fishing tips and meets the Viking decendents of Minneapolis. Been there. Very nice city indeed (well, actually, two cities - Minneapolis and St Pauls).

Lastly a quick mention for Vernon Kay’s All Star Family Fortunes which is on Saturday on ITV. West End singer Suzanne Shaw and her family take on Corrie stalwart William Roache and his. That’s going to be a question of who nods off first, surely?

Monday 27 October:
One of the contestants on The Restaurant last week prepared a meal with scented flower petals because, she said, eating flowers "always makes one feel like a princess." I’m with Harry Hill, personally: "When I eat flowers I feel like a really hungry tramp."

From their new home on the magical island of Brownsea in Poole Harbour, Dorset, that wretched little Communist Bill Oddie and his lovely fluffy partner Katie Humble return live to follow "the most dramatic season of the year" in Autumnwatch on BBC2 at 8:00. They’re aided by a cast of Red Squirrels, Sika Deer and various spectacular birdlife on the lagoon. Meanwhile, Simon King undertakes a quest to unravel some of autumn’s most mysterious mysteries of mysteriness beginning with a fallow deer rut and Gordon Buchanan braves cruel storms as he follows the fate of the grey seal colony on the Farne Islands, watching as the young seals are born in harsh conditions. Now, it’s usually Simon who gets the job of being stuck halfway up a windy cliff on the Farnes, so it's really nice to see he has passed that gig on to someone else – obviously all that warm weather he got in Africa on Big Cat Diary has gone to chap's head.

One of my favourite drama shows, [Spooks], is back at 9:00 on BBC1, with the second episode following tomorrow. An al-Qaeda cell kidnap a British soldier and demand that Remembrance Sunday be cancelled (as it is an affront to all dead Muslim soldiers, apparently ... not sure why but, hey, whatever). But when MI5 secure the release of former agent - Lucas North - in a secret spy swap, the team realise that al-Qaeda have a new sponsor, the emerging superpower Russia – and, inevitably, there's a bomb involved. A BIG bomb. A REALLY BIG bomb. Rupert, Hermoine and co. are all back (although, in Rupe's case not for long and including, at least for the first few episodes, the lovely Miranda Raison whose fate kept us all on a knife-edge at the cliff-hanger of the previous season) and, hey ladies get this, for the current season they’re joined by Richard Armitage (Guy of Guisbourne in Robin Hood). Phwoar! Him and Rupert Penry-Jones in one episode of television – women all over the country will become exploding bags of supercharged hormones and will go off at dramatically inappropriate moments. Bloody dangerous situation, I reckon. They should get Harry Pierce and the Security Services on to it to sort it out.

John Prescott has been obsessed with class his whole life. What a revelation cos, honestly, I can't say I'd noticed. After forty years in Westminster, John and Pauline Prescott embark on a journey through the British class system to see if class still exists, whether it is still relevant and, if so, what does class actually look like in Britain today? John meets people at the top, middle and bottom of the ladder and tries to work out where he fits in to this brave new world of class. The Class System and Me, 9:00 BBC2. I know Prescott is a bit of a figure of fun to many people but I actually quite like the bloke. If any git threw an egg at me, I'd think about fisting them first and asking questions on motivation later.

Tuesday 28 October:
We ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today, one I’ve waited forty years to find out the answer to. Exactly why did Billie Joe McAllister jump off the Tallahatchie Bridge?

Business guru Geoff Burch is on a mission to improve Britain's small shops by teaching them how to turn a profit and please their customers in All Over the Shop, BBC2 8:00. Geoff doles out lessons in professionalism to three shops owners in Macclesfield. He meets an antique dealer who is feeling bit of a relic himself, a children's show shop owner whose obsessions with pink sparkly shoes is effecting her business and two arty sisters who can't translate their designs into profits. So, this is Dragon's Den for people who already HAVE job. Yes, that's not "cruel and unusual" at all, then, is it?

In Emmerdale, 7:00 on ITV, Louise decides to pursue her ambitions on the other side of the world - but will Jamie forgive and forget her? Marlon is oblivious to the chemistry between Donna and Ross as the pair head off on a police training course. Anna feels increasingly guilty over her manipulation of Matthew.

Meanwhile Actor Neil Morrissey and his best friend Richard Fox attempt to open up their own pub and micro-brewery in Neil Morrisey’s Risky Business, 10:00 on Channel 4 in the slot recently vacated by that gobby oiyk Jamie Oliver. I doubt this show will be as controversial as his. Or as self-righteous, interfering, obnoxious and self-aggrandising for that matter. Neil and Richard look for the perfect premises and brew up their first beer. So, Pro-Celebrity Home Brewing then? Okay ... I've heard of far worse concepts for TV shows. Actually, come to think of it, I've seen far worse concepts for TV shows. Actually, come to think of it, I've seen worse far concepts for TV shows that have ran five years...

Wednesday 29 october:
We ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today, who was the first person to look at a cow and say, 'Here’s an idea. What I’ll do is squeeze those dangly things and then drink whatever comes out'?

Ken’s son Peter Barlow returns to Corrie tonight with a surprise guest in tow. Meanwhile, a tense Tony realises that his wedding is in peril. Again. I have to report that the Liam-gets-murdered storyline really didn’t get the ratings ITV were expecting. It’s a far cry from twenty five million watching Ernie Bishop getting shot in the 1970s.

Trevor McDonald presents television's biggest night of the year (it says here) live from London's Royal Albert Hall, as the nation's favourite TV programmes and personalities are honoured in The National Television Awards. After being whittled down to a final selection the winners have been selected from a huge nationwide poll. Plus a famous face in the audience is in for a surprise as they are presented with "a very special award." I must admit, I’m not normally a big fan of award shows - I quite like the BAFTAs, though - but, since Doctor Who is up for about four categories (and Top Gear for another) I’m going to be glued to this!

Amateur cooks compete for the opportunity to go into business with distinguished chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc in The Restaurant, 8:00 on BBC2. After seven weeks running their restaurants the two surviving couples come head-to-head in The Big Final. For this challenge the couples close the doors to their restaurants and cater for a group of discerning guests on one of the world's most romantic railway journeys. I don’t know about you but whenever I’ve tried to eat on a train I usually end up with a lap full of pasta.

Thursday 30 October:
Alistair Appleton is in Warwickshire helping a couple from Epsom find an ideal retirement retreat in Escape to the Country, BBC2 at 5:15. They want to downsize to a smaller house, but still want a big kitchen and a garage for their classic car. Will any of the properties Alistair shows them be suitable?

In Slaves in the Cellar, at 10:00 on Five, two young women tell the story of how they were abducted and held hostage for almost four years by a depraved sex fiend. They were kept in a tiny bunker and subjected to ongoing torture, until their release in 2003. Horrible stuff and, quite possibly, very awkward and uncomfortable viewing and yet, these kind of things are often fascinating in revealing remarkable stories of courage in adversity.

BBC4’s reputation for making stunning and controversial biopics – we think of Fanny Craddock in Fear of Fanny, Hughie Green in Most Sincerely and Mary Whitehouse in Filth! recenty – gets another notch on its belt tonight. In Love With Barbara is a drama inspired by the life of arguably the most prolific author of the 20th century, Dame Barbara Cartland, looking beyond the pink facade to tell the story of what made her the resilient and renowned Queen of Slushy Romance. Despite her devotion to true love, her own life was blighted by heartbreak, with her first marriage ending in a scandalous society divorce. The lovely Anne Reid (once, long ago, Ken Barlow’s missus in Corrie) plays the title role and the play also has one of my favourite actors, the fabulous David Warner, in it and there's a truly fabulous performance by Ideal's Sinead Matthews as the young Barbara. First shown last Friday, if you missed it then, catch it tonight.

Friday 31 October:
Can I just point out here that I got Martin Shaw on The Mystery Voice before the listeners? That is all...

I’m really tired this week. More tired, I would suggest, than anyone since Pheidippides ran to Athens to tell them about the victory at the Battle of Marathon.
Or, the Battle of Snickers as we're contractually obligated to call it these days.

An Island Parish – BBC2 7:30 – is now into a third season and is, on its day, quite simply the best soap opera on British TV. A gentle tale of everyday folks living in a beautiful but harsh environment. Everything, in fact, that Emmerdale used to be but now isn’t! The bonus here is that these are, actually the real people. Tonight the islanders need to start coming up with new and innovative ideas to earn some cash quickly as the economic squeeze begins to bite on the remote Isles of Scilly. Meanwhile, Heike the vet plans to improve her fortunes by reviving her foot-modelling career and Greg, the long-lost son of Nigel at the Air Fayre Café, announces he wants to train as a Buddhist monk. Lovely.

Saturday 1 November:
ITV have obviously finally begun to take notice of what a lot of us have been telling them for some months. That they only shows they are currently producing that are worth anyone giving their valuable time to are those involving Harry Hill. Hence, we’ve got two of them on tonight, back-to-back. Funniest Ever You’ve Been Framed at 6:00 presents the cream of the nation's funniest home videos, as filmed by viewers on their camcorders and mobile phones. Coming up tonight - practical jokers, naughty animals, musical mishaps and some holiday howlers. Meanwhile, the real good stuff is in Harry Hill’s TV Burp at 7:00. Best bit of the series so far was his sustained two minutes of Jamie Oliver-baiting last week. And I thought I was alone in loathing him…!

Sunday 2 November:
You know that a show has really made it into the public conscienceness when the one of those involved in the show who never talks publicly gets his own Radio Times cover. This week, The Stig from Top Gear has managed that feat. Tasty! In the first episode of this new eight-part series, the boys buy second hand lorries - despite knowing almost nothing about the world of trucks - and then set about discovering how easy it is to be an HGV driver. You can just visualise Clarkson asking "how hard can it be?!" can't you? Anyway, Jeremy also tests a scary Porsche, a tame Lamborghini and a surprisingly talented Labrador. Michael Parkinson is the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car. Bets are currently being taken on how long it'll be before Parkie utters the words "Barnsley", "Geoffrey Boycott" or, indeed, "the late, great Gene Kelly."

The lovely Sean Bean and his oppo, the equally fabulous Daragh O’Malley return in Sharpe’s Peril – 9:00 ITV. It’s 1818 and Sharpe and Harper are on their way back to England via Calcutta. Sharpe reluctantly agrees to escort the beautiful Marie-Angelique Bonnet across the bandit-plagued country to meet up with her fiance. They stop at an army encampment populated by the ill-disciplined last dregs of the Crown's troops. But when the camp is attacked and casualties are taken Sharpe soon realises he must lead the remainder of this motley crew to the relative safety of the next garrison. One can never have too much Bernard Cornwall in one's life, trust me. Mind you, I simply have to ask, whose bright idea was it to stick this on opposite Stephen Fry in America and thus make me chose one above the other?! You, sir, (or madam) are a swine of the first order, whoever you are! Sunday night's are suddenly worth staying in for - it has become TV's big night of the week - today, for instance, you've got Strictly, Bear Grylls, Simon Schama, The Jezza Hamster and Cap'n Slow Show, The Frymeister Does Hollywood By Taxi and now, Sharpe. And, of course, Heartbeat if that's what floats yer boat.

Monday 3 November:
Today’s Top Telly Tips Word of the Day is "Pusillanimous" - lacking in courage and strength of mind; faint-hearted, mean-spirited, cowardly. As in “You know that Ian Beale off of EastEnders? He’s really pusillanimous, isn't he?” If listeners would like to hear more Top Telly Tips Words of the Day, please contact the BBC and demand that I be given my daily own slot. Or, you know, not…

Dragons’ Den: James Caan’s Story at 7:00 on BBC2 focuses on the life of James Caan (no, not the one in The Godfather - trust me, Alfie's already DONE all the "blimey, Sonny Coreleone's certainly gone up in the world" jokes that one lifetime can sustain), showing how he made his many millions and how he likes to spend them while pursuing a jet-set lifestyle. Will his doggie treadmill earn him another fortune? I know some people really like watching these kind of shows - rich people living rich lifestyles and being, generally, rich in their own comfortable richness. It's not my bag, I have to confess.

Dispatches seems to be in the process of trying to become the nation’s conscience in relation to drugs at the moment as, for the second week running, they’re on the case after last week's harrowing, but thought-provoking Mum, Heroin and Me. Again, this week, they've gone down the "might put some people off with the title route" which shows bravery if not, necessarily, common sense. Mum Loves Drugs, Not Me – C4 8:00 - reveals the huge impact that drugs have on the neglected children of addicts, as they interview some of the estimated 350,000 youngsters in the UK who have parents with a serious problem.

>[Spooks] – 9:00 BBC1 – got off to the start of the new season with quite a bang last week. Quite literally in fact with The VERY Big Bang that blow'd up Rupert Penry-Jones real good. Still, at least all of the ladies can comfort themselves in the knowledge that Adam's place in their hearts has been taken by the equally stylish and suave Lucas (Richard Armitage). Is there some sort of production line somewhere out there which churns out chisseled hunks - with mucho designer stubble - for British intelligence on request? Tonight, Harry seeks out his mentor, The Spycatcher, to help him find the mole. Ben is undercover with an al-Qaeda cell and poor old Jo gets dragged through a hedge backwards for the second time in three episodes. They're REALLY putting Miranda Raison through the wringer this season. Maybe it is a coded warning to the poor lass not to get pregnant like the previous four leading female actresses on this show?

Tuesday 4 November:
We ask all the questions that no one else dares to.
Today, why does the word "monosyllabic" consist of five syllables?
And, also, why doesn't the word "onomatopoeia" sound like what it is?

Prince Charles’s Other Mistress – 9:00 C4 – tells the tragic story of the Australian heiress that the Prince of Wales loved and then, allegedly, abandoned. Dale 'Kanga' Tyron and Camilla Parker Bowles were rivals for Charles's affections in the 1970s. But whereas Camilla seemingly knew how to play the royal waiting game, Dale seemingly didn’t and found herself excluded from the royal circle after she talked to the press about her time with the prince. After years of poor mental health, she died in unusual circumstances at the age of forty seven, just months after the death of Diana. There's definitely a conspiracy theory in that. I wonder if Mr Al-Fayed's production company is involved in this documentary at all?

My Family at War – BBC1 10:35 – is on all this week as part of the BBC’s excellent and warm-hearted 90 Years of Remembrance series. Tonight Matthew Kelly and cricketer Phil Tufnell investigate their families' roles in the Great War. Matthew travels through France on his way to the battlefields of Flanders, hoping to solve the mystery of his great uncle Albert, who died in a Prisoner of War camp in 1917. Phil, meanwhile, wants to find out what life was like for his grandfather who served in the Royal Flying Corps. Great stuff.

My grandad was a Passchendaele. True story. He got his tongue shot off. He didn't like to talk about it.

Sorry (and sorry to Stephen Fry for nicking one of your jokes, too!)

It’s US Election Night at 11:00 on both BBC1 and ITV. On the Beeb, which is the one that I'll be watching, David Dimbleby presents all of the action from Washington as America votes for a new president, with Matt Frei in the studio and reporters in all the key swing states across the country. Jeremy Vine will be in a virtual-reality studio trying to analyse the figures, using the latest touchscreen graphics to show who is winning the race to the White House to become "the leader of the free world." Bob McKenzie and Peter Snow must be turning in their graves. 'cept Peter isn't dead, of course, but he's lost the use of his swingometer, it seems. As Alfie pointed out to me today, this election seems to have gripped pretty much everyone, which is really annoying for those of us who have been interested in US politics for, literally, years. It's like getting into a really cool indie band whom nobody else has ever heard of early on and then, suddenly, they have one massive hit and you find yourself being the thoroughly annoying bastard who says "I was into them before everybody else was!" at all the cool student parties. Anyway, readers of this blog will, I hope, notice that as a member of the UK media - albeit a freelance once - this blog wishes to be completely in agreement with both the BBC and ITN's publicly stated balanced neutrality with regard to this election. Readers will also notice that, as a consequence, pictures have been uploaded of both candidates and they are exactly the same size. I wouldn't want the blog to be accused of showing any favouritism one way or t'other in this matter. Heaven forbid.

Wednesday 5 November:
We ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today, why do slim chance and fat chance mean the same thing?

Remember, remember the Fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot. Yes, it's just another happy, happy fun day on Corrie – 7:30 ITV. Having been blinded to John’s wretched duplicity not once but twice, the blinkers finally fall from Fiz’s eyes when a surprise visit to his gran’s house reveals that he’s got Rosie Webster locked up in the scullery. Daftest storyline all year and yet, arguably, the one that pulled in the most punters. Certianly far more than Liam getting murdered a few weeks ago.

It was sad Alfie was off at a funeral last Friday because he missed me having a right go at Little Dorrit. I must say, however, that I’m rather enjoying it at the moment. It is one of Dickens’ works that I’m least familiar with but it’s terrifically well-acted by all concerned. Tonight, expect all the Torchwood fans to turn up as Eve Myles joins Freema Agyeman for the fun. Of course, the whole story is about debt and poverty which, you know, somehow seem more relevant every day.

What do Paul O’Grady, Hugh Laurie, Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Denise van Outen and Roger Daltrey have in common? They’ve all made guest appearances in The Bill and they are all featured in The Bill Made Me Famous at 9:00 on ITV. Now, I would personally question whether The Bill really did make any of those people famous but this an entertaining clip-show narrated by Martin Kemp as part of celebrations for the Twenty Fifth birthday of Britain’s longest-running crime drama show.

Lastly, don't miss tonight's Inside Out - BBC1, 7:30 - which features a piece lovingly presented by Top Telly Tips' own producer - Wor Scunthorpe Steve Drayton - about the vibrant North East folk music scene and they way in which it's changing. Included is an interview with Northumberland's own Rachel and Becky Unthank whose remarkable CD, The Bairns, got such a huge following and was nominated for the Mercury Prize. As Alfie was keen to point out, conventional wisdom suggests that TV adds ten pounds of weight to the average person (or, five stone in my case when I was on Call the Cops). Well, in Scunthorpe Steve's case it appears to have made big bouncy quiff look even more gynormous than it actually is in reality (no mean feat, readers, trust me on that one).

Thursday 6 November:
We ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today, Why is the word abbreviation so long?
And also, why is it called a TV set when you only get one…? I’m just puzzled.

On EastEnders – 7:30 BBC1 – Dot grows more worried by Bradley’s strange behaviour. Meanwhile … hang, let’s go back to that last one a second. Dot, is worried about someone else’s strange behaviour? Glass houses. Stones. You know what I’m saying here? Anyway, oh dear what can the matter be? Ian Beale's got locked in the lavatory ... As if his predicament isn't bad enough, Jane performs her stand-up routine in the Vic. Two comedy set-pieces for the price of one. You’d better watch this episode Alfie, you might get one or two jokes you can use in the act. And, speaking of east enders…

The People's Hospital – 8:30 BBC1 – started its new eight-part series last night focusing on the hard working staff of Whipps Cross Hospital in London’s East End. Tonight, we meet one of the busiest ward sisters in the NHS and get a frank discussion on the staff’s attitude towards relevance, or otherwise, of government targets.

It’s the season finale of Silent Witness – 9:00 BBC1 – which I’ve been rather enjoying this series - and I've only been watching because, basically, there's been little else worth watching on Thursday nights! The currently storyline is set in Zambia. I’m not sure if British forensic pathologists often get detached duty in Africa but, if they do, I wanna go work there. Particularly, if I’m in the same morgue as Emily Fox.

And lastly don't, whatever you do, miss tonight's Look North (6:30 BBC1). After Scunthorpe Steve's truly majestic TV debut t'other night another of my Radio Newcastle colleagues, Gilly Hope, has done a very moving piece for tonight's show about researching one of her relatives' experiences in the World War I. If you miss it, however, you can check a clip of it out on the BBC Tyne website.

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