Thursday, October 09, 2008

October - Top Telly Tips (Part 1)

So, good and lovely dear blog-readers (... and, like, anybody else who's stumbled into The Drum by accident - you're very welcome an'all). It's just another month in The Corp. Yessir, I LOVE the Corp.Anyway, Alfie's back from his trip to 'New York, New York so good they named it twice', so here's the latest batch of Top Telly Tips previews covering the first two weeks of October. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Friday 3 October:
Somebody on the Internet last week asked me to define Britishness: I said that it’s all about driving your German car to an Irish pub for a Belgian beer, then travelling home and grabbing an Indian curry or a Turkish kebab or a Chinese takeaway to sit on your Swedish furniture and watch an American TV show on your Japanese TV. I think they got the message.

Tonight sees the final episode of the second season of The Tudors – BBC2 9:00 – in which that thoroughly naughty knavess Anne Boleyn gets it right in the neck from her husband. I have to be fair and say that, strictly as a drama, this is no more historically ludicrous than several of our own home-grown historical dramas (and far less than some - Robin Hood for a kick-off) and that it's got better and better as the season has worn on ending up as a really rather good little show. Who'd've thunk it? And, as one of the show’s historical advisors recently noted with some pride, they have – when all is said and done - just spent thirteen weeks getting Americans to watch a drama series about The Reformation which I reckon is a pretty impressive feat. I loved the final shot of (the still far-too-young and lovely looking) Henry gorging himself on a fistful of swan pie. Yes, pal - gross obesity, gout and syphilis are just a few short episodes away for you. It’ll be back next year, with Joss Stone as Anne of Cleves apparently. Super Duper Lurv. I'm rather looking forward to the idea of Jonathan Rhys Myers ('he's Henery the Eighth he is, he is') doubling in weight.
Saturday 4 October:
This is something I wanted to say last time around prompted by how great it is to see Don Warrington in Strictly Come Dancing at the moment, but I didn’t have a slot for it: A lot of people reckon that 1970s sitcoms like Love Thy Neighbour and, even, the great Rising Damp were despicably racist – and, I suppose one could easily argue that elements of their concept almost certainly were (however much the authors may claim that to have been unintentional and "of its time"). But, here’s a thought for you - via the dignified (and, let's not forget very humorous) performances of Don Warrington in the latter and Rudolph Walker in the former, they possibly did more to teach the average white working class person who - depend on where they lived in the country - might well have never seen a black man in their lives about the concept of multi-culturalism than a hundred episodes of Panorama or This Week ever did. Bear in mind, both series began within a decade of the 1964 General Election in which one Conservative MP, Peter Griffiths, fought the Smethwick seat on a clearly racialist platform which included - according to many contemporary sources - the distribution of vile leaflets which stated 'If you want a nigger for your neighbour, vote Labour.' So not only were these series comedies, there were also dealing with an issue that was relevant part of the social fabric of the times too. Just something to drop into your toaster and see if it pops up. According to Rising Damp’s creator, Eric Chappell, Rigsby was never intended to be a bigot as we would understand the term today. He was based upon a number of older people that Chappell knew whose only terms of reference as far as black people were concerned were books and films of the 1930s. Rigsby simply didn’t know how to deal with Phillip and his attitude to the character fluctuates, in episodes, between fascination and outright jealousy (especially as Miss Jones is clearly attracted to Phillip rather than Rigsby). The original stage play that the series was based on, The Banana Box, and the movie spin-off of the show, both end with Phillip being exposed as an impostor by a conman who has been preying on the inhabitants of the boarding house. Phillip isn’t really an African Prince after all, he was actually born in England. However, when Rigsby hears this, he still sides with Phillip. As he tells him 'You never know, you might be related to African royalty' and the revelation remains a secret between the two of them. If you want to apply the strict rules of today's TV, then Rigsby could probably be considered casually racist, but that isn't really a fair evaluation of the author's intent in this particular case. Although there is, of course, that famous episode where Ruth Jones turns up with a baby whom she's looking after. When Phillip and Rigsby first encounter the child it bursts into tears: 'Don't worry,' coos Rigsby. 'He won't eat you. His father might've, but he won't...' But I always found the several variants on 'Phillip's just given me a black look'-type humour in Rising Damp actually worked really rather well, largely because Leonard Rossiter played Rigsby as such a loathsome, ineffectual lothario and Don Warrington played Phillip with such dignity and genuine charm not to mention with intelligence as well as a sense of humour. It could be argued (and, in fact, I'm going to) that, much as with Randolph Walker in Love Thy Neighbour constantly getting the better of the Eddie Booth character, it was black characters like that which - however ham-fistedly - actually helped rather than hindered race-relations in this country. You won’t find it said often, but I think they both series deserve a minor footnote in history. Far more than, for instance, Mind Your Language which probably helped set back the cause of the European integration thirty year when everybody realised that most of the French birds you were likely to meet weren't Francoise Pascal.

On a related note, I've heard it suggested – from broadcast industry professionals, no less - that one of the main reasons why the BBC seem to steadfastly refuse to repeat The Goodies - despite several petitions to the BBC for them to do so - is that there are three or four episodes where there’s some ‘blacking up’ in evidence and that characters quite often speak in cod accents. It's unfortunate, because the most obvious example of The Goodies doing this was in the South African episode and was done entirely to make the point that the racist Apartheid regime which existed at the time was a very, very bad thing. The fact that, later on in the episode, the "Apart-height" regime has short people (like Bill) being herded into ghettos ultimately shows up discrimination in all its forms as being inherently ridiculous. Yes, you do have Tim Brooke Taylor completely blacked up at one point doing jazz hands and saying 'How-de-do-dere!', while Philip Madoc (playing an obviously villainous, racist white South African policeman) makes a reference to 'nig-nogs', but their hearts were clearly in the right place... And yet, ironically, several recent BBC comedy shows - including Little Britain, That Mitchell and Webb Look and Harry & Paul - have all included characters blacking up (and, in the case of the latter, also speaking in extremely cod-accents) without any comments of censure that I've been aware of from any quarter. Probably it's because they're all seen as being clearly ironic, post-modern and "aware" sketches - and yes, there is much validity in that stance. I'm sure it's one that the makers of all three shows would argue. Yet, if The Goodies 'Roots' episode wasn't a - very pointed - example of exactly that (having a pop at The Black and White Minstrel Show not twenty five years after its final episode, like Little Britain did but, rather, whilst it was still being broadcast, weekly, by the BBC and still getting an audience of ten million) then - genuinely - what is?

Then, of course, we’ve got the problem of Till Death Us Do Part, a series written by a Maoist, Johnny Speight, and with the racist, bone-thick lead character played by Warren Mitchell (a Jewish Socialist intellectual). Both knew exactly what they were trying to do. And I think it’s fair to say both realised, very quickly, that - unfortunately - some people just didn't (and never would) get the joke. There's an - apparently true - story that in the early 1970s, both were visited by seniors figures in the National Front asking whether they would like to appear as part of their campaign at some forthcoming elections, possibly using the character of Alf Garnett in a party political broadcast to express repatriationalist views like those he frequently gave vent to on the show. Skinhead Nazi numbskulls being well, numbskulls, notwithstanding it's astonishing to me that some people, seemingly, cannot understand the concept of a writer or an actor not always necessarily sharing the views of the character(s) he writers about/plays. And, yet, for all that I actually can't watch Till Death these days - I know it's brilliant observationalist humour, I know it is a genuine (and VERY important) social document and I know it is probably far closer to "the truth" about working class life in Great Britain in the 1960s and 1970s than a thousand Play for Today's could have ever hoped to achieve. But every time I hear the studio audience screaming with laughter whenever Alf uses the word 'coon' I get a knot in my stomach and I have to turn it off. I'm the same with a lot of Spike Milligan's humour of that era too - the man's one of my heroes; a humane and thoughtful decent man of compassion and a genius of a comedy writer. But Curry and Chips makes my flesh creep because, like Till Death, it appears to commit one of the worst crimes that a television show ever can and fatally underestimate the intelligence of its intended audience.

Wow, that went on a bit longer than I expected. Anyway, Tsunamis are among the most destructive forces known to Man - but in Britain, most of us like to think that they are one thing we don't need to worry about too much. Which is comforting cos we've plenty of other things to worry about. However, in Timewatch: Britain’s Forgotten Floods – 8:00 BBC2 - Professors Simon Haslett and Ted Bryant challenge this view. They believe that the Bristol Channel flood of 1607 - one of Britain's worst ever natural disasters - was in fact a proper, honest-to-God Tsunami just like the Boxing Day 2004 one. They investigate evidence of at least four more potential British Tsunamis down the years.

Sunday 5 October:
One of the BBC Natural History Unit's most ambitious live projects is coming to BBC One and BBC Two for the next week. Big Cat Live is a TV event which is set to explore the hidden side of Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve – its wildlife, its secrets and, of course, its perils. For where would wildlife shows be without perils? Katie Silverton joins the Big Cat veterans Simon King and Jonathan Scott at their base-camp in the heart of Africa's most famous reserve. (But, where's Saba this time? Oh, that is going to go down very badly with a lot of the show's fan base!) Camping next to the Mara River, in the middle of the Marsh Pride lion territory, the team will be surrounded by African wildlife, including elephants, buffalo, crocodiles, zebras and over one million migrating wildebeest in a landscape where, literally, anything can happen. Bill Oddie getting eaten would be a good 'anything can happen,' I reckon. Unlikely but, you know, one can dream...

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that The Great North Run is on live on BBC1 on Sunday morning, starting around 9:30. So, if you’re not running the thirteen glorious miles from the Town Moor, Newcastle to South Shields (in, what I'm assured will be, virtual flood conditions), at least get out of yer pit and support the guys and girls who are! That doesn't cost much, surely?

Monday 6 October:
We continue to ask the questions no one else dares to. Today why is it only in Britain that supermarkets make sick people walk all the way to the back of the shop to get their prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front.

One of TV's best double acts - Tony Robinson and Phil Harding - hit the highways of America on a glorious road trip to some of the dinosaur capitals of the world in a repeated, but still essential, Time Team Special on Channel 4 at 8:00. After joining a museum dig to excavate the bones of the T-Rex's ancestor, they uncover the big bucks industry that dinosaur-hunting has spawned in the US with bones being sold openly on eBay. Give 'em Hell, guys.

Unbreakable – 9:00 on Five – is an adventure series with explorer Benedict Allen in which eight intrepid volunteers undergo an onslaught of physical and mental pressure in a bid to be declared 'unbreakable'. The hardy participants contend with the heat, humidity and wildlife of the Amazonian jungle under the watchful eye of a Tough Military Instructor. Who will be happy to give 'em all some tough lurv, no doubt. Anybody get the feeling this one that was offered to Ross Kemp but he wimped out on?

Tuesday 7 October:
We continue to ask all the questions no one else dares to. Today, why do some people use answering machines to screen calls but also have “call waiting” so they won't miss a call from someone they didn't want to talk to in the first place.

Sunshine – 9:00 BBC1 – is a bittersweet three-part comedy drama from the co-writers of The Royle Family and Early Doors and starring Steve Coogan and Bernard Hill. Bing has always had a natural wit and optimism which have made him one of the most popular people around, but he has one weakness. When Bing's gambling becomes more serious and he starts to take greater risks, the stakes are raised - could he lose everything, including the wife and son he loves? Sounds terrific and this is my drama pick of the week. I mean, listeners, when have I ever let you down before … okay, ignore Bonekickers. And The Invisibles. And ... (continued on page two hundred and fifty nine ...)

I got some rather surprised reaction from a couple of listeners over my dismissive comments about Jamie’s Ministry of Food last week. All I can say is I don’t really mind the bloke and what he does (in small doses, let it be said) but I do have one major problem with him and that’s, essentially, who died and made him King of the World? I think the thing that most perplexes me about him is that when he started off his campaign for specific types of school dinners - which isn't, necessarily something I disagree with - within hours he had government ministers literally scrambling over each other to have meetings with him and get their picture taken with him and generally giving him a good licking in the vicinity of his bottom like he’s a member of sodding royalty. I mean, ultimately, who the Hell is this guy? He’s just a chef - I’ve no doubt he’s a very good one, otherwise it's unlikely punters would eat in his (extremely expensive, apparently) restaurants and Asda wouldn’t be paying him vast amounts of moolah to advertise their various - "Jamie Oliver Endorsed" – lines of food. Also, I have to say I dislike – on general principle - anybody that’s dogmatic about what’s “good for you.” It might very well be in the long run but I’m a great believer in individual choice. I do not like being told what to eat, just as I don’t like being told what to wear or what to think. Anyway, rant over Jamie’s Ministry of Food (thoroughly pretentious title notwithstanding) is on Channel 4 at 9:00 and when all is said and done that's two plugs it has had from this slot in two weeks which really isn't bad for a series that I will personally be avoiding like the plague. You know what they say about their being no such thing as bad publicity? I'm sure Jamie himself was thinking just that as the Rotherham hard-lads were chanting "You! Fat! Bastard!" at him...

Lastly a very quick mention for the repeat run of Flight of the Conchords on BBC4 at 9:30. Delightfully batty little show about a New Zealand folk-duo and their misadventures in New York. If you haven’t caught it so far you really should be watching this.

Wednesday 8 October:
We continue to ask all the questions no one else dares to. Today, why doesn't glue stick to the side of the bottle?

If you haven’t all been watching Big Cat Live so far this week on BBC! then, I'm afraid, You Have No Soul and I disown you. All of you. The stuff with the baby cheetahs being bullied about by those thuggish adult males, in particular, was one of the most gripping soap operas on TV in years. Far better than Hollyoaks, for a kick-off. Tonight, the lions decide to have a right go at a herd of Heffelumps. Oooo ... Unwise!

Griff Rhys Jones has got over being angry, apparently (yeah, it usually doesn’t take me too long to calm down after getting a big girly strop-on either) and, in Great Cities of the World – 9:00 ITV - he travels to 'New York, New York so good they named it twice' to experience the huge diversity of the city's peoples. He looks at the iconic and familiar, the old and the new, and tries to convey the vibrant life of one of the world's great cities - a melting pot of different styles and cultures that produces something which Alfie, who visited the city recently, describes as like "being in a movie 24 hours a day." It's still number one on a list of "places I just HAVE to visit before I die." Now, comedians doing travel shows is all the bleedin' rage at the moment because on opposite Griff on Five is Paul Merton in India (a sequel to last year's thoroughly excellent Paul Merton in China). Beginning in Delhi, Paul enjoys a course in etiquette before taking a ride on a stationary plane and finding out about the city's street monkeys and then gets invited to a game of cricket. India - absolutely fascinating place. That’s yet another one that I’ve always wanted to go to. What I’ll have to do, clearly, is to become a TV comedy star and then I’ll get paid to go away. It’s a flawless plan don't you think?

Recent winners of the 'most ridiculous title for a TV show of the week' include Robson Green’s Extreme Fishing, Anne Widdecombe Vs Girl Gangs and Ross Kemp Meets the Glue Kids of Kenya. This week’s winner is on BBC3 at 9:00 Hoodies Can be Goodies. No, it's not that - brilliant - Harry & Paul sketch from a few weeks ago, but rather this sees Garron Mitchell (who he?) setting out to try and rehabilitate the image of the hoodie. But, can he convince middle England? No. Cos that would be against all laws of God and Man if you ask me.

Thursday 9 October:
Statistics suggest one in every four people suffers from some sort of mental illness. Now, think about your three best friends. If they're all okay, then it's probably you.

Three British narcolepsy sufferers are the focus of Ninety Naps a Day – Channel 4 9:00. They head to a conference in the US, where they attend a series of pioneering workshops and learn more about this most misunderstood of medical conditions. Samantha is embarrassed by her constant falling asleep, Tony struggles to stay awake at school and is determined to learn more about alternative treatments whilst Ken's relationship has been put to the test because of his narcolepsy. Lightweight title - which is unfortunate as it might put some potential viewers off - but it's a very serious subject and I hope this documentary finds and audience.

There’s a new sitcom on BBC2 at 9:30. Beautiful People is inspired by the book by Simon Doonan. Simon, now living in New York, remembers the time auditioning for the school play led to his mother being arrested for assault. Good cast – Meera Syal and Olivia Coleman to name but two. I've read the book, which was very good but I'm really not sure if this one will translate very well to TV. Time will tell.

ITV3 are repeating one of the best drama of the last five years starting tonight at 9:00. In Torn when a couple lose their four-year-old daughter on a busy beach, police assume she has drowned. Years later, the mother spots a teenager whom she knows is her daughter, but when she confronts the girl's father, she herself is arrested. This is wonderful stuff – stars Holly Aird out of Waking the Dead, Nicola Walker from Spooks and Bradley Walsh. If you missed it first time around, check it out of freeview, it's tremendous.

Friday 10 October:
Did you know that ten times as many people are killed each year by having a coconut fall on their head than are a killed by sharks? Expect, therefore, a Discovery Channel special on the Deadly Killer Coconut coming soon.

It’s the last episode of the season of Harry & Paul – 9:00 BBC1 which, I think it’s fair to say both myself and The Alfster have been loving for the past few weeks. It’s interesting that Alfie reckons Paul Whitehouse is the real star of this show – something I’d, actually, cautiously go along with. It’s certainly noticeable that the show’s title over the years has gone from The Harry Enfield Show, to Harry & Chums and then, finally, Harry & Paul. Next series, do we reckon it’s going to be Paul & Harry?!

Lots of people in this country seem to have a problem with America and Americans, which is very odd when you think about it as just about all of our popular culture for the last century – certainly most popular music since jazz, films and, particularly, television – have been hugely influenced by the US. And, not all of the hatred is down to their President. Although, a certain proportion of it undoubtedly is. Of course, both presenters of Top Telly Tips have been there - in my case many times - so I think it’s fair to say we’re more immune to this than others! I love America, myself. I consider it to be an extraordinary land full of contrasts and surprises at every turn. Yes, it's got some odd fruitcakes there but then, where hasn't? My street's full of them! This weekend sees two shows which seek to do what some may consider the impossible - to redress this strange Americophobia. The great TV historian Simon Schama – whose History of Britain a few years ago was such a popular success - brings his love of America (where he works much of the time) to the screen in the four-part The American Future – 9:00 on BBC2. The show has been designed as a scene-setter for the upcoming presidential elections. Simon’s account of how a century of America’s industrial farming has turned the bread-basket of the Prairies into a dustbowl is vividly shocking. That's the idea of the show - to make us realise why we're at such a stark crossroads of history. And it works brilliantly. Simon’s vision of how current droughts in the Mid-West mean "the American garden is withering on the vine" will have viewers reaching for their bottles of ice cold water. Let's hope McCain and Obama are watching, too.

Saturday 11 October :
In Blue Peter at Fifty – 9:00 BBC2 - Tom Baker narrates an entertaining romp through five decades of the world's longest-running children's television programme. Presenting teams reunite to spill the beans on the fun and mishaps that went on during their time on Blue Peter, including the iconic line-up of John Noakes, Valerie Singleton and Peter Purves. There are anecdotes, mishaps (involving elephants), Blue Peter badges, action and adventure, appeals, pets, lots of sticky-back plastic, cries of "Get down, Shep!" and reminders of the huge interaction Blue Peter has always had with its audience. I'm forty five later this month and I'd never have made it this far without Blue Peter! But will be get the story of how Freda the tortoise really died? Or any tales of Biddy Baxter's Thatcher-like megalomania? I somehow doubt it...

Sunday 12 October:
Following on from the Simon Schama show mentioned earlier, most people think of America as one country. Or, at the very least, three (the East and West coasts being the 'really rather cool and groovy' bits, the Mid-West and Deep South being 'the stuff you wanna avoid, particularly if you're of a remotely leftie persuasion'). But, in many ways, conceptually, it’s actually fifty different ones because in terms of make up and culture Rhode Island is as different from Delaware as Alaska is distinct from Florida. In Stephen Fry in America – 9:00 BBC1 on Sunday - dear, lovely, charming, witty, gregarious and supremely intelligent Stephen journeys across America in a six-part series (and, in his trusty black London cab), meeting all manner of colourful characters along the way. So, you might expect it to be a bit like a US version of that Wonderland series BBC2 did earlier in the year which was all about eccentricity. But, no, this is a much deeper and more ambitious concept. Almost born and raised in the USA - his father actually turned down a job at Princeton shortly before he was born - Stephen has always been fascinated with the country and by the idea that he could have grown up as his alter-ego ‘Steve’, a gum-chewin', baseball lovin' American suburbanite. That he might've gone to Harvard or Yale instead of Cambridge. That he might have become a writer for Saturday Night Live instead of A Bit of Fry and Laurie. That he might have been as big in America when he was in his twenties as his mate Hugh is now! So, in this delightful looking show Stephen undertakes the task of visiting each of the fifty states of the Union (or each of forty six states and four Commonwealths of the Union if you want to be painfully pedantic) to try and find out what is the difference between being, say, an Oregonian or a Texan. Or a Minnesotan or a Californian. He begins his journey with the states that comprise America’s industrial North East - gorgeous New England - before heading down the coast, through New York and Boston to the nation's capital and ending up at the battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Fabulous. I must also say I picked up the book of the series last week (on HarperCollins) and that’s well worth a look too if you’ve got a tenner spare and you’re in Waterstones over the weekend. The photography is staggering. The text ain't bad either. In it, Stephen makes the point that part of the anti-American feeling around the world is, genuinely, down to snobbery on the part of some Europeans. To quote from The Frymeister himself: 'I have often felt a hot flare of shame inside when I listen to fellow Britons casually jeering at the perceived depth of American crassness, isolationism, materialism, and vulgarity. It seems to reveal very little about America and a great deal more about the rather feeble need of some Britons to feel superior ... Such Britons hug themselves with the thought that they are more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than Americans because they know more about geography and world culture, as if firstly being cosmopolitan and sophisticated can be scored in a quiz and secondly (and much more importantly) being cosmopolitan and sophisticated is in any way desirable or admirable to begin with.' We like to think we're cleverer than them, basically. Which might be true (although, it's a hell of a big claim) but it doesn't, necessarily, mean that we're better people. What's that great line the Jed Bartlet says in The West Wing? 'If a guy is a good neighbour, if he puts in a day, if every once in a while he laughs, if every once in a while he thinks about somebody else and, above all else, if he can find his way to compassion and tolerance, then he’s my brother, I don’t give a damn if he didn’t get past finger-painting.' I agree with that sentiment and, therefore, constant references to all of the things that Americans don't do really rather bugs me. Like irony, for instance. Of course they don't ... you've seen The Simpsons recently, yes? It's a US TV show. it's being going twenty years. It's rather good. Or, failing that, you're aware of Bill Hicks or Rich Hall? No? I think what it is fair to say is that Americans, generally, do cynicism less well than the British, the French and the Italians (and the Aussies, for that matter) - and, since cynicism is a key component of irony, many Americans find less use for the "i" word than we do. But, that's very different from saying they don't understand the concept or haven't the ability to use it, devastatingly, when required. There's an occasional smugness about European attitudes towards the US which genuinely seems to infect the best of us. Look at one of my literary heores, the late, great Ian MacDonald, who took time out in the finest, and most balanced and optimistic book about music and popular culture ever written, Revolution in the Head, to pen a very out of place and rather haughty dismissal of American humour: 'Audiences are clearly cued, in inferior TV sitcoms, by a ponderous archness guaranteed to set English teeth on edge.' Only if the English teeth in question are affixed in the head of a snob, Ian. This may, partly, be explained by a deeply-rooted inferiority complex in the British psyche fuelled by the US having once been, you know, ours. It was noticeable that it didn't take, for instance, The Clash very long to go from 'I'm So Bored With the USA' to becoming very keen to incorporate America's vast musical heritage into their own soundscape. With, in their case, quite extraordinarily magnificent results as a consequence. They weren't the first British rock band to do that and they're certainly not the last. Anyway, this isn't an essay, it's a preview of a TV show so ... I urge everyone, watch this. It's Stephen so it'll be funny, inventive and compassionate regardless of what the subject is. Watch it in lieu of the postponed sixth season of Qi if nothing else. (Latest news on the latter, incidentally, is that it's been promoted from BBC2 to BBC1 - or "hijacked" if you prefer! - but that, because of this, and a new slot having to be found for it, it probably won't be shown until the New Year.)

Meanwhile, Channel 4 is devoting three hours to Peter Kay’s first new TV work in four years – the reality TV spoof Britain’s Got The Pop Factor And Possibly A New Celebrity Jesus Christ Superstar Strictly On Ice. In this, Cat Deeley has the inevitably task of introducing the final of Britain’s latest talent(less) quest. I must say I’m not as big a fan of Peter as Alfie is but seeing him in drag as the aspiring pop chanteuse Geraldine (who used to be a man, Gerry), or the rap duo 2 Up 2 Down does look good. It’s a big TV night with a new Touch of Frost. And lastly a mention for the second part of Alan Yentob’s excellent Imagine: The Story of the Guitar on BBC1 at 10:20. The first part, last week, was brilliant – any show which features interviews with the likes of Pete Townshend and Johnny Marr is okay with me - and they’ve only just reached the blues. That was another thing we've got to thank America for. You know, like jazz and rock and roll ... Anyway, this week, Les Paul goes electric. That's all right, mama!

Monday 13 October:
We ask the questions no one else dares to. Today, why is it that no plastic bag that you get in a supermarket will ever open on your first try? Especially if you’re in a hurry to get packed?

It’s a big night for drama tonight. Wired9:00 ITV – is the start of the three-part dark conspiracy thriller starring Jodie Whittaker, Laurence Fox, Toby Stephens and EastEnders’ Charlie Brooks about fraud and other naughty shenanigans in the banking industry. They couldn’t have a hit a more topical and highly publicised bit of subject matter if they’d tried, could they?! Nice bit of serendipity, though as obviously this would've been made some months ago. With luck like that, they'll get massive ratings. Meanwhile, over on Channel 4 at the same time there’s The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall in which Stephen Dillane and Kerry Fox star in this powerful drama based on the real-life events surrounding the tragic death of a 21 year old British student in Gaza in 2003, shot whilst trying to protect Palestinian children from what he believed to be Israeli gunfire. Ironically, Jodie Whittaker’s also in this. Bet there’s be a bit of kafuffle going on in her gaff as to which side to watch. They both look very good, but I think I'll be going to go for Wired personally.

Roman Polanski is one of my favourite movie directors – Repulsion, Chinatown, Cul de Sac, Tess. Made the best ever adaptation of MacBeth as well, despite it featuring Keith Chegwin. He's led a truly fascinating life from his upbringing when, as a child, he managed to escape the massacres of the Warsaw ghetto. He was - tragically - involved in one of the most horribly sensational murder cases of the last century and he also came up with the best description of Los Angeles ever uttered whilst he was standing in Jack Nicholson Bel Air garden late one evening when they were filming Chinatown. 'It’s the most beautiful city in the world,' he said wistfully. 'When seen at night ... and from a distance!' Damn straight, Roman. Anyway, Wanted and Desired – 10:00 on BBC4, which is rapidly becoming my favourite stations at the moment – is a profile of this often controversial man and his - often controversial - work.

Tuesday 14 October:
We ask the questions no one else dares to. Today, why do people pay to go up to the top of tall buildings and then put money in binoculars to look at things on the ground where they’ve just come from?

We talked about Nature Shock – 8:00 C4 – a few times whilst it was on last year. Well, it’s back for a new series starting with an episode about Jim Martell, a licensed hunt who sets out to hunt, trap and kill a polar bear in the Canadian arctic. Aw, that’s awful. I hope the bear gets him first, frankly.

I like the cut of tonight’s episode of British Style Genius – 9:00 BBC2 – which looks at the tailored look of the 1960s and beyond. Sirs Michael Caine and Roger Moore act as our guides to the fruity Savile Row establishments that clothed them and their pals in their swinging heyday. Aw, tremendous; Charlie Croker and Simon Templer in one show – what more could you want, eh?! Michael’s favourite tailor, incidentally, was one of the style icons of the era, Douggie Hayward, who also designed suits for Peter Sellers, Terence Stamp, Sean Connery and The Beatles amongst many others. Sharp.

Lastly, a quick mention for Sunshine – 9:00 BBC1 – the bittersweet Steve Coogan comedy-drama which kicked-off impressively last week. Tonight Bing is thrown out of the house by Bernadette, and moves in with his father, who has problems of his own. Does this remind anybody of a slightly funnier version of the classic BBC series Big Deal from the early 1980s? Similar ideas and a similarly excellent production.

Wednesday 15 October:
We ask the questions no one else dares to. Today, why is it that people say they have "slept like a baby" when actually babies wake up about every two hours during the night?

So, it’s all about to kick-off big-style over in Corrie this week. Jealous Tony, who is a bit reet tasty when it comes to handin' out the aggro, is sure that his bride-to-be, the dark and dangerous Carla, is being more than a little unfaithful to him. So, he’s decided to deal with love-rival Liam in the sort of way that Reggie Kray would’ve approved of. But with Carla really in love with Liam you can just tell all of this is going to end in a floor of tears. And more than a little strawberry jam, probably.

The staggering beauty of the Australian outback, and some of the country’s social history is covered in Wilderness Explored at 9:00 on BBC4 (see what I mean about Beeb 4 - it seems every night there's something worth watching on it). It’s a fascinating journey through geography, colonialism, art and cinematography with a bit of Aboriginal religion thrown into the mix. Great stuff from, frankly, the one channel that seems to be putting a bit of thought and imagination into its programming at the moment. Good on ya, guys. More please.

I've tried to stay silent on the subject but I simply find it impossible to do so, ladies and gentlemen. Over the last few weeks Britain's viewing millions have been crassly subjected to the horrors of Robson Green’s Extreme Fishing, followed by Ross Kemp and the Glue Kids, and then Anne Widdecombe Vs Girl Gangs. How, you may wonder, could a hard-pressed TV professional possibly come up with a more ludicrous title and, indeed, more ludicrous concept than those? Ladies and gentlemen welcome, therefore, to Ghosthunting with Girls Aloud – 11:40 on ITV. No, really, I am NOT making this up. It’s made by Yvette Fielding’s Most Haunted team as the girls are taken out after dark to "challenge their perceptions of the paranormal." Come on, car crash telly simply doesn't come any better than this! I mean, quite apart from anything else, watching Yvette in these kind of shows is always one of Britain's finest spectator sports - the woman is, literally, frightened of her own shadow, it appears.

Thursday 16 October:
We ask the questions no one else dares to. Today, why did Kamikaze pilots bother to wear helmets?

It was one of the biggest news stories of last year and brought the world’s press to our doorstep. In Canoe Man: The John Darwin Story – 8:00 ITV4 – the full story is told of how Darwin faked his own death at Seaton Carew as part of an elaborate and over-complicated insurance swindle. Horribly fascinating viewing.

Five’s big show of the night is Danger Men at 9:00, a new six-part series profiling some of the most hazardous jobs in the world and those who risk their lives, daily. Tonight’s episode, Half Million Volt Engineers, as the title suggests, is about a crew of airborne linemen in Arkansas who operate amid the deadly currents on the cables that provide the bulk of America with it’s electricity.

A couple of weeks ago I highlighted that Ian Hislop show about the Beeching Report – which was brilliant, if you missed it, incidentally. Well, that show – which was part of a season of railway-related shows - got 1.5 million viewers helping BBC4 to its best night ever (it beat both Channel 4 and Five on the night and came within a couple of hundred thousand of beating ITV too!) So, BBC4, which we’ve featured a lot of shows of this week, are having another go at repeating the trick. The Last Days of Steam at 9:00 is a Time Shift documentary full of gentle nostalgia for the days when steam power dominated the system. Gorgeous.

Bobski the Builder – 9:00 Channel 4 - follows two teams of builders, one British, one Polish, as they construct an extension on two suburban houses in what Channel 4 claim is an invitation to the audience to draw their own conclusions about the speed, reliability and skill of the two teams. So, what the Polish word for today - dwa przy cztery – that’s two-by-four to you.

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