Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Tips From A Trip to the Vault!

You won’t believe this I know dearest darling reader but somebody, in all seriousness, e-mailed me the other day to ask why, when I did my Top Telly Tips catch-up recently, I only started in March 2008. “You missed out the back-end of last year and the start of this year. There was loads of good stuff on then,” noted my correspondent, Big Ronnie. God bless yer cotton socks, Ron, you Asperger’s-like Savant Genius, you. No, you’re absolutely right, it did seem a bit of an arbitrary start date.
I just assumed – in my naïve and slovenly ignorance – that no one would be particularly interested in reading previews of some television shows from as long ago as ten months. But, it seems, I was mad-wrong. Not for the first time in my life, ladies and gentlemen let me assure you. So let’s go back to early December of last year. These set of selected highlights covers the three month period from shortly after I got back from Canada (when I was just being too damned lazy to update this blog!). The young, fresh-faced Alfie Joey had only just taken over from Julia Hankin on The Afternoon Show on BBC Radio Newcastle and the pair of us were taking the early steps in establishing a rapport (and an occasional danger) that has seen us become, apparently, “The Greatest Double Act Since Salt and Vinegar (apart from Mikey Holding and Bumble Lloyd on Sky Sports).” At least according to my mate Dave of the Daleks. Thanks Dave, I appreciated your appreciation.

So anyway, it was December 2007: That Obese Buffoon Sam Allerdyce was still the manager of Newcastle United although the fans were in uproar about it (some things, it would appear, never change). Russell Davies was still the Executive-Producer of Doctor Who and, as far as most of us were concerned, would be until time itself stood still. Quite literally. The money in your pocket was still actually worth something and The Halifax and Bradford and Bingley were still, you know, proper financial establishments and not “The Bank(s) of Toytown.” There was a nip of cold in the air - Winter was icumaen-in. And the Top Telly Tips were Top Telly ‘tastic as always.

5 December 2007:
The Bill – 8:00 ITV - sounds like it is busy turning into Hot Fuzz tonight with a story about a stolen limo, some abandoned cocaine and a beaten-up couple. Always reliable and well-acted but they seem to be after some action film fans tonight and, hey, good luck to them! Getting Simon and Nick in might help...

Tonight also sees the final episode of The Nature of Britain – 9:00 BBC1 – Alan Titchmarsh’s series about British wildlife which has been getting some quite amazing viewing figures. It’s rather gentle, unassuming, wallpaper telly to be honest. Not really to my tastes but I fully understand exactly why so many people like it and if these isn't anything worth watching on the other side (and, tonight there, genuinely, doesn't appear to be) then you could do an awful lot worse than an hour of this. And I do mean an awful lot worse.

6 December 2007:
It’s North East icons on The Street – BBC1 9:00 - this year it would seem. We had the great Gina McKee last week and we’ve got Darlo’s own Mark Benson in this (Wallsend-born Melanie Hill also crops up. Sean Bean’s missus, of course). It’s genuinely great to see Jimmy McGovern’s still got a bit of righteous anger about his drama - exactly what you'd expect from the man who gave us Hearts & Minds and Hillsborough. The episode of The Street with Tim Spall in it a couple of weeks ago was quite brilliant - like a real throwback to Play for Today or Armchair Theatre.

Hitler’s Favourite Royal – Channel 4 at 9:00 – tells the strange (and little-known) story of Prince Charles Edward Saxe-Coburg one of Queen Victoria’s many grandchildren who was made the Duke of Gotha in his teens and packed off to live in, and rule, a small principality in rural Germany. He ended up (reluctantly) fighting against his cousin George V during the First World War and then became a fervent supporter, and friend, of Hitler during the 1930s advising him on foreign policy. Odd family, that. You see, that’s what in-breeding does to you. Big ears, limited intelligence and occasional extreme right-wing tendencies.

In the marvellously-named How to Get More Sex – 10:00 ITV - relationship expect Tracey Cox enlists the help of a group of celebrities to find out about the importance of smell when trying to attract a mate. Sounds … different. If Tracey would like to e-mail me with the secret I'd be very grateful because, to be honest, some would be nice... Oh, did I just say that out loud?

7 December 2007:
Rebus - 9:00 ITV – is the final episode of the series starring the excellent Ken Stott in these handsome adaptations of Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh novels. Nice city, nice show, something of a shame it’s come to an end, frankly.

8 December 2007:
The 100 Greatest Stand-Ups – 9:00 at Channel 4 – is another example of Channel 4's apparent obsession with “list TV” which I’m normally deeply unimpressed with. This one, however, could - just - be that little bit different. It is, they say, a “countdown of the British public's favourite live comedians” and features "archive performances and interviews with performers, colleagues, writers, directors and agents" which sounds a lot better than the usual nonsense we have in these kind of shows - twentysomething media tossers talking about subjects that they know absolutely nothing about. I've had this rant before, I know so, anyway ... who is your own favourite? I’m torn between Peter Cook, Dave Allen and Eddie Izzard, personally although, when you say that, you think “Oh hell, what about Billy Connolly, or Steven Wright, or Rich Hall, or Morecambe & Wise…” Et cetera. At least we should be spared some of the annoyingly less-informed talking-heads that usually crop up on this kind of thing. Yes, I AM looking at you, Iain Lee. Y’lanky, talentless lanky streak of piss.

9 December 2007:
Sunday is one of the big “Battle of the Ratings” nights of the year so far: The Sports Personality of the Year on BBC1, a tremendous-looking Top Gear on BBC2 and at 8:00 on ITV Kate Thornton and Phillip Schofield present the 79th Royal Variety Performance from Liverpool's Empire Theatre. Acts include Kanye West, Enrique Iglesias, Seal and Bon Jovi, whilst Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan introducing Britain's Got Talent winner Paul Potts. Will Amanda cry, as usual? Do bears drop their plop in the woods, my dears? Plus (alleged) comedy from Al Murray and Russell Brand. Oh, be still my sides.

10 December 2007:
Monday night is soap night, as usual. On Corrie – 7:30 ITV - Jack makes an announcement that upsets Vera (so, no change there then) whilst Liz and Jim reach an understanding. It no less frenetic and discombobulated over in Walford as an excited Honey prepares for Christmas only to find that Billy is unable to tell her ‘the truth.’ Ah, but what is ‘truth’ without purpose? Meanwhile, Ronnie becomes increasingly suspicious about Jack's secret life.

Sophie's Twins – C4 8:00 – is one for all The Ladies (and, perhaps, a fair few of The Lads too, secretly). A heart-warming documentary from Four and another example of the human interest strand they do so well when they really put their mind to it. Parent-infant therapist Amanda Jones, helps a woman with twins – one of whom she hasn't bonded with. Last week’s episode, which featured the progress of a woman who couldn't love her baby, was a genuinely marvellous bit of 'human interest TV' and this week’s promises to be just as informative and, possibly, just as moving.

11 December 2007:
Lexi encourages Scarlett to have a house party for her sixteenth birthday in Emmerdale – 7:00 ITV. The villagers are roped in to audition for Belle's play. I’ll be they can’t wait. I mean, what else is there to do up in Beckindale when the nights get frosty? There only so many games of shove'appney in The Woolpack one can take before one needs a different sort of excitement.

Spooks – 9:00 BBC1 – is coming towards the end of its current run. After saving Ros from almost certain death last week Adam begins to question his role in MI5. Could this be the beginning of the end of him as well? Thousands of damp-knickered females across the land will, no doubt, be glued Rupert Penry-Jones’s every word for any vague signs of quitting. Spooks is still – really - the only British show that can manage to punch its own weight with American series of a similar type and genre (Waking the Dead is too slow for most American tastes whilst there is, genuinely, nothing remotely like Doctor Who in the US). However, here’s something to think about; this is the fourth year in a row that Spooks has lost one of its female leads because of a (real-life) pregnancy: Hermione Norris this year followed the up-the-duffness of the divine Nicola Walker last year, Olga Sosnovska the year before that and Keeley Hawes in 2004. Shouldn’t somebody be putting something in the tea down at Kudos Films to put a stop to all this malarkey?

Mr & Mrs Bin Laden – 10:35 BBC1 – is a rather interesting-looking documentary which focuses on the unlikely, but very well-publicised, relationship between Jane Felix Browne, a five-times divorced grandmother from Cheshire, with the 26-year-old son of Osama Bin Laden. “I think it’s time you met my parents” takes on a whole new meaning for that particular couple.

12 December 2007:
The Spice Girls on Trial – 9:00 Five – appears to be something of a cut-and-paste documentary analysing The Spice Girls' contributions to popular culture and all that stuff, combining interviews with former manager Chris Herbert with contributions from a range of commentators - including Germaine Greer and Peaches Geldof. Seriously, you couldn’t write a script with more comedy potential than that, could you? Ah, dear old Posh – she can’t sing, she can’t dance and yet she’s a multi-millionairess. Now, which among us is the more stupid? I love the fact that on the recent world tour, the other four got to sing a solo-slot each whilst all they’d let Posh do was a cat-walk. Positive proof for all that they weren’t miming - just keep Victoria away from the microphone and you’ll be all right, ladies!

Secret Millionaire – C4 9:00 – had been THE sleeper hit from Channel 4 of the last few months and one that can guarantee a few tears before bed-time. The reveal at the end of the show is always a sure fire winner – also, it throws up some genuinely interesting questions about where true altruism ends and condescension starts? But, I must admit, I’ve been both pleasantly surprised and somewhat taken with a show that I had real suspicions about when it started. Let’s have another series, please.

On a completely different note, The End of the World Cult – 10:00 C4 – is a revealing documentary which infiltrated a rather odd religious cult in New Mexico called Strong City who believed that the world was due to end on 31 October 2007. Hopefully this will include some footage filmed on 1 November just to prove that the world didn’t, actually, end then. Otherwise it would appear that we’re all now living in some kind of Matrix-style virtual reality.

13 December 2007:
Three Minute Wonder: 12 Days of Christmas - 7:55 Channel 4 – is one of a series of short films providing a unique perspective on yuletide traditions, old and new. If your life is so busy that you’ve only got three minutes to sit down and take in some telly tonight thenthis is always thought-provoking and you might just learn something from it.

I mentioned Murder in Paradise – 8:00 C4 - last year when it was first shown. This excellent documentary recounts one of the great unsolved crimes of the 20th century, the murder of one of the richest men in the world at the time, Sir Harry Oakes in the Bahamas in 1943. The cast of characters include a rakish and shady French aristocrat who was Sir Harry's son-in-law (a bounder, a cad and, worst of all, a bloody foreigner ... and a skint one as well so, obviously, he must have done it), a former Mafia bootlegger turned politician and that good old friend of Hitler’s, the Duke of Windsor. Sounds like the plot of a Dorothy L Sayers novel, doesn’t it? And yet it really happened. Both this docuemtnary and the accompanying book, A Serpent in Eden, are fascinating. Highly recommended.

Sold – 9:00 ITV – is a mildly amusing (and by that I mean, “a couple of half-way decent jokes in an hour”) comedy drama about property developers. The gang are up against the clock tonight, they have just one week to find keyworker buyers for a newly-built project or risk losing a valuable contract. Kris Marshall and Tony Head star.

14 December 2007
It’s the last episode of the current (fifth) season of Qi (10:00) on BBC2 tonight, the most effortlessly funny, informative - and just a bit dangerous - comedy show on telly. What’s great about this show is that it wears its intelligence on its sleeve yet without ever once getting exclusive – with Stephen Fry in the chair you know that in advance. And, you can always watch it in the virtual certain knowledge that you're very unlikely to get your ear nibbled by Alan Davies. Even if you ARE a Harry Ramp. Allegedly. But Qi itself is a total joy from start to finish. If you’re not watching this show then you’re either a brain-damaged moron or the victim of a cruel medical experiment. You’re either part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem, quit being part of the problem.

15 December 2007:
The X-Factor Final kicks off at 7:15 on ITV. Rhydian, Leon and the duo Same Difference are the finalists, apparently. Pick yer winners now. If you care. Which I don't. Just want to make that abundantly clear.

16 December 2007:
Parkinson: The Final Conversation – 9:00 ITV – is the great man's last ever interview show - except, of course, for a Best Of compilation next week (which will no doubt feature "The Late, Great Gene Kelly"). So, therefore technically this is "the second last ever," isn't it? Anyway, Parkie’s final guests are: David Beckham, Billy Connolly, Judi Dench, David Attenborough, Michael Caine, Peter Kay and Barry Humphreys. So, three of the most hugely over-rated people in their respective fields IN THE WORLD and four people that I'm actually bothered about. Oooo I'm very torn...

17 December 2007:
Michelle decides to confront Ryan’s stalker in Corrie – 7:30 ITV - but isn’t prepares for what she finds. Tony makes a bold move to win over Carla. And, of course, Weatherfield gets ready for Christmas. As do we all. The same is true of Walford on EastEnders – 8:00 BBC1. Satanic Sean Slater’s return to the Square makes Bradley and Stacey uneasy. Not difficult, Stacey’s got a personality that can curdle milk at twenty paces at the best of times. Are we in for a bit more face punching, I ask myself? Hopefully - that should liven things up a bit. Incidentally, it’s Tommy Steele’s birthday today – presumably, they’ll be celebrating Steelemas dahn in the Square tonight with a sing-song round the old joanna in the Queen Vic. 'Come, come, come and break in with me down at the video shop la-la-la-la.' “Leave it aaaaaaut!”

Polar Bear Week with Nigel Marven – Five 7:15 – is the first of five episodes on every night this week. The intrepid zoologist, Nigel, explores wildlife in the Canadian arctic. It doesn’t just feature polar bears (though they’re the obvious – and most photogenic - stars) but also artic foxes and caribou. Did you know that a mother polar bear will often swim up to 3,000 miles with a couple of cubs on her back through frozen seas to get enough food to survive the winter on? Most people complain about having to nip down the local takeaway for a bag of chips… Think about that the next time your young’un is begging you for a bottle of pop.

18 December 2007:
It’s the last episode of Trinny & Susannah: Undress the Nation tonight. Though, tragically, not the last ever it would seem. At least, not with our luck. The Gruesome Twosome tackle uniforms this week, becoming checkout girls in a local supermarket and hospital dinner ladies for a day. Could they stay there, we wonder? I’d hugely enjoy walking into my local Morrison’s to find fatty and skinny serving me my Heinz Spaghetti and Sausages and Frozen Cod Bites. One can dream, can one not? Dreaming, as Blondie once noted, is free.

Oliver Twist (part 1 of 5)– BBC1 8:00 – is a major adaptation of the classic Dickens' story featuring every famous actor in England who isn’t currently employed in Cranford (including Tim Spall as Fagin, Sarah Lancashire, Edward Fox and the great Gregor Fisher). Eddie Fox, now there’s a funny fellah. The only actor with a bicep in his face.

Lastly Room 101 – BBC2 10:00 – gives us another chance to see the episode in which Paul Merton gave his mate Ian Hislop a chance to banish some of his pet hates (including some surprising ones like The Beatles). I’m actually quite sad they stopped making this show - given the right guest (Stephen Fry, John Peel, Hislop himself) it was frequently brilliant.

19 December 2007:
Heston Blumenthal’s Prefect Christmas Dinner – BBC2 8:00 – sees the celebrity chef and his team attempt to prepare a Christmas dinner for a curiously diverse group of celebs including Rob Brydon, Terry Wogan, Kirsty Walk and Richard E Grant. Sounds like a hell of a dinner party to me, sod the food! I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this series which has made good use of locations and Heston’s cheeky wit. Mind you, I wouldn't want to be at that dinner party, it's be intimidated by the intelligence and sophistication of the other guests and, as a consequence, decide that my life had been an abject failure. Best to stay at home with a tin of mushroom soup, and watch the telly I reckon.

Last Chance Driving School – ITV 9:00 – is a one-off from ITV in which hopeless motorists, who have either failed to pass their tests or been banned, spend a week being tutored by three of the country’s leading instructors. Sounds a bit cruel and unnecessary, frankly. And, therefore, a perfect example of the Reality TV genre in 2007. I, therefore, expect it will be hugely popular with Lowest Common Denominator plebs and we’ll get a full series out of it. You've only got yourselves to blame, people. If nobody watched these things they'd go away eventually.

It’s the last episode of Channel 4’s big surprise hit of the year Secret Millionaire at 9:00. American businesswoman Margaret Heffernan temporarily leaves her Somerset mansion to live, undercover, in a deprived area of Nottingham. This show has been nothing short of brilliant over the last six episodes – proof that when Channel 4 get it right, they REALLY get it right (see also, for example, Meet the Natives earlier in the year). Can we have some more please? And rather less crass, banal, mind-numbing horseshit like Big Brother and Shipwrecked whilst you're about it?

20 December 2007:
On the always reliable The Paul O’Grady Show – C4 5:00 – the Little Britain boys, Matt Lucas and David Walliams talk about their future plans, which (apparently) involve making an American version of the show ... which will be mercilessly slaughtered by US critics who don't get it, no doubt.

There’s another engrossing documentary from Channel 4, Hitler’s British Girl: The Strange Story of Unity Mitford at 9:00. Weird bunch, the Mitford girls, two of them were proud über-fascists (Unity and elder sister Diana, who of course married Oswald Mosley) whilst another, Jessica, was a Communist who fought in the Spanish Civil War. Poor Unity, with a middle name like Valkyrie (true!) what the Hell else was she going to end up as other than a Nazi? If you enjoy this then I highly recommend Charlotte Mosley’s book The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, published by Fourth Estate in 2007, a genuinely fascinating glimpse into the lives of British minor nobility between, during and after the wars.

A Ghost Story for Christmas – BBC4 11:05 – was an annual TV drama event in the 1970s - glorious one-off TV plays (usually, though not always, adapting MR James' stories and normally shown at the witching hour on Christmas Eve). Tonight, as has become something of a tradition over the last couple of years, BBC4 are showing the very best one - the bone-chillingly scary 1976 adaptation of The Signalman starring Denholm Elliott and based on a short-story by Dickens. take a tip, go to bed with the video running and then watch it again tomorrow in the cold light of day. You'll still be scared witless by it but you might be marginally less terrified than you would be watching it in the dark and screaming at every shadow.

21 December 2007:
Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiit’s Christmas.

Sorry, that was just me doing Mr Noddy Big-Hat there. It won’t happen again.

It’s the last in the current series of The Green Green Grass – 9:00 BBC1. As mentioned previously, I'm not really a fan of this - I think it's depressingly one-joke and decidedly average as sitcoms go and if there were any sort of genuine sitcom revival going on in this country then old fashioned tosh like this would be condemned to the dustbin of history. But that’s two seasons of it out of the way comfortably and it shows no sign of cancellation any time soon despite nothing better than decent ratings figures so it's obviously got an audience of sorts and will be here for some time to come. You may consider that to be a thoroughly shocking indictment of the British television industry in 2007. I couldn't possibly comment. At least My Family is better than this. It's got proper jokes in it, for one.

22 December 2007:
Tonight sees the final of Strictly Come Dancing – 5:50 BBC1. Place yer bets now: Alesha Dixon or Matt Di Angelo. It’s got to be Alesha, surely? But, will Len and Arlene come to blows? Will Bruno be able to pronounce the word “sensational” properly? Who trims Brucie’s ‘tasche these days? These questions, and more, probably won’t be answered tonight … but the frocks are always nice to look at!

23 December 2007:
Another last in the series, Top Gear – 8:00 BBC2 – comes to a suitably POWERFUL climax. It’s, actually, the highlight of entire theme night of Top Gear-related shows on Beeb2 (including The Hamster’s much-trailed interview with the late Evel Knievel): It features the Top Gear awards and David Tennant as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. Preceded by a rather fun looking James May documentary on the toys of Christmas past and a Clarkson fronted episode of Have I Got News For You.

24 December 2007:
The undoubted Christmas Eve TV highlight is Christmas at the Riviera – 9:00 ITV. Reece Shearsmith leads a star-studded cast in a comedy about a hotel where seasonal goodwill is in desperately short supply. Alexander Armstrong, Warren Clarke, Peter Vaughan and Sam Kelly also feature in a once-in-a-lifetime cast. Looks very entertaining, this. And, as noted, there’s sod-all else on elsewhere.

25 December 2007:
Where else are we going to start but with Doctor Who – 6:50 BBC1? The Queen's Speech? James Bond? The Great Escape? Nah.

Oh yes this looks like the effing business! Kylie in a waitress outfit. Bernard Cribbins and Geoffrey Palmer. They’re doing The Titanic In Space and, these days, they’ve actually got the special effects budget to do it reasonably well (twenty years ago something like this would have been filmed using a model of the ship in the somebody’s bath)! So, here we are, Doctor Who really has become The Morecambe & Wise Show for the 21st century, who’d’ve believed it? Thank God for Russell Davies - and I say that as a devout Agnostic! - he saved television almost single-handedly as far as I'm concerned.

To the Manor Born – 9:30 BBC1: Here’s a great big dollop of Christmas nostalgia. One-off revival of the allegedly “much-loved” 70s sitcom starring Penelope Keith, Peter Bowles and Angela Thorpe. I could never stand it myself - too stereotypical, even to a teenager - but it was undoubtedly popular (the final episode, in which the two main characters married got an audience on over twenty million though in an era when audiences of over twenty million were uncommon rather than "imposible").

26 December 2007:
Boxing Day’s big drama is Ballet Shoes – 8:30 BBC1 - a magical family drama about the adventures of three orphans in 1930s London. Stars Emilia Fox and Victoria Wood - the latter of whom remains about as funny as a terminal dose of piles as far as I'm concerned but never mind, it's Christmas, let me be charitable for once. It's made by the same team who did Housewife 49 for ITV last year. Sounds quite sweet and very much like the kind of thing that wouldn't have seemed out of place in a BBC Boxing Day line-up thirty years ago. Nothing wrong with that, either.

27 December 2007:
After the shocking cliff-hanger of last week’s episode of Holby City – 8:00 BBC1 (in which poor old Patsy Kensit was shot in the back with a crossbow ... police are said to be looking for a man with a strong Mancunian accent and a single eyebrow) tonight is a special episode inspired by that good old Christmas staple It’s a Wonderful Life as Elliot wishes himself in a Capraesque fantasy. Nice idea – both Moonlighting and Buffy did similar genre-hops - and it’s good to see Holby City trying something a bit different.

Andy Millman’s transformation from bit-part actor to household name is complete is the final ever Extras – BBC1 9:00. Guest stars include George Michael, Clive Owen, David Tennant and Gordon Ramsey. I was never a fan, I must admit. Mind you, I never really got the popularity of The Office either, but that seems to be just my blind spot as everybody else thinks Ricky is the best thing since sliced bread so I'm not gonna quibble. Why should I? It is Christmas, after all.

Ocean of Fear – 9:00 C4 – is a drama documentary exploring the true story behind the worst shark attack ever when 900 US sailors were left in shark infested waters after their ship – the USS Indianapolis, on a secret mission carrying parts and the uranium projectile for the atomic bomb that would later be dropped on Hiroshima – sank in the pacific. It was a week before they were rescued (due, in part, to the fact that the mission was so very secret) and, as a consequcne, only 317 men survived the ordeal - as alluded to by the Robert Shaw character in Jaws (you know that legendary "Cold eyes, dead eyes" scene). Yeah, tremendous, I'll have some of this.

28 December 2007:
On Coronation Street – 8:30 ITV - David’s resentment of Sarah spills over into mayhem! Oooo, pass the popcorn, that’s something definitely worth looking forward to.

29 December 2007:
Two episodes conclude the current series of Robin Hood – 6:00 BBC1 as Robin and his friends go to the Holy Land to find King Richard and seek his help. I always feel they haven’t got the tone quite right with this (the TV Zone editor, Anthony Brown, once noted that the producers of Robin Hood seem to believe 'a tone meeting' is what happens when you get invited to 10 Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister). It just never quite seems to know whether it’s trying to be serious or light-hearted - it's capable of doing both quite well but they always seem to pick the wrong option, if you see what I mean. Having said all that, the acting’s quite good (especially the villains, Keith Allen and Richard Armitage). The gang are also good (particularly Joe Armstrong, the lad who plays Alan A’Dale, who is excellent), Robin himself’s all right too (although Marion’s a bit of a face-ache like but, you can’t have everything). If only they could work out whether they want to be terrifically arch and post-modern in their swashbucklingness or do it completely straight (either of which, if done in isolation, would probably work and work well) then it’d be a much better show. But, the kids seem to like it and, it is made for them after all.

30 December 2007:
Shadow in the North – 8:55 BBC1 – is the second of Philip Pullman’s Victorian Sally Lockhart adaptations and a sequel to last year’s Ruby in the Smoke, with Billie Piper reprising the title role. Handsome sets, loads of good actors, a terrific source novel and the Billster herself. It can’t fail!

31 December 2007:
Big Cat Diary – BBC1 5: 40 – is the first of five nightly programmes presented by the usual impeccable trio of Jonathan Scott, Simon King and Saba Douglas-Hamilton (and with, of course, the lions, leopards and cheetahs themselves, the REAL stars of the show). An annual event and one of TV’s brightest moments – if you don’t get thrilled by the spectacle and wonder of this, you, frankly, have no soul!

It’s Monty Python Night on Channel 4, the highlight being The Secret Life of Brian at 8:00 – a revealing documentary about the problematic filming and distribution of Life of Brian. We've all heard the story of how EMI fronted the money for the movie and then, two days before filming was due to commence, actually read the script and got cold feet. And how good old George Harrison saved the movie by buying what he described as the “most expensive cinema ticket in history!” John, Eric, Michael, Terry and Terry give us all the details. Sound.

Lastly, you can rock in the New Year with Jools’s Annual Hootenanny – BBC2 11:05 - with performances by Paul McCartney, Kylie, Kaiser Chiefs, Kate Nash and Eddie Floyd. (And, we imagine, the usual suspects like Tom Jones and Paul Weller will be turning up like they normally do.) If you’re staying at home on New Year’s Eve and having a small informal gathering of friends for cocktails, light salty snacks and sophisticated and witty chat - like what I shall probably be doing - then here’s yer soundtrack. Style.

1 January 2008:
After rowing the Thames last year, Griff Rhys Jones, Rory McGrath and Dara O’Briain attempt a bigger challenge, to sail a 1950s yacht from London to Cowes in Three Men in Another Boat on BBC2 at 8:10. Top Gear with sailing boats, essentially. Which is, like, fine with me! I did very much enjoyed the first one they did and this two-parter looks similarly amusing and, perhaps, quite revealing. I’m not the world’s biggest Griff Rhys Jones fan - funny man most of the time, undoubtedly, but I find him a little bit too ... "Timmy Mallett" on occasions, know what I mean? - but I very much like the other two so, yeah, this should be rather good.

Midsomner Murders - 9:00 ITV – sees a new series of this gentle John Nettles vehicle concerning the little Somerset village with a higher murder rate than New York. My mother’s favourite TV show, incidentally. So, she'll be watching, anyway. The very thought of what my dear old white-haired mum would make of Shameless – 10:10 C4 – just doesn’t bear thinking about. But this is another very welcome return - this time for Frank Gallagher and his grubby Mancy-estate spawn. Not for the faint-hearted, of course, it never is, but still a genuinely amusing and pretty important social document of life at the bottom in the early years of the 21st Century and deserves to be viewed in that context, if nothing else.

2 January 2008:
Extraordinary Animals – 7:30 Five – is an exploration into the amazing abilities of Hong, an elephant whose painting skills have challenged the accepted views of animal intelligence. Meanwhile, on EastEnders - 8:00 BBC1 - Tanya tries to stand alone but ends up having to turn to Sean for support. The Wicks family struggle to cope and Dot realises she needs help. So, no change there then.

3 January 2008:
East meets West as Dave Myers and Wor Si King sample the culinary delights of both coasts of the North of England in The Hairy Bikers Come Home – BBC2 8:00. Includes some filming at North Shields fish quay which I saw a bit of they day they were down there. And lots of jokes about Cumberland sausages, apparently. You can simply NEVER have too many of those. They also visit a Northumberland farm that produces eighteen different kinds of tetties. Fantastic. Imagine the chips you could make with all them?

There’s the much anticipated return of Cold Blood – 9:00 ITV - the Jemma Redgrave/John Hannah/Matthew Kelly/Pauline Quirke thriller for one final episode tonight. When a baby called Jake Osbourne is kidnapped, a major investigation begins. Hazel Norton doesn’t think the baby’s name is a coincidence and suspects that the scheming serial killer Brian Wicklow, despite being in prison, is involved. Jake is brought in to help with the investigation, something Eve resents following their break-up. Tremendous stuff and hopefully this will go out with the bang it deserves to for completely reinventing Matthew Kelly as one of the most scarily convincing psychopaths I think I've ever seen in TV drama.

Tonight also sees the Celebrity Big Brother Live Launch – 9:00 Channel 4. With a change of format rather forced on the production after last year’s racism debacle – this time the idea is that celebrities get to “play” Big Brother and set tasks for the housemates who are just, like, ordinary people. Are they running out of ideas? And you look at some of the celebrities involved - people whose work I really respect like Jimmy Carr and Matt Lucus - and it's hard not to ask "haven't you lads got anything more worthwhile to do with your time?"

4 January 2008:
The first series of the Jennifer Saunders/Dawn French vehicle Jam and Jerusalem – 8:00 BBC1 - was patchy at best (and that's being pretty generous, to be honest) but it’s been given a second chance to find an audience starting tonight. Great cast – Sue Johnston, Joanna Lumley – but a bit too twee for my tastes, I'm afraid. Not a complete failure but I doubt we'll get a third run.

5 January 2008:
The One and Only – 7:20 BBC1 – sees Britain’s best tribute acts battle it out for a chance to join one of the world’s biggest celebrity impersonator shows in Las Vegas in a format that, sad to say, appears to be completely, totally and utterly ripped-off from Stars in their Eyes. Tonight we’ve got faüx Rod Stewarts, Kylie Minogues, Frank Sinatras and Elton Johns. Graham Norton hosts so it'll be funny and camp as Butlins, ala Strictly Dance Fever. But, will it be any good? I have my doubts.

6 January 2008:
Tony Robinson and the gang are back for a new - sixteenth - season of Time Team – 5:45 Channel 4. I love this show which Robinson, beautifully, describes as “A bunch of hippies searching for Woodstock under the ground in pottery!” I've already served notice of my utter devotion to Time Team on several occasions in the past so it'll come as no surprise to you, dearest darling reader, that this is my Top Telly Tip of the week!

Foyle’s War – 9:00 ITV - is, of course, that classy costume thriller set in World War II Hastings which features the excellent Michael Kitchen and the excellently named Honeysuckle Weekes. Tonight Foyle investigates the death of Gracie Phillips, a munitions worker. In the course of this investigation, Milner deals with a surprising return of someone from his past. Sam spends the episode longing for a turkey dinner. The perfect end to a cold Sunday in January. Watch it warm and tucked up in bed with a steaming hot mug of cocoa, like me.

7 January 2008:
Wire In The Blood – 9:00 ITV – sees the return of the Robson Green series based on the Val McDermid novels. This time they’ve gone to America for the duration where, thanks to Touching Evil, Robson is pretty popular. There's a great story about that; apparently Bruce Willis was a huge fan of Touching Evil and, ultimately, produced an American remake of it (in which he played the serial killer part by by Jimmy Nesbitt in the original). So, anyway, Robson was told one day that Bruce was going to ring him to tell him how much he’d loved this show. So, it’s like when the President rings, first of all, one of Bruce's flunkies rings first to say “Bruce will ring you in ten minutes.” So, Robson’s sitting there waiting for the phone to ring and it rings and he picks it up and … it’s Bruce Willis. “Hi Robson” says Bruce, “I’ve got to tell you, I really loved Touching Evil, I thought it was really profound and wonderful and I'd really like to congratulate you on your performance in it.” And all Robson can think of to say back is “Hi Bruce, I thought you were great in Die Hard!” You’ve got to love that! I remember years ago when Radio Newcastle's own John Anderson had his testimonial match at St James'. Before the game there was a pre-match-match between a team of actors and a team of jockeys. Robson was playing for the actors and had a blinder and, every time he got the ball there was a geezer standing behind me who shouted "GO ON JIMMY THE PORTER!" Right, that's all my Robson Green stories used up for the next year...

8 January:
Sex in the City appears to meet Desperate Housewives in suburban London in Mistresses at 9:00 on BBC1. This stars Cutting It’s Sarah Parish – last seen starring with David Tennant in Recovery - and Raza Jaffrey (from Spooks) among others. Appears to be quite arch and middle-class, frankly – a British version of an American staple. The trailers look decent enough albeit the show seem as though it can be summed up in very clichéd terms - "Sex in the City with London accents", basically. If you don't fancy that over on Five CSI starts the new (eighth) season with an episode called Dead Doll which starts with pouty-misery-faced Sara trapped under a car in the desert and boyfriend Gil and the rest of the gang desperately searching for her. Will they find her in time? Of course they will, this is CSI not Waking the Dead. More's the pity, sometimes. But still, on a good day (and it still has a surprising amount of good days) CSI remains a world-class slice of TV drama.

9 January:
Despite the change of title Relocation, Relocation – 8:00 Channel 4 sees Phil, Phil, Phil and Kirstie, Kirstie, Kirstie back back back. Tonight they hunt down a perfect country home in Devon for newlyweds Rosie and Andy. I’ll bet that there’s plenty of newlyweds sitting watching this thinking “what the Hell makes THEM so special that they get help? I wish somebody would do that for us!”

There looks to be a rather decent new drama starting on ITV tonight which, in and of itself, is a good thing and cause for some considerable celebration. It’s called Honest – 9:00 – and is a new six-part series about a family of London tea-leaves and conmen who’ve decided to go straight but find that it’s much more difficult than they imagined. Stars the excellent Amanda Redman, Sean Pertwee, Matthew McNulty, a particular favourite of mine Danny Webb and, here’s a good old nostalgic name for you all, Burt Kwouk. Looks rather good – like a sort of watered down Cockney Sopranos. Watch, now it’ll turn out to be dreadful after I’ve said that!

Barry Humphries: The Man Inside Dame Edna – 10:00 Channel 4 – is a behind-the-scenes look at Barry’s 2007 tour of Australia (his first in his home country for about twenty years) where the comedian revisits the places he grew up and recalls some of the characters that help inspire his comedy. I must admit, I think Dame Edna’s a character that’s long-since played out but I do like a lot of Barry’s other comedy on the odd occasions when you actually get to see it so I’ll be watching this with some interest.

10 January:
There's what sounds to be a really clever new idea starting on ITV starting tonight. Moving Wallpaper – 9:00 ITV – is a twelve-part sitcom about the making of a soap opera from Tony Jordan who co-created EastEnders and starring Ben Miller. Okay, sounds good so far, I've always been a bit of a sucker for TV shows about TV shows (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip just to take one recent example). However, it gets cleverer because it’s immediately followed by Echo Beach (at 9:30) - which is the soap opera that they’re making in Moving Wallpaper - Jason Donovan, Martine McCutcheon and Johnny Briggs star. What a very interesting idea. Television for the 21st Century a genuine mixture of comedy, soap and reality. It might, of course, turn out to be a gigantic failure but I really hope it works for them for the bravery of its construction if nothing else.

Never Better – 10:00 BBC2 – is a new comedy starring Stephen Mangan about a recovering alcoholic. Doesn’t sound exactly the most promising idea for a comedy show but, you never know. Chris Fairbanks is in it and he’s always worth watching.

12 January:
Thank God You’re Here – 9:05 ITV - sees Paul Merton hosting an improvisational comedy show in which guests must rely on their wits after they’re thrust into a set-up which they know nothing about. The first episode stars Fern Britton, Ben Miller and John Thomson. So, this is ITV doing Mock the Week-meets-Whose Line is It Anyway?, basically. Oh dear … this had the potential to be … shite, frankly. I hope not, for Paul's sake cos I really do like the man and his work. But ... I've a dreadful feeling about this one.

Sunday 13 January:
An very nice looking adaptation of Flora Thompson's memoir of her Oxfordshire childhood, Lark Rise to Candleford - 7:40 BBC1 - begins when Laura Timmins leaves her friends and family in the hamlet of Lark Rise to start her first job at the Post Office in the nearby town of Candleford. Stars Julia Sawalha and Dawn French. Lovely - proper BBC Sunday night "culture for the masses." This is what I pay my licence fee for.

Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby are back as twelve famous faces attempt to skate their way to TV imortality in Dancing on Ice – 7:00 ITV. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean train the hopefuls, which this year include include Gareth Gates, Tim Vincent, Greg Rusedski and Linda Lusardi. Sounds appalling, frankly. Mind you, the bit where John Barrowman got voted out last year and wasn't happy about it was pure TV comedy genius!

14 January:
On Corrie, Rita intervenes when Rosie and Sophie's fighting becomes too much for poor Sally. She should get Mavis back to help her out, I reckon. Meanwhile over in The Square, Dawn has a difficult decision to make. Jane is rattled by the arrival of a mysterious letter. Honey and Billy have fun playing lord and lady of the manor and Hazel and Minty's dream wedding plans are threatened.

City of Vice – 9:00 Channel 4 – is a historical drama series set in Georgian London. Mixing fiction with real characters, it follows the fortunes of novelist Henry Fielding (the author of the classic novel Tom Jones and a genuine social reformer) and his brother John (‘The Blind Beak of Bow Street’): they were magistrates in Westminster and the men who, essentially, created the first rough version of the modern police force, The Bow Street Runners. In their first case, they investigate a horrific attack on a prostitute, thus uncovering the seamy underbelly of life in 18th-century Covent Garden. Stars the great Ian McDiarmid and looks like it's classy and full of lots of period filth. Mark me down as a fan already.

15 January:
An Island Parish – 8:00 BBC2 – is a rather sweet little documentary about life in the Isles of Scilly and about a disparate group of islanders. The cinematography is worth half an hour of your time alone - it’s like Coast but with characters! The series looks at various aspects of island life including gig-racing, employment prospects for the young, tourism and different ways for islanders to increase income, as well as the daily life of the local parish priest Reverend Guy Scott and other figures on the islands, including PC Nikki Green, the award-winning baker Toby Tobin-Dougan and the Seven Stones pub's head chef, Paulie Websdale. Lovely stuff. Or, alternatively, there’s Nature Shock – 8:00 Channel 4 - a series which examines freak occurrences in the natural world. This programme looks at a number of seemingly unprovoked attacks by elephants on other animals across Africa. An investigation discovers that the culprits are often mature females who have suffered violence in the past at the hands of local villagers.

Mock the Week – 10:00 BBC2 – is a topical news-based comedy show, presented by Dara O'Briain and features Frankie Boyle, Hugh Dennis, Andy Parsons, Russell Howard and Ed Byrne among others. You always get at least a couple of stand-out comedy moments in this. And any TV show that used The Jam as their house band is doing something right, clearly!

16 January:
Torchwood return at 9:00 on BBC2 for a second year of Doctor Who spin-offery in an episode called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It had a patchy but, occasionally very impressive first season (when it was good, it was REALLY good though a couple of episodes really didn't work at all). For those who like their SF with a bit of American-24/Angel-style action John Barrowman is terrific in the lead and look out tonight for a much-anticipated guest appearance by one of the cult figures of 1990s TV James Marsters (Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). He plays Captain John, who is Captain Jack’s ex-partner (and lover!). There is a big-screen kiss (which you might have seen spoilerised in the Sun) followed by a huge big-screen fight that is one of the most genuinely homoerotic things you will ever see in your life. The pre-title sequence, with the team chasing a blowfish alien in a sports car is HILARIOUS. Later in the season look out for guest appearances by Richard Briers and Alan Dale (who used to be Jim Robinson in Neighbours and has now forged a nice career in the US in series like Lost, 24 and The West Wing). Good show, Torchwood, and it looks like they’ve ironed out a few of the kinks from the first season it can only get better.

If you don’t fancy that, there’s Grand Designs – 9:00 Channel 4 – which is a series about people who design and build their dream homes, presented by the amazingly Damien Day-like Kevin McCloud with his portenteous delivery (‘And then … the builders arrived’). Tim and Zoe have decided to sell their Regency home in Cheltenham – why they would want to do such a glakish thing, I don’t know, but anyway ... Instead, they want to build an ultra-modern, low-maintenance house in the back garden. But objections to their planning applications and problems with the builders threaten to derail their dream.

BBC2’s Wonderland, a much-trailed series about eccentricity, kicks-off at 9:40 with The Secret Life of Norman Wisdom, Aged 92 ¾. For the last thirty years, the veteran comedian Norman Wisdom has lived independently of his family in a house he designed for himself on the Isle of Man. But his live-in carer has decided that she can't cope with looking after him any more. Norman's children, who live 300 miles away in Sussex, don't know what to do with him. The show touches on important issues like how do wer deal with frail but still independently-minded relatives. Looks like must-see TV to me.

17 January:
Extreme Dreams with Ben Fogle – 6:30 BBC2 – is a series in which Pretty Boy Ben takes a team of would-be adventurers on a Sahara desert trek. There are several applicants, all of whom want to be challenged physically, mentally and emotionally. Bit of local interest as one of the applicants is a Sunderland housewife. Now, there’s potential series for you – Sunderland Housewives. I'd watch it.

Trial & Retribution returns at 9:00 on ITV. This is a fine detective series (possibly the best of the several that ITV do). An abandoned suitcase is found at Heathrow Airport - but this is no terrorist threat. It contains the naked, strangled body of Sofia Petrenko, a high-class prostitute. Alternatively, Fairy Tales: Cinderella on BBC1 is the second of this imaginative series of modern adaptations of classic folk tales (following on from last year's Shakespeare: Retold). This is the rags to riches story of Cindy, a university cleaner who dreams that one day her Prince will come. Jimmy Nesbit plays said Prince Charming. I mean, come on, that's worth it for novelty value alone, I’d’ve said!

19 January:
ITV’s attempt to muscle into the Doctor Who field, Primeval (7:00) has returned for a second series. Not an unattractive show on a good day, this – little Hannah Spearitt out of S Club 7 is particularly watchable (nice arse) and Douglas Henshall is excellent in the lead. The effects are more than decent (they're created by the people who made Walking With Dinosaurs) and Paul Cornell’s writing for it now so this is coming on leaps and bounds from it's first season. It’s still not as good as Doctor Who (it’s not even - quite - as good as Torchwood yet) but it is getting there, and getting there remarkably quickly.

We’ve been very supportive of The Culture Show – 7:20 BBC2 - over the last year. Tonight Big Quiffed Marky Kermode, the greatest film reviewer in the world interviews the greatest film actor in the world (whatever Big Quiffed Marky himself might say to the contrary!), Johnny Depp. Later, Wor Lucious Lovely Lauren Laverne talks to the hugely over-rated Chris Rock - which will, presumably, be all the excuse that dreadfully uncouth man needs to use the word "motherfucka" several times like he usually does every time there's a camera around, seemingly. And there’s a piece on another of my favourites, the great Simon Pegg, who is currently filming in New York. The Culture Show, often the best thing on TV.

20 January:
Wild at Heart – 7:50 ITV – reaches its third series. If you haven't seen it, it’s a wildlife drama set in the Africa savannah and focusing on an animal hospital. No, not the Rolf Harris kind, something different. Stephen Tompkinson, Amanda Holden and Hayley Mills star and they're all rather good in it - although they're frequently acted off-screen by giraffes and elephants. It’s actually quite a decent night for drama on ITV as Kingdom returns at 9:20 for its second series. This is a series about a nice guy Norfolk laywer (Stephen Fry) with a complex home life. Very good cast and, after a bit of shaky beginning, it has turned into a rather enjoyable little show, with much local colour and some gentle whimsy. Perfect Sunday night telly, in fact. And it’s always nice to see Tony Slattery (who plays the Eddie Grundy-like local waster) getting a good TV role.

22 January:
Horizon: Total Isolation – 9:00 BBC2 - documents the effects of total senosry deprivation. Alongside footage of six volunteers undergoing forty eight hours in an iso tank there are also interviews with former hostages Brian Keenan and Paris Carrgier who were both held in solitary confinement for years. Fascinating subject and one that I've long been interested in.

Wed 23 Jan:
So You Think You Can Be a Single Parent – 8:00 Five – sees pouty Jayne Middlemiss, big hard Iwan Roberts and that right misery-guts Rhona Cameron try to cope with the rigours of looking after children on their own. With parties, sleepovers and bonfire night on the agenda, how will they manage? Just give the little sods a damned good hiding, that usually works for me.

I highlighted Honest (9:00 ITV) last week and wasn’t that impressed by the first episode but I just wanted to note one truly superb performance in it by the great Michael Byrne. He used to get lots of slimy office lothareo roles back in the 1970s, then he spent some time in the US and usually got cast as a Nazi (he’s Julian Glover’s sidekick in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, for example). These days, he’s getting on a bit and he tends to get doddery old geezer roles (including an especially memorable one in Waking the Dead a couple of years ago) – as here where he plays Amanda Redman’s crooked father-in-law.

Wonderland: The Man Who Eats Badgers & Other Strange Tales from Bodmin Moor – BBC2 9:50 - concerns retired civil servant Arthus Boyt who lives beside the Moor and gets his meat in the form of road-kill from the nearby A30. A rather sweet study of four eccentrics whose lives revolve around this staggering landscape. After last week's tremendous Norman Wisdom episode, this new documentary strand is shaping up very nicely indeed.

24 January:
Cutting Edge: A Boy Called Alex – 9:00 Channel 4 – is the story of Alex Stobbs is a sixteen year old Eton scholar and a musical prodigy who is said to have the sort of talent Mozart had – a remarkable feat anyway but made all the more astonishing given the fact that Alex suffers from a particularly aggressive form of cystic fibrosis. I'm also highlighting Help! I’ve Got a High Maintenance Wife! – 10:00 Five – specifically for the ladies. Here’s your chance to watch a bunch of attention-seeking men wgo - for once aren’t your husbands – moaning about nowt, girls. One story involves a WAG who never lets her husband see her without make-up. I think what I find most offensive about this tawdry little excuse for "entertainment" is the exclamation mark at the end of the title. Did somebody really think that was actually funny?

Pop on Trial: The 90s – 10:00 BBC4 - is the penultimate episode of this excellent Stuart Maconie discussion show about the various musical decades and how they've fared in the harsh glare of hindsight, which I’ve been really impressed with over the last week. If you’ve missed it so far, keep an eye on BBC2 for a repeat it's well worth a look.

25 January:
Natural World: Tiger Kill - 8:00 BBC2 - Big Cat Diary’s Simon King travels to India in the hope of caputring one of natures least filmed spectacles, a tiger stalking and killing its prey. Ah, bloody wildlife film-makers, they get all the best jobs!

26 January:
Timewatch: The Pharaoh’s Lost City - 8:10 BBC2: Three thousand years ago the rebel Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenatan (Tutankahmun’s father) and his queen, Nefertiti, built their new capital city at Thebes. This awesome documentary looks at archeological forensic research recently carried out which throws new light on the hidden treasure of The Sun King.

27 January:
Celebrity Wife Swap - 8:00 Channel 4 – this week features Freddie Starr and Samantha Fox. You couldn't make it up, could you? Just when you think TV can’t possibly get any more lowest common demoninator and thoroughly wretched good old Channel 4 are there to prove you wrong… Meanwhile for of all our frustrated horticulturalists out there Monty Don sets off on a ten-part stunny visual journey to see the diversity of flora and forna around the world in Around the World in 80 Gardens - 8:00 BBC2.

28 January:
It’s Vera’s funeral on Corrie – 7:30 and 8:30 on ITV. Bill Tarmey, never someone I'd have identified as a particularly wonderful actor, genuinely deserves a BAFTA for his performance in her death episode last week. Poor Jack – who would have ever thought an audience could feel sorry for a disgraceful old retrobate like him? Immediately afterwards - at 8:00 - there's Expats Under Attack. Recently thousands of Britsh expats have been rejecting the bustling Costas in favour of rural inland Spain (cos it's cheaper, apart from anything else). But, in doing so they’ve found themselves prey to ruthless eastern Europeans gangs of criminals and conmen as this documentary investigates.

29 January:
Tonight’s Emmerdale - 7:00 ITV – is called Shot by Both Sides. That’s a Magazine song. Howard Devoto, 1979, check it out. Anyway … David is forced by a gun-toting same to steal money from Pollard’s factory. Meanwhile Val (the excellent Charlie Hardwicke) frets over her hospital appointment. I’ll be all right love, don’t worry.

Nature Shock: The Dolphin Murders - 8:00 Five - is a rather good little documentary strand which we’ve mentioned it before. In tonight's episode a series of attacks on porpoises and dolphins off the coasts of the US and Scotland have left experts baffled – what can possibly be responsible? I'd go for aliens myself but they don't exist so I'm going to blame ... Bill Oddie. And why not?

In Horizon: What on Earth is Wrong with Gravity? - 9:00 BBC2 - physicist Brian Cox (no relation to the Scottish actor of the same name, one suspects) takes us on a journey to explore the world of Newton and Eistein and explain the nature of gravity. He fires a laser at the moon and bends time to operate his sat nav in Denver. A fine example of Horizon doing what it has always done best, making science vaguely understandable.

30 January:
A Tribute to Sir Edumnd Hillary: The Race for Everest - 7:00 BBC2 - is a recounting the epic adventure of the 1953 expedition to climb the world’s highest mountain recently revised and shown as a tribute to Sir Edmund who died last week. If you fancy staying in the land of the ice and snow then switch over straight afterwards to Ice Road Truckers - 8:00 Five. This series follows six men who haul supplies to the forzen lakes in Canada’s Northwest Territory. Each winter engineers build a 350 mile long “ice highway” to enable massive lorries to deliver essential supplies. Aw, epic stuff.

Torchwood - 9:00 BBC2 - got off to a roaring start to the new season. Tonight a rift in time is causing ghosts from a 1918 military hospital to turn up in Cardiff in 2008. Nice to see Toshiko getting a bigger role than normal.

31 January:
EastEnders - 7:30 BBC1: Dot’s last tape. An acting tour-de-force as June Brown goes solo and spends an entire thirty minute episode dictating her memories into a tape message for her husband, Jim. There will not, I guarantee, be a dry eye in the house after this. EastEnders does Samuel Beckett, who’d’ve believed it?

Cutting Edge: Scams, Fiddles and Honest Claims - 9:00 C4 - reveals that one in ten people admit to having made a fraudulent insurance claim during their life. Is Britain becoming, like America, a place where “Victim Culture” is prevelent? Do adverts asking “Have you been injured at work?” (shouted by a man with a ratty haircut and really nasty Hitlet-style moustache) just ask for trouble? Cutting Edge investigates in their usual "interfering busybody"-type way - and, one would hope, proves that we haven't turned into a greedy, grasping, mean society. Good luck with that, Channel 4.

1 February:
9:00 C4 Derren Brown – The System
The master of mind-control, sleight-of-hand and prestadigitation advises a single mom from London on which horses will win at the next day’s races. Should she trust Derren and risk her life savings on one race? Go for it, pet, he's seldom wrong. I mean, he played Russian Roulette and survived ... which is more than Christopher Walken managed in The Deer Hunter. Admittedly, the bullets Derren used were blanks but, still...

2 February 2008:
Firstly a quick Top Telly Tip correction - my pedant of a cousin points out that Wednesday's Top Telly Tips which claimed Tenzing Norgay was Nepalese was, in fact, incorrect. He was Tibetan. Satnfatnratnbatnsantdickdastardly...

I'm really looking forward to Timewatch: The Ten Pound Poms - 8:20 BBC2: The largest non-wartime migration of the 20th Century occurred in the 1950s and 1960s when one million British families were given ten pounds and a passport and headed for a new life in Australia (there was also a huge migration at the same time from Central Europe – Greece and Yugoslavia in particular - which is one of the reasons why so many Australian sportsmen have Slavic surnames) and New Zealand. This film charts the subsequent lives of nine such immigrants. Some of them found, genuine, paradise and made their fortune. Some hated the heat and the flies and the fact that you had to actually work your arse off to make something of yourself and returned home soon afterwards (although, interestingly, a large proportion of those who returned home, subsequently went back for a second time). My dad fancied it, actually. He wanted to go to New Zealand. So this could have been "Keith Telly Toppin’ an’ His Top TV Tips, mate." Only, you know, in a bad Australian accent: "Tonight's Top Telly Tips are Neighbours, Home and Away and The Rolf Harris Show. Tomorrow's are ... Neighbours, Home and Away and The Rolf ..." Anyway, this looks great and I highly recommend it.

3 February:
Stranded in the Snow - 4:45 C4 - tells the incredible story of a young father whose family became lost in the mountains of Nevada for nine days having to cope with sub-zero temperatures and no food. Will they get out alive? Well, since he's telling the story I think I might have a vague idea of the answer to that. Later, on Around the World in 80 Gardens - 9:00 BBC2 - we get some more horticultural porn for the masses. How many superlatives will Monty use? Beautiful to watch, though rather dull to listen to, but it's a perfect wind-down to a Sunday night before bed. Or even in bed.

Lost - 9:00 Sky One - returns a shortened fourth season (just fourteen episodes because of the writers strike). Will they ever get off the damned island? Well, I know and you don't - and, if you made a guess you'd probably be wrong! There's so much more that I could tell you but, then, I'd have to eat myself afterwards so, instead, here's a couple of pictures of two of my favourite characters, Dessie and Sawyer, for all the ladies to drool over. Let's just hope that sombody manages to kill Boring Jack sometime this season. Or, you know, he could get eaten by a polar bear or something...

4 February:
In Corrie (7:30 ITV) Jason realises he made a huge mistake sleeping with Becky. That’s immediately followed by Liz Dawn – Fighting for Breath in which Liz is interviewed by Sir Trevor McDonald about her real-life battle with emphysema and about her recent departure from the soap. Or, you might prefer Life in Cold Blood - 9:00 BBC1 - which is the final chapter of Sir David Attenborough’s twenty year plus exploration of the various aspects of life on Earth. Here, he reaches the only species he hasn’t touched yet, reptiles. Cos, snakes, lizards and crocodiles aren’t as photogenic as polar bears, tigers or dolphins!

5 February:
CSI - 9:00 Five - has a great episode tonight for anybody who likes horror movies tonight. When an actress who works for a company which specialises in exploitation movies is found with an axe in her back, everyone from the Best Boy to the Gaffer and the Key Grip are suspects. I’ll bet the Rostrum Camera Operator did it. Looks shifty, that bloke.

6 February:
It’s The Big One tonight – Fabio Cappello’s first match sees England up against the might of … Switzerland. In a friendly. If you don’t fancy that then here’s three alternatives. In Wainwright Walks - 7:30 BBC2 - Julia Bradbury follows in the footsteps of fell walker Alfred Wainwright and ascends Helvellyn in the Lake District. Been halfway up that monster myself and, I have to say, rather Julia than me again. Too much like hard work - I'll stay home and watch it on the telly instead. Why didn't I make it to the top, you ask? Cos it's effing 3,000 feet high, what do you think I am, a mountain goat?

Wonderland: The Madness of Dancing Daniel - 9:50 BBC2: Daniel is twenty nine and has a personality disorder so unusual that even his psychiatrist can't name it. He's obsessed with London, red ties ('like Tony Blair would wear') and dancing to Madonna. He often behaves aggressively, and no London care home will take him in. Most people like Daniel spend their lives in prisons or long stay mental hospitals, but Daniel's psychiatrist really doesn't want to see him locked up.

In Repossession, Repossession, Repossession - 10:35 ITV - Journalist Jeff Randall (now, wasn’t he part of … and Hopkirk [deceased] or was that someone else?) looks at how the nation's addiction to debt has steadily increased over the past ten years, and how home repossessions and bankruptcies are soaring as a result. It'll be typical of the current trend of "concerned, emotional, interfering busybody TV" no doubt and will, I confidentally predict, include at least one person staring at the camera and asking, "why aren't the government doing anything?" If only somebody could manage to produce a show that combines obesity, flooding, the housing market, child smacking and Jamie Oliver, they'd make an absolute killing. In fact, I think I'll pitch it to Channel 4 myself...

7 February:
In Build a New Life in the Country: Was it Worth It? - 8:00 Five - Jason & Phillipa wanted to turn a tumbledown châteaux in the Loire Valley in France into a five-star B&B but this meant separation for long periods. Has making their dream come true brought them back together? Or will the wanky pair of middle-class chebs lose all of their money and end up living in a ditch? One can but only hope...

Ashes to Ashes - 9:00 BBC1 - is the much-anticipated sequel to Life on Mars. If that show was The Sweeney then this is The Professionals ("COVER ME!") meets The Gentle Touch. Keeley Hawes, ex-of Spooks and Tipping the Velvet and the closest thing we’ve got to a genuine 21st Century Emma Peel stars alongside the immortal Gene Hunt (Phil Glennister). And his crocodile shoes. It's London. It's 1981. Adam Ant's at number one. The piorot from Bowie's 'Ashes to Ashes' video features prominently. Fire up the Audi Quatro, splash on yer Denim for Men queue up The Clash on the cassette and "LET'S GO!"

Who Killed the Playboy Earl? - 9:00 C4 - Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the 10th Earl of Shaftsbury went missing in November 2004 after a life of high profile drugs, decadence and promiscuity. This Cutting Edge documentary investigates the downfall of the Eton-educated millionaire philanthropist and heir to the great social reformer Lord Shaftsbury and reveals how he spent his final days prowling the hostess bars of the French Riviera. Sounds like a good job if you can get it. They say "money doesn't buy you happiness." I, however, would like the opportunity to be bloody miserable, whilst trying.

8 February:
The Choir: Boys Don't Sing - 9:00 BBC2 - has an interesting premise. Gareth Malone takes a bunch of reluctant, sulky youngsters and tries to make them sing like angels. This week he manages to persuade the ultra-macho PE teachers of Lancaster School to participate in his lofty choral ambitions. By the time the choir finish their first public performance, you'll be as proudly tearful as the parents. Personally, I'd beat the little bastards with a rubber truncheon until they sang like Pavarotti, myself... It's not a widely accepted method of teaching, admittedly, but the success rate is pretty impressive.

9 February:
The award-winning Harry Hill serves up the funniest take on the week's TV in Harry Hill's TV Burp - 6:50 on ITV. Which soap stars will Harry have in his sights this week? And will reality show Sally Morgan: Star Psychic provide ample pickings for the big-collared comic? "Stalagmite, stalactite, hmm? Yes, yes..."

10 February:
Time Team - 5:45 Channel 4 - has a speicla tonight, Blitzkrieg on Shooters Hill: Tony and the team delve into the recent past - rather than investigating the wild Roman frotnier of 2,000 years ago - to uncover the story behind the biggest battle that never was, the planned defence of Britain against Nazi invasion in 1940. They uncover evidence of anti-tank weapons and bunkers in the quiet back gardens of a London suburb and speak to members of the Home Guard who recall their defensive training in the event of being the only thing standing between Britain and Dachau. So, it's Dad's Army meets the poor put-upon guys of Geophys for a chinwag down the boozer. I just can't tell you how much I adore this show - addictive, impressive, thoughtful, enthusiastic ... all the things that good TV is supposed to be but usually isn't.

In Tropic of Capricorn - 08:00 BBC2 - Simon Reeve who went so impressively around the equator last year, undertakes yet another epic journey on behalf of the Beeb. The first leg sees Simon having a close encounter with some hungry cheeters in Botswana - which, seemingly, did survive the visit of the Top Gear boys ealier in the year - ("run, Simon, run like the wind...") and visit the world’s largest diamond mine in Namibia. Simon, of course, is the young-and-hip guy who's getting all the assignments that Michael Palin was getting twenty years ago (and, Alan Whicker was getting forty years ago). Perfect Sunday night TV for people like me who are getting on a bit – this, Around the World in 80 Gardens, a steaming hot mug of milky cocoa and bed!

11 February:
Paradise or Bust - 9:00pm BBC2 - is a documentary about two brothers setting up their own tribe in Fiji. Ben and Mark's new eco-community has survived a fire and a military coup. But soon, the water runs out and Westerners bikinis and booze cause unrest among the locals. Over on ITV, The Palace began last week. It's a rather patchy drama series about a fictional young King of England. Good solid support acting (Jane Asher, Roy Marsden, David Harewood) although the stories are a bit far-fetched, frankly. No, actually they’re a LOT far-fetched. Rupert Evans in the lead is quite impressive.

12 February:
Ladette to Lady (9:00 ITV) sees the staff of Eggleston Hall attempting to transform yet another batch of boorish, boozing young women into confident, charming, elegent layyydies. Louise Porter, expelled in series two and now a (semi) successful softcore model, returns after what appears to have been a massive boob job – and seemingly for no other reason than that television producers know a decent bit of tit usually brings the punters in. Tonight etiquette teacher Liz Brewer upsets one of the ladettes and the girls compete for a date with a bachelor of their choice by painting portraits of the headteacher. The winner goes off for a romantic dinner whilst the rest of the girls knock back booze in the local pub. I'll bet most of them would sooner lose, frankly.

In Medicine Men Go Wild – 9:00 Channel 4 – two British doctors, the identical twins Chris and Xand van Tulleken, travel to the Third World to investigate whether traditional forms of healing can provide solutions to diseases that modern medical science sometimes struggles with. Tonight they want to find out the benefits of hallucinogenic plants so they enlist the help of the Shaman of Peru. Cos they can move any mountain, apparently. Oh, never mind ...

CSI: Miami - 10:00 Channel 4 - is usually crap but, tonight, a macabre incident in the morgue and a voodoo-style murder spook the CSIs. Horatio puts himself – and the hardest working sunglasses in showbusiness - in danger.

14 February:
Animal Rescue Squad - 6:30 Five - Michaela Strachan and Matt Baker present a wildlife series following the urgent work going on to save and protect animals. The pair can be a bit insufferably enthusiastic at times but, they're still nowhere near as irritating as Bill Oddie.

Big Bang Theory - 10:00pm Channel 4 - Pilot to a new US flat-share comedy about two brainy but socially clueless physicists. This week, a beautiful woman moves in next door. With hilarious consequences, no doubt. And lastly also on C4, Skins is back – series about what a bunch of thirtysomething TV writers think teenagers get up to. Quality guest cast – Harry Enfield plays one of the character’s dads and people like Bill Bailey, Shane Ritchie and Sean Pertwee pop up now and again. Not to all tastes, including mine actually, but it’s one of Channel 4’s most popular shows and has something of a cult following amongst The Youf. Good on them.

15 February:
EastEnders - 8:00 BBC1 - Stacey was in hospital earlier in the week so Bradley hits upon a great idea to cheer her up. He takes her to a Doctor Who convention! – skill. Meanwhile in Coronation Street – 8:30 ITV - the police reveals that Alex has been shoplifting food, probably in a bid for attention. Michelle is forced to take responsibility for him and admit she is his mum. Meanwhile Jack is feeling suffocated by Rita and Emily and goes into the betting shop to hide from them. Meanwhile over on BBC2 Natural World: Badgers has cameras inside a sett in Devon which give us unparalleled access to the nocturnal doings on one of natures least understood creatures, David Attenborough narrates.

18 February:
Britain’s Dream Homes: Mills – BBC2 5:15 - Rhodri Owen and Melissa Porter set out on a search for Britain's Dream Homes, travelling up and down the country and challenging each other to find the most perfect properties within three different price brackets. There were once 10,000 of them in the country, and they were the hub of the country's Industrial Revolution. Today's search for Britain's perfect mill conversion takes the pair to Leicestershire, Staffordshire and the Peak District.

Damages – 10:35 BBC1 - Haven’t touched this award-winning US legal drama set in the world of New York's high stakes litigation so far this season which is a mistake on my part. Glenn Close is brilliant in the lead (just as she was in The Shield a couple of years ago) as a Ted Danson cast completely against type as a Donald Trump-style businessman.

19 February:
Goldenballs - 5:00 ITV1 - Jasper Carrott presents a game of intuition and luck, as contestants try to find which of 100 golden balls conceal life-changing amounts of cash, while avoiding the killer balls. What are you doing, Jasper, you used to be FUNNY?! Leave this sort of thing to Noel Edmonds and get back to telling jokes about motor insurance claim forms!

Following the departure of Babylon's General Manager, Rebecca, Deputy Manager Charlie (Max Beesley) steps into her shoes as the hit BBC drama Hotel Babylon – a tantalising and seductive insight into the sexy world of the luxury five-star hotel industry – checks in for a new series at 9:00.

Horizon: Living to 101 – BBC2 9:00 - Horizon visits three unique communities - in Japan, Sardinia and the USA - where some of the oldest people in the world live. Ellsworth Wareham has just turned 92, and still performs open-heart surgery, while Marge Jetton is celebrating her 103rd birthday with a six-mile bike ride. And Mr Miyage, who is 92, teaches karaoke. But what is it about these remarkable individuals that makes them "ageless"?

21 February
In My Street - 9:00 Channel 4 – is film-maker Sue Bourne's portrait of the street in west London where she lives is a treat for anyone who has ever wondered about their neighbours. Bourne chose to knock on the 116 doors of her leafy suburban road and uncovered touching stories behind the privet hedges and net curtains. Among others, there's the music critic with cancer, the schizophrenic drug smuggler, the retired interior designer trying to write a sitcom, the lonely 91-year-old widower and the "party house" of loud twentysomethings from New Zealand spraying beer at each other. Sounds just like my road, actually.

It's great to have That Mitchell and Webb Look - 9:00 - back on BBC2. There are real echoes of A Bit of Fry & Laurie in David Mitchell and Robert Webb's comedy, particularly in its inventive silliness: the Carry On-type bawdy 1970s hospital where everyone, apart from one baffled doctor, talks in innuendos; the increasingly hysterical satellite sports channel presenter; and the disenchanted battle re-enactment group that has a very ill-advised go at the Mau Mau Uprising. Innovative and very, very funny. Best bit of comedy on British telly this week, by a mile.

The Catherine Tate Show - 9:30 BBC2 - is bafflingly popular, but occasionally interesting. Kat's back with her gallery of sometimes amusing oddballs including the not particularly bovvered Lauren, Nan, and Derek Faye, whom, you'll be surprised to know, tonight finds someone impertinent. Not my cup of tea but it might be yours so, you know ... roll on April when she can get down to some REAL acting.

22 February:
In The Choir - 9:00 BBC2 - Choirmaster Gareth Malone has spent two terms cajoling boys at Leicester's Lancaster School to join the choir (including Imran and those oh-so-cool beat-boxers who initially mumbled, "Singing's boring, innit?"). Now he's got them ready to sing at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Very popular with parents, this one as they're able to nudge their own mumbling Kevin-the-Teenager and say "see, that could've been you."

23 February:
The cheeky-chappies from doon the Bigg Market, Ant and Dec are back in Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway - 7:30pm ITV. But how will their massively popular show have changed in light of last year's telephone scandal. And, are Anthony and December starting to look - and, more worryingly, act - their age? Time will tell. It usually does.

24 February:
The Last Enemy - 9:00 BBC1 – is a rather over-complex drama series which started last week starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Max Beesley and Robert Carlyle. If you missed part one (like me, cos I was in America) how can you catch up you might ask? With some difficulty is the only reply I can give you. Why does that Cumberabtch bloke look like he's going to cry all the time and what has Robert Carlyle been doing all this time since he failed to kill Meeezda Bondt?

When a maintenance engineer is found dead in the basement of the Bodleian library, Lewis and Hathaway (played by Mr Billie Piper himself) investigate a link between the murder and an intruder at a local professor's home earlier in the night in Lewis (9:00 ITV1). Suspicion grows when they visit the engineer's house and discover rare nineteenth-century books, which were taken from the library in which he worked.

25 February:
Coronation Street - 7:30 ITV – continues to ask all the questions no one else dares to: Can David Platt get any oranger - which direction is this story line with his new girlfriend going - is he secretly being tangoed? Is Gail going to adopt Tina? Violet is about to disappear is she taking the Sweep-lookalike Danny with her? Will Karla eventually explode with spite? Why does Jack Duckworth's granson dress as though he covered himself in glue and ran through a second hand clothing store? Does he get dressed in the dark? On EastEnders - 8:00 BBC1 - Ian falls prey to Clare's charms, presenting her with a brazen invitation. Tanya, struggling with single motherhood, dreams of revenge, and Charlie, pushed into dieting and dating by Mo, ends up getting more than he bargained for.

Transsexual in Iran - 9:00 BBC2. In Iran homosexuality is punishable by death, yet sex changes are not only legal but sanctioned by Islamic law. Filmmaker Tanaz Eshagian was given access to a leading gender reassignment clinic in Tehran and her film is an intimate and revealing film telling of the pressures that drive many young Iranians to extreme solutions.

26 February:
In Holby City - 8:00 BBC1 - Faye tries to keep her first husband's exhumation from Joseph. Why is this show so popular? There was a very interesting piece in the Guardian last week which suggest that, much as Corrie features Working Class hero achetypes, this is full of Middle Class hero achetypes. Not sure I entirely agree with all of the conclusions the author came up with but it was certainly thought provoking.

The Sharkman - 8:00 Five - is a documentary about South African diver Mike Rutzen who has become famous world wide as a man who swims with great white sharks outside a diving cage. The film follows Mike as he attempts to get under the skin of these fearsome beasts and prove that they are not the mindless killers of popular imagination. Along the way, he investigates a remarkable condition called 'tonic immobility', whereby a shark can fall into a hypnotic trance if it is turned upside down.

27 February:
Extraordinary People: Hope for Hayley - 9:00 Five – is a series of documentaries exploring remarkable stories of human experience. This film catches up with Progeria sufferer Hayley Okines - the subject of two previous documentaries - as the little girl's bittersweet story continues with the news that her condition may at last be curable. Personally, I'll be watching Torchwood on BBC2 where, deep in shock after the death of Owen last week, the Torchwood team have to face their darkest hour. In an effort to put things right, Jack Harkness unleashes a primal force that uses Torchwood as a conduit to wreck havoc across Earth. Epic.

Wonderland continues on its unexpectedly excellent road. Tonight's documentary The 92 Year Old Danger Junkie - 9:50 BBC2 - highlights Ron Cunningham, the world's oldest working stuntman. Ron lives in Brighton with his exasperated son David. Battling cancer and strokes, Ron is often wheelchair-bound: but that doesn't stop him pouring petrol over his jacket and setting himself alight on Korean TV or for an audience in his local pub.

28 February:
Steve the producer has asked me to attempt to explain, for the uninitiated, Judge Judy - 6:15 ITV2: New York City's outspoken family court judge Judy Sheindlin presides over a series of real-life cases and conflicts, trying to find solutions for all kinds of issues. Got to tell you about an episode I saw when I was in the US recently in which a woman was suing someone who’d crashed into her car. “Deborah,” they said, dramatically in the opening presentation, “is suing fellow motorist…” I misheard it as “fellow murderess”. I thought, blimey, Judge Judy’s moving up in the world!

Rough Guide to Islands - 7:30 Five – is a rather groovy travel series for younger and more adventurous sun-seekers which visits top destinations around the world, presented by Julia Bradbury and Toby Amies. Tonight Julia explores the extremes of volcanic Iceland by relaxing in hot mineral pools and enjoying a night out in Reykjavik. Toby investigates the unique wildlife of Madagascar.

Cutting Edge - 9:00 Channel 4: In January 1999, two ten-year-old girls, Charlene Lunnon and Lisa Hoodless, went missing as they walked to school. Now they give their first-hand accounts of how they survived abduction and how their relationship was changed for ever.

29 February:
Gardeners World - 8:00 BBC2 – sees Monty Don’s back from his trip around the world to host this new series of the popular horticulture show. Tonight is all about planting your own orchard. I'm sure it's something we've all considered at some point in our lives.

1 March:
Love Soup - BBC1 9:00 – is a second series of the Tamsin Greig vehicle. A gentle middle-everything comedy about a woman’s failure to find the perfect partner. Great pedigree (written by David Renwick and the last production by the great Verity Lambert). A bit arch, perhaps, and that’s possibly why there’s been two and a half years between the first season and this.

Keith Telly Topping's Top Telly Tips will return, and be somewhat more up to date next time, in October.

1 comment:

Redbird said...

Probably agree with most of your observations and 10 months is a bit far back to go but, considering it has been repeated several times since last Christmas, I was surprised there was no mention of the Vicar of Dibley Special (Geraldine marries the again excellent Richard Armitage).

I have noticed in Robin Hood and a couple of other things he has been in, that this actor has the ability to command the scene even when standing silently to one side. Am really looking forward to the new series of Spooks where he is taking over from Rupert Penry Jones.