Monday, November 10, 2008

Top Telly Tips - November is Cometh

Ah, Peter Wyngarde, dear blog reader. Peter, Peter, Peter; my father, my son, my brother. My guru, my teacher, my hero. Where the hell are you now, Peter? Where are you now, when your country and all of mankind (not to mention pretty much all of womankind too) needs you and your pithy quips, champagne smile and devastating charm so badly that it hurts? And why, oh why, oh why isn't it still 1972 and Hai-Karate Aftershave is still minging-up the High Street? Answer me that, Peter and stay fashionable. Anyway, dear blog reader... Tragically it's not 1972 any more, it's 2008. Which, when you think about it, is pretty much like 1972. Nobody's got any money, whole families are trying to live on thirty quid a week and there's a load of overproduced teen crap in the charts. Still, at least the telly's good. It's in colour, these days, you know? And, we've got Chinese food over here now. Oh, hang on, we had that in 1972, didn't we?
Friday November 7:
This apologises to all listerners and/or blog readers for the following announcement:

Older listeners and/or blog readers (or, at least, those with a good memory and some quite shocking taste) may know that yer actual Keith Telly Topping has been doing TV previews for BBC Radio Newcastle, off and on, for about twelve years now (1996, actually, was when he first started appearing on The Julia Hankin Show as 'an occasional visitor'). However, the current, daily Monday-to-Friday (and, some additional pieces on Alfie Joey's Saturday Comic Cuts) slot 'Keith Telly Topping and His Top TV Tips'®™ (devised by Wor Scunthorpe Steve Drayton - centre - ©2007) began on Monday 21 May 2007. If Keith Telly Topping's maths are, therefore, correct then today's show is the four hundredth episode since we started. Give this blogger them clanging chimes of joy, lads and lasses and let us par-tae!

As my mother has just returned from her holiday in Spain - hello Mam! – she’s got her favourite TV show to look forward to tonight, Midsomer Murders. When Midsomer Worthy's top baritone (do they have a second-top baritone in Midsomer Worthy, you have to wonder?) is killed just days before a vastly important choral competition (do they have vastly important choral competitions, you have to wonder?), the rest of the choir - which includes Barnaby’s missus - fear that their own lives are in desperate peril from The Local Chorister Maniac-Killer (do they have Local Chorister Maniac-Killers, you have to wonder?) No, it certainly isn't as good a nickname as, say, The Zodiac, The Yorkshire Ripper or The Black Panther but, let’s face it, all of the really cool handles for serial killers have long-since been appropriated by the fuzz and/or the papers. John Nettles investigate a case with an atmosphere of bitter rivalry and tense marital relationships. Then, inevitably, there is another murder. Is there anybody actually left alive in that village but him?

On Saturday there’s The X-Factor. Colour me totally disinterested, I’m afraid. I know that it’s very popular with a lot of people I just find it … mean. Not necessarily always unentertaing but, usually, needlessly caustic and vicious. Not only that, but Mariah Carey turns up for this episode – didn’t she do enough damage with her massacre of ‘Hey Jude’ at Live8? In the middle ages, people used to get hung, drawn, quartered, broken on a wheel, boiled in tar and gibbeted for lesser crimes than that abomination.

BBC2 devotes much of Saturday night to a tribute to the late Geoffrey Perkins, possibly the most important TV comedy producer of the last twenty years who sadly died recently. Following a Comedy Connections documentary – with contributions from many of those who worked with him, including Harry Enfield and Ben Elton - are three outstanding examples of his oeurve, award-winning episodes of The Catherine Tate Show, Father Ted (what a nice bit of bipartisanship on by Channel 4 here to allow the Beeb to show this) and The Fast Show. You’ll be very much missed, Geoffrey.

Sunday, as I noted last week, is now The Big Telly Night of the Week – Stephen Fry is still In America (going down the spine of the US, he reaches Nevada and Vegas, and Arizona and the Grand Canyon), the Top Gear lads manage to wrestle Will Young into their reasonably priced car whilst doing their own Fry-style road-trip across three states of the US.

And Jeremy will, no doubt, say something else that will upset a few worthless rent-a-quote MPs trying to defend tiny majorities and think slagging off a national icon is a genuine vote-winner - it's what we in the business call "The Heather Mills Defence" - pressure groups which seek to protect the civil rights of people who are taking part in a criminal act and both the Daily Mail and the Guardian editorial staff, simultaneously. Which really takes some doing when you think about it).

Sharpe’s Peril comes to an end and Bear Grylls tackles killer lizards, hissing snakes and deadly waterfalls in his quest to find a hotel worthy of him and his camera team staying in during this week’s Born Survivor. And, one I didn’t mention last week, the new Hallow'een Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons is on Sky One. Take my advice, when Sunday comes just don’t leave the house. It's not worth missing stuff.

Monday November 10:
Back by popular demand – today’s Top Telly Tips Word of the Day. Namby-pamby. Weakly sentimental; insipid; without vigor or energy; wishy-washy. As in, “Sunderland’s back four were a bit namby-pamby when they got a right good hiding at Chelsea last weekend.”

With Mad Max Branning hooked up to a life-support machine in Walford General, it’s still anyone’s guess as to who deliberately ran him down in EastEnders. But, someone in the Branning clan seems to feel the urge to confess tonight. Meanwhile, the lighter side of Walford shows itself when Jane explains to Ian that her primary reason for doing stand-up is not money but fun. On the odd occasions that I do a bit of stand-up, I do it for the money, personally. I also have to report that in an episode last week, I saw one of the most singularly sinister things that I’ve ever clapped eyes on – Ian Beale smiling. It gives me the flesh-creeping shivers just to think about it …

A curiously moving addition to remembrance week is Not Forgotten: The Men Who Wouldn’t Fight on Channel 4 at 8:00 in which Ian Hislop tells the emotive story of some of those Conscientious Objectors who declined to bear arms in the First World War - for a variety of reasons (mostly moral or religious). Hislop, who of course made that glorious four-part series last year about those who died in the Great War, wonders whether those who refused to fight should be equally honoured for their bravery in daring to be different and stand up for sincerely-held principles as those who actually did. Because, let's face it, even if we don't agree with the notion of saying "no", it often takes far more courage to be a pacifist than it does to pick up a gun and fire it at some other mother's son. Complex issues and interesting (and provocative) opinions will inevitably surround it - this is Mr Hislop doing what Mr Hislop does best, like this blog I hope in its own small way, asking some of the questions that often no one else dares to. Only, he does it far, far better than I could ever hope to. Good on ya, Ian.

Not Forgotten is followed by another, excellent, Time Team Special, this one on a related theme to the previous show as Channel 4's Lost Generation strand continues to mark the 90th Anniversary of the end of the First World War. When shelling turned the battlefield of The Somme into a hell-on-earth, Britain's best miners, engineers and sappers created a maze of tunnels and dugouts - codenamed Vampire - that would become the setting for a secret war against The Bosch waged underground. One of the last dugouts constructed has been drained of water, enabling the first people to enter it in ninety years. Deep beneath the Flanders fields of Ypres and Passchendaele the skilled work of the elite tunnelling companies is revealed to be in a remarkable state of preservation, allowing Tony Robinson and his trusty gang of the experts to walk into what effectively is a time capsule of the Great War. Truly thrilling stuff. Honestly, I can put up with endless hours of Big Brothers and mind-numbing nonsense like it in the sre knowledge that Channel 4 have a commitment to producing Cutting Edge and Time Team.

Amanda Burton - who was once (and not all that long ago either) never off our screens, it seemed - returns to ITV tonight as The Commandor in the three-part serial over consecutive nights in which the elderly mother of one of her colleagues is found beaten to death and he is the prime suspect. One of my favourite actors, Anthony Valentine (dear old Raffles himself and even longer ago, Edward Woodward's young oppo in Callan), co-stars.

Tuesday November 11:
We ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today, why does the word monosyllabic consist of five syllables?
And why doesn't the word onomatopoeia sound like what it is?

It’s always nice to see Horizon back on BBC2. Tonight’s episode, the first of a two parter, has a rather provocative title, ‘How Mad Are You?’. A group of ten volunteers, five of whom are “normal” and five who have been officially diagnosed with some form of mental illness, are put through a variety of tests – including paintballing and clearing out a cowshed - to see if the audience can tell who belongs in which category. This seeks to ask the question of where, exactly, the line between sanity and madness lies? Sounds both fascinating and, potentially, rather invasive and far closer to a reality TV show format than a proper scientific experiment. But, having said that, I have a good felling they might just pull this off.

I mentioned My Family at War last week and most of the episodes I’ve caught so far have been genuinely revealing as a kind of mini-Who Do You Think You Are? (particularly the Matthew Kelly/Phil Tufnell one). Tonight, one of my great TV heroes dear old Rolf Harris - whose most famous song ‘Two Little Boys’, of course, was all about the First World War - travels to Belgium and Northern France to learn about the horrors suffered by his uncle, Carl and his father, Cromwell and about the Australian soliders who braved the mud and shells on the Western Front. Poignant and beautiful stuff. I guess, arguably, the only consolation to Rolf and his family is that it could have been (slightly) worse for them if they'd been with the ANZAC forces at Gallipoli.

Natural World returns to BBC2 with an episode about Titus, the Gorilla King. Abandoned as a baby and removed from his natural habitat, Titus is now, at the age of thirty three, one of the most powerful silverbacks in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda despite a life filled with all the drama intrigue and tragedy of a soap opera.

And, lastly, for all sports fans with access to Freeview, don't miss The Thrilla in Manilla on More4 at 10:00, the story of the apocalyptic bout between Muhammad Ali and Smokin' Joe Frazier in the Phillipines in 1975 for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. Fourteen rounds of naked, raw, punishing madness. This film, like Leon Gast's celebrated theatrical documentary When We Were Kings (about Ali's other great title fight of the era with George Foreman), mixes in archive footage, brutally honest insight, contextualisation (including an interview with the country's notorious the-first lady, Imelda Marcos), harsh pyschological profiling and a spot-on assessment of the event's pace in the history of black struggle. Like both men in the fight, it pulls few punches. And, unlike the fight, it's a knockout of an ending.

Wednesday November 12:
Today’s Top Telly Tips Word of the Day: Jiggery-pokery. Verbal or physical misrepresentation intended to take advantage of the unwary; underhand or schemingly manipulative behaviour. As in, “there's a right load of jiggery-pokery going on at ITV whenever they try to fit the word ‘celebrity’ into some new TV format.”

I love the look of Oceans – BBC2 at 8:00 tonight. Marine experts Paul Ross (who did that great series on the Voyages of Discovery last year in which Alfie constantly took the mickey out of my attempted pronounciation of the name 'Amigo Vespuchi'), Phillie Costeau (Jacques' son) and Lucy Blue (what a terrifc name for a marine-biologist!) explore some of the planet’s most exhilarating ocean enviorments. They begins beneath the Sea of Cortez off the Californian coast. I’ve sailed in that down to Mexico in a cruise ship. It was pretty rough when I was there, so I hope they have considerably better weather than we did.

Corrie’s been a bit quiet from the last two or three weeks and tonight’s episode, which concentrates on Tony taking drastic measures to save the factory doesn’t look likely to set the heart-a-pumpin’ in too many viewers. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. David would be the first to admit Tina’s temper is not to be messed with so stand well back and light the blue touch paper now that her dad Joe’s dalliance with Gail has been exposed. Criminy.

Amanda Redman, Robert Hardy, Sue Johnstone and Gavin and Stacy’s Ruth Jones are among those who’ve joined in the fun in Little Dorrit (BBC1, 8:00). Innit good? It’s almost enough to get me into Dickens, this. Almost, I said…

Thursday November 13:
We continue to ask the questions no one else dares to.
Today, why don’t you ever see the headline Psychic Wins National Lottery?

Director Zac Beattie’s powerful Cutting Edge film Rich Kid, Poor Kid is on Channel 4 at 9:00. This explores the wealth gap in the UK, one of the biggest in the developed world, as it follows the lives of two teenagers, Alice and Natalaie who live within a mere stone’s throw from each other in West London but whose lives are, quite literally, world’s apart. It’s a genuinely brilliant documentary about preconceptions: In places it’s moving, shocking and ultimately quite uplifting and thought-provoking stuff. Again, when Channel 4 get it right, by hell, they really get it right.

One of the most controversial drama series in years, Apparitions, starts a six-part series on BBC1 tonight. It stars Martin Shaw as a priest who performs exorcism. Wow, dangerous material. It’s already been the subject of a "front of the Daily Mail exposé" so here’s an example of a show which has managed to acquire a reputation for mass controversy even before it’s began. The bits that I've seen are - firstly - terrifically well-acted but ... well, disturbing and horrible. And I use thsoe words in the truest sense of both. So, you know, caution is advised for all potential viewers - it contains strong language, quite stomach-churning violence and some very disquieting imagery. It is not, trust me, one for the faint-hearted. If, however, you - conceptually - can get past all of above baggage, then your bravery is likely to be rewarded with something quite unlike anything else that TV has ever attempted. Or, quite possibly, ever will again given the fuss this one has caused already.

Lead Balloon returns for a third series on BBC2 at 10:00. In this sitcom dry, cynical comic Jack Dee plays dry, cynical comic Rick Spleen in a piece of typecasting that would, frankly, shame Reg Varney. I’m a big fan of Jack Dee, though and he’s very good in this - essentially extending his stage persona into a sitcom format that’s a quite shameless homage to Curb Your Enthusiasm. As previously noted, if you're going to rip off something, rip off the best! The show started to find an audience last year after some disappointments during it’s first season.

If you fancy something a bit more thought-provoking and touching, check out two excellent back-to-back shows on the always-reliable BBC4 concerning Walter Tull. Walter was a pioneer and hero both on the football pitch and on the battlefield, yet until relatively recently many people weren't even aware of his existence. As the first black officer in the British Army, Walter died courageously fighting in France in 1918 and should have received a Military Cross for bravery - he was posthumously recommended for one but, for - possibly nefarious - reasons it was never awarded. He had previously risen from an East London orphanage to join Tottenham Hotspur and become only the second black man to play professional football in England and, subsequently, became a star at Northampton Town (where, to be fair, his feats have always been well-remembered and celebrated). The former EastEnders actor Nick Bailey, something of a Tull obsessive, grapples to unravel the various colour bars and social mores which prevented Walter's elevation to the kind of hero status that he would surely have had today in Walter Tull - A Forgotten Hero. It's agenda-driven TV which can be awful but, in this particular case, works brilliantly and you'll find yourself as angry as Nick is at the casual racism of post-Victorian society. This is followed by a repeat of Kwame Kwei-Armah's excellent dramatic retelling of Tull's story, Walter's War, with a fine performance by O-T Fagbenle in the lead. Both are highly recommended not only to sports fans, military historians and anyone interested in Britain's social history but, indeed, to everyone else besides.

Friday November 14:
Today’s Top Telly Tips Word of the Day. Rhombus. An obliquely-angled parallelogram having four equal sides; a bit like a squashed square. As in "You know that Max Branning? Don’t you think his head is shaped just like a rhombus?"

It’s Children in Need night on BBC1 starting at 8:00 with "lots of fun and fundraising" (it says 'ere) introduced by Sir Terry Wogan, Tess Daly and Fearne Cotton. Don't let that put you off, however as there are a few highlights including Top Gear's Richard Hammond colliding with Gene Hunt and the Ashes to Ashes plod (careful, Hamster, they're armed bastards, you know?), the BBC newsreaders making their own headlines in a Mamma Mia! tribute, murrrrrdahhh and mayhem in a special Taggart sketch and a sneak-preview of the Doctor Who Christmas Special. With Mr Tennant. And Mr Morrisey. And lots of Cybermen. Meanwhile, at 10:00 on BBC2 whilst the news is on there’s the much-anticipated "only Qi episode the BBC are likely to show in 2008 (unless we get the Christmas Special at Christmas ... if they manage to find half-an-hour spare)" as a taster for the forthcoming - sixth - series.

Just to briefly repeat the circumstances behind this; twelve new episodes of Qi were filmed in the summer (you can get details of who's in which episode if you visit Wikipedia) and were ready-to-rock in the show's usual September-to-December slot until somebody high-up at the Beeb suddenly decided that they'd like to hijack the show from BBC2 and stick it on BBC1 instead. Now I, personally, have my doubts about the wisdom of doing that (I suspect some of the show's more outré moments - at least in terms of language - might suffer as a result of "you can't say that on BBC1 ... even at 10:30") although, ultimately, if it means that more people are going to be watching The Best (non-drama) Show on TV then I'm not complaining too much. But, all of this has meant that, because a spare slot had to be found for it on BBC1, we're unlikely to get the series until sometime in early 2009. And, remember, as a very loud Irishman once said, "just give us yer ****ing money NOW."

Outnumbered, the rather decent Claire Skinner/Hugh Dennis vehicle, returns for a new series on BBC1 at 9:05. This semi-improvised sitcom is about a couple and their three children – not, exactly, the most original of comedy bases but, you know what they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. A wedding gives the children the opportunity to dress up, interrogate the bride, test the vicar's faith in God and dip unsuitable things in the chocolate fountain. It usually manages to stay just the right side of … And Mother Makes Five: The Next Generation.

Phillip Schofield and John Cleese introduce a spectacular night of comedy celebrating the Prince of Wales's 60th birthday in aid of the Prince's Trust in We Are Most Amused, ITV 8:35 on Saturday. Featuring comedy names from Britain and abroad, including Robin Williams, who returns to the UK stage for the first time in twenty seven years, Rowan Atkinson, Bill Bailey, Joan Rivers, and Omid Djalili. Chris Tarrant and Fern Britton guest star in specially-written sketches. Plus, a surprise musical number from a visiting comedy great. I think there’s probably just about enough quality there to outweigh the cringe-inducing nature of the event. A bit like Jezza Paxman interviewing "Mr Rascal" on Newsnight last week. Innit?

Sunday nights are so good they really should have their own weekly featuere but, for this week, there's really only one thing to talk about this time around, the final episode of Stephen Fry in America which we’ve stuck with for the last five weeks so, frankly, it'd be a bit pointless to drop it now. Stephen concludes his epic journey touching all fifty states of US with a trip to the beautiful Pacific Northwest beginning in San Francisco's Chinatown, before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to join the Sheriff of Mendocino on a drugs bust. The giant redwood forests of Oregon yield arboreal activists and Bigfoot believers and Kodak Island in Alaska plays host to a Russian Orthodox Easter before Stephen heads for Hawaii having, hopefully, avoided being shot in mistake for a moose by Sarah Palin. Now, I’ve got very some good news for those readers who’ve loved this show over the past few weeks – apparently they shot so much footage that Stephen and BBC4 are putting together an additional five films (more thematic essays, these, rather than the travelogues we've had so far) to be called More Fry in America. Haven’t got a likely transmission date for that yet, but that’s certainly one to keep an eye open for later in the year.

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