Saturday, September 27, 2008

Top Telly Tips - September (Part The Second)

Lord
Keith
Telly Topping
Guv'nor of
the Googlebox
Says
Relax, Don't Do It
.

So anyway, the 2008-09 television season has kicked-off in the US over the last few weeks and it's been quite a positive beginning so far - apart, obviously, from the staggering lack of many decent stand-out new shows, of course. For the second year running. In particular there have been terrific starts to the new season for Bones (see below), what I believe is intended to be the - apocalyptic - final season of The Shield, House (quite how they're going to resolve the Wilson-House storyline should be very interesting) and, quite astonishingly because I was all ready to give up on it, Smallville (yeah, trust me, I was as surprised the first episode was a twenty four-carat cracker as anyone). Although, to be fair, the latter desperately needs a change of title. I suggest The New New Adventures of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures: The Next Generation.

Pushing Daisies starts again next week, CSI the week after. Alert your local postal services wherever you may be and have them standing by for delivery. You know it makes sense.

And, speaking of House, you know how last year I begged the producers on this blog to, for the love of God, "give Lisa Edelstein something to do..."?

I genuinely didn't expect that they'd actually listen to me much less do anything about my request but, hey guys, I gotta tell ya, NICE ONE! I mean that most sincerely.

Now, if any other TV producers are taking note, I'd quite like the forthcoming Dollhouse to be both, you know, good and, also, home to several tasteful lesbian shower scenes, per episode please.

Thanks Joss, you're always such a good listener to your fans.

Now, importantly, here is a rare snapshot of the very historic exact moment when TV's Lisa Rogers was startled by a crazed hamster running up her skirt.

And, on that Top Telly Tips bombshell I think it's jolly high time for some Top TV Tips, don't you?

Not 'alf.

Friday 19 September:
You really have to hand it to the makers of Wire in the Blood – ITV 9:00 - just when you think the series can't possibly get any more disturbing and nasty they conspire to do a story that, by some miracle, actually IS. In the concluding part of this opening horror of the current series forensic psychologist Dr Tony Hill (Robson Green) and his colleagues continue the hunt for yet another of a serial killer. And, why not? It’s much more healthy that going Extreme Fishing, isn’t it Robson?

Saturday:
We talked about Strictly Come Dancing last week ... and we’re gonna talk about it again cos, frankly, anything that stops people from watching X-Factor is thoroughly okay with me. So, who didn’t we mention last week? Andrew Castle (flash smoothy), Mark Foster (better at drowning than dancing, I’d’ve said) and Don Warrington (aw YEAH, now you’re talkin’) dance either a cha-cha-cha or a waltz and face the judges and the voting public for the first time. Cherie Lunghi, Lisa Snowdon, Rachel Stevens and Gillian Taylforth are among the female celebrities taking part.

Merlin – 7:30 BBC1 – is a new fantasy drama series for the Doctor Who/Robin Hood slot based on Arthurian legend. Merlin, a young wizard on the cusp of adulthood, is told by The Great Dragon (John Hurt) that his destiny is to use his skills to keep the arrogant and unlikeable Prince Arthur Pendragon safe. Yeah, I’ve had nights like that before too, pal. Cos apparently, Arthur is destined – get this - to be The Once and Future King blah, blah, sword, blah, blah, stone, blah, blah Holy Hand Grenade of Antiochet cetera. Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before. Anyway, when an evil witch threatens Arthur's life, Merlin finds himself tested - will he face up to his destiny to protect Arthur? So this is, basically, Excalibur: The Early Years with a bit of Harry Potter thrown in, isn’t it? The cast, though, makes yer mouth water like a packet of Jungle Juice Fruities; let me highlight Richard Wilson - so, not so much One Foot in the Grave as One Sword in the Stone, then? - and Anthony Head looking increasingly like Elvis in his Vegas Period with each passing day (careful Tone mate, it’ll be Big White Suits, squirrel burgers, an addiction to pain-killers and GLORY GLORY HALLELUUUUUUUUUJAH!!!! next) for a start. Eve Myles out of Torchwood is cast against type as a naughty knavess and her out of Bionic Woman's due to turn up in a couple of weeks. Oh yeah, I’ll be havin’ some of this, for sure.

In The Mona Lisa Curse – 6:30 Channel 4 - art historian Robert Hughes examines how the world's most famous painting came to be so influential, looks at changes to the production and exhibition of art over the last fifty years and also examines the power of museum trustees, forced to compete for major art works with billionaire private collectors. Sounds rather interesting and informative to me but if that all appears a bit highbrow for readers then I suggest you keep watching Channel 4 because, in Wife Swap immediately afterwards at 8:00 a traditional mum from Gloucestershire trades lives with a fashionista single-mom living in Brighton who doesn't believe in rules or discipline for her children. That’ll have hilarious consequences for everyone, no doubt. I’d give the little twats a damned good hiding, personally. Though, apparently, that’s considered rather passe these days.

Monday 22 September:
Here on Top Telly Tips we continue to ask the questions no one else dares to.
Today, Mister Arsene Wenger, why did the chicken cross the road?
“Well, I did not see the incident myself but I do think that the chicken gets picked on by opposition players and fans who are clearly poultyphobic...”

On Corrie – 7:30 on ITV - Will Spineless Harry take Liz or Clarissa to the ball? Do people actually go to ‘balls’ in Coronation Street or does it, actually, mean will Spineless Harry take Liz or Clarissa to some Christawful Manc house-party? I’m thinking probably the latter. Anyway, Kevin contemplates the garage's future. Meanwhile grasping Janice and greedy Leanne plot to have it away with the factory workers’ lottery win and will stoop to any means necessary to get their mitts on the money.

Rather good looking thriller on ITV at 9:00 – like Wire in the Blood it’s based on a Val McDermid novel (the show is also made by Robson Green’s production company … the irony of which will probably not be lost on Wor Robson as it has been scheduled opposite the last episode of his Extreme Fishing). In Place of Execution a journalist making a documentary about a schoolgirl who vanished from a remote Northumberland village in 1963 is devastated when the investigating police officer withdraws his co-operation from the project at the last minute. In search of an explanation she sets off to visit him with her truculent teenage daughter, but is shocked by the hostility she encounters from the tight-knit community, as well as the unexpected discoveries further digging uncovers. Stars the wonderful Juliet Stevenson – first thing I’ve seen her in for a bit. Three part serial, looks proper sharp, this.

Amazon with Bruce Perry – 9:00 BBC2 – sees Bruce continue his Amazon adventure, travelling through the jungles of Peru to visit the Achuar people, a remote tribe who are fighting to keep oil companies off their land. He undergoes a profound shamanic ritual in an effort to find his vision and takes part in a very unusual game of football. So, that’s oil and drugs and the offside trap basically.

Tuesday 23 September:
We continue to ask the questions no one else dares to.
Today, why is it if you send a package by ship it is called a cargo, and if you send it by car it is called a shipment?

Griff Rhys Jones - now there’s an angry man. You can just tell that beneath the cheery surface lies a bubble cauldron of Celtic passion waiting to burst forth like a ruddy great volcano. In Losing It – 9:00 BBC2 – Griff takes a candid look at why we are becoming an increasing angry world. I must admit, I’m getting worse at this myself – little trivial things that once I would’ve just shrugged off are starting to make me as cross as a very cross thing and two or three of them happening in rapid succession can turn me into Michael Douglas in Falling Down! It happened just the other day in a popular newsagent shop which I'd better not name for legal reasons (but it rhymes with WH Hiths). I’m sure that myself and Griff are not alone in this. Why does everybody have to be so mean these days?

In 2002 Men Behaving Badly star Leslie Ash was the victim of a botched surgical procedure on her lip which has left her, sadly, looking not unlike one of the weirder marine creatures in Yellow Submarine. In Leslie Ash: Face to Face the actress investigates how the cosmetic beauty industry works and highlights a lack of regulation that, too often, leads to dangerous lack of proper research by customers like herself. Interesting subject and, in some ways a rather sad little modern fable about the pressures that some women put themselves under to continue looking good at almost any cost.

Freaky Eaters - 10:35 BBC1 – talks to Dave Nunley who would like nothing better than to share a normal meal with his kids. But hot food, literally, makes Dave sick and all he can seem to keep down is grated cheese. Can Natalie and Benjamin get Dave over his aversion in just four weeks? Now, I like a bit of cheese myself…

Wednesday 24 September:
We continue to ask all the questions that no one else dares to.
Today, what level of importance must a person reach before they are considered to have been assassinated instead of just, you know, murdered?

Parenting guru Jo Frost - she of the cruel glasses, bitter demeanor and inventor of The Naughty Step - returns for a new series of Supernanny – 8:00 C4 – and her first port of call is Liverpool. Anfield or Goodison, you might ask? Perhaps we’ll never bother caring. What a right load of old effing toot this nonsense is. If you watch this crap then you're an absolute lost cause and should, frankly, sod off and die. In a ditch. On fire.

Nothing personal, y'understand.

On Inside Out – BBC1 7:30 – one of my favourite actresses, the glamorous Cherie Lunghi, takes time out from Strictly Come Dancing to explore Whitley Bay which she first visited with her mother as a five year old. Cherie fondly remembers the Spanish City. Ah, don’t we all? Let this recommendation act as a general "thumbs-up" for 95% of all regional telly especially as it's being broadcast in the week that those wretched spineless knob-ends at OFCOM have effectively allowed the beginning of the end of ITV's commitment to locally produced television.

With generation after generation of women giving birth in their mid-to-late teens, Britain is witnessing the emergence of a new kind of grandmother – sex, glamorous and in their thirties. But, is it a nightmare for a women seeing their teenage daughters become mothers just like they were? Britain’s Youngest Grannies – 9:00 BBC2 – asks can they have it all, a beautiful new baby in the family whilst you’ve still got the youth and energy to enjoy life?

Thursday 25 September:
We continue to ask the questions no one else dares to.
Today, how is it that we managed to put man on the moon before we figured out it would be a good idea to put wheels on a suitcases?

That hard-hearted vicious slimebag Archie asks Big Fat Cuddly Quaver-lovin’ Pat to move out in EastEnders – 7:30 BBC1 – whilst Whitney discovers the full extent of Tony’s jealousy and Suzy tries out her matchmaking skills on poor old bitter, loveless Max and Denise. It’ll all end in tears. As is usual on EastEnders.

There’s a new series of Bones kicking off at 9:00 on Sky – it’s a special in which the lead cast of this fast-paced US cop show come to England. However, unlike most of these kind of things this one was, actually, filmed over here (mostly in London and Oxford) and with proper British actors albeit still forced to adopt accents just the right side of Dick Van Dyke. Based on the popular Kathy Reich novels about a forensic anthropologist (played rather sweetly with a nice Asperger’s-like quality by Emily Deschanel) it also stars David Boreanaz who used to be in Buffy and Angel. Now, I never thought David could act – good lookin’ lad, of course, and quite good at “Big-and-Broody” but not much else in the way of actual acting chops - but, it turns out that he actually can and, in one of the hardest roles to pull off, that comedy straight man. Because when you’re doing that you’ve got to be not only the po-faced butt of all the jokes but, also, you have to retain at least a modicum of audience sympathy too otherwise the audience won’t feel any empathy. Bones itself is really rather good – Stephen Fry turned up in three episodes as a psychologist, Ryan O’Neal plays the father of one of the characters– it’s that sort of show, surprising in places that you wouldn’t expect it to be surprising. Particularly at the end of last year where they turned loveable lab geek Zak into a psycho-killer. Like all the best US shows it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Lastly, tonight it’s the final episodes of both Mock the Week and The Cup both of which I’ve been very much enjoying on BBC2. More of both please.

Friday 26 September:
We ask all the questions no one else dare to.
Today what’s another word for “thesaurus”?

Now, call me a stuck-in-the-mud if you like but aren’t sitcoms meant to make you laugh now and again? Unless we’re talking about anything written by Carla Lane, of course. Ugly Betty – C4 8:00 - just seems relentlessly miserable at the moment and it used to be such a warm-hearted show. Tonight, it's Betty's birthday and she lines up a sexy weekend with Henry to celebrate, but the arrival of a heavily pregnant Charlie ruins that. This was the first episode made after the writers' strike last year, so one can only assume the writers temporarily forgot to bring the funny. Let’s hope – for everyone’s sake - they find it soon.

Saturday:
Around two years ago Timewatch (BBC2 8:05) set out to investigate a radical theory that Stonehenge, far from being a place of burial was in fact a place of healing - a kind of Bronze Age Lourdes if you like. The journey took in forensic testing of bones and hard-won permission from English Heritage for the first dig at the site in over fifty years (something that I imagine will have pissed off Time Team no end!), watched live online by millions of viewers. So, does the theory of the healing stones bear up to modern-day forensic science? Well, if you’ve been reading the news over the last week then you’ll probably know the answer already. If not, watch Timewatch to find out.

Sunday
James May travels the globe in James May’s Big Ideas – 9:00 BBC2, a series about flight. The show he made last year on great inventions of the twentieth century was little cracker and proved that Cap'n Slow can genuinely cut it as a presenter even when removed from the orbits of Jezza and The Hamster. In this show he travels to the frozen wastes of Russia to pilot one of the best-kept secrets of the Cold War and then to the US to fly the world's only surviving flying car (how very Jetsons) before returning to the suburban gardens of Sussex where he turns himself into a human jet pack. I like the sound of this.

It’s the last episode of the current (seventeenth) season of Heartbeat – ITV 8:00. Ah, Mr Derek did you really spent all those years with your hand up a fox’s bottom just to end up on Heartbeat? Tragedy.

Monday 29 September:
We ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today can you actually cry underwater?

It’s all kicking off big-style of Corrie at 7:30 ITV when Sally and Kevin discover that Rosie is missing. Meanwhile, the Mortons leave for Spain, jealous Tony spies Carla giving Liam a kiss and Becky and Jason prepare their love nest. Or “flat” as we normal people call one…

Secret Millionaire - 9:00 C4 – sees one of the richest men in Scotland (curry house king Charan Gill) heading for Thetford in Norfolk, to join the thousands of local unskilled agricultural workers surviving on the minimum wage. With only ten pounds in his pocket, Charan has to find work, pay his own rent and find a worthy beneficiary of his cash.

I had an e-mail from Bill this week, suggesting that I mention Only Connect on BBC4 at 8:30 for the listeners who might be unaware of it. This is a show presented by the lovely, pouting vision of minxy Godessness that is The Divine Victoria Coren who was so brilliant in Balderdash & Piffle last year. It’s a quiz with a difference, as knowledge will only take you so far, lateral thinking is also vital. It is all about making connections between things which may appear, at first glance, not to be connected at all. It’s Qi for REAL intellectuals, but it’s got a nice sense of humour that keeps it just the right side of becoming the Ask the Family for the 21st Century.

Lastly a very quick mention for the show with the best title of the week - Ross Kemp Meets the Glue Kids of Kenya(!) – 10:00 Sky One. Ross is clearly in a sticky situation once again. I wonder if one of the Glue Kids will be brave enough to ask Ross if it’s true ITV cancelled Ultimate Force because of its disastrous poor ratings and not because “it had reached the end of its run”?

Tuesday 30 September:
Welcome to my glorious world of knowing where we ask the questions no one else dares to. Today if electricity comes from electrons then does morality come from morons?

In Emmerdale – 7:00 ITV - Shane discovers Danielle’s stash of drugs when he searches Zak and Eli’s van and the Dingles are shocked when Danielle is arrested. Nobody else is that surprised, though. Again, didn’t Emmerdale used to be “a simple tale of t’country folk”?

Anna Richardson hosts The Sex Education Show – 8:00 C4 - which aims to tackle the nation's sexual ignorance. Anna takes a fertility test to see whether, at the age of 37, she has left it too late to have a baby. She meets the couple who have spent £60,000 and made fifteen IVF attempts over nine years in a desperate bid to have a child. Plus, former pop star Sinitta reveals how the heartbreak of miscarriage and infertility eventually led to a happy ending. So, I wonder if it was her Toy Boy or that fellah who was So Macho who did the successful deed? Or were they, actually, the very same chap all the time? It must've been one of them cos she didn't believe in miracles...

My mother always used to say to me if you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all. So, Jamie Oliver’s new show, Jamie’s Ministry of Food is on Channel 4 at 9:00. Moving swiftly on, Freaky Eaters – 10:35 BBC1 – concerns a man who is addicted to crisps. Yeah, me too. Anybody know a cure? Kevin Johnson is an international businessman who survives on a diet that consists mainly of salt and vinegar crisps and cheese and tomato pizza. If Kevin tries anything new he is physically sick, but unless he changes his ways he risks serious health problems. That’s what they’ve been telling me for the last forty odd years, anyway.

Lastly a quick mention for tonight’s CSI: Miami which includes the best one-line Radio Times description ever: “Calleigh finds herself in deep water after shooting a man on her day off.” Well, we’ve all done it, be fair.

Food, sex, drugs and crime - it's all just in a week's work for Lord Keith Telly Topping, Guv'nor of the Gogglebox.

Wednesday 1 October:
We ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today why do banks charge a fee when one has "insufficient funds" when they already know there’s not enough in the account to pay it?

Now, Alfie's been in the US recently and came back extolling the virtues of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart which, if you’ve got freeview, you can see over here on More4 at 8:30. Of course, it’s been in the news a lot recently after Tony Blair appeared on it a couple of weeks ago - the equivalent, I guess of George Bush turning up as a panellist on Mock the Week. Which, to be fair, would probably be worth watching.

Silent Witness – BBC1 9:00 – is still going strong into a twelfth year of production. Leo does community service on a rough estate after being done for drink driving. Gang violence among the kids there is rife – obviously, they need Ross Kemp in there sharpish - and Leo gets involved when one of them is stabbed. The lovely Emilia Fox stars.

Heores returns - at 9:00 on BBC2 - after a, frankly, disappointing second season. Hopefully, post-wrtiers strike it’ll be back on track. Moments after shots rang out, the identity of Nathan's assassin and the reasons why the Texas press conference had to be cut short are revealed. Peter and Matt are thrown into unexpected territory. With his powers partially restored, Sylar decides a visit to Claire could give him a boost (it’d give most of us a boost, frankly). Meanwhile, in Tokyo, my two favourite characters Hiro and Ando are charged with safeguarding a family secret in a continuation of the best TV comedy double act since Steven Tompkinson and Neil Pearson fifteen years ago in Drop The Dead Donkey. It's good to have them back.

Thursday 2 October:
We ask the questions no one else dares to.
Today whose daft idea was it to put an S in the word "lisp"?

In EastEnders – 7:30 BBC1 - Bradley faces up to the truth about his relationship with Stacey, and confronts his dad – two miseries for the price of one. Knockout. Christian escorts Ronnie to her school reunion, but will she find what she's looking for from her past?

Natural Born Sellers – ITV 9:00 – is a series in which eight salespeople battle it out to earn as much commission as possible while working for different companies over six weeks. Everything earned goes into a central prize fund which could reach a six figure sum - but only one person will walk away with the cash. The first assignment is in Derby, where the hopefuls replace the sales team in the busy retail outlet Ideal Home. Whoever comes out as Top Dog earns the right to eliminate one of the bottom two sellers from the competition. So, Pro-Celebrity Bear Baiting anyone? Typical for ITV, I'm afraid.

Has anybody else noticed there seem to be two Ian Hislops? There’s the smug (albeit very funny) one who does Have I Got News For You and edits Private Eye and there’s a bloke who does wonderfully evocative and thoughtful documentaries for BBC4 on subjects like the first world war and the scouting movement. It looks like the latter is in charge of Ian Hislop Goes Off the Rails – 9:00 BBC4 – which takes a look at the notorious Beeching Report of 1963, which led to the closure of a third of the nation's railway lines and stations and forced tens of thousands of people into the car and onto the road. He investigates the fallout from the plan, discovering what was lost to the British landscape, to communities and to ways of life when the railway map shrank. Ian travels from Cornwall to the Scottish borders meeting those responsible and those affected. Terrific, proper relevent social history this. And another example of one of my comedy heroes developing a retirement plan - find something else you can do before you stop being funny!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Oh Dear...

Not, perhaps, the most tactful of places to put this particular advert, wouldn't you have said?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Watching The Detectives

Here's another old one from the files:-

Few TV series have ever been as satisfyingly morally grey - to the point of quite deliberate ambiguity - as Between the Lines (BBC, 1992-94). Whereas much supposedly adult TV drama worked then (and continues to work now, for that matter) by referring to child-friendly conceits of nominal good and evil, by the early 1990s almost anyone with a passing knowledge of current affairs expected something considerably more adventurous from a police-based drama. Questions such as 'Are there still bent coppers in the Met or did all that nonsense go out with the Dirty Book Squad in the 1970s?' and 'Are some policemen institutionally racist, sexist and/or homophobic or is that rubbish just an invention by a bunch of Communists at the Gruniad?' by that stage were, rightly, being left behind in another - perhaps more innocent - age. We had all lived through the 1980s, an era when society, we were told by no less an authority than the then-Prime Minister, 'no longer existed' and the reason that everyone had been put on this earth was, it appeared, to make as much money as quickly as possibly and sod anyone whom you hurt whilst doing so. Greed, it was said, was good. It was The Law. So, surely, that applied to the upholders of The Law as much as to anyone else, right?

The idea for Between the Lines came from John Wilsher, a brilliant TV scriptwriter and regular contributor to The Bill. Researching the Police Complaints Investigation Bureau – that part of the service dedicated to investigating the activities and honesty of other officers – for a proposed Bill storyline in which Frank Burnside would be accused of accepting a bribe, Wilsher uncovered a vast amount of intriguing material. Here were many suggested plotlines which had not only a terrific crime-drama basis but also moral, political and judicial dimensions to them. The potential themes were, quite literally, enormous: To what extent do the police decide - in advance - who is guilty of a crime?; should one unsafe aspect of an otherwise clear-cut conviction allow possibly dangerous and vicious criminals to go free?; can the police be allowed the luxury of investigating themselves?; if an officer is found guilty of, say, perverting the course of justice, are stronger actions than feeble cautions, 'words of advice' and 'damage limitation' required? Et cetera. Ultimately, it was a question of what the public wanted most, safety or accountability because during that period having both at the same time seemed, to many (on both sides of the equation), a pipedream.

The Bill, to be fair, had featured its fair share of bent law and 'fitted-up' suspects over the years. So, for that matter, had Z Cars and The Sweeney. Most other procedural crime drama had, at least, touched upon the subject every now and then - even Dixon of Dock Green did it as far back as 1956 in ‘The Rotten Apple’. But to do CIB justice (s’cuse the pun) required more than a cameo in a 25-minute drama. Wilsher took the idea for a show about the internal investigation of police corruption to the BBC and to producer Tony Garnett whose record for campaigning, controversial, leftist TV stretched all the way back to Cathy Come Home and Up the Junction in the 1960s and Law and Order, The Spongers and Days of Hope a decade later. 'I remember how Tony came back elated from seeing the then-head of BBC1, Jonathan Powell,’ noted Wilsher. ‘Tony shouted that Powell had got a hard-on about it.' With its addictive mix of sex, crime and politics, it is not hard to see why any TV exec would’ve got so excited. This was a once in a generation idea. But the show was also, potentially, very provocative: ‘We were showing corrupt cops every week on the BBC,’ noted Tony Garnett with some glee. Yet by the same token the show would turn out to be anything but a left-wing polemic by a bunch of theoretical Marxists against the police and the system they represented - quite the reverse in fact. The show was broadly supportive of the oridnary copper (even some of the bent ones) but it did ask questions which had never been asked before on prime time. Such as, again to use Garnett’s phrase, ‘in whose class interest do the police operate?’

The lead character in Between the Lines was Tony Clark (Neil Pearson), an ambitious, silky-smooth career copper who has recently passed his promotion board to make Superintendent. In the first episode he is compromised by CIB to investigate his crime squad colleagues at his old nick - Mulberry Street - where a senior officer is suspected of ‘doing a bit of private enterprise.' Aspects of Clark’s personal life are used, unflinchingly, by his superior officers, the darkly-charismatic and wily Chief Supt. John Deakin (Tony Doyle) and the more by-the-book Commander Brian Huxtable (David Lyon).

A high-flyer, Tony is cajoled into obtaining the proof that his guv’nor Patrick Salter (James Laurenson), is running a protection racket. Unfortunately for Clark, this not only loses him friends at the station – the look on the face of Clark’s oppo, Mickey Flynn (Ciarán Hinds) at the episode’s climax as the shit has started to hit the fan speaks volumes - but his subsequent promotion comes with a transfer, not to The Flying Squad as he’d hoped, but to the last department that he actually wanted to work for, CIB itself.

Is Clark himself above reproach Huxtable asks at one point? 'Nobody's fireproof, are they sir?' is Clark’s reply in what was to become one of the first season’s catchphrases. Deakin's subsequent threat to Clark is redolent with menace: 'If we find you're having us over backwards, Tony, we'll do your legs like a steamroller.' (It’s small wonder that Deakin would ultimately turn into a character who, in one episode in season three, is seen hitting a dog in the face with a book about St Francis of Assisi.)

Clark is, clearly, no George Dixon. He is certainly not bent and has a very definite moral code that some of those around him appear to lack, but his character flaws lie in the fact that his charm and ability to get results are only matched by a wan cynicism, casual – and frequent - womanising (a love rival describes him as ‘a user’ before the first season is out) and an occasional self-destructive ability to get his pretty face beaten to a pulp at the most inappropriate moments. Neil Pearson refuted suggestions that the character was sexually powerful in contemporary interviews: 'He is emotionally immature and sexually unstable ... Clark isn't a loner - he's actually lonely.'

Married to Sue (Lynda Steadman), a long-suffering nurse with a - not entirely undeserved - paranoia about his frequent affairs, Clark’s current ‘casual thing’ is with WPC Jenny Dean (Lesley Vickerage), merely the latest in a string of extra-marital nookie. Tony and Sue – who bicker about the minutia of married life through several painful episodes - appear to have little in common (she reads the Guardian, he the Telegraph), and he cruelly manipulates his wife in social situations to aid with both his investigations and his forward career plan. Sue knows about Tony's past infidelities, but wants to make a new start. When it proves obvious in later episodes that he's still seeing another woman, Sue accuses Clark's colleague Maureen Connell (Siobahn Redmond) of having a fling with him. 'You couldn't be more wrong,' Mo replies. Tony, of course, does eventually try it on with Mo in an episode when she shows him a kindness by letting him stay at her flat during his marriage break-up. ‘You’re not my type,’ she says, giving him a modest peck on the cheek and prefiguring developments in her own character arc made far more explicit in the second season.

Clark - along with Mo and the dryly sarcastic, seen-it-all chain-smoking bagman, DI Harry Naylor (Tom Georgeson) – form the core of the CIB team. They get exactly the results that Deakin is looking for, despite the officers they investigate frequently holding the ‘Rubber Heels’ in contempt and resentment. In 'The Only Good Copper', Clark and the others have to investigate claims made against a recently killed policeman, which leads to the slashing of Naylor's car tyres and a dead rat being left on Clark's desk whilst the term ‘Clark from Complaints’ becomes a phrase spat contemptuously by more than one character under investigation or their families.

Even Hal Lindes' theme music gave a positive hint of the show's ambiguity, moving from haunting acoustic simplicity to something grandiose and symphonic at the climax. Not surprisingly, critical praise was swift in coming: ‘The main storyline, about officers taking kick-backs from laundered drugs money, sustains a tense and exciting narrative, filmed with convincing realism,’ noted The Times’ review of the opening episodes which described the show, on early evidence, as ‘the best new cop show since Spender.’ The Independent reviewer stated that 'This looks set to be a brave series. The dialogue has that right tang of realism about it [and] it is not afraid to look at dirty tactics, among even the best coppers. What one hopes for in the following episodes is some new debate about the old chestnut: should the police be allowed to police themselves?'

Such discussions were not long in coming. Juvenal's query 'Quis custodiet ipso Custodes?' –quoted within the second season episode 'The Fifth Estate' - formed the backbone to the huge arc of season-long storylines that was soon to develop. The subject matter in episodes such as 'Out of the Game' (the shooting of an young man ‘armed’ only with a replica gun), 'Lest Ye Be Judged' (the alleged fitting-up of an armed robber), 'Breaking Point' (whether the police used bully-boy tactics at a picket line), ‘A Watch and Chain of Course’ (in which Mo goes undercover in a station with a reputation for officers stealing from arrested inebriates) and 'Nothing Personal' (the suicide of a black youth in police custody) loaned the series a genuine real-life impact. These, it was noted, were exactly the very sort of stories that one could read in the contemporary press. Episodes also dealt with the increasing politicisation of the police force and had the knack of seeming credible, concentrating on mountains of paperwork to the virtual exclusion of such genre staples as car chases and fights. Although, to be fair, it found time for the odd one or two of those as well.

The visceral content of the series - the dirty inner city streets, dingy tower blocks and concrete ghettoes of London full of ‘fourth generation inbred alcoholic white scum’ to use one of the series’ most evocative lines of dialogue and unflinching expositions of violence - became clear as early as the second episode, ‘Out of the Game’, as Clark and his colleagues watch graphic footage of the death of a suspected gunman, captured by a neighbour’s camcorder. This comes in the middle of a sequence taken at a children’s birthday party. As Harry wryly comments, 'They won't be sending this to Jeremy Beadle.' When CIB investigate whether the marksmen acted within strict guidelines, Clark’s team find that what seemed at first to be a straightforward incident is, in fact a real can of worms, where literally no one is telling the whole truth about anything. The episode concentrates on the mental instability of the area’s Chief Superintendent (Peter Postlethwaite) contrasted with the wholly understandable trauma suffered by the two marksmen, one of whom is incapable of dealing with the terrifying situation he was a part of. This is juxtaposed with his commanding officer, driving around the estate like some tinpot fascist dictator humming ‘Ride of the Valkyrie’ in seeming deliberate homage to Apocalypse Now and casually beating rioters with his truncheon to prove a point to Clark. ‘Mad’ is, in no way, too strong a description for him. Yet, to Deakin and Huxtable he is ‘a good copper, we could do with a few more like him.’

Along the way, Clark finds proof that the shot youth was, in fact, set-up by his drug-dealing brother, but Deakin prevents him from investigating further as this is entirely beyond the department’s brief. Such frustration was an intrinsic element of Between the Lines, many episodes ending with the real villains going free and mere patsies taking a fall for them. ‘Everybody was slightly guilty,’ Siobahn Redmond remembered in the 2008 series Call the Cops. ‘Some people had slightly less grubby hands than others. We would find who had the grubbiest hands of them all and then not be able to arrest them.’ The events of 'Lies and Damned Lies', for example, are entirely precipitated by the machinations of an ambitious Tory MP (Simon Chandler), but by the conclusion a key witness has died of an (accidental) heart attack, ensuring that the accused CID officers – almost certainly guilty of severely beating a suspect - get away with it. On the other hand, the honest Sergeant who kept their secret at first and then, finally, 'grassed' them up (David Bradley) is urged to 'think about retirement', and finds himself ostracised by his former colleagues. The episode ends - without music - as the distraught man locks himself in his garage and starts up his car.

'Words of Advice' has Clark renewing his relationship with Jenny and thus proving possibly the worst person in the world to investigate the case of a married black officer (Peterson Joseph) who is accused of sexually assaulting an unlikeable (though, ultimately, victimised) white WPC. It also featured several of the sex scenes that quickly gave the series one of several lurid tabloid nicknames - Between the Thighs. Pearson, in interviews, expressed an unease at Clark's womanising and the sexual content, leading to some changes of emphasis in the second season. However, from this episode onwards it was obvious that Tony Clark was on a rapid downward spiral, the betrayal of his wife ('Are you at it, Tony?') and increasingly angry denials of infidelity mirroring the breech of public trust caused by the actions of the officers (and the system) that he is busy investigating.

'Lest Ye Be Judged' saw Clark and the team travelling to Liverpool to investigate allegations of a stitch-up by a convicted armed robber. Clark's attempts to finish with Jenny only lead to him stumbling into a very unwise relationship with Molly Cope (Jaye Griffiths), a cynical interfering leftie reporter of the kind that Bodie and Doyle often encountered (and seduced) in The Professionals ('"Police Stop White Man in Car." Now, that is a scoop!'). Clark, Harry and Mo uncover enough evidence to suggest that at least one of Teddy Dicks' four convictions is unsafe. The arresting officer (Michael Angelis), however, is sure of himself when Clark asks: 'Did you deny him access to a solicitor? Beat him? Deny him food? I think you did most or all of these things.' His answer was to provide the show with another of its memroable catchphrases: 'Prove it!'

We see the officer's home life and family, are invited to consider the great love he has for his children and are told by colleagues that he is an outstanding officer and thief-taker and one that, should the charges stick, the force will miss greatly. By comparison, we're left in little doubt that Dicks himself (Eddie Tudor-Pole) is a thoroughly vicious toerag – and, is almost certainly, guilty of at least some of the crimes with which he was jailed. Harry is angry at how the investigation is progressing, approaching matters pragmatically: 'That little shit's lethal. So they slapped him around a bit, but they got a confession. So he was scared for an hour and they bent the rules, but how scared were the little old ladies he waved guns in front of, eh?’ Harry, perhaps inevitably, was always to be the pragmatist, the voice of common sense – and, of police loyalty (even going as far as to indicate how an interviewee should respond to his questions in 'The Only Good Copper' and being surprised and angered when his advice isn’t followed).

In 'Breaking Point' (the title referring to Clark's marriage as much to the poorly-handled riot that provides the episodes main focus) a constable is badly burnt by a Molotov cocktail. Seeking revenge, his colleague beats one of the pickets (actually innocent of any violence) into a coma. The series seemed to suggest that such actions - though never to be endorsed – were, at the very least, partly understandable given the 'them and us' nature that permeates much modern policing. Certainly CIB are obstructed in their investigations by the local Commander (an angry and indignant performance by Jack Shepherd) and encounter hostility and aggression from the various officers involved. Although, for once the investigation goes well (albeit with an outcome that doesn’t entirely satisfy Clark and Deakin), Sue Clark sees Tony having a break-up drink with Jenny and she leaves him. As Deakin tells Clark in the next episode, 'Your home life's in ruins over some bit of skirt, you're drinking too much, brawling in pubs, getting slapped by grieving widows. You're a wreck.'

'A Watch and Chain of Course' began the complex and twisting subplot that insinuated itself into most of the remaining episodes. Aside from the episode’s main plot - Maureen investigating private enterprise by officers (including one plauyed by Ray Winstone) at a station with a reputation for thievery - Michael Carswell (John Benfield), a bouncer imprisoned for murder on the basis of an alleged confession in the back of a Panda car, is freed on appeal. The driver - and thus uniquely in a position to incriminate the arresting officers – was Jenny. She is advised by Clark to tell the truth - his relationship with her removing him from the investigation - but is also pressurised by her other boyfriend, Eddie Hargreaves (Jerome Flynn), not to implicate him. Subsequently, when a senior police officer (Stephen Moore) is arrested for kerb-crawling it seems that an intimidated prostitute might shed further light on the Carswell case. A pornographer (Larry Lamb) alleges that he has been paying another senior officer, DAC Dunning (John Sharpnel) to protect him and his business. As Deakin observes, 'Be aware, there's a message in all this. Nobody's fireproof.'

The episode ends with another suicide - Jenny throwing herself into the propellers of a pleasure cruiser on the Thames - and with a grim-faced Naylor breaking the news to Clark behind closed doors. The spider's web plot unravels in the final episode, ‘The Chill Factor’. Clark discovers that Dunning is, in fact wholly innocent: he has, instead, been fitted-up by Deakin. Clark decides to move against Deakin, who also played a role in Jenny's suicide, despite the fact that Clark doesn't like Dunning and considers Deakin his 'best guv’nor'. There is a tense climax onboard HMS Belfast - the closest the first season came to using standard crime-drama clichés - and Deakin is arrested. There is no triumph for Tony, though. On his own – abandoned on a boozy celebratory night out by both of his subordinates who have their own lives to lead - he glimpses Sue through the pouring rain and is left feeling hollow and alone.

If some harsher critics isolated a single flaw during the otherwise-acclaimed first season of Between the Lines it tended to be the accusation that some of the dialogue occasionally landed only just the right side of the clichés established by The Sweeney and lampooned by The Comic Strip. Frankly, that’s nonsense. Still, according to the 1993 BBC documentary Barlow, Regan, Pyall and Fancy, there has always been a two-way transmission of vernacular between the police and the fictional equivalents on the small screen. If nothing else, Between the Lines was very aware of the potential for just this kind of symbiosis: When an informant is asked from whence he acquired his information and replies 'It's the word on the street,' he is told 'You watch too many films.'

In actual fact, the glories of the vernacular enlivened many a routine questioning session. How few police dramas at that stage had relied on twin tape recorder and bare walls to produce such moments of high drama? Given the grim subject matter there was also a strong vein of humour in the show’s first couple of years: 'Old African saying, Harry: "The higher up the monkey climbs, the more he shows his bottom."' Rural police are known as Turnip Tops, and a suspect is said to have 'more form than Desert Orchid'. In 'Breaking Point', a senior officer erases incriminating video footage with clips of Ed the Duck. An interview with Jenny Dean in 'Nobody's Fireproof' reveals a great deal about the force's casual sexism: 'The officer I later learned to be DS Hargreaves got out, came over to me, said his vehicle was immobilised, and could I offer assistance?' 'What, in those words?' 'No. He said "My big end's playing up, gorgeous. Have you got the capacity?!"'

The interaction between the characters was also satisfying. Deakin is shown as liking Clark because he recognises something of himself in his young subordinate. On the other hand, he thinks Clark's peer - the super-ambitious DS David Graves (Robin Lermitte) - is career-minded and shallow: 'The extent to which Clark frequently pisses me off pales into insignificance beside my intense and permanent dislike of you.'

Deakin avoided prison in the opening episode of season two but was forced to leave the service. But Clark’s expected promotion into Deakin’s office went, instead, to Graves. Now Tony's boss, Graves often calls him 'Anthony' on a point of principle. The contempt that Clark feels for his new superior isn’t something he even attempts to hide: ‘The day I no longer want to do this job, I’m gonna take that twat down to the car park and hurt him very badly.’ ‘I wouldn’t do that,’ notes his loyal lieutenant, Harry. ‘Mind you, I’d hold your coat for you!’

The first episode, ‘New Order’, dealt with neo-fascists (including a young Daniel Craig playing an undercover Special Branch officer whom Clark and his team fear may have ‘gone native’) and a Holocaust-denying American author. It was great stuff and proved that Between the Lines’ first season's success hadn’t been a one-trick pony. But, the next episode was to be a complete revelation.

'Manslaughter' is, quite possibly, the series masterpiece although in plot terms it’s one of the most straightforward stories the show ever did. In it, the team are asked to investigate a domestic death. The complicating factor is that the killer is an experienced and respected CID officer (David Hayman) who claims to have had an argument with his depressed and drunken wife and simply lost control. Maureen is infuriated by what she sees as the inbuilt sexism of the legal system: 'A man's strength is his murder weapon. A woman would have to go into the kitchen, pick up a knife, and come back to the row. Those few seconds can mean the difference between diminished responsibility and murder. She could go down for fifteen years, but because he just got on with it and strangled her, he could walk.'

Clark and Harry only investigate matters more fully than they usually would because they're desperate to avoid the mountains of paperwork involved in an account-fiddling case. Yet they ultimately discover that the policeman was having an affair with his wife's younger sister (Hermione Norris) and appears to have embellished his own story with phrases taken from several previous domestic violence cases he had investigated. They conclude the killing was entirely premeditated but run out of time to make the charge stick and, ultimately, have to go with manslaughter instead of murder. The final five minutes in the interview room are as tense, brilliant (and, ultimately, unresolved) as anything the series ever produced, layered in a misogyny that, like Mo, the viewer becomes an increasingly unwilling participant in. The word manslaughter is written on white board and Mo, angrily, creates a space in it so that it reads “man’s laughter.” Her anguished scream at the episode’s climax after murder has, quite literally, been gotten away with, is utterly heartbreaking. ‘It! Is! Not! All right!’ she shouts as Clark tries to comfort her. As the Independent review pointed out, this episode – more than, perhaps, any other - embodied the programme's deliciously ambiguous attitude to the often casual relationship between the law and natural justice.

Subsequent episodes dealt with the shooting of a black youth after a botched armed robbery, the terrifying world of crack addiction and the sexual peccadilloes of a politician (Paul Freeman), exposed by the very officers who were supposed to protect him from the tabloid's glare. The first proper dabble into the muddy waters of the friction between the police and the secret services came in another key season two episode, '"Some Must Watch..."', where a break-in at a Territorial Army building is dealt with by armed police officers. After shooting one man ('armed', as it turns out, only with a cordless drill), the other intruders are arrested and claim to be working for MI5. The investigation - variously involving the Army, CIB and the Home Office - begins to uncover a new and very pointed conflict between MI5 and Special Branch which would overshadow many subsequent episodes. In the post-Cold War world, Five have already been given one of Special Branch’s previous provinces, anti-terrorism, and they're now seemingly desperate to muscle in on other areas of Branch business. 'They want to be the FBI,' remarks Clark’s boss, Commander Sullivan (Hugh Ross). The trouble is, of course, that Five even less publicly accountable than Branch - a bumbling MI5 spook (Michael Byrne) turns up and tries to sweep everything under the carpet much to Tony’s disgust. In this world of power struggles within mini-fiefdoms, Clark soon realises that he’s like a child playing with the Big Boys toys. He is eventually blackmailed into silence by a senior civil servant (Michael Pennington). Clark’s phone has been bugged and Five know that he passed information to his journalist friend Molly Cope. The cover-up is perpetuated as CIB are, effectively, told to look the other way and pretend it never happened in the first place.

The new love of Clark's life was to be Angela Berridge (Francesca Annis), who works for the Home Office and was introduced in this episode. Although married, Berridge begins an on-off fling with Clark in the subsequent 'The Fifth Estate'. The private lives of Harry and Mo were no more straightforward. Harry in shown in a positive and loving relationship with his wife, Joyce (Elaine Donnelly) but she is then diagnosed with motor neurone disease, leading to Harry doing civilian security work on top of his police investigations in order to fund private treatment. Meanwhile Mo loses her partner, the rather wet Richard (Bob Mason) and began a openly – and, remarkably for the time, wholly uncontroversial - lesbian relationship with Kate Roberts (Barbara Wilshere) a woman who is being portrayed by the press as a 'disgraced' senior policewoman’s ex-lover. (‘She has more success with women than I do!’ notes a pissed-off Tony concerning Maureen when he’s introduced to Kate at a function shortly after Angela has turned down his latest advances.) Reflecting at least one contemporary real-life case, the female officer (Dearbhla Molloy) has been continually denied promotion until she is forced to take the police authority to an industrial tribunal. Some other story ideas also seemed suspiciously familiar as pages ripped from that days headlines - most notably the use of horses against a demonstration when it was unsafe to do so ('Manoeuvre 11') and the machinations surrounding the publication of a tape of a royal phone call ('The Fifth Estate'), an episode in which Mo uses an MI5 contact (Colin Salmon) to help her to screw up the future career prospects not only of a devious and manipulative Chief Constable (Bernard Hill) but, also, a loathsome tabloid gossip journalist (Michael Kitchen) in one of the show’s most satisfyingly upbeat conclusions. But that kind of – relatively – happy ending was always something a rarity in Between the Lines.

If the clash between MI5 and Special Branch wasn't complex enough, 'Jumping the Lights' sketched the conflict between Traffic (who have 'ended more careers than CIB') and the Vice Squad. While investigating a hit-and-run Clark discovers for himself that it's not good to get on the wrong side of the traffic police. At the episode's conclusion the team find it was a police officer (Shaun Dingwall) who was at the wheel of the unregistered car which caused the death but that, because he also inspected the vehicle in his professional capacity, this will now be impossible to prove, a classic Between the Lines conundrum that few other dramas who have even thought of.

'What's the Strength of This?' saw Harry's extra-curricular activities exposed and investigated, leading to him being demoted and returned to CID. As with the first year, the final two episodes brought the season to a shattering climax from which, arguably, it could never be the same again. 'Big Boys' Rules' begins with the execution of a Catholic man in Epping Forest. He had recently visited a civil rights lawyer claiming that Special Branch had put pressure on him to become a police informer in Northern Ireland some years previously and then later to commit various criminal actions on their behalf. Harry is working on a seemingly unconnected burglary and murder case, but Clark and Mo with his help uncover a trail that leads straight to John Deakin's door. Clark says this time 'We're going to dump so much on Deakin he'll think he's standing under Nellie the Elephant.'

Little does Tony know that when Angela Berridge contacts him asking for a meeting to discuss their relationship it’s actually to give Deakin an opportunity to talk to Clark. Deakin – of course - has photos and video footage of Clark's liaisons with Berridge and threatens to distribute them to the press and police. As if that wasn't enough, Deakin reminds Clark that Berridge might become a target for the IRA: both Deakin and Berridge, it seems, are working – in various capacities - for Five. Clark is left trying to unofficially ‘tie up some loose ends’ for Deakin, with Harry and Mo as his only back-up. He is attacked by the vicious thug whom Deakin had previously used to steal confidential defence documents, but Harry comes to a timely rescue, shooting the man dead. Clark tells Naylor to go: Tony himself has been shot in the leg and cannot move and will have to carry the can. Arrested for murder, Clark signs a statement, prepared by Berridge and Deakin, which claims self-defence and seems to broadly fit the facts. In an excellent conclusion to the episode, and the season - and one which echoes numerous previous stories only this time with the roles reversed - the investigating officer is less than impressed with Clark’s story. 'That's the biggest load of old bollocks I've ever heard in my life,' he notes. Clark calmly signs his statement before looking up and telling the detective what he had been told himself on so many previous occasions by bent coppers: 'Prove it.' The show’s success was officially recognised when season two won a BAFTA for Best Drama.

It could, and perhaps should, have ended there. At a stroke Wilsher had ensured that Between the Lines could never become a tired or dull format, ploughing on for season after season and diluting the strength of the original concept. Simply put, there are only so many ways one can investigate dodgy coppers and so many crimes that they can commit. For Tony Clark, there was simply no way back now. But Tony Garnett – as he would later admit, much against his better judgement (and that of Neil Pearson) - was keen to continue. Pearson, a thoughtful and intelligent actor, had strong views on the third season, noting how it got off to ‘a fatally bad start’ and describing it as ‘The Godfather III. No one watches The Godfather III!’

The third season had a far wider scope balanced by a more traditional spy-adventure-show emphasis but was deprived of the claustrophobic darkness that had so characterised the first two years. Put simply, take Tony, Harry and Mo out of the interview room and put them on a yacht in the Med and, all of a sudden, the magic was lessened. But not gone completely – there’s, frankly, been something of a Stalinist-style rewriting of history over the last decade which has concluded that the third series of Between the Lines is, effectively, worthless. Which is, to use one of Harry’s favourite phrases, ‘utter bollocks.’ There was certainly more open humour than previously, beginning with Clark resigning from the police and then being 'nicked' by Harry and Mo masquerading as traffic police. The ensuing scene is both tender and yet also depressing, as Harry and Mo take Tony to a leaving party where there are no other guests. The episode, ‘Foxtrot Oscar’, also saw Joyce's suicide via an overdose, dying in a grief-stricken Harry's arms, and Naylor's subsequent resignation from the police (punching the smug Graves in the face before he departs). Mo lasted longer, until 'A Face in the Crowd' when she is accused – wrongly, as it happens - of passing secure information to Clark and is also kicked out (though not before a stirring rant on loyalty and betrayal at her disciplinary board). Not surprisingly, there was a deep bitterness at the hand fate had played all three throughout the ensuing episodes.

Clark moves into the private sector setting up his own security consultancy, although almost inevitably most of the work he gets comes via Deakin. In 'Foxtrot Oscar', Tony and Harry travel to Tunis to track down a man who went to the papers, claiming to have had an under-age gay relationship with a Junior Minister who now opposes lowering the age of consent. In cod sitcom clichés Harry grumbles about the heat and Tony falls into the sea when trying to catch the man windsurfing, but the conclusion of the episode was (as with those of several other episodes), suitably chilling: the man withdraws his story because he's been bribed by Special Branch. Similarly, 'A Safe Pair of Hands' juxtaposed a comedic chase through a hotel restaurant’s kitchens and a running gag about an escaped dove from a magic act with Harry’s seemingly strong desire to commit suicide and his dangerously unstable violence. As usual this season, Deakin didn't tell Clark half the story: ostensibly involved in private security work, Clark and Naylor are actually doing some of MI5's dirty work for them, trying to recover a nuclear device after a state sanctioned murder committed by Mossad.

'Shoot to Kill', as well as introducing Tony's new love, TV documentary producer Sarah Teale (Sylvestra Le Touzel), dealt with a Gibraltar-like SAS shooting of apparently unarmed terrorists. The episode showed Between the Lines' ever-cynical take on party politics (the incident, we are told, 'ranks with the sinking of the Belgrano as good PR’ for the government), and again exposed the conflict between MI5 (and, possibly, MI6) and Special Branch, with Five never averse to leaking information to the IRA to ensure that its shadier dealings remain unnoticed. In this instance, Deakin was seemingly working for Branch, passing on information to Teale as part of an elaborate dirty-tricks campaign against the opposition.

Between the Lines had clearly moved a long way beyond bent coppers and police cover-ups and was now fully immersed in the murky world of intelligence and espionage, which to be fair provided some interesting new colours to the palette but did, rather, grind against the carefully constructed real-world aesthetic of the first two years. This season perhaps suffered in comparison with the previous two simply because it was so very – unsettlingly - different. But the tone, the anger, the commitment - the powerful writing and acting (particularly from Pearson, Georgeson, Redmond and Doyle) - all remained thankfully undiminished. The series was therefore well-equipped to deal with, for example, foreign politics ('Close Protection', wherein a Chilean general is almost killed by his own people in an attempt to implicate the Left), the deadly rivalry that exists between pharmaceutical companies ('Blooded') and the terrifying world of the arms industry ('Unknown Soldier', featuring a very young James Nesbitt as a campaigning journalist). If the episodes had more explosions and shootings than before - the sequence with Harry as a hostage of animal rights bombers in 'Blooded' is incredibly tense - it was still in no danger of becoming The Professionals or Target. In 'Unknown Soldier', Clark is kidnapped because Maureen won’t take a hint to drop an investigation and, with a gun held to his head (and a plastic bag over it), he is told to let the case go. No cardboard hero, he is clearly terrified and does exactly as he’s ordered to.

Although 'Free Trade' is ostensibly about vigilantes (posing as police) shooting a group of drug-dealing yardies, the background story is more important: Mo is offered her old job back if she spies on Deakin for MI5, while one of Deakin's MI5 contacts, Jackson (Frederick Treves), is shown to be running guns with tacit government approval. Clark's 'inheritance' of a container full of arms and explosives shows just how deeply he was getting involved, and the world in which he operated was getting even more complex than before. Not only are the various intelligence and police units battling for supremacy, but even within MI5 there appear to be various factions and schisms striving for dominance.

The two-part 'The End User' was a fitting finale to the series. Its labyrinthine plot involving the Czech secret service, a murder in a Jewish cemetery, a neo-Nazi meeting in Antwerp (terrifyingly filmed - undercover - at a real-life event), and a shipment of guns that might - or might not - be going to the IRA or to the Loyalists. In scenes involving Tony and Sarah, Harry and his new love Ellie (Eve Bland), and Mo and Kate, the tension is almost unbearable as they begin to realise just what a dangerous game they are playing. As Harry says, 'All I know is that when we were in CIB we used to shed light on things. Now we're just digging holes in the back garden.' When Mo rings Tony to pass on some information he watches a march of skinheads go by the telephone box. ‘What are you doing?’ she asks. ‘I’m looking at the future,’ he replies. ‘It’s not pretty.’

The trio eventually discover that they have been used to arm an anti-Republican 'ethnic cleansing' process in Northern Ireland. Mo has to contend with both Kate's departure from her life and Deakin's statement that she's betrayed her friends for thirty pieces of silver. Although her return to the Met is seemingly assured, the lives of Harry and Tony are in terrible danger as they have gone to try to prevent the weaponry 'disappearing' at the docks. When the container doesn't come off the ship as planned, Clark and Naylor are blamed by the Loyalist chief (David Calder). Armed police move into position and Harry flicks a cigarette towards a fuel dump (the irony that Harry’s much-complained-about chain-smoking would get he and Tony killed was an opportunity simply too good to pass up for the production). There is a massive explosion. We see Mo's tear-stained face, mute with grief, blinking against the blinding inferno. It was a marginally – and deliberately - ambiguous ending in so much as we never seen Tony and Harry’s bodies. There was vague talk of a fourth series but it was never likely. And despite the occasionally rumour of a revival, that image of a exploding boat has remained our, probable, final glimpse into the shady world of Tony Clark and his friends.

Between the Lines, then, ended as it began, unflinching in its portrayal of the terrible uncertainties of the modern world. Although never quite as popular with the public as its contemporary Cracker, both series have established a high-water mark for episodic drama, with John Wilsher's creation proving to be one of the most consistently engaging serials ever transmitted on British television.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Top Telly Tips - September (Part The First)

Yo! S'up my bitches... ? It's that time of the month again.

But enough about my problems ...

Let us begin our look back at the first half of this month - one of rain and misery - as we mean to go on; with a very nice picture of the divine Julia Bradbury to brighten up all our lives.

Is everybody a bit happier now? Good, then let's have some Top Telly previews:

Monday 1 September:
On Coronation Street – 7:30 ITV – Gail is concerned that Tina will uncover her romantic secret. And, will Teresa’s poisoning of Jerry be revealed to all during a family gathering? Meanwhile, Roy discovers that when it comes to the café Vernon isn’t a patch on Becky. Or, indeed, outside the café come to that.

Robson Green sails the seven seas, just like Echo & the Bunnymen did through the medium of superior pop music, except he's in search of the world’s most elusive marine creatures in Extreme Fishing with Robson Green - Five at 9:00 - which profiles the hottest fishing destinations around the globe. Wor Robson embarks on a trip of colossal proportions (it says here) attempting to land some of the wildest sea creatures in the world. His first port of call is Costa Rica, where he will try to realise a lifelong dream of catching ‘the fastest fish in the water’ (and a near relative of the deadly piranha). The thievin' Geordie bastard! He'll be after the King's Mangoes next, you just watch. Off to Tyburn, with him. Bless him, Robson's dead enthusiastic about his subject and the show isn't any near as bad as the title might suggest. However, Five clearly believe they've hit on a theme here so next week we can probably expect Hot Air Ballooning with Jerome Flynn followed by Flower Arranging with Arthur Mullard and Giant Haystacks’ Badger Watch.

The Children – ITV 9:00 – is a tense - and rather topical - three-part drama starring Kevin Whately and Lesley Sharp. When the body of an eight-year-old girl is discovered in a family garden, the complex and emotional chain of events which lead up to her death begins to emerge. Six months earlier, three couples embarked on a series of exciting new relationships, blissfully unaware of the tragic consequences in store for all of them.

Tuesday 2 September:
We continue to ask the questions no one else dares to.
Today, why can’t you have a bath in the bathroom of most public facilities?
I’m against it, me.

Billy fights to save his marriage on EastEnders at 8:00 while Phil comes under mounting pressure from Suzy. That will, no doubt, cheer him up. And Max stumbles upon some incriminating evidence. Meanwhile Jack, Tanya and girls get back from holiday just as Ronnie reappears. It’s unlikely, however, that she’s turned up just to see if they’ve brought her back some tacky souvenier from their trip - like a key-ring or something. Don't you just hate getting cheap-crap like that when people you know have been away on holiday. Bring me a T-shirt or something or, you know, don't bother with anything, but not a sodding key-ring.

Davina McCall hosts a special live double eviction show of Big Brother at 8:00 on Channel 4. Is anybody actually still watching this? The ratings are going down the tube, fast. How fast you may ask? I shall tell you. Faster than Usain Bolt. Faster than Chris Hoy on a bike going down our street. If you’re still watching, and enjoying it, good on you but you seem to be in a minority of not-a-lot at the moment. Don’t blink or you might miss its demise.

I mentioned Mutual Friends last week and it’s looking pretty good so far. In case you missed it, this is comedy drama following the lives of a group of old friends – it’s a little bit arch at times and has a very middle class view of life but it also has some really funny things to say about relationships in the 21st Century. Tonight Patrick tries to help Martin cope with his marital problems by subjecting him to an energetic reintroduction to the life of a single man, with vigorous mountain bike-riding, rounds of golf and marathon computer games sessions - fuelled by a diet of pizza and beer. Sounds like a good Friday night in round my drum, that. Great cast and quite funny, what more could you ask for?

Wednesday 3 September:
Lost in Austen – 9:00 on ITV - looks set to do for the Victorian romance novel what Life on Mars did for the cop show. Disillusioned modern girl Amanda Price 'swaps' her life for that of Jane Austen's celebrated heroine, Elizabeth Bennet. Trapped in an unfolding fiction, Amanda must try to the stop events in the book derailing, as her presence in the characters' lives sets other episodes in motion. Two of my favourite actresses star in the lead roles - Jemima Rooper who took the Jenny Agutter part in the last remake of The Railway Children and was then in Hex on Sky and had grown up all goth and dangerous and Gemma Arterton who was in the recent St Trinians remake and is also in the forthcoming Bond movie. Alex Kingston, Lindsay Duncan and Hugh Bonnerville also feature (the latter, presumably, hoping that everyone’s forgotten Bonekickers already).

On BBC2 at the same time there’s God on Trial, a thought-provoking drama about a group of Auschwitz prisoners who demand to know the exact nature of a God who can allow so much suffering to good people. They attempt to settle their dispute by putting God on trial, knowing that half of them will be sent to the gas chamber and that they, therefore, have only one day to reach a verdict. Powerful, dignified and emotive stuff with a great cast, lead by Anthony Sher and Rupert Graves.

Lastly a quick mention of the star of a new series of Medium, the popular supernatural crime series starring Patricia Arquette on BBC1 at 10:45. Sometimes this can be really very good indeed – clever, dark and very scary. Sometimes, though, it’s just lumpen, plot-heavy and manipulative nonsense. But the best episodes are worth putting up with a lot of needless tear-jerking for and Patricia herself is great in this.

Thursday 4 September:
The Great Italian Escape – 8:30 C4 – is a series following the lives of Richard and Sarah Turnbull, who emigrated from the UK to Tuscany. Nice! The Turnbulls live in a picturesque but rundown farmhouse set in five acres of olive groves in the idyllic hills of Pescia, east of Pisa. I repeat, nice! Richard and Sarah reveal the harsh truth of running their own holiday lets business while helping another family prepare to open the doors of their lovingly-restored farmhouse. Ah… not so nice. But still, the scenery. And the wine. And the cruisine. And the climate. Nice!

Last week’s episode of Mock the Week – 9:00 BBC2 – was the best in a couple of years. I’m not sure what was most impressive, Hugh Dennis’s tale be being knocked over by a white van driven by two Chinamen ("Ah, it's him from My Hero. He can fly in that show!") or Frankie Boyle telling Paula Radcliffe to look on the bright side, if she was a racehorse she’d’ve been shot by now. Tonight Wor Luscious Lovely Lauren Laverne joins the the teams which would be reason enough to watch it even if it was, otherwise, rubbish. Which, fortunately, it isn't. Not even close. Dara O'Briain hosts with his usual pithy genius. If you've never seen this before ... then where the Hell have you been? It's currently in its sixth season. But, just supposing you've been on, say, The Moon then it's kind of a cross between Have I Got News For You? and Whose Line Is It Anyway? with the bit of Qi thrown in. Skill.

A reality series hosted by Steve Jones, When Women Rule the World – 10:00 C4 – sees eight feisty females put in charge of ten macho males and challenged to create their own utopia on a beautiful Caribbean island. In every episode one man will be exiled from the island, with the last remaining man winning 30,000 pounds. In this first episode the women must decide among themselves who will be their queen - whilst the men, presumably, watch. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, someone somewhere did, indeed, get PAID to come up with the concept for rubbish like this. Probably more than you’ll earn in five years. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Friday 5 September:
We continue to ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today if, as the Book of Revelation suggests, Armageddon is entirely pre-ordained then what, exactly, is the Devil fighting over if he already knows he’s going to lose in the end?
I’m just curious…

Tonight sees the return of Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse for their new sketch show – Harry and Paul, 9:00 on BBC1. The last series wasn’t all that hot although they did at least introduce one genuinely brilliant pair of new characters - the Posh Scaffolders - who are back in this series along with many new characters. I saw a clip the other day of a Whicker’s World-type sketch where they’re on an island inhabited by a tribe of Jeremy Clarksons. It looks like the best thing they’ve done since that aliens sktech in 1991! TREEEEEE!

Saturday 6 September:
Thanks to the massive success of Strictly Come Dancing and its several international variants, we now have “the second annual” Eurovision Dance Contest (BBC1 8:00) live, from Glasgow, the home of the Paso Doble, at least according to Billy Connolly. EastEnders’ Louisa Lytton and Vincent Simone represent Britain. Graham Norton and Claudia Winkleman host and Len Goodman does the commentary. But, since when was Azerbaijan - one of the other competing nations - in Europe?! Somebody get these people an Atlas.

Sunday 7 September:
Antiques Roadshow – 8:00 BBC1 – isn’t a show I’ve often featured on Top Telly Tips but there’s an actual reason to watch it now besides the occasionally brilliant bit of cynical humour as somebody is told that the ‘absolutely priceless’ family antique they have (but couldn’t possibly sell … but, just as a matter of couriosity, how much – exactly - is it worth?) is, in fact, a lump of old mass-produced tat. The Thinking Fortysomething’s Totty, Fiona Bruce, takes over as presenter. Lovely. A national treasure, indeed.

And, speaking of marvellous and classy mature posh birds, Joanna Lumley in the Land of the Northern Lights – 9:00 BBC1 – sees Joanna travelling to the far north of Norway to see one of the great wonders of nature, the spectacular aurora borealis. I hope she has better luck than I did when I tried to do the same thing. The travel company I was supposed to be going with went bust and I never got to go. Joanna is charmed by the Norwegian people and their tales of life in the far north, its myths and legends, and their experiences of the borealis itself. She visits the remote fishing town of Å (Eh? No, Å … with an ‘a’ … and one of them little circle-y things above it), spends a night inside an igloo hotel and meets the reindeer herdsmen of the Sami, Europe's last indigenous people (remember them from Reindeer Girls last year?) where she receives a snowmobile riding lesson from a four-year-old boy. Sounds utterly tremendous. Mark me down for a night in with a Fiona/Joanna sandwich. And a curry.

Lastly, a quick mention of Monday afternoon’s episode of Doctors – 1:45 BBC1 – yes, I know it’s on opposite the radio show that I work on and we don’t usually highlight the oppositon but this one is written by one of my best friends and my former writing partner, the great Martin Day. So, if you can’t tear yourself away from Alfie for half an hour - and, let’s face it, who on Earth can? – set your videos or DVD recorders … or, you know, them Sky+ things that I don’t know how to work properly. He’s a good writer is Marty, so if you watch nothing else I recommend this week trust me on this one! Have I ever let you down before? Okay, ignore Bonekickers before you answer that question...

Monday 8 September:
We continue to ask the questions no one else dares to.
Today, if ifs and ands were pots and pans there’d be no work for tinkers? Eh? Run that one by me again? Surely, if there were more pots and pans in the world then there’d be more guys needed to mend broken ones? Cause and effect and all that ...

There’s been a fair few shocks in Corrie recently, what with Ken getting busted last week an everything. Tonight Liam is furious when he learns that Carla has become his new partner in the business. I think Alison King, who plays Carla, is about the best thing in Corrie at the moment. It’s those little sideways glances she keeps giving, as if she’s expecting Michael Aspel to jump out from being a pillar with the big red book.

As an alternative to Weatherfield, some of our listening chaps may prefer Top Trumps on Five at 7:30. Robert Llewelyan (ex of Red Dwarf) and Ashley Hames go head-to-head in a series of challenges based on the popular card game of the 1970s. Tonight, yachts. Yeah, this looks like another laddish Top Gear clone but, it’s a rather fun idea and it taps nicely into that kind of gentle nostalgia thing for the 70s that a lot of TV shows have got going for them at the moment post Life on Mars - I might give this a try it sounds just my kind of thing.

It’s the last episode of The Hairy Bakers on BBC2 at 8:30. Si and Dave get their hands sticky in the world of wedding cakes. They get the lopwdown on chocolate in a Yorkshire patisserie and attend sugar-craft lessons. And, if that isn’t enough to give viewers a heart attack, nothing will be. Let’s have another series from these lads soon.

Tuesday 9 September:
In EastEnders at 7:30 on BBC1 Bradley’s efforts to cement his friendship with Callum cause more problems for Stacey. That poor lass, her entire life seems to have been one big problem. Mind you, she certainly lives in the right place if she's looking for a sympathetic ear. I wonder, is there a self-help group in Walford? Miserablist Anonymous, perhaps? Ian Beale would have to be President (he wanted to be Treasurer, like, but he his family’s too well known for that).

The National Movie Awards – 8:00 ITV – are hosted by Jimmy Nesibtt – not, necessarily, my first pick for an erudite British version of Billy Crystal but, hey, give the lad a chance. Let’s face it, he’s in just about everything else on British telly at the moment so why not this? Then again, this is ITV ladies and gentlemen, the netowrk that thought paying Trinny and Susannah millions of pounds was a good idea. The marginally disappointing fourth Indiana Jones movie, The Dark Knight and Mamma Mia! are all up for lots of awards.

And, lastly tonight, something of a first for Top Telly Tips as I’m recommending a show which features … me! Call the Cops on BBC4 is very good little documentary series, voiced by Marc Warren from Hustle, about selected British crime drama shows of years gone by – it’s made by, basically, the same people who did the excellent BBC4 series The Cult Of … last year. There’s already been three or four episodes of this – including a really very good one on Z Cars and an excellent essay on Between the Lines last week. Tonight they’re covering The Sweeney – the greatest TV show ever made that didn’t have the words ‘Doctor’, ‘West’, ‘Likely’ or ‘Vampire’ in the title somewhere - and, if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to see – probably about twenty seconds of –what some fat, ginger Geordie thought about it. SHUT IT! My bits, incidentally, were all filmed in Bethnal Green workingmen’s club. And, trust me, that is every bit as rough and desperate a place as it sounds. Note, please, I was wearing my best shirt during filming - the tasty little black number I picked up in San Diego that makes me look like Johnny Cash ... when he's having a very bad day. Incidentally, I would just like to confirm that, unlike Trinny and Susannah, I do not have a "golden handcuffs" deal with BBC4. Then again, unlike Trinny and Susannah, I haven't been SACKED either. Get your trousers on, girls, you're nicked.

Wednesday 10 September:
We continue to ask the questions no one else dares to.
Today, is Garth Crooks ever going to ask a footballer a question that isn’t half an hour long and, ultimately, rhetorical?

I mentioned Lost in Austen – 9:00 on ITV – last week and the first episode was pretty much what I thought it would be – and very good at that. The two girls (Jemima and Gemma – sounds like an upper middle-class teenage rap duo that, doesn’t it?) are absolutely great in it. And, let’s face it anything that Alison Graham in Radio Times doesn’t like is, usually, worth a few minutes of your time – just on general principle if nothing else. After that wretched woman's snobbish and only semi-literate attack on The Hairy Bakers this week, the Radio Times has just lost a reader of nearly forty years standing. Anyway, back to this - the only downside, really, is Elliot Cowan’s Mr Darcy who is … well, a bit wet, frankly. Not a patch on Colin Firth. But otherwise, top quality all the way. Nice to see ITV producing something with two women in it that isn't banal, lowest-common-demoninator television about frocks and body image. T&S, please take note.

On BBC2 at the same time there’s what looks to be another great bit of drama after last week’s tremendously moving God on Trial. A Number stars Rhys Ifans – who was so great as Peter Cook in that ITV biopic a couple of years back - playing several marginally different roles (a bit like Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets) in a story about a man who discovers he is, actually, one of several clones created by his father, played by the great Tom Wilkinson.

Also, I feel it is only fair that since we featured the Olympics so much we should also give a mention to the nightly Paralympics The Games Today show which is on BBC2 at 7:00 each evening. Especially as we’ve got the old Bladerunner himself, Oscar Pistorius out breaking world records on an almost daily basis.

Thursday 11 September:
We continue to ask the questions no one else dares to.
Today, why didn’t Anita Harris ever have that unsightly mole on her top lip removed by cosemtic surgery during the 1970s? Surely she had enough money since she appeared on just about every episode of The Two Ronnies. And, of course, she was on The David Nixon Show too. Why didn’t David just get Sooty to wave his wand and go ‘Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy’ and make it disappear?
Perhaps we’ll never care.

One of my favourite documentary stands on TV, Cutting Edge returns with what looks to be a great and thought-provoking piece at 9 o’clock on Five. Tania Head was thought to be one of only nineteen people who survived the World Trade Center attacks at or above the points of impact. However, in 2007 it was revealed that on 11th September 2001 she was, actually, on holiday in Spain and, upon her return to the US faked her miraculous escape to authorities, friends and family. The film asks why she lied, speaks to genuine 9/11 survivors, Head’s therapist and the family of the genuine dead hero whom she claimed had saved her life asking how the deception affected them. Interesting subject and it looks to be quite sensitively handled.

There’s a new series of Secret Diary of a Call Girl on ITV2 at 10:00. Let’s hope Billie’s managed to sort out which accent she’s doing this time; it should be the vaguely posh one here - and on the Philip Pullman adaptations - and the mockney one when she’s doing Doctor Who. Remember that, love, cos you seemed to forget last time. Alternatively, on BBC3 at 10:30 there’s a rather curious comedy sketch show called The Wrong Door which - from a brief glance at two episodes - can occasionally be quite madly brilliant but, more often than not seems to be just weird for weird’s sake. It’s probably worth half an hour of your time though just to see what you think of it, as some previewers – one or two of whose opinions I, actually, respect - are calling it the next League of Gentlemen or Little Britain. Neither of which I was that big a fan of when they started, interestingly enough!

Friday 12 September:
We continue to ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today has anyone noticed that horror movies are always full of people struggling to survive A Zombie Apocalypse. What's the point of that? Why not just get bitten and then try to change the system from within? It's much easier and less zombies have to die in the long run.

I mentioned Harry and Paul - 9:00 BBC1 - last week and, to be honest, it was more in hope than expectation as their last two series really haven’t been up to much. Well, forget that, last week’s episode was just about the best thing they’ve done since their mid-90s heyday. In particular there was a football-manager sketch with Paul Whitehouse giving his half-time team talk in about eight different languages (including Swahili tribal song) that had me rolling on the floor, laughing like a veritable cliché. The Princes of Comedy have returned from their long and bitter exile! Let there be rejoicing throughout the land!

Saturday:
Strictly Come Dancing is back on BBC1 for the next fifteen weeks – you might have noticed dear old Len Goodman on The ONE Show on Monday plugging it. And, getting somewhat flirty with that saucy little minx Christine who is, of course, one of the contestants in the forthcoming series (much to Big Adrian's obvious amusement). Other celebs donning their dancing shoes include Gary Rhodes, Phil Daniels ("Oi!"), rugby player Austin Healey and Jodie Kidd. Place your bets. Brucie and Tess introduced as ever.

It’s also the Live Winner's Finale of Maestro over on BBC2 (8:00). Please note, this previewer did suggest - right back at the start - that Goldie and Sue Perkins looked to be the best of the competing bunch and they we’re two of the three finalists. Remember that when Sue's conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra and earache-inducing soloist Lesley Garrett (who always sounds to me like a hamster's just run up her arse when she's squealing ... sorry, 'singing') in front of an audience of 30,000 at The Proms in the Park. No pressure, Suzie.

For my next Nostradamus-like prediction, the 4:40 at Chepstow will be won by a horse. Probably.

Sunday 14 September:
On Sunday, the Beeb and ITV go head-to-head in the “Classy Costume Drama” department. The BBC’s offering is a four-part adaptation of Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles starring the gorgeous Gemma Arterton – currently giving it the works at swooning in Lost in Austen and soon to be a Bond girl in Quantum of Solace. Will she be as maddeningly alluring in this as Nastassja Kinski in the Roman Polanski movie version? Let’s watch it and find out.

Alternatively on ITV there’s the return of David Suchet in my mother’s second favourite show (after Midsomner Murders of course) Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Or, if a bald Belgian solving crime isn't your bag, you could watch Robert DeNiro and Jean Reno crashing into every car in Paris in the movie Ronin on Five! Spoiled for choice, really…

Monday 15 September:
We continue to ask the questions no one else dares to.
Today, has anyone ever never met a poor bookmaker?
I backed a horse at twenty to one. It came in at ten to four.
Nah, lishun…

Corrie’s had some heartbreaking moments over the years – from Elsie Tanner leaving and the deaths of Harry Hewitt, Alf Roberts and Mike Baldwin to Len Fairclough chinning Ken Barlow for being a stuck up know-all … Actually, that wasn’t hearthbreaking at all. Anyway tonight, get ready for another one as Mel puts job before family and arrests her mother for attempted murder after overhearing Jerry Copper's Narking on her. Mind you, that Teresa she makes Cilla Battersby look like Florence Nightingale by comparison.

Dispatches – 8:00 on Channel 4 – is usually good at scaring the pants off people and tonight in What’s in Your Wine a nation of pretentious tipplers with be reaching for the spit-bucket as Jane Moore investigates how a significant number of reds and whites are enhanced by sweeteners. And, how some of the Champagne region's most select vineyards use chemical fertiliser instead of, you know, horse shit. Well, that’s the last bottle of Möet I’m buying. I’ll stick to the finest Krug in future.

Lastly, President Hollywood – 9:00 BBC4 – looks at the parellels between the current US Presidential race and various TV and movie depictions of American politics over the years, specifically one of my favourites, The West Wing. (The greatest TV show ever made that doesn't feature the words 'Doctor', 'Sweeney', 'Likely' or 'Vampire' in the title.) Or, if you prefer something less, you know, good there’s Ross Kemp on Gangs on Sky One which sees Ross investigating drug-gangs in Belize. Is it too much to hope that the authorities will arrest him on general principle and keep him there helping the police with their enquries for a year or two so we don't have to put up with any more of this appalling nonsense for a while?

Tuesday 16 September:
In EastEnders - 7:30 BBC1 - Max makes a shocking revelation to Tanya. Yes, he really is a slaphead. Well, face it she had to find out sooner or later, I mean, it was getting harder and harder to cover up.

Hollyoaks – 6:30 on Channel 4 – is the one soap we tend not to cover very much on Top Telly Tips. Because, frankly, there’s not all that much to say about it. It’s just kind … there, you know? The actors and plots aren’t bad, but they are both rather forgettable. However, there’s a wedding tonight – Calvin’s marrying Carmel (no, me neither...) – and soap weddings are usually quite popular. Remember though, in Soapsville, there’s no such thing as happily ever after.

There’s a very special occasion on the first Later … With Jools Holland of the new season (9:00 BBC2), Paul McCartney and Youth – ex of Killing Joke – have collaborated on a couple of rather nice ambient dance CDs as The Firemen. Tonight they’re making what I think is their first ever live appearance. And lastly, if you haven’t got to go to work tomorrow and fancy staying up way beyond the midnight hour, the BBC are showing one of the greatest comedy movies ever, Pete and Dud in Bedazzled. Watch Peter Cook at his 100% mod-coolest as The Devil singing the title song and undestand, instantly, where Radiohead got pretty much all their ideas from.

Wednesday 17 September:
We continue to ask the questions no one else dares to.
Today, why is it that in Cinderella, when everything the Fairy Godmother changed reverts back to their normal state at midnight, the glass slipper doesn’t?
Flaw in the plot, that.
A proof-reader should have picked that up on first draft.

Dawn … Gets Naked (9:00 on BBC2) is a series which sees journalist Dawn Porter exploring the nature of all things female. Tonight, Dawn spends some time with a group of naturalists and then visits a burlesque show (well, we've all done it) to discover more about body image and our seeming reticence to get our kit off with other people watching. In an attempt to change reserved British attitudes towards the concept of nakedness Dawn organises what she hopes will be Britain’s ultimate "female falsh mob." Well, mark me down as a potential viewer for that, ladies and gentlemen. Anything, in the cause of progress.

If nakedness isn’t your bag, Channel 4 have decided to get in on the current trend of “bringing back successful formats from the past cos they can't think of anything new to make that doesn't have the word 'celebrity' in it” with the documentary series The Family. This is, of course, a revival of the groundbreaking and influential 1974 fly-on-the-wall series about the Wilkins family of Reading without which, we’d never’ve had ... well Big Brother, for one. The 2008 victims, sorry volunteers, are the Hughes family from Canterbury. Get ready for eight weeks of traumas, tantrums and tears. Should be rather good.

Or, you may prefer David Suchet – whom we talked about last week in relation to Poirot – on Who Do You Think You Are? (9:00, BBC1) as the actor embarks on a trans-European quest to solve some mysteries in his family history. Always involving and seldom anything less than fascinating, this show. I think that's the one for me, tonight.

Thursday 18 September:
We continue to ask the questions no one else dares to.
Today, vanilla essence is black and yet vanilla ice cream is white. What’s that all about?

ITV yet again comes up with easily the best title of the week by a street and a half - Ann Widdecombe Versus Girl Gangs at 9:00. Now, I reckon my money’s going to be the girl gangs. I mean, Big Ann IS a pretty formidable lady in any ten-round-type-situation but, let’s face it, the longer it goes on there’s more of them than her and ... Oh, apparently, I am informed that this isn't some varient on Celebrity Wrestling which I'd imagined it to be but, rather, it is "a serious study of some of Britain's problems through the eyes of a concerned citizen." Or, through the eyes of Mad Ann Widdecombe, anyway. Ann's solution to this problem, of course, appears to be "giving them all a jolly good smacked bottom." Mind you, that would seem to be pretty much Ann's solution to most things - both in politics and, indeed, in life: You know, industrial relations, foreign policy, how to deal with drug addicts, boundary disputes with your neighbour, queuing up at the Post Office for a stamp with all the stinking dole-y Scum, how to show waitresses in restaurants who's boss, the problem of uppity TV previewers taking the piss, etc. What on Earth goes on in that decidedly odd woman's mind? Our artist's impression merely speculates upon one possible scenario. The truth is, perhaps, even stranger.

If, on the other hand, you fancy a rather more serious TV investigation into something that affects us all - and that isn't the product of the darker corners of the brain on a former Tory MP - Cutting Edge (9:00 Channel 4) follows a month in the life of an ambulence and its crew as they try to achieve their target of reaching 75% of life-threatening calls within eight minutes. The paramedics on board must deal with everything from binge drinkers to suicide attempts and hoax calls. Nobody tell Ann Widdecombe, please. There's no telling who might end up over her knee begging for mercy.

Northern Eye is a great little series tucked away in a stupidly late slot (11:40, ITV). Tonight, a tribute of the late Tyneside comedian the Little Waster himself Bobby Thompson. “Ah got in a taxi in London; ah sez t’the bloke 'Waterloo.' He sez 'The stayyyyshon?' Ah sez 'I’m ower-late for the battle'!” Tremendous. Hey, Tyne Tees, can you think about putting stuff like this on a bit earlier when people other than insomniacs can actually see it. You know, normal people. With jobs and everything.

Top Telly Tips will return later in the month.