Saturday, July 04, 2009

Week Twenty Eight: Real Gone Kids, The Dead Smart Coren Family And Scottish Neil And His Lovely Hair

It is that time of the week once again, dear blog reader, for another dip of the big toe of manic indifference into the shark-infested waters that are Keith Telly Topping and His Top Telly Tips. Have a first aid kit handy just in case.

Friday 10 July
The season finales of Celebrity Masterchef and Torchwood notwithstanding (both of which I'm kind-of assuming anybody with taste will be watching) it's a bit of a strange night on TV this Friday. Thinking outside the box as it were, I've gone for Wild Things - 7:35 Channel 4. In the 1970s a group of 'idealistic young radicals' (for which read stinking, subversive, egghead hippy Communists) set up a festering, lice-ridden, go-as-you-please commune in some Christforsaken London squat with an 'alternative' approach to parenting and discipline. They believed that life in a nuclear family was stifling and so children were looked after collectively without belonging to anyone. To mark this, all of these illegitimate brats were all given the same surname: Wild. Over the years several other Anarchosyndicalist collectives followed suit. And thus, there are a network of unrelated Wild children around the country, who are now well into their thirties. Adam Hopkins tracks down some of these Wild kids to find out how what was supposed to be a liberating concept has actually affected them in the long term and how much therapy they needed to get over it. One reveals that for years he wanted to change his name to Dave Smith to make himself more 'normal,' while another's 'act of rebellion' was to get married and move to suburbia. One, however, is continuing the traditions of political activism inherited from his parents, albeit in the privileged environment of Cambridge University. Hopkins also talks to a few of their mothers - and bear in mind some children had three or four women whom they called 'Mum' - about the reasons behind the ideas. It's a fascinating bit of social history (not to mention an example of pop-pysch Jungism that's been discredited for three decades) which could certainly bear examination in far greater depth than just the half an hour it's got here.

Saturday 11 July
The watchwords of the French Revolution were, of course, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (liberty, equality and brotherhood for the unilingual). Maximilien Robespierre believed in them, passionately. He was an idealist lawyer, a lover of humanity and a defender of hopeless causes who became one of the early leaders of the populist uprising against the ruling classes in the late 1780s. But during the three hundred and sixty five days that Robespierre sat on the Committee of Public Safety, the French Republic descended into carnage and Paris into a devastated city of blood. 'The Terror' only came to an end when Robespierre himself was devoured (quite literally) by the repressive machinery of state he had created. In Terror! Robespierre and the French Revolution - 8:00 BBC2 - this drama-documentary tells the story of the Reign of Terror and looks at how Robespierre's revolutionary idealism quickly became an excuse for tyranny. And why a lover of liberty was so keen to use the guillotine so freely. Something of a recurring theme in popular movements throughout the ages, that. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. TV's greatest living historian Simon Schama and Slavoj Zizek are among the contributors. Looks terrific.

Sunday 12 July
In the season finale of Kingdom - 9:00 ITV - Lyle helps a smallholder take on a pharmaceutical giant, and Peter helps an aristocrat to keep things in the family when his brother starts selling off titles. Beatrice learns to fish, and Peter receives some rather shocking news. Ratings have been steady, albeit slightly down on last year and there's no news yet on whether a fourth series will be commissioned. Although Stephen Fry has stated that, if it is, prior commitments mean it's unlikely to be filmed until next year and, therefore, probably not show until the year after.

Meanwhile, Mad Jezza Clarkson gets chased by the British Army (again!) using some of their latest and most deadly toys in Top Gear at 8:00 on BBC2. Stop cheering at the back, I think Jeremy actually ASKED them to, it wasn't was pre-emptive coup d'état on their part. Not really their raison d'être, it is? Déjà vu? Oui. Meanwhile, Richard and James compare the new Porsche Panamera against a small envelope, a first class stamp and the logistical might of the Royal Mail in a race from one end of the British Isles to the other. Plus, Jamaican Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter Usain Bolt is the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. I'm pretty sure Usian could actually run round the track faster than a Chevrolet Lacetti.

At the cruise ship reception for new passengers, Liz Smith appears anxious. Her travelling companion, the film-maker Daisy Asquith, assures her that the other guests are longing to meet her but the actress, known to millions for her roles as Nana in The Royle Family and Letitia in The Vicar Of Dibley, is wary. It's difficult to believe that one of Britain's best-loved actresses could possibly feel lonely but, as Liz Smith's Summer Cruise - BBC4 9:00 - reveals, the acclaim and public affection she earned late in her life has not quite made up for the hurt of her isolated childhood and many years of obscurity and struggle. In a charming, sometimes sad and often hilariously funny documentary for BBC4's Grey Expectations season, which explores older people's experiences and challenges preconceptions about what is possible after the age of sixty, Liz was invited to do something she'd never done before – embark on a luxury cruise. The resulting film offers an intriguing portrait of a person who admits to having been deeply affected by her past. Like many older people, Liz remains young at heart. 'You can get soggy when you retire,' she says, 'you do wonder how much time you have left and you don't want to waste that time.' One thing she is determined to do is urge people to take more care of their health in the battle against strokes: 'I would like to spread the word to be careful because there's a lot of it about,' she says. 'I'd like to say to everybody: stop smoking, lose weight and take your blood pressure regularly.' The journey from Croatia to Venice was Liz's first on a cruise ship since the Second World War, when she was crammed into a cabin with twenty fellow Wrens. 'I was on a troopship going to South Africa,' she says, 'but they lost our papers at Port Said, so we were stuck in the desert for months just at the end of the battle for El Alamein. We then became the first lot to go through the Suez Canal and I went to India.' While enjoying the on-board luxury and the thrill of a making a glorious first visit to sun-drenched Venice, Liz also reflects on her childhood in Scunthorpe. Her mother died in childbirth along with the baby sister she never knew and her father abandoned her. Liz was encouraged by her widowed grandmother who raised her to meet other children, through which she started doing plays in the church hall. 'That's how it all started,' she says of her passion for acting. 'But I got rejections until I was fifty.' Liz married after the war, but her husband walked out eleven years later, leaving her to raise their two children alone. She was working in Hamley's toy shop in London when director Mike Leigh gave her a break, casting her in a BBC television play, Bleak Moments. 'For many years I'd worked at Butlin's, doing theatre with the Forbes Russell Rep Company which, in those days, toured the camps. That provided us with a holiday, which was lovely. At the end of that time, as the kids were grown up, I got the chance to work with Mike. I've done what I wanted to do, eventually.' The film presents a humorous and touching overview of her life. Contrary to Liz's initial concerns, the other passengers are friendly, eager to talk and clearly feel that they know her – something she attributes to 'having been in their living rooms. The whole point of The Royle Family is that they love each other and stay together as a family,' she says. 'That's what we don't do enough of, I think. It was a wonderful job. I've been lucky to play some endearing characters – Nana was an old bag really, but they liked her.' Liz was close to the other members of the tight-knit cast and remains in touch with them: 'I see Sue [Johnston] who doesn't live far away and Craig [Cash] came down and saw me in hospital, but we don't have reunions because they are all so busy. I was in hospital for about two months and have been very gradually getting better ever since. I get exhausted and have to take it easy but I don't know when I'll reach my peak ... probably at the end of the year. I might be ready for a holiday then! I've never been to New York, I'd like to go on the Queen Mary 2, there are so many places to choose from.' In fact, Liz's next trip will be a little closer to home – she is off to Buckingham Palace this month to receive her MBE.

And finally there's Michael Jackson's Last Days: What Really Happened - 9:00 on Channel 4. What really happened was that, tragically, he died. It was very sad. Let it go will you?

Monday 13 July
Monday night sees the return of The Street - 9:00 BBC1 - Jimmy McGovern's award-winning drama series chronicling the lives of a city street's residents. When landlord of the Greyhound, Paddy Gargan (Bob Hoskins), bars Callum Miller from his pub for smoking, he must face the wrath of Callum's father - Thomas Miller, the local gangster.

It's a big drama night, actually with the start of Monday Monday - 9:00 ITV - a much anticipated comedy drama set in the head office of a struggling supermarket chain with features Fay Ripley, the divine Holly Aird and Jenny Agutter. Some of the advance publicity from sources close to the production have suggested something really rather special. In the mould, perhaps, of a Clocking Off. But other reports have dismissed the series as a sort limp Cold Feet knock-off, with one rumour suggesting it could be even this year's Bonekickers. I'm gonna give it a chance, anyway, to find out which, if any, of these it most resembles. The plot: After her office transfers to Leeds, PA Sally is dismayed to find that the attractive man with whom she shared a rather disappointing one-night stand will now be working alongside her. Meanwhile, when Sally's alcoholic boss, Christine, humiliates herself during a presentation, scheming chief operating officer Alyson promptly attempts to sack Christine - but chief executive Roger refuses to do so, and may have his own agenda for doing so. And ambitious Max plots to nab the top job in Marketing while his boss is away. Sounds wretched, frankly. But think Fay, Holly and Jenny and the above, actually, doesn't seem quite as bad as it reads without any names attached to it.

If you're planning on ignoring either of those dramas to watch Giles Coren on Supersizers (which, thankfully, this week can't possibly get screwed around by the bloody tennis), then you'll probably also be happy to know that his sister - that gorgeous vision of minxy loveliness Victoria - is back on BBC4 with a new series of the lateral thinking quiz show Only Connect at 8:30. A team of three lads from the Cambridge Quiz Society pit their wits against a trio of Oxford Librarians with specialisms as diverse as Comparative Slavonic Linguistics, Classics and Theology. As I said last year, Qi for real intellectuals, this. They compete to draw together the connections between things which, at first glance, seem utterly random. The example giving in Radio Times, for instance is what connects Goldeneye, The Kilns, Hill Top in Cumbria and Haworth Parsonage. Well, I know the answer to that one straight away - they're all the houses of famous authors (Ian Fleming, CS Lewis, Beatrix Potter and the Brontë sisters, respectively). Easy. Next...

Tuesday 14 July
In one of the best bits of TV news of the year, Coast returns for a fourth series at 8:00 on BBC2. The award-winning travelogue begins a brand new journey around the British Isles and for the first time visits the shores of some of our European neighbours. Beginning at the famous Oyster Festival in Whitstable, Lovely Scottish Neil Oliver (and his lovely hair) ventures offshore to the remarkable Red Sands Sea Forts. Built as air defences in the Second World War they went on to inspire the design of the first North Sea oil rigs. In Dover, the goddess of punk archeology Dr Alice Roberts (and her lovely hair) re-lives the glamour days of the hovercraft crossing to France. The Deadly Killer Miranda Krestovnikoff joins a one thousand-year-old battle between men and fish in Hastings, and shares some of the tricks of the fishermen's trade. Careful, fishermen of Hastings, she'll have your hand off if you're not aware. Mark Horton visits Rottingdean, to peek over Rudyard Kipling's garden wall and Nick Crane explores the geology of the Isle of Wight, England's largest island. It is SO good to have this brilliant, charming show back. Proper British public service broadcasting that is entertaining, educational and informative. You wouldn't get something like this on TV anywhere else in the world and, even if you did, it certainly would never be a hit. Say what you like about the dumbing-down of television standards but, as long as Coast, Timewatch, Dispatches, Time Team and Qi continue to exist, then we're still a way short of 1984 just yet.

What's Really In Our Food? - 9:00 BBC1. Oh. Do we REALLY want to know? Well, food is the most important thing we buy they reckon, so can we trust what we are buying and eating? Reporters Tom Heap and Simon Boazman set off on a mission to find out, revealing the tricks of food labelling and uncovering the murky world of food fraud. There is, of course, something to be said for forgetting what it looks like and simply letting your taste-buds do the work. I mean, I like a nice Chow Mein, personally. Even if it does look like fried worms with green bits. Did I really say that?

Freefall - 9:00 BBC2 - is a much-trailed drama tackling the extraordinary financial crisis we are currently living through. Shot by multiple-BAFTA winning director Dominic Savage, the film takes a startling and provocative look at events that caused our lives to spiral out of control. This stars Dominic Cooper, Aidan Gillen, and Bond girl Rosamund Pike, among others and looks tremendous. See what I mean about this being a very good week for top quality drama?

Wednesday 15 July
For what I was saying about Coast in Tuesday's preview, see also Who Do You Think You Are? back at 9:00 on BBC1 on Wednesday. The latest series of the celebrity genealogy show kicks off with Davina McCall making some intriguing discoveries as she delves into her family's past. As a child of divorced parents, Davina, who is half-French, was brought up by her paternal grandmother and knows very little about her maternal French heritage. She also wants to find out if there is any truth behind the story that the English side of her family is descended from royal blood. Her journey does take her to Windsor, but not in the way that she expected. Later in the series Davey Mitchell (fast becoming omnipresent of TV at the moment), Martin Freeman and Katie Humble are among other personalities who get to find out who they are and how they came to be. Brilliant stuff.

Another particular favourite of Top Telly Tips is The Culture Show - 7:00 BBC2. In the latest episode, Miranda Sawyer presents from the Manchester International Festival. Art critic Alastair Sooke puts himself through a four hour live art experience curated by artist Marina Abramovic at the Whitworth Gallery. Zaha Hadid converts the Manchester Art Gallery into a new chamber music hall for the solo works of Bach and there is a performance by violinist Alina Ibragimova. Rufus Wainwright talks about his first opera, Prima Donna - a collaboration with Opera North - which gets its world premiere on 10 July 2009 and Dancer Carlos Acosta prepares to perform new work at the festival exploring the idea of the male muse in ballet. There is also a profile of the Young at Heart Chorus, twenty five singers in their seventies and eighties. They have been rehearsing a brand new show for the Manchester Festival based on iconic Manchester songs by bands as diverse as Buzzcocks, The Smiths and Oasis. All that plus Film Club with Big Quiffed Marky Kermode and Simon Mayo. Fantastic stuff but, where's Wor Luscious Lovely Lauren? The Culture Show just isn't The Culture Show without her.

Seaside Rescue - 8:00 BBC1 - is a documentary series following Britain's maritime rescue services. In Brixham, a lifeboat launches into a storm to help a local trawler stranded in savage seas with no power and no steering. A rescue helicopter is scrambled to a fisherman who has been dragged off the rocks by a wave near Padstow, and goes to the aid of a Royal Marine who has fallen from a cliff. Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeguards race to a man being swept out to sea by Perranporth's notorious currents.

Thursday 16 July
New Tricks the hugely popular and wryly witty police drama about an eccentric group of ex-detectives brought out of retirement to investigate unsolved crimes (and starring three of my favourite actors ... and Dennis Waterman) returns at 9:00 on BBC1. Brian (the always brilliant Alun Armstrong) reluctantly goes into rehab to treat his recurring alcoholism, but a chance remark leads the rest of the UCOS team to join him as they re-investigate the death of a heroin addict at the clinic nine years earlier. Great. Well-written, superbly acted, gentle and very undemanding. Just... do something about Mr Waterman's theme tune, will you please, it's dreadful!

In The Death of Respect - 11:20 BBC2 - John Ware asks what has happened to British values and behaviour over the last fifty years? Britain leads Europe in everything from brand awareness and rates of obesity, to celebration of crass celebrity culture, public drunkenness, drug use, sexually transmitted infections and family breakdown. And, that's even before we get to the fact that Piers Morgan is alive and getting paid as well. There is also far less intervention in acts of public nuisance than there used to be whilst mutual mistrust between adults and children is growing. As is an alarming lack of respect by the public for most figures of authority like the police and politicians. Just how did Britain get to where it is today - a nation of rude, obnoxious, angry, bolshy, bone-thick, lardy, junkie scum who know more about Jade Goody than they do about Barack Obama? Good question - a worthwhile question to ask even if you don't agree with the premise. What a pity, therefore, that the BBC have chosen to schedule this show in a graveyard slot instead of putting it on earlier opposite Big Brother, for instance.

And lastly, BBC2's still putting most of their effort into the 'Thursday night is Comedy night' thing they've got going with the excellent Mock the Week, That Mitchell and Webb Look and Psychoville. Or, given what we were talking about earlier with The Death of Respect, you may actually prefer Big Brother. But, if you do then be advised you're in a VERY small minority these days. Alternatively there's another Qi marathon on Dave (three episodes tonight). Always a reliable back up for quite nights that.

Let's finish off with a few bits of Top Telly News: Gordon Ramsay has insisted that he does not deserve the tabloid backlash he has suffered in recent months. Reflecting on the controversies in an interview with the Daily Mail, Ramsay stated 'I'm human, aren't I? I'm not a f*cking saint. I don't walk round with a halo but, then, I've never claimed to. And yes, these last months have had me asking: "Am I really as horrendous a person as people seem to think?"' How do you want people to answer that, Gordon? The 'nice' answer or the truth?

Total Wipeout host Richard Hammond has admitted that he isn't either brave or stupid enough to take on the show's obstacle course. Speaking to We Love Telly! magazine, he noted: 'What do you want me to do, admire the people who do it? They're lunatics. Why would you do that to yourself? Watching The Sweeper, you're doubled up and cringing - not with sympathy, just imagining: "God, what if I was doing it?' And it's a relief that you're not. I've conceded that it is marginally terrifying."' Sensible hamster.

Big Brother producers are reportedly launching an investigation into allegations that recently evicted housemate Sree was a bully. According to the Daily Star, the Indian student upset viewers when he mocked fellow housemate Freddie's learning difficulties during an argument. When Freddie asked Sree to use less garlic in his cooking, Sree shouted: 'You're a dyslexic student from Oxford! What's fifteen times fifteen?' He also reported branded Freddie a 'madman' and an 'idiot.'

Dannii Minogue has described the X Factor judges' infamous meeting with Britney Spears last year as 'hysterical.' She revealed how she, Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and Cheryl Cole were lined up outside Spears' dressing room 'like naughty schoolchildren. We were all like little kids at the principal's office,' Minogue told Metro. 'There were so many security guards and PR people and they had to block the whole corridor before she could come out the door.' is it just me who finds the words 'Dannii Mingoue' and 'naughty schoolchildren' in the same sentence - a trip to a whole week of therapy, if ever there was one.

And finally, Volkswagen is attempting to buck the recessionary gloom with a musical TV advert set to Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise's song 'Positive Thinking.' The ad, which VW describes as an 'infectious burst of optimism,' comes as the car industry struggles with a fifty four percent year-on-year drop in production while hard-up consumers back off on making big ticket purchases during the downturn. Volkswagen took the unusual step of making an upbeat ad amid dire financial times – and chose the song which Morecambe and Wise sometimes used to sing over the end credits on their TV show in the 1970s. (When they weren't doing 'Bring Me Sunshine', of course ... Or 'Don't You Agree?')

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