Monday, August 24, 2009

Week Thirty Five: Art Storage For Art's Sake, Kebab And Chips For God's Sake

Before we start the current cascade of glistening Top Telly Tips, dear blog reader, the latest chapter in one of the oddest TV stories of the last couple of years continues to rumble ever onward. STV have axed a plethora of forthcoming ITV dramas, including Wuthering Heights, The Fixer, Doc Martin, Blue Murder and Agatha Christie’s Marple from its schedule, adding fuel to its long-running dispute with the commercial broadcaster. Reportedly over network programming fees. The moves mean that the only major ITV network dramas that Scottish viewers will see this autumn are Murderland - coincidentally starring Scottish actor Robbie Coltrane - and the Quentin Crisp biopic An Englishman in New York, starring John Hurt. Presumably, because they think Scotsmen like to see confirmation that all Sassenachs are 'a reet bunch o' soft poofs.' STV has already opted out of showing The Bill, Midsomer Murders, the Stephen Fry drama Kingdom and Al Murray’s Happy Hour. In the case of the latter, From The North can only comment, 'lucky old Scotland.' Wuthering Heights, produced by Mammoth Screen and starring Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley, has been billed as one of ITV's biggest drama events of the decade (see below). The lavish adaptation of the Emily Brontë classic, which is scheduled to be shown in two ninety-minute instalments on August 30 and 31 on ITV, will not be shown at all in Scotland. It will, instead, be replaced with a repeat of the 2002 crime drama Sirens. A STV spokeswoman asked 'what are you lookin' at wee man? See you, Jimmy. Can y'lend us a fiver till Friday?' She then added that STV was following its programming strategy to take greater control of its schedule. 'We are proud to be part of the Channel 3 network and equally we are committed to investing in new, high quality Scottish productions and creating a diverse schedule for our viewers,' she concluded. 'This is a long-term strategy for STV. We have been investing in and developing high quality productions since the start of the year and they are now starting to hit TV screens in strong, high profile time slots. So far we've seen some great results. We'll be rolling out more of our Scottish productions and acquired series we believe will appeal to our viewers into 2010.' Before adding 'Hoots, toots, och-aye. It's ooor oil, y'ken.' However, the moves will no doubt increase the growing tensions between the two broadcasters. An ITV spokesman said: 'STV has taken the decision to opt-out of broadcasting a number of programmes from the ITV Autumn schedule. Unfortunately this means that viewers in Scotland will not be able to watch a range of high quality original drama.' And Al Murray's Happy Hour, let us not forget. One repeats - 'lucky old Scotland.' On 6 August, ITV executive chairman Michael Grade 'lifted the lid' (or 'grassed up' depending on your stance in this matter) on the commercial broadcaster's 'tense' relationship with Scottish franchisee STV, claiming STV's decision to opt out of key network dramas was damaging the ITV brand. Which, of course, under Mr Grade's magnificent stewardship is, currently, so strong and healthy isn't it?

... And so we come to yer Top Telly Tips, dear blog reader. Treat 'em with the respect (or, indeed, lack of respect) they thoroughly deserve.

Friday 28 August
In TV's Naughtiest Blunders - 10:35 ITV - Neil Morrissey takes time out from educating the nation's youth in Waterloo Road to showcases more 'hilarious X-rated out-takes from some favourite television faces' (it says here). So, that'll be a bunch of clips of people forgetting their lines than then saying 'oh fuck' instead of 'oh bother.' They do that on a second take for It'll Be Alright On The Night. Those involving in these - desperately unamusing - out-takes are said to including This Morning's Philip Schofield and Fern Britton, Neil's old oppo Martin Clunes, Peter Davison, Dennis Waterman, Cat Deeley, Melanie Sykes, Yvette Fielding, the cast of Fat Friends and a classic from entertainer Rod Hull. Have they got footage of him falling off his roof, I wonder? Because that, I'd willingly pay to watch. Or, indeed, anything involving Neil himself flirting with Amanda Holden. Always worth a few minutes of your time, that. Not least because it's just about the only time you'll ever seen Amanda on TV these days not bursting into tears.

Saturday 29 August
I mentioned Walk on the Wild Side - 6:00 BBC1 - when it started a couple of weeks back and it's been ... all right, I suppose. Quite amusing in places, albeit somewhat obvious and hollow in others. If you haven't seen it yet, this - exceptionally cheap - show combines comedy voice-over narrative with natural history footage in a sort-of Animal Magic style to reasonably charming effect. Jason Manford, Rhod Gilbert, Gavin Webster, Sarah Millican et al are joined by this week's 'natural treasure' Barbara Windsor. We meet Lonesome George, a belligerent tortoise with a Jamie Oliver-shaped axe to grind about the world in general (and Jamie in particular), we drop in on Sebastian the Chimp's therapy session and catch up with the eighteenth live semi-final of the Antarctic's most popular TV show, Penguin's Got Talent. Gentle, unassuming humour with a few very good little moments in it (I particularly like the singing sharks gang and marmot who shouts 'Alan!'). It won't be to everyone's taste I can guarantee but, if you've got kids I think they'll quite enjoy it and you might just get something out of it yourself in terms of shared family viewing. Which there isn't anywhere near enough of on television these days.

Sunday 30 August
Wuthering Heights - 9:00 ITV (except Scotland) as mentioned in the opening item is the first episode of a new two-part adaptation of Emily Brontë's classic novel, set on the wily, windy Yorkshire moors. Free-spirited Cathy Earnshaw must choose between two men - the passionate but tormented Heathcliff and the weak, spoiled Edgar Linton, who offers her a life of comfort and wealth. Her decision has repercussions down the years, and leads to the entrapment of her daughter at Wuthering Heights, the Earnshaw family home. And, if you didn't know all that then just listen to the Kate Bush song, that'll give you the general idea. A quality cast includes Charlotte Riley, Tom Hardy, Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Lancashire and Torchwood's Burn Gorman. I think the Scots are bonkers to miss out on this one, frankly, it looks tremendous.

Monday 31 August
Framed - 8:30 BBC1 - is a much anticipated drama telling the story of ten-year-old Dylan and his family's struggle to keep their small petrol station, which sits at the foot of a mountain in North Wales, financially viable. When Dylan's father suddenly leaves home, things get even tougher for him and his sisters Minnie and Marie, baby brother Max and their mother. Da's departure, however, coincides with the secretive arrival of a convoy of men and trucks who take up residence on top of the mountain and who will change the village of Manod forever. Because, as the villagers soon discover, London's National Gallery has been flooded and its priceless paintings have been sent by lorry to Wales for safe storage in the bowels of an old slate mine inside Manod mountain – just as they were in the Second World War. In charge of them is Lester (everyone's favourite grumpy TV detective, Trevor Eve), an intelligent but reserved curator who rather prefers paintings to people – that is until a funny and pivotal misunderstanding leads him to invite Dylan to view the paintings inside the mountain. Add to this, the charms of the enigmatic and beautiful local school teacher Angharad (the divine Eve Miles from Torchwood) who, inevitably, Lester becomes involved with. Based on the classic Frank Cottrell Boyce children's novel, Framed looks like a bit like a sort of modern day Carrie's War, a romantic and genuinely heart-warming drama that will hopefully delight viewers of all ages. Samuel Davies and Mari Ann Bull play Dylan and Gwyneth. A rather old-fashioned Bank Holiday treat in many ways - not that this is, necessarily, a bad thing - though one does rather wonder if it can find much of an audience with the X Factor generation. I hope it does.

Warship - 9:00 Five - is a new documentary series filmed aboard the amphibious warship HMS Bulwark. In the opening episode, we meet some of the three hundred-strong crew of the Bulwark as they stop in the Bay of Bengal on their way to the Far East. The marines practise an amphibious landing on the coast of Bangladesh, while problems with the ship's fresh-water plant force the vessel to make a detour. They're normally quite interesting these kind of things - you know, 'real people doing real jobs.' I haven't been a great lover of previous military documentaries of this type - largely because they often seem, if you'll excuse the pun, somewhat regimented in terms of their structure and of how natural those participating seem whilst in front of the cameras. But, I'm prepared to give this one a go in the name of 'something different.'

It's the final part of Kwame Kwei-Armah's joyful and charming travelogue On Tour With The Queen - 9:00 Channel 4 - which I've been such a vocal supporter of over the last three weeks. Tonight, Kwame visits Libya (ooo... unfortunate timing there, mate), Malta and Gibraltar as he retraces the final leg of the Queen's mammoth 1953 Commonwealth Tour. Then, on his return to London, Kwame attends the Sixtieth anniversary celebrations of the Commonwealth at Westminster Abbey. And, whilst there he gets the chance to meet and speak in front of the Queen her very self. As I said a couple of weeks back, I reckon some enterprising TV producer somewhere should give Kwame his own travel show, the chap's an absolute natural, combining a Michael Plain-style genuine niceness and wry humour with an Alan Whicker-type air of calm authority and an ability to ask questions that produce surprising and often revealing answers. I've become a huge fan thanks to this delightful little show. If you've missed it so far, make a date for the finale.

Tuesday 1 September
There's a new series of The Fixer - 9:00 ITV - the (rather convoluted) crime drama in which state-sponsored hit-man John Mercer works on the dark side of the law in a rogue team of underground crime fighters for the purpose of scuttling any nefarious skulduggery. And stuff. In the first episode of a two-part opening story, the team take on a London street gang and its leader, the charismatic Clinton McSmith. As they investigate, they realise - to their horror - that McSmith is part of a child trafficking operation that it is about to go global. Meanwhile, the team are under threat from another quarter - a new young turk at MI6. With Andrew Buchan and Tamzin Outhwaite in the lead, The Fixer isn't a bad drama at all, as far as it goes, although it's rather Spooks-lite for my tastes. (Interestingly, it's actually made by the same production team, Kudos.)

On the final leg of his latest journey Scottish Neil Oliver (and his lovely hair) visits the bustling port of Rosyth to explore the staggering scale of Britain's global sea-trade in Coast - 8:00 BBC2. Meanwhile, the Deadly Killer Mirranda Krestovnikoff manages to land on the Bass Rock and excitable Mark Horton is in From The North's neck of the woods on the beautiful and mystical Holy Island of Lindisfarne, reliving the first Viking raid on our shores in June 793 AD. Plus, Dick Strawbridge (and his lovely moustache) meets the men and women who used to work as skilled riveters, building the vessels for which the North East's shipyards were famed. That was my dad's gig, actually. So, a bit of family as well as a bit of local interest in this one. I must admit I did, slightly, worry when the current series started about whether the team could continue to produce such breathtakingly beautiful television as it has over the last three years. The inclusion of a couple of new presenters and the expansion of the series geographical coverage to France and Norway rather suggested an 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' conundrum in my mind. But, of course, I needn't have fretted; it's been better than ever this year and, like the rolling, endless coastline that it covers, it has the mileage to go on and on and on. It'll be back next year for a fifth series and this blog will be eagerly awaiting its arrival.

Gareth Malone, the charismatic choirmaster who so enchanted much of the country with his BAFTA-winning series The Choir last year, is back and about to face what appears to be his biggest challenge yet in The Choir: Unsung Town - 9:00 BBC2. This time around Gareth makes it his mission to turn South Oxhey, a sprawling housing estate just outside Watford, into a centre of choral excellence by drawing in people from every section of the community, from children to OAPs, and creating one vast choir. The final goal is to put on a major performance in South Oxhey, and invite the whole estate to the party. In September 2008, Gareth headed to South Oxhey for the very first time to look for recruits.

Wednesday 2 September
With extraordinary access to the closed world of Europe's Gypsies, as well as dramatic covert footage, This World examines how Romanian Gypsy children across the continent are forced to beg and steal, often for the profit of organised crime in Gypsy Child Thieves - 7:00 BBC2. The film also highlights the racism and discrimination suffered by the Romani people and efforts to integrate them into mainstream culture. From Madrid to Milan to Romania, film maker Liviu Tipurita uncovers a shocking phenomenon of children trafficked to beg and steal. Ooo, controversial subject matter which one might regard as asking for both trouble from the left with regard to stereotyping and even racism and, at the same time, Daily Mail 'we told you so' headlines. I'm, therefore, immediately attracted to it for bravery value if nothing else.

Top chefs Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett demonstrate ways to slash food bills and improve diets in Economy Gastronomy - 8:00 BBC2. Five of the country's brightest scientists and future engineers turn out to be shambolic shoppers and cooks. Spending two hundred and fifty knicker a week between them, Cambridge students Jonny, Didi, Adam, Duncan and Charlie are slaves to their nearest convenience store, living on tinned, microwaveable and packet food. Yeah, kids - I'm livin' the dream, too. They only shop when they're hungry and never cook and eat together. These boys are about to go into the world without the foggiest idea how to shop or cook a simple, healthy and economic meal. Can Paul and Allegra save them? With recipes like Spicy Lamb Shish kebab, Veal Ratatouille, Fish Pie and Meatball and Chorizo stew, there's something for cooks of every level to enjoy.

I suppose it's been quite a few weeks since we mentioned one of the cult television shows of the last decade, Location, Location, Location - 8:00 Channel 4. In tonight's episode Phil, Phil, Phil and Kirstie, Kirstie, Kirstie help two more couples who are looking for help in the property market. In Windsor, Paul and his American bride, Alissa, are on the hunt for a first time marital home. But, there is a problem - Alissa is used to super-sized mansions what with her being American and all that. Cos, of course, everybody in America lives in 'super-sized mansions' which their upper-crust families purchased using the profits of their not-at-all-illegal hedge-fund and pronzi-scheme-type shenanigans in the 'greed is good' days of the 1980s. Everyone knows that. Well, it's either that, or they're jus' a poor immigrant chile living in a lil' ol' shack by the river. (The latter, applicable to residents of Mississippi and Alabama, only. And some parts of Kentucky.) So, it's going to be interesting watching this episode to find out which category Alissa falls into. I'm sure you'll all have an opinion on this, dear blog reader, but I couldn't possibly comment. Meanwhile, serial back-packer Matt has decided to settle down and get his feet on the property ladder. Is being a serial back-packer like being a serial-killer? Only, less blood and screaming and more smelly socks?

Thursday 3 September
Clive Anderson guides us through the history of television's favourite experts and all the pitfalls that attend such a role in the somewhat obviously titled The Funny Side of TV Experts - 9:30 BBC2. As well as pointing out all the potential problems of being cast as a telly know-it-all (something Clive himself has had more than a bit of experience of), there's also a few bits of sage advice and wisdom to any would-be experts of the future. I must say Clive's The Funny Side of... series over the last few weeks has been a bit patchy at best so far (the format really doesn't suit Clive and his dry, deadpan delivery at all and the episode on talent shows in particular had some truly woeful moments). But I quite like the look of this one so I'm going to give it a chance.

To mark the Seventieth anniversary of the start of the Second World War, Outbreak - 10:35 ITV - attempts tells the full story of that fateful Sunday 3 September 1939, hour-by-hour, chronicling Great Britain's ultimatum to Germany regarding their illegal incusion into Poland, the actual declaration of war itself by the Prime Minister and King George VI's radio broadcast to the nation. Witnesses to these historic and momentous event share their memories, including Sir Richard Attenborough, George Cole, Anthony Wedgwood-Benn, Vera Lynn, Betty Driver, Nicholas Parsons, Peter Blake, Lady Soames, Countess Mountbatten of Burma and other relatives of the main players and members of the public across the world. If you don't want to know the outcome, look away now.

We won.

In New Tricks - 9:00 BBC1 - family secrets are at the heart of this intallment of the crime drama series. When the team reinvestigate the murder of a doctor at Smithfield Market thirty three years ago, Gerry (the one out of the main cast that still can't act) is forced to admit to a dodgy part of his past. But it is the results of a routine DNA test that leads Pullman to make a shattering discovery about her own family. The episode, incidentally, is called Meat is Murder - I wonder if dear old Morrissey realises that he's getting all these plugs on British TV at the moment? What with this and that sequence on Corrie two weeks ago... This, incidentally, is the final episode of the current season of New Tricks - it'll be back next year.

No comments: