Sunday, December 19, 2010

Week Fifty Two: Fast N Bulbous

It was a great night for comedy on BBC2 on Saturday evening, dear blog reader, just in case you missed it. Welcome - extended - repeats of Have I Got More News For You and Qi: XL (two particularly fine episodes as well, as detailed on yesterday's blog) were followed by Sarah Townsend's genuinely moving portrait of Eddie Izzard, Believe which seems to have gone down very well with fans and critics alike. Fiona Phillips noted in the Mirror that she 'came away with a renewed respect for what he's achieved. It tells the story of how sheer determination, hard slog and belief helped him overcome countless knock-backs on his way to a stellar career on both sides of the Atlantic. It features a mesmerising scene in which Eddie admits that his need for an audience's approval stems from the death of his beloved mum from cancer when he was just six. He says he has always thought that if he "did enough things, maybe she would come back." Chatting to him after, we both agreed that his mum would have been very proud of his achievements.' Sarah Townsend, Eddie's former girlfriend, directed the film over six years. She believes that Izzard's work ethic presented her with a structural problem. 'There are no tantrums, no drug parties or behaviour that will create wonderful footage. It isn't like that - it's very organised; a streamlined machine,' she noted. At least that has been the case since 2000, when Anne Robinson and the BBC's Watchdog team threw a spanner into Eddie's life. Ten years later, he remains outraged that the show - which normally sets its sights on cowboy builders and the like - had the audacity to accuse him of 'ripping off' his audience by performing a stage show - at the start of his Circle tour - which was largely comprised of the previous year's successful Dress To Kill material. So angry was Eddie with the character assassination that Matt Allwright, Robinson and co gave him that Townsend actually starts the film with what many would regard as a mere footnote in his rise to stardom. 'We had never seen you so upset by anything,' Townsend suggests. Eddie himself remains far from over the incident. 'The Watchdog thing really did fucking kick me in the head. Watchdog is normally: "This guy sold a bad vacuum cleaner."' He was, he says, doing no more than The Rolling Stones playing their greatest hits each tour. 'Morecambe and Wise? They had the same show for twenty, thirty years. I only had that show for a year - give us a break!' Believe picked up the story as Izzard bounced back from a period of (self-imposed) comedy exile with his huge Sexie world tour in 2003. But for six subsequent years, Townsend filmed her ex without being able to find a narrative core for her story. It was only during the last week of filming, just after Eddie had completed his remarkable marathon of marathons around Britain to raise money for Comic Relief, that she coaxed from him the most poignant moment on Believe, when he emotionally acknowledged the reason for his extraordinary drive: the death of his mother. 'The big problem is that everything I do in life is trying to get her back. I think if I do enough things that maybe she will come back,' he says on the film, before a long pause in which he is visibly upset. 'I don't know what went on in that interview, but I had never quite said that before. It was a slightly out-of-body experience,' he told the Independent this week. It goes without saying, of course, that anyone who runs forty three back-to-back marathons is singularly driven. And that core of unbreakable, single-minded determination runs strong throughout Believe. Eddie's Herculean achievement, however, is merely added as a postscript to this one hundred-minute documentary which mainly concerns itself with Eddie's climb through the comedy circuit, from a student sketch act to global superstar. As his tour promoter, Mick Perrin, says in probably the most telling comment of the entire documentary he's not sure if Izzard is running towards something – or running away from something. The career, which began at Sheffield University when he decided he wanted to become a comedian and actor, beat a path to the Edinburgh Fringe. There he needed all of his tenacity as he swam against a sea of apathy, when all eyes were on Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie's Cambridge Footlights show The Cellar Tapes, rather than Izzard and his troupe. Pushing himself further, Izzard then took to performing outdoors in Covent Garden where his escapology routine inspired the title for this film - you have to believe you will slip the chains or else the act will never work – the same principle which applies to his comedy. He then joined the stand-up scene, where again his self-determination stood him in good stead against the countless on-stage deaths his sometimes bizarre material died from boozy, heckling, punters. Eddie got his big break came when he performed his now famous 'raised by wolves' routine at the Hysteria 3 charity show in 1991. Nonetheless, booking a West End theatre two years later for his first solo show, Live At The Ambassadors, when such runs were unheard of, was also a huge leap of self-belief – but one that, fortunately, paid huge dividends. Eddie's story is traced with plenty of rare archive footage – including him performing in a particularly gruesome shirt from the early Eighties. Brief interviews with the likes of Robin Williams and George Clooney, as well as stand-up clips prove an entertaining counterpoint to the more serious moments when he talks about his childhood, his transvestism, and his belief in Europeanism which led him to perform stand-up, in schoolboy French, in Paris. He's a particular hero of yer Keith Telly Topping, not just because he is a very very funny man but also because he takes risks - in life and in comedy - that others would never dare to. Believe reminds us, if any reminder were needed, that his twenty four carat comedy masterpieces - Definite Article, Glorious, Dress To Kill et al - took a decade and a half of hard work and frequent, horrible, setbacks to arrive. Covered in bees and with jam exploding in their ears. God - who is James Mason in this film - only knows how many times he must have thought about packing it all in. Believe makes me, for one, glad that he didn't.

Kara Tointon and her dance partner Artem Chigvintsev have been voted the winners of Strictly Come Dancing. Which came as a considerable surprise to yer Keith Telly Topping who confidently expected Pamela Connolly to carry off the trophy. Shows how much I know. Tointon, who pair beat Matt Baker and Aliona Vilani into second place, burst into tears when the result was announced before hugging Chigvintsev. Runner-up Baker congratulated the actress, saying: 'It has been great. They are worthy winners without any doubt. If I was at home I'd be voting for them too.' Yeah, but they all say that, Matt! A beaming Tointon said of the result: 'It's just the most special thing I've ever achieved, thank you to this man [Chigvintsev].' She added: 'I've made the most fantastic friends for life. It's been the most special experience of my life.' Chigvintsev - who had also cried like a big girlyman - said added: 'She's amazing.' The pair then lifted the Glitterball Trophy as they were crowned winners of the series, and were joined by the other dance partners in celebration. Earlier, Pamela Connolly and James Jordan had finished third. Connolly said of her partner Jordan: 'You have been just incredible, you have made it the most joyful experience I've had for a long time. Your patience and dedication and talent has been outstanding, thank you.' The pair received a standing ovation from the audience, which included Pamela's husband Billy, the well-known Scottish comedian.

Nicollette Sheridan has reportedly dropped her lawsuit against both ABC and Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry. The actress had claimed that she was fired from the show after complaining about an incident in which Cherry allegedly hit her. According to Gossip Cop, Sheridan has now decided to end her twenty million dollar lawsuit after both ABC and Cherry agreed not to insist she undergo both a physical and psychological evaluation as part of the pre-trial process. Sheridan made her last appearance on the show as Edie Britt in 2009, following which she began legal proceedings claiming that Cherry became physical with her during an argument in 2008. Despite agreeing to drop the lawsuit, Sheridan is still claiming wrongful termination and gender discrimination on the part of ABC.

Here's yer Christmas Top Telly Tips:

Friday 24 December
The undoubted highlight of Christmas Eve is Whistle And I'll Come To You - BBC 9:00 - a modern retelling of the classic Edwardian ghost story and the kind of thing that the BBC used to do, near enough, every year back in the day. Previously filmed by the Beeb in 1968 (and if you've never seen that, check it out, it's one of the most bowel-shatteringly scary hours of TV ever made), John Hurt stars in this spooky drama for the festive season, the story of a man's encounter with an apparition on a desolate beach and how it begins to haunt him. Based on the short story Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad, by MR James, and co-starring Lesley Sharp, Sophie Thompson and Gemma Jones. Adapted by former [spooks] author Neil Cross, who also created BBC1 crime series Luther. So, pedigree cast and crew, what more could you ask for? James Parkin is in emotional turmoil after leaving his wife in the care of a nursing home. When he visits an off-season seaside town which was the couple's favourite destination for a holiday, he is confronted by a spectre of his own loneliness and isolation.

There's also the Qi Christmas special - BBC1 9:30 - which, this year, features, alongside regulars Stephen Fry and Alan Davies, Graham Norton, Lee Mack and young Mr 'arry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. Whom, I must admit, yer Keith Telly Topping finds rather annoying. However, I do realise that he's very popular with Da Kids so, you know, it is Christmas, the season of peace and goodwill to all men (and some dogs) and all that. Tonight's theme is not ho-ho-ho, as you might have expected, but rather hocus pocus. Given Radcliffe's presence, that's probably inevitable. The XL episode, incidentally, will be shown on BBC2 on Wednesday 29 December at 10:30. Watch out for Lee Mack on another of his surreal, blizzarding stream of consciousness rants (remember he and Bill Bailey on the mysterious seventh Osmond brother who lived in the attic on last year's show?) 'Are you incapable of rational thought?' asks Stephen at one point. Yes. And, that's why we love him.

One Born at Christmas - 8:00 Channel Four - is an ambitious project which includes live footage of babies being born on Christmas Eve at Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton. The race to produce the first yuletide birth starts here with an introduction to some of the expectant mums who are about to go into labour. Over four, subsequent, episodes tomorrow, viewers will follow the personal stories involved with cameras placed in the hospital's reception, neonatal ward, operating theatre and birthing pool, capturing every dramatic, emotional and blood-soaked moment. This opening instalment includes the latest news from the maternity ward and behind-the-scenes coverage of the working life of the hospital and its various departments.

Carols from King's - 6:45 BBC2 - is, as you might expect, a festive concert from the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge. It opens with a solo chorister singing 'Once in Royal David's City,' always one of yer Keith Telly Topping's favourites, that one. 'And our eyes at last shall see Him/Through His own redeeming love.' Sod it, even if this is a fairy story, there's some magic in lines like that. The story of the Nativity is recited from the King James' Bible along with poems by Kevin Crossley-Holland, WH Auden and Charles Causley. The chapel choir conducted by Stephen Cleobury performs carols including 'In Dulci Jubilo', 'Ding Dong Merrily on High' and 'O Come, All Ye Faithful.' All yer favourites, then, dear blog reader. No 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day,' though. Tragedy. Particularly if they'd done the Frank Sidebottom arrangement.

Saturday 25 December
On Christmas Day, dear blog reader, we've got the usual BBC versus ITV match ups - Doctor Who against Emmerdale, Strictly versus Corrie, EastEnders versus All Star Family Fortunes and The Royle Family up against Poirot. This is, of course, one of the big days of the year for ratings, and the BBC usually have the best of it (nine out of the top ten shows for the past four years, if memory serves). Expect EastEnders and Doctor Who, in particular, to have a very good Boxing Day morning. Your big Christmas movie this year is Shreck the Third on BBC1 at 3:10 just after Top of the Pops, and the Queen. That's the actual Queen, not Fearne Cotton. Anyway, to the highlights -

In Doctor Who - 6:00 BBC1 - there's a real tenderness and heart-melting warmth at the centre of Steven Moffat's first yuletide episode, A Christmas Carol - a basic reimagining of Charles Dickens' eternally enthralling morality tale only this one set on another planet. Michael Gambon is the episode's Scrooge figure, Kazran Sardick, the richest man in Sardicktown. And, as you might expect, Eee-za Goode in it. Well, he was The Singing Detective, after all. The character is an unhappy miser who keeps the despised 'surplus population' cruelly entombed. But only Sardick can prevent imminent disaster as a crippled space liner with four thousand passengers, including honeymooners Amy and Rory Williams (the terrific Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill), careers towards catastrophe. Yet, he chooses to do nothing, because his heart is made of granite. Or is it? It's up to the Ghost of Christmas Past to make him see the error of his ways. Which is where the Doctor (Matt Smith at his very best) takes hold of the plot. What follows is, essentially, a love story starring Katherine Jenkins, and a tale of goodness and redemption triumphing over meanness and cruelty, all wrapped up in a bells-and-whistles rip-roaring rollercoaster of an adventure. Deliciously Christmassy, if there is such a word. Doctor Who Confidential follows immediately afterwards at 7:00 on BBC3. And, if you miss the actual episode itself because you've hurt you back pulling a cracker or something, it's repeated tomorrow on BBC and also on BBC1 on Monday afternoon. Hopefully, you'll be out of casualty by then.

Agatha Christie's Poirot - 9:00 ITV - this time features an all-singing, all-dancing adaptation of the classic Murder on the Orient Express. An American businessman, Samuel Ratchett, travelling on the famous Orient Express from Istanbul to Paris offers to pay his fellow passenger Hercule Poirot then thousand dollars for protection as he fears his life may be in danger. The sleuth refuses the deal, but wakes up the following morning to learn that the man has been stabbed to death while the train was held up by heavy snow in Serbia. With a race against time to find the killer among the commuters, Poirot must look to the past to solve the crime, and is faced with a decision that will haunt him for ever. David Suchet, as usual, effortlessly takes on the title role in the murder mystery, with guest stars Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey, State of Play's David Morrissey and Cranford's Eileen Atkins. And, if you don't want to know the end, look away now.

They all did it. Next ...

Swingin' Christmas - 9:20 BBC2 - sees Michael Parkinson presenting festive musical treats by John Wilson and his orchestra, following his hugely successful Rodgers and Hammerstein concert at the BBC Proms. In what is described as 'an exclusive celebration of music from the golden age of swing,' Wilson is joined by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, West End star Anna-Jane Casey and American vocalist and saxophonist Curtis Stigers for a selection of classics including 'Winter Wonderland', 'Baby, It's Cold Outside', 'Let It Snow' and, of course, 'White Christmas.' Which, if the weather is as bad as it's been for the last month, it's actually likely to be for once. And, what's the betting that Parky will somehow manage to crowbar in a reference to the time he met, and danced with, 'the late, great, Gene Kelly'?!

Christmas is, of course, a time for giving. They reckon. Which is presumably why the advertisers pull out all the stops in the run up to the big event in a bid to persuade TV viewers to part with their hard-earned cash for the latest toys, gadgets, food, drink and whatever else they have to sell. As detailed in Greatest Christmas Adverts - 9:00 Channel Five. This three-hour countdown, full of hilarious shenanigans and all manner of mirthful malarkey, it says here, recalls the advertising ghosts of Christmases past and present, fifty in total. Not forty nine, not fifty one, but fifty. Because ... that's the number they thought up in the first place. From Action Man to Trivial Pursuit, from the Stylophone to the Nintendo Wii, from Paxo stuffing to Iceland platters and from Hai Karate Aftershave (with a special self-defence leaflet in every pack) to Victoria Beckham's Signature. With contributions from those who starred in the adverts and a number of the usual suspect talking heads whom Channel Five have rounded up for the occasion to talk about the times they were, allegedly, sufficiently convinced by the marketing messages to buy for their loved ones. I swear to God, if Iain Lee is on this thing, yer Keith Telly Topping will kick his flat-screen thirty two inch TV through the sodding wall and into next door's gaff. And, if you miss it - because you're watching good stuff on the other side - be advised, it's repeated next Tuesday. So, find an excuse to miss that broadcast as well.

Sunday 26 December
Boxing Day's big TV event this year is the first of a three-part revival of Upstairs Downstairs - BBC1 9:00. Thirty-five years after the original - much-loved - series ended on ITV, the BBC returns to one of the most famous addresses on TV, 165 Eaton Place, Belgravia. It is January 1936, and the diplomat Sir Hallam Holland and his wife, Lady Agnes (Ed Stoppard and Keeley Hawes) move into Eaton Place - closely followed by Hallam's widowed mother, Maud, and her wayward sister. But they also need a full serving staff, for which Lady Agnes turns to an agency run by none other than Rose Buck (Jean Marsh), who used to work at the house when it was owned by the Bellamy family. The series co-creator with Marsh, Eileen Atkins, Art Malik, Anne Reid, Claire Foy and Adrian Scarborough are amongst a star-studded cast. Continues tomorrow.

There's also, of course, the much-anticipated Top Gear Middle East Special - 8:00 BBC2 - in which the lads recreate the journey of the fabled Three Wise Men. Across a war zone or two. Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May embark on a seasonal road trip, trying to follow the path of the Magi across the Middle East. However, they opt to do so in open-top sports cars which were built for significantly less demanding tasks than driving along the conflict-ridden mountains of southern Turkey, through war-ravaged Iraq and across the searing deserts of Syria into Israel, via Jordan. Along the way, the intrepid trio also try to answer two of the greatest questions of all about Christmas - what actually is myrrh and where can it be bought?

ITV's highlight of the might in a Benidorm Christmas Special at 9:00. There may be plenty of sun, sangria and Santa, but for Madge it does not look like being a happy Christmas as the Garveys come to stay. With Mel stuck in Marrakech, she has to organise the Benidorm Palace's festive spectacular - and the show's female star has gone missing. Donald and Jacqueline check in at the Solana with some intriguing friends, and it appears Noreen's male travel companion is more than he appears. Su Pollard, Louie Spence and Brian Murphy guest star, with Sheila Reid, Siobhan Finneran, Tim Healy, Steve Pemberton, Janine Duvitski and Elsie Kelly. Mel was, of course, played by the great Geoffrey Hutchings who, sadly, died earlier this year but, in this episodes, Darren Litten manages to find a dignified and touching way to deal with his.

When Harvey Met Bob - 9:15 BBC2 - is a drama about the men who organised Live Aid, shown in the twenty fifth anniversary year of the historic concerts. In 1985, having sold millions of copies of charity single 'Do They Know It's Christmas?', Boomtown Rats singer and future saint, Bob Geldof, realises that much more still has to be done to combat famine in Ethiopia, where there is no snow, apparently, and conceives of the idea of a global music event; a plan that starts coming to fruition when he meets larger-than-life concert promoter Harvey Goldsmith. The film charts how their ambitious scheme turned into the biggest televised charity event in history, as well as documenting the many conflicts that sprang up between the unlikely partnership along the way. Starring Domhnall Gleeson and Ian Hart. 'Never moynd all that, just give us yer fuckin' money!'

Monday 27 December
There's a new series of the highly popular Celebrity Mastermind - 8:30 BBC1. In the opening episode, John Humphrys quizzes former footballer Mark Lawrensonandonandon, antiques expert Hilary Kay, actress Samantha Giles and comedian Richard Herring on general knowledge and on their specialist subjects. Remember a few years ago when Tony Parsons specialist subject was the British punk rock scene and half the country got more questions right than he did? And he was there!

On their fifth annual journey, Rory McGrath, Dara O Briain and Griff Rhys Jones reunite once more for a whistle stop tour of Caledonia in Three Men Go To Scotland - 8:00 BBC2. Inspired by the expedition taken by Dr Johnson and James Boswell in the late 1700s, their ten-day voyage, being shown as usual in two parts, is a race to arrive at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle on the Isle of Harris, one of the last hunting and fishing estates, for the last week of fly fishing. They begin by catching a seaplane from Glasgow to the end of the Crinan Canal, where one of the last surviving coal-fired steam puffers awaits. The trio are soon getting kitted out in full traditional attire at the Kilmore highland games and lining up alongside one hundred other vessels at one of Scotland's biggest yachting events. But, how much will all these fun and frolics on the high seas effect Rory's aim to follow in Boswell's somewhat staggering footsteps and visit as many distilleries as is humanly possible? The conclusion is shown on Thursday at 8:00.

The latest Agatha Christie's Marple - 9:00 ITV - is The Secret of Chimneys. Lady Virginia Revel receives a marriage proposal from an ambitious politician but is reluctant to accept it, especially as she is also being courted by a dashing young suitor. Accompanied by Jane Marple, she travels to a weekend party at her family home, Chimneys, hoping to come to a decision about her future. Negotiations for the sale of the country house are taking place during the gathering, but when the new owner, Count Ludwig of Austria, is found horribly murdered, St Mary Mead's elderly spinster and busybody must identify the culprit. Because, as usual, the police are baffled. Traditional whodunit, starring the really very good indeed Julia McKenzie, with a glittering supporting cast including Gavin & Stacey massively over-rated Ruth Jones and her even more massively over-rated co-star Mathew Horne, along with Dervla Kirwan, Charlotte Salt, Michelle Collins, Jonas Armstrong and Edward Fox.

First shown on Christmas Eve, just in case you missed it then because you were watching some proper telly, the Greatest Christmas TV Moments is repeated at 9:00 on Channel Five. Doesn't Five make any real programmes these days? No, hang on, what a stupid question. This is a broadcaster which continues to think Live From Studio Five is a worthwhile exercise, nothing they do should surprise anyone. Three-hour countdown of - again - fifty Christmas TV crackers, past and present, including classic soap moments, dramatic endings, sitcom specials, comedy sketches and light entertainment highlights that have made that little box in the corner the focus of the festive holiday season for decades. Or, in other words, a bunch of old clips that you've already seen, like, a million times, know like the back of your hand and really don't need to sit through once more. Highlights - and I use that word quite wrongly - include famous couples Den and Angie, Jack and Vera, and Gavin and Stacey; popular double acts Morecambe and Wise, Del Boy and Rodney and Wallace and Gromit; The Doctor meeting Kylie, Kylie, sweet and smiley, sing us a song in a rub-a-dub style(e); perennial music show Top of the Pops and, the ultimate irony, sitting down to watch The Royle Family sit down to watch TV for an hour. Christmas, my arse. All small-screen life is here - with jingle bells on. Featuring interviews with cast, crew and assorted talking head non-entity contributors rounded up, just as on Greatest Christmas Adverts because, frankly, they've got nothing better to do. A pox on it, and everyone associated with it. Happy Christmas yer arse, I pray God it's our last!

Tuesday 28 December
Have you ever wondered, dear blog reader, why hair keeps you warm when it's cold and cool when it's hot? If you have then, to be honest, you've probably got far too much time on your hands and you really need to get out, go to pub and find somebody to have some disappointing casual sex with. But anyway, Dr Mark Miodowink is happy to answer your curiosity in this first of this year's three Royal Institute Lectures - 8:00 BBC4. Amongst other burning questions tackled are Why Elephants Can't Dance. Which, I must admit, is something that's occasionally kept yer Keith Telly Topping awake at nights. Clearly, I'm in desperate need of a shag too. (It wouldn't be the first time somebody's suggested exactly that.) Engineer and scientist Dr Mark presents his lecture based on 'the importance of size.' Oh yes, I know that one, mate, trust me. He begins by focusing on the animal kingdom, explaining how a hamster could survive a fall from the top of a skyscraper, the capability of ants to carry more than one hundred times their own body weight and, as noted, why elephants do not dance. It's because they can't get the tutus in the right size, apparently. Continues tomorrow. Terrific stuff and, horrifyingly, you might just learn something from it. Is television supposed to offer such a thing?

The final episode of Giles & Sue Live The Good Life - 10:00 BBC2 - concludes a night of programmes on BBC2 about the 1970's sitcom The Good Life. Writer Giles Coren and comedienne Sue Perkins make to make the best of a cash-strapped and frugal Christmas with the help of handicrafts and a lot of enthusiasm in their self-sufficient home in Surbiton. They make some rudimentary decorations with the assistance from former Blue Peter presenter Peter Purves, and Sue saves money by knitting a 'tasteful' jumper for Giles as a gift. The duo also invite the neighbours round for carol-singing and celebrity cook Sophie Grigson joins in with a spot of festive baking. But Giles is more concerned about which one of the turkeys they're going to have for Christmas dinner. I have to be honest, yer Keith Telly Topping almost never has turkey for Christmas, I always find it rather dry and tasteless. I much prefer a nice juicy chicken. Although, this year, because of a somewhat slim twelve months on the finance front, it's more likely to be a chicken pot noodle. With all the trimmings. Earlier in the evening, we've got two documentaries about The Good Life either side of the sitcom's 1977 Christmas episode.

In Countryfile Winter Special - 5:25 BBC1, we discover that the people of the Outer Hebrides know more than most about the crush of winter isolation, and how to handle it. Makes sense when you think about it. The Countryfile team, therefore, head to the starkly beautiful islands of North and South Uist to experience an extreme kind of winter, and to see how both human residents and wildlife have learned to survive. On the machair, the rare grassland habitat which supports birds like the corncrake, the divine Julia Bradbury learns how seaweed fertiliser plays a part in conservation. Ellie Harrison, meanwhile, observes a group of young otters beginning their independence, Adam Henson watches Uist cattle go to auction and Matt Baker swaps his dancing shoes for something sturdier to help crofters bring their sheep down to lower pasture. Then it's ceilidh time and Matt has to put his dancing shoes back on.

Smile: That Was Candid Camera - 8:00 ITV - is a celebration of the famous hidden-camera TV show, which first hit UK TV screens fifty years ago in 1960. Narrated by the gloriously unfunny Vernon Kay, the programme looks back at some of its greatest stunts and explores its influence on other TV shows such as Beadle's About, Game for a Laugh and Trigger Happy TV. Featuring interviews with Dom Joly, Lorraine Kelly, Stephen Mulhern, Denise Welch, Jeremy Kyle and Coronation Street's Alan Halsall.

Wednesday 29 December
In Les Mis at Twenty Five: Matt Lucas Dreams the Dream - 8:00 BBC2 - Matt Lucas's preparations to appear in the twenty fifth anniversary gala performance of Les Miserables at the O2 arena in October is given the full behind-the-scenes treatment. The documentary follows the comedian through rehearsals to the performance of a lifetime in the role of innkeeper Thenardier, a part previously played by the great Alun Armstrong, alongside a cast of more than three hundred stalwarts from previous productions. These include Alfie Boe, Nick Jonas and Lea Salonga. Featuring contributions from producer Cameron Mackintosh, original director Trevor Nunn, and members of the original London cast Michael Ball and Frances Ruffelle.

Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice - 8:00 BBC1 - could've probably been filmed at any time during the last couple of months in, ooo, Northumberland. However, in actual fact, it was shot mainly with state-of-the art hidden cameras in Norway. This documentary captures the intimate lives of polar bears, from the moment they emerge from the den after winter to their courtship rituals. The creatures show their intelligence and curiosity as they go hunting for seals and birds, dive for kelp, and fight for survival in a treacherous and ever-changing environment. John Downer and his team afford the viewer an intimate insight into the hard-to-film world of the polar bear. It's beguiling but also brutal and harsh. But, of course, it's the cubs with their camera curiosity that will melt even the hardest of rock-ice hearts to slush. Narrated by David Tennant.

Last year, the one-off Rock & Chips was shown to critical indifference but strong audience figures. Yer Keith Telly Topping, personally, thought it was nowt special but a series was announced on the back of this. However, since then, for some reason that has been scaled back to two special episode of the Only Fools And Horses prequel, the first of which is shown tonight - 9:00 BBC1. It's Christmas 1960, and money is tight for the Trotters, so Joan decides to go back to work soon after giving birth to her new baby, Rodney - but a chance meeting with jailbird Freddie The Frog, who has been released on bail, looks set to rekindle some old passions. Meanwhile, Derek's love life is in a tangle as he is about to get engaged three times in the same week. Nostalgic comedy drama from John Sullivan - who, to be honest, hasn't written anything that could properly be classed as 'good' on TV for a decade or more - and starring James Buckley from The Inbetweeners as the teenage Del Boy, Kellie Bright, Phil Daniels, Shaun Dingwall, Mel Smith, Paul Wilcox and Nicholas Lyndhurst. So does the latest instalment of the show's prequel do its illustrious predecessor justice? Not even remotely close. The second of these new episodes can be seen at Easter. And, if it's half as good as the best of Only Fools And Horses then it'll still be twice as good as The Green Green Grass.

Arena: Rolf Harris Paints His Dream - 9:00 BBC2 - is a celebration of Rolf Harris's life and career as he embarks on a project to make a series of paintings inspired by Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, working with his wife, Alwen, supermodels Lily Cole and Lizzy Jagger and actresses Emer Kenny and Dervla Kirwan. The film also explores Rolf's fifty seven years as a singer, musician and artist. He is shown being mobbed by art fans, rocking the 2010 Glastonbury crowds with his didgeridoo and playing an outdoor concert in Vancouver - all proof that even at eighty years of age, there is no stopping this ultimate showman and national treasure. The man is a colossus and this rather moving documentary does nothing to crack the image we all have of Rolf as, essentially, a bloke at ease with himself and his place in the world. Good on ya, cobber.

Thursday 30 December
Toast - 9:00 BBC1 - is a one-off drama, a poignant, unflinching and yet very funny memoir based on the best-selling autobiographical novel of the same name by renowned the food writer and cook Nigel Slater. It tells the story of his childhood in 1960s Wolverhampton and his battle to win his austere, preoccupied father's affections. Freddie Highmore from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory stars as the fifteen-year-old Slater, with Helena Bonham Carter as his crimplene-clad stepmother, Mrs Potter and Ken Stott as his father. Written by Lee Hall, who also provided the screenplay for Billy Elliot. None of the book's complex undercurrents are lost, the performances are terrific, the recreation of a dreary suburban 1960s a million miles away from the swinging caricature of Carnaby Street and Abbey Road is brilliantly done and there's even a cameo from the real Nigel in there somewhere. Something very special indeed.

In Ad of the Year - 9:00 ITV - Ben Shephard narrates a countdown of the twenty best TV commercials of the past twelve months as voted for by viewers. See, Channel Five go for fifty of everything, whilst ITV are perfectly content with quality rather than quantity. Or, maybe they'd spent all their money that week on The X Factor and could only afford a one hour show instead of three. Anyway, the chosen adverts include the one that made a hit of a cover version of Billy Joel's 'Always a Woman,' as well as ones featuring roller-skating babies and rapping farmers. Word. There are interviews with the stars of some of the shortlisted adverts, including opera singer Wynne Evans discussing his role in promoting a price comparison website and Countdown presenter Jeff Stelling on his part in a World Cup classic. Featuring contributions by Keith Lemon, Lorraine Kelly and Emmerdale actor Danny Miller. Oh, and there'll be meerkats as well.

We passed the seven thousand five hundredth episode a couple of days ago, but in tonight's third-to-last Coronation Street for 2010 - 8:30 ITV - that bad bitch Tracy continues to make enemies on the Street as she tries to worm her way into a job at the factory with a web of deceit and wickedness. But, an unforgiving male resident decides that it's time to take revenge. Meanwhile, Gary's violent behaviour escalates and life gets even harder in one household as a marriage breaks down.

Fridat 31 December
New Year's Eve is the one time of the year when you can be pretty sure the old bloke with the long beard stalking the streets is not the local drunk in search of an off-licence that will still serve him, but Old Father Time, seeing off the old and heralding in the new. Unless you're in Walford, that is, where he's more likely to be the Grim Reaper. Because yes, while the rest of the world celebrates the arrival of 2011, there's a tragic death around the corner for the poor inhabitants of Albert Square in EastEnders - 8:00 BBC1. And it's an especially cruel one that seems likely to send one person, who's already had more than their share of misery over the past year, insane with grief. Have your tissues at the ready, Easties is back to its miserablist best.

If you've decided to spend New Year's Eve on the sofa, Channel 4's Comedy Gala - 9:10 Channel Four - is a feast of funny that will see you through a hefty chunk of the evening. Earlier this year, two dozen of the nation's finest comics performed at London's O2 Arena to raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital. They included Bill Bailey, Alan Carr (both backed by Stomp) and Catherine Tate. And Ricky Gervais. So, not all of them are actually funny, then? Not that it'll affect your viewing experience at home but, in case you're interested, this comedy extravaganza (first broadcast in April) was the self-proclaimed 'biggest stand-up show in UK history.' Though not, necessarily, the funniest.

On a night when going out can be more trouble than it's worth - indeed for a about a decade every single New Year's Eve used to see yer actual Keith Telly Topping either in the middle of a fight or trying to break one up - there are plenty of options on the telly. At 10.40pm on BBC1, there's celeb chat and saucy quips courtesy of The Graham Norton New Year's Eve Show. Then at 11.50pm it's New Year Live - usually deathly, but the only traditional fireworks-and-Auld-Lang-Syne job still left on British TV. ITV completely pooh-poohs all that partying nonsense with Elizabeth: The Golden Age (9.10pm) - Cate Blanchett's second film outing as the Virgin Queen, in which our Liz faces up to a possible Spanish invasion. At 11.20pm is a newsy review, That Was 2010, should you wish to see in midnight with memories of Nick Clegg forgetting what a 'promise' is and the Chilean miners rediscovering sunlight. But most of us, I suspect, will be over on BBC2 for Jools' Annual Hootenanny (11pm). Among the guests are Kylie Minogue, Toots Hibbert (doing 'Pressure Drop' and 'Monkey Man' for all you ageing Ska fans out there), Roger Daltrey, Rumer and Cee-Lo Green. lus, the Rhythm & Blues Orchestra with Ruby Turner and Rico Rodriguez. And, if traditional holds, Paul Weller and Tom Jones'll turn up, as usual!

However, yer actual Keith Telly Topping's usual mood with regard to New Year's Eve is probably best summed up by Grumpy Old New Year - 10:00 BBC2. Contributors including Jenny Eclair, Arabella Weir, Des Lynam, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Alan Titchmarsh, Jeremy Clarkson, Linda Robson, Rhona Cameron and Shobna Gulati complain about various New Year's Eve shenanigans. They voice their opinions on such traditions as kissing strangers, staying up late, having to be sociable and everything else associated with the biggest night out of the year. And, good on then, I hate this effing night as well!

And, so to the news: EastEnders hard man Phil Mitchell will suffer a heart attack in a dramatic new storyline for 2011, reports have suggested. The soap regular - played by Steve McFadden - will collapse at the Walford nightclub R&R in the New Year as his health takes a sudden turn for the worse. According to the Mirror, a further twist will see Phil taunted and 'left for dead' by his long-time nemesis Ian Beale, who witnesses his 'shock medical scare.' A quick word to the Mirror just to clue them up. It's not real, you know? They're actors. The surprise turn of events comes after Phil discovers Ian's affair with Albert Square temptress Glenda (Glynis Barber) and demands cash in return for his silence - while continuing his own secret relationship with the blonde. An anonymous 'source' allegedly told the newspaper: 'Ian follows Phil into R&R to give him the [blackmail] money but he walks in on Phil and Glenda getting it on. The passion is too much for Phil and he collapses. Phil is gasping for air and Glenda is yelling for help. Ian tells her to go and call an ambulance while he waits. He then promises to tell Phil's girlfriend Shirley about his affair and take his son, Ben, to live with him if Phil doesn't make it. Ian then leaves him for dead.' Cold. But, you know, funny as well.

Emmerdale actress Charlie Hardwick has revealed that she would be sad to see her character Val Pollard permanently split from her on-screen husband, Eric. Val apparently walks out on Eric when his stepson, Michael, accuses him of murdering his mother Elizabeth, who died in the infamous 1993 plane crash on the soap. However, the actress has admitted that she hopes their parting isn't forever. She told Inside Soap: 'Personally, I'd be very sad if it was the end of their marriage, because I get along really well with Chris Chittell, who plays Eric. If the accusations about him killing Elizabeth are true, he might even be arrested and end up in jail! I just don't know what's going to happen next.' A word of advice, Charlie. It's not real. You're both actors. Charlie added: 'She wouldn't sit at home wasting her life - she'll find another husband in a fortnight.'

Chloe Sevigny claims that she has refused to do any more nude scenes on the HBO drama Big Love. Sevigny has appeared naked in a number of the show's episodes so far, but admits that she no longer wants to be the only character on the series who does. 'I don't want to be the show's Samantha, like on Sex And The City - the only woman who'll do nudity,' Sevigny said in an interview for Playboy. 'So I refused to do any more and there was a lot of back-and-forth about it.' Having participated in a number of explicit sex scenes throughout her film career, including unsimulated oral sex in The Brown Bunny, the actress - picture here in a state of undress - claims that she no longer feels the need to shock audiences in that way. 'I've done many explicit sex scenes, but I'm not that interested in doing any more,' Sevigny explained. 'I'm more self-aware now and wouldn't be able to be as free, so why even do it.'

Jedward are being lined-up to front a new Saturday morning show for CBBC, according to tabloid reports. The Sun claims that the BBC wants the former X Factor failures to become 'the next Ant and Dec' after their ITV2 show was cancelled. A 'source' allegedly said: 'Yes, it's curtains for the ITV2 show. They did one series and obviously everyone hoped they'd do another but it's not happening. I think ITV2 have had enough of them. But their loss could well be the BBC's gain. There's a lot of interest in them doing a Saturday morning show on CBBC as obviously with their daft nature they appeal to kids.'

American musician and painter Don Van Vliet, Captain Beefheart, has died aged sixty nine. Van Vliet's death in California, from complications from multiple sclerosis, was announced by the Michael Werner Gallery in New York. Van Vliet was 'one of the most original recording artists of his time,' the gallery said in a statement. He rose to fame in the mid 1960s with a unique style of blues-inspired rock & roll, later devoting himself to art. Musicians including Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Franz Ferdinand, Gang of Four, Joe Strummer, PJ Harvey, The Fall, Pere Ubu, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and The White Stripes are among those who have cited him as a major influence. As early as 1970, The Edgar Broughton Band had a UK hit with an excellent cover of his 'Dropout Boogie.' 'Don Van Vliet was a complex and influential figure in the visual and performing arts,' the gallery said in a statement. 'He is perhaps best known as the incomparable Captain Beefheart who, together with his Magic Band, rose to prominence in the 1960s with a totally unique style of blues-inspired, experimental rock & roll. This would ultimately secure Van Vliet's place in music history as one of the most original recording artists of his time. After two decades in the spotlight as an avant-garde composer and performer, Van Vliet retired from performing to devote himself wholeheartedly to painting and drawing. Like his music, Van Vliet's lush paintings are the product of a truly rare and unique vision.' Van Vliet combined peculiar tones with music that drew on blues, jazz, psychedelia and a barrage of other genres. The musician recorded under the name of Captain Beefheart with members of the Magic Band through to 1982. Captain Beefheart's first three releases with the Magic Band received positive reviews from music connoisseurs - John Peel, for instance, was a huge fan - and several of his LPs (most notably Safe As Milk, Lick My Decals Off Baby and the epic Trout Mask Replica) are now regarded as classics. But did never quite connected with the wider public. However, he soon began a close creative relationship with Frank Zappa, a former high school classmate, who helped him forge his way toward redefining popular music. According to Peel, 'If there has ever been such a thing as a genius in the history of popular music, it's Beefheart. I heard echoes of his music in some of the records I listened to last week and I'll hear more echoes in records that I listen to this week.' John's narration to a 1977 BBC documentary about his hero added: 'A psychedelic shaman who frequently bullied his musicians and sometimes alarmed his fans, Don somehow remained one of rock's great innocents.' During his teen years in Lancaster, California, Van Vliet acquired an eclectic musical taste and formed 'a mutually useful but volatile' friendship with Frank Zappa. He began performing with his Captain Beefheart persona in 1964 and joined the original Magic Band in 1965. The group drew acclaim with their first LP in 1967 on Buddah Records, Safe As Milk. After being dropped by two consecutive record labels, they signed to Zappa's newly formed Straight Records. Zappa as producer granted Beefheart the unrestrained artistic freedom to release 1969's Trout Mask Replica, a double LP of weirdness and brilliance in equal measures. Having not been paid for a European tour, and worn out from years of Beefheart's abusive behaviour, the entire Magic Band left him in 1974. Van Vliet has been described as 'one of modern music's true innovators' with 'a singular body of work virtually unrivalled in its daring and fluid creativity.' Although he achieved little commercial or mainstream critical success in music, he sustained a cult following as a highly significant and incalculable influence on an array of New Wave, punk, post-punk, experimental and indie rock musicians. Known for his enigmatic personality, Van Vliet made few public appearances after his retirement from music (and from his Beefheart persona) in 1982 to pursue a career in art, an interest that originated in his childhood talent for sculpture. In recent years, Van Vliet devoted himself almost entirely to painting and drawing. A piece of expressionist artwork by the musician was on sale at the Michael Werner Gallery earlier this month at a price of forty thousand dollars. Van Vliet is survived by his wife of more than forty years, Jan Van Vliet. And, for those of you, dear blog reader, who've never experienced the downright bizarreness of the good Captain at his finest, here's Mark Ellen and David Hepworth reminiscing about meeting him and introducing a perfectly extraordinary 1974 performance by the Magic Band of 'Up The My Oh My' on The Old Grey Whistle Test.

There's two of yer Keith Telly Topping's 45(s) of the Day today. The first was inspired, not only by a childhood love for the TV series that it was a theme to (even in Britain had that!), but also because of the use of this chillingly beautiful Ben Nisbet and Michael Carr song in Saturday's Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story.
Bless. Oh, and if you ever get the chance to hear the Trash Can Sinatras version, it's even better! The second 45 of the Day, meanwhile, is in further tribute to the one-of-a-kind Don Van Vliet. As if anyone actually needs an excuse to play 'Sure Nuff N Yes I Do' any less than once a day for the rest of their lives.
Sound.

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