Saturday, June 23, 2012

Week Twenty Seven: Then We Move Like Tigers On Vaseline

The apocalypticly bad weather which had caused chaos up and down the country over the last two or three days seems set to continue for a while yet. Torrential rain has caused flooding across large areas of Northern England, with some people being forced to leave their homes. The Environment Agency has issued more than ninety flood warnings and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has five in place. Properties in the Lancashire towns of Croston and Darwen have been evacuated after nearby rivers burst their banks. The EA has worked through the night to help clear blockages. The agency mobilised staff across the North West to monitor river levels and operate flood defences alongside emergency services. EA flood risk manager Pete Fox said the situation was 'worrisome.' Well, thanks for that assessment, guy, that's really helpful. 'We've seen unprecedented wet weather during June and the catchments, the soil, is all sodden and this last heavy bout of rainfall has landed on top of that soil and quickly gone down into rivers and is now going down through the Pennine Rivers,' he said. There are ninety five flood warnings in place across Northern England and fifty two less severe flood alerts covering the North East, North West, the South West and Wales. SEPA has issued nine alerts. The EA said the local authority in Croston had been distributing sandbags after the River Yarrow burst its banks.

And, on that soggy bombshell, here's yer actual Top Telly Tips:

Friday 28 June
Tonight sees the Would I Lie To You? end-of-series compilation - 8:30 BBC1 - or, you know, 'clip-show' as it's otherwise known. This is an episode where, because the Would I Lie To You? team record more material than they can place into each show, they’re left with a variety of awkward offcuts and non sequitars. Often these are the marginally-less-believable attempts by panellists to persuade us of outlandish incidents, lies so daft that their tellers can barely keep straight faces — but not always. Alexander Armstrong, for instance, gets a round of applause just for reading out his card, featuring as it does the claim that in one weekend he had a curry with Andy Murray, went bowling with JK Rowling and attended an odd party with Todd Carty. True, I'm guessing. Team captains David Mitchell and Lee Mack are joined by guests including the risible odious unfunny glake Jack Whitehall, Greg Davies, Mel Giedroyc, Chris Tarrant, Bob Mortimer, Miranda Hart, Kate Humble, Miles Jupp and Clare Balding to hoodwink their opponents with absurd facts and plausible lies about themselves. Last in the current series.

'Shakespeare lived in an age when writing was a dangerous game: Christopher Marlowe was murdered, Thomas Kidd tortured and Ben Johnson thrown into jail,' says Simon Schama in the concluding episode of Simon Schama's Shakespeare - 9:00 BBC2. Yet Shakespeare was so inspired by observing Elizabeth I and James I that he wrote plays exploring themes of power and ambition while depicting kings who were murderers or mad — and, amazingly, he got away with it. To appreciate his audacity, Simon suggests that we imagine a Royal Command Performance for the Queen 'featuring a naked, demented bag lady version of herself, shuffling among the homeless, raving and crying.' So, expect to see that act on Britain's Got Talent next year. The historian presents the concluding documentary tracing Shakespeare's enduring popularity back to his own times, asking how far his tragedies were inspired by his experiences of writing for the courts of Elizabeth and James. Schama considers whether the monarchs' frailty, vanity and self-obsession would have allowed the Bard to probe deep into the royal mind, allowing him to explore the great themes of power and ambition - and resulting in the creation of such powerful characters as Richard II, Macbeth and King Lear. Actors including Judi Dench, Simon Russell Beale and Harriet Walter deliver Shakespeare's words.

Running away to join the circus was once almost every child's dream, but the reality of having to make new friends in a different school every week, being despised for your traveller lifestyle and having to dangle from a trapeze twice nightly despite the rows of the empty seats doesn't seem to make it nearly so appealing. This is revealed in the one-off The Circus - 9:00 ITV. This honest documentary follows the Darnells, descendants of a famous circus family since the 1800s. Paulo's Circus is all they know and they obviously love the business. However, times are changing — audiences are dwindling and only one of Kenny Darnell's three sons is certain he wants to continue the family tradition. One son, if he can get up the courage to tell his dad, is even thinking of leaving the Big Top to live in the outside world. There's not a hint of Big Fat Gypsy Wedding finger-pointing or sniggering about this film. Instead it offers a glimpse into a form of entertainment and a lifestyle that may not be around much longer. Life on the road presents the Darnells with many challenges, from low ticket sales to rising petrol prices, while the desire of some family members to settle down puts the future of the business in doubt. Narrated by Bradley Walsh.

On a comedown from amyl-nitrate in the early 1970s, Pete Townshend developed the story of Jimmy, a disaffected Mod who was 'doubly schizophrenic,' with four distinct personalities to reflect the four conflicting members of The Who. Quadrophenia, their second concept album (after Tommy), was born. In Quadrophenia: Can You See The Real Me? - 9:00 BBC4 - Townshend and Roger Daltrey are on biting anecdotal form in an elegiac film which explores the tensions during the making of the classic double LP and visits their former haunts in south London. It even tracks down two well-turned-out ladies who, forty years ago, were teens with attitude in the LP's monochrome photobook. Townshend revisits his former haunts in Shepherd's Bush and Battersea, to reflect on The Who's sixth studio LP, released in 1973. He recalls how the record was nearly abandoned due to financial problems, a culture of drink and drugs, and a studio that was under construction. Featuring contributions by fellow band member Roger, manager Bill Curbishley and record producer Ron Nevison.

Saturday 29 June
There is a scene in The Hollow Crown - 9:00 BBC2 - where King Richard II idly writes his name in the sand of a beach with the end of his sceptre. It's an affecting moment from Ben Whishaw, who makes a wonderfully fey, self-absorbed monarch, often toying with the trappings of power like a bored teenager. Television has been known to make a right bollock of Shakespeare on occasions but if the other three adaptations in this Hollow Crown series are as sure-footed as this one, viewers are in for a treat. The adaptation - which unfolds in period settings and doesn't much bother straining for relevance - is poised, intense and beautifully filmed. It has style with plenty of substance: when John of Gaunt (a gruff Patrick Stewart) delivers his famous speech on the glories of England ('This sceptr'd isle' and all that) then denounces Richard, it feels as televisually thrilling as a power-play in The Sopranos or The Wire. With an astonishingly impressive cast (David Suchet and David Morrissey are both superb) this is one to watch, record and treasure. In this series, the BBC presents four of Shakespeare's history plays - Richard II, Henry IV Parts One and Two, and Henry V, following events during sixteen years of monarchy, from the machinations of the royal court to the bloody battlefields of England and France. Whishaw heads the cast as King Richard, who is asked to settle a dispute between his cousin Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray, but when the quarrel gets out of hand he banishes both men from the realm - setting in motion a chain of events that will come back to haunt him. Rory Kinnear and Lindsay Duncan co-star.

Tonight sees the final two episodes of the - extraordinary - second series of Spiral - from 9:00 BBC4. After the execution of Aziz, light seems to flood into this stunning French thriller and make it resemble a much more routine police procedural. But not for long, because the layers of complexity and the shades of morality are now engraved on the action. Bent but sexy lawyer Josephine Karlsson slides deeper into the Larbis' criminal world, while Chief Inspector Laure Berthaud seems to become ever more human. When undercover agent Samy is compromised, there's a palpable sense that Berthaud and her team can sort out any problem. Except for Karlsson, that is. It all builds towards the final, high-tension twists in a gripping series. Samy tries to allay the suspicions of the Larbi brothers as the operation reaches its conclusion. Series four of Engrenages is due to be broadcast in France later in the year and, hopefully, it won't be long before we'll get it over here.

Jason Manford is joined by Stacey Solomon (why? I mean, just ... why?) and comedians Johnny Vegas, Mark Watson, Rufus Hound and Angelos Epithimiou to discuss what would happen should England win the Euro 2012 tournament, including the possibility that the country's transport network would grind to a halt during and following the celebrations. Of course, Eurogeddon: Why England Shouldn't Win Euro 2012 - 9:00 ITV4 - has been strategically placed in the schedules the night before the actual final itself just in case there's a chance in hell that England have managed to beat the Italians and the Germans and made it all the way to Kiev. Unlikely, certainly, but they're hedging their bets, just to be on the safe side. Meanwhile, I repeat, Stacey Solomon? Why, for the love of God, why?

Sam questions whether she is ready for active service when she falters during a training exercise, and her return to Afghanistan is jeopardised further when an army colleague asks her to lie for him in the latest episode of Casualty - 9:10 BBC1. Meanwhile, new nurse Fletch makes a favourable impression on everyone except Lloyd, but the pair are forced to work together to help a woman whose initial joy at being told she is pregnant turns to horror when the true diagnosis is made. Guest starring Nikki Sanderson and Bill Ward (Coronation Street's Candice Stowe and Charlie Stubbs). No doubt viewers will eventually get used to seeing Smithy from The Bill (Alex Walkinshaw) as Fletch – a cheeky nurse keeping up the jack-the-lad quota now that Lennie has left. But, for the moment, one keeps expecting to learn he is on some vital undercover work from Sun Hill. Instead Fletch does something far more shocking: he winks at Tess. Normally the mini-matron would respond with a basilisk stare and stern lecture, but instead, amazingly, she smiles and moves on. She must be ill. In which case, she's probably in the best place.

Sunday 1 July
Four years ago when Spain's keeper-captain Iker Casillas lifted the Euro 2008 trophy in Vienna, it set Spanish football on a roll that may just, as you read this, still be rolling. But it touched less hearts than usual here in the UK because some of us were living a rather semi-detached lifestyle: no side had qualified. Fast-forward to this summer and viewers have, it would seem, been rather spellbound over the past few weeks by a genuine classic of a tournament. Not merely because Roy Hodgson's England have progressed further than expected, but thanks to a wealth of bold football, big characters and high drama. All right, the Czech Republic versus Portugal game excepted. That was shite. On the minus side, the tournament cast a cruel spotlight on our pundit community. Too many games have been packed with thrilling incidents, only to be drained of all drama by soulless grey men in chairs, droning in unintelligible accents and sucking all of the joy out of not just football but, also, life. But, enough about Jamie Carragher. Why can radio give us sharp, opinionated coverage while TV trades in banal platitudes in oafish buffoons like Adrian Chiles? Gary Lineker presents the BBC's coverage of the final at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev (kick-off 7.45pm), where the winners of the fourteenth European Championship - formerly the European Nations Cup if, like yer actual Keith Telly Topping, you're an old git - will be crowned. After twenty three days of competition, consisting of thirty matches, just two teams remain from the sixteen that had aspirations of not only competing in the conclusion to the tournament held in Poland and Ukraine, but of triumphing in it. Spain began as favourites following their victory four years ago, which they followed by securing the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and were hoping to become the first nation to win the Henri Delaunay trophy twice in succession. While the competition itself has existed in several different formats and has undergone several expansions since the inaugural staging in 1960, nine different countries have seen their name engraved on the trophy and entered into the record books. History points to the final being a close encounter, with only one final having been settled by more than a two-goal margin, with the last four all being decided by a single goal. Subsequent programmes are, as ever, subject to change when - rather than if - the game goes to extra time. Of course, in the interests of fairness one should point out that the game is also being shown on ITV. But, absolutely nobody with a smidgen of common sense - except, perhaps, some members of the Chiles family - are going to be watching that.

Not much else to discuss tonight, frankly, although if you are in the mood for something different, there's a very worthy repeat of Timeshift: Between the Lines, Railways in Fiction and Film - 7:00 BBC4. In this excellent and thoughtful documentary, Andrew Martin investigates the ways in which trains have been depicted in literature and on film throughout the decades. He begins by revealing how they were initially used as frightening symbols of the impersonal machine age, before moving on to such works as E Nesbit's The Railway Children, which show them in a more affectionate light. He also explores their cinematic role in The Thirty Nine Steps and Brief Encounter.

Elsewhere, there's a Simpsons marathon on Sky1, two vintage episodes of The Tommy Cooper Show on ITV4 (which will probably be the funniest thing on TV all night, Adrian Chiles miserable mush notwithstanding), the usual mix of Top Gear and Qi XL on Dave and Big Brother on Channel Five. Nah, on second thoughts, stick with the football, that's my advice.

Monday 2 July
There are times, dear blog reader, when it's hard to resist the feeling that there's less to Blackout - 9:00 BBC1 - than first meets the eye. It looks tremendous, in a Blade Runner sort of way; rain pours out of slate grey skies onto the mean streets of an unspecified northern city as drunk, dissipated and corrupt councillor Daniel Demoys (played by Christopher Eccleston) does a dirty deal in a miserable alleyway. He later wakes on the family sofa, his shirt soaked in blood. His long-suffering wife Alex (Dervla Kirwan) thinks he's had an alcoholic blackout. From here on you'll probably be at least one step ahead of most of the characters in Bill Gallagher's script, but you probably won't care because Blackout is very cleverly directed and packed with brilliant performances: Eccleston, of course, does his usual bang-up job. Ewen Bremner as a political fixer quietly dominates in his too-brief scenes and Sherlock's Andrew Scott is a bundle of febrile energy as a troubled cop obsessed by his ex-wife. Demoys' life is turned upside down when an alcohol-fuelled row with a businessman gets out of hand, and he beats the man so badly he ends up in a coma. As he seeks help, Daniel takes a bullet in a drive-by drug shooting and is soon lauded a local hero - could this be his chance of redemption?

The day after London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, 7 July 2005, terrorists attacked the capital's public transport network, killing fifty two people and injuring more than seven hundred. Seven years later, as the eyes of the world are once again on the city, the documentary 7/7: One Day in London - 9:00 BBC2 - gathers the testimony of people directly affected by the bombings, from commuters to emergency services workers and victims' families. Many of whom tell their stories on camera for the first time as they reflect on how their lives have changed by the events.

With the Oscar-winning 1981 film Chariots of Fire about to be re-released, Nigel Havers, one of the movie's stars, investigates the true stories of athletes Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell in The Real Chariots of Fire - 9:00 ITV. Nigel, of course, played the fictional Lord Andrew Lindsay, the aristocratic Cambridge student runner partially based on David Burghley the Marquess of Exeter. His journey takes him to Cambridge, Edinburgh and Paris to meet the daughters of Abrahams and Liddell, while the film's director, Hugh Hudson, and star, Ben Cross, are among those recalling the making of the movie. Celebrity fans including Trevor McDonald, Kelly Holmes, Louis Walsh and David Baddiel also contribute.

Search the name Danny MacAskill on YouTube and you'll see bicycle stunts from the young Scot which defy belief. Danny rides a bike as if it were a cross between a jetpack and a surfboard, flipping across walls and over flights of stairs with skill that's almost laughable, as you can see in Daredevils: Life on the Edge - 10:00 Channel Four. The best bits of this programme are the sections where we see Danny do just that, but there's a bigger idea underlying it, the question of why people like MacAskill pursue such extreme - and dangerous - sports. So, in the documentary, Danny meets other daredevils, including a TT rider ('Get it wrong and you’re dead; that's what I like about it') and one of those men who jump off cliffs in wingsuits. It's all down to brain chemistry, apparently. Despite becoming famous through clips of his bike skills on the Internet, Danny has suffered a series of injuries and is currently unable to perform. He speaks to fellow enthusiasts, scientists and psychologists to try to understand what leads people to take incredible risks.

Tuesday 3 July
Gates is desperate to sever his ties with Jackie after being duped into covering up her crime in the second episode of Line of Duty - 9:00 BBC2. But, he is plunged into an even more dangerous situation as Arnott and Fleming close in on his secret. Crime thriller, starring Lennie James, Martin Compston, Gina McKee, Neil Morrissey and Vicky McClure.

John Sergeant pays tribute to the aircrews of RAF Bomber Command who died serving their country and tells the stories of some of the surviving members in Bomber Command - 9:00 ITV. These include bomb aimer Andy Wiseman, pilot Bill Lucas, rear gunners Bob Gill and Harry Irons, and navigator Harry Hughes. On 28 June, the Queen unveiled a memorial in London's Green Park to honour the fifty five thousand five hundred and seventy three men who gave their lives in bombing raids during the Second World War.

In the latest episode of CSI - 9:00 Channel Five - the team investigates the kidnap of a boy and his nanny from an opulent residence during a storm. However, as DB and Finn comb the crime scene for any clues to be had, a power cut plunges the city into darkness and renders their high-tech equipment useless - forcing the experts to resort to some old-fashioned techniques to analyse the evidence and find the abductees. Then Hodges and Henry get stuck in the lift. Top comedy.

A repeat, but a very worthy one, is the final episode of Rude Britannia - 10:00 BBC4. This is a look at the lewder end of British humour from the 1960s to the present day, examining the tradition of cartooning, with Gerald Scarfe, Steve Bell and Martin Rowson providing examples of their work. The programme also examines the rude comic art of Viz magazine, the polari innuendo-laden smut of massively popular radio show Round the Horne, the satirical underground magazine Oz and the dark humour of playwright Joe Orton. Last in the series.
Wednesday 4 July
When I Get Older - 9:00 BBc1 - is the first of a two-part documentary in which four famous pensioners leave behind their comfortable lives and move in with elderly people less fortunate than themselves to experience some of the difficulties faced by senior citizens in Britain today. BBC war correspondent John Simpson is confronted with the reality of loneliness when he spends time with isolated OAP Peggy and actress Lesley Joseph befriends Pat and Malcolm, who face a daily struggle to cope with the latter's ill health after a stroke four years ago. Broadcaster Gloria Hunniford meets grandmother Ivy, who is living on the breadline, while actor and presenter Tony Robinson helps widower Philip come to terms with his wife's death. Part of the When I'm Sixty Five season. Continues tomorrow.

David Bailey takes arty Andrew Graham-Dixon on a photographic tour of the changing landscape of London's East End in The Culture Show - 10:00 BBC2. Meanwhile yer actual Alan Yentob meets Renzo Piano, the architect of Britain's tallest skyscraper The Shard, while actor Willem Dafoe joins big quiffed Marky Kermode to discuss his role in Daniel Nettheim's latest film The Hunter. Plus, a performance by dance company Tomorrow's Men, and Sarfraz Manzoor talks to Nicola Barker about her new comic novel The Yips, which explores the world of golf.

A Short History of Everything Else - 10:00 - is Channel Four's (rather obvious) attempt to do a sort of Qi-style intelligence-based comedy quiz. It's not very good but it has its moments. In this, the fourth and final episode, Griff Rhys Jones is joined by Bob Mortimer and Roisin Conaty for the comedy panel game that uses archive clips to test contestants' knowledge of history, with team captains Marcus Brigstocke and Charlie Baker. The panellists provide irreverent interpretations of events in the past few decades, which range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Last in the series. Whether it will return, time will tell. It usually does.

Thursday 5 July
With the Olympic Games just around the corner, odious risible Vernon Kay hosts a competition shown over the next three nights in which teams from across the country put their sporting skills to the test for a chance to win one hundred grand in Let's Get Gold - 9:00 ITV. Without even going any further into the description you just know this is going to be crap, don't you. On the strength of that opening sentence alone. But, let's add some cherries to the cake. The contestants must impress 'four famous judges' - former England footballer and professional Twitter whinger Rio Ferdinand, former England cricketer and now national joke Andrew Flintoff, singer (allegedly) and actress Martine McCutcheon and Una Healy from The Saturdays (who?) - putting on a spectacular show in disciplines as wide-ranging as the martial arts and cheerleading. Five teams demonstrate their talents in the first of two heats before Saturday's final, assessed on their technique, athleticism and sporting prowess, as well as creativity and flair. As an example of just about everything that's wrong with ITV's lowest-common-denominator idea of what will entertain the shit-for-brain lowlife scum on council estates whom they seem to believe makes up the majority of their audience, this is pretty much textbook. All of the key elements are there, gurning Vernon Kay with his blokey professional Northerisms, Rio and Freddie, a couple of hasbeens who used to be good at their jobs but are now more often in the news because of making their mouth go and a couple of cuties who can, we presume, read and autocue and walk in a straight line at the same time. The format is unoriginal as well. Frankly, ITV - the network that once broadcast World In Action - should be fucking ashamed of themselves for putting this out.

Everybody wants a piece of the sporting malarkey tonight, it would seem. In Michael Johnson: Survival of the Fastest - 9:00 Channel Four - the four-time Olympic gold medallist embarks on 'a personal journey' in a bid to understand whether a possible link between the transatlantic slave trade and genetic selection may be a factor in the continuing success of African-American and Caribbean athletes at top-flight events. He also explores the appalling crimes carried out on slave ships and plantation owners' barbaric breeding programmes.
Stacey Dooley explores how the global financial crisis has affected the lives and futures of young people in Ireland in Coming Here Soon - 9:00 BBC3. Her journey (is everybody on a 'journey' tonight, or what?) gets off to a dramatic start when she witnesses a clash between police and protesters in Dublin, before discovering the devastating consequences of the end of the country's property boom for first-time buyers. Finally, she learns why the Irish recession has prompted thousands of people to emigrate in search of work - and examines whether this phenomenon could be replicated in the UK.

Storyville: Hitler, Stalin and Mr Jones - 9:00 BBC4 - is a fascinating looking documentary exploring the death of Welsh investigative journalist Gareth Jones, who revealed how Stalin's polices in the 1930s caused millions of deaths in Ukraine, and had the audacity to hitch a lift in Hitler's private jet. George Carey's intelligent, perceptive film explores whether taking on the Soviet dictator and possibly breaching the fine line between journalism and spying led to the reporter's premature demise.

And, so to the news: Comedian Jimmy Carr has been jokingly heckled at a gig over his tax arrangements but told the crowd he had to take criticism on the chin. Carr has been widely condemned for taking part in a tax avoidance scheme. In response to a heckler who called him a 'tax dodger,' he replied: 'I've got to take that, I'm afraid. I've been dishing it out for years.' On taking to the stage at the Stockport Plaza, he said he had had 'a busy week' but wanted to perform a normal routine. 'The thing I wanted to say right at the top of the gig was I've been in the papers all week,' he told the crowd at the first of two shows at the venue on Friday. 'It obviously produces gags, that's my job. But how about I just do a show for you. What do you think?' he added to cheers. As the show went on, references to the controversy were peppered throughout the routine, both by Carr himself and members of the crowd. During a section where he talked to audience members, he exchanged banter with a man who gave his job as a tax inspector, while he started another segment of his thoughts with: 'Number one - get a new accountant.' At a different point, the comedian said he would 'take my medicine' because he had 'made a mistake.' Finishing the show, Carr thanked the audience and said how nervous he had been beforehand and that he was humbled by the reaction. BBC entertainment correspondent Colin Paterson said: 'It was definitely a warm crowd. The heckling was not vicious - it was good natured. No-one debated with him. There were only smart alec comments. He seemed quite emotional at the end. He was quite contrite.' The gig came two days after Carr said he 'made a terrible error of judgement' by using the K2 tax avoidance scheme. He has now ended his involvement in it. A day earlier, Prime Minister David Cameron involved himself in the row calling Carr's use of the arrangement 'morally wrong.' Cameron then showed spectacular hypocrisy (something Carr himself has been accused of, not entirely unfairly) when asked to comment on other alleged tax avoiders - including Take That singer Gary Barlow, a noted Conservative supporter - and refused to do so. Nice bit of chicken-shit cowardice there, Mr Prime Minister, sir. In a series of messages on Twitter Carr said it was 'obviously a serious matter' and would 'conduct my financial affairs much more responsibly' in the future. More than one thousand people, including Carr, are thought to be using the Jersey-based K2 scheme, which is said to be sheltering one hundred and sixty eight million smackers a year from the Treasury. The latest episode of Carr's TV panel show Eight Out Of Ten Cats was broadcast on Friday. In response to a jibe from fellow comedian Sean Lock, he said: 'I've been dishing it out for years, it's about time I got some.' He added: 'I hate to sound like I'm passing the buck, but I'll tell you who I blame for this whole mess - me. It's entirely my fault.' Eight Out Of Ten Cats averaged 2.18m, its biggest audience in more than two-and a-half-years.

Coleen Nolan has reportedly signed up for Celebrity Big Brother. Nolan, who quit This Morning's Hub strand last week after two years, is said to have agreed a six-figure deal to join the Channel Five series according to tabloid reports. And then some people will try to convince you that there's a God.

The tragedy of King Lear, with its naked, ranting king, was, explains historian and broadcaster Simon Schama, written to be performed in the presence of James I, who, like Lear, was famed for his need of flattery. 'Lear's weakness was also notoriously James's. There was no praise, however fawning, that wouldn't go down well with the king. No playwright, before or since has got under the skin of the nation like Shakespeare,' says Schama, whose two-part BBC documentary on William Shakespeare begins this week. It is this, he contends, plus his unparalleled ability to appeal to 'gents and groundlings' alike that establishes Shakespeare as the keeper of our national identity. In fact, Schama goes further, crediting the Bard not just with characterising England and the English, but with creating the very idea of England. 'Shakespeare's audience could see England on the stage almost before it existed in reality,' he says. 'Shakespeare was born some thirty years after the Protestant Reformation began, divorcing England from Catholic Europe. For the first time, England was on its own, and the English needed to know who they were, what made them unique and what their story was. History was not just one of Shakespeare's great obsessions, it was the obsession of the age.' Religious schism also forged a new form of popular theatre. 'Shakespeare's theatre could only be born once an older, Catholic theatre had been killed off,' says Schama. For a mainly illiterate audience, storytelling, pre-Reformation, had been largely visual - the populace received much of its religious education through spectacular paintings in churches. Medieval mystery plays and miracle plays were also full of spectacle. Protestantism, with its fundamentalist mistrust of 'imagery' and strict reliance on 'The Word' of scripture, demanded a new, but equally gripping art form. 'It is one of those miraculous historical coincidences that Shakespeare, a child with a genius for storytelling, should be born at a time when The Word became supreme,' says Schama. The 'great word-picturer,' he explains, effectively reshaped the way we speak. 'In the second half of the Sixteenth Century, English was transformed. Hundreds of new words and phrases appeared in print every year and many of them appeared for the first time in Shakespeare's plays. More than likely, he didn't invent words and phrases such as "foul-mouthed", "puke", "queasy", "fob off", "good riddance" - they were there in the mouths of the people. What Shakespeare did was to wire together the world of the high-ups and the world of the low-lifes. By doing that, he expanded what literary English was and out of that expansion came imagery rich in ideas - "the green-eyed monster", "spotless reputation", "the world is my oyster". And after this word revolution, we all think bigger and in brighter colour.' The revolution carried all before it. As Shakespeare was sharpening his quill, the first purpose-built playhouses in England since Roman times were packing in the punters: 'In the 1550s, the great crowd-pleasers had been cockfighting and bear-baiting,' says Schama. 'But by the 1590s, between fifteen and twenty thousand Londoners saw a play every week.' What they found there - specifically, what Shakespeare gave them in his early history plays about the Plantagenets, the Yorkists and Lancastrians - was a new, nationalist consciousness. 'It was a kind of communion of Englishness,' says Schama. 'What we feel at Wembley, they all felt at the Rose, the Curtain and the Globe.' Contemporary records suggest that one in twenty Londoners went to see Shakespeare's Henry VI on its first run. It is, by modern standards of theatre-going, an astonishing statistic, but Schama is impatient with suggestions that Shakespeare may have lost his common touch, that classical theatre today is more accessible to gents than to groundlings. 'I think it's incredibly patronising of anybody to suppose that is true of Shakespeare. I was recently on the judging panel of Shakespeare by Heart. We were listening to children - all from state schools - who learned long speeches by Shakespeare. They weren't all white, they weren't all pink or beige - they were exactly the face of young Britain that you'd expect and had absolutely no problem with the language or meaning of the plays. They were utterly wonderful. Shakespeare isn't scary. It shouldn't be scary. And to suggest that schools, for example, shouldn't teach him or should teach him less because he's not "accessible" is robbing children of an incredible experience with their own language and an understanding of what it means to be human.' Even when Shakespeare confronted the monarchs, he did so on a deeply personal level. When Hamlet was performed at court in 1603, the audience would have been acutely aware of the parallels he drew between Hamlet's circumstances and those of King James. 'As the plot unfolded, James must have felt increasingly ill at ease,' says Schama. 'His father, Lord Darnley, had been murdered. The murderer, James Bothwell, had married James's mother, Mary Queen of Scots, and the pair lived as king and queen, flaunting their crime very much like Claudius and Gertrude in Hamlet. This was the nightmare that haunted James and here it was, being played out right in front of him.' From the rousing patriotism of Henry V to the sophisticated, political philosophy of Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear, Shakespeare's view of royalty is deeply equivocal. 'On the one hand, Shakespeare's monarchs are living symbols of their country,' points out Schama. 'Yet his kings and queens are also shown as grandiose, bloody-minded, sociopathic. And the question Shakespeare asks them, more insistently, more tragically than anyone before or since, is: what happens when the human animal breaks through the mask of royalty?' So how did Shakespeare manage to get away with it? 'The sheer audacity is breathtaking,' agrees Schama. 'And this in an age when writing was a dangerous game. Of his contemporaries, Kit Marlowe was murdered, Thomas Kyd was tortured and Ben Jonson was thrown in gaol. Shakespeare must have thrived on the thrill of it. And, you know, he was a shifty bugger. He was trained in classical rhetoric, so he was able to present all sides of an issue. But he also had this amazing capacity to get under the skin of an incredible range of different types and ranks. It's partly, I think, to do with his own weirdly various background - his mother was from an old Catholic family; his father was illiterate, but nevertheless rose to the position of alderman. Shakespeare himself set out to be an actor - which was really a low-rent type of career - then rose to become court playwright. So, for all these reasons, he's very difficult to "get at"; you never quite know which, if any, of the opinions expressed in his plays are his own. What we'll never know is whether that political "shape-shifting" was pragmatically assumed as a sort of fire insurance to allow him to say outrageous things.' Above all, says Schama, it is Shakespeare's 'sprawling, messy, virtuoso abundance' that speaks, still, to modern sensibilities. 'It's really about the bagginess of life. I think that when you immerse yourself in Shakespeare, when you come out the other end, it's not only philosophically illuminating, it makes you think again about loyalty, friendship, love, desire, danger, guilt, betrayal - all those things that make us human. You also feel you've had this huge banquet of life pass through - you almost bodily pass through you - and that is a fantastic thing. Nothing, but nothing is kept back.'

Case Sensitive returns to ITV on Sunday 8 July, which will see it clash with the new series of Wallander.

The London 2012 torch relay travelled from the Lancastrian coast to the North-West's largest city Manchester on day thirty six of its progress. Carrying the torch into the city centre was Britain's most successful ever Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy. Chris said he was 'very excited' to have been chosen to carry the torch in his adopted home city. The day's relay started at one of the homes of UK golf, Lytham St Anne's, famous for frequently hosting The Open Championship. The torch proceeded to Preston, Blackburn, Accrington and Burnley, before travelling via Rawtenstall, Rochdale and Bury to Manchester. Other communities visited included Warton, Crawshawbooth, Reedsholme, Heywood, Whitfield, Prestwich, Higher Broughton and Cheetham Hill. Forecasters had predicted that the high winds which marred Friday's relay leg - to Blackpool - should abate but there was likely to be continued rain. A BBC Blue Peter live outside broadcast and event in Burnley on Saturday had been cancelled because of poor conditions. On Friday a trip to the top of Blackpool Tower was called off and the relay route was diverted away from the sea front. On the centenary of his birth, the flame visited the statue of mathematician, code-breaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing in Manchester. The torch was taken to the monument by Martin Hewitt, thirty, a former soldier who overcame injuries sustained in Afghanistan to become an international skier. The day began at the Royal Lytham and St Anne's Golf Club just after 6am when fourteen-year-old schoolgirl Alice Kelly, who raised twelve hundred smackers towards an education project in The Gambia, took the flame. The morning also saw Rosie Hollis, twenty six, from Darwen, take the flame to Blackburn Town Hall. Rose launched a campaign to lower the age for cervical smear screening after she was diagnosed with cancer of the cervix two years ago. Lee Seung Gi, one of Korea's top actors, was among a number of Korean torchbearers on Saturday. He was one of the torchbeaers in Rochdale. Another noted cyclist, Geoff Cooke of Nottingham, carried the flame into Manchester, the home of British Cycling. Geoff, sixty seven, has been involved in the sport for more than fifty years, first as a competitor, then as a coach at the highest level - including ten years as a Great Britain coach. He still cycles and coaches juniors. The relay ended with an evening celebration at the city's Albert Square. The flame was carried onto the stage by 2011 Mancunian Of the Year, Carl Tilson, who raises funds for his fellow sufferers of muscle-wasting disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy. On Sunday, football legend Sir Bobby Charlton will carry the Olympic flame on day thirty seven as it passes The Scum's Old Trafford stadium. The 1966 World Cup winner, seventy four, is one of fourteen torchbearers on the leg starting from MediaCityUK at around 6.15am.

Spain waltzed past a disappointingly unambitious France side in Donetsk to set up a Euro 2012 semi-final meeting with Portugal. Xabi Alonso headed in a Jordi Alba cross after twenty minutes to put a commanding Spain side ahead. France struggled to make a mark and only conjured a rare threat when right-back Mathieu Debuchy headed a Franck Ribery cross over. Spain comfortably saw out a one-sided second-half and sealed the win with a ninety first-minute Alonso penalty.

Police say that about six thousand England fans are expected in Kiev for Sunday's Euro 2012 quarter-final against Italy. British Airways is using larger-than-normal aircraft for flights to Ukraine as more fans scramble to see England in the tournament's knock-out stage. During the team's group games, the official England following was around three thousand. Assistant Chief Constable Andy Holt, the police liaison officer in Ukraine, said there had not been a single arrest of England fans during the tournament so far. Holt, representing the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: 'We will have officers at the airport to meet and greet fans as they arrive at the airport, we have officers in uniform here in the centre of Kiev, out and about talking to fans, letting them see that there's a British police presence. But as the night moves on, we move into plain clothes and we're able to, if necessary, spot any problems that are occurring and advise our Ukrainian colleagues as to how perhaps they should best tackle any problems to stop them escalating.' But he said that so far there had been no sign of any misbehaviour from England fans. On Friday airlines reported a surge in sales of tickets to Kiev. Some English fans are also booking flights to Warsaw, for a potential semi-final clash with Germany. England fans are expected to outnumber the Italians, who do not traditionally follow the national team abroad in great numbers. There will be no UK government ministers at the match. Downing Street has said there are still concerns about the rule of law and selective justice in Ukraine. Although, there's also a fair bit of the latter over here too.

And so, to yer actual Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day. Which, in tribute to BBC4's excellent Bowie night on Friday features one of Ziggy's finest. Play the funky guitar Mick Ronson.

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