Friday, October 31, 2008

A Correction

Hi, dear blog reader. Yesterday, this blog featured some advance Top Telly Tips for next week, including a preview of Tuesday's UK-TV coverage of that evening's US Presidential Election. In accordance with much of the UK media's wholly understandable impartiality concerning this event, From the North posted photographs of the two Presidential candidates which were of exactly the same dimensions so as to avoid any suggestion of a lack of said impartiality on this blogger's part. Unfortunately, the image that this blogger - erroneously - posted proporting to be the Republican Presidential candidate, Senator John McCain (maker of all those lovely oven chips, of course) was, it turns out, not Senator McCain at all but was, in fact, a head-shot of Satan.

So, to avoid any further confusion in this matter, this is Senator McCain.
And, this, is Satan.
As readers can see, they're clearly very different.

This blogger would like to humbly apologise to both Senator McCain and, indeed, to Satan, for any confusion caused by yesterday's erroneous captioning. We promise that it won't happen again.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

More October (And A Few November) Top Telly Tips

Hello my lovely disciples (and, of course, disciplettes). Lord Keith Telly Topping (the Guv'nor of the Gogglebox) sincerely wishes you all the very best for the forthocming winter and hopes that you are all well and snug and warm on this dark, bitter and frozen night.
It be damned cold in these here parts, y'see. I was out at the match on Tuesday night and that is, I swear, the coldest that I've ever been in my life. I had to leave ten minutes from full time because I was so brass monkeys I thought my unmentionables were starting to develop frostbite.

I suppose I had better say something about Manuelgate before we start with the latest batch of Top Telly Tips. I don't really want to because it's clearly such a loaded subject and one that provokes such strong opinions. But, let's face it everyone else - and their dog - has had their say on the subject one way or the other. Including, it would appear, just about every politician in the country with access to a working gob. And besides, Britain is still - officially, at least - a free country. So, here goes.

Firstly, I must confess my initial thoughts were that it couldn't possibly have happened to two more worthy examples of that strange media creation of the last couple of decades or so: "People who seem to possess the unerring ability to put their foot in their own mouths. Usually at the most crassly inappropriate moments." And that, I suspect, is largely the reason for much of the furore over the issue - not all of it, of course, but all rhetoric about content aside, let's be honest here it's mostly because this is Brandy and Rossy, isn't it? Apart from the fact that what was said was the cheaply offensive guttersnipe utterings of a couple of grown men who spend much of their lives acting - apparently gleefully - like teenagers, both of whom also seem to have an acute inherent narcissism and an apparent belief in their own infallability. If this incident had involved ... I dunno, who else is on Radio Two these days? Terry Wogan, let's say, then I doubt there would have been anything remotely like the same sort of fuss. But then, of course, such an incident would never have happened on Wogan's show because, aside from anything else, he's not Goddamn stupid enough to do something as crass as that. Hell, there's "asking for trouble" and then there's "getting down on all fours and begging for trouble." I work in radio - obviously at a much lower level than these guys - but, as a consequence, I am fully aware of the hugely loaded nature of "the prank call" as a comedy device. It's something we've talked about on The Afternoon Show a few times. In fact, we even did a send-up of such a prank call - a sketch that I provided a couple of lines for - a few months ago. (In it Alfie decides to make a prank call, on air - "because all the other radio shows do it" - so, in the sketch, he rings up a hotel to book a room and ends up ... actually booking a room. Okay, it loses something in translation but it was a good sketch.) The whole point of the prank call concept, however - which isn't exactly new to radio - is that it wholly depends on getting the goodwill of the preson who is the recipient and/or butt of it after the fact. Otherwise - again - you're just asking for trouble and you've got no real defence if you get trouble as a consequence.

"I thought it was really funny to humiliate someone and I can't see why they're taking it so seriously" doesn't really cut it as an excuse, I'm afraid. Additionally, of course, you end up looking just plain mean. Which, sadly, is something that one could argue Rossy and Brandy often seem to quite enjoy looking.

All of the above would suggest that - in many ways - I'm quite happy Rossy and Brandy are in the process of getting a good trousers-down shoeing and will, possibly, end up losing their - very well paid - jobs. They were deliberately offensive to a perfectly harmless old man (and someone who retains, thanks to his previous career, much public goodwill) on a widely-listened to BBC radio show (and the "on the BBC" bit isn't an insignificant thing in this regard however much some of us may like it to have been). And they then had the bare-faced cheek to act all surprised when the poor chap actually got offended by it. If they didn't understand the possibility of that happening before they did it then they really do deserve everything they're currently getting.

However (you knew there was going to be a "however" in here somewhere, didn't you?) as BBC News pointed out last night - in what I thought was a very balanced and fair piece - this does seem to be something of a generational thing. Many younger viewers and listeners are, apparently, e-mailing the BBC genuinely perplexed about what all the fuss is about. I don't happen to agree with them but I can see why, if this had happened maybe twenty years ago, I'd've probably agreed. I believe that the majority of the furore here is directly because it's Brandy and Rossy and because they are both on MASSIVE BBC salaries. Like I say, if it had been somebody on BBC Radio Rutland's Morning Show I very much doubt it would have even been an issue. (Or, even if it was, it certainly wouldn't have been for very long.) In particular, Jonathan Ross's (perceived) power within the Beeb itself is a cause for concern to many both within the industry and outside. I know that there are plenty of people all over the corporation who would really like to see him taken down a peg or several. The fact that his salary was ring-fenced at a time when the BBC were having to make quite severe financial cutbacks elsewhere because of the lower-than-expected licence fee was a particular cause of annoyance to many. The additional fact that he's perceived by a lot of people to be a smug uppity twot ripe for a damned good slapping isn't an insignificant side issue either - it's actually the key to why the story simply refuses to go away. Put simply, if you make enemies on the way up the ladder in the media, you simply cannot expect to escape a torrent of people wanting revenge when you're on the way down. Fact of life, that.

Is that hypocritical? Is it jealousy? Righteous indignation?

Don't ask me, I only work there...

To be honest, the guy I feel sorry for is Andrew Sachs. In particular yesterday when he was suddenly put on the spot by being asked things like "so, do you think they should be sacked, then?" Even by our own, astonishingly low journalistic stands, that's a really dreadful position to put someone in. What's the poor guy going to say in answer to a question like that? Even if he thinks the pair of them could do with a damned good dose of humility being rammed down their throats, he's been around in the business long enough to know that whilst everybody feels sorry for a victim nobody particularly likes a cry baby. It's interesting that reports today suggest his granddaughter has employed Max Clifford and is said to be ready to sell her own the story to the highest bidder. I genuinely hope that isn't the case. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and all that, but I'll tell you what, there's no surer way of suddenly losing any acquired sympathy than to turn yourself from victim to vulture. So, if in the very unlikely event that you happen to be reading this, Georgina, please do think very carefully about doing a kiss-and-tell. The money might well be great but is it really worth it in the long run?

The general consensus from those colleagues whom I've spoken to about the incident - the suspiciously politically motivated agenda behind some of the tabloid outrage notwithstanding - is that it was indefensibley unprofessional, arrogant and not even particularly good radio. And I think it's the last one that is, actually, the most important - when all is said and done, it wasn't even anything WORTH getting the sack over. However, the consensus does go on to suggest that it would probably have been a storm in a teacup if they had just done the decent thing and apologised immediately. Somebody said to me "It's exactly like George Osborne. The second he said 'Yeah, sorry, I got that one badly wrong', it became an ex-story..." By trying to brazen it out for a couple of weeks and then, finally, seeming to have been forced into a humiliatingly grovelling apology Ross and Brand have, effectively, handed the Daily Mail and other like-minded organs plenty of sticks to beat them - and, grossly unfairly, others within the Beeb - with and, possibly, enough rope to hang them.

Those who argue this is another example of "professional BBC bashing" may well have a point. Top Gear starts again on Sunday, I expect all the usual suspects will be out in full force on Monday morning and that, somehow, any controversy which Jezza and co. manage to generate will find itself folded into this mess along with anything else that happens ehich is even vaguely Beeb-related and newsworthy over the next few weeks. On this particular occasion, however, the bashers have been hugely helped by the actions of those that are getting bashed. I have to say, also, that I'm really not at all happy about either the Leader of the Opposition or the Prime Minister gifting us with their - not doubt carefully considered, I don't think - opinions on this matter. The world is on the brink of financial disaster, gentlemen, one would like to believe that the pair of you have far weightier things on your minds than the conduct of a couple of radio personalities. Try getting the housing market stable and the banks sorted out first before you decide you want to dip your toe into the field of broadcasting critique. The former is your job, the latter is mine. I'm far from being the best media commentator out there and, trust me, I'm still MILES better at it than either of you two.

I do have one final observation to make which I, actually, find the saddest aspect of this whole very sad affair. This webpage gives a very good summation of the timeline of the events in question. From that, readers will notice that the piece which caused all of the fuss was recorded on 16 October and broadcast on 18 October. In the forty eight hours following the broadcast, the BBC received a grand total of two (phone-in) complaints about it - neither of which, actually, were particularly concerned with the content, but rather were complaints about Jonathan Ross swearing. Which is fair enough - I think if I had heard the piece live, I might will have dropped the BBC a quick e-mail to say "Look, this really wasn't very professional or ethical, somebody's dropped a bit of a bollock here. Try to make sure it doesn't happen again, eh?" There then followed, later in that week, some stirring-up in a couple of national newspapers (some of it not entirely undeserved stirring-up, let it be said but much of it the usual nonsense from right-wing tabloid scumbags) and that was when the public complaints started to come in. First in a trickle, then in a flood. On Tuesday of this week the BBC stated that it had received "over 4,000 complaints." By late on Wednesday, the figure had risen to 18,000. By this morning (Friday) it was "36,000." So, let me see if I've got this straight? Over the course of about 72 hours, maybe a bit more, seemingly thirty two thousand people suddenly decided - having presumably read about or heard about the incident - to go to the BBC's "Listen Again" feature, listened to it, and THEN complained. Except, of course, that none of them actually did that because by now the piece in question was long gone from the BBC's "Listen Again" facility which only allows listeners to catch programmes they have missed for seven days after initial broadcast.

I'm genuinely interested in the psychology going down here. Noel Gallagher commented that there was something wonderfully British about the whole thing. "Wait ten days after something's happened and then complain." Some people had already complained, that's why the story was a story in the first place. So, therefore, why on Earth would anybody either attempt to seek out material that they know in advance they were going to disapprove of just so that they could add their own complaint to the deluge already received or, in far more cases it would appear, complain about the contents of a radio show that they hadn't, actually, heard at all, merely read about? That seems rather odd behaviour to me - far odder than two men ringing up someone's answerphone and leaving silly messages on it. I'm not criticising anybody's right to complain about something if they feel strongly about - Hell, I do that all the time if it's warrented - but you do have to wonder how many of those 36,000 punters would have ever listened to that particular show, or even knew of its existence, if they hadn't been alerted to it by the surrounding publicity. Or, indeed, how many of them actually have listened to it at all.

I wonder if the Beeb will be announcing record "Listen Again" figures sometime this week?

... And that is quite enough on that subject to last a lifetime.

I suppose, also, that I really should say something about David Tennant and his not wholly surprising decision, announced just last night, to leave Doctor Who after the conclusion of next year's four special episodes.

David, you were - as the guy before you said so very often - FANTASTIC. And, you were my Doctor. Well ... at least, you have been for the last three years (and, you will remain so for the next fourteen months). Good on yersel, Big Man.
    Right, Mr Moffat, now is the time for you to really earn yer corn - your mission, which you've already chosen to accept, is as follows. You merely have the job of casting a replacement for David Tennant who is:
1) Something of a surprise
2) A brilliant, inventive and complex actor ...
3) ... who is also drop dead funny ...
4) ... and just a bit dangerous
5) Is also be-lurv'd by all The Ladies
6) Whom every eight year old in the land thinks is the best thing since sliced bread ...
7) ... and most of the fortysomethings do as well.
8) And, NOT anybody that the bookmakers fancy (I've got bets to win here!)

So ... No pressure, baby!

Right then, kids, let us have some Top Telly Tips in the area. And I suppose I should also use this opportunity to stress - in light of certain current events alluded to at length above - that all opinions expressed here - and, indeed, on this blog generally - are not, necessarily those of anyone other than myself as TV viewer and licence fee payer.

Friday 17 October:
… so, anyway, I says to that Gordon Brown, I says “I am not havin’ that job. You can make me Minister for Floods and Droughts, I’ll even take the Newcastle United manager’s seat but I am not being the head of the Royal Bank of Scotland.” I’m not sure he got the message. He called me Darling. I was a bit taken aback, frankly.

That Have I Got News For You still manages, consistently, to avoid the potholes occupied by similar satire shows (Mock the Week’s occasionally overt crudeness; the triumph of ego-over-comedic esprit de corps you often get on Buzzcocks; Alfie’s mate Jason Manford, etc.) is a testament not only to the genuine chemistry between Ian Hislop and Paul Merton but also to wit that’s so sublime it can turn a simple one-liner about Harriet Harman’s show-size into a comedy diamond. Tonight’s guest host is Once-Big-Fat-and-Cuddly-but-now-Slim-and-Snarky Fern Britton. How long do we reckon it will take Paul to allude to gastric binds and Ian to join in with a joke about a different sort of credit squeeze?

Saturday 18 October:
Raise a cheer, people of Britain, as BAFTA-award-winning comedy, big-collared maestro of the pithy one-liner and the surreal non-sequitar Harry Hill returns to cast his unique gaze over the week's televisual output in Harry Hill’s TV Burp on Saturday. This week, Harry takes aim at Strictly, X Factor and all the soaps – which is a very good thing, of course, as it will give me (and every other TV previewer in the business) a whole bunch of new jokes to rip-off over the coming months. Oh, yes! And the great thing about this show is that Harry does it hilariously but without a single hint of malice. Except when he’s sorting things out with A FIGHT, of course.

The musical theme on tonight’s X-Factor is Michael Jackson. The eleven remaining acts each sing a song from the self-styled “King of Pop” as they try to earn the public's all-important votes. No thanks, I think I’ll stick with Strictly Come Dancing myself. A much warmer show all round.

Sunday 19 October:
The weather is getting cold and Sunday nights are worth staying in for all of a sudden. This week it is an almost quintessential early winter Sunday: You’ve got Stephen Fry and Simon Schama busy educating the nation's masses to love America on the Beeb (and both of them doing it very nicely, thank you), Heartbeat and Frost are back for ITV, there’s a good old reliable Time Team Special on Channel 4 and, for one night only, the Snooker Grand Prix Final on BBC2 which I’m assuming Alfie - for one - will be glued to. Expect, therefore, all subsequent programmes to run late. Or, you know, not at all.

Speaking of Stephen Fry, listener Janice e-mailed me to ask if I knew when the new series of Qi was due to be broadcast. They filmed it a couple of months ago but it has been promoted from BBC2 to BBC1 - or "hijacked" if you prefer - and because of this and a new slot has had to be found for it. So it probably won't be shown until either very late this year or earlier in the New Year. They have, however, done a Children in Need special and I expect that’ll be shown next month (I believe they've also done a Christmas themed episode as well). If you’re missing the show, however, check out Dave, it’s on three times a day there!

Monday 20 October:
We continue to ask all of the questions no one else dares to.
Today, why is the word “phonetic” not spelled phonetically?

Must say I did love Stephen Fry’s use of the word ‘copse’ on In America last night. You simply don’t hear enough uses of ‘copse’ on British TV these days. I would like to see an episode of Waking the Dead called ‘The Corpse in the Copse.’ Just cos, all right?!

The average UK household gas and electricity bill having risen by nearly 40% this year. In Dispatches: The Truth about Your Energy Bill – 8:00 Channel 4 - Deborah Davies examines why our charges are so high, whether changing suppliers can reduce bills, and the impact of Gordon Brown's fuel package. (There’s probably another “not now, Darling, I’m handling my fuel package” joke in there somewhere but this is a serious subject and I’m not sure I should crack it, really… Ooops, too late.) V. important subject, this, particularly at this time of the year. Remember readers, television is not just there to entertain you, it is also to educate and inform you too. All too often we all forget about the other two.

With recent figures showing close to two hundred and fifty women being arrested each day and soaring violent crime by females beginning to stretch police resources, Violent Women – 8:00 ITV - examines why women are becoming more violent and, according to the programmes Press Blurb “whether their rage can be tamed.” I didn’t realise there was a problem, personally. And, maybe there isn’t and ITV have just made one up to justify getting fifty minutes worth of TV out of it. We shall see…

In Corrie, meanwhile, Dev's incestuous love triangle causes problems. That’s the problem with incestuous love triangles generally, I’ve found. Best to stay clear of them. I do. Well, I do now, anyway… And, of course, murderous Tony is incensed by grief-stricken Carla's grief-stricken ways after Liam’s ultimately, and very messy, demise. I also understand we’ve got a climax – or, at least, the first of several climaxes - to the Rosie storyline tonight.

Tuesday 21 October:
Last night somebody broke into my house, stole everything and replaced them with exact replicas... When I pointed it out to my friend, he asked, '... Do I know you?'

Tonight, Manchester United play Celtic on ITV in the Champions League – that’s not going to be for the faint-hearted so here are three alternatives if you don’t fancy watching a replay of the Battle of Bannockburn. Last Man Standing on BBC3 is a series in which six athletic adventurers "compete for glory against tribal champions in some of the remotest corners of the globe." Tonight, they head to a harvest festival in Burkina Faso. Our boys must take part in a brutal inter-village wrestling contest involving some of the country's top fighters. Sounds culturally patronising in the extreme but, you never know, one of them might get eaten by a crocodile or something so watching it for entertainment value may pay off.

What ingredients do you need for a classic love story? The always excellent Imagine – 10:35 BBC1 - sets out to answer this question, examining such standards as Lancelot and Guinevere, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice and Casablanca, all of which deal with the thorny issues of pain, desire and need. Alan Yentob talks to experts on the subject, including authors Sarah Waters and Helen Fielding and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips.

Journalist and single woman Dawn Porter travels the globe to look at the different ways relationships can work. In The Polygamist’s Wife – Channel 4 10:00 - Dawn enters the controversial and secretive world of polygamy. From a whole American town of Mormons for whom multiple marriage is a way of life to a family hiding in the wilderness while the husband searches for a third wife, Dawn meets the women who share their men to find out whether such a lifestyle can really work.

Wednesday 22 October:
We ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today, bees produce honey. What’s that all about? I mean, ants don’t produce marmalade, do they?

I’ve been quite enjoying The Family – 9:00 Channel 4 – which we talked about when the series started but, I feel, it hasn't quite achieved its full potential yet. For four months, the Hughes family of canterbury - mum Jane, dad Simon and their four teenage children - was filmed around the clock by hidden cameras. Tonight, Simon is reluctantly cast as the peacemaker when Jane and Emily row over Emily taking her mum's clothes without permission. I did wonder when this series began if social experiment TV such as this isn’t doomed to (relative) failure these days simply through overexposure to the “reality TV format.” Put simply, watching "real people doing real things" just isn’t a novelty anymore like it one was - particularly back in the 1970s when the first The Family was such a big hit.

Griff Rhys Jones ends his short tour of Great Cities of the World tonight in Paris – 9:00 ITV. Griff encounters some hidden, and sometimes downright bizarre sides of the French capital. We all know the view from the Eiffel Tower - but what’s underneath it? Griff takes his life into his own hands as he tries to negotiate the Arc de Triomphe roundabout. And we go underground with a gang of architectural restorers to see a part of the city most Parisians have never seen.

I know a lot of listeners to The Afternoon Show are fans of Desperate Housewives – Channel 4 10:00 – so I always like to mention it about once every six weeks or so just as reminder that it's still on. Tonight, in the first of a new series, Susan tries to hide a new relationship. Gaby doubts her mothering abilities. Bree is about to publish her own cookbook. And, Edie returns to Wisteria Lane with a new man in tow.

Lastly, one for The Virry Alfster Himself. Dear old Burt Bacharach’s on The Electric Proms at 11:20 on BBC2. So, what's it all about, Alife...? I'll be watching Oasis, myself, on Sunday night. Sorted.

Thursday 23 October:
Telemarketers are odd people don’t you think? Believing as they must, that people who mute TV commercials would gladly get up from dinner, answer the phone and listen to a five minute pitch for a product they don't need or want.

Shot over the course of a year by award-winning documentary-maker Jane Treays Mum, Heroin and Me – Channel 4 9:00 - follows Kate, her heroin-addicted daughter Hannah and Hannah's boyfriend, Ricky. As Hannah moves from pavement, to hostel, to bedsit, the film provides a moving portrait of a mother and daughter trying to love one another through the fog of addiction. Hard, emotional stuff – and not easy viewing by any means but very worthwhile in reminding one that good television isn’t always about soaps, light entertainment and reality TV.

CelebAir – ITV2 8:00 – has to be the reality TV show with the single weirdest (and, possibly, worst) concept ever as it follows a bunch of – alleged - celebrities (and I use that word quite wrongly) as they "battle it out" to become ... airline employees. You simply have to ask yourself why in the name of all that’s holy would anybody who can honestly be called “a celebrity” WANT to be an airline employee? Surely, that’s just a little bit too much like hard work? The “celebrities” left in the fight may, just, give readers some glimmer of an idea: Chico (who is, apparently, "famous" because he didn’t win X-Factor), Lisa Maffia from So Solid Crew, “Page Three stunna” Michelle Marsh and Amy Lamé who was in something delighting in the name Celebrity Fit Club. No, me neither. This is obviously some new use of the word “celebrity” that I hadn’t previously come across.

After Stephen Fry’s triumphant guest captain slot of last week’s Never Mind the Buzzcocks, tonight we’ve got Lovely, cuddly Johnny Vegas trying to pull off the same feat! Note, also, if you were one of the six people in the country watching Natural Born Sellers that, because, of its disastrously poor ratings it is now on at 10:40 rather than 9:00. Where it now finds itself opposite Ricky Gervais on The Graham Norton Show. Life really hasn’t been kind to Natural Born Sellers, has it? Oh dear. How sad. Never mind...

Friday 24 October:
As Keith Fordyce used to say on Ready, Steady, Go! “The Weekend Starts Here.”

Tonight in EastEnders, an angry Max wreaks a reign of savage terror upon his family. Well, he’s large and glowery and with very scary ears so he would, wouldn’t he? Meanwhile, Jay escapes from tragedy, but can he ever forgive the duplicitous Dawn? No. Next … The Masoods struggle to come to terms with the loss of their business while Suzy has no idea that she's become a mere pawn in Ben's devious game. Just another week in The Square, folks.

Sunday 26 October:
Sunday is a big night – quite apart from it being my birthday. The last time that me and Alfie discussed the works of Charles Dickens it almost ended in The Rumble in the Jungle. With that in mind, I supposed I’d better be careful what I say about the over-rated hack this time around. The BBC adapt Little Dorrit into a fourteen-part series. It’s not one of Dickens’ best known works although it is one of his most autobiographical. Cast includes Matthew MacFayden, Claire Foy in the title role, Tom Courtney and Alun Armstrong and it’s written by Andrew Davies, the king of classical adapation – Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House etc. This is going to be one of those where after about three weeks the entire country will be watching it and talking about it at the bus stop – which is, trust me, a good thing - so, if you don’t want to feel left out, get there from the start.

Stephen Fry continues his delightful travels In America at 9:00 on BBC1, hoping to learn more about the country with a 2,000 mile journey up the Mississippi river beginning in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, where he visits the abandoned neighbourhoods destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In the Delta he meets actor Morgan Freeman and then drives guitar legend Buddy Guy round his old stomping grounds on Chicago's South Side. Finally at the river's source in Minnesota, Stephen gets some fishing tips and meets the Viking decendents of Minneapolis. Been there. Very nice city indeed (well, actually, two cities - Minneapolis and St Pauls).

Lastly a quick mention for Vernon Kay’s All Star Family Fortunes which is on Saturday on ITV. West End singer Suzanne Shaw and her family take on Corrie stalwart William Roache and his. That’s going to be a question of who nods off first, surely?

Monday 27 October:
One of the contestants on The Restaurant last week prepared a meal with scented flower petals because, she said, eating flowers "always makes one feel like a princess." I’m with Harry Hill, personally: "When I eat flowers I feel like a really hungry tramp."

From their new home on the magical island of Brownsea in Poole Harbour, Dorset, that wretched little Communist Bill Oddie and his lovely fluffy partner Katie Humble return live to follow "the most dramatic season of the year" in Autumnwatch on BBC2 at 8:00. They’re aided by a cast of Red Squirrels, Sika Deer and various spectacular birdlife on the lagoon. Meanwhile, Simon King undertakes a quest to unravel some of autumn’s most mysterious mysteries of mysteriness beginning with a fallow deer rut and Gordon Buchanan braves cruel storms as he follows the fate of the grey seal colony on the Farne Islands, watching as the young seals are born in harsh conditions. Now, it’s usually Simon who gets the job of being stuck halfway up a windy cliff on the Farnes, so it's really nice to see he has passed that gig on to someone else – obviously all that warm weather he got in Africa on Big Cat Diary has gone to chap's head.

One of my favourite drama shows, [Spooks], is back at 9:00 on BBC1, with the second episode following tomorrow. An al-Qaeda cell kidnap a British soldier and demand that Remembrance Sunday be cancelled (as it is an affront to all dead Muslim soldiers, apparently ... not sure why but, hey, whatever). But when MI5 secure the release of former agent - Lucas North - in a secret spy swap, the team realise that al-Qaeda have a new sponsor, the emerging superpower Russia – and, inevitably, there's a bomb involved. A BIG bomb. A REALLY BIG bomb. Rupert, Hermoine and co. are all back (although, in Rupe's case not for long and including, at least for the first few episodes, the lovely Miranda Raison whose fate kept us all on a knife-edge at the cliff-hanger of the previous season) and, hey ladies get this, for the current season they’re joined by Richard Armitage (Guy of Guisbourne in Robin Hood). Phwoar! Him and Rupert Penry-Jones in one episode of television – women all over the country will become exploding bags of supercharged hormones and will go off at dramatically inappropriate moments. Bloody dangerous situation, I reckon. They should get Harry Pierce and the Security Services on to it to sort it out.

John Prescott has been obsessed with class his whole life. What a revelation cos, honestly, I can't say I'd noticed. After forty years in Westminster, John and Pauline Prescott embark on a journey through the British class system to see if class still exists, whether it is still relevant and, if so, what does class actually look like in Britain today? John meets people at the top, middle and bottom of the ladder and tries to work out where he fits in to this brave new world of class. The Class System and Me, 9:00 BBC2. I know Prescott is a bit of a figure of fun to many people but I actually quite like the bloke. If any git threw an egg at me, I'd think about fisting them first and asking questions on motivation later.

Tuesday 28 October:
We ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today, one I’ve waited forty years to find out the answer to. Exactly why did Billie Joe McAllister jump off the Tallahatchie Bridge?

Business guru Geoff Burch is on a mission to improve Britain's small shops by teaching them how to turn a profit and please their customers in All Over the Shop, BBC2 8:00. Geoff doles out lessons in professionalism to three shops owners in Macclesfield. He meets an antique dealer who is feeling bit of a relic himself, a children's show shop owner whose obsessions with pink sparkly shoes is effecting her business and two arty sisters who can't translate their designs into profits. So, this is Dragon's Den for people who already HAVE job. Yes, that's not "cruel and unusual" at all, then, is it?

In Emmerdale, 7:00 on ITV, Louise decides to pursue her ambitions on the other side of the world - but will Jamie forgive and forget her? Marlon is oblivious to the chemistry between Donna and Ross as the pair head off on a police training course. Anna feels increasingly guilty over her manipulation of Matthew.

Meanwhile Actor Neil Morrissey and his best friend Richard Fox attempt to open up their own pub and micro-brewery in Neil Morrisey’s Risky Business, 10:00 on Channel 4 in the slot recently vacated by that gobby oiyk Jamie Oliver. I doubt this show will be as controversial as his. Or as self-righteous, interfering, obnoxious and self-aggrandising for that matter. Neil and Richard look for the perfect premises and brew up their first beer. So, Pro-Celebrity Home Brewing then? Okay ... I've heard of far worse concepts for TV shows. Actually, come to think of it, I've seen far worse concepts for TV shows. Actually, come to think of it, I've seen worse far concepts for TV shows that have ran five years...

Wednesday 29 october:
We ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today, who was the first person to look at a cow and say, 'Here’s an idea. What I’ll do is squeeze those dangly things and then drink whatever comes out'?

Ken’s son Peter Barlow returns to Corrie tonight with a surprise guest in tow. Meanwhile, a tense Tony realises that his wedding is in peril. Again. I have to report that the Liam-gets-murdered storyline really didn’t get the ratings ITV were expecting. It’s a far cry from twenty five million watching Ernie Bishop getting shot in the 1970s.

Trevor McDonald presents television's biggest night of the year (it says here) live from London's Royal Albert Hall, as the nation's favourite TV programmes and personalities are honoured in The National Television Awards. After being whittled down to a final selection the winners have been selected from a huge nationwide poll. Plus a famous face in the audience is in for a surprise as they are presented with "a very special award." I must admit, I’m not normally a big fan of award shows - I quite like the BAFTAs, though - but, since Doctor Who is up for about four categories (and Top Gear for another) I’m going to be glued to this!

Amateur cooks compete for the opportunity to go into business with distinguished chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc in The Restaurant, 8:00 on BBC2. After seven weeks running their restaurants the two surviving couples come head-to-head in The Big Final. For this challenge the couples close the doors to their restaurants and cater for a group of discerning guests on one of the world's most romantic railway journeys. I don’t know about you but whenever I’ve tried to eat on a train I usually end up with a lap full of pasta.

Thursday 30 October:
Alistair Appleton is in Warwickshire helping a couple from Epsom find an ideal retirement retreat in Escape to the Country, BBC2 at 5:15. They want to downsize to a smaller house, but still want a big kitchen and a garage for their classic car. Will any of the properties Alistair shows them be suitable?

In Slaves in the Cellar, at 10:00 on Five, two young women tell the story of how they were abducted and held hostage for almost four years by a depraved sex fiend. They were kept in a tiny bunker and subjected to ongoing torture, until their release in 2003. Horrible stuff and, quite possibly, very awkward and uncomfortable viewing and yet, these kind of things are often fascinating in revealing remarkable stories of courage in adversity.

BBC4’s reputation for making stunning and controversial biopics – we think of Fanny Craddock in Fear of Fanny, Hughie Green in Most Sincerely and Mary Whitehouse in Filth! recenty – gets another notch on its belt tonight. In Love With Barbara is a drama inspired by the life of arguably the most prolific author of the 20th century, Dame Barbara Cartland, looking beyond the pink facade to tell the story of what made her the resilient and renowned Queen of Slushy Romance. Despite her devotion to true love, her own life was blighted by heartbreak, with her first marriage ending in a scandalous society divorce. The lovely Anne Reid (once, long ago, Ken Barlow’s missus in Corrie) plays the title role and the play also has one of my favourite actors, the fabulous David Warner, in it and there's a truly fabulous performance by Ideal's Sinead Matthews as the young Barbara. First shown last Friday, if you missed it then, catch it tonight.

Friday 31 October:
Can I just point out here that I got Martin Shaw on The Mystery Voice before the listeners? That is all...

I’m really tired this week. More tired, I would suggest, than anyone since Pheidippides ran to Athens to tell them about the victory at the Battle of Marathon.
Or, the Battle of Snickers as we're contractually obligated to call it these days.

An Island Parish – BBC2 7:30 – is now into a third season and is, on its day, quite simply the best soap opera on British TV. A gentle tale of everyday folks living in a beautiful but harsh environment. Everything, in fact, that Emmerdale used to be but now isn’t! The bonus here is that these are, actually the real people. Tonight the islanders need to start coming up with new and innovative ideas to earn some cash quickly as the economic squeeze begins to bite on the remote Isles of Scilly. Meanwhile, Heike the vet plans to improve her fortunes by reviving her foot-modelling career and Greg, the long-lost son of Nigel at the Air Fayre Café, announces he wants to train as a Buddhist monk. Lovely.

Saturday 1 November:
ITV have obviously finally begun to take notice of what a lot of us have been telling them for some months. That they only shows they are currently producing that are worth anyone giving their valuable time to are those involving Harry Hill. Hence, we’ve got two of them on tonight, back-to-back. Funniest Ever You’ve Been Framed at 6:00 presents the cream of the nation's funniest home videos, as filmed by viewers on their camcorders and mobile phones. Coming up tonight - practical jokers, naughty animals, musical mishaps and some holiday howlers. Meanwhile, the real good stuff is in Harry Hill’s TV Burp at 7:00. Best bit of the series so far was his sustained two minutes of Jamie Oliver-baiting last week. And I thought I was alone in loathing him…!

Sunday 2 November:
You know that a show has really made it into the public conscienceness when the one of those involved in the show who never talks publicly gets his own Radio Times cover. This week, The Stig from Top Gear has managed that feat. Tasty! In the first episode of this new eight-part series, the boys buy second hand lorries - despite knowing almost nothing about the world of trucks - and then set about discovering how easy it is to be an HGV driver. You can just visualise Clarkson asking "how hard can it be?!" can't you? Anyway, Jeremy also tests a scary Porsche, a tame Lamborghini and a surprisingly talented Labrador. Michael Parkinson is the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car. Bets are currently being taken on how long it'll be before Parkie utters the words "Barnsley", "Geoffrey Boycott" or, indeed, "the late, great Gene Kelly."

The lovely Sean Bean and his oppo, the equally fabulous Daragh O’Malley return in Sharpe’s Peril – 9:00 ITV. It’s 1818 and Sharpe and Harper are on their way back to England via Calcutta. Sharpe reluctantly agrees to escort the beautiful Marie-Angelique Bonnet across the bandit-plagued country to meet up with her fiance. They stop at an army encampment populated by the ill-disciplined last dregs of the Crown's troops. But when the camp is attacked and casualties are taken Sharpe soon realises he must lead the remainder of this motley crew to the relative safety of the next garrison. One can never have too much Bernard Cornwall in one's life, trust me. Mind you, I simply have to ask, whose bright idea was it to stick this on opposite Stephen Fry in America and thus make me chose one above the other?! You, sir, (or madam) are a swine of the first order, whoever you are! Sunday night's are suddenly worth staying in for - it has become TV's big night of the week - today, for instance, you've got Strictly, Bear Grylls, Simon Schama, The Jezza Hamster and Cap'n Slow Show, The Frymeister Does Hollywood By Taxi and now, Sharpe. And, of course, Heartbeat if that's what floats yer boat.

Monday 3 November:
Today’s Top Telly Tips Word of the Day is "Pusillanimous" - lacking in courage and strength of mind; faint-hearted, mean-spirited, cowardly. As in “You know that Ian Beale off of EastEnders? He’s really pusillanimous, isn't he?” If listeners would like to hear more Top Telly Tips Words of the Day, please contact the BBC and demand that I be given my daily own slot. Or, you know, not…

Dragons’ Den: James Caan’s Story at 7:00 on BBC2 focuses on the life of James Caan (no, not the one in The Godfather - trust me, Alfie's already DONE all the "blimey, Sonny Coreleone's certainly gone up in the world" jokes that one lifetime can sustain), showing how he made his many millions and how he likes to spend them while pursuing a jet-set lifestyle. Will his doggie treadmill earn him another fortune? I know some people really like watching these kind of shows - rich people living rich lifestyles and being, generally, rich in their own comfortable richness. It's not my bag, I have to confess.

Dispatches seems to be in the process of trying to become the nation’s conscience in relation to drugs at the moment as, for the second week running, they’re on the case after last week's harrowing, but thought-provoking Mum, Heroin and Me. Again, this week, they've gone down the "might put some people off with the title route" which shows bravery if not, necessarily, common sense. Mum Loves Drugs, Not Me – C4 8:00 - reveals the huge impact that drugs have on the neglected children of addicts, as they interview some of the estimated 350,000 youngsters in the UK who have parents with a serious problem.

>[Spooks] – 9:00 BBC1 – got off to the start of the new season with quite a bang last week. Quite literally in fact with The VERY Big Bang that blow'd up Rupert Penry-Jones real good. Still, at least all of the ladies can comfort themselves in the knowledge that Adam's place in their hearts has been taken by the equally stylish and suave Lucas (Richard Armitage). Is there some sort of production line somewhere out there which churns out chisseled hunks - with mucho designer stubble - for British intelligence on request? Tonight, Harry seeks out his mentor, The Spycatcher, to help him find the mole. Ben is undercover with an al-Qaeda cell and poor old Jo gets dragged through a hedge backwards for the second time in three episodes. They're REALLY putting Miranda Raison through the wringer this season. Maybe it is a coded warning to the poor lass not to get pregnant like the previous four leading female actresses on this show?

Tuesday 4 November:
We ask all the questions that no one else dares to.
Today, why does the word "monosyllabic" consist of five syllables?
And, also, why doesn't the word "onomatopoeia" sound like what it is?

Prince Charles’s Other Mistress – 9:00 C4 – tells the tragic story of the Australian heiress that the Prince of Wales loved and then, allegedly, abandoned. Dale 'Kanga' Tyron and Camilla Parker Bowles were rivals for Charles's affections in the 1970s. But whereas Camilla seemingly knew how to play the royal waiting game, Dale seemingly didn’t and found herself excluded from the royal circle after she talked to the press about her time with the prince. After years of poor mental health, she died in unusual circumstances at the age of forty seven, just months after the death of Diana. There's definitely a conspiracy theory in that. I wonder if Mr Al-Fayed's production company is involved in this documentary at all?

My Family at War – BBC1 10:35 – is on all this week as part of the BBC’s excellent and warm-hearted 90 Years of Remembrance series. Tonight Matthew Kelly and cricketer Phil Tufnell investigate their families' roles in the Great War. Matthew travels through France on his way to the battlefields of Flanders, hoping to solve the mystery of his great uncle Albert, who died in a Prisoner of War camp in 1917. Phil, meanwhile, wants to find out what life was like for his grandfather who served in the Royal Flying Corps. Great stuff.

My grandad was a Passchendaele. True story. He got his tongue shot off. He didn't like to talk about it.

Sorry (and sorry to Stephen Fry for nicking one of your jokes, too!)

It’s US Election Night at 11:00 on both BBC1 and ITV. On the Beeb, which is the one that I'll be watching, David Dimbleby presents all of the action from Washington as America votes for a new president, with Matt Frei in the studio and reporters in all the key swing states across the country. Jeremy Vine will be in a virtual-reality studio trying to analyse the figures, using the latest touchscreen graphics to show who is winning the race to the White House to become "the leader of the free world." Bob McKenzie and Peter Snow must be turning in their graves. 'cept Peter isn't dead, of course, but he's lost the use of his swingometer, it seems. As Alfie pointed out to me today, this election seems to have gripped pretty much everyone, which is really annoying for those of us who have been interested in US politics for, literally, years. It's like getting into a really cool indie band whom nobody else has ever heard of early on and then, suddenly, they have one massive hit and you find yourself being the thoroughly annoying bastard who says "I was into them before everybody else was!" at all the cool student parties. Anyway, readers of this blog will, I hope, notice that as a member of the UK media - albeit a freelance once - this blog wishes to be completely in agreement with both the BBC and ITN's publicly stated balanced neutrality with regard to this election. Readers will also notice that, as a consequence, pictures have been uploaded of both candidates and they are exactly the same size. I wouldn't want the blog to be accused of showing any favouritism one way or t'other in this matter. Heaven forbid.

Wednesday 5 November:
We ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today, why do slim chance and fat chance mean the same thing?

Remember, remember the Fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot. Yes, it's just another happy, happy fun day on Corrie – 7:30 ITV. Having been blinded to John’s wretched duplicity not once but twice, the blinkers finally fall from Fiz’s eyes when a surprise visit to his gran’s house reveals that he’s got Rosie Webster locked up in the scullery. Daftest storyline all year and yet, arguably, the one that pulled in the most punters. Certianly far more than Liam getting murdered a few weeks ago.

It was sad Alfie was off at a funeral last Friday because he missed me having a right go at Little Dorrit. I must say, however, that I’m rather enjoying it at the moment. It is one of Dickens’ works that I’m least familiar with but it’s terrifically well-acted by all concerned. Tonight, expect all the Torchwood fans to turn up as Eve Myles joins Freema Agyeman for the fun. Of course, the whole story is about debt and poverty which, you know, somehow seem more relevant every day.

What do Paul O’Grady, Hugh Laurie, Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Denise van Outen and Roger Daltrey have in common? They’ve all made guest appearances in The Bill and they are all featured in The Bill Made Me Famous at 9:00 on ITV. Now, I would personally question whether The Bill really did make any of those people famous but this an entertaining clip-show narrated by Martin Kemp as part of celebrations for the Twenty Fifth birthday of Britain’s longest-running crime drama show.

Lastly, don't miss tonight's Inside Out - BBC1, 7:30 - which features a piece lovingly presented by Top Telly Tips' own producer - Wor Scunthorpe Steve Drayton - about the vibrant North East folk music scene and they way in which it's changing. Included is an interview with Northumberland's own Rachel and Becky Unthank whose remarkable CD, The Bairns, got such a huge following and was nominated for the Mercury Prize. As Alfie was keen to point out, conventional wisdom suggests that TV adds ten pounds of weight to the average person (or, five stone in my case when I was on Call the Cops). Well, in Scunthorpe Steve's case it appears to have made big bouncy quiff look even more gynormous than it actually is in reality (no mean feat, readers, trust me on that one).

Thursday 6 November:
We ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today, Why is the word abbreviation so long?
And also, why is it called a TV set when you only get one…? I’m just puzzled.

On EastEnders – 7:30 BBC1 – Dot grows more worried by Bradley’s strange behaviour. Meanwhile … hang, let’s go back to that last one a second. Dot, is worried about someone else’s strange behaviour? Glass houses. Stones. You know what I’m saying here? Anyway, oh dear what can the matter be? Ian Beale's got locked in the lavatory ... As if his predicament isn't bad enough, Jane performs her stand-up routine in the Vic. Two comedy set-pieces for the price of one. You’d better watch this episode Alfie, you might get one or two jokes you can use in the act. And, speaking of east enders…

The People's Hospital – 8:30 BBC1 – started its new eight-part series last night focusing on the hard working staff of Whipps Cross Hospital in London’s East End. Tonight, we meet one of the busiest ward sisters in the NHS and get a frank discussion on the staff’s attitude towards relevance, or otherwise, of government targets.

It’s the season finale of Silent Witness – 9:00 BBC1 – which I’ve been rather enjoying this series - and I've only been watching because, basically, there's been little else worth watching on Thursday nights! The currently storyline is set in Zambia. I’m not sure if British forensic pathologists often get detached duty in Africa but, if they do, I wanna go work there. Particularly, if I’m in the same morgue as Emily Fox.

And lastly don't, whatever you do, miss tonight's Look North (6:30 BBC1). After Scunthorpe Steve's truly majestic TV debut t'other night another of my Radio Newcastle colleagues, Gilly Hope, has done a very moving piece for tonight's show about researching one of her relatives' experiences in the World War I. If you miss it, however, you can check a clip of it out on the BBC Tyne website.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

October - Top Telly Tips (Part 1)

So, good and lovely dear blog-readers (... and, like, anybody else who's stumbled into The Drum by accident - you're very welcome an'all). It's just another month in The Corp. Yessir, I LOVE the Corp.Anyway, Alfie's back from his trip to 'New York, New York so good they named it twice', so here's the latest batch of Top Telly Tips previews covering the first two weeks of October. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Friday 3 October:
Somebody on the Internet last week asked me to define Britishness: I said that it’s all about driving your German car to an Irish pub for a Belgian beer, then travelling home and grabbing an Indian curry or a Turkish kebab or a Chinese takeaway to sit on your Swedish furniture and watch an American TV show on your Japanese TV. I think they got the message.

Tonight sees the final episode of the second season of The Tudors – BBC2 9:00 – in which that thoroughly naughty knavess Anne Boleyn gets it right in the neck from her husband. I have to be fair and say that, strictly as a drama, this is no more historically ludicrous than several of our own home-grown historical dramas (and far less than some - Robin Hood for a kick-off) and that it's got better and better as the season has worn on ending up as a really rather good little show. Who'd've thunk it? And, as one of the show’s historical advisors recently noted with some pride, they have – when all is said and done - just spent thirteen weeks getting Americans to watch a drama series about The Reformation which I reckon is a pretty impressive feat. I loved the final shot of (the still far-too-young and lovely looking) Henry gorging himself on a fistful of swan pie. Yes, pal - gross obesity, gout and syphilis are just a few short episodes away for you. It’ll be back next year, with Joss Stone as Anne of Cleves apparently. Super Duper Lurv. I'm rather looking forward to the idea of Jonathan Rhys Myers ('he's Henery the Eighth he is, he is') doubling in weight.
Saturday 4 October:
This is something I wanted to say last time around prompted by how great it is to see Don Warrington in Strictly Come Dancing at the moment, but I didn’t have a slot for it: A lot of people reckon that 1970s sitcoms like Love Thy Neighbour and, even, the great Rising Damp were despicably racist – and, I suppose one could easily argue that elements of their concept almost certainly were (however much the authors may claim that to have been unintentional and "of its time"). But, here’s a thought for you - via the dignified (and, let's not forget very humorous) performances of Don Warrington in the latter and Rudolph Walker in the former, they possibly did more to teach the average white working class person who - depend on where they lived in the country - might well have never seen a black man in their lives about the concept of multi-culturalism than a hundred episodes of Panorama or This Week ever did. Bear in mind, both series began within a decade of the 1964 General Election in which one Conservative MP, Peter Griffiths, fought the Smethwick seat on a clearly racialist platform which included - according to many contemporary sources - the distribution of vile leaflets which stated 'If you want a nigger for your neighbour, vote Labour.' So not only were these series comedies, there were also dealing with an issue that was relevant part of the social fabric of the times too. Just something to drop into your toaster and see if it pops up. According to Rising Damp’s creator, Eric Chappell, Rigsby was never intended to be a bigot as we would understand the term today. He was based upon a number of older people that Chappell knew whose only terms of reference as far as black people were concerned were books and films of the 1930s. Rigsby simply didn’t know how to deal with Phillip and his attitude to the character fluctuates, in episodes, between fascination and outright jealousy (especially as Miss Jones is clearly attracted to Phillip rather than Rigsby). The original stage play that the series was based on, The Banana Box, and the movie spin-off of the show, both end with Phillip being exposed as an impostor by a conman who has been preying on the inhabitants of the boarding house. Phillip isn’t really an African Prince after all, he was actually born in England. However, when Rigsby hears this, he still sides with Phillip. As he tells him 'You never know, you might be related to African royalty' and the revelation remains a secret between the two of them. If you want to apply the strict rules of today's TV, then Rigsby could probably be considered casually racist, but that isn't really a fair evaluation of the author's intent in this particular case. Although there is, of course, that famous episode where Ruth Jones turns up with a baby whom she's looking after. When Phillip and Rigsby first encounter the child it bursts into tears: 'Don't worry,' coos Rigsby. 'He won't eat you. His father might've, but he won't...' But I always found the several variants on 'Phillip's just given me a black look'-type humour in Rising Damp actually worked really rather well, largely because Leonard Rossiter played Rigsby as such a loathsome, ineffectual lothario and Don Warrington played Phillip with such dignity and genuine charm not to mention with intelligence as well as a sense of humour. It could be argued (and, in fact, I'm going to) that, much as with Randolph Walker in Love Thy Neighbour constantly getting the better of the Eddie Booth character, it was black characters like that which - however ham-fistedly - actually helped rather than hindered race-relations in this country. You won’t find it said often, but I think they both series deserve a minor footnote in history. Far more than, for instance, Mind Your Language which probably helped set back the cause of the European integration thirty year when everybody realised that most of the French birds you were likely to meet weren't Francoise Pascal.

On a related note, I've heard it suggested – from broadcast industry professionals, no less - that one of the main reasons why the BBC seem to steadfastly refuse to repeat The Goodies - despite several petitions to the BBC for them to do so - is that there are three or four episodes where there’s some ‘blacking up’ in evidence and that characters quite often speak in cod accents. It's unfortunate, because the most obvious example of The Goodies doing this was in the South African episode and was done entirely to make the point that the racist Apartheid regime which existed at the time was a very, very bad thing. The fact that, later on in the episode, the "Apart-height" regime has short people (like Bill) being herded into ghettos ultimately shows up discrimination in all its forms as being inherently ridiculous. Yes, you do have Tim Brooke Taylor completely blacked up at one point doing jazz hands and saying 'How-de-do-dere!', while Philip Madoc (playing an obviously villainous, racist white South African policeman) makes a reference to 'nig-nogs', but their hearts were clearly in the right place... And yet, ironically, several recent BBC comedy shows - including Little Britain, That Mitchell and Webb Look and Harry & Paul - have all included characters blacking up (and, in the case of the latter, also speaking in extremely cod-accents) without any comments of censure that I've been aware of from any quarter. Probably it's because they're all seen as being clearly ironic, post-modern and "aware" sketches - and yes, there is much validity in that stance. I'm sure it's one that the makers of all three shows would argue. Yet, if The Goodies 'Roots' episode wasn't a - very pointed - example of exactly that (having a pop at The Black and White Minstrel Show not twenty five years after its final episode, like Little Britain did but, rather, whilst it was still being broadcast, weekly, by the BBC and still getting an audience of ten million) then - genuinely - what is?

Then, of course, we’ve got the problem of Till Death Us Do Part, a series written by a Maoist, Johnny Speight, and with the racist, bone-thick lead character played by Warren Mitchell (a Jewish Socialist intellectual). Both knew exactly what they were trying to do. And I think it’s fair to say both realised, very quickly, that - unfortunately - some people just didn't (and never would) get the joke. There's an - apparently true - story that in the early 1970s, both were visited by seniors figures in the National Front asking whether they would like to appear as part of their campaign at some forthcoming elections, possibly using the character of Alf Garnett in a party political broadcast to express repatriationalist views like those he frequently gave vent to on the show. Skinhead Nazi numbskulls being well, numbskulls, notwithstanding it's astonishing to me that some people, seemingly, cannot understand the concept of a writer or an actor not always necessarily sharing the views of the character(s) he writers about/plays. And, yet, for all that I actually can't watch Till Death these days - I know it's brilliant observationalist humour, I know it is a genuine (and VERY important) social document and I know it is probably far closer to "the truth" about working class life in Great Britain in the 1960s and 1970s than a thousand Play for Today's could have ever hoped to achieve. But every time I hear the studio audience screaming with laughter whenever Alf uses the word 'coon' I get a knot in my stomach and I have to turn it off. I'm the same with a lot of Spike Milligan's humour of that era too - the man's one of my heroes; a humane and thoughtful decent man of compassion and a genius of a comedy writer. But Curry and Chips makes my flesh creep because, like Till Death, it appears to commit one of the worst crimes that a television show ever can and fatally underestimate the intelligence of its intended audience.

Wow, that went on a bit longer than I expected. Anyway, Tsunamis are among the most destructive forces known to Man - but in Britain, most of us like to think that they are one thing we don't need to worry about too much. Which is comforting cos we've plenty of other things to worry about. However, in Timewatch: Britain’s Forgotten Floods – 8:00 BBC2 - Professors Simon Haslett and Ted Bryant challenge this view. They believe that the Bristol Channel flood of 1607 - one of Britain's worst ever natural disasters - was in fact a proper, honest-to-God Tsunami just like the Boxing Day 2004 one. They investigate evidence of at least four more potential British Tsunamis down the years.

Sunday 5 October:
One of the BBC Natural History Unit's most ambitious live projects is coming to BBC One and BBC Two for the next week. Big Cat Live is a TV event which is set to explore the hidden side of Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve – its wildlife, its secrets and, of course, its perils. For where would wildlife shows be without perils? Katie Silverton joins the Big Cat veterans Simon King and Jonathan Scott at their base-camp in the heart of Africa's most famous reserve. (But, where's Saba this time? Oh, that is going to go down very badly with a lot of the show's fan base!) Camping next to the Mara River, in the middle of the Marsh Pride lion territory, the team will be surrounded by African wildlife, including elephants, buffalo, crocodiles, zebras and over one million migrating wildebeest in a landscape where, literally, anything can happen. Bill Oddie getting eaten would be a good 'anything can happen,' I reckon. Unlikely but, you know, one can dream...

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that The Great North Run is on live on BBC1 on Sunday morning, starting around 9:30. So, if you’re not running the thirteen glorious miles from the Town Moor, Newcastle to South Shields (in, what I'm assured will be, virtual flood conditions), at least get out of yer pit and support the guys and girls who are! That doesn't cost much, surely?

Monday 6 October:
We continue to ask the questions no one else dares to. Today why is it only in Britain that supermarkets make sick people walk all the way to the back of the shop to get their prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front.

One of TV's best double acts - Tony Robinson and Phil Harding - hit the highways of America on a glorious road trip to some of the dinosaur capitals of the world in a repeated, but still essential, Time Team Special on Channel 4 at 8:00. After joining a museum dig to excavate the bones of the T-Rex's ancestor, they uncover the big bucks industry that dinosaur-hunting has spawned in the US with bones being sold openly on eBay. Give 'em Hell, guys.

Unbreakable – 9:00 on Five – is an adventure series with explorer Benedict Allen in which eight intrepid volunteers undergo an onslaught of physical and mental pressure in a bid to be declared 'unbreakable'. The hardy participants contend with the heat, humidity and wildlife of the Amazonian jungle under the watchful eye of a Tough Military Instructor. Who will be happy to give 'em all some tough lurv, no doubt. Anybody get the feeling this one that was offered to Ross Kemp but he wimped out on?

Tuesday 7 October:
We continue to ask all the questions no one else dares to. Today, why do some people use answering machines to screen calls but also have “call waiting” so they won't miss a call from someone they didn't want to talk to in the first place.

Sunshine – 9:00 BBC1 – is a bittersweet three-part comedy drama from the co-writers of The Royle Family and Early Doors and starring Steve Coogan and Bernard Hill. Bing has always had a natural wit and optimism which have made him one of the most popular people around, but he has one weakness. When Bing's gambling becomes more serious and he starts to take greater risks, the stakes are raised - could he lose everything, including the wife and son he loves? Sounds terrific and this is my drama pick of the week. I mean, listeners, when have I ever let you down before … okay, ignore Bonekickers. And The Invisibles. And ... (continued on page two hundred and fifty nine ...)

I got some rather surprised reaction from a couple of listeners over my dismissive comments about Jamie’s Ministry of Food last week. All I can say is I don’t really mind the bloke and what he does (in small doses, let it be said) but I do have one major problem with him and that’s, essentially, who died and made him King of the World? I think the thing that most perplexes me about him is that when he started off his campaign for specific types of school dinners - which isn't, necessarily something I disagree with - within hours he had government ministers literally scrambling over each other to have meetings with him and get their picture taken with him and generally giving him a good licking in the vicinity of his bottom like he’s a member of sodding royalty. I mean, ultimately, who the Hell is this guy? He’s just a chef - I’ve no doubt he’s a very good one, otherwise it's unlikely punters would eat in his (extremely expensive, apparently) restaurants and Asda wouldn’t be paying him vast amounts of moolah to advertise their various - "Jamie Oliver Endorsed" – lines of food. Also, I have to say I dislike – on general principle - anybody that’s dogmatic about what’s “good for you.” It might very well be in the long run but I’m a great believer in individual choice. I do not like being told what to eat, just as I don’t like being told what to wear or what to think. Anyway, rant over Jamie’s Ministry of Food (thoroughly pretentious title notwithstanding) is on Channel 4 at 9:00 and when all is said and done that's two plugs it has had from this slot in two weeks which really isn't bad for a series that I will personally be avoiding like the plague. You know what they say about their being no such thing as bad publicity? I'm sure Jamie himself was thinking just that as the Rotherham hard-lads were chanting "You! Fat! Bastard!" at him...

Lastly a very quick mention for the repeat run of Flight of the Conchords on BBC4 at 9:30. Delightfully batty little show about a New Zealand folk-duo and their misadventures in New York. If you haven’t caught it so far you really should be watching this.

Wednesday 8 October:
We continue to ask all the questions no one else dares to. Today, why doesn't glue stick to the side of the bottle?

If you haven’t all been watching Big Cat Live so far this week on BBC! then, I'm afraid, You Have No Soul and I disown you. All of you. The stuff with the baby cheetahs being bullied about by those thuggish adult males, in particular, was one of the most gripping soap operas on TV in years. Far better than Hollyoaks, for a kick-off. Tonight, the lions decide to have a right go at a herd of Heffelumps. Oooo ... Unwise!

Griff Rhys Jones has got over being angry, apparently (yeah, it usually doesn’t take me too long to calm down after getting a big girly strop-on either) and, in Great Cities of the World – 9:00 ITV - he travels to 'New York, New York so good they named it twice' to experience the huge diversity of the city's peoples. He looks at the iconic and familiar, the old and the new, and tries to convey the vibrant life of one of the world's great cities - a melting pot of different styles and cultures that produces something which Alfie, who visited the city recently, describes as like "being in a movie 24 hours a day." It's still number one on a list of "places I just HAVE to visit before I die." Now, comedians doing travel shows is all the bleedin' rage at the moment because on opposite Griff on Five is Paul Merton in India (a sequel to last year's thoroughly excellent Paul Merton in China). Beginning in Delhi, Paul enjoys a course in etiquette before taking a ride on a stationary plane and finding out about the city's street monkeys and then gets invited to a game of cricket. India - absolutely fascinating place. That’s yet another one that I’ve always wanted to go to. What I’ll have to do, clearly, is to become a TV comedy star and then I’ll get paid to go away. It’s a flawless plan don't you think?

Recent winners of the 'most ridiculous title for a TV show of the week' include Robson Green’s Extreme Fishing, Anne Widdecombe Vs Girl Gangs and Ross Kemp Meets the Glue Kids of Kenya. This week’s winner is on BBC3 at 9:00 Hoodies Can be Goodies. No, it's not that - brilliant - Harry & Paul sketch from a few weeks ago, but rather this sees Garron Mitchell (who he?) setting out to try and rehabilitate the image of the hoodie. But, can he convince middle England? No. Cos that would be against all laws of God and Man if you ask me.

Thursday 9 October:
Statistics suggest one in every four people suffers from some sort of mental illness. Now, think about your three best friends. If they're all okay, then it's probably you.

Three British narcolepsy sufferers are the focus of Ninety Naps a Day – Channel 4 9:00. They head to a conference in the US, where they attend a series of pioneering workshops and learn more about this most misunderstood of medical conditions. Samantha is embarrassed by her constant falling asleep, Tony struggles to stay awake at school and is determined to learn more about alternative treatments whilst Ken's relationship has been put to the test because of his narcolepsy. Lightweight title - which is unfortunate as it might put some potential viewers off - but it's a very serious subject and I hope this documentary finds and audience.

There’s a new sitcom on BBC2 at 9:30. Beautiful People is inspired by the book by Simon Doonan. Simon, now living in New York, remembers the time auditioning for the school play led to his mother being arrested for assault. Good cast – Meera Syal and Olivia Coleman to name but two. I've read the book, which was very good but I'm really not sure if this one will translate very well to TV. Time will tell.

ITV3 are repeating one of the best drama of the last five years starting tonight at 9:00. In Torn when a couple lose their four-year-old daughter on a busy beach, police assume she has drowned. Years later, the mother spots a teenager whom she knows is her daughter, but when she confronts the girl's father, she herself is arrested. This is wonderful stuff – stars Holly Aird out of Waking the Dead, Nicola Walker from Spooks and Bradley Walsh. If you missed it first time around, check it out of freeview, it's tremendous.

Friday 10 October:
Did you know that ten times as many people are killed each year by having a coconut fall on their head than are a killed by sharks? Expect, therefore, a Discovery Channel special on the Deadly Killer Coconut coming soon.

It’s the last episode of the season of Harry & Paul – 9:00 BBC1 which, I think it’s fair to say both myself and The Alfster have been loving for the past few weeks. It’s interesting that Alfie reckons Paul Whitehouse is the real star of this show – something I’d, actually, cautiously go along with. It’s certainly noticeable that the show’s title over the years has gone from The Harry Enfield Show, to Harry & Chums and then, finally, Harry & Paul. Next series, do we reckon it’s going to be Paul & Harry?!

Lots of people in this country seem to have a problem with America and Americans, which is very odd when you think about it as just about all of our popular culture for the last century – certainly most popular music since jazz, films and, particularly, television – have been hugely influenced by the US. And, not all of the hatred is down to their President. Although, a certain proportion of it undoubtedly is. Of course, both presenters of Top Telly Tips have been there - in my case many times - so I think it’s fair to say we’re more immune to this than others! I love America, myself. I consider it to be an extraordinary land full of contrasts and surprises at every turn. Yes, it's got some odd fruitcakes there but then, where hasn't? My street's full of them! This weekend sees two shows which seek to do what some may consider the impossible - to redress this strange Americophobia. The great TV historian Simon Schama – whose History of Britain a few years ago was such a popular success - brings his love of America (where he works much of the time) to the screen in the four-part The American Future – 9:00 on BBC2. The show has been designed as a scene-setter for the upcoming presidential elections. Simon’s account of how a century of America’s industrial farming has turned the bread-basket of the Prairies into a dustbowl is vividly shocking. That's the idea of the show - to make us realise why we're at such a stark crossroads of history. And it works brilliantly. Simon’s vision of how current droughts in the Mid-West mean "the American garden is withering on the vine" will have viewers reaching for their bottles of ice cold water. Let's hope McCain and Obama are watching, too.

Saturday 11 October :
In Blue Peter at Fifty – 9:00 BBC2 - Tom Baker narrates an entertaining romp through five decades of the world's longest-running children's television programme. Presenting teams reunite to spill the beans on the fun and mishaps that went on during their time on Blue Peter, including the iconic line-up of John Noakes, Valerie Singleton and Peter Purves. There are anecdotes, mishaps (involving elephants), Blue Peter badges, action and adventure, appeals, pets, lots of sticky-back plastic, cries of "Get down, Shep!" and reminders of the huge interaction Blue Peter has always had with its audience. I'm forty five later this month and I'd never have made it this far without Blue Peter! But will be get the story of how Freda the tortoise really died? Or any tales of Biddy Baxter's Thatcher-like megalomania? I somehow doubt it...

Sunday 12 October:
Following on from the Simon Schama show mentioned earlier, most people think of America as one country. Or, at the very least, three (the East and West coasts being the 'really rather cool and groovy' bits, the Mid-West and Deep South being 'the stuff you wanna avoid, particularly if you're of a remotely leftie persuasion'). But, in many ways, conceptually, it’s actually fifty different ones because in terms of make up and culture Rhode Island is as different from Delaware as Alaska is distinct from Florida. In Stephen Fry in America – 9:00 BBC1 on Sunday - dear, lovely, charming, witty, gregarious and supremely intelligent Stephen journeys across America in a six-part series (and, in his trusty black London cab), meeting all manner of colourful characters along the way. So, you might expect it to be a bit like a US version of that Wonderland series BBC2 did earlier in the year which was all about eccentricity. But, no, this is a much deeper and more ambitious concept. Almost born and raised in the USA - his father actually turned down a job at Princeton shortly before he was born - Stephen has always been fascinated with the country and by the idea that he could have grown up as his alter-ego ‘Steve’, a gum-chewin', baseball lovin' American suburbanite. That he might've gone to Harvard or Yale instead of Cambridge. That he might have become a writer for Saturday Night Live instead of A Bit of Fry and Laurie. That he might have been as big in America when he was in his twenties as his mate Hugh is now! So, in this delightful looking show Stephen undertakes the task of visiting each of the fifty states of the Union (or each of forty six states and four Commonwealths of the Union if you want to be painfully pedantic) to try and find out what is the difference between being, say, an Oregonian or a Texan. Or a Minnesotan or a Californian. He begins his journey with the states that comprise America’s industrial North East - gorgeous New England - before heading down the coast, through New York and Boston to the nation's capital and ending up at the battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Fabulous. I must also say I picked up the book of the series last week (on HarperCollins) and that’s well worth a look too if you’ve got a tenner spare and you’re in Waterstones over the weekend. The photography is staggering. The text ain't bad either. In it, Stephen makes the point that part of the anti-American feeling around the world is, genuinely, down to snobbery on the part of some Europeans. To quote from The Frymeister himself: 'I have often felt a hot flare of shame inside when I listen to fellow Britons casually jeering at the perceived depth of American crassness, isolationism, materialism, and vulgarity. It seems to reveal very little about America and a great deal more about the rather feeble need of some Britons to feel superior ... Such Britons hug themselves with the thought that they are more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than Americans because they know more about geography and world culture, as if firstly being cosmopolitan and sophisticated can be scored in a quiz and secondly (and much more importantly) being cosmopolitan and sophisticated is in any way desirable or admirable to begin with.' We like to think we're cleverer than them, basically. Which might be true (although, it's a hell of a big claim) but it doesn't, necessarily, mean that we're better people. What's that great line the Jed Bartlet says in The West Wing? 'If a guy is a good neighbour, if he puts in a day, if every once in a while he laughs, if every once in a while he thinks about somebody else and, above all else, if he can find his way to compassion and tolerance, then he’s my brother, I don’t give a damn if he didn’t get past finger-painting.' I agree with that sentiment and, therefore, constant references to all of the things that Americans don't do really rather bugs me. Like irony, for instance. Of course they don't ... you've seen The Simpsons recently, yes? It's a US TV show. it's being going twenty years. It's rather good. Or, failing that, you're aware of Bill Hicks or Rich Hall? No? I think what it is fair to say is that Americans, generally, do cynicism less well than the British, the French and the Italians (and the Aussies, for that matter) - and, since cynicism is a key component of irony, many Americans find less use for the "i" word than we do. But, that's very different from saying they don't understand the concept or haven't the ability to use it, devastatingly, when required. There's an occasional smugness about European attitudes towards the US which genuinely seems to infect the best of us. Look at one of my literary heores, the late, great Ian MacDonald, who took time out in the finest, and most balanced and optimistic book about music and popular culture ever written, Revolution in the Head, to pen a very out of place and rather haughty dismissal of American humour: 'Audiences are clearly cued, in inferior TV sitcoms, by a ponderous archness guaranteed to set English teeth on edge.' Only if the English teeth in question are affixed in the head of a snob, Ian. This may, partly, be explained by a deeply-rooted inferiority complex in the British psyche fuelled by the US having once been, you know, ours. It was noticeable that it didn't take, for instance, The Clash very long to go from 'I'm So Bored With the USA' to becoming very keen to incorporate America's vast musical heritage into their own soundscape. With, in their case, quite extraordinarily magnificent results as a consequence. They weren't the first British rock band to do that and they're certainly not the last. Anyway, this isn't an essay, it's a preview of a TV show so ... I urge everyone, watch this. It's Stephen so it'll be funny, inventive and compassionate regardless of what the subject is. Watch it in lieu of the postponed sixth season of Qi if nothing else. (Latest news on the latter, incidentally, is that it's been promoted from BBC2 to BBC1 - or "hijacked" if you prefer! - but that, because of this, and a new slot having to be found for it, it probably won't be shown until the New Year.)

Meanwhile, Channel 4 is devoting three hours to Peter Kay’s first new TV work in four years – the reality TV spoof Britain’s Got The Pop Factor And Possibly A New Celebrity Jesus Christ Superstar Strictly On Ice. In this, Cat Deeley has the inevitably task of introducing the final of Britain’s latest talent(less) quest. I must say I’m not as big a fan of Peter as Alfie is but seeing him in drag as the aspiring pop chanteuse Geraldine (who used to be a man, Gerry), or the rap duo 2 Up 2 Down does look good. It’s a big TV night with a new Touch of Frost. And lastly a mention for the second part of Alan Yentob’s excellent Imagine: The Story of the Guitar on BBC1 at 10:20. The first part, last week, was brilliant – any show which features interviews with the likes of Pete Townshend and Johnny Marr is okay with me - and they’ve only just reached the blues. That was another thing we've got to thank America for. You know, like jazz and rock and roll ... Anyway, this week, Les Paul goes electric. That's all right, mama!

Monday 13 October:
We ask the questions no one else dares to. Today, why is it that no plastic bag that you get in a supermarket will ever open on your first try? Especially if you’re in a hurry to get packed?

It’s a big night for drama tonight. Wired9:00 ITV – is the start of the three-part dark conspiracy thriller starring Jodie Whittaker, Laurence Fox, Toby Stephens and EastEnders’ Charlie Brooks about fraud and other naughty shenanigans in the banking industry. They couldn’t have a hit a more topical and highly publicised bit of subject matter if they’d tried, could they?! Nice bit of serendipity, though as obviously this would've been made some months ago. With luck like that, they'll get massive ratings. Meanwhile, over on Channel 4 at the same time there’s The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall in which Stephen Dillane and Kerry Fox star in this powerful drama based on the real-life events surrounding the tragic death of a 21 year old British student in Gaza in 2003, shot whilst trying to protect Palestinian children from what he believed to be Israeli gunfire. Ironically, Jodie Whittaker’s also in this. Bet there’s be a bit of kafuffle going on in her gaff as to which side to watch. They both look very good, but I think I'll be going to go for Wired personally.

Roman Polanski is one of my favourite movie directors – Repulsion, Chinatown, Cul de Sac, Tess. Made the best ever adaptation of MacBeth as well, despite it featuring Keith Chegwin. He's led a truly fascinating life from his upbringing when, as a child, he managed to escape the massacres of the Warsaw ghetto. He was - tragically - involved in one of the most horribly sensational murder cases of the last century and he also came up with the best description of Los Angeles ever uttered whilst he was standing in Jack Nicholson Bel Air garden late one evening when they were filming Chinatown. 'It’s the most beautiful city in the world,' he said wistfully. 'When seen at night ... and from a distance!' Damn straight, Roman. Anyway, Wanted and Desired – 10:00 on BBC4, which is rapidly becoming my favourite stations at the moment – is a profile of this often controversial man and his - often controversial - work.

Tuesday 14 October:
We ask the questions no one else dares to. Today, why do people pay to go up to the top of tall buildings and then put money in binoculars to look at things on the ground where they’ve just come from?

We talked about Nature Shock – 8:00 C4 – a few times whilst it was on last year. Well, it’s back for a new series starting with an episode about Jim Martell, a licensed hunt who sets out to hunt, trap and kill a polar bear in the Canadian arctic. Aw, that’s awful. I hope the bear gets him first, frankly.

I like the cut of tonight’s episode of British Style Genius – 9:00 BBC2 – which looks at the tailored look of the 1960s and beyond. Sirs Michael Caine and Roger Moore act as our guides to the fruity Savile Row establishments that clothed them and their pals in their swinging heyday. Aw, tremendous; Charlie Croker and Simon Templer in one show – what more could you want, eh?! Michael’s favourite tailor, incidentally, was one of the style icons of the era, Douggie Hayward, who also designed suits for Peter Sellers, Terence Stamp, Sean Connery and The Beatles amongst many others. Sharp.

Lastly, a quick mention for Sunshine – 9:00 BBC1 – the bittersweet Steve Coogan comedy-drama which kicked-off impressively last week. Tonight Bing is thrown out of the house by Bernadette, and moves in with his father, who has problems of his own. Does this remind anybody of a slightly funnier version of the classic BBC series Big Deal from the early 1980s? Similar ideas and a similarly excellent production.

Wednesday 15 October:
We ask the questions no one else dares to. Today, why is it that people say they have "slept like a baby" when actually babies wake up about every two hours during the night?

So, it’s all about to kick-off big-style over in Corrie this week. Jealous Tony, who is a bit reet tasty when it comes to handin' out the aggro, is sure that his bride-to-be, the dark and dangerous Carla, is being more than a little unfaithful to him. So, he’s decided to deal with love-rival Liam in the sort of way that Reggie Kray would’ve approved of. But with Carla really in love with Liam you can just tell all of this is going to end in a floor of tears. And more than a little strawberry jam, probably.

The staggering beauty of the Australian outback, and some of the country’s social history is covered in Wilderness Explored at 9:00 on BBC4 (see what I mean about Beeb 4 - it seems every night there's something worth watching on it). It’s a fascinating journey through geography, colonialism, art and cinematography with a bit of Aboriginal religion thrown into the mix. Great stuff from, frankly, the one channel that seems to be putting a bit of thought and imagination into its programming at the moment. Good on ya, guys. More please.

I've tried to stay silent on the subject but I simply find it impossible to do so, ladies and gentlemen. Over the last few weeks Britain's viewing millions have been crassly subjected to the horrors of Robson Green’s Extreme Fishing, followed by Ross Kemp and the Glue Kids, and then Anne Widdecombe Vs Girl Gangs. How, you may wonder, could a hard-pressed TV professional possibly come up with a more ludicrous title and, indeed, more ludicrous concept than those? Ladies and gentlemen welcome, therefore, to Ghosthunting with Girls Aloud – 11:40 on ITV. No, really, I am NOT making this up. It’s made by Yvette Fielding’s Most Haunted team as the girls are taken out after dark to "challenge their perceptions of the paranormal." Come on, car crash telly simply doesn't come any better than this! I mean, quite apart from anything else, watching Yvette in these kind of shows is always one of Britain's finest spectator sports - the woman is, literally, frightened of her own shadow, it appears.

Thursday 16 October:
We ask the questions no one else dares to. Today, why did Kamikaze pilots bother to wear helmets?

It was one of the biggest news stories of last year and brought the world’s press to our doorstep. In Canoe Man: The John Darwin Story – 8:00 ITV4 – the full story is told of how Darwin faked his own death at Seaton Carew as part of an elaborate and over-complicated insurance swindle. Horribly fascinating viewing.

Five’s big show of the night is Danger Men at 9:00, a new six-part series profiling some of the most hazardous jobs in the world and those who risk their lives, daily. Tonight’s episode, Half Million Volt Engineers, as the title suggests, is about a crew of airborne linemen in Arkansas who operate amid the deadly currents on the cables that provide the bulk of America with it’s electricity.

A couple of weeks ago I highlighted that Ian Hislop show about the Beeching Report – which was brilliant, if you missed it, incidentally. Well, that show – which was part of a season of railway-related shows - got 1.5 million viewers helping BBC4 to its best night ever (it beat both Channel 4 and Five on the night and came within a couple of hundred thousand of beating ITV too!) So, BBC4, which we’ve featured a lot of shows of this week, are having another go at repeating the trick. The Last Days of Steam at 9:00 is a Time Shift documentary full of gentle nostalgia for the days when steam power dominated the system. Gorgeous.

Bobski the Builder – 9:00 Channel 4 - follows two teams of builders, one British, one Polish, as they construct an extension on two suburban houses in what Channel 4 claim is an invitation to the audience to draw their own conclusions about the speed, reliability and skill of the two teams. So, what the Polish word for today - dwa przy cztery – that’s two-by-four to you.