Sunday, April 05, 2009

Week Fifteen: Move Along The Bus, Please

Good grief Christina, dear blog reader. These entries are certainly coming thick and fast from My Gaff Publishing®™ of late. Verbal diarrohea, clearly. To go along with the actual stuff which I had a nasty dose of two or three weeks back (thankfully all now cleared up, if you were wondering - both medically and metaphorically). That wiped the smile off my face pretty sharpish I can tell you.

Now, here's a thought. Aren't you, like, beyond glad that you weren't born in the Seventeenth Century? I'm assuming that the vast majority of people reading this, you know, weren't. Think about the implications of that for a second: No telly, no rock and roll, no Chinese takeaways or fish and chips, no Aston Martin DB9s, no hair product, no air travel to exciting foreign locations, no polyester and cotton. And what did they have instead you might well ask? Poverty, plague, fleas and consumption. Nah, sounds like a right load of old nasty crap, the Seventeenth Century. I think I'll take the present day over the past, for all its faults. Even with Piers Morgan interviewing Jordan, I think it's still got the edge on the Seventeenth Century. Just.

Friday April 10
Once upon a time, and not that long ago either, Martin Clunes was my absolute role model, living as he did in Men Behaving Badly, in slobby splendour in a flat with Neil Morrissey drinking lager and talking, fondly, about Kylie's bottom. Good on yerself, Martin. These days, sad to report, he's in charge of the nation's health. It's funny how things turn out, isn't it? In Doc Martin - 9:00 ITV - the peace of the pretty Cornish village of Portwenn is disturbed when a hoard of twitchers descend on the village. Oh, them bloody annoying twentysomething computer nerds eh? They should stick the lot of them in the army ... Oh, twitchers. Bloody Bill Oddie, eh? I just felt like saying that, dear blog reader, can't for the life of me think why. The birdwatchers, apparently, are on the trail of a rare chough, which has been found nesting on Joan Norton's land. At his surgery, meanwhile, Martin may be losing his receptionist, as Pauline wants to go to university. And he's having even less success with women in his personal life as the arrival of Louisa's father stymies any chance of a reconciliation.

Saturday April 11
I'm happy to report that a nation can breathe normally at last. We've got David Tennant's fourth-to-last Doctor Who at 6:45 on BBC1. This is, I assure you, going to be a countdown that will continue, with truly monotonous regularity, throughout the rest of this year right up to and including our beloved David's regeneration into Mel Smith sometime around New Year. From the trailers this one, Planet of the Dead, the first new episode of 2009, looks like an odd (but not unattractive) cross between Alien and Summer Holiday. A London bus takes a detour to an alien world, but can the Doctor defeat the terrifying Swarm and save his fellow passangers from their ravenous clutches with the big nasty teeth and the slavvering? Guest stars include the luscious pouty Michelle Ryan (EastEnders, The Bionic Woman) and damned annoying Lee Evans. And, it finishes just before the start of ...

Britain's Got Talent - 7:45 ITV. Ant and Dec present a brand new series of the massively popular talent show where any act of any age gets the chance to impress the judges and potentially win a spot on this year's Royal Variety Performance. The judges, nasty Simon Cowell, slimy and arrogant Piers Morgan and weepy Amanda Holden are a-waiting to be impressed (or, in Amanda's case, usually reduced to tears), whilst the performers will be hoping to beat the dreaded buzzers. I'm not averse to the concept of BGT, essentially it's an old time talent show not a million miles removed from Opportunity Knocks or New Faces. What's missing, sadly, is any inherent warmth that those formats had.

Sunday 12 April
Forget it. Worst day in the history of TV, this. Except for 'ABBA night' on Five which should, at least, be moderately tuneful. We've got the Golf Masters on BBC2 so that's, essentially, a night of "televised sky" or there's a choice between the very disappointing new season of Lewis and the decentish-but-nobody's-watching-it Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency. And, oddest moment of the night, Stephen Fry's on the thoroughly wretched Chris Moyles' Quiz Night on Channel 4. Stephen, what are you doing?!

Monday 13 April
Legends: The Motown Invasion - 7:00 BBC2 - is a thoroughly fine documentary (first shown last year on BBC4) revealing what made Motown and its spectacular roster of artists so very special to British audiences from the 1960s onwards. In particular, it looks at two decisive moments in the golden spring of 1965 - the Motown Revue UK tour and the Ready Steady Go!: The Sound of Motown TV special (introduced by Dusty Springfield, fact fans). Arriving in London during the coldest March on record, The Supremes, Martha & The Vandellas, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Temptations and (then then 'Little') Stevie Wonder backed by Earl van Dyke and Soul Brothers were bussed across Britain on a mad-tough-but-crucial package tour. It's hard to remember now, of course, but at the time Motown was very much a niché sound in this country. It was becoming popular in the clubs of the emergent Mod scene but, otherwise, those glorious songs we now know so well were really only known to the average pop fan through a couple of one-off hits for The Supremes and Mary Wells and via The Beatles covering three Motown tunes on their second LP. The TV special, recorded in Twickenham during the later stages of the tour, quite literally kicked open the door, thrusting Motown's slick dance routines, stomping beat and soaring voices into front rooms across the nation. A love affair that, for many of us, has never ended and probably never will. The bit at the end where they all crowd around Smokey as he sings 'Mickey's Monkey' is just magical. Ah, fair takes me back to Friday night discos at the Greenford in 1979-80. It was there that punks, skins, teds, rastas, mods and Northern Soul kiddies would pause from beating the roaring crud out of each other and come together in almost biblical joy and harmony as they danced with each other for the two minutes and thirty two seconds of Frank Wilson's epic 'Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)'. There is no other record in the world that is as guaranteed to put a smile on every face in the gaff as that. A smile that, frankly, not even Carolyn Crawford could turn upside down no matter how much she tried. If you watch nothing else that I recommend this week, please I urge you, watch this. If you don't then, sadly, YOU HAVE NO SOUL - literally, in this particular case. And if you do find yourself in that position, trust me, get a copy of The Ultimate Kim Weston Collection on CD and purge your bad-self.

It's the return of Hell's Kitchen - 9:00 ITV - introduced by Marco Pierre White. Now, he's an odd chap, isn't he? He's got an Italian first name, a French middle name and an English surname. What's that all about? Anyway, Marco will put a fresh group of celebrity chefs through their paces and, for the first time he will have the power to sack those who are underperforming. Which, one imagines, he will use with some relish and see that some unlucky cooks are going to end up fillited and served on a plate of chips. Heh! Food jokes, y'see. Two for the price of one on Top Telly Tips this week. ITV are, apparently, struggling to get celebrities for this series: Last time the winner, Abby Clancey (no, me neither), got £100,000 and other particpants pocketed £25,000 each - this year the limit is £8,000. So how many celebrities will we actually know this series? Claudia Winkleman joins Marco as presenter.

It's the last episode of my current favourite 'guilty pleasure' on TV Extreme Fishing with Robson Green - 9:00 Five. Silly name it my have, but it's a genuinely smart little show. Tonight, Wor Robson heads to Thailand to sample the delights of Bangkok's infamous fish market, before attempting to land the fast and feisty arapaima. Elsewhere, Robson pays a visit to the River Kwai, and hoists his rod to learn traditional fishing techniques, spending the night on a raft in the middle of a lake. He rounds off his trip with an attempt to catch the biggest freshwater fish of his entire career - a stingray.

Tuesday 14 April
Richard Macer visits the independent department stores that are fighting back against the big brands in The Department Store - 7:00 BBC2. Richard spends six months at a family-run shop which has just come out of administration. David and Caroline Whittle lost control of Peters' when it could not compete with a new shopping centre, but now a private backer has given them one last chance to turn the store around. Things are going well until problems arise with the staff in the shop's café.

Gok's Fashion Fix, the fashion makeover series with the campest presenter in the world returns at 8:00 Channel 4. Expert stylist Gok comes the aid of care-worker Dawn, who is unhappy with her wardrobe, and puts Janet Street-Porter's designer gear under scrutiny. A team of women from Rotherham put high street swimming costumes to the test - good job they didn't try that when Jamie Oliver was up there he might have wanted to serve them with an apple in their mouth - and the 'designer versus high street' catwalk heads to Birmingham.

There's another terrific episode of CSI tonight at 9:00 on Five. The murder trial of a prominent congressman is interrupted by an apparently violent suicide of a leading witness for the prosecution. The CSI team have until the following morning to re-examine the new evidence. It's yet another seminal piece in the rapid development of Lawrence Fishburne's character which has so energised this excellent show over the last three months. Like all good episodes of CSI this one is built like an intricate jigsaw puzzle the completion of which patient viewers will find really rewarding.

Wednesaday 15 April
It's the last episode of the excellent Alan Whicker's Journey of a Lifetime - 9:00 BBC2. The final leg of Alan's journey returns to Hong Kong, the hub of his many Far Eastern adventures, five decades after his first trip to the island. He looks at the drastically changing face of Hong Kong since the handback to the Chinese and the endless struggle that beautiful Bali has had to preserve its unique charms - especially after the terrorist atrocities of 2002 and 2005. He also meets up with a number of ex-pats who have emigrated to the region. Great stuff - a remind of why Whicker was, always, the king of that relaxed style of presentation.

Mud, Sweat and Tractors: The Story of Agriculture - 9:00 BBC4 - is a charmingly-named documentary series looking at the history of 20th Century farming in Britain. This first episode focuses on milk. In the early years of the century 150,000 dairy farmers milked by hand and sold their products door-to-door. By 2000 the 15,000 that were still breeding cows had increased their yields by four hundred per cent and now sell it through supermarkets. The home movies and stories of two dairy farmers who survived the changes tell the story of how and why this revolution happened.

It's all documentaries tonight it would seem. The Girl in the Box - 10:00 Five - looks into the disturbing true story of a bizarre kidnapping case that took place in America in the late 1970s. In Northern California, a sexual sadist abducted a young woman and kept her in a coffin-sized box for seven years, relentlessly abusing and torturing her. On 19 May, 1977, Colleen Stan was hitchhiking through Red Bluff in California when she accepted a ride from Cameron Hooker, his wife Janice and their baby daughter. Hooker drove to the outskirts of the town and stopped, allowing his wife and child to leave the car. He then grabbed Colleen and blindfolded her, before fitting her with a homemade contraption that was to become known as the 'head box.' Eight months after the abduction, Hooker decided to formalise Colleen's status as his slave and drew up a contract laying claim to her body and soul. He told her that he was part of a powerful network of male slave-owners called The Company whicht operated across America. Colleen was made to believe that any attempt to escape would result in her family being killed. She signed the contract and accepted her new slave name, 'K.' Eventually, after herself suffering abuse at Hooker's hands, his wife told Colleen that The Company did not exist. With Hooker's control now broken, Colleen escaped and contacted the police. In November 1984, Hooker was eventually brought to trial on seventeen charges of rape and sodomy. However, what seemed like an open-and-shut case was to offer a sensational twist. Hooker's defence lawyer argued that while his client did abduct Colleen, the sex they had was consensual. To support this claim, he produced a series of love letters written by Colleen to her supposed captor. The shocking trial that followed lasted some five weeks and explored, in the most dramatic way, the real meaning of consent, coersion and control.

Thursday 16 April
Kirstie's Homemade Home - 8:00 Channel 4 - sees one of the genuine cult figures of Channel 4, Kirstie, Kirstie, Kirstie Allsopp escaping her Location, Location, Location partner, Phil, Phil, Phil Spencer and spending her time transforming a dilapidated country cottage in Devon of her very own. Along the way she'll be meeting craftspeople - from furniture makers and antique restorers to glass blowers and flower arrangers - who all help to keep some great British traditions alive. In this opening episode, Kirstie renovates the kitchen. For inspiration she noses around Lanhydrock House - with one of the finest Victorian kitchens in the country - and gets Cath Kidston's advice on quirky table design.

Professor Lesley Regan, whoever she is, takes on the multi-million pound diet industry at 9:00 on BBC2. Over a third of us are overweight and many of those spend eleven billion pounds a year trying to get thin. Using herself as a guinea pig, Lesley will discover what to eat to lose 10lbs a year, find a diet pill that actually works, investigate whether we should all be taking vitamins to supplement our diets and uncover a low fat product that you can really trust. So, a nice bit more food fascism from the Beeb there - and (presumably because they can't afford Gillian Keith) they've gone for somebody that you've never even heard of to tell you how you should be living your life. Eat more chips, that's what I say. I'm not qualified, nor nothing, but still that's never stopped anybody from telling *me* that my lifestyle is, it would seem, offensive to them. Which is a pity, frankly. Cos I'm not changing it. For Professor Regan or for anybody else come to that.

In Around the World in 80 Trades - 10:00 Channel 4 - market-analyst Conor Woodman quits his job and travels around the world to trade a variety of goods in an attempt to double his 25,000 quid stake. The Asian leg of his journey starts in Delhi, where he has an audacious plan to sell bottles of South African chilli sauce to the Indians. His next scheme is horse trading in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, before he crosses the border into China, where he invests in a lump of jade. Sounds rather fun, that one. And, lastly, according to Radio Times we've got what sounds like an earth-shattering storyline on Emmerdale (7:00 ITV). 'Faye is spotted lurking in the foliage.' What she's doing there, they don't say but I'm sure it'll be worth tuning in to find out.