Saturday, September 12, 2009

Week Thirty Eight: Fresh Food, Fancy Frocks, Frightful Judges & Prestidigitation

Sir Paul McCartney (MBE) has revealed the full extent of The Beatles' drug-taking during their 1960s heyday. Speaking to Entertainment Tonight, McCartney confessed that he was surprised the band made it through the era in one piece (or, in Ringo's case, in more-or-less one piece), considering the truly vast quantities of mind-bending junk which they used to smoke, snort, shoot or pop (often all four at once) into their system. '[The band were] overdoing substances and really getting crazy,' Macca said. 'As we all were falling asleep - the kinda thing when you can hardly get your head off the pillow. You go, "Woah, I'd better get my head off this pillow."' Eh? Come again, Paul. Mind, something in all that helps to explain 'Helter Skelter.' And 'Rocky Raccoon,' possibly. Alternatively, of course, maybe George had introduced the other three to a particularly strong and mind-altering vindaloo round Ravi Shanker's gaff the night before. It can do quite amazing things for ones creativity can a good old fashioned arse-rattling curry. Certainly, every time Keith Telly Topping has one, he can hear sitars. Like Derren Brown's lottery prediction, however, what they actually got up to in the privacy of their own Pepperland, we may never know. Perhaps that's for the best.

Enough of being sidetracked by tales of Very Hard Drugs, let's have some Top Telly Tips instead.

Friday 18 September
Not a single celebrity toe had even touched the fabled dance floor before this current series of Strictly Come Dancing - 8:30 BBC1 - made all the tabloid headlines with an explosion of wholly manufactured indignation about the departure of the never-previously-loved judge Arlene Phillips. This shake-up will undoubtedly alter the dynamic of the show: it's hard to imagine either of the new judges - ballerina Darcy Bussell and season-five winner Alesha Dixon - being as cuttingly critical as Arlene. And, in the particular case of Alesha, if she even tries to do so is she going to be told by any of the contestants to mind her own effing business and stick to her real job, whatever that is? Oh, I really hope so! But Strictly is bigger than any individual - except, possibly, the God-like Len - so one doubts there'll be much of a dent in its viewing figures over this. The decision to put it on opposite The X Factor, however, that might do the trick nicely. There are other changes afoot, too: for the first two weeks, eight couples will perform on the Friday and Saturday with one couple being voted off after Saturday's show. After that it reverts to just a Saturday show with the remaining fourteen couples being gradually whittled down to a final three. As always, it's hard to guess who'll be tripping the light-fantastic and who'll be the clodhoppers, but the bookies seemingly already have their eye on ex-boxer Joe Calzaghe, despite his admission that 'I've never really danced before. Maybe after a few beers in the club, in a quiet corner, I'd try to move a little bit, but I wouldn't say dance.' Spoken like a true Welsh hardman! The sportsmen have usually, in the past, tended to be quite good at this. Although poor old Phil Tufnell trying to follow in the dance-steps of his much more fleet-footed England cricket team-mates Darren Gough and Mark Ramprakash does seem a bit hard to imagine without lots of laughter. Meanwhile, presenter Bruce Forsyth has revealed he has accepted a pay cut, and says he thinks all entertainers 'get paid far too much.' Strange how you never mentioned that earlier, Brucie. In an interview with Newsnight, he said: 'It's a good thing to cap the salaries and I think it should have probably been done a long time ago.' The eighty one-year-old entertainer added that most people had taken a cut with 'goodwill because these are very, very hard times.' Most people, eh? Care to name some names of those who, you know, haven't Bruce?

In some related news, the previously mentioned Phil The Cat Tufnell has missed a Strictly Come Dancing training session after falling ill this week. The former Middlesex and England off-spinner admitted that he is 'worried' about his lack of preparation for the first live show. 'In bed all day sick, what a bore. Missed a whole day's training [and] will have to work twice as hard tomorrow. Time is running out. I'm worried,' he wrote on Twitter. Tufnell also revealed that he tried to show off his dance moves but suffered a mental block when he attempted to recreate what he had been learning. 'Had another long day training and was just beginning to think I was getting it, but when I tried to show [my wife] Dawney my mind went blank!' Meanwhile, Tufnell and his professional partner Katya Virshilas have undermined rumours that they haven't been getting on during training with numerous Twitter updates. Virshilas even revealed that the duo had come up with their own dance move known as the 'Tuffner Shuffle.' She added: 'I taught [Phil] a new term today: Syncopated Rhythm. This lad is getting his dance steps - I'm like a proud parent.'

After correctly predicting the lottery numbers last week - or, appearing to do so, anyway - Dazzling Dezza Brown returns for another live and interactive Friday night special, How to Control the Nation - 9:00 Channel 4. In this episode the master of illusion and mesmerism will attempt to control the viewers and literally have the audience stuck to their sofas. Most people who watch a lot of telly manage that all on their own without any help from Derren. Will he be illegally hypnotising people in controvention of the 1952 Hypnotism Act? Tune in to find out. You'll be glued to it.

Saturday 19 September
It's the first Strictly versus X Factor 'bout to knock the other guy out' battle tonight. On the one side you've got a bunch of sour-face malcontents passing their worthless critical comment upon the inelegant efforts of a group of graceless clodhopping nonentities desperate to get their faces on national television. And, on the other side, Bruce Forsyth. Of the two, I much prefer Strictly myself. I've always considered it to be a far less meanspirited and manipulative show (which, I think, is one of the main reasons why Arlene Phillips got the push - it wasn't so much ageism as not many people actually liked her very much). As for X Factor, well, it is what it is and will continue to be so to, occasionally, moderately entertaining highs and lots of questionable lows. I must say, however, that I did enjoy Dermott getting bitten by a singing dog last week, that sort of sums the show up to me. Would it have been too much for the pooch to have shat on his shoes, or tried to shag his leg? Now, that's entertainment.

Sunday 20 September
Again - as Keith Telly Topping has noted so many time over the last couple of years - by and large, Sunday is the best night of the week, for TV. By miles; Top Gear (even if it is a repeat), Last Chance to See, Waking the Dead and, tonight, the return of Doc Martin - 9:00 ITV - the gentle Martin Clunes vehicle about a doctor in a small Cornish town. Since Martin and Louisa both got cold feet on their wedding day at the end of the last series, Louisa (the excellent Caroline Catz) has left. Martin has been finding life in Portwenn infuriating, when he unexpectedly meets his old flame Edith, now a top-ranking doctor who is clearly surprised at the way his life has turned out. He starts to consider new directions, but Martin's thoughts are turned upside down when Louisa returns with big news of her own. Meanwhile, Pauline considers an offer from Al.

Monday 21 September
The Gadget Show - 8:00 Five - is one of those programmes that Keith Telly Topping likes to mention about once every six or eight weeks, essentially just remind people that it's still on. This is, of course, a rather decent consumer technology show presented by Jason Bradbury, Suzi Perry, Jon Bentley and Ortis Deley which, thnakfully, doesn't take itself or the gadgets that it highlights, too seriesly. The Top Gear of consumer averice shows, if you like. Tonight, Jason and Ortis use the latest technology to give themselves 'superhero' powers whilst the divine Suzi tests out some hi-tech home-security gadgets and Jon goes trekking with national treasure Brian Blessed. Take some ear-plugs with you, Jon, he can shout for England that bloke.

One of Keith Telly Topping's constant guilty TV pleasures, Masterchef The Professionals - 8:30 BBC2 - is now well into its current run. In this episode, four chefs face a nail biting elimination round. In front of Monica and Gregg, they have to earn the right to cook for the legendary Michel Roux by demonstrating their culinary expertise with a skills test of spinning sugar and a palate test of making bruschetta. Well, that's basically ham and cheese on toast, lads. The Welsh have been doing it for centuries.

Seven years after they were first introduced, there are now over sixteen thousand five hundred Police Community Support Officers working in the UK. Critics have always attacked them for providing policing on the cheap and being a political gimmick, but their supporters say they have been useful in curbing antisocial behaviour and are a visible reassurance to the public. Dispatches: Cops on the Cheap - 8:00 Channel 4 - uncovers widespread confusion over their role, both among the public and within the police service itself. I remember talking to one of these lads in town a few years ago, quite affably, but he got very shirty when I casually mentioned that his job must be difficult to do what with him 'not being a real copper and all that.' Ooo, most indignant, so he was. All that nice, friendly, community liaison-speak went right out of the window and he turned into a caricature from some 1970s cop show and started waving his truncheon about like some sort of affirmation of his massive maleness. I like the jackets, though. They're very camp.

Tuesday 22 September
The Choir: Unsung Town - 9:00 BBC2 - is nearing the end of Gareth Malone's project in the Hertfordshire housing estate of South Oxhey. The choirmaster sets out on a grand venture to get the whole community behind his ambitious choral project. He decides that he wants to stage a free choral festival at South Oxhey playing fields, a large green space normally used for football and dog-walking, and embarks on putting together the largest event this area has seen for half a century. It's been good telly this. You can be cynical about the medium all you want but something like this, in which somebody personable (and talented) like Gareth presents a subject with boundless, and genuinely infectious, enthusiasm can't help but work. You would have to be a professional misanthrope not to have gotten something worthwhile out of this even if it's simply the ability to sit there on your sofa and say 'I could do that. But, I don't want to...' Fortunately, of course, Britain still leads the world in professional misanthropy. Makes you proud, doesn't it? Or, it would do if pride and cynicism weren't diametrically opposed emotions.

In Holby City - 8:00 BBC1 - Michael tries to assert himself and his own position in the hospital by stealing Connie's thunder over the subject of robotic surgery. That is not going to be easy, however, because she's not one to let her thunder get pinched is wor bitchy Connie. Big, big, big secruity all around her thunder, so it is. Alarm systems, snarling vicious guard dogs, barbed wire, the works. If there's any of Connie's thunder being stolen in this series, expect the tea-leaf to turn up dead, in a ditch, on fire soon afterwards. Meanwhile, Maria tries to get used to the idea of being paralysed, while Penny manages to wangle a day on AAU, only to find herself having to impress Jac. Good old Holby - always reliably bonkers.

TV cookery shows - there's literally millions of them. How can your average hard-pressed TV executive possibly come up with a new angle on the genre? With The Big Food Fight - 10:00 Channel 4 - that's how. This is a sort of Qi for food lovers, a quiz hosted by everybody's favourite Supersizer, the delicious Sue Perkins in which team captain, the only marginally annoying Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall (you know, the chicken's friend) is challenged to defend his cooking credentials by a different rival each week. And, actually, he's rather good in it. Quite self-depracting which is something I never expected from Hughie. Anyway, this week he takes on his old mate Heston Blumenthal, while Patsy Kensit and Ben Miller are the celebrity guests. The two episodes so far have been really quite good - something else that Keith Telly Topping didn't expect when he read the pre-publicity blurb. And, if you miss it tonight, it is repeated on Friday. Much like most of the food you see made on TV cookery shows, one suspects.

Wednesday 23 September
For the first time ever, the Ministry of Defence has allowed television cameras to follow wounded soldiers from the moment they are flown back to the UK, right the way through their treatment at Birmingham's Selly Oak Hospital and its Defence Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court. With enormous public interest in the medical care given to injured soldiers, Wounded - 9:00 BBC1 - is a unique documentary which shows the reality behind the screamed tabloid headlines when British soldiers are reported 'very seriously wounded' in Afghanistan. This opening episode following the journey of two injured soldiers: Nineteen-year-old Ranger Andy Allen who, in July 2008, had his right leg blown off and his eyes badly burnt by an improvised explosive device and twenty four-year-old Lance Corporal Tom Neathway, who lost three limbs after moving a booby-trapped sandbag. Unconscious and watched by their families they fight for their lives, but surviving their injuries is just the beginning of a long, painful and very personal journey. I like the look of this. As previously noted, I've got quite a bit of time for the military (in a sort-of pacifist, 'I hope they don't actually get sent anywhere war-zone-ish' way) and I'm very impressed that someone in authority has given their blessing to this show. One which can, hopefully, only make understanding the role the play in the modern world easier for the average viewer. Proper public service broadcasting at its most fundamental.

Another guilty pleasure of this blogger is The Secret Millionaire - 9:00 Channel 4 - a series in which a millionaire goes undercover in a deprived area in the hope of changing someone's life with a generous gift of their own hard-earned money. Yes, it can be soppy and hugely manipulative but the reveal at the end is, usually, one of the most genuinely heart-warming moments of TV on any given week. Tonight, property magnate Kevin Green swaps his large country home for a bedsit in Barnstaple, looking for local people and causes who may need financial help.

And, speaking of guilty pleasures, they don't come much more guilty (or, much more pleasurable) that the cult that is Location, Location, Location - 8:00 Channel 4. As usual, Phil Phil Phil and Kirstie Kirstie Kirstie (who was so funny on The Big Food Fight last week) get the somewhat unwanted task of helping out two outrageously picky middle-class couples - all of whom get their soup in cartons not in tins and have nothing but total respect for Annie Lennox and various other lines borrowed liberally from Half Man Half Biscuit's 'Paintball's Coming Home' - who are having problems in the property market. Usually because they have ludicrously unrealistic expectations and about as much common sense as a dose of mumps. The Peak District is the setting for this episode's house-hunting. Bryone and Daniel Burton are looking for a home for their growing family which also has the prospect for developing into a holiday business. You will note, dear blog reader, that it is never sheet-metal worker Kev and his wife Tracey, who are looking for a two bedroomed council flat in Gateshead with an inside lavvy, is it? Meanwhile, Wendy Lee and Simon Mackney are looking for a property with studio space on a budget. Speaking of 'Paintball's Coming Home', I heard a brilliant live version a few weeks ago in which Nigel had written some new lines, including the memorable 'They watch repeats of Top Gear/on Channel Dave/cos it's not just for petrolheads!'

Thursday 24 Spetember
In EastEnders - 7:30 BBC1 - Bianca finally works up the courage to tell Ricky how she feels - but will it be too late? It was too late years ago for you crazy kids. Jane, meanwhile, is loving her time at the Brannings. Perhaps a little too much, as Stacey is only barely keeping things together.

On the fourth day of the North East heats in Britain's Best Dish - 5:00 ITV, a fourteen-year-old competitor hopes that his age is no impediment to success. So long as you don't cook them fish fingers and chips, kidda, I don't see why it should. The judges - John Burton Race, Ed Baines and Jilly Goolden - must decide the winning dishes from a menu including a corned beef pie and fillet of beef.

Watching the Dead - 9:00 BBC4 - is a documentary in the same vein as previous excellent productions Call The Cops and The Perfect Detective except that, unlike both of those, Keith Telly Topping wasn't asked to participate this time around. Never mind, he's not a bitter man. Anyway this thoroughly wretched excuse for a ... No, let's start again, this documentary explores television's fascination with forensics, revisiting classic shows like Quincy and Marius Goring's The Expert and also looking at the appeal of contemporary dramas such as Silent Witness, Waking The Dead and CSI. The film examines how scientific advances like genetic fingerprinting have been reflected in the crime drama and finds out how accurate the science shown on screen is. Contributors include actors Sue Johnston, Tom Ward and Jack Klugman. Sounds like a good one.

Michael Jackson bows out in some considerable style on Bo' Selecta! - 9:00 E4 - as Leigh Francis dusts off his rubber Jacko mask for one final hurrah. An official press release said that the one-off special will be 'funny and respectful.' Now, the former, I can well believe, always a big fan of Leigh's mad take on celebrity. But the latter? God, I hope not! Apparently Jacko 'sha'mone muddafugga, kiss his bad-ass-self', will appear with angel wings and his famous silver glove in this hour-long special (see right). He meets Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin in heaven whilst highly disrespectful versions of Jacko's pals Quincy Jones and Uri Geller will also appear. Bo' Selecta! faves from the past such as The Bear, Simon Cowell and Oprah Winfrey are also on hand. No Crayyyyyyg Dayyyyvid, however it would seem? That's not proper bo.

And, finally Welsh songstress Bonnie Tyler has admitted that she would rather sing than act after filming her guest appearance for Hollyoaks Later. The husky-voiced, big-haired 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' singer shot her cameo for the late-night soap spinoff at Lime Pictures in Liverpool earlier this week, and has since revealed that she was 'like a fish out of water' in front of the camera. 'They've asked me for a couple of years but I know I'm no actress,' she told the Press Association. 'I'm comfortable singing in front of thousands of people but put me in a room where I have to act and it's so difficult for me, having to say any lines, which I did have to say. I was dying. But it worked out all right.' The fifty eight-year-old added: 'I hope I don't cringe all the way through it. I probably will. When I watch any of my videos I could die!' Tyler appears in a dream sequence with Carmel McQueen (Gemma Merna) in which the pair break out into a duet of her song 'Holding Out For A Hero.'