Sunday, December 20, 2009

Week Fifty Two: When The Snow Comes, Get The Doctor In

And, so we come to the final Top Telly Tips for 2009, dear blog reader. It's been well-emotional:

Christmas Day
As usual at Chrimbo, it's all about match-ups. For the fourth year running Doctor Who is on opposite Emmerdale at 6:00. The good Time Lord has won the ratings battle on each occasion thus far (spectacularly so for the last two years notwithstanding the deaths of various members of the King family on Emmers) and, what with this being David Tennant's second-to-last episode (and the return of John Simm as a completely off-his-trolley Master), I'm expecting that trend to continue tonight. At 7:00 the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special goes up against Corrie on ITV and James May's Toy Stories on BBC2 - that one could be quite a close-run thing. Remember, last year Strictly won this battle - and not by a little bit either. Then, at 8:00 it's EastEnders vs All Star Mr & Mrs. I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that Phil and Fern are likely to be the big losers in that particular tussle. Then, a combination of a new Royle Family special and Gavin & Stacey form a more deadly opponent for Agatha Christie's Poirot than most murderers he's faced. The BBC have, of course, done exceptionally well on Christmas Day over the last couple of years (nine out of the top ten rated shows last time out). And, to be honest, I'd be somewhat surprised if that sort of ratio changes too much this time around.

Saturday 26 December
The telly highlights of Boxing Day include David Tennant cropping up yet again (what's that, fourth time this week?) on BBC2 in an adaptation of his acclaimed stage performance of Hamlet (5:05). Looks brilliant. Patrick Stewart's in it, too although, it is on for three hours and, if you're not familiar with the plot, just about everybody dies horribly by the end. So, if you're looking for a good relaxing switch-your-mind-off laugh for Boxing Day, you might want to stick with the 1973 Morecambe & Wise Christmas Special at 9:00 on BBC2 instead. Also there's Ant & Dec's Christmas Show and a rather good looking Lynda La Plante drama, Above Suspicion, over on ITV and a whole night of selected CSI episodes on Five. The BBC's big film is the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie (7:30).

Sunday 27 December
Sunday's big hitters are the much-anticipated Top Gear Bolivia Special (7:45 BBC2) which looks fantastic, another particular favourite of yer Keith Telly Topping the Outnumbered Christmas Special (10:30 BBC1), a Christmas flavoured Midsomer Murders on ITV (7:00 - Mama Telly Topping will be delighted by that) and yet another one of them interminable clip-shows The Greatest TV Shows of the Naughties (9:00 Channel 4).

Monday 28 December
The Day of the Triffids - 9:00 BBC1 - sees John Wyndham's apocalyptic 1951 futuristic literary classic given a contemporary overhaul, complete with a very Twenty First Century eco-message. This star-studded two-part adaptation concludes tomorrow. Writer Patrick Harbinson has reinvented the Triffids as a future source of oil to replace fossil fuels. But they are also, of course, vicious plant-beasts that have begun to evolve on their own and have a somewhat myopic view of the humanity that created them. One night just about the entire world's population is blinded by a celestial meteor storm, leaving the path free for the Triffids to inherit the Earth. From what I've seen of the piece, it looks to be a drama that's fast and exciting, with some stunning special effects. Dougray Scott, as the human resistance leader, is an appropriately tough and rugged hero, and he leads a cast of big names, including Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave and, best of all, Keith Telly Topping's favourite comedy actor Eddie Izzard playing something of a rotter.

We've had to wait nearly thirty five years for a follow-up to one of the great television dramas of all time so it's probably inevitable that it's going to be a bit of a disappointment. An Englishman in New York - 9:00 ITV - sees John Hurt reprising his remarkable performance as Quentin Crisp. Frankly, anything would have struggled to followed 1975's ground-breaking The Naked Civil Servant, which enshrined Crisp as an icon in popular mythology and made a star of Hurt. An Englishman in New York could never hope to capture the delicious, eye-winking mischief and the sheer shocking frankness of The Naked Civil Servant - made, remember, less than a decade after homosexuality had been decriminalised in this country. It, pretty much overnight, turned the waspish bon vivant Crisp into a globally recognised figure and changed the face of TV drama. The sequel does, however, provide a satisfying epitaph as we follow Crisp into old age after he moves to New York. Here he is courted by delighted straight and gay audiences entranced by Crisp's account of his damned queer life as a wholly unapologetic gay man. And Hurt is, as ever, brilliant in the part.

Not Again: Not The Nine O'Clock News - 9:00 BBC2 - is a documentary and clip show that follows up a painfully revealing episode of Radio 4's The Reunion in 2005 which shed a bright light on some of the darker recesses of one of television's best-loved topical comedy shows. For a lot of young people of Keith Telly Topping's generation, Not The Nine O'Clock News was our Goon Show. Our Monty Python. In this look back the the creation and virtually instant cult explosion of the programme, producer and driving force John Lloyd (now, the man behind Qi, of course) talks again of the backbreaking effort that went into Not The Nine O'Clock News, first shown thirty years ago: 'My memory was that it was a nightmare of overwork. I mean, everything was stressful. We used to be green with exhaustion.' Not Again looks at a show that launched some great British comic performers (Mel Smith, Griff Rhys Jones, Rowan Atkinson, Pamela Stephenson, not forgetting Chris Langham), Howie Goodall's music and also Richard Curtis, Clive Anderson, Andy Hamilton and many others who contributed to the scripts.

Tuesday 29 December
Heads or Tails - 6:35 Five - is a game show, presented by Justin Lee Collins, in which contestants have the chance to win one million pounds on the toss of a coin. Or, you know, not. According to pre-publicity this is what we're in for: 'Having been diagnosed with a benign brain tumour, Angela put together a list of fifty things she would like to achieve in her lifetime. One of them is to win money on a game show. Can she achieve her goal? Her celebrity guests are Andrea McLean and Joe Swash. Plus, viewers at home also have the chance to win twenty grand.' Sounds about as vile as it's possible for a game show to be but, you never know, it might turn out to be entertaining in some way. And, apparently, John Thompson and Denise Van Outen are also involved so ... Still sounds crap, mind.

Gordon Ramsay's F Word - 9:00 Channel 4 - sees foul-mouthed chef Ramsay presents the fast-paced food magazine show celebrating the very best of Britain's independent local restaurants. And swearing a lot. Which, can be jolly funny if you're in the right mood for it. The search for the best local restaurant reaches the final heat tonight, with two London-based establishments specialising in Greek and Moroccan cuisine competing in the Rest of the World category. Meanwhile, Gordon uncovers the secrets of Greek food and Janet Street-Porter explores one of Morocco's finest delicacies.

And, in some of the best telly news of the year, tonight also sees the long overdue return of Qi XL - BBC2 10:55. These are, of course, the extended versions of the popular comedy quiz show in which the guests get more points for being interesting that for being either right or obvious. It's Keith Telly Topping's understanding that all of the episodes shown so far in thirty minute versions have a forty five minute XL version sitting on the shelves and that we'll get to see them all eventually. But, tonight's is an extended repeat of last week's Christmas episode. Stephen Fry guarantees you a jolly groovy l'il Christmas, with guests David Tennant, Bill Bailey, Lee Mack and Alan Davies. It is great to have it back.

Wednesday 30 December
Since they first followed in the oar-strokes of Jerome K Jerome and rowed along the Thames four years ago, Griff Rhys Jones, Dara O Briain and Rory McGrath messing about on the water has become and annual telly fixture at this time of the year. And, this year is no different. Three Men Go to Ireland - 9:00 BBC2 - sees the trio returning for more comedic water-based larkery and travels as they make their way across Ireland to the Limerick Poetry Festival. They begin in Dublin in an original Guinness barge, eighty years old, very heavy and with a temperamental engine and no reverse gear. That has comedy potential. They soon abandon this to take to a car with a difference. Reaching Mullingar they are greeted by a huge street parade, and then it all goes to the dogs as they watch Dara's greyhound take part in a race. I really have enjoyed these rather sweet and witty shows in the past - I like Dara and I like Rory and I can put up with Griff most of the time. It's amiable, gentle stuff with the odd really excellent laugh.

Yes, it is indeed the heart of a bone-chilling winter, dear blog reader, but that hasn't stopped the Beeb from scheduling a Springwatch Christmas Special for 6:30 BBC2. Eh? Isn't that, sort of, a contradiction in terms? Anyway Chris Packham, Katie Humble and Simon King use the opportunity to look back on another year for British wildlife. There are updates on the latest from some of the animal characters and wildlife news events that they followed during 2009 in both Springwatch and Autumnwatch. The team encourages people across the country to connect with nature and get out and enjoy it, even in the depths of winter with the snow and the sleet and the shivering. Chris is round at Kate's house, walking off the season's excesses and looking at which wild delights can be enjoyed somewhat closer to home than you might expect. Meanwhile, Simon is at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire.

The Turn of the Screw - 9:00 BBC1 - is a classic Henry James ghost story studying the interactions between the living and the dead. A young governess, Ann, is sent to a country house to take care of two orphans, Miles and Flora. Soon after her arrival, Miles is expelled from his boarding school. Although charmed by her young charges, Ann secretly fears there are ominous reasons behind Miles' expulsion. Stars Michelle Dockery, Sue Johnston and the divine Nicola Walker and looks terrific. Of course, the BBC have a great tradition in this sort of field going all the way back to Whistle & I'll Come To You in the 1960s. Set your recording devices for this one.

Thursday 31 December
New year Eve's Coronation Street - 8:30 ITV - sees a love-torn Kevin confronting Molly. Also Steve wants kids but does Becky feel differently? And, Sophie discovers the truth about Ryan and Sian.

In The Graham Norton Show - 10:40 BBC1 - the award-winning chat show host brings the year to an end with his anarchic show. Expect the unexpected as a variety of 'top celebrity guests' join in the festive fun with Graham and his excitable audience. Among the guests in this special edition are scheduled to be Sex and The City star Sarah Jessica Parker, heart-throb British actor Dominic West, who discusses his life on The Wire and legendary - and very rude - comedienne Joan Rivers, who helps Graham take a satirical look back at the events of 2009. That's followed by New Year Live 2009 as Myleene Klass sees out the old year and rings in 2010. Is that flaming woman everywhere?

If you fancy a bit more of musical Hogmanay, Jools' Annual Hootenanny - 11:00 BBC2 - has Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra joined for the seventeenth annual Hootenanny by a bumper mixture of artists of the year and classic names, including old hands Sir Tom Jones (who seems to be on near enough every year) and Boy George, alongside Paolo Nutini, the Noisettes' Shingai Shoniwa, Florence Welch, Paloma Faith, Dave Edmunds, Ruby Turner and Rico Rodriguez. The 2009 big-sellers Dizzee Rascal and Kasabian also perform, and the First Battalion of Scots Guards pipe in the New Year. Have a good one all you dear blog readers and, hopefully, yer Keith Telly Topping will see you all on the other side in 2010.

And, so to the news: Chris Hollins and Ola Jordan have been crowned the 2009 series champions of Strictly Come Dancing. The BBC Breakfast reporter and his professional partner beat Ricky Whittle and Natalie Lowe in last night's live final. Whittle and Lowe scored more points from the judges across the evening, totalling one hundred and ninety to Hollins and Jordan's one hundred and eighty six, but they lost out in the public vote. Hollins's performances included a foxtrot, a head-to-head Lindy Hop, a show dance and a Charleston, which the journalist scored full marks for. Darcey Bussell claimed that Hollins and Jordan were 'perfectly in tune' for the dance. Whittle and Lowe danced a quickstep and a cha-cha-cha along with the Lindy Hop and show dance. The pairing received full marks for the quickstep, which Alesha Dixon described as 'one of the greatest dances in Strictly history.' Head judge Len Goodman told the Hollyoaks actor after his show dance that no matter what happened, he was 'the best dancer in the competition.' Speaking after the results were announced, Hollins said: 'Thank you to [Ricky and Natalie]. You have made it a wonderful final. Thanks to all our family and friends and our loved ones for helping us find time to train. And thanks to all the professionals, who were so generous with their time, they are brilliant.' Yer Keith Telly Topping still intends to mutter on darkly about how Ali Bastian should've won and that it was a crime she wasn't in the final. But, you know, fair play, Chris and Ola were popular winners.

After the show, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli claimed that the format of Strictly needs to be 'tweaked' next year. The duo agreed that the show had been too long at the start of the series, the Daily Mail reports. 'Bruno and I both agree that having sixteen couples was too much,' Goodman said. 'At the beginning, people had to sit through two and a half hours. Most shows and series that run for several years have ups and downs. I think the BBC is right in trying to tweak it. It's like a plant - it needs to be pruned occasionally.' However, the pair concurred that the programme's producers had done extrordinarily well with a far smaller budget compared to ITV rival The X Factor. Tonioli stated that the BBC had done an 'incredible amount of work.' Goodman added: 'The costumes are far less expensive on The X Factor. You don't have to buy suits for the men and gorgeous frocks for the women. We have a twenty-piece orchestra and singers. But I'm sure if the BBC really did pull out all the stops, they would be criticised.' Yes, by the very newspaper you're talking to, Len. Among others. can't do right for doing wrong for these people, pal. Goodman and Tonioli, who reportedly saw their fees drop by twenty per cent this year, also admitted that they would accept further pay cuts to keep the show going. 'We understood that we had to take a pay cut,' Tonioli explained. 'Everyone did. Everyone is suffering. It was never a question. We just said, "Of course we will do it." We could have said no, but we wanted to keep doing the show. We are definitely not doing it for the money, not even close. We just love it and feel very loyal to the show. If we hadn't done Strictly we wouldn't have been doing the American version, Dancing With The Stars. I would have just continued to choreograph films, and Len would have been doing his dance school. Strictly has changed our lives. And we are very grateful for it.'

And, Arlene Phillips has - finally - given her verdict on her Strictly replacement Alesha Dixon. Phillips who was sacked from the show this summer, said that Dixon was 'fine,' but added, 'She's no Cheryl Cole.' Ooo. What a bee-atch! What's surprising about this is that it's taken Phillips this long to make any comment at all on Dixon, since she hasn't been shy about giving forth her gobby comments on just about every other subject under the sun for the last thirteen weeks.

If you're looking for a good read on a boring Sunday a'fore Christmas, there's a quite superb piece on Doctor Who in the Independent written by the always excellent Matthew Sweet. Check it out: 'Fortunately for Tennant, the British nation has fallen hopelessly, madly and devotedly in love with him – and the nine hundred-year-old Time Lord whose hair products he's been using for the past five years. He is everywhere. Doctor Who is everywhere. Its language, its concepts and its characters have become part of our national conversation. Its season finales harvest ratings of the sort once thought lost to television drama. Posters outside churches read 'Christ – the original Time Lord,' suggesting that the Church of England believes Doctor Who is bigger than Jesus. Those of us who, twenty years ago this month, were among the small band of die-hards who watched Sylvester McCoy stroll off into the sunset with a swing of his question-mark umbrella are still pinching ourselves. Two decades ago, the BBC regarded Doctor Who as an embarrassment: something to schedule against Coronation Street in the hope that the ITV gargantuan would roll over and squash it. Now the Corporation uses the programme to justify its existence to the public and the Government. How did this happen, exactly?' Matthew goes on to tell you and he does it beautifully. Top marks, fellah - sharp bit of critique, there. You should do this for a living, pal. Oh, hang, you do. Okay ... carry on.

And, on a somewhat related note, there's also a thoroughly fascinating piece by the BBC's Steve Price in the Mail on the subject of the Christmas schedules. 'For a scheduler who has invested the best part of a year’s work in producing an attractive Christmas line up, it's heart-warming to see more than seventeen million people watching the two main channels in one gigantic shared experience. Even better, BBC1 and ITV have pulled out all the stops to entertain us with a non-stop diet of home-produced favourites. As a nation we are dead lucky to be given such a remarkable Christmas present.' What he said.

Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello has described the recent campaign to get the band to number one as a 'grassroots revolt.' Fans are hoping that the band's song 'Killing In The Name' will beat X Factor winner Joe McElderry's debut single 'The Climb' to the Christmas number one this weekend. 'This really does seem like the biggest "whose side are you on?" moment in the history of UK music,' Morello told the Sun. 'It is a historic campaign to save the UK pop charts from the abyss of bland mediocrity and we're one hundred per cent behind it. It's really amazing and completely a grassroots movement. It's not like the band put this forward, it was the people.' He added: 'We knew that we wanted to join the campaign. And the members of Rage Against The Machine are so thankful that our song has been chosen to be the flagship for this revolt to end the status quo.' I thought it was against Simon Cowell, not the Quo and their forty years of imaginative use of demin? Anyway, Morello claimed that people involved with The X Factor are 'smugly disregarding [the] grassroots campaign,' are 'counting on' the number one spot and are playing 'dirty tricks' during the chart battle. However, he insisted that the campaign has nothing to do with McElderry. 'I'm sure he's a very nice young lad,' he explained. 'If there is any backlash against him it is totally undeserved, but it's the fault of The X Factor for pushing forward this "guaranteed number one pop single." To then turn around and cry, boo hoo hoo, that people are complaining about it - I don't have much sympathy for the X Factor people. If we're going to start feeling sorry for young men who are going to have the number two single at Christmas, then that's putting our sympathies in the wrong place. Whatever sympathy is out there, then please use it to leave your donations for Shelter. There are people who really deserve sympathy and support at Christmas, not the latest X Factor poster boy.'

Meanwhile, Joe McElderry is reportedly 'planning to meet Disney bosses.' The X Factor winner told the Sun that the company had phoned him to arrange a meeting. 'I couldn't believe it and thought it was a wind-up,' he explained. 'But they genuinely want to meet me. Someone from Disney is setting up a casting audition.' Rumours that they want him to play Mickey Mouse's stunt-double cannot, at this time, be confirmed or denied. Either that, or they're looking for someone with a vaguely European accent to ask 'D'you want fries with that?' in the McDonald's concession at EuroDisney. Let's face it, it'll be jolly good practice for when South Shields Joe is back to stacking shelves in Morrisons in about eighteen months time. Say 'hello' for us all to Michelle McManus on the tills, will you Joe?

Davina McCall spent part of Friday night sleeping in her car after wintry conditions left her stranded. The presenter took ten hours to get home after being stuck on the A21 in Kent when a lorry blocked the road, reports the Daily Mail. Who then somehow managed to fold asylum seekers, unmarried teenage mums on benefit and 'gay people' into the story and then blame the whole thing on the BBC. Drifting snow and slippery roads reportedly exacerbated the situation. 'And what were the BBC doing whilst all this was happening?' demanded the Mail. 'Showing Jonathan Ross, that's what!' McCall, who had been at a Christmas party in London, set off for her house at about 11pm and initially Tweeted to her one hundred and eighty thousand followers: 'This is mad! I'm stranded in the car. Cut off by snow. May have to spend the night!' She later added: 'Never have I regretted wearing a leather jacket more ... going to call the police ... We can't move without grit!!! Pls send out grit!!!' I don't, actually, think you can send grit down a phone line, Davina.

Rachel McAdams has reportedly revealed in an interview that 'TV is like my crack.' That's really rather alarming to know. Still, let's hope this confession doesn't spoil the enjoyment of the rest of us.

Moving swiftly on, Justin Lee Collins has voiced his intention to retire from TV in the near future to open a bookshop. The host of Five's new game show Heads Or Tails explained that he can't understand why veteran stars such as Bruce Forsyth or Des O'Connor are still working in the industry. Lee Collins, a father-of-two, told the Mirror: 'I'd like to be ridiculously busy for the next two years and if I can make my childrens' futures secure I'm inclined to say, here and now, that I'll stop. I want to open a bookshop. We'll do teas! It would be lovely to retire before I'm forty. I look at Bruce Forsyth or Des O'Connor and think, "Why on earth do you want to be doing this at the age you're at now?"' The thirty five-year-old said that he would like to do more musical theatre before retreating to his home town of Bristol in a few years, where he will limit his show business work to a local radio station. I realise that Justin can be seen as a bit 'marmite' as a performer - a lot of people like him but many really dislike him - to be honest, I'm somewhere in the middle, I think he's all right, though occasionally a bit annoying. Much like many people of TV, in fact. But, I do admire that sort of attitude. Do your piece then get off the stage and make way for someone else. Good on yer, Justin. If you do open that book shop, I'll probably pop down for a paperback and a cuppa. Ten per cent discount for those in the trade, mind.

Patrick Stewart will reportedly be made a knight in the New Year's Honours List. The Star Trek: The Next Generation legend will be honoured for his services to drama, in a film and television career which has spanned fifty years. According to the Mirror, sources at Buckingham Palace claim that the Queen is an admirer of the sixty nine-year-old classical actor. 'He is a man at the very top of his trade who has mastered both popular TV and classic roles,' a source said.

Gemma Arterton has revealed that she is not interested in being famous. The Quantum of Solace and St Trinians actress, who recently signed up for West End play The Little Dog Laughed, explained that she would rather be happy than be a celebrity. 'I think it's such a massive thing in our culture now, where people just aspire to be famous and don't reach for pure happiness,' she told the Daily Mail. 'I've been there, a little bit, and I've opted to be happy. My character in The Little Dog Laughed is vulnerable, she wants a baby and she wants to be loved, but she's also hungry for fame and for me that's so ironic because I've had a taste of it and decided I don't want it. I would rather do a play in England, thank you very much.' Arterton admitted that there are similarities between her own life and her character's life, but insisted that she hadn't chosen to appear in the play for that reason. She said: 'There were many reasons for doing this play, but none of them was, "Oh, I've just done these Hollywood movies - and now I can do a play about some aspects of Hollywood and some of the things I've seen!"'

Paul McCartney's ex-wife Heather Mills is apparently among celebrities preparing to take part in the fifth series of Dancing On Ice. Mills will face competition from the Beatles singer's second cousin, the comedienne Emily Atack, as well as from Sinitta, Gordon Ramsay's wife Tana, EastEnders' Danniella Westbrook and Boyzone's Mikey Graham. The Sunday Mirror reports that Jeremy Sheffield, of Holby City, Bobby Davro and Emmerdale's Hayley Tamaddon are also taking part. Ex-Coronation Street actor Danny Young and TV doctor Hilary Jones will also compete, as will the former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies.

Kerry Katona is reportedly facing eviction in the New Year. The News of the World claims that the former Atomic Kitten singer, reality TV contestant and drug taker, who was declared bankrupt last year, has failed to keep up with her mortgage payments. 'She was totally hysterical when the letter arrived,' a source said. 'She hasn't paid the mortgage because she's been squandering what money she has left. Kerry seemed to think she was immune from losing her home. She really didn't think that she, Kerry Katona, would have her house taken from her.' Nice to see that yer Keith Telly Topping isn't the only person who refers to himself in the third person. 'But now the reality has hit hard - there is no going back, Kerry has lost her home for good,' continued the source. 'It is too late to negotiate with the mortgage lender, they have given her too many chances. She has just a few weeks to find somewhere to live but she knows it is probably going to be back in a council house in Warrington where she grew up.' The 'insider' also claimed that Katona had 'squandered' the money allocated for her living costs by the trustees in charge of her finances. 'Instead of paying the mortgage and being sensible, she has continued with her millionaire lifestyle and run up two hundred thousand pounds worth of fees concerning her bankruptcy,' the source added. 'The mortgage should have come first but Kerry thought she could wriggle out of it. Now she's literally lost the roof from over her head.' A spokesperson for Deloitte, the company dealing with Katona's bankruptcy, said: 'Whether somebody is bankrupt or not they must pay their mortgage or face losing their home.'