Sunday, February 10, 2013

Week Eight: The Great War

On Saturday evening, dear blog reader, yer actual Keith Telly Topping his very self has a rather nice hot beef sandwich and a glass of sweet white and watched two episodes of Spiral. The sarnie was good. The wine was good. But, the the return of yer actual Engrenages was the highlight of the night, if not the year so far. Particularly the line: 'He's not that useful, as far as corpses go...'
If the - astonishing - third series of Spiral (broadcast in the UK approximately eighteen months ago) was, essentially, a straight-forward whodunnit, then the fourth series which began on Saturday (after being shown in France in September and October of last year) promises to provoke some interesting social discussion among the drama's dedicated UK audience. We have a focus on the French immigration and a deportation system which appears to be indiscriminately sending asylum seekers back to face a certain death (Erkan), or detaining those who have a legitimate claim to be citizens (Moussa Koné). Although, to be fair, we've only seen one side of the argument so far. It's notable that the French immigration officers here are shown to be polite, fair-minded people simply doing their jobs – and comment about the inadequacies of the system are aimed solely at the system. But not everyone is bothered by the distinction between the two, it would seem. A clever opening suggested that Laure and her boys had weathered the storms presented by her shooting of wicked Ronaldo, The Butcher of La Villette at the climax of series three. What were we thinking, dear blog reader? Spiral doesn't work that way - never had, hopefully never will.
Laure's version of the events seemed straightforward enough and was backed up by the loyal Gilou and Tintin even if they didn't match reality in the slightest. But, later, when she confronts the disloyal PJ and tells him what really happens, you're still not entirely sure if she's telling the truth or not, even though she seems to think she is. Did she really shoot Ronaldo because she was afraid? Or was it, as I think most viewers believed, to ensure justice - of a sort - was done? It's a leitmotif familiar to Spiral viewers (remember the end of series two, for that matter) and, of course, it's explored further through the anarchists' actions in these two episode. One imagines - given the nature of the series (and, the fact that Caroline Proust is, you know, the star of the show) that the writers will find a way to pull Laure back from the brink; possibly she's already done enough to get herself off the hook with PJ thanks to all her talk of respect. For once, les blunders that seem to crop up in an average episode of Spiral with a regularity that's become strangely comforting, whilst unfairly pinned on Laure in her absence, were not actually La Captain's fault at all. Rather, it was the slimy new Commissioner, Herville, who thought that sending a chap from finance to trail released schoolgirl petrolbomb anarchist Sophie was, like, a good idea. I mean, she's not going to dump her mobile at the first opportunity and then lose the tail by getting in a taxi, surely? That wouldn't be playing the game.
It was a staggeringly bad call and Herville seems to be a decidedly odd chap with a temper that's quite startling. When Laure notes: 'People, we're in trouble,' one imagines she's not talking about the general state of France under Francois Hollande. Nope, she's talking about herself and Gilou and Tintin - the latter, as ever, finding himself digging his lovably incompetent partner and his captain out of a hole thanks to the last-minute wire-tap. Poor put-upon Tintin – and with twins on the way into the bargain. Gilou, meanwhile, seemed hell bent on getting himself into a whole shitload of trouble with the Sarahouis, under investigation for people trafficking and immoral earnings and keen to have their nightclub licence extended. It may be true that only crooks can give you decent information, as Gilou argues, but you have the sense already that this alliance of strange bedfellows will not end well for someone. Probably Gilou. Not least because his snitch, Nabil, appears to be less than trustworthy even by Copper's Nark standards. Laure, meanwhile, wasn't exactly feeling the love from Gilou either. The exchange between her and Gilou over Amina was especially notable here: 'How could anyone that pretty be a police officer?' 'Thanks a lot.' Poor Laure. Even when puts on a pretty dress to attend the reconstruction of her taking down Ronaldo, it does her no favours with the sour-faced Wagner. On the plus side, however, at least Gilou hasn't taken a snort of cocaine nor shagged a prostitute so far this season – although he did try it on, hugely unsuccessfully, with Amina. So, that might be regarded as progress of a sort. Neither has he shot anyone by accident, either. Double bonus. Berthaud and her new boyfriend Commissioner Brémont hardly got their relationship off to the best of starts – there are, it would seem, lots of questions about motives with this pair – but, they are, apparently, very much still an item and he gets on pretty well with Gilou and Tintin backing their story up and sharing an after-work drink with the trio in episode two. Not only did Brémont save Laure's neck with Judge Wagner, but talking in the bar, he placed Laure above police work in terms of importance. Which, one senses, makes him something of an oddity in the Paris police department. One can't necessarily say that she would do the same for him, if pushed. With regard to this series' bad guys and girls, Thomas and Sophie, appear to be part of an anarchist collective, splitting swiftly into two cells: the moderates trying to avoid violence led by Christophe, and the hardliners who believe that violence can be defensible in the context of their fight. Hugo died (on his own, in terrible pain, and with no arms left) after making a bomb from sulphuric acid and hydrogen peroxide, which were meant to be used in a forthcoming attack to destroy a computer server that contains residence applications. The result will be that no deportations can be processed for six months: the cost could be the lives of innocent people such as cleaners who get in the way of the attack. The point that Thomas cares little for individuals – particularly, it seems, those affected by the systems that he's trying to change – was underlined quite thoroughly here. Effectively it was 'it's their fault for taking the job of cleaner in the first place.' It seems that his motivation is revolution, pure and simple, ideally the more violent the better, and all the bloodshed which that might entail, rather than engineering social reform through non-violent counteraction. It's all a bit Red Brigades or Red Army Faction (or, more specific to the location, Action Directe) for a cynical Twenty First Century world. Urban Guerrillas do, probably, still exist but, do they really still make bombs in their cellars. Mind you, the idea of having a bunch of stroppy schoolgirls involved does bring to mind Britain's own example silly terrorist collectives, The Angry Brigade, got up to in the early 70s. Those around Thomas seem far less committed to the cause, brother; without Joséphine's intervention, Sophie would likely have shat in her own pants at the thought of ten years la porridge and swiftly revealed the group's target. The mention of a bomb should, one imagines, have given Joséphine plenty of reason to walk away from the case, but this is Joséphine we're talking about and, of course, it gives her an excuse to be a constant fly in Laure's ointment once more. And, whilst we're about it, what exactly is going on with Joséphine and Pierre Clément? Apart from still being a hot almost-but-not-quite couple, of course. Anyone who witnessed that snog last season will be in no doubt about that. Set up in business together, with Pierre stepping in to keep Joséphine from the possibly fatal clutches of Ousmanov, and proving he can be quite as devious as his partner when he has to be. Meanwhile, as Karlsson is being fierce and brilliant as ever – Laure's face when she appeared to represent Sophie was a fantastic mixture of outrage and 'oh no, not again!' – Pierre is taking on the appeal of an infamous criminal who says that he has been framed for a murder after going straight. But why is he taking such a client at all? For Jorkal's money? Because everyone deserves justice? Because he's been hanging about with Joséphine for too long? Time will tell. Meanwhile, where François Roban? He was in the 'previously on...' section and then, not even a mention until episode two when Marianne tells Pierre he's returning from holiday shortly. Apparently he'll be back in next week's episodes. Oh, and Joséphine looked sensational in her new blue dress. 'It's really nice,' doesn't anywhere near do it justice Pierre!
The French have, of course, been raised on a rich diet of cop dramas, which have traditionally been the country's most popular TV shows. They've had decades of Maigret, starring Bruno Cremer. Navarro followed the investigations of a Paris police commissioner and ran from 1989 to 2006 and they've watched dubbed British and American detective series from Taggart to Columbo. So ,the success of Engrenages, broadcast by the pay TV channel Canal+, isn't a huge shock. What is more surprising is its subject matter: for the first time in France, the lid has been lifted on the sordid reality of the country's judicial system. Also unusual is the fact that it has been a cult hit in Britain since series one was first shown on BBC4 in the summer of 2006 – long before The Killing made its début here. So, what makes Spiral special? 'Spiral is subversive,' says head writer Anne Landois. 'The other shows always had a hero who played it straight, with a healthy respect for republican values. Ours is different because we don't only show the police perspective, but that of the bad guys and the magistrates.' The series is as much character-driven as plot-driven, with very human (and very regular) blunders handicapping the police murder investigations. Each of the main characters – including the implausibly good-looking lawyer Pierre Clément and his voluptuous redhead vixen sidekick, Joséphine Karlsson – is flawed, pr even overtly corrupt. The detective team is led by prickly workaholic Chief Inspector Laure Berthaud, who struggles to keep her roguish colleague Gilou out of trouble. But even Berthaud, notable for her trademark vests and dishevelled hairstyle, has gone rogue in the heat of the moment, and doesn't flinch from tampering with evidence in the interests of securing a conviction. She reports to the investigating magistrate Judge Roban, who is in charge of the overall case but who has to co-operate with creepy prosecutor Machard, the incarnation of all evil. Being a French drama, there is also plenty of sex. There is turf warfare between police departments, political manoeuvring and police brutality. It's like The Sweeney minus the jokes. And, even though it has its own wry, cynical streak of black humour present and correct, Spiral is a relentlessly dark drama. Is the French system as cynical and corrupt as the series would claim? 'The show is rooted in reality,' Landois told Radio Times. Seasons three and four were co-written with a real police commissioner, working under a pseudonym. He is now returning to the field. 'Everything we put in Engrenages is from his anecdotes,' she says. In season three, where the police investigation focused on not only a serial killer but, also, an Albanian prostitution ring of Eastern Europeans, scenes were filmed in La Villette in the nineteenth arrondissement of Paris, 'Exactly where the real thing took place,' says Landois. Yet the Spiral writers also want to explore the complexity of the characters. 'You can see the conflict within the team, and with their hierarchy. You can see how the investigation impacts on their lives. In season three, for example, Laure Berthaud became a hunter.' If Landois admits to being inspired by other police dramas, it's The Wire, the acclaimed US series filmed in Baltimore, that caught her attention. She notes that The Killing, the bleak Danish series also boasting a female detective chief inspector, was first broadcast two years after Spiral burst on to French TV screens in 2005. Although Spiral remains a cult show in France, since it’s broadcast on an encrypted channel, the Canal+ audience has steadily grown with each season, with nine hundred thousand viewers tuning in for season four. When season five airs, it will become the longest-running series on a channel that sees itself as a kind of French HBO, nurturing original drama. It's also very successful – it's shown in seventy countries and is the first French drama series bought by the BBC since The Flashing Blade in the 1960s. Landois is now working intensively on season five to avoid the long wait that kept viewers in suspense for a couple of years between earlier seasons. She has three police officers, two examining magistrates and two lawyers as consultants to ensure maximum authenticity. 'I'm not interested so much in plot twists and red herrings, like other police dramas,' she says. 'It's interesting to see how sometimes the cops have a hunch about a murderer, but they have to prove it. It's like a big puzzle unfolding in a complex way.' Landois says that the writing team is 'always conscious' of the series title, whose primary meaning is 'gears' or 'cogs'. 'It's about how one thing meshes with something else, for example decisions that can lead to catastrophic consequences.'

Utopia has been hailed by some as a cult hit and berated by others - numskull effing glakes, mostly - for its violent storylines, including one about a school massacre just weeks after America's Sandy Hook tragedy. Regulator Ofcom has received forty four whinges about alleged brutality, offensive language and a complaint about child actors being involved in scenes of 'adult content.' Yet the mother of Oliver Woollford, who plays an eleven-year-old near-feral boy called Grant in the six-part Channel Four drama, has no truck with the series' critics. Hayley Woollford told the Observer: 'We really enjoy watching it. There is violence in it, but my son has always known the difference between reality and fiction. It's not upsetting, it's not giving anyone nightmares.' In episode one, a cowering seven-year-old boy is executed by one of the maniac killers with a gas inhaler who enters a comic shop, after an adult has had his brains knocked out with an iron pipe and two other adults have been gassed. It moves onwards to an extended scene of torture involving chilli, bleach and a teaspoon applied to a character's eyes. Thirty-seven of the Ofcom complaints relate to the school massacre, in which the same killer opened the third episode by shooting teachers and children, before randomly sparing a small boy's life. Then a schoolgirl called Alice sees her mother shot dead at close range: this character opened episode four last week, screaming uncontrollably. Woollford, a warehouse operator, said: 'There is never anything violent made in front of my son, or the little girl in it. My son is aware about make-up and special effects. It's been an amazing experience, we've learnt so much. It's good to learn how television is made, it isn't all about actors, it's about everything else as well, a big eye-opener.' Possibly not the best phrase to use in connection with the chilli and bleach torture scene, perhaps, but anyway ... 'My perspective is that people need to be made aware of that before they complain. I've had this experience, but I was a bit ignorant about television before.' Woollford, a lone parent of four children, added: 'I'm on a low income, he [Oliver] needs this. We live on a council estate in Newark, Nottinghamshire, he goes to the local school. There are not a lot of opportunities for children in a town like this. It's football for boys, dancing for girls, that's it.' Oliver, now fourteen, was spotted in year six of primary school when a theatre company did workshops at his school. 'They gave him an application form for the Television Workshop in Nottingham. I couldn't afford to drive him to Nottingham and pay the fees, but the teacher let him go free until he started earning. I took him to a lot of auditions. I had a struggle to pay for petrol and everything. We have travelled all over the country.' Oliver won his first substantial part last year in BBC1's Blackout drama about a corrupt council official, alongside Christopher Eccleston and picked up an award. Utopia breaks the mould of average TV dramas on television by attracting younger, male and affluent viewers. A third of the audience are aged sixteen to thirty four. Male viewers compose fifty two per cent of its audience compared with the Channel Four average of forty six per cent, and forty four per cent for television in general. It is more appealing to young adults than Channel Four hit Homeland and beaten in the youth stakes only by This Is England. Jane Featherstone the executive producer of Utopia said: 'The drama is exploring the dehumanising effect of brutality on children. It is a stylised piece, but it also shows the consequences of violence, and that becomes clear across the entire six episodes. It has to be viewed as a whole. I don't feel there is anything gratuitous about the violence in Utopia. At the end, the writer, Dennis Kelly, has things to say to the world.' Featherstone, who oversaw the hugely successful [spooks] added: 'We followed, to the rule, the regulations covering child actors. And on screen, you do not see as much as is implied.'

Yer next set of actual Top Telly Tips, now:-

Saturday 16 February
Laure Berthaud and her team spot petrolbomb schoolgirl anarchist Sophie Mazeret among the demonstrators at the scene of the immolation of a Kurdish detainee and, while she escapes (again), they arrest Christophe Vasseur after they suspect his involvement with the terrorists in the first of tonight's two episodes of les Spiral - 9:00 BBC4. Meanwhile, Pierre Clement is pleased to learn that Judge Roban has returned to the court house. Hurrah. In the following episode, the team investigate the Turkish restaurant where the Kurdish suicide victim was known to frequent, and uncover what seems to be an organised work crew of illegal immigrants. Meanwhile, Roban uncovers more inconsistency in the investigative procedure of a senior colleague's case. Will Gilou get through another week without shooting anyone by accident? Will Laure allow someone to take her knickers down for the cause? Will there be plenty of shots of Joséphine looking all pouty and scheming? There questions, and others, may or may not be answered. Although, in the case of the latter, we're guessing the answer will be yes. Superb French detective drama, starring Caroline Proust, Audrey Fleurot, Gregory Fitoussi, Thierry Godard, Fred Bianconi and Philippe Duclos. C'est magnifique, nes pas?

Alex Jones and Steve Jones - a TV double acts decidedly from the Mike and Bernie Winters pot as opposed to the one containing Morecambe and Wise - host the charriddee competition Let's Dance For Comic Relief 6:50 BBC1. In which 'famous' faces (several of whom you may have actually heard of) re-create classic dances of stage and screen, hoping to make it through to the final in three weeks' time. And, to follow in the fancy footsteps of last year's winner Rowland Rivron, who dazzled audiences with his routine to Fatboy Slim's 'Weapon of Choice'. Comedian Tim Vine, ex-EastEnder Natalie Cassidy and former boxing star Ricky Hatton are among the first celebrity toe-tappers hoping to impress the viewers and the judging panel - Mel Giedroyc, Bradley Walsh and Tameka Empson (no, me neither) - in a bid to get through to the final. There are also musical performances by Kimberley Walsh and The Script, and the chance to see the video for One Direction's Comic Relief single. Unfortunately, this blogger will be missing this undoubted TV extravaganza as, around this time of the year, he usually develops a severe haemorrhoidal condition.

In South Africa last year, six hundred and six eight rhinos were killed for their horns. At this rate there could be none left in the wild in just fifteen years, a terrible story told in Natural World - 8:30 BBC2. In Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, helicopters are being used to carry critically endangered black rhinos to a new site. This film follows thirteen of the animals as they make the extraordinary journey and examines the work of rangers struggling to keep their rhinos safe. Narrated by yer actual Sean Bean.

Sunday 17 February
In the latest episode of Time Team - 4:20 Channel Four - Tony Robinson and his intrepid team of experts head to a field in South Oxfordshire where significant findings were made by an inquisitive PhD student half-a-century ago, including a mosaic and the stone walls of a former Roman building. Tony and the archaeologists examine aerial pictures showing clear building lines in the ground, and speak with the current landowner, a farmer who continues to uncover bricks and tiles on a regular basis. They try to evaluate the building's purpose and how the Thames may have shifted the remains over the course of two millennia.

Jeremy Clarkson puts the new Kia Cee'd through a rigorous - but amusingly peculiar - road test featuring eels, curry, a rock legend, an American police officer and an unusual game of rugby involving James May in Top Gear - 8:00 BBC2. Sadly, during the piece he doesn't take the opportunity to hit some fekker from the Gruniad Morning Star with a brick. But, hey, bright side there's always next week. We live in hope. Richard Hammond, meanwhile, gets behind the wheel of the Mastretta MXT, but worries about the repercussions of a comment he made in a previous episode about Mexico, the sports car's country of manufacture. Plus, three high-performance hatchbacks are driven with gusto around the test track, and another celebrity jumps into the Reasonably Priced Car to set the fastest lap time they can. But, we don't know who yet.

Professor yer actual Brian Cox travels around Australia to explore how the size of a creature is connected to the forces acting on its environment in Wonders of Life - 9:00 BBC2. From the safety of a steel cage, he faces a great white shark and explains how the streamlined contours of this massive predator have been shaped by the physics of water. Obviously, he does that after he's got back to the surface since it's a bit difficult to talk to an audience authoritatively through an oxygen mask. In Queensland's rainforests, Foxy also explains how insects and other smaller creatures can appear to defy gravity, using electrostatic force to scale vertical windows.

International haulage tycoon TP Swift arrives in London to acquire an ailing shipping line, accompanied by a team of private detectives, who proceed to cut a violent swathe through the borough on a mission of vengeance in episode seven of Ripper Street - 9:00 BBC1. As Reid focuses on the murder of an engine inventor, Jackson and Susan's past comes back to haunt them, bringing their future in Whitechapel - and their very lives - into question. Matthew Macfadyen, Adam Rothenberg, Jerome Flynn and MyAnna Buring star.

Monday 18 February
The second part of the documentary Penguins: Spy in the Huddle - 9:00 BBC1 - sees the chicks hatching out in Antarctica, the Falklands and Peru, leading to delightful scenes as the new parents help their young take their first few unsteady steps. All three colonies share one thing in common, however - there are plenty of predators eager to get hold of the new arrivals, giving the parents a tough job to protect their babies.
The quarter-finals of University Challenge continue - 8:00 BBC2 - with students from Pembroke College, Cambridge, and St George's, University of London, battling it out, with teams having to win two matches to progress to the semi-finals. Jeremy Paxman asks the questions and demands the answers from terrified students.

Her Majesty's Prison Aylesbury - 9:00 ITV - is a two-part documentary filmed over five months at the young offenders' institution in Buckinghamshire, as officers try to keep control of some of Britain's most dangerous criminals, including murderers, rapists, gangsters and paedophiles (and, also, young chaps who simply nick stuff) - the oldest of whom are just twenty one. Many of these young men have been abandoned by their families, so prison staff endeavour to act as surrogate parents and role models. In this edition, several northern newcomers join forces and take another inmate hostage in a bid to negotiate a transfer to somewhere closer to home.
The band plays at a dinner at the Imperial Hotel, during which Louis discovers that one of Julian's fellow Freemasons provided him with an alibi for the night that Jessie was attacked in the latest episode of Dancing on the Edge - 9:00 BBC2. Masterson acquires Music Express magazine with Lady Cremone's assistance, and makes Stanley the editor-in-chief. Drama by Stephen Poliakoff, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew Goode, Tony Head and John Goodman.

Tuesday 19 February
The islanders prepare to batten down the hatches as a hurricane approaches Saint Marie - the little Caribbean island with a murder rate that matches Midsomer. But, the local four-man-and-a-woman police team can't take cover as they are called to investigate another murder, this time at the local university, as we discover in the latest episode of Death In Paradise - 9:00 BBC1. The victim, it would seem, is a meteorologist, whose death has been staged to look like a tragic accident - and the snot thickens when it emerges that he had something important to tell the dean but died before he got the chance. Just to confuse matters, all of the dead man's colleagues seem to have had a particular reason for wanting him dead. Can Richard Poole and his team unmask the naughty culprit before the storm hits and everybody gets soaked? Ben Miller and Sara Martins star, with Gavin & Stacey actor Mathew Horne.

The Fried Chicken Shop: Life in a Day - 9:00 Channel Four - is a Cutting Edge documentary exploring the popularity of fried chicken in Britain, with access to a fast-food chain's flagship takeaway in South London. Flooded with regulars in the week and revellers at the weekend, manager Ali and his seven-strong team talk about serving up to one thousand customers a night and working until 6am at peak times. Though, presumably, not about the diarrhoea which often follows tucking into a southern fried drumstick.

Tragically on long after most dear blog readers' bedtimes, I'm guessing, American version of the genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? - 11:25 BBC1 - sees US celebrities trace their ancestry. Tonight, magically, it is someone you'd actually want to be related to, actor and former president yer actual Martin Sheen. His investigation into his past uncovers two relatives who shared his passion for political activism, before unexpectedly unearthing a family secret. That Charlie Sheen is his son. oh, the shame.
Tonight's Storyville documentary - 10:00 BBC4 - follows the trial of the three founders of the Pirate Bay, one of the world's largest file-sharing websites, as they stand accused of breaking copyright law by Hollywood and the entertainment industry. The programme reveals how the trio claim their aim was to run a large web platform, and how they saw themselves as technicians whose actions were based on freedom, and not money.

Wednesday 20 February
Actor, comedian, action transvestite, 'covered in bees' yer actual Eddie Izzard has never done anything remotely by half. When other people decide to run a marathon for charriddee, he runs forty three in fifty one days. True story. When other celebrities research their family trees on TV, he employs geneticists and uses his own DNA to trace his ancestors out of Africa and into Europe over two hundred thousand years as we discover in Meet The Izzards - 9:00 BBC1.
In the first of two programmes, Eddie explores his maternal ancestry, something close to his heart as his mother died when he was six years old. Beginning in Namibia's Kalahari Desert and moving on to Yemen, Turkey and Scandinavia, he encounters a variety of communities with whom he shares genetic markers, in a bid to strengthen the connection to his mum. Concludes tomorrow.

In the run-up to Sunday's Academy Awards, resident film critic Big Quiffed Marky Kermode honours the actors, directors and writers whom he believes were overlooked in this year's Oscar nominations in tonight's special of The Culture Show - 10:00 BBC2. Forget the Oscars, here are the Kermodes. Mark talks to some of the film-makers and stars he feels deserve to be celebrated for their achievements in the past year and welcomes one lucky director into The Kermode Fellowship. Featuring interviews with Sam Mendes, Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander.

Oh God, it's The Brit Awards - 8:00 ITV. Run for the hills. This 'star-studded music ceremony' - it says here - live from London's O2, is hosted by overweight unfunny buffoon (and drag) James Corden and featuring performances by, get this, Justin Timberlake, Robbie Williams, Muse, One Direction, Taylor Swift and Emeli Sande. So, that'll all be well worth avoiding, then. In fact, if any enemy (foreign or domestic) happens to have a handy thermo-nuclear weapon pointed in the general direction of the Dome, Wednesday night might, well, be the night to fire it and see what happens. Just a suggestion, you understand. You don't have to if you don't want to. Sande leads the way with four nominations, followed by Mumford & Sons, Rita Ora and Mercury Prize winners Alt-J with three apiece. Others hoping to be honoured include Jessie Ware, Ben Howard, Rihanna, Olly Murs, Jake Bugg and Coldplay, plus Adele for her James Bond theme 'Skyfall'. Amy Winehouse, whose CD Lioness: Hidden Treasures was released after her death, is in the running for best British Female Artist, while Plan B and Paloma Faith are among the acts battling it out for British Album of the Year. Horrorshow. And drag. Seriously, dear blog reader, spend the night picking your own toenails or delousing the cat rather than watch this effing horseshit.
Thursday 21 February
Murder on the Victorian Railway - 9:00 BBC2 - is a rather good-looking drama-documentary examining the death of banker Thomas Briggs in July 1864, which was the first murder to be committed on a British train. The film uses testimonies from court transcripts, memoirs, letters and newspaper reports to tell the story of the crime through those connected to it, including engine driver Alfred Ekin - who found the body - and Richard Tanner, the detective in charge of the investigation. It also explores the huge public outcry and debate it provoked. Narrated by Toby Jones.

Jack Taylor: The Guards - 9:00 Channel Five - is the first of three feature-length dramas based on Ken Bruen's novels. Former garda Jack Taylor investigates the disappearance of a woman's teenage daughter, a task that leads him into the underworld of Galway City. When four bodies turn up in the river and Jack's favourite barman dies in mysterious circumstances, everything he believes in begins to unravel - making him question those closest to him. Starring Iain Glen, with Ralph Brown and Tara Breathnach.

Yer actual Kid Jensen his very self presents an edition of Top of the Pops which features not a single hint of any disgraceful albino scallywags or still-waiting-charges hairy cornflakes, no siree Bob - 7:30 BBC4. This one is from 16 February 1978 and features performances by The Tom Robinson Band, Kate Bush, Elkie Brooks, Magazine (aw, yeah!), Darts (similar!), Billy Joel, The Sweet, The Bee Gees and ABBA.
Eddie Izzard continues to travel across the world on a voyage of self-discovery, this time tracing the path of his paternal DNA in the second part of Meet The Izzards - 9:00 BBC1. He follows his father's lineage from Cameroon in West Central Africa - where he meets some of his DNA cousins among the Bakola pygmies - through the Middle East and across Europe before returning home to England, where he acquires the final piece of his genetic jigsaw and completes his journey.

Friday 22 February
Wild Arabia - 9:00 BBC2 - is a documentary revealing the connections between the wildlife, landscape and people of the Arabian peninsula. The first edition features animals including oryxes, jerboas, horned vipers and scorpions, and a journey with the Bedouin - camel-riding nomads who are the only humans to have mastered the art of survival in the desert. Narrated by Alex Siddig.

Comedian Adam Hills and regular panellists Josh Widdicombe and Alex Brooker provide a comic review of the significant moments of the past seven days in The Last Leg - 9:30 Channel Four. There will also be live studio challenges and recorded segments each week, including Alex's quest to reach the Paralympics in Rio 2016 as a participant.
And so to the news: ITV has ordered a second series of Sunday night period drama Mr Selfridge, in which Entourage actor Jeremy Piven will continue in his role as flamboyant American retail entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge. The new ten-part series will move the story on to 1914 and the onset of the first world war - cos that's always good for a laugh, isn't it? Mr Selfridge's second run next year will coincide with the centenary of the start of the conflict, although that's purely co-incidence. Mr Selfridge will be written by the same team, headed by Andrew Davies, and all the key actors are returning. One theme will be a reconciliation between the philandering Selfridge and his family. The recommission, in the middle of the current series, reflects the ratings success, with consolidated audiences – including seven-day, catch-up viewing – so far averaging around seven to eight million. Mr Selfridge has been involved in a close-run battle with BBC1's darker Ripper Street in the ratings in the Sunday 9pm slot and, for the last few weeks, been the most watched of the two shows (albeit, not by very much). ITV said that it was the channel's most watched new drama since Scott & Bailey, its female detective drama launched in May 2011, and turns the page after a relatively disappointing 2012 for ITV drama, with flops such as Eternal Law and Titanic. Steve November, acting director of ITV drama commissioning, said: 'It is ITV drama at its best.' The drama is made by ITV Studios, which also distributes it globally to networks including Seven Network, Australia, and channels in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Belgium, Israel and the Republic of Ireland.

Hot on the heels of the announcement of Jamie Glover as William Russell, it has now been confirmed by FlashForward Publicity that the actress Jemma Powell is to play Jacqueline Hill in the Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary biopic drama An Adventure in Space and Time. The actress made her cinematic debut in The Hole, and has since appeared in a number of films, including Symmetry of Love, The Seasoning House and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. On television she has played a range of roles including Foyle's War, Footballers Wives: Extra Time and The Legend of Dick and Dom. On stage, her credits include The Storm by Alexander Zeldin in the West End.

The great Mitch Benn is to write and record a full CD of comedy songs in twenty four hours. The Now Show comedian and songwriter intends to start at 9am on Red Nose Day, 15 March, and deliver the finished product the following day. It should be available for download soon afterwards, with proceeds going to Comic Relief. Mitch outlined his plan on his blog, saying he was now seeking a venue near his home in South West London, where people could watch him work. 'Although it may be a rather disappointing spectacle' he admitted, 'consisting as it will of me staring at my iMac, frowning and drinking coffee.' Much like the writing of this blog, in fact. Only I'm on a PC not a Mac. Anyway ... The process will also be streamed on the Internet. Mitch will also be seeking ideas from fans as to what he should write about, similar to a set piece he does in his tour shows, when he writes a song based on an audience suggestion over the course of an interval. But this will involve ten to twelve songs, enough for an album that's at least half an hour long. In the post, entitled Making the biggest rod for my own back yet, Mitch wrote: 'The BIG question - and one which I'd love to hear your ideas on - is this: How do I prove that I'm doing it for real? How do I demonstrate that I'm not just recording stuff which I've "written" previously and memorised?'

Wee Shughie McFee, the sour-faced Scottish chef off Crossroads has reportedly 'angered' his fellow Britain's Got Toilets judges with his 'poor timekeeping.' Wee Shughie McFee, the sour-faced Scottish chef off Crossroads is said to have turned up to the Birmingham auditions for the talent contest 'more than an hour late,' thus leaving the crew and audience 'fuming.' An, alleged - though suspiciously anonymous and therefore probably fictitious - 'show source' allegedly told the Daily Lies: 'Everyone was raging. The show was scheduled for 3pm. The presenters were ready, thousands of fans were waiting and Wee Shughie McFee, the sour-faced Scottish chef off Crossroads hadn't even left London yet.' But then, this is the Daily Lies we're talking about. If they told me Monday was the day after Sunday I'd ask for a second opinion. David Walliams, Amanda Holden and Alesha Dixon have returned to the panel alongside Wee Shughie McFee, the sour-faced Scottish chef off Crossroads for the 2013 series. They are currently filming auditions across the country, with the final round taking place this weekend. Wee Shughie McFee, the sour-faced Scottish chef off Crossroads recently missed five hours of the Manchester auditions while suffering from a bruised hairdo.

Rowan Atkinson caused nine hundred and ten thousand quid's of damage when he crashed his beloved McLaren F1 supercar in 2011. Yet it was still apparently cheaper for McLaren technicians to spend a year repairing the two hundred and forty mph car than to write it off, according to reports of the insurance claim made public this week. Atkinson, who fractured his shoulder blade in the crash in Cambridgeshire, bought the car for six hundred and forty grand in 1997 with the proceeds from his first Mr Bean film, but its value has significantly increased since; one sold last year for three and a half million smackers.

The presence of horsemeat in beef products was due to 'incompetence' or to an 'international criminal conspiracy', the environment secretary has claimed. Which would seem to be an accurate assessment although finding out which one of the two options it was might be helpful. It comes after Owen Paterson met retailers and the Food Standards Agency to ask how 'beef' products containing up to one hundred per cent horsemeat were sold. He said he hoped for 'meaningful results' on Friday from tests ordered on all processed beef products. Aldi, Tesco and Findus have all withdrawn certain products. Following his meeting with retailers and the FSA, Paterson said it was 'totally unacceptable' that horsemeat was found in products labelled as beef. Referring to questions over how the horsemeat entered products labelled as beef, he said: 'There has either been gross incompetence in some of these cases or a criminal international conspiracy. We are completely determined, all of us, to get to the bottom of this. So, perhaps there may well be more bad news.' Particularly for the horses involved. The environment secretary said that he wants to see more testing within the existing regime. However, he made it clear that the ultimate responsibility for this lies with supermarkets and shop chains. The FSA has said it was 'highly likely' criminal activity was to blame for the contamination while the Metropolitan Police has said it will not launch an investigation 'unless it becomes clear there has been any criminality.' Morrisons boss Dalton Philips, speaking outside the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs before the meeting, said the supply chain had become 'far too complex. There is a role for testing and we're very supportive of the testing regime but it's a moment in time,' he said. 'The truth is you've got to know your farmer, you've got to know where your meat's being processed.' Labour leader Ed Milimolimandi said in a statement that, 'after the immediate issues, we need to understand how it happened and what needs doing to ensure it doesn't happen again. The job of government is to grip the situation and give families the reassurance they are after.' Meanwhile, it has emerged that Findus knew about the presence of horsemeat in its products for a week before it told the FSA. The company has admitted that test results from 29 January showed 'traces' of horsemeat in its beef products. At that point, it stopped taking the products from French supplier Comigel and stopped sending them to retailers. More thorough testing was carried out - including the DNA testing of raw material at Comigel's factory - and the results were confirmed on Wednesday. The FSA was informed that same day. The head of Findus France has said the company believes it was 'defrauded' and will being legal proceedings in the French courts on Monday. Meanwhile, the French company Spanghero, which sold horsemeat to the company that made the ready meals, alleged it in turn had been 'defrauded' by its supplier. 'The meat was labelled beef,' claimed Barthelemy Aguerre, company president, adding that Spanghero would sue those responsible. The FSA said Findus had tested the meat in eighteen of its beef lasagne products and found eleven meals in which it contained between sixty and one hundred per cent horsemeat. Findus has taken out space in a number of national newspapers, in which it updates customers and says it is 'sorry that we have let people down.' Responding to newspaper reports that the company was 'aware' of problems last year, Findus said in a statement: 'Findus want to be absolutely explicit that they were not aware of any issue of contamination with horsemeat last year.' The company added that it had not been invited to the DEFRA summit but that it was a member of the Food and Drink Federation, which has been invited. In other related developments the body representing school caterers in the UK says it is 'as certain as anyone could be' that horsemeat products have not been used in schools. So, that means not very certain at all, basically. The Prime Minister David Cameron describes the latest revelations as 'very shocking' and 'completely unacceptable.' The Ministry of Agriculture in France says it is investigating the possibility of criminal fraud in relation to horsemeat found in ready meals. Retail analysts warn that the latest disclosures could be 'disastrous' for the meat processing industry. The FSA's website advises consumers: 'There is no reason to suspect that there's any health issue with frozen food in general, and we wouldn't advise people to stop eating it.' The controversy surrounding contamination of meat products has also affected firms in the UK, Irish Republic, Poland and France. Last month, Irish food inspectors announced they had found horsemeat in some burgers stocked by a number of UK supermarket chains, including Tesco, Iceland and Lidl.

Football matches played during the Christmas truce of World War I could be recreated for next year's centenary celebrations. Ministers are working on plans to commemorate the anniversary with a match on the battlefields of Flanders. They are in discussion with the Football Association and the National Children's Football Alliance. The unofficial truce took place at several places across the Western Front on Christmas 1914. British and German soldiers stopped fighting and ventured into no man's land to talk, exchange gifts and play football. French and Belgian soldiers also took part. Prime Minister David Cameron raised the possibility last year of football matches forming part of an extended series of events to mark the key moments. Defence Minister Andrew Murrison said that a football match was 'a no-brainer in terms of an event that is going to reach part of the community that perhaps might not get terribly entrenched into this.' One trusts he hadn't thought about what he was saying otherwise the use of the word 'entrenched in this context might be seen as, at least marginally, offensive. Speaking to the Gruniad Morning Star, Murrison indicated the idea was being 'pursued' but discussions were still at an early stage. 'I think football has a particular part to play because of the totemic significance of the Christmas truce in 1914,' he said. 'We have been in touch with Football Association and the National Children's Football (Alliance) to see how this can be done. I know they are enthused and have already clocked the fact that other countries are thinking along similar lines.' He added: 'It is clear the Christmas truce is going to be commemorated in a very significant way. It had no real relevance to the outcome of the war but at that deeply, intensely, personal level, it is something that people really do latch on to.'

Which brings us nicely to yer actual Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day. Here's one from the first world war.