BUSHELL ON THE BOX
*This is an edited version of my TV column. The real thing, plus contests, goofs, lookalike pictures and more, can be found each Sunday only in the Daily Star Sunday.
MARCH 26. SAY what you like about Gentleman Jack, but the woman could walk. She struts, she strides, she schleps, she swaggers... she must have got through more footwear than Imelda Marcos. Jack, real name Anne Lister, would treat the Proclaimers’ 500miles like a brisk stroll. And when she isn’t bowling about, Lister mugs to the camera breaking the fourth wall like a 19th Century Fleabag. The BBC first told the story of this can-do gender-bending lesbian in 2010, but they’re so in awe of her that they’re telling it again. The script, soundtrack and direction constantly urge us to adore the real-life Regency landowner. But was Anne – played by the wonderful Suranne Jones – really such a role model? Her most memorable non-walking moment came when she booted a struggling 80-year-old tenant out of his home while she was out collecting rents on her father’s estate. What a hero, eh kids? Peter Rachman might have loved that, but few others will.
Sally Wainwright is a cracking scriptwriter but she appears to be so besotted with Lister’s status as the “first modern lesbian” that she has tried to airbrush out her failings. It seems unlikely that Anne’s treatment of the working class improved when she sank two coalmines on Lister land. And her love for local Halifax heiress Ann Walker was not quite as Wainwright presents it. In her real diaries, cash-strapped Lister wrote: “I shall think myself into being in love with her... Perhaps she will make me happier than any of my former flames – at all rates we shall have money enough.” She loved sex, tipping her hat before tipping the velvet but her diaries makes it clear that the biggest love of Anne’s life was Anne herself. Any bloke with Lister’s history of shameless seduction would be rightly condemned as an upper class cad.
*THERE’S oral sex on Gentlemen Jack tonight. Tongues will wag.
*TWO Anne Lister dramas but no one has made a series about Sir Francis Drake since 1961. Discuss.
ITV had a first with Hatton Garden’s incontinent robbers. What would Terry Perkins wear to the heist? Depends... I’d imagine. But enough about adult nappies. ITV’s slow-burn version of the bungled 2015 safe deposit burglary followed two movies about the same robbery. The main difference being Jeff Pope’s script made this Over-The-Hill Mob look like a miserable bunch of charmless thickoes scowling and growling their way into criminal folklore. We don’t know how true it was (neither does Pope) but we do know this decent drama felt over-stretched at four hours. During the raid “very boring” diabetic Perkins collapsed like the viewing figures for Years After Years. The diamond wheezers had rap sheets longer than their medical records but weren’t smart enough to realise the best way to make money for nothing these days is in banking. ITV’s documentary, Hatton Garden: The Inside Story told the tale much better.
*HOW much more weight will Tim Spall lose? There must be people in disaster zones sending him food parcels.
WINTER finally came and went on Game Of Thrones, but Spring was a bit so-so. The last-ever episode of this brilliant series was less a thrilling finale more an over-stretched, under-cooked epilogue. Jon Snow murdered Mad Dani, Drogon melted the Iron Throne and Bran was crowned reluctant ruler of the Six Kingdoms with Sansa’s North opting for independence (Sexit?). Otherwise, it was all chat and cellos. We watched hoping for the next unexpected twist – Drogon turning his fire on Jon Snow and Jon surviving... a new White Walker lurking north of the Wall... anything – but no. Much was left unexplained – how did the Wall grow back? Why was Bronn on the council of ministers? And why did no one point out that Jon (the rightful king) had saved Westeros from a hot but murderous genocidal lunatic? It all felt disappointingly rushed. Still, if GRR Martin ever finishes the books, HBO can always remake the last season. Roll on the prequel!
HOT on TV: Kenneth Cranham, Hatton Garden... Thatcher: A Very British Revolution... Jared Harris, Chernobyl (SkyAt)... The Looming Tower.
ROT on TV: Summer Of Rockets – no fireworks... Riviera – sun, sea and se... riotously soppy... Gentleman Jack – dull old cack... Eurovision – vote Leave!
RIP The Big Bang Theory. This geeky US sitcom ran for 12 warm and witty years, hooking millions. While British TV churns out sad-coms by the bucket, the Yanks still make funny, smart, long-running mainstream comedies, as Modern Family and How I Met Your Mother also proved. Don’t miss The Good Life which comes to E4 next week.
*THE Ten best Brit-coms this century: 1) The Office 2) Phoenix Nights 3) Gavin & Stacey 4) Peep Show 5) The Thick Of It 6) Extras 7) The In-Betweeners 8) Fleabag 9) The I.T. Crowd 10) Still Game. Although in a different mood I’d change the order.
*BRIAN Cox wants to make Mars fit for human habitation. Why not aim a little closer to home Prof and start with Walford?
*SIMON Cowell says he’s been “living like a vampire” which explains his new catchphrase “You suck, but not as much as I do”... not to mention the batty acts on BGT.
SMALL joys of TV: The brave but bolshy miners on Chernobyl. Rumpole repeats (Talking Pictures). Robert De Niro’s Warburtons bagel ad. Keeley Hawes. Charlotte Ritchie in Ghosts (a grower of a show). Taskmaster. Victorian Sensations.
RANDOM irritations: Eat Well For Less serving up another big plate load of patronisation. Gentleman Jack’s over-intrusive score. Mum – the laugh-free “comedy” about a wet-blanket boiler and her idiot brood.
SEPARATED at birth: Bill Bailey in Midsomer Murders and the late Ska star Judge Dread? One a musical comedy hero... and so is the other one.
MAY 19. ABSOLUTE carnage on Game Of Thrones as vengeful Daenerys rained dragon hell on King’s Landing, toasting a million innocents. There hasn’t been this much fake fire seen on TV since the glory days of London’s Burning. Many deserving monsters also perished during the show’s long anticipated Clash of the Queens, including Cersei Lannister, Euron Greyjoy and The Mountain. But this wasn’t good triumphing over evil. Good had been perverted. The slaughter of civilians was off the scale. Cersei’s troops surrendered but Dani riding Drogon – the Westeros equivalent of a flying nuclear bomb – carried on killing. Strewth. Even Pol Pot would’ve have said “Enough with the genocide”.
Two things pushed Dani over the edge – the shocking public execution of Missandei, and her nephew Jon Snow swerving her bed. Corrupted by power, Dani has gone from Messiah to Auntie-Christ. She’s turned into the world’s hottest tyrant, sort of Adolf Hot-ler.
Her growing obsession with subservience was the warning sign. Dani has ordered more folk to “bend the knee” more than a limbo instructor on piece rate – and mercilessly incinerated anyone who refused. Her blood lust won’t have subsided yet either... Jon, with his superior claim to the Iron Throne will surely be her next target. Along with Tyrion who released brother Jaime behind her back to die in Cersei’s arms under the falling rubble.
Inevitably this brilliant show changed once the series over-took the books. There is no doubt that the show-runners’ vision will be very different to George RR Martin’s. But what an amazing ride it’s been. There’s only one show to go and one question on millions of lips: who will win tomorrow night? Unless the Night King makes a shock comeback the only horses in the race are the Wicked Witch of Westeros (Dani) and the Starks – but which one? I have no inside knowledge but I’ve just stuck a cockle on the outside bet. Bran.
THE loud clanging noise heard nationwide on Sunday night was a million jaws hitting the floor when EastEnders won a Bafta. What on earth for? Those spell-binding storylines about chess and Samosas? Or Aidan’s dopy armed robbery involving a bunch of blundering amateurs and Mick Carter in comedy bull-dog slippers? Talk about Lock, Stock & Some Shocking Apparel... There’s a lot to be proud of about British TV and it’s only right to shout about it from the rooftops. Yes Bafta bent the rules to include Killing Eve but Jodie Comer thoroughly deserved her best actress gong. It’s just a shame Succession, Save Me, that brilliant Bros doc and Harry Hill’s sublime Alien Fun Capsule missed out. Steve Pemberton thoroughly deserved his win. Inside Number Nine has been a constant dark joy. I loved his acceptance speech thanking “the runners all the way down to the executive producers”. Graham Norton made hosting look effortless. He’s witty, charming and not averse to sending himself up. A welcome relief after Sue Perkins’s piddle-poor performance last year. PS. Some of the winning shows are practically antiques. I’m A Celeb started in 2002! Who Do You Think You Are in 2004... If the Beeb revived The Good Old Days they’d clean up.
YEARS And Years? Dear oh dear. The badly-written, issue-driven drama couldn’t be more “woke” if it was mainlining caffeine. Talk about diversity bingo. Writer Russell T Davies was too busy box-ticking to craft a credible plot. Poorly written characters swapped trite dialogue against a backdrop of impending doom. Ukrainian refugees (who didn’t look remotely Ukrainian) were flocking here, fuelling the rise of Emma Thompson’s populist politician. And Trump, the BBC’s all-purpose bogeyman, was the predictable threat to world peace. (No word on Iraq, Putin’s Russia or North Korea). Episode one ended with Donald nuking a Chinese island. It was the 80s all over again.
*THE real downer was Russell’s insipid vision of the future – all 3D Snapchat faces and unsexy sex-bots. There were no holographic tellies, self-driving cars or self-stirring saucepans. No quantum internet. And certainly nothing with genuine dystopian potential like thought-reading tech or AI-powered CCTV.
HOT on TV: Stellan Skarsgard, Chernobyl (SkyAt)... Graham Norton... Veep finale... Stephen Graham, The Virtues – gut-wrenching.
ROT on TV: Years & Years – yawns & yawns... Mum – sorry, I just can’t warm to this dismal woman and her idiot family.
I NEVER enjoyed Jeremy Kyle feasting on other people’s misery. But is he the only one who should go? There have been three reality TV related suicides on ITV Controller Kevin Lygo’s watch. Isn’t it time the boss bit the bullet?
*LET’S replace Kyle with something less confrontational. Say bare-knuckle boxing, badger-baiting or televised duelling.
*BRADLEY Walsh’s Late Night Guest List went out at 9.15pm. If that’s “late night” to Brad, what time does he get up? Maybe he has a paper round as well as all his other jobs.
“INTIMACY directors” are hired for TV sex scenes now. I tried to apply for the role on Polly Walker’s next series. No good. The auditions were in Soho but the queue started in John O'Groats.
*THE Great Magnifico stormed the Rovers Got Talent night. He pulled off the greatest Corrie magic trick since unknown sorcerers made the factory roof disappear.
*D.I. Brandyce from Line Of Duty turned up on Game Of Thrones. Gulp. Maybe H was The Hound...
SMALL joys of TV: Robin Lord in Gotham. Machinist Lisa from Alfreton telling BBC Breakfast she suffered from “the seven dwarves of menopause” including Itchy, Scratchy, Psycho, Forgetful and Sleepy.
RANDOM irritations: The BBC’s seemingly endless supply of laugh-free “sitcoms”. Snooty BAFTA continuing to blank Jed Mercurio. Non-stop virtue signalling in everything on telly, from dramas to adverts.
TV Maths. Varys + stinging nettle facial = The Mountain, Game Of Thrones.
GREAT goof from Jeremy Vine who was talking about eliminating Judith Keppel on Eggheads when he told contestant Mike: “Here’s Judith, let’s see if you can knock one out.”
MAY 12. WHOEVER wins a BAFTA tonight there are already heavyweight contenders for next year’s awards: Anna Maxwell Martin in Line Of Duty. Eric Bana in Dirty John. And Chernobyl a bleak but brilliant drama based on the 1986 nuclear calamity in Soviet Ukraine. The show is part thriller, part disaster movie and all true. Jared Harris’s nuclear physicist sums up the enormous threat posed by the explosion at the Vladimir I. Lenin power plant succinctly. “Chernobyl is on fire,” he tells Soviet officials. “And every atom of uranium is like a bullet penetrating everything in its path. Metal. Concrete. Flesh. “Now, Chernobyl holds over three million of these bullets. Some of them will not stop firing for 50,000 years... ”
The Soviets had wanted to see if the plant’s reactor No 4 could function in a power cut. The resulting catastrophe blew off the reactor’s roof and scattered radioactive elements of the core across the entire site. The fall-out was 400 times greater than the H bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Nuclear rain fell as far west as Ireland. Yet Soviet officials immediately tried to play down the emergency. “The state tells us what is happening here is not dangerous, have faith comrades,” said one old Stalinist. Questioning the Communist system, the State or the Party, was heresy and as bad for your health as a lungful of radioactive ashes. The plant’s deputy chief engineer insisted everything was fine right up until radiation poisoning made him threw up. Next week Stellan Skarsgard arrives as intimidating government minister Boris Shcherbyna, clashing with Harris’s Legasov and threatening to sling him out of a chopper. Soviet officials put the number of Chernobyl deaths at 31. The real estimate was closer to 100,000. Everything about this prodigious production, penned by Craig Mazin, has the ring of uncomfortable truth. Authenticity is a rare thing on British TV. But then it’s not often tried.
SHOCKING scenes on ITV where we saw adults treated like sex objects and encouraged to rip off their clothes to titillate a baying crowd. Where was the outcry? There wasn’t one, because the strippers were geezers and the lusty audience were all women. Joe Pasquale came over well – naturally he had a thong that’d get on your nerves. And it was good to see Jason Cundy dropping his strides for good rather than evil. Talk about a display team! But the All New Monty was an uneven mess. Poor TV with good intentions is still poor TV, especially if it involves Alexander Armstrong singing. Why are telly bosses so keen on exhibitionism anyway? Not everybody looks good naked.
*ODD. Women celebs also performed to a mostly female audience and were allowed to keep their drawers on. It’s called double standards. “Female sexuality good, male sexuality sordid” has long been TV’s nitwit mantra.
ON Game Of Thrones the mighty Rhaegal was turned into dragon shish kebab when grinning Euron Greyjoy shot him out of the sky with a supersized crossbow. Gulp. Even Spurs couldn’t have come back from that. Then cruel Cersei ordered the Mountain to chop off Missandei’s beautiful head. Dragon queen Dani had ignored advice and advanced on King’s Landing without letting her knackered troops recuperate or waiting for Jon Snow’s forces. Dan gets crankier by the day, especially now she knows Jon has more claim to the Iron Throne than she does. Once a great liberator she’s turned into reckless tyrant... like so many do. She’s still hotter than dragon breath though. Two shows to go. One dragon left.
HOT on TV: Lena Headey, Game Of Thrones... Line Of Duty finale... Jessica Plummer, EastEnders... Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins... Chernobyl (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: All New Monty – balls... Gavin Esler, Politics Live – he has all the charm of projectile vomit... World War Zzzzz.
*TRUST Me’s “Angel of Death” turned out to be the star booking who hadn’t said much. Who’d have thought it? How much better would this have been over three episodes with fewer flashbacks and a sharper pace?
*GUY “Hof” Verhofstadt on Brexit Behind Closed Doors was the dead spit of Ian Beale. Sadly there was no Phil Mitchell to shove his head down the khazi and flush it.
*IF Jenna Colman crammed any more plums in her mouth on Victoria she’d be in a freak show.
SMALL joys of TV: Lucy Worsley. Sneaky Pete (AmPrime). Dead To Me (Netflix). Joe Pasquale. Lolly Adefope. Ferdinand and Hoddle’s reaction to Spurs’ winner against Ajax. Graeme Mathews, Britain’s Got Talent.
RANDOM irritations: People still moaning about the battle of Winterfell – buy a better telly! Bank holiday TV – dull & miserable, like the weather. Royal baby rolling news scrapping the bottom of the banality barrel.
TV Maths. Juliet Bravo’s Mark Latham + Richard Belzer’s jug ears = D.I. Michelle Brandyce on Line Of Duty.
May 5. DID the darkness ruin the Battle of Winterfell on Game Of Thrones or add to the mounting sense of panic? This was truly epic telly, almost as draining to watch as it must have been to film. The closing nine minutes were stunning. Over a mournful piano track we saw Sansa and Tyrion preparing to make their last stand in the crypt as the zombie wights swept in... Brienne, Jaime and Podrick had their backs against the wall battling overwhelming odds... Fatally wounded Jorah protected Daenerys as Theon Greyjoy fought single-handedly to keep Bran Stark safe and Jon squared up to the zombie dragon. The Night King and his White Walkers looked on course for a white walk-over. “They’re ****ing death, we can’t beat death,” snapped the Hound and it seemed he was right.
Then, when Theon fell and the Night King was about to brain Bran, in came Arya with that dagger... It was Valryian steel with a dragon-bone handle. He grabbed her wrist but she dropped it into her right hand and plunged the blade into him. He and his army shattered. At this point I was punching the air. Well it was nearly 3.30 in the morning and I’d had a few...
The episode had courage, sacrifice, redemption and even tenderness. Magic moments included Melisandre making the swords of the undefeated Dothraki burst into flame before they charged at the army of the dead. We watched those lights go out one by one. So many highlights, so little space to do them justice... Losses included Jorah, Theon, Beric, little Lyanna and Dolorus. Melisandre went too, turning into a withered crone and then crumbling into dust like Joan Rivers after a red carpet broadcast. Now the knackered heroes must face evil Cersei and her fresh 50,000strong force – Golden Company mercenaries, Ironborn and Kings Landing troops... including The Mountain. Gulp. Just three shows to go.
ON Line Of Duty Ted Hastings got hung out to dry by DCS Patricia Carmichael – Anna Maxwell Martin in full-on passive aggressive mode – who is convinced he’s mob mastermind “H”. Now Ted’s banged up and in DDD – deep doo-doo. The cops found £50K in cash in his hotel room (courtesy dodgy Mark Moffatt), he’d claimed he was H in the OCG’s nightclub, he’d visited Lee Banks in the slammer... And Carmichael doesn’t know about his laptop yet. There’s much more to this story though. There’s Ulster, Lisa, Gill Bigelow... H could be a woman! It might even be Kate Fleming. That’d be the ultimate Mercurio twist. Who isn’t H? Hastings! We can also probably discount that geezer from Steps, John H. Stracey, Harry H. Corbett (deceased) and sadly Harry Hill. Or can we?
BAKE Off: The Professionals is like an homage to ’Allo ’Allo!, with Benoit Blin pronouncing sponge as “spoonge” and standard as “stondurd”. If only they’d cast Yvette and Mimi as hosts. I needed the subtitles on to decipher “re-ve-et-ca” which turned out to be red velvet cake. But Blin’s Linzer torte warning – “ze dangeurrurs sweetness” – was clear eenurff. The whole shoe is dangeurrurs, Britain’s fighting obesity one Cherry Bakewell at a time. What would harsh judge Cherish Finden make of lightweight Liam and Tom Allen though? Tom said of heart-shaped cakes “Spin them round and they look like arses”. But the real bums are the people who cast it.
*67% of people think baking is sexy. Finally Gregg Wallace has something worth shouting about. Mr Pastry was born in the wrong era. No wonder Fanny Craddock’s husband Johnny once said “May all your doughnuts turn out like Fanny’s.”
HOT on TV: Sylvia Hoeks, The Adulterer... Game Of Thrones (SkyAt)... Anna Maxwell Martin, Line Of Duty... Hostile Planet (Netflix).
ROT on TV: Sex On The Couch – flaccid... The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco – weaker than the 49ers defence... The Widow – mournfully poor.
PSYCHO Sean moaned that no-one told him Roxy had died. Your fault, mate. Leave EastEnders and everyone forgets you. Marge Green went on a world cruise in 1990 and was never seen again. No one asked about her, no one noticed. I was the only one who cared.
*SEX On The Couch? Dull. Sex on the Crouch, with Abigail Clancy? Better. I’d imagine.
*THE Dickinson’s Real Deal team were in Wolverhampton “where Tracy looks at some pot lids”. Wasn’t there anywhere in town she could have watched paint drying, just to liven things up?
*GHOSTS. The spirits are willing but the script is weak.
*CORRIE theme park rides? Blimey. I can’t wait for Pat Phelan’s Cellar O’Doom (with hidden tanning facility). It’ll be just down from Shania’s Lucky Dip and the Alan Bradley Tram Dodge Experience.
REJECTED working TV titles: 1) Hard To Please OAPS – Sad Old Gits Get On Our T*ts. 2) Bake Off: The Professionals – Britain’s Got Diabetes. 3) Ugly House To Lovely House: Sh*t Hole to Glory Hole/Just Sodding Move!
SMALL joys of TV: Re-runs of The Shield, All 4. Micky Flanagan’s Eat Well For Less routine. The Story Of The Jam (Sky Arts). Arrow. Flipping Bangers (Blaze). Magnifica 70 (Netflix). Our Dementia Choir.
RANDOM irritations: Planet Child treating viewers like kids. Banged Up: Teens Behind Bars not keeping the little scrotes long enough. Poor diction and poorer presenters on Bake Off: The Professionals.
SEPARATED at birth: Ian Hislop and Elmer Fudd? One a grumpy, humour-deficient figure of fun, the other keeps busy hunting “wabbits”.
SEPARATED at birth: Victoria’s Princess Feodora and this cigar store Indian? One hard-faced and cold with an unsettling presence... the other’s more wooden than Prince Albert.