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.
Nov 22. FORGET The Crown, the royal jaw-dropper of the week came from Ruthie Henshall on I’m A Celebrity. “I shagged in the palace,” said West End star Ruthie, who once dated Prince Edward. Blimey. On Love Island you’re more likely to hear someone say “I shagged Crystal Palace”. Shane Richie was so surprised he didn’t even ask if Edward had said, “Can one give one one?”
This year’s show swaps the outback for Gwych Castle. “Quite magical,” said Victoria Derbyshire. “Not been to Disney then,” quipped Shane. Expectations were low. We had poor weather, grotty surroundings and a crumbling relic in urgent need of restoration – Bev Callard. Everyone looks colder than Dominic West’s marital bed. Emotional nitwit Jordan North saved the day. He threw up before abseiling and survived the Viper Vault by reciting “Happy place, Turf Moor” – a reference to Burnley FC’s ground. And if supporting a team who haven’t won all season makes you happy then you might consider your lifestyle choices.
Ant & Dec are as reliable as ever. “Well done Vernon, half a brain,” Dec said to Vernon Kay. You decide whether that was in response to him eating sheep’s cerebrum or just a valid nickname. Vegan Bev was allowed to scoff fermented tofu. Was that really a hardship? Surely meals to challenge vegans begin and end with a tasty McDonald’s Double Big Mac. There’s no sun, so no sunbathing and, so far, no decent shower action. “There was a time when a shower scene with a semi-naked Jordan meant something very different,” lamented Dec. Proper stars Russell Watson and Ruthie came late, upping the celeb content. All we need now is Prince Edward to turn up for It’s A Royal Knockout (with a silent “n”).
*POSSIBLE TV spin-offs: Go-Carting with Shane & Tom Cruise, Callard – a Restoration special, Pro-Celebrity Hammock Challenge...
DES O’Connor was a rare thing in television – genuine. The Stepney-born star treated everyone with respect. Originally filmed live, Des O’Connor Tonight diced with danger and often made headlines – Stan Boardman’s Focke-Wulf gag, unpredictable Freddie Starr... Despite being persecuted by Morecambe & Wise, Des adored comics. He made Jethro a star, and found space for old pros as well as up-and-coming turns like Bradley Walsh, Lee Mack and Joe Pasquale. I was chuffed when Des invited me on and asked politely if I’d let Lily Savage stick a custard pie in my mush. How could I say no? His chat-show was a TV fixture until dim-witted ITV execs decided they could replace Des with someone “hipper”. They couldn’t. Now, more than ever, we crave his timeless warmth. It’s tragic the bosses can’t see it. RIP Des. He’s gone but, as Eric Morecambe might have said, sadly his songs live on.
HERE exclusively are the highlights of The Crown season six, due in 2022: Prince Andrew weds Ghislaine Maxwell at Pizza Express, Woking! The Corgis rise up and take over Buck House! And Harry and Meghan’s bitter divorce inspires Netflix spinoff The Princess & The Pea-Brain... Would that be any dafter than the latest series? The writers make up so much of what should be a fact-based drama the show is now dodgier than Martin Bashir. They get the Queen and Maggie wrong, but worse was their perverse decision to portray the IRA’s cowardly murder of Mountbatten (plus his grandson Nicholas and local Irish boat-boy Paul Maxwell, and 18 soldiers at Warrenpoint) in a “poetic”/gloating manner. Still it’ll probably play well with Biden.
HOT on TV: Bill Bailey, Strictly... The Good Lord Bird (SkyAt)... AJ Odudu, The Daily Drop... DNA (BBC4).
ROT on TV: The Crown – ’king dreadful, especially Colman’s humourless Queen... The Last Leg – more burnt-out than Notre Dame.
OFFENDED by Irvine Welsh took a stab at poisonous “offence” culture – the creeping spread of the “You can’t say that” brigade and the war on free speech. We’ve gone from joke-censors blighting classic TV comedies to politicians trying to police what we can say in our own homes. All in the name of “tolerance”. As Orwell said, it’s the liberals who fear liberty.
*ITV2’s new Jungle spin-off show is called The Daily Drop. Isn’t that how BBC bosses used to refer to Victoria Derbyshire’s viewing figures?
*CLARIFICATION: Nigella advocates “two-stage buttering”. For two-stage battering, see Phil Mitchell.
*ANTON was a breath of fresh air on the Strictly judging panel. Make him a permanent fixture, BBC.
TOM Kerridge is making a stand for our endangered boozers on Saving Britain’s Pubs. Cheers! But is Tom part of the problem? The gastro-pubs he loves are no place for drinkers. Pub snacks are permissible (pork scratchings, cheese rolls), but anything cordon bleu should be cordoned off.
SMALL Joys of TV: Michelle Yeoh as hyper-aggressive Philippa Georgiou, Star Trek Discovery. Vintage Cannon & Ball clips. Rachel Riley. Birth Of Cool. Vicky Hope’s legs on Daily Drop.
RANDOM Irritations: Nit-witted EastEnders turning yet more characters into two bob villains. Nigella showing us how to butter toast. What next? The joy of crisps? “First open the bag... ”
TV questions: how does Nigella eat so many calories and not swell up to GC proportions? Is there a liposuction machine out of shot on that fancy set? Now the BBC are called fishermen “fisher-people” can we expect the arrival of Carol Vorder-folk?
SEPARATED at birth: Jordan North and Sylar from Heroes? One a super-villain who drains the powers of heroes, the other a super-drip who just drains the patience.
CLANGER of the week. Paul Hollywood, talking about a Danish horn of plenty, asked Prue Leith: “Pru, do you want to try some of my horn?”
Nov 15. AH, Nigella Lawson and her succulent puddings... do you ever get the feeling she’s taking the mick? I’m as big a fan of La Lawson as the next man, as long as the next man is her bank manager. But on Nigella’s Cook, Eat, Repeat she cooked... banana skins! Even chimps don’t eat them! And her mashed-up fish-fingers cooked with onions, garlic and chillies looked like something Shirley Carter might have slung together after a week on the sauce. What next? Leftover cat-food rebooted as “Purina Paratha”?
Nigella found the iffy fishfinger recipe online – a shame. I’d hoped the producer had talked her into making it as a set-up, with Ant and Dec hovering in the wings disguised as food critics. Banana skins were something else. Slicing them thin, Nigella served them in a curry sauce. “I feel like I’m eating gahg,” she purred. “Which is a Klingon recipe... ” Star Trek! Blimey. If Captain Kirk had clapped eyes on Lawson he’d have gasped “Set phasers to stunning!”
Women might salivate at her posh pots. But base blokes are more taken with the way she talks about making bananas “swell and soften” and sauces “thicken faster”. Hmm. “I start the recipe with the onions in my right hand, and end with the onions in my left,” she said coquettishly. There’s nothing filthy in that of course, but she knows exactly what she’s doing, teetering on the edge of suggestiveness – with those looks and smiles and the lip-licking – while we make up our own jokes. “Set on top, sumptuously tender, with a molten centre... ” that’s Nigella all right. “Look at that little beauty,” she oozes. “And underneath that soft crust you can see in the cracks... dark and pudding-y and melting.” All shot in her “pleasure palace” where she promises “total immersion”. Beam me up Scotty!
*HAS Bake Off been raiding Nigella’s recipe book? That “Sussex Pond Pudding” was just a whole lemon covered in suet. And some of ’em collapsed like a well-steamed Johnny Vegas. Britain’s favourite pudding is, of course, Christopher Biggins. Inexplicable, I know. Hermine to win. #BringBackLottie
*JAMES MAY definitely channelled Nigella on Oh Cook! His “Spamen” was ramen soup and Spam. Try serving that muck to a hungry Clarkson. That’d be Uh-Oh Cook followed swiftly by Ow, Cook.
*NIGELLA says English mustard “dances on the edge of bitterness”... much like Nancy Dell’Olio used to do on Strictly...
INDUSTRY does for the Square Mile what Martin Bashir did for Princess Di. What a bunch of bankers! BBC2’s new financial drama opened like The Apprentice, with five candidates being interviewed for jobs. Although anyone sane would take one look at the charmless bastards running investment bank Pierpoint & Co, and leg it. The young recruits were whip-smart and mostly posh. Poor doomed Hari popped pills, worked overnight and kipped in the khazi to compete with the Old Etonians. All of their futures look about as solid as Dominic West’s marriage though. Our heroine, New Yorker Harper, ended up getting groped by a power-suited lesbian. Harper’s bright, but her diploma was as fake as a BBC bank statement. Meanwhile Eton boy Robert enjoyed all-night benders, casual sex and Ketamine. It’s a mighty long way from George Mainwaring.
DOES A Place In The Sun count as escapism or televised torture? As Jim Bowen nearly said, it’s a case of “Look at where you could have gone... ” Some of these would-be ex-pats are absurdly fussy. A woman once moaned that the property she was looking at, in Spain, was “too Spanish-y”. What did she expect to see from her en-suite bog on the Costa Del Sol? Igloos? A view of Red Square? Andi and Neil from York had £150K to spend and wanted a place near the beach, plenty of bedrooms, an outdoor pool, a BBQ and a working matador in the garden (I may have dreamt that last bit). Is beachside living quite as idyllic at the height of tourist season though? Squawking kids, sunburnt beer bellies, fights, late-night “pavement pizzas”? No gracias!
*DOWNSIZING couples who demand extra bedrooms tickle me. “Where will our guests stay?” they sigh. Take a wild guess. Hotel Mierda? An air b’n’b? The beach?
HOT on TV: Emma Corrin, The Crown... Donald Sutherland, The Undoing... The Queen’s Gambit.
ROT on TV: Dr Sarah Jarvis – making everything about her... The Trials Of Oscar Pistorius – an insult to his victim, Reena Steenkemp.
READER Terry Sangster reckons I was wrong to snub Katy Manning’s Jo Grant in my Top 15 hottest sci-fi women. He’s got a point. This Dalek’s plunger was pointing at the floor before she stripped... and you know exactly what it’s thinking: In-sem-in-ate, in-sem-in-ate...
TV questions: How old is Nicole Kidman’s kid on The Undoing supposed to be? He looks 12 but talks 15 going on 30. What really killed Shane Richie’s career? Covid, or his performance as Sammy on Benidorm? And after her Klingon curry, what will Nigella tackle next – Jumbo Romulan Mollusc or a nice Dothraki Blood Pie?
SMALL Joys of TV: Ruth Wilson’s lips. Anne’s face on The Chase when she tries not to laugh at Brad. The Dave Arch band. Nigella’s Motown soundtrack. I Am Steve McQueen (SkyArts).
RANDOM Irritations: Mumbled dialogue on His Dark Materials. The Chase booking the same celebrities twice. Feeble TV satirists – four years of Trump-bashing, not one decent gag.
TV Maths: Mark Fowler + the Dad from Whoville village = Kevin Eldon.
Nov 8. WE WANT different things from TV. Hard-hitting drama, genuine warmth, sport that makes our spirits soar... But if your greatest wish was to see Craig Charles chucking up off the coast of Cornwall, then Don’t Rock The Boat was the show for you. The cheeky Scouser went from Red Dwarf to green barf in two miles flat. “Oh, he’s puking and sh***ing,” said Jodie Kidd in the “highlights” trailer! Yeah, thanks. Craig wasn’t alone. Talk about Great British Barf-Off. Two rival celebrity teams rowed from St Ives to John O’Groats through “some of the world’s most challenging waters,” according to co-host Freddie Flintoff. Which was true... if we ignore Cook Strait, Drake Passage, the Bay Of Biscay and the treacherous Weatherfield canal.
Even ITV realised watching people row and puke offered little in the way of entertainment, so they threw in sub-SAS: Who Dares Wins challenges too. They had the cheek to spread this tedium across the entire week as if it were a poorly cast, particularly cheerless run of I’m A Celeb without those crucial box office big names. There wasn’t even a hint of fireworks until Wednesday – that’s good anchor management. Sorry. The big surprise was ex-politician Tom Watson being classed as a celeb when he’s best known for championing the deranged “paedo” lies of fantasist Carl Beech. Tom claimed to be “slightly bewildered” so no change there. But in fairness his stamina was impressive.
We learnt that Olympian sportswomen are more formidable than unfit semi-famous blokes – who knew? That Fleur East pees like a drayhorse. And that Shaun “Dark Destroyer” Wallace’s only previous experience was “a pedalo in Hyde Park” (mercifully Tom didn’t mishear that). The most fun was making up your own jokes when Denise Lewis talked about enjoying “the longest finish I’ve ever known.” I felt for Victoria Pendleton who was branded “toxic” because of her competitive streak – she’d be welcome on board my boat anytime she likes. Meanwhile, if TV bosses keep churning out “celeb” shows minus A or B-listers, we’ll all be C-sick.
*DENISE said she hankers after “the thrill of the unknown” and wants “to take the bull by the horn”. Did I mention I’m a Taurus?
THE funniest bits of Coronation Street’s Soapy Slip-Ups were the intentionally filthy double meanings the writers salt stealthily into the scripts. We saw Melanie Hill corpse when her character Cathy Matthews told Roy Cropper: “You don’t want to be kicking my back doors in every five minutes, do you?” And the predictable effects of Maureen Lipman’s Evelyn Plummer innocently saying, “It’s always nice to have a little dunk in the afternoon”. True of biscuits too. No doubt Mary remarking “There’s nothing wrong with me that a milky coffee and a nice finger won’t sort out” was equally tough to film.
CAN we talk about TV theme tunes? They used to be brilliant. Even now the opening notes of Dallas, Bonanza or The Sweeney can transport us straight to telly heaven. Stingray has stayed with me for life. But nowadays few bother. The Pointless theme tune is as memorable as a nil-nil League 2 match in a February drizzle. The One Show’s is infuriating, Star Trek Enterprise just felt wrong. Don’t Rock The Boat didn’t even have one. You can’t whistle Killing Eve’s. And ITV shot themselves in the clog by watering down Van Der Walk’s. Netflix’s “skip intro” button and Sky’s x30 fast-forward have accelerated theme tunes’ demise. But they’re not dead yet. This century we’ve had True Blood, Strictly, The Big Bang Theory, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Succession, Game Of Thrones. All gems... a tradition worth preserving, surely?
*FIVE more old-school classics: Hawaii 5-O, Bewitched, Match Of The Day, Doctor Who, The Professionals.
HOT on TV: Nadiya Bychkova, Strictly... Godfather Of Harlem (Starzplay)... The Simpsons (Disney+).
ROT on TV: Don’t Rock The Boat – a load of old rowlocks... Spitting Image: US Election Special... Out Of Her Mind – proof the Beeb are out of theirs.
*LIAM proposed to girlfriend Nadine on Family Fortunes. If she’d given the wrong answer, would he have had to pop the question to one of the Davies clan instead? If so, which one? We asked 100 people... Lucy was the top answer.
*GINO showed Lucy his hairy legs. She had a lucky escape. I hear his chest in the shower looks like an out-take from Gorillas In The Mist.
*JUNGLE celebs will have to eat black pudding and tripe. That isn’t torture. That’s breakfast.
*THE clever-clogs on Only Connect didn’t recognise Max Bygraves. I officially feel old now. How many of us remember Arthur Haynes or Tommy Trinder? On the plus side, Nish Kumar will be forgotten far sooner.
*WHAT will Comedy Legends be called in years to come? How about Comedy So-So’s, celebrating the mediocre wit of Josh Widdecombe and Sue Perkins?
*TOP boxsets to watch in lockdown: The Sopranos (Sky) – still the greatest TV series ever made. Five more: Fargo (Netflix). Stranger Things (AmPrime). House Of Cards (first two seasons, Netflix). Ozark (Netflix). Call The Agent! (Netflix).
SMALL Joys of TV: Bill Bailey. Helen McCrory. Sykes (Forces TV). Sammy Davis Jnr – I’ve Gotta Be Me (PBS). Gino D’Acampo. Blood Of The Clans. Black Monday (SkyAt).
RANDOM Irritations: Tom Allen, more over-exposed than the Hampstead Heath flasher. That tinkling piano-player on Roadkill. Lucy Worsley joining the fashionable war on our past.
SEPARATED at birth? Mary Berry and Gary Oldman’s Dracula? One an ancient magical being who’s survived by eating the inedible. The other’s a vampire.
CLASSIC CLANGER: A train enthusiast was talking about wind on Great Railway Journeys when he revealed: “My doctor once said to me, there’s nothing wrong with you that a blow on the coast won’t cure.”
Nov 1. THIS week a well-known TV face asked why I hadn’t gone for the job of BBC Director General. Clearly for the same reason I haven’t asked The Cube’s Andrianna “The Body” Christofi on a date. The words snowball, chance and hell come to mind. But if, in some saner alternative universe, I had got the gig, I would clear the crap out of the Corporation faster than a hot coffee enema. Bosses who failed to deliver must-see series would be straight out the door, along with their smug colleagues in what laughably passes for a comedy department. Under my rules there would be no more constipated David Hare cobblers packaged as “drama”. And no more middle class, post-grad feminist “comedy”. Episode one of Sara Pascoe’s laugh-free Out Of Her Mind on BBC2 got a feeble 300,000 viewers – that’s 100,000 fewer than a Fred Dibnah repeat on BBC4.
I would create space for down-to-earth comics and comedy writers, end exorbitant fees for mediocre presenters, demolish The Wall and call halt to the Beeb’s endless empire building. “Celebrity Mastermind” would be renamed more accurately as Brainiest Dummy or Smartest Nobody. Actual Cockneys would write EastEnders. News would be about news, not fashionable opinions. Too many reporters and newsreaders are more concerned with promoting their own agendas than reporting facts. Doomy BBC news comes dripping in Hampstead angst about Trump/Israel/Brexit etc. Foreign dictators, terrorists and Red China get far easier rides. It tip-toes around things like the barbarous beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty for fear of viewers drawing the “wrong” conclusions. Satire would be sharper, more daring and less predictable. Less Nish Kumar, more Peter Cook. We’d dine out on fashionable sacred cows too. And instead of fretting about Britain’s alleged failings, my BBC would celebrate our history, culture and achievements.
THE Sister was scarier than Jacquie Smith stripped of all her Strictly slap. It concerned a dead sister, a sinister mister – Bob – and an elusive “ghost”. Elise died after shagging Nathan who blamed himself. It was no surprise to learn that the real killer was the sinister mister. Bertie Carvel played scruffy, coke-snorting “psychic” Bob as a carpet-chewing cross between Fagin and a psychotic Catweazel. No wonder he spooked Nathan. The pair had buried Elise’s corpse in a regulation shallow grave, now threatened by developers. Afterwards, Nathan pursued and married her equally dishy, switched-on sister Holly; although gawd knows what she saw in him. The big drip shambled into her life like a clinically depressed stalker barely able to string three words together. Despite a paper-thin premise, umpteen coincidences, time-leaping storylines and more ham than a hog-farm, it was decent Halloween fare. But one big mystery remained unsolved: how the hell did Nathan and Holly afford that plush gaff?
DID you clock Elena on The Undoing? Strewth. She had a body that would arouse a stone statue and wasn’t shy about showing it off. As well as turning breast-feeding into a spectator sport, she stood talking to Nicole Kidman’s Grace starkers with her privates proudly at her eye-level. You wouldn’t know where to lick, sorry, look. Elena kissed Grace on the lips unbidden too. Sadly she was murdered, probably by Grace’s slippery cancer specialist husband Hugh Grant, before showing us her next trick, possibly involving a baguette. I didn’t think I’d care about a bunch of filthy rich Manhattan snobs but David E. Kelley’s script has hooked me like a prize carp.
HOT on TV: The Mandalorian (Disney+)... Nicole Kidman, The Undoing (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: Kym Marsh, Morning Live – so wooden it’s a wonder she hasn’t grown roots... Little Mix: The Search – still waiting for The Point.
QI taught us that the vertebrate with the world’s smallest brain-to-body weight ratio is the “bony-eared assfish”. Or at least it was until Katie Price Skyped a bankruptcy hearing to insist that she didn’t lead a lavish lifestyle from a £1,400-a-night Maldives resort.
THE 100 people surveyed on Family Fortunes, are they all 12years old? Asked for “something you do in the sea”, paddle, fish and sailing weren’t up there but “wee” was. Maybe it’s how pea-green boats started.
*BRITAIN’S Best Walks with Julia Bradbury... just one changed letter away from a sure-fire C4 smash.
*SHOPPING With Keith Lemon? A good reason to bring back half-day closing. (Can they show it in Wales? It’s hardly essential.)
SMALL Joys of TV: Mr Inbetween (Fox). Pop Charts Britannia. The BBC Philharmonic playing a piece written by Paul Harvey, a pianist with dementia, on BBC Breakfast – so moving.
RANDOM Irritations: Our ever-cheerless soaps. Kush’s over-night gambling habit (DeadEnders). The Andrex ad. Riviera – great views, shame about the duff dialogue and puddle-deep characters.
SEPARATED at birth? Russell Tovey and Pob? One a mischievous character with memorable ears often seen on TV. The other is Pob.
TV questions: how has Saturday Night Live got away with being so feeble for so long?
Who writes Victoria Coren’s baffling intros and outros on Only Connect? Is it the ghost of Ted “3-2-1” Rogers?
Why didn’t Piers ask Cliff about his historic High Court battle with the Beeb? It’s unlike the old bluffer, sorry, newshound to bottle it.