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.
Dec 27. THE Christmas Day schedules looked about as tasty as Palace did against Liverpool – dull, flat and uninspired. Christmas TV isn’t just background noise. It’s part of how we celebrate – as intrinsic as crackers, carols and the Queen’s speech. Years ago, it meant Morecambe & Wise, Stanley Baxter and The Great Escape. Then the Trotters were top of the tree, followed by The Royle Family. Last year, Gavin & Stacey pulled 17.92million viewers, making it the biggest festive ratings success for over a decade. Surely some bright spark at the BBC could have joined the dots and realised that the nation yearns for warm, relatable family-friendly sitcoms on Christmas Day? But no. Instead, BBC One’s early evening line-up included yet another revival of Blankety-Blank (first axed in 1990) and a festive “special” of Michael McIntyre’s expensive flop The Wheel. There were no original comedies until way after the watershed. This isn’t down to Covid, it’s poor planning and it needs to be fixed. But does anyone have the will, the skill or the vision?
Even this year’s best family drama wasn’t on Xmas Day. All Creatures Great & Small gave us mistletoe, carols, roaring fires and a new-born pup getting the kiss of life. Lovelorn vet James Herriot struggled to let bride-to-be Helen know how he felt about her on the night before her wedding to Hugh and cranky old Siegfried was transformed into a reluctant Santa.
EastEnders was a barrel of laughs, full of festive cheer. I’m kidding. It was misery as usual, with Miss Piggy serving weaselly husband Ian a poisoned pudding. Elsewhere, Chelsea returned – shorter, and with a new head. Dad Lucas (the psycho preacher) is somehow out of jail, and Jack has had emergency surgery to remove him from his camel-hair coat. We still have Mick Carter contemplating suicide to come (they couldn’t have that this week because of the inevitable “Christmas jumper” gags). At least midwinter here is no bleaker than the rest of the year. No one ask how the Vic appears to be the only part of London in Tier One.
A circus-themed episode of Call The Midwife delivered its reliable heart-warming recipe of tears, good cheer, and new-born babes. But the Beeb were outclassed on the drama front by the sumptuous Bridgerton, a sexy Netflix romcom set in the opulent, me-first world of Regency London high society. The story is all Upstairs, no Downstairs; even Downton’s Lady Mary would be shocked by the shenanigans – including outdoor knee-tremblers. The fashionable colour-blind casting will wind up some, but on the plus side it could mean carrot-top Chris Evans will get to play Kunta Kinte one day. Daphne is a deb faking a relationship with a rakish Duke. There are duels, bare-knuckle boxing, grand balls and unwanted pregnancies. Julie Andrews provides the voiceover as gossip columnist Lady Whistledown. Will she blow Daphne’s secret? Hope so. It’s fun, bling and easy to binge.
Whimsical joys abounded in Worzel Gummidge. Sentient scarecrow Worzel chanced upon ship’s figurehead Saucy Nancy in a junkyard. Nancy – who “could swear the legs off a trestle table” – turned the air blue but with salty lingo of her own invention. Phrases like “sogging runt-pustule” recalled Kenneth Williams’s Rambling Syd Rumpo on Round The Horne.
The hardest working man this side of Santa was surely Bradley Walsh who could be found in more places than the mutant virus. Long distance trawlermen must get home from work more often than he does. As well as various Chase spin-offs, Doctor Who, and shows with his son, Brad turned up as the host of Blankety Blank. His scripted gags were easily upstaged by Jimmy Carr’s adlibs, and the top prize was an inflatable hot tub. Gee, thanks. But somehow it worked. The show felt filthier than the original. This wasn’t helped by the first contestant being a town crier called Susie Blower... At one stage, Brad read out this poem: “There once a woman called Flo, whose husband got caught in the snow, to make him feel better, she took off his sweater and rubbed him till he started to... BLANK” Contestant Matty, not realising his answer had to rhyme, suggested “Smile” (D’oh!) Four celebs guessed what should have been the right answer – glow. But Emilia Fox suggested “grow”, leaving Walsh in hysterics. Always trouble, those Foxes.
I’ve backed Bradley for decades but fear his agent is stretching him thinner than the Doctor’s Cassandra – as How To Win A Game Show demonstrated. After lacklustre chat about PokerFace (Who cares? Who even remembers it?), Brad’s conclusion was that to win “You’ve just got to be lucky”. Yeah, thanks for nothing. Learn to say “no” mate.
There were decent comedies in the week. Ghosts was a cracker, with Alison trying to keep the spirits, Mike’s parents and husband Mike (“the Incredible Sulk”) happy. Julian (the trouser-less Tory MP) found redemption, realising how much he’d missed out by shirking his responsibilities and choosing “fillies” over his family. But the writers didn’t forget the jokes, some of them near the knuckle. The Captain was appalled to see the Queen’s Christmas message on TV. “A captain should not be privy to the colour and thickness of the Queen’s curtains,” he spluttered. And if you see any filth in that, be ashamed. He also explained that “With a shaft of this girth the trick is firm blows”. Mercifully a reference to tree-felling.
Sad to report King Gary still needs to abdicate. But Motherland had some lovely moments. This comedy of middle-class mums behaving badly saw knackered Julia clashing with posh uber-mum Amanda. There was a happy ending though with all the characters coming together to deal with anti-Santa graffiti. Top put-down, to a drunk: “You smell like the carpet at Wetherspoon’s.”
Birds Of A Feather’s first and best joke was an Ulrika goof from 30years ago. They were a bird down. Why? I don’t buy ITV’s claim that Pauline Quirke left to spend more time with her stage schools. Mrs Brown’s Boys was reliably near-the-knuckle. But for real filth, watch the London Hughes special on Netflix, so rude even they censor part of the title.
Britain’s Got Talent attempted to liven up Xmas evening with a variety bill. As usual there was too much of the judges and way too little of funny turns like Steve Royle and Francine Lewis. Elsewhere there were special editions of shows that aren’t that special to begin with – the same old toffee with tinsel. At least we were spared a festive Naked Attraction (who’s got the biggest baubles?)
HOT on the Xmas Box: Bridgerton... Ghosts... Shirley Henderson as Saucy Nancy (Worzel Gummidge)... Industry finale... All Creatures... Victoria Wood: The Secret List.
ROT on the Xmas Box: Cinderalla – all zoom, no zest... King Gary – ’kin dreadful... The Wall Vs Celebrities... Clarkson on TV – stick to cars, son.
ON Celebrity MasterChef, Crissy Rock made a complete pig’s ear of her salted caramel mix. Why not be honest about this spin-off show and change the name to Cooking With Dummies?
*LOST Voice Guy was back on the BGT Xmas show. For Lost Plot Guy see Matt Hancock.
*NAME of the week: Ervin Toots – Estonia’s entry in Europe’s Strongest Man – who surely should have been a trumpet player. Or a rock star.
SMALL joys of festive telly: Bill Bailey winning Strictly. Francine Lewis as the GC (BGT). Soul (Disney+). The Goes Wrong Show: The Nativity. The Unthanks on Worzel Gummidge. Sam West as Siegfried Farnon.
RANDOM Yuletide Irritations: Gutless nitwits censoring the Gavin & Stacey repeat. Celeb MasterChef bookings who’d struggle to cook toast. Moonbase 8 – the third unfunny space-themed “comedy” of the year.
COOKING cock-up of the season: James Martin praising “delicious looking dick” on Chefs’ Burnt Bits. He’d meant to say dish. James was way out in front until Nigella told us “I’ll start pummelling even if the kitchen shakes and trembles.”
Dec 20. THERE were some lovely memories on ITV’s Des O’Connor tribute – how could there not be? Eric and Ernie’s comedy insults were priceless – he was Deaf O’Connor... Des, short for desperate... a self-made man and “very good of him to take the blame”. Told that Des had asked his audience to pray for him after his heart attack, Eric quipped, “Well those six or seven people probably made a difference”. But how could ITV forget O’Connor’s white-knuckle live encounters with Oliver Reed, Stan Boardman and Freddie Starr? They made front page news and helped cement Des’s image as an unflappable nice guy. His prestige interviews with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Tony Blair (also forgotten) proved he could handle serious guests too.
ITV were keen to show Des with US comedians – Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jerry Seinfeld; all brilliant. But they completely swerved Jethro, the earthy Cornish comic who Des turned into a star... and who their viewers are far more likely to be aware of. Was this sloppy research? Or just ITV’s long-established hatred of popular old school stand-ups? They’ve been fighting this culture war since the 90s and all they’ve achieved is the slow death of primetime comedy. Des was a great launchpad, and a terrific foil for comics. Bradley Walsh and Joe Pasquale were quick to say they owed him a lot. Who does that for mainstream turns now? Naturally ITV forgot to mention that the clueless idiots who axed Des O’Connor Tonight to replace him with someone younger (yeah, that worked) were... ITV. Des was relegated to an afternoon slot with Mel Sykes, and if we saw a surprising amount of her in the clips guess who the exec producer was...
*WE never did find out what Des’s hit Dick-A-Dum-Dum meant... insert your own Love Island quip here.
*BEST adlib. Des to Elton John “If England win the World Cup will you sing with me?” Elton: “If England win the World Cup, I’ll sleep with you!” (ITV forgot that too.)
THE office party on Industry seemed quite subdued by their standards – just two sordid encounters, some substance abuse and one well-oiled banker knocking himself silly by repeatedly running at an unbreakable glass divide... (A perfect metaphor for the Brexit negotiations.) The BBC banking drama is a bit like The Wolf Of Wall Street if absolutely none of the characters were likeable. There are sadistic bosses, self-absorbed Etonians, and creeps by the bucket. I felt for chippy Hari, who worked himself to death, and Ken Leung’s Eric, now sacked. But who else is there? Yank chancer Harper falsified her degree certificate, hid massive losses and (so far) has swerved Sarah Parish’s loaded, lesbian lush. Then there’s foul-mouthed alkie Kenny, cold-blooded gay toffs, and sweary backstabbers aplenty. True, Yasmin, with her quality underwear and sexting skills, has many admirers, but like the industry she’s in, the woman has no moral compass.
*I’VE had two jobs where drug-taking and workplace sex was a regular occurrence, but that’s mortuaries for you.
ISN’T it odd that Andrew Marr keeps having pops at other people’s “privileged backgrounds” when he went to Loretto, Scotland’s poshest and priciest school? Jug-eared Marr’s New Elizabethans was another tepid stew of fashionable “on-message” media class opinion, which saw him picking laughably random people to back up his bog-standard BBC prejudices. The hypocrisy was staggering. When he wasn’t blowing smoke up the backsides of Greenham grannies, Marr lectured us on climate change and waste from the prow of a multi-million quid yacht. Times change but the BBC doesn’t. It is still dominated by privately educated twerps who think they know best.
HOT on TV: Tim Roth, Tin Star (SkyAt)... Lucy Beaumont... Tiny World (Apple)... Raised By Wolves.
ROT on TV: Gordon, Gino & Fred: Desperately Seeking Santa – snow balls... The Toe Bro – toe poke it.
YEARS ago I pitched a show called Celebrity Human Chess. Players faced different challenges. Pawns had physical ones, bishops mental tests and so on. Think Gladiators meets The Krypton Factor. Execs dismissed it out of hand saying everything involving chess and TV always flopped. Except now The Queen’s Gambit is the biggest show on Netflix. Chaps, my door is still open...
*I WAS appalled by The Real Full Monty On Ice. Three bloody hours of tears, teasing and titillation and at the end we didn’t even see Dr Zoe’s chest x-ray.
*AN odd moment on Strictly. According to the subtitles, Bill Bailey was told “Hi Bill, this is Ellie, your knees.” Yay! Bill’s talking knees are backing him. Hurrah! Which of Jamie’s body parts are rooting for Karen?
*HOW impressive was Jade on The Chase? What a woman. She was smart, fast and a deserving winner. In fact, Jade stood out in every possible way.
*COOK, Eat, Repeat... one letter away from Linda Lovelace’s career.
SMALL Joys of TV: Bob Mortimer. Britain’s Strongest Man. Lovejoy Xmas Special. The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? The Persuaders (BritBox). The Good Life finale.
RANDOM Irritations: Non-stop kicking games killing modern rugby. The Vicar Of Drippy’s descent into joke-free virtue-signalling. Bruno Tonioli getting paid fortunes for doing bugger-all.
*SPORT question: if cricketer Yuvi Singh had married golf caddy Fanny Sunesson, would he have made her Fanny Singh?
TOP CLANGER: Matt Hancock was talking about the Covid jab, not channelling Jake Quickenden, when he said: “It looks such a small thing... very straightforward and over in seconds.”
Dec 12. SIXTY YEARS of Corrie. Wow. Six whole decades of unforgettable characters, heart-warming stories and cracking one-liners. Stan and Hilda, Jack and Vera, Elsie and Ena... they felt so real they could have been neighbours. The writing is often wonderful. “See this smile Betty?” said Bet Lynch. “It’s not really a smile, it’s the lid on a scream.” And when puffed-up sweatshop boss Mike Baldwin swaggered into the Rovers and snapped, “Give us a large Scotch”, Bet replied: “Say please and you can have it in a glass.”
Every waspish word Blanche Hunt ever spoke was precious. Although Betty Turpin’s famous “What can I get you, cock?” never sounded the same when Sean said it. Then there was Ena’s classic line on her mother’s “lovely” death: “She just sat up, broke wind and died. We all having the same again?”
Coronation Street has served up more hot plots than Betty served hotpots. Best was the Baldwin-Barlow love triangle. But I still remember Hilda sobbing after Bernard “Stan” Youens died in real life. 26.6million viewers watched her and her curlers leave the Street for good on Xmas Day 1987. The tears cried that night were a lot more heartfelt than Matt Hancock’s... We could moan about the show’s slow corrosion after ITV twerps pushed it to six episodes a week, and the inevitable pressure to crank up the agony. Alan Bradley worked brilliantly because he was so unusual. Now every other newcomer is a psychopath. (Though that said, Connor McIntyre was brilliant as Pat Phelan.) The push to shock, and to top the last stunt, has taken the soap away from that old working-class world of pints, pigeons and conservative morality. But at its heart, it’s still a show about everyday people, a backstreet community with a (generally) friendly local – don’t you miss yours? That’s why we love it.
*BEST innuendo, butcher Fred Elliott: “If all goes well, in future she’ll be taking a lot of my sausage.”
DO you think Prince Charles suffered all of the Royal Variety show? If he switched over to Industry halfway through, who would have blamed him? ITV don’t know what “variety” means. To them it’s a procession of singers briefly interrupted by so-so magic and iffy comedians. Yes, some performances were terrific – Sheridan Smith as Cilla, Michael Ball’s duet with Capt Tom, the Black Blues Brothers acrobats. Samantha Barks’s upper register never fails to impress. But there were more laughs in the tribute section – from Eddie Large and Bobby Ball – than from the comics on stage. Amiable Daliso spent so long talking about himself, he forgot to tell any gags. And can you imagine ITV letting a bloke joke about hitting his wife while she sleeps, as Jo Caulfield did about her husband? On the same day a female boxer was charged with beating her husband to death too... picture the outcry. It’s time to end ITV’s monopoly and shake up the RVP. It’s safe, dull and inexcusably lazy now.
*BALL seemed close to corpsing during You’ll Never Walk Alone. It’s not just dreams that are “tossed and blown” on TV these days. And there we are back at Industry.
THEY had fun with weather forecasters on It’ll Be Alright On The Night. Mercifully Carol Kirkwood never had to cope with this genuine US TV weather map. Clearly a ridge of high pressure...
*ONE clip had Aussie TV news presenter Natalia Cooper proudly proclaiming “It’s my muff!” Your minds! She meant her furry tube. She was also wearing something on her hands.
HOT on TV: Mother, the killer android, Raised By Wolves (SkyAt)... England vs France rugby... Tin Star: Liverpool.
ROT on TV: The Vicar of Dibley In Lockdown – smug, clapped out tosh... Great British Xmas Menu – all duff, no plum.
IS The Wheel the fakest show on TV? The mechanical wheel is run on electricity, so the producers can stop it wherever they like. They create the fake tension; they pick the winner. There is nothing random about it at all.
*IF they span that wheel hard enough it’d take off. Now that’s a show.
*IAN married Sharon on EastEnders, then slipped into a coma... so at least she didn’t have to drink herself into one to consummate it.
*ANGELA was spooked by a spider on Escape To The Chateau. Really? Surely worst things live in husband Dick’s beard.
*HOW will The Masked Singer work in Covid times? The mask is removed to reveal the singer... wearing a mask! Perhaps rename it Pointless 2.
*I HAVE to say Strictly’s Motsi says “I have to say” almost every time she says anything...
SMALL Joys of TV: We Love Dad’s Army. Meet The Richardsons At Christmas. Kay Burley hoist by her own hypocritical petard. Classic clips of late US stand-up Sam Kinison, The Comedy Store.
RANDOM Irritations: Andrew Marr’s New Elizabethans – lazy, shallow, and unchallenging. Nigella’s “mee-crow-wah-vey” – oh-do-fark-orff. ITV contests ripping off viewers again – heads should roll.
SEPARATED at birth: Sandra Redknapp and Skeletor? One has scarily thin features and an insatiable lust for power... the other is a very nice woman happily married to her personal He-Man.
*WHY make The Best Of An Audience With? Why not make new ones with fresh talent?
Dec 11. R.I.P. Barbara Windsor. She was always such fun to be with. Gossipy, saucy and indiscreet, Bar personified a kind of working-class comedy that dreary killjoys have done their best to stamp out. Her laugh alone was a national treasure.
Dec 6. MY favourite Dick Emery character was the bucktoothed vicar. Especially when he told a TV news reporter that he’d been keeping a critical eye on local strip clubs “on behalf of my flock”. “And what are your conclusions?” asked the reporter. “Well,” he said, “For my money you can’t whack Miss Lulu and her trained python at the Girlies Galore.” Dick Emery’s Comedy Gold packed in all of the comic genius’s finest moments, many of them politically incorrect and all the better for that. Clever Dick’s crackpot creations included sex-crazed spinster Hettie, doddery old Lampwick and the immortal randy Mandy. Together they attracted Saturday night TV audiences of 17million for nearly two decades, directly influencing The Fast Show and Little Britain in the process.
Most TV talking head shows fill me with dread. But Dick’s children, his fellow artists and a couple of genuine comedy experts made a refreshing change here. As did the rare archive footage and home movies. Emery gladly inhabited multiple characters because he was scarred by his upbringing. His parents, a Music Hall comedy double act, split up when he was young. Dad was a violent drunk and mum had dominated her son. “I hide me,” he once said. “A comic’s got to hide the pain he feels inside.” But Dick’s pain was our joy.
Many comedy retrospectives are stretched like Plastic Man, replete with bantam-weight bookings with sod-all to say. Kenneth Williams: In His Own Words clocked in at a bum-numbing two hours, much of it pointless padding. While the talking heads on Sky’s Comedy Legends give the impression that all they know about the subject came from watching a few clips the night before. This was far better. Dick died in 1983 yet his catchphrase as Mandy, “Oh you are awful... but I like you” lives on. Followed every time by a mighty great shove.
IAN Beale was trapped in his own meat freezer on EastEnders. Blimey. I was really worried about all that ham. And the meat as well. Beale could’ve contaminated it with his weaselly presence. The world’s worst businessman will be soon left for dead. Merry Xmas! Well done, BBC. Relentless misery... it’s exactly what nobody wanted after this rotten year. The suspects are... pretty much everyone who knows Ian. He grassed up Phil, stitched up Max, and he left Denny to die. He’s as spineless as spaghetti and smugger than Mandelson. But Beale can’t die. Hell would be like Club Tropicana compared to Albert Square. Being trapped in Walford with its character rewrites, plot-loops, head-swaps and endless torment is real eternal damnation.
VICTORIA Derbyshire said I’m A Celebrity was an “unforgettable experience”. Really? I’ve forgotten most of it already.
With no drama, no sunshine, too many dull or unknown celebs and repetitive tasks it was almost as soul-sapping as watching Chelsea v Spurs.
ITV chose not to screen Jessica’s naked showers. They censored rows and relied too heavily on old-hat insect-gunge. On the plus side, the celebs went to a pub! The Castle Inn was far livelier than the boozers we’ll have left next year. After Boris Bikes, we’ll have Boris Pubs – The Nobody’s Inn, The Empty Tavern, The Cock & Bull Story, The Scotch Egg & Corona Marshall, The Pub With No Beer (but pasties aplenty), Flats Coming Soon...
*IN her last trial Jess managed to spit and swallow expertly. Feel free to insert your own punchline.
*STOP PRESS. That nice Giovanna won. The woman who, upon turning up, inspired 10million viewers to gasp: “Who the feck is that?” Gi proved that all you have to do to win a show like this is to be decent, caring, easy to talk to... and be married to a high-flying pop star. (I’m kidding, I know she’s a big blogger. My daughters told me). The funniest moments came in the eating task when she had to scoff a bull’s penis. “That’s a big one,” quipped G. “I feel bashful.” Then Ant and Dec topped it by singing her husband’s hit to her: “It’s all about chew... it’s all about chew, baby.”
HOT on TV: Matilda De Angelis, The Undoing... John Boyega, Small Axe... Anna Taylor-Joy, The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
ROT on TV: The Wheel – wheely, wheely duff... Riviera – posh tosh... the BBC Xmas schedules – a proper X-mess.
SKY’S riveting whodunnit, The Undoing turned out to be a Hugh-dunnit – Hugh Grant’s Jonathan Fraser, aka the number one suspect, had battered his beautiful/potty Latino lover Elena to death. Why? Because she’d wanted to get close to his missus, Glacial Grace. Hmm. Surely a proper love rat would have encouraged a three-in-a-bed solution? Not sure why he stashed the murder mallet at the family holiday home when he could’ve ditched it in the ocean at nearby Rocky Point though. The only trouble with TV dramas these days is that we know it advance the White Bloke dunnit.
*ON Strictly, Motsi told Jamie Laing that when he’d started tangoing, she’d asked herself “Jamie, can you keep it up?” Funnily enough, looking at super-fit Karen I’d wondered the same thing. “You know what? You kept it up,” Motsi said triumphantly. True enough Yes, but with Karen Hauer it probably wouldn’t stay up for long.
*THE “dust” on His Dark Material turns out to be angels. That makes my office a holy shrine.
*YOU’RE charged corkage if you take your own plonk to a restaurant. Can’t we pay “forkage” to take our own chips to a wet pub? And “porkage” if we turn up with Gemma Collins?
*ITV2’s Love Bites. Not “a substantial meal” in any sense but you’d definitely need a pint to get through it.
*THE Comedy Store showed striking US comics picketing the LA club. No money, no funny, said their placards. No bucks, no yucks. It’s happened here too. Our own Sean Meo went on strike years ago but nobody has ever noticed.
SMALL Joys of TV: Bear Grylls telling BBC Breakfast “I’m always a fan of beavers”. Waterhole: Africa’s Animal Oasis. Tarrant On The African Express. Omid, Winning Combination. ’Allo ’Allo! Reruns (Yesterday).
RANDOM Irritations: Have I Got News For You. The guests are weak and rarely funny, so we’re left with Paul Merton pulling faces and Ian Hislop being a bit pompous. It’s tired, timid and toothless. Time to pull the plug.
SEPARATED at birth: Cleopatra and Molly Malone on His Dark Materials? One appeared in a daft farce with few redeeming qualities, the other was played by Amanda Barrie on Carry On Cleo.
CLASSIC CLANGER: John Wilson was talking about his float on Go Fishing when he said: “While I’ve got my rod out, let’s have a look at my waggler. I’ve got a 12inch waggler.”