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Sept 28. Shock scenes on ITV as fire threatened to engulf Downton Abbey. If the flames had reached Moseley's home-dyed barnet the whole place would have gone up. Bedrooms in the great house haven't got this hot since the night Lady Mary shagged poor Pamuk to death. Mercifully, the grumpy Earl fought back the inferno until the estate fire brigade rushed in. Hang about, an estate fire brigade? Where did they come from? What else is Crawley hiding up there, a platoon of dragoons to put down passing Bolsheviks?


Lady Edith caused the blaze by carelessly chucking Gregson's book in the fireplace. (Remember him? Married newspaper Editor, offered her a column then gave her one of his own.) The real heat is in Mary's love-life, though. It's not "crop" rotation that floats her boat; the shameless hussy has just agreed to road-test Lord Gillingham in bed for a week. Dear God, Grantham, what kind of family have you raised here? Edith had a love-child, Sybil eloped with the chauffeur and Mary is turning into 1924's answer to Big Brother's Biannca. (Although in fairness Bee seems more likely to want to road-test Gillingham FC.)


Yet the pompous Earl had the cheek to sack servant Jimmy for giving middle-aged sex-pest Lady Anstruther a good seeing-to (they don't call him a footman for nothing... ) That's the only worker's uprising we'll see here, although the election of the first Labour government has them all fretting. "I feel a shaking of the ground," muttered Carson. Oh they'd hate you, butler.


Only the gloriously snobby Dowager Countess, seemed unconcerned. Seeing stroppy teacher Sarah at dinner, she sniffed: "They've cast the net wide tonight." Violet's one-liners, like the Earl shouting "Save the dog!" (sod the staff) were laugh out loud. Writer Julian Fellowes had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he had Mary say "I'm just going upstairs to take off my hat." Makes a change from dropping her drawers, I suppose. Ah how can you not love Downton? It's a place where top upper lips are stiff, and upper class nits are stiffer. Its heady mix of parody, scandal, and "smutty deliberations" make ITV's super-soap a must-see joy. Even if it is completely barking.


*IT'S said that Downton is "more Howards Way than Howard's End", but from where I'm sitting it seems more like Howard's End Away.


CABBIE Vince McKee is stuck in life's grim cul-de-sac on The Driver. He's pot-less, his marriage is stale, and his passengers treat him like he's something they just stepped in at a cattle market. So when an old pal fresh out of nick offers Vince another source of income, his morals bend as easily as an iPhone 6. Before long he's working cash in hand for a Manc villain called The Horse ("because he looks like Shergar"). It's easy, it's profitable; he's holding folding. And out-racing the cops with a boot full of guns is exhilarating. Life is good again... until he ends up party to a kidnapping that looks likely to end in murder. Not the kind of killing he was hoping to make. Now Vince is more out of his depth than Warwick Davies in the Mariana Trench, and the realisation hits him like Ed Balls's elbow. Gulp. So what now? Just think, Vinnie: what would Travis Bickle do? (Younger readers should google Taxi Driver.)


*THE credits for this show included "Tough-faced woman", begging the question which one was she? They were so many...


SO it's Peggy versus Miss Piggy on EastEnders. The mighty atom made a surpwise appeawance in Thursday's episode vowing to stop "home-wrecker" Sharon from marrying her Phil. "I'm Peggy Mitchell and I don't forget," she said... before drinking a toast to Fat Pat, the ex-brothel madam who wrecked her home by carrying on with her Fwank. Logic? This show ain't got it. It was good to see the old girl though. Now, how about bringing Grunt back? How many family dos can the big lug miss before they give him a new head too?


HOT on TV: Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey... The Driver... The Strain (Watch) – grips like an amorous DLT... Cerys Matthews... Marvellous.


ROT on TV: Andrew Marr's Gordon Brown impressions – not prudent... Traders: Millions By The Minute – two bob... Gregg Wallace, Strictly – can't dance, can't cook, what can you do?


MEMO to ITV: a variety bill should consist of differently talented acts, not just different kinds of singers. The clue is in the name. Sunday's hour-long Palladium show featured FIVE musical turns, plus a decent vent (Nina Conti) and a so-so comic. Calling that variety is like calling TV's old Yes/No interlude multiple choice. Yet they cut proper performers from the night and keep the lame game and excruciating crowd banter... They've got plants in the audience and cabbages running the show.


*THINGS I'd like to see on Dragons Den: 1) Holographic TV – imagine life-sized women's beach volleyball in your living room! What's not to love? 2) A torch that only shines on things worth seeing. 3) A teleporter – come on boffins, Captain Kirk had one 48 years ago.


*DUE to complaints about Bake Off smut, I've decided against going into the Den with my patented "Dappy Donut Stand". Although if you don't like innuendo why the hell are you watching the show? It's not exactly Game Of Scones is it? I say if you don't like Bake Off innuendo you know what your knob is for.


*ON The Strain, an ancient coffin carrying a 500-year old immortal was rushed to a secret location... isn't that exactly how Strictly got shot of Bruce Forsyth?


*THEY had legless lizards on Discovery, not to be confused with spineless snakes – you'll see them at the political conferences.


SMALL Joys Of TV: Derren Brown demolishing 'psychic' trickery. Sheridan Smith's Cilla. Peggy's return (Enders). Tokens from Nevada's legal prison casino (Pawn Stars). Jim Rosenthal on Plebs, he still looks like we're seeing him through a fisheye lens.


RANDOM Irritations: Celebrity Squares running out of celebs. Dr Who's ropey robot. Our Girl's soppy script. The narrowness of modern pop - in a sane world, Buster Shuffle would be on Later and The Brompton Mix would be on Radio 1's playlist.


SEPARATED at birth: X Factor's Scarlett Quinn and Downton's Lady Rose? One a saucy minx with buckets of sex appeal... and so's the other one.


*WHO has got the X Factor? Cilla's Sheridan Smith. Her version of Anyone Who Had A Heart wasn't only better than Ms Black's, it arguably topped Dionne Warwick's original too.


*NOT everyone was keen on Cilla. The late, great Bob Monkhouse described her singing as "labour pains set to music."


GORDON Ramsay was cooking circular onion slices on The One Show when he said: "There's nothing worse than a soggy ring." For all possible punchlines see the continuity editor on Bake Off.



Sept 21. Sunday Night At The Palladium was like turning up at Stamford Bridge to find Exeter playing Carlisle. You expect thrills, spectacle and top-flight performances. You get something as wet and lacklustre as Scotland's No campaign. It was clearly put together by people with no love or understanding of variety. Singers lip-synched, the jokes were feeble, the headliner opened the show... In place of the giants who once worked this hallowed stage, we got Alan Davies doing one of the lamest stand-up slots ever seen in prime time. His baby routine had me crying out for an epidural. You needed Jonathan Creek to figure out where the laughs were supposed to be.


Stephen Mulhern hosted. He's a nice guy, and good at what he does (magic) but he couldn't command proceedings like Brian Conley could. The specialty turns were quick-change artists David and Daria, who did a far better routine on America's Got Talent. And two nude French blokes doing the old balloon dance with towels. Suggestions that Keith Chegwin could do the same act with two postage stamps and a coaster are uncalled for.


The lame game-show element required the contestant to spell the name of the theatre. It was typical of the producer's "this will do" approach. Bryan Adams didn't top the bill because he was the biggest name they could think of but because he was available. Why not use genuine variety stars like Celine, Penn & Teller, Bassey and Conley? Why not book Davro and Pasquale rather than underperforming chumps we get all the time? Or make Lily Savage an offer she couldn't refuse? If they couldn't afford Robbie Williams doing his Rat Pack tribute, why not give us Joe Longthorne?


Showbiz is swimming in talent we can't see because of TV executives' tunnel vision. They've hated variety comics irrationally for decades. Common prejudice holds that variety is old-hat. They said the same about circuses, wrestlers, tattoos and talent shows... All it takes to reinvent it are the three things this show lacks - money, know-how and imagination. The old Palladium series used to go out live. This version was dead on arrival. That low rumbling noise in the background was Tommy Trinder turning in his grave.


*QUESTIONS, questions: What happened to the 'London' in London Palladium... and what happened to the star in host? When did Brian Adams start looking like Albert Steptoe? Is the show sponsored by Victoria Plumb because it's gone down the khazi?  


*THE best act on the night was Alfie Boe by a mile. So why ration him?


A SCOTTISH referendum? Blimey, they kept that quiet... The issue dominated TV news for days on end, giving far too much exposure to BBC Scotland's political editor Brian Taylor who looks remarkably like a face stuck onto a giant ball of Play-Doh. Light relief was in short supply, although Kay Burley on Sky News did refuse to show a yes campaigner's photo "because he looks like a bit of a knob." Well, Salmond had that coming. The Yes side rapidly went EastEnders on us. It took Gordon Brown, of all people, to give the No team some passion. Quite how an independent Scotland could be "in charge of our own destiny" while aspiring to EU membership was not addressed. But it's worked out well for them. They already had a Parliament, control of the NHS north of the border, and two of the last three Doctor Whos. Now, with devo max, they have all the benefits of separation with none of the overheads.


THE Strain is stunning; a gripping, grown-up vampire saga with extra bite. More vampires, you groan; after True Blood sucked? But this ravenous bloodsucker looked more like Alien than Eric Northman. And the gore is balanced by intelligence and proper story-telling. A plane from Berlin lands at JFK; all the passengers and crew appear to be comatose. So far, so X Files. Suspecting a killer virus, Dr Ephraim 'Eph' Goodweather and his team from the Centre for Disease Control spring into action. It's Ephing worse than that, though. 206 passengers on Regis Air flight 753 are dead. Four are not. And there's something nastier in a box than you ever see on Deal Or No Deal. Plus some wriggling parasitical worms that put me right off my dong fen noodles. The boffins are baffled, but holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian has seen it all before... and the race is on to save New York from the undead.


*A PLANE with every passenger comatose? That happened before, when the in-flight entertainment was a Bake-Off marathon.


HOT on TV: The Strain (Watch)... Sheridan Smith (Cilla)... Jay James (X Factor)... Legends (Sky1)... Tyrant (Fox).


ROT on TV: Jon Richardson Grows Up – not yet... Scotland In A Day – thirty characters, no laughs... Alan Davies' stand-up – stank like an unchanged nappy.


SHOCK scenes on EastEnders as Alfie torched his house... although they might have been more shocking if Walford hadn't already seen more infernos than a pyromaniac's Instagram feed. The Vic's been burnt down twice, along with the Dagmar, Angie's Den and the E20; plus the car-lot, the chippie and at least five homes. It's like a Pudding Lane tribute act. Now poor Kat's body is covered in burns (as opposed to blokes called Bern), but on the plus side, at least Alfie has finally got a new shirt.


*JUST as well Sonia wasn't near that blaze. Her implants might have melted.


*ON Cilla, Bobby Willis asked young Priscilla "What about the backdoor?" An entirely innocent question even when immediately followed by the Sky Broadband ad slogan "Lie down... roll over."


*DID you see that mind-eater on Dr Who? Peculiar looking beast, but in fairness if I spent time with Clara my eyes would be out on stalks too.


*A WOMAN in China lived all her 24 years with a large part of her brain missing. Doctors are calling this the Fiz Brown syndrome.


*ITV Encore are re-running Imogen Stubbs's old detective series. I guess you could say that they're Anna Lee retentive.


SMALL Joys Of TV: Hattie Hayridge. Stevie Wonder (The Beatles Grammy tribute). The Aquabats. Dame Edna telling Rufus Hound he was so good in a theatre performance "I nearly came backstage to give you my autograph."


RANDOM Irritations: dull padding at the Proms. Fashion designers, they're all nuts. ITV nitwits cutting Stephen Mulhern's harmless sword-and-card Palladium magic trick because of the ISIS beheadings. Eh?


SEPARATED at birth: Danny Dyer and this Suzuki Swift advert guy... he looks like Mick Carter before the woes of Walford weighed him down.


QUOTE of the month was from Countryfile's Adam Henson who was talking about roosters when he exclaimed: "Wow, there are lots of beautiful cocks on show today!"


Sept 14. Strictly Come Dancing is like Viagra for celebrities. The sexual current that surges through the family show has wrecked more relationships than Its cha-cha-charge did for Rachel Riley, Joe Calzaghe, and Ricky Whittle. Flavia got off twice, hooking up with Matt Di Angelo and Jimi Mistry. Then came Kara and Artem, Ali and Brian... So who will succumb to the old "slow, slow, quickie divorce, slow" this time?


Even the process of teaming celebs with their partners felt like lucky dip at a knocking shop. Tess Daly told Steve Backshall "The person you'll be getting up-close and personal with is... Ola." She described Aliona and Greg from Masterchef as "a delicious pairing", while Jake Wood and Janette were told to "go and get acquainted." Who writes this stuff, Rolf Harris? Tess also asked Tim Wonnacott "Do you secretly know who you want?" At his age, anyone with a pulse. They'd all steam up his glasses. But he could hardly say "I wouldn't mind checking out Iveta's American Smooth" even if he thought it. (Caroline Flack definitely wouldn't have picked Pasha. At 34, he's way too old for her.)

Obviously, the dancers must have preferences. It's hard to believe Aljaz is thrilled at the prospect of performing with Alison Hammond. Lovely woman for sure, but at some stage he's going to have to lift that. He won't need a choreographer, he'll need a chiropractor.


Like Mark Benton in a sumo suit, the opening show was ludicrously padded, stuffed full of daft questions, idle chat, and a largely undeserved red carpet. Will Claudia and Tess work? No. They're two sidekicks in search of a star. Will we miss Brucie? Not for a minute. But millions wouldn't miss the celebrities either. Of course I use the term 'celebrities' lightly. When Caroline qualifies you know the barrel has been truly scraped. See also a tennis star's Mum. Glamour and escapism make this format work, which is why Come Dancing, the non-celeb version, was a ratings smash for half a century. The only one I'll miss is James Jordan. I'd love to see the arrogant berk lose something else.


*BRUCE retires and archaeologists announce they've found the world's biggest dinosaur... coincidence?


*WHY is Strictly dancing so old-hat? Why not have Greg body-popping or Tim doing it Gangnam Style? Something about Ola says pogo to me – two minutes of frantic thrills, and then maybe a dance as well.


VAMPIRE Bill ended up a bloody mess on True Blood – much like the plot. What a rotten finale. For starters there was hardly any action. Eric and Pam dealt with the Yakuza in seconds – like they could have done weeks ago. The episode was one long advert for assisted suicide. Sookie helped Bill to top himself - it certainly gave new meaning to going out for a stake - and then everyone lived happily ever after. Well everyone except Sarah Newlin, who was kept in chains as a slave for her "crime" of fighting vampires (largely vicious, murdering scumbags). Bill chose the true death to release Sookie from his influence so she could enjoy a normal life, but was oddly keen on Jessica, his vampire progeny, marrying human Hoyt. The show never was hot on logic. But at least it used to grip like a climaxing fang-banger and make some kind of supernatural sense. This half-hearted final season had more loose ends than a cat o'nine tails. What happened to the rampaging Hep-V vampires? What became of Lafayette? What was the point of ghostly Tara and the buried gun? Why would heterosexual vamp-hating Sarah suddenly beg deadpan Pam to make her a lesbian vampire? Frankly, it sucked.


ON Celebrity Squares contestant Steve announced "I'd like to go with Catherine Tyldsley for the win." Wouldn't we all, but what are the chances? ITV have revived Squares as part of what appears to be their heritage commissioning scheme - they'll remake anything that was a hit anytime in the last fifty years... Just don't ask 'em to come up with anything new. Warwick Davis follows Bob Monkhouse as host - big shoes to fill, especially for a little guy. But he made a decent fist of it. And at least they're booking comedians, rather than human Polyfilla from reality TV. James Corden got the middle box, strategically placed above Jamelia's cleavage. Mick Miller was on good form, moaning about London restaurants. He'd ordered the "boneless chicken... £20 quid... it was a fried egg." Catherine had the best line, though. Asked where on the body you'd find the uvula, she quipped: "I don't know babe, but he hasn't found it yet."

*WHY not introduce a topical tenth square, featuring an elderly man swathed in darkness, just sobbing. They could call it Yewtree Corner.


HOT on TV: Banshee finale... Jamelia... Boardwalk Empire... Timothy West (EastEnders)... Rhona Mitra (The Last Ship)

ROT on TV: True Blood finale – anaemic... Jason Stokes (Cops & Robbers) – best-ever reason to bring back the birch... Two Amigos - how gauche can a gaucho get?

GARY Busey bared his bum in the Celebrity Big Brother kitchen – the second most unpleasant arsehole on screen this series; the first being James. Dee saw everything. "I've never walked into a kitchen and scene someone with his trousers down," she gasped. Ah, but then she's never met Paul Hollywood. Show winner Busey couldn't understand the outrage. Why make a fuss about such a little thing?


*CREEPY Jerry used hi-tech tracking devices to snoop on delivery drivers on Hot Tub Britain. "They call me the spy in the sky," he boasted. They call you a lot worse than that, mate.


*LAST night's Doctor Who theme was something unspeakably nasty lurking under kids' bed. The spirit of Savile lives on at the Beeb...


*TUMBLE gets panned but in fairness the show spurred millions of viewers to exercise. When it came on, they ran a mile.


*WE'VE finally identified Jack the Ripper. Woo-hoo! Give it another 125 years and we might find out who killed Lucy Beale.


SMALL Joys Of TV: Country legend Dwight Yoakam on Under The Dome. Mick Miller, Celebrity Squares. The Mr. Wolf Direct Line ad. Dennis Waterman – gloriously grumpy. Ricci and Lauren getting the CBB boot – Goodger riddance.


RANDOM Irritations: Smokey Robinson thrown away by Strictly. Neil and Andrea (Corrie). Scotland's referendum becoming a never-endum. Dr Who scripts; oi, Moffat: less chat, more sci-fi.


MUM & secret daughter? Sara Dallin and Sara Pascoe?


Celeb Maths: Captain Hurricane + Brian Blessed's beard = Harlequins captain Joe Marler.


Classic goof from the BBC's Sam Fraser who was talking about a motorbike ride when she said: "The wind in my hair, I wrapped my legs around Jonathan and he took me up the bypass."


Sept 7. WHAT got the biggest cheer on Wednesday night? Wayne Rooney's penalty or Frenchy's eviction? Angelique Morgan was a selfish, shrieking nightmare of a woman. But at least she brought chaos and insanity to Celebrity Big Brother – if not actual celebrity. And unlike the England game, Frenchy was never dull. She cut up Leslie's boxer shorts, clashed with Lauren, trashed food and went off like a car alarm in the early hours. She'll be far more missed than Friday's evictees – Kellie and Steph.


At one stage last week, with Frenchy flashing her fake knockers and Lauren flaunting her surgically enhanced left boob in the swimming pool, I thought I'd fallen asleep and woken up in a leaking iCloud.


People say Lauren hasn't brought much to the series but by my reckoning she's added at least four inches to that pool. She also hilariously spurned Ricci the Smurf, who must be the biggest wash-out since Gary Busey's first shower. Ricci had one job in that house – to pull – and has failed completely. The nearest he got to sex was being tickled by James and Gary, which was the weirdest scene on TV all week. Or any week.


James is still an arrogant arse. Kellie pointed out the chip on his shoulder is "more like a sack of King Edwards." And if Kell had kept up that kind of sniping she'd be waltzing through to the final; instead the housemate formerly known as Frank was weepy and moany, constantly banging on about being "ready to leave." No-one was stopping him.


In fairness, Kellie did perk up talking to Frenchy's bear – a strange, badly stuffed, cloth-headed creature... it must have been like chatting to Lauren.


Claire King quit blaming a mystery medical condition – tediumitis... I think she must have infected Edele as well. Whoever emerges as champ, it's been a terrific series awash with rows, egos and Gary Busey's pee. My money says the final four will be Gary, Audley, Squeaky George and Dodgy Dee. Gary to win.


*FRENCHY says she uses lavender oil to keep calm. I'm guessing Lauren swigged all of it on the first night.


*FACT: Gary has "lived for 3,000 years" and he's never combed his hair in any of them.


*HAVE you noticed more people face eviction these days? It used to be two or three. We had six on Wednesday, six on Friday. A cynic might try to connect that explosion of choice with those oh so lucrative phone votes...


DOCTOR Who came back all dark and meaningful, but last night he was camping it up around Sherwood Forest with Robin Hood, mince of thieves. Spoon fights? Bah. They'd have created more of a sense of danger just by having a tipsy Reverend Spooner introduce Friar Tuck. Clara made men quiver but the plot was parchment thin. The doc's real enemies are the writers and Simon Cowell. If the Beeb had signed Harry Styles as their Time Lord instead of Capaldi, they'd have had more chance of beating his empire of karaoke evil.


GORDAN Ramsay hit pay-dirt with the Applegate River Lodge on Ramsay's Hotel Hell. Well, dirt anyway. Dad Richard had built the lodge himself, and the Oregon scenery was breath-taking; but the business was curling up like a slug in a salt pit. The carpets were stained, rooms smelt "like cattle", the bedspread was "a mosaic of semen" and the pillowcases came with dead bugs and crusted bogeys. It was Stephanie Pratt's vision of hell. One ex-guest said she'd found a pair of discarded under-crackers in her bed – suggesting that maybe Kieran Hayler had stayed there before. Rich, known as Pa Butt – mercifully Gordon didn't ask why - liked getting stoned in his "Butt hut" leaving ex-wife Joanna to fret about the small matter of their £600K debts. Feuding sons Duke and Dusty supplied dippy hippy music, bad grub and mutual hatred. It could easily have ended in chalk body outlines. But Ramsay rode to the rescue, with tough talk and sound advice, and turned the place around. Shame he couldn't do the same with so many of his own businesses...


HOT on TV: Ray Donovan (Sky Atlantic)... Dynamo... Educating The East End... Dallas (C5)... Sarah Silverman, Masters Of Sex (More4).


ROT on TV: Ricci Guarnaccio - Geordie Bore... Fried – toast... Our Zoo – animal tragic... Who's Doing The Dishes? – Who's nicking the formats?...The Two Amigos – total dross, adios.


THEY should call Corrie's Todd the Ebola gay, he kills everything he comes into contact with – Maria's happiness, Julie's relationship, his brother's business and very nearly Tyrone... In real life Ty would have told those builders "You must think I'm f***ing stupid", and Todd would have replied: "Well you are shacked up with Fiz."


*ONLY a real curmudgeon would deny X Factor's procession of van drivers, school-kids and lunatics their shot at Saturday night fame. Last night, fishmonger Lola did Adele (but not Hometown Dory). I liked receptionist Maria who kept adding an "h" to Streetlife, making it Shtreetlife. Roll on her version of (Sitting On) The Dock Of The Bay.


*TV dramas of the year so far: Game Of Thrones, Fargo, House of Cards, Gomorrah, The Americans, True Detective, Orange Is The New Black. None of them British. Still at least BBC1 are covering those vital aren't-men-rubbish and aren't-animals-cute bases.


*TV mysteries: if the Jacksons are skint, how come Morgan on EastEnders is so lardy? What's the kid been eating, Lady Di's pups?


Why does Bit On The Side persist with Lauren Harries? She's got nothing to say, isn't remotely funny and nobody gives a toss.


*LEXI on Falling Skies is a creepy, power-mad, half-alien blonde with homicidal tendencies. Let's hope Ronnie Mitchell doesn't sue.


HEY, Emma Willis, don't fear those iCloud leaks. Send me your naked selfies and I'll keep them safe. The same goes for you Rachel Riley and Sophie Raworth. Please note: unfortunately I am unable to offer this service to Kathy Burke or Kellie Maloney.


SMALL Joys Of TV: Frenchy's eviction – byyyeeee, beetch. Kellie Maloney lookalike Susan beating the Sinnerman single-handedly on The Chase. Daily Twin Peaks re-runs (Syfy). The World At War (Yesterday) – but let's hope there's not a real life re-run in weeks to come.


RANDOM Irritations: Fake boobs. Cheryl Cole overkill. Simon Cowell looking for a "new Steps" rather than say, a new Oasis. The Scotland "No" campaign's misfiring arguments – "We'll be out of the EU, we'll lose EastEnders... " Sounds great! Where do I sign up?


SEPARATED at birth: Woy Hodgson and Jim McDonald - one surrounded by headcases, adulterers and drunken hooligans... and the other is in prison. So he is.


WITHOUT comment. Nathan was talking about advances on The One Show in modern agriculture when he revealed: "GPS tracking can tell a farmer how deep his tool is."









Garry Bushell