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.
Sept 27. I FELT for Douglas on Us. Granted, he’s dull – he must have put more people to sleep than Paul McKenna. But the poor bloke was gutted when wife Connie told him she wanted out of their marriage. “It’s not you, it’s us,” she said. “You’re great... I just don’t think I can spend my whole life with you.” Terrific Tom Hollander makes us care about biochemist Douglas whose “failings” include being rational, organised, slightly ratty and liking “food that doesn’t actually injure you”. His meltdown at the tip listening to Mozart was genuinely moving. And you felt for him as he tried to save their marriage on a pre-planned Euro city break. The holiday went ahead, he said, as it wasn’t insured “against despair”.
I’d have told Connie to sling her hook on condition she took their charmless art student son with her. Watching her and Albie snigger and share private jokes at Douglas’s expense was uncomfortable. Maybe he deserves better than a selfish wife and this ungrateful spoilt brat.
In a back-story, we saw the couple when they first met. Young Connie must have had a reverse nose-job, because it got bigger as she aged. Pinocchio related, perhaps. The boffin and the artist went together like Covid rules and logic, but they were happy for decades. Can their marriage be saved? They do share a sense of humour. Served a Parisian Edith Piaf burger, both instantly quipped “probably the only thing she regrets”. They still have sex. And as the great Yorkshire comic Johnnie Casson reminds us there have been worst marital crises. “I had a slip of the tongue over breakfast,” he joked. “I meant to ask my wife to pass the toast, instead I said ‘You’ve ruined my life, you fat, lazy bitch’.” Come on Douglas. If at first you don’t succeed, cry, cry again.
HARRY Hill’s cooking special was pretty tepid until the end when he dished up a generous helping of goofs, including Gregg Wallace confessing “I’m desperate to dip that pork into something wet”. But Harry missed MasterChef’s greatest ever innuendo, when John Torode announced: “Shelina blows me away... it comes at you in waves, and – boom! It starts to explode in your mouth and just keeps coming”. Also AWOL was John’s classic “I wanted to taste the pea”. And the time he cooked pasta live on Chesil Beach next to a heliport and a landing chopper blew half a ton of sand into his linguine. Gregg’s “Tart on the way!” from the latest series made him sound like Walford town-crier announcing the arrival of Roxy Mitchell. Hill’s World Of TV lacks the hit rate of TV Burp, largely because the scripts service the clips and not vice versa. But there are few things more promising than hearing Nigella Lawson purr “A serious bit of squelching to do now.”
*ONE female baker complained, “Not as much of an erection as I wanted it to be”. Sounds like Cindy Beale on her wedding night.
THE Great British Bake Off came back with the perfect recipe of warmth and laughter. New co-host Matt Lucas sent up Boris gently but brilliantly; and the showstopper round was a classic. The bakers had to immortalise famous faces in sponge and the results were gloriously bonkers. “Freddie Mercury” looked like a melted Frank Sidebottom adorned with a blackened slug. “Louis Theroux” resembled Harry Hill’s Joy Of Sex man Ken Ford. “Marie Antoinette” was more like David Cameron in drag. “Bob Marley” was green but inspired a million viewers to ask if it had Jammin’. And who will love “Aladdin Sane”? Talk about Scary Monsters, Super Crepes! Funniest show on primetime – and far cheerier than TV’s morbid serial killer obsession.
*MATT as Boris: “If you must bake in a tent, bake in a tent. But please don’t bake in a tent.”
HOT on TV: Tom Hollander, Us... Matt Lucas, Bake Off... Tehran (Apple)... Utopia (AmPrime).
ROT on TV: Chris Whitty – makes Syd Little look charismatic... Steph’s Packed Lunch – pack it in.
TRICIA Helfer on Battlestar Gallactica is surely TV’s all-time sexiest sci-fi woman, but let’s spare a thought for the runners-up: 2) 7 Of 9 (Star Trek Voyager) 3) Zev Bellringer (Lexx) 4) Maeve (Westworld). 5) Virginia Lake (UFO) 6) Deana Troi (TNG) 7) Anna (V) 8) Mia (Humans) 9) Niki Sanders (Heroes) 10) Nyota Uhura (Star Trek) 11) Kelly Grayson (The Orville) 12) Leela (Doctor Who) 13) Yeoman Rand (Star Trek) 14) Karen Gillan (Dr Who) 15) Anna Silk (Lost Girl). If you include films then clearly Jessica Alba, Milla Jovovich and Jane ‘Barbarella’ Fonda would be front runners; while fantasy throws Anna Paquin and Emilia Clarke into the mix.
*LUCIA State Hospital has such a high body count Ratched it should be twinned with Mid Staffs. Even Harold Shipman would say stay the hell away. Nurse Ratched herself is terrifying. Never mind Chris Whitty, put her in charge and Covid would surrender.
*NAKED artists will paint each other in different styles on Drawers Off. Expect tasty Titians, saggy Botticellis and plenty of old Pollocks.
*ROSE West & Myra Hindley: The Untold Story had nothing new to say. The only mystery about the evil pair is why they weren’t hanged.
SMALL Joys of TV: Ghosts. Two Weeks To Live. Only Connect. Bill Maher. Cobra Kai. Andre Rieu: Welcome To My World (SkyArts). Brian Conley on The Chase Celebrity Special.
RANDOM Irritations: Alexander Armstrong pointlessly reading everything twice on Pointless. One-sided politics on Googlebox. C5 mocking Harold Wilson without explaining he had Alzheimers.
TV questions: was 100 Vaginas endorsed by Pussy Galore? Should ITV’s ailing Saturday night show be called Britain Lacks Talent? And given Jane’s iffy performance, should The Singapore Sling be renamed the rocky Horrocks show?
SEPARATED at birth: Miss Lou (Bake Off) and Hup from Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance. One half-baked, and more pudding than Podling... the other is a cake.
CLASSIC CLANGER: Charles Dagnall was talking about cricket when he said of a batsman: “His wife is heavily pregnant with their first child and the delivery is patted back by Willey.”
Sept 20. THE big unanswered question on ITV’s latest drama is: what exactly is The Singapore Grip? They’re too shy to tell us it’s an advanced sexual technique involving a woman flexing certain internal muscles in an act of love. If only the show were that gripping... In fairness, it’s beautifully shot with a fine cast, but it falls between more stalls than Lee Evans on a bender. Grip would dearly love to be a smart satire in the Ealing comedy vein but it isn’t sharp enough or funny enough. The novel’s wit and bite have hit the cutting room floor. We’re left with hammy, one-dimensional characters who’d feel more at home in a 1970s Confessions film, along with that jaunty score.
The action is set in 1941, when the remarkable Southeast Asian city-state was a British colony. But the Brits here are as likeable as swine flu. David Morrissey is greedy rubber tycoon Walter Blackett, with a dreadful gold-digger daughter, a loafer son and a nitwit wife. The Air Chief Marshall is such a dithering clown his grandson is probably in the Cabinet. Walter’s partner, old Mr Webb (the great Charles Dance) was more agreeable but he lasted about as long as Gemma Collins did in the ITV jungle. Webb died muttering “the rising sun” repeatedly. Only mysterious Chinese “consultant” Vera Chiang realised he was warning them about the impending Japanese invasion. If anyone gets to practice the actual Singapore Grip it’ll be Vera, who is scraping a living as a “taxi dancer”. No doubt she goes “south of the river”. Will young Matthew Webb her lucky passenger? The old fella’s mourning son arrived looking like Jacob Rees-Mogg’s lost twin. He’s too much of an idealist to put up with Blackett’s dodgy dealings. But odds-on he’d tip...
WHEN Celebrity Goes Horribly Wrong recalled the time Olly Murs fell off stage while singing Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours in a downpour – a case of Soaked, Slipped, Demolished, I’m gone. And the day Jamie Carragher gobbed at a Man U fan who’d gently reminded the Reds’ no 23 of the day’s result – United 2, LFC 1. Carragher apologised, although in fairness his spit was one of the few things Liverpool had on target that day. C5’s three hour calamity marathon also covered Winona Ryder’s shop-lifting (from Edward Scissorhand to Winona Wizard-hands). And comedy flop Nish Kumar getting pelted with a bread roll at a charity do. Nish was lucky; the audience had access to cutlery.
DES was disappointing... he didn’t sing any of his hits. I’m kidding. David Tennant was mesmerising as serial killer Dennis “Des” Nilsen. Looking like a hybrid of Robert Peston and Louis Theroux, Tennant brought the callous creep to life. Nilsen killed and butchered 15 victims, blocking his drains with their remains. More than anything the show reminds us of the banality of evil. The “Muswell Hill Murderer” was a dull civil servant who confessed his crimes in a flat monotone, like a tranquillised man reciting a shopping list. His biographer claimed he killed “for company”, which sounds as rational as drinking for sobriety. But sanity was never part of this shocking story.
*THERE was so much smoking in Des, half-way through episode two I had to open a window.
*THE stench of his drains was Nilsen’s undoing. You remember Des & Mel? This was Des & Smell...
HOT on TV: David Tennant, Des... Captain Sir Tom Moore... Elizabeth Tan... Golda Schultz, Proms... Battle Of Britain 80 (Sky History).
ROT on TV: The Duchess (Netflix) – stinks like James Herriot’s boots... The Singapore Grip – Singapore sling your hook... Moscow Noir (All4) – Must-watch? Nyet.
TV is full of mysteries: why give failing DJ Zoe Ball a £1million rise... when did C4 decide on indecent exposure as a mission statement... and why is telly so obsessed with juvenile comics? TV loves ancient rockers and fresh-faced stand-ups. It’s perverse. ITV are led by admen who only care about hooking young viewers (Newsflash: over-50s have money too!), but the BBC have no good reason to keep brilliant variety comedians from their natural audience.
*THE trouble with BBC comedy? They tick every box except funny.
IN honour of David Morrissey’s new moustache, here are my all-time Top TV ’taches: 1) Jimmy “Whacko!” Edwards 2) Jason King 3) Yosemite Sam 4) Magnum PI 5) Alf Garnett. The worst? Ian Beale’s: it looked like a mutant whelk.
SMALL Joys of TV: The Persuaders! (Sony). The Sweeney fight montage (Harry Hill’s World Of TV). Britain’s Greatest Pilot (BBC4). Nina Conti. Brian Johnson Meets Dave Grohl (Sky Arts).
RANDOM Irritations: The Proms vandalising Jerusalem. Shrinking end credits on shows, who can read them? Ant-Man? The Pointless theme – ask anyone to hum it. They can’t! No one knows it!
TV questions: Why does Ian Beale look older than his mum? Will we ever see the portrait in Kathy Beale’s attic? Will Boris clamp down on those Black Full Monty dancers? They definitely have a rule of 8...
*C4 should recruit Ainsley Harriott for their celebrity version of The Black Full Monty. Randy crowds could greet him with a chorus of “Swing low, sweet Harriott... ”
SEPARATED at birth: Chubby Brown and the River Tweed boatman from Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing? One knows all about crabs, slippery dick wrasses and fiddling about where it’s wet and murky... the other rows a boat.
Sept 13. RAY Winstone’s Sicily is a geezer’s guide to the idyllic Italian island. Sicily gave the world the Mafia but even the Mob’s greatest prophet, Cosa Nostradamus, didn’t foresee Ray turning up and making them offers they can’t understand. The Cockney film star’s version of the story of Odysseus made Danny Dyer sound posh. Apparently the legendary hero of Greek myth and “’is firm” went “to a little party in Troy, ’ad a tear-up”, and then got banged up by “a geezer with one mince in the middle of ’is ’ead.” Or a Cyclops as stuffier folk call him. (Actually Ody was Ulysses to the Italians, but I’m splitting hairs.)
Blaze helpfully translated Ray’s choicer lingo for non-Cockneys. Subtitles explained that “mince” is eye, a “bag of sand” is £1grand and “half a fanny” is a white lie, rather than say, a mid-op transsexual. The biggest drama was his pal Bruno Zoccola getting ripped off in a market in Palermo – “’e’s turned me over, ’e’s done me, £50 for a bit of fruit”. Peanuts compared to Ray conning Blaze into forking out for this tasty holiday with his mates – ex-market trader Bruno, “Joe the Tagg” and Matt Lorenzo, “the posh geezer” from TV sport. They fell akip at the ballet – “an education” said Ray (the lesson being: always swerve the ballet), swigged olive oil from wine glasses. And bought butcher’s knives – missing the chance for Ray to resurrect his immortal Scum catchphrase, “where’s yer tool?” They even met brave locals who had fought back against the Mob’s protection racket. I’m sticking with it for the scenery, the customs, and the language. It makes a nice change to hear real London accents on the Ned Kelly.
*TOP TV shows in Sicily (probably). 1) Blue Pizza 2) The Weakest Linguine 3) Keeping Up with the Cadaresians 4) Men Behaving Normally...
SUE Perkins had one great line on Along The Mexican-US Border. Tasting a salty “Kama Sutra sexy cream” cocktail in Tijuana, lesbian Sue quipped: “That’s a taste from long, long ago.” Come again? Fair play, she didn’t spit it out either. It was harder to swallow her bleeding heart speeches. Sue recognised genuine US concerns about illegal migrants and crime; if not the ruinous effect they have on working class wages. But she didn’t tell us that Bill Clinton and Obama both voted for Bush’s 2006 Secure Fence Act. Trump’s Wall actually started under Bill. Although the Chinese got their first, of course. These days, China’s Xi Jinping can’t see a border without wanting to breach it. Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan... But Trump is forever the BBC’s bad guy. Meanwhile moving stories about the borders in Iraq, Pakistan, Russia and North Korea remain untold.
HO! EastEnders is back! A shame, I was enjoying the peace and quiet. “Fresh start, clean slate,” promised Ian Beale, but it was pretty much the same old cobblers. Ex-robber Callum is now a cop, already covering up for his criminal boyfriend – “giving new meaning to bent Old Bill”, as some shocking reactionary would no doubt joke in the real East End. Ian has a Black Lives Matter mural on the side of his house, as so many Cockneys do. He’s bought the Vic and installed Sharon as the cuddly landlady (Shazza greeted Potty Dotty with a cheery broken bottle). In other uplifting plots, Ruby got involved in a half-baked insurance scam, and sexy Chantelle was subjected to bathwater torture by husband Gray (50 shades of git). It’s no spoiler to say she won’t last the month. As Mona Lott nearly said, it’s being so cheerful as keeps them going.
HOT on TV: Tricia Helfer, Battlestar Gallactica... Abbey Lee, Lovecraft Country... Generation Kill (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: Strike: Lethal White – strong character, lousy plot... Micky Flanagan’s Detour de France – encore de merde.
BILLIE Piper pleasured herself for seven minutes on I Hate Suzie, thinking of various lovers. Strumming away like a ukulele band, she was. It’s tough for a bloke to do that. You think of Billie, and inevitably Bingo springs to mind, followed moments later by fellow Banana Split, Drooper...
*IF I want endless minutes of relentless self-abuse on TV I’ll watch Terry Christian on Question Time.
*FOUR people take part in Frankie Boyle’s New World Order – half the number it takes to write it and double the number who ever wanted Tramadol Nights back. The Beeb describe Boyle’s feeble mix of shock and insults as “satire”. It’s more like seeing an overweight monkey throwing its own poop at the watching crowd.
*THE scariest image on Lovecraft Country? Letitia’s lurid nightmare where Tic’s manhood turned out to be a living cobra. A literal trouser snake, with fangs... for the mammaries.
*THE BGT virtual audience aren’t allowed to drink while watching the live show. A shame. It helps.
SMALL Joys of TV: Steve Royle on last weekend’s BGT. American Pickers (Dave). Spooks re-running on Drama. Clarkson on Millionaire. Louis Theroux’s self-styled “alien conduit” Reverend Robert Short.
RANDOM Irritations: The endless glut of cooking shows – how many do we need? Cliché-ridden celebrity travel shows, where’s our Whicker or Clive James? Politics on BGT. Still no subtitles on Blaze shows.
TV questions: if you crossed Mindful Escapes with UFC fighters, would you get mindful violence? If Mount Etna erupts in Sicily, will Ray Winstone be petrified? Why does Strike limp with his prosthetic leg? He’d never make the Paralympics.
TV Maths: Me & My Penis + 100 Vaginas = Call The Midwife.
Sept 11. R.I.P. Dame Diana Rigg the classical actress who found fame as TV secret agent Emma Peel, the cat-suited action woman/dominatrix who bewitched the nation on The Avengers. Peel embodied Girl Power decades before it became a pop marketing slogan. Best known to younger viewers for her role as Lady Olenna Tyrell on Game Of Thrones, Diana (real Christian name Enid) was never happier than when she was on the stage. Born in Doncaster in 1938, she was two months old when the family moved to Northwest India for her father’s job as a railway engineer and grew up speaking Hindi as a second language. Back in England, she spent her formative years in West Yorkshire, later saying: “Yorkshire formed my character. I get straight to the point and say what I feel. I can’t help it, it’s genetic.” And we loved her for it. But not quite as much as I loved Emma Peel for reasons I wasn’t fully aware of at the time. One of the most iconic and enduring 60s TV images.
PS. In France, The Avengers was called Bowler Hat & Leather Boots. The Austrians knew it as With Brolly, Charm and a Bowler Hat while the Japanese called it Fashionable Secret Detective. Most Spanish speaking countries simply translated the title into their language, but in Finland, it was marketed as the rather duller sounding Gentleman Agent.
Sept 6. TV LIST shows exist purely to wind us up – as Britain’s Favourite Detective proved. There can’t be any other reason for them. On Sunday, ITV blanked some of the small screen’s finest dicks – D.I. Jack Regan, Lieutenant Theo Kojak, The Shield’s Vic Mackey – to concoct this monstrous miscarriage of justice. The result was as frustrating as every third episode of BBC1’s Sherlock. Superb telly tecs like Andy Sipowicz (NYPD Blue), Law & Order’s Robert Goren, CSI’s Gilbert “Gil” Grissom, Monk and Harry Bosch weren’t even in the running. Cagney & Lacey got through as “women who happened to be detectives”, but not Starsky & Hutch. And were Scott & Bailey really more impressive than Frank Pembleton from Homicide: Life On The Streets, arguably TV’s greatest black detective? Wouldn’t ITV viewers think more of Gene Hunt, or Bradley Walsh’s unmentioned Ronnie Brooks?
You don’t need Miss Marple to work out that producers rig shows like this, deciding who we can vote for. The only surprise was they didn’t fix it for Marcella to scrape in. They did manage to book a narrator who couldn’t pronounce names properly, though. Poirot was “Parro” and Suchet “Shoe-Shey” according to Sheridan Smith (Sherry-down Sink?). Sherlock walked it, natch. Even though the scripts are fool’s gold. They jerk about like a dropped high-pressure hose, splattering in all directions but rarely making sense. The writers would rather show off how smart they are than tell us a decent story. Which is why, as ideal Holmes go, Cumberbatch isn’t a patch on Jeremy Brett. My favourite TV sleuth was Columbo whose scruffy appearance concealed an Einstein-sized brain. When he shuffled back in that rotten crumpled raincoat to innocently ask the killer, “Just one more thing... ” you knew the jig was up. But the greatest thief-taker of them all was Jack Regan. All together: “Get yer trousers on – you’re nicked!”
ALL Creatures Grunt & Smell, sorry Great & Small, is the antidote to modern day gloom. Set in 1930s Yorkshire, it’s the nostalgia-packed tale of young Glasgow vet James Herriot who’s never happier than when his arm is stuck up a cow’s cervix. Herriot faced a kicking horse, a fearsome bull, a Heather Trott-sized hangover and a boss about as happy as Victor Meldrew with a cap full of wasps – Samuel West on top form as Siegfried Farnon. But what amazed me most were his incredible self-cleaning trousers. Not a scrap of mud stuck to them. If only he’d had Dragon’s Den to pitch them on back then.
CORMORAN Strike could do with a Holliday... in particular, Robin star Holliday Grainger. The two detectives are so gormlessly besotted with each other on Strike: Lethal White that their unresolved sexual tension pushed the under-nourished plot to the margins. Even though she’s married (to a git) and he’s bedding lovely Lorelei. Tom Burke’s one-legged private eye was hired by an insufferably arrogant Tory Minister (well it is the BBC) – a blackmail victim who was quickly topped. Possible killer: anyone he’d ever met. A child was murdered years before (in the eye of the Uffington White Horse hill figure) but our love-struck duo found her body in moments after Robin took a tumble. Ho hum. Strike deserves smarter stories. It’s cliché city here, with cardboard-thin supporting characters.
*IF Cormoran Strike can’t afford a new coat, how the hell can he afford to rent an office in Denmark Street? If you were Strike wouldn’t you want to bang up the bugger who lumbered you with that rotten first name?
HOT on TV: Rachel Shenton, All Creatures Great & Small... Sofia Helin, The Bridge (BBC4)... The Boys (AmPrime)... Young Wallander (Netflix).
ROT on TV: Frankie Boyle’s New World Order – one Boyle even Dr Pimple Popper couldn’t burst... Little Birds – never took off... Me & My Penis – a load of old cock.
WHY put so many rubbish acts through to the BGT live finals? Dancing turtles, Bhim Niroula, Dario the Dinosaur... is Cowell trying to save variety or bury it? Great turns like Steve Royle and Hakan Berg should get their own ITV specials whether they win or not.
DID you clock Tarby’s hilarious Carnaby Street clobber on that rare full-colour episode of The New London Palladium Show (TPTV)? The designs were so loud you needed earplugs to look at them. No wonder Roy Orbison wore shades.
*MODERN oxymorons: BBC comedy. Factual programming. Reality TV.
*WITH guns blazing and a house blown up by a rocket launcher, Little Birds ended with a spectacular bang... unlike poor Lucy’s wedding night.
*C4 showed male erections on My Penis & Me. Must have been a pop-up studio.
*MY Penis & Me. Not to be confused with Your Penis & Me – the Roxy Mitchell Story.
SMALL Joys of TV: Harry Hill’s Casualty poem. The Who Live At Kilburn 1977 (SkyArts). Battlestar Gallatica (BBC2). Gold’s Fast Show celebration. Claude & The Boppers with their filthy Ice Cream Shop song on A Black Lady Sketch Show (SkyAt).
RANDOM Irritations: TV’s war on older sports commentators. It’s unadulterated ageism. The virus of ghoulish “medical” shows, full of unsightly corns (My Feet Are Killing Me) or facial cysts and boils (Dr Pimple Popper)
SEPARATED at birth (golden oldie): Billie Piper and Bingo. One a much-loved TV favourite with a huge following... the other wasn’t even in The Banana Splits.
*WAS Harry Hill’s Casualty poem a case of Tennyson elbow?