Mail on Sunday 25th June

Deal or No Deal (C4, Sunday) **
Lost (C4, Tuesday) *
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Five, Tuesday) *****
Desperate Housewives (C4, Wednesday) ****
Saxondale (BBC2, Monday) **
China (BBC2, Tuesday) *****

There cannot be many viewers who have not sat before a
hugely successful television format, bitter while
contemplating the riches of its creators, and uttered
the words “I could have done that.”
Who Wants to be a Milionnaire – just a smart quiz
show; Survivor – just a few people thrown together on
an island; Big Brother – just a few people thrown
together in a house.
Anyone suffering from the delusion that these are
simple formulae that found their way with ease on to
the screen should read Peter Bazalgette’s fascinating
book about the journey of those three shows: a book
which reveals the heady mix of ingredients that belie
the apparent simplicity. It is a story of passion,
belief, setbacks, huge business risk, and, ultimately,
enormous wealth. The men behind these shows deserve
every penny they get because, quite frankly, the rest
of us could not be bothered to go through a tenth of
what they did to see their visions realised.
Endemol, the company behind Big Brother, is also
the creator of Deal or No Deal, and is another of
those shows that, for whatever reason, has grabbed the
public’s imagination and made Endemol even richer than
it already is.
Again, the format seems simple: contestants try to
make money through a game, but, in order to do so,
must (as in Milionnaire) take risks. At various
points, they are offered amounts of money by the
“banker” (whom Noel talks to on the phone, although we
never hear the banker’s voice), and they must decide
whether to try for more money and risk walking away
with £1, or take what’s on the table.
All of this is, inevitably, accompanied by an
hysterical studio audience, who cheer wildly when the
contestant decides “Deal”, and even more wildly when
they decide “No deal.” There is nothing an audience
likes more than the little man standing up to the big
Now, I know people whose lives have been turned
upside down in their desperation not to miss a minute
of Deal or No Deal, and the prime-time slot it quickly
achieved is a tribute to its success. But I’m sorry: I
just don’t get it. And on Sunday night, when Noel
asked: “Is this the most depressing way to spend
Sunday evening?” I had to cry, well, yes, actually.
The contestants are generally an unwatchable bunch,
but then Noel’s attempt to be Chris Tarrant is the
real core. He has always been a likable personality
and is proving his popularity yet again, but the
format still feels like treading quicksand – just a
bunch of uncharismatic, usually overweight people
opening boxes. Anyone could have come up with that –
couldn’t they?
Lost is another show that I just don’t get. The
flashbacks to real life are fine, but the second we
return to that jungle and characters staring into the
middle distance for no logical reason, it all turns to
This week we discovered that Kate (Evangeline
Lilly) was on the run because she killed her father
and was shopped to the police by her mother. She also
got to kiss Jack (Matthew Fox), who has somehow
managed to find a barber whose whereabouts has so far
eluded everyone else.
A black horse also mysteriously turned up, which
means that either a Lloyds Bank will be following in
its wake (and nothing would surprise me now), or
absolutely nothing at all – which is the more likely.
Thank goodness, though, for these big American
shows which at least give us something to talk about
other than the football. This week’s CSI was possibly
the best episode yet, based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1950s
film, Rashomon.
Personally, I find CSI a great deal more watchable
than I have ever found Kurosawa, so any parallels were
completely lost on me. But the story saw the team
recalling a wedding, from their different viewpoints,
in flashback, and it was poetry in motion.
Most impressive was Sanders (Eric Szmanda), who, in
Raymond Chandler mode, told his version against
thirties style, dreamy, black and white footage – “I
headed behind the pink curtain where the girls go to
get glossy.” It was the bridesmaids wotdunnit, but
really, the solution to the crime is never the
highlight of this consistently brilliant show.
The Americans rely heavily on flashback in their
dramas, and Desperate Housewives completed its run
with dozens of them, showing the key characters when
they first arrived in Wisteria Lane.
Between flashbacks, which melted easily into the
main narrative, the present day stories continued and,
yet again, left us with the cliffhanger Is Mike going
to survive? I’d guess yes, because they would be nuts
to kill him off, but what has dentist Oscar (Kyle
MacLachlan, in wonderfully sinister form) got against
It’s all a far remove from the day everyone
arrived, with, as Mary Alice (Brenda Strong) said,
“beautiful dreams and quiet hopes for a better life.”
Fat chance.
It was Frasier weekend last weekend on Paramount 2,
and a reminder of what great comedy really is. It was
unfortunate that it was also the weekend that launched
Saxondale, which was everything that great comedy
The genius of Steve Coogan has brought us some of
television’s best comic creations, but in Tommy
Saxondale, an ex-roadie living in suburbia, he has
found a sketch character rather than someone who can
sustain a whole series. The biggest problem? He just
ain’t funny. The whole bird shooting incident, for
example, has just been done, to much better effect, in
Thin Ice.
Parts of the show have been shot in a style
reminiscent of The Office, but for no apparent reason.
The form of The Office – the documentary – was apt for
the material, but in Saxondale you wonder why you are
suddenly watching the characters from another room
when most of the show has been shot naturalistically.
The best comedy has a theatrical feel to it: centre
stage (Frasier’s apartment), enter stage right
(Frasier’s front door), exit stage left (Frasier’s
Girlfriend Magz (Ruth Jones) and an hilarious
Morwenna Banks as receptionist Vicky pull Saxondale
back from the brink, but it’s still dangerously close
to the edge – alas, the one that attracts lemmings
rather than the comic one.
What can you say about the extraordinary China,
apart from the fact that it makes you glad you don’t
live there? Women have it especially tough, but with
government encouragement they are gradually becoming
more educated and starting to believe in themselves.
At the moment, though, the average factory wage is £15
per week. Sell your latest format to China, Endemol.
They’ll be biting your hand off just for the pound.

Mail on Sunday 18th June

Sex in the Eighties: Club 18-30 (C4, Wednesday) ***
The Convent (BBC2, Wedbesday) ****
Sugar Rush (C4, Thursday) **
Big Love (Five Monday) *
The Play’s the Thing (C4, Monday) *****

Am I the only person in the country who has never
managed to pull on holiday? As a teenager, I went away
regularly to Welsh camp, but picked up nothing more
than an ability to conjugate. In Venice, I picked up
something when I fell in the canal and had to race off
to have a tetinus injection. And in Paris, which I
have visited more often than anywhere in the world, I
am too exhausted taking in the beauty and art to be
bothered with men.
I never made it to a Club 18-30 holiday, but after
seeing it featured on Sex in the Eighties, I’m glad it
passed me by.
In 1980, the company was taken over and re-launched
the brand “using the lure of casual sex” and the
slogan “Your mother wouldn’t like it.” Promotional
material featured breasts, bottoms, sun and sand, and
the target audience couldn’t get enough of it – or
each other.
Personally, I hate party games. Passing a balloon
from one chin to the next fills me with horror; trying
to blow one up when it is tucked into a man’s skimpy
pair of swimming trunks isn’t even going to make it on
to my list of A Hundred Things to do Before I Die. Yet
how they loved it: the balloons, the aerosol cans of
whipped cream they sprayed at each other, the gorgeous
reps – the bedding of whom was apparently “the
ultimate challenge.”
The programme took ex-reps Dave and Mick, now in
their forties, back to Portugal, where they had worked
as young men. It was all rather sad. They reminisced
about the sex, the drinking morning till night, the
games et al, but it was clear the whole experience had
left them feeling rather empty when they returned to
Britain and tried to live reality.
The men, however, together with the female
interviewees, had nothing of any great interest to
say. If you are the kind of person who enjoys a Club
18-30 holiday, let alone, heaven forbid, be someone
who wants to work on one, you’re never really going to
have much to offer the world in terms of psychology.
Just a large espresso and a ticket to the Louvre for
me, thanks very much.
It’s not often I find myself thinking that I might
like to be a nun, but The Convent is a rather a good
advert for it (along with Club 18-30, ironically).
The four-part series has taken four women, each
facing a personal crisis of sorts, and holed them up
in the Convent of the Poor Clares in Arundel, west
Sussex, for 40 days and 40 nights. The aim is to see
whether the nuns’ strict regime can give a renewed
sense of purpose to the women; the nuns, whose convent
has never received visitors in 700 years, also hope to
gain greater insight through their experience with the
Evangelical Christian Iona believes that God
stopped her drinking and told her to live a celibate
life (I’d have had my ears tested before legging it
straight to a convent, but never mind). Victoria is in
an open relationship, Angela has houses in Tuscany and
the UK, but feels unfulfilled, and children’s
entertainer Debi believes that God has been punishing
her ever since her mother abandoned her as a child.
The nuns’ insight into the women, however, is
rather simplistic. “It’s not your fault,” the Abbess
told Debi, who had chosen her as her mentor. Well,
blow me down with a rosary.
The nuns are undoubtedly lovely and caring, but
then if you spend most of the day in prayer (the
convent is a contemplative order), it’s going to be
easy to stop evil thoughts such as where your next Big
Mac and fries is coming from entering your mind.
So far, the women’s reluctance to respect the rules
of the house (unlike the men in The Monastery) makes
you want to slap them, but doubtless they will all be
donning habits and sniffing incense by the end of the
Sex or no sex, that is the question – or certainly
was this week. The second series of Sugar Rush began
by delivering the tedium of series one, with Kim
(Olivier Hallinan) still drooling over anything in a
skirt, and, between, lesbian adventures, visiting her
best friend, Sugar (Lenora Criclhow), who is in
prison. Like series one, the show thinks it is being
more daring and cutting edge than it actually is; but
then Julie Burchill’s novel, on which it is based, is
the same. Didn’t any of these people ever watch Queer
as Folk?
Perfectly cast as Hallinan is, the girlie stuff
drags, while the relationship between Kim’s parents,
Nathan (Richard Lumsden) and Stella (Sara Stewart) is
hilarious. Undergoing therapy to improve their sex
lives, they are exaggerated comic creations who
provide welcome relief from their panting and deeply
uninteresting daughter.
Five’s latest American import is as dreadful as its
predecessors – House, Prison Break, CSI – have been
brilliant. It stars Bill Paxton as Bill Henrickson, a
successful businessman who also runs three wives and
seven children.
Radio Times promises that it is in the dark
territory of Six Feet Under, but the first episode was
a jumble of scenes that made nothing clear; in fact,
if you hadn’t read any blurb, you would really have
had very little idea what it was all about. I trust
Five implicitly, though, and can’t believe they would
have purchased a bummer; but this jury is still out.
Nothing is more important to any play, series or
film than the writing, but it is still astonishing how
few people there are who can really, really do it.
In a week when Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys
won six Tonys, we can proudly say that the UK has some
of the best, and the timely The Play’s the Thing made
one feel optimistic that somewhere out there, another
Bennett lurks.
Successful theatre producer Sonia Friedman has had
65 hits in the West End and on Broadway and, last
year, decided to try to find a new West End
playwright. The winner’s play would go straight into
the West End, and the 2,000 hopefuls who applied were
hoping for that chance.
Incredibly, for a series about the printed word, it
works incredibly well, and the comments from Friedman,
agent Mel Kenyon and actor Neil Pearson are insightful
and helpful.
In a week tainted by Club 18-30 and polygamy, it
was comforting to know that 81 of the entries had
Jesus in the title. The flesh may be weak, but the
spirit still wants to sing.

Mail on Sunday 11th June
Prison Break (Five, Monday) *****

The X Factor: Battle of the Stars (ITV1, Sunday,
Monday) ****

The Kindness of Strangers (ITV1, Wednesday, Thursday)

The Simpsons (C4, weekdays) *****

Desperate Housewives (C4, Wednesday) *****

Sven: the Coach, the Cash and His Lovers (C4,
Thursday) *

One man and his toilet. Who ever would have thought
that so preposterous an idea would ever have made it
to a TV series lasting over five months, let alone to
the drawing board for a second.
Yet we have watched and trembled as one beautiful
man delved into the mysteries of his
not-very-well-fitted latrine in his prison cell. And
now, the world as we know it has come to an end – at
least, until Prison Break returns with even more
improbable storylines and bucketloads more of
Wentworth Miller staring into the middle distance in
the name of acting.
For those of you who have been asleep since
Christmas, the story so far is this: Five has
transformed itself from being the most derided channel
into the most talked-about. The brilliant House on
Thursdays is one of the best-written dramas in the
history of broadcasting, giving a platform to the
extraordinary Hugh Laurie that has turned him into an
international star. Prison Break, which is another
American import, tells the story of one man’s fight
for justice in the face of government conspiracy, and
the whole thing depends upon bad plumbing.
Without the bad pipework, you see, it wouldn’t
work. Upstanding citizen Michael (Miller) engineered
his own incarceration in order to free his wrongly
convicted brother. It just so happened that he was the
brains behind the design of the prison and therefore
knew exactly what lay behind the lavatory: in essence,
a sign saying “Just follow the arrows to freedom.”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, and this week’s
finale, in which the men finally escaped, has been
dependent upon a series of coincidences and
absurdities that have still, incredibly, kept the
nation hooked - not least the fact that nobody, ever,
ever, thought to check the lavatory, which has all but
brought the cell walls crashing down around it. You
would think, at some point, one of the guards would
have said to his mates: “Hey, I’ve seen The Shawshank
Redemption; do you think that once in a while we ought
to check that a tunnel isn’t lurking behind the
walls?” You see? End of mystery. End of series. But
no. On and on it’s gone, and we love it. So, they’re
out (apart from the proverbial fat guy, who never
makes it in TV drama, but then serves his own right
for being greedy), and being chased by the cops, who
have them surrounded. Watch out for series two, when
Michael has plastic surgery to bring an expression to
his face.
The other big event of the week was the final of
The X Factor: Battle of the Stars, in which Radio 1 DJ
Chris Moyles entered a state of near paralysis when
the nation voted him out at the semi-final stage.
Justifiably so. There is nothing the voting public
likes less than arrogance, and it is something to
which the camera is immensely sensitive. Popular and
amusing as Moyles had been, he behaved as if the
competition was in the bag; his fondling of presenter
Kate Thornton was also hugely inappropriate and
unprofessional, and clearly viewers thought the same.
Lucy Benjamin’s win was well deserved. Halfway
through the previous week, judge Simon Cowell had the
casting vote when he chose to keep her in over
Michelle Marsh, who on that particular night gave by
far the better performance. But Cowell doesn’t earn
his millions for nothing, and he was right. The Lucy
story just grew and grew, as she did in confidence,
and it was a terrific finale.
But please, please, Kate, get yourself a makeover
before the next series of The X Factor. Your make-up
drowns your face, and your dresses look as if they
have been rescued from Oxfam circa 1975. You are
young, stunning and vibrant; please stop coming
dressed as your grandmother.
It was “psychological thriller” time again for ITV,
meaning: another marriage hitting the rocks when a
psycho lets loose.
You always know it is psychological thriller time
when, within the first five minutes, there is a
lingeringly long close-up of a knife. The Kindness of
Strangers opened with a 40th birthday party for Ellie
(Julie Graham), when she went to cut her cake with the
kind of weapon that, quite frankly, could have felled
a forest and was ludicrously unjustified for a sponge.
But it set the tone for things to come, and very
soon the birthday party turned to tears as psycho
Fiona (Hermione Norris) turned the lives of Ellie and
husband Joe (Neil Pearson) upside down.
It was all very watchable, as these things tend to
be, and yes, the knife turned up again – strangely,
though, much later on, in Fiona’s apartment, where it
had miraculously transported itself from Ellie’s
house. Budget limitations, I suspect.
I know I’ve come very late in life to The Simpsons
(I could never stand Homer’s voice, which is what kept
me away), but better late than never. Marge’s desire
to make new friends was this week taken up by Lisa,
too, and it was so touching. “Lisa? With people?” said
Bart, incredulous.
It really is as perfect as television gets and
packed with great, great lines and topical references.
I loved the fact that Lisa had been reading Gore Vidal
– “and even he’s kissed more boys than I ever will.”
American television continues to outshine our own,
and Desperate Housewives is another terrific show.
Bree (Marcia Cross) is undoubtedly the star, and this
week’s heartbreaking episode, in which, for the sake
of her own sanity, she dispensed with ghastly son
Andrew (Shawn Pyfrom) was the most moving and
convincing so far.
Like Bree among her fellow addicts, I too have a
confession to make. Okay. Deep breath. I’m going to
come clean. My name is Jaci and I am . . . This is so
difficult . . . My name is Jaci and I . . . really,
really fancy Sven- Goran Eriksson.
Women and men everywhere just don’t get what it is
about the man, and there was more incredulity in Sven:
the Coach, the Cash and His Lovers.
This dreadful documentary, with absurd mock-ups of
the England coach engaged in sexual activities, just
didn’t know what it was and also did not come close to
revealing anything we did not already know.
But I’ll tell you why he is so attractive, and it
has nothing to do with his money. A man is never more
appealing than when he is working, and the intensity
Sven brings to his job, combined with his methodical
nature, are attractive qualities. Now I bet he’s a man
who would know where to find a plumber in a crisis.

Mail on Sunday 4th June
X Factor: Battle of the Stars (ITV1, daily) *****
X-tra Factor (ITV2, daily) ****
Private Parts: The Trouble with My Penis (Five,
Monday) *
One Life: Gail Porter Laid Bare (BBC1, Wednesday)
Spiral (BBC4, Sunday) ****
The Line of Beauty (BBc2, Wednesday) **

There is one word which, bunged into the title of any
television programme these days, is guaranteed to up
the ratings. Celebrity. Celebrity Wife Swap, Celebrity
Stars in Their Eyes, Celebrity Big Brother, Celebrity
Love Island (well, maybe that one was an exception) –
we cannot get enough of fame. Never mind that the
celebs on offer are increasingly drawn from D lists
downwards, any format is given an instant lift by
faces already known to us in other guises.
This week saw what will doubtless be the first of
many X-Factor shows, featuring celebrities performing
their wares in front of the show’s regular judges,
Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and Sharon Osborne. Battle
of the Stars brought together celebrities from the
worlds of showbiz, cookery, rugby and modelling to
raise money for charity and show the world (with just
a couple of exceptions) why they would be well advised
not to give up their day jobs.
This is exactly the kind of all-singing,
all-dancing show that ITV does so well, and, hot on
the heels of Soccer Aid, gave us another week when
staying in was preferable to going out (the final is
tomorrow night, when normal life as we know it can
resume once more).
“If you have fun,” advised Cowell, “the audience
will like you.” How right he was. Nutritionist Gillian
McKeith, whom you wouldn’t want to meet on a light
night, let alone a dark one, began by whingeing about
Louis being her mentor and, after narrowly missing
being thrown off in show one, departed in the second.
Four chefs – Jean-Christophe Novelli, Aldo Zilli,
Ross Burden and Paul Rankin – were in Simon’s Groups
category and, despite the fact that they sang like men
in the first death throes of strangulation, were a
huge hit. Heck, they were bad, but then so were most
of the others.
Rugby star Matt Stevens, however, was a revelation,
being both a very talented singer and having a
charming stage presence. DJ Chris Moyles could not
sing, but was incredibly funny and gave the
competition his all.
The big talking point, however, has been the feud
between the beautiful, charismatic Sharon and Rebecca
Loos (who appeared to have come dressed as a vampire
on the first night), who partnered James Hewitt, both
of whom lay claim to the title celebrity without ever
having done anything to deserve it. “A very
appropriate song,” said Sharon, following the pair’s
appalling rendition of Addicted to Love. “You both
have so much in common and it shows on stage.” She
recommended that Rebecca wear knickers the following
night, as it might help her voice. She added that
there was a “bad vibe” that was coming from her and
that the only charity she was doing the competition
for was her own.
Wow. This was great stuff, and there was more to
come. This wasn’t a feud between star and judge, but
between homewrecker and homemaker. The talentless
Loos, who sold her story about her alleged affair with
David Beckham, is an unpopular figure who, with Hewitt
(who sold his story about his relationship with the
late Princess of Wales) was booed the entire week. The
mystery is that she still cannot see what she has done
wrong. Thank goodness, then, for the wonderful Sharon,
whose contempt shone through with just one gaze. Let’s
hope that Victoria Beckham spent the week with the
words “revenge”, “dish” and “cold” ringing in her
The X-tra factor, presented by the amiable and
clever Ben Shephard provides an entertaining follow-up
to each night’s show, and on Wednesday featured a
“body language expert” who nevertheless referred to a
“crutch” rather than a “crotch” several times. This
was in relation to the chefs who, she said, were
behaving in a typically Alpha Male manner. There was
an even more in-depth analysis on the Sharon/Rebecca
feud, as members of the public commented on which
woman their money would be on, were they to go into
full-on battle.
Sadly, this kind of publicity simply feeds Loos’s
already inflated ego. It is depressing that we live in
times which rocket the likes of her to stardom, and
inviting her to participate in high profile shows
simply reinforces her belief that she is an innocent
victim; in reality, it makes a virtue out of evil, and
television’s celebratory collusion in this process
makes for uncomfortable viewing.
Private Parts: The Trouble with My Penis was even
more uncomfortable viewing and told a number of
stories relating to the organ described as being
“central to a man’s sense of self.” If you had been
expecting tales of rampant sex, you were to be
disappointed; these were tales of woe, both physical
and psychological, and left you knowing more about the
difficulties of carrying around said organ than you
ever wished to know.
The title of the programme should have been an
audience grabber, but it was hard to see, beyond the
initial titillation factor, exactly what the point of
it was. It did not educate, inform or entertain, and
the material was presented in such a drab, boring
manner, it was hard to empathise with any of the
subjects being interviewed. The trouble with their
penises was the least of their problems.
There was a humbling lesson to be learned about the
ephemeral nature of showbusiness in One Life: Gail
Porter Laid Bare. In the summer of last year, the
one-time blonde, glamorous model and presenter, lost
her hair. With no eyebrows or eyelashes either, she
set about rebuilding her life as a bald person, and
this moving documentary followed her story as she
sought treatment and psychologically tried to come to
terms with her condition.
After rejecting wigs, she concluded that her
self-confidence came from within and had nothing to do
with what she looked like. What began as an illness,
she now regards as a test. It is no longer, she said,
about alopoecia, but about being happy and getting
used to the situation. Good luck to her.
If you can make it through the subtitles, the
French law and order style drama, Spiral, is worth a
look. Set in Paris, its location alone lends it a
charm that is denied, say, in the glum New Street Law,
which might as well take place in a sewer, for all the
atmosphere it engenders.
The Line of Beauty dragged to its end, with the
lovely Leo (the brilliant Don Gilet) dying of Aids and
Nick still wittering on about nothing in particular
and being extremely tedious. But then all lines of
beauty are in the eye of the beholder. Just ask David
Beckham on his next visit to Specs R Us.

Mail on Sunday 28th May
Soccer Aid (ITV1, Monday-Saturday) *****

David Beckham: a Footballers’ Story (ITV1, Tuesday) ****

Big Brother (C4, E4, daily) ***

Big Brother’s Big Brain (C4, Monday) ****

Prison Break (Five, Monday) ****

House (Five, Thursday) *****

Desperate Housewives (C4, Wednesday) ***

Dead Ringers (BBC2, Monday) ****

Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns (BBC4, Thursday) ***

Grumpy Old Women (BBC2, Friday) **

The British Soap Awards (ITV1, Wednesday) ***

My hatred of soccer began at an early age, when I was in junior school in the late Sixties. The weekly BBC radio show Singing Together held a competition, in which pupils voted for their favourite song, one of which we learned each week. The only two I remember were Football Crazy and Mango Walk, in the same line-up.

I liked Mango Walk, which featured a character called Joe, who was being warned about stealing the mango peppers. The other was about a lad called Paul, who was so football crazy, the sport had “taken away the little bit of sense he had.” Football Crazy walked it. I was the only person who voted for Mango Walk in my class; probably in the whole country.

The song was sung by Four Poofs and a Piano just over a week ago on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, as a prelude to introducing Terry Venables and Robbie Williams, who this week launched Soccer Aid. Both men are particular favourites of mine: the former, because he has always been so charming and funny each time I have met him; the latter, also for those reasons, but also because he is the best live performer and greatest singing star of his generation. Three months after I saw him perform at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, I was still trembling.

Soccer Aid was a brilliant idea, and brilliantly executed by ITV. The original idea, penned by Williams and his best mate, Jonathan Wilkes, pitted the skills of a celebrity soccer team (which included some ex-professionals) representing England, against The Rest of the World team, made up exclusively of ex-soccer players. Venables was in charge of England, with Williams as captain; Ruud Gullit was handling TROTW team, with Gordon Ramsay as captain.

It was a week of fantastic entertainment, building up to yesterday’s big game at Old Trafford. Venables’ argument with Gullit on day one during the studio launch, over the latter’s team’s alleged cheating was hilarious; and the men’s competitiveness (even though it was “just a bit of fun” and the proceeds go to UNICEF), a veritable ballpark of testosterone.

The casting was perfect. Venables and Williams bounced off each other wonderfully, and Ant and Dec launched it all with their inimitable natural ease and sense of fun.

Apart from Sara Cox, who was in danger of hyperventilating, as directions were clearly being screeched in her ear, Soccer Aid: Extra Time filled us in on the gaps, and this extraordinary week, both in charity and broadcasting terms, was a joy. I’ve even forgiven Singing Together for Football Crazy; not least, because I now think I am.

There was more football (Let’s be honest, we’re stuck with it for weeks, so if you can’t beat ‘em . . . ) in David Beckham: a Footballer’s Story, presented by Sky Sports’ Soccer AM presenter, Tim Lovejoy.

It is a remarkable story of an extraordinary footballing genius, who also revealed himself to be an ordinary sort of guy with a lovely sense of humour. He still adores his work, and his ability to focus during what must have been very trying times during the past few years, is admirable.

Of course, this wasn’t (a bit disappointingly) the full story, as I imagine any questions relating to Beckham’s alleged infidelity and the problems in his personal life were strictly out of bounds. But he is a star and a nice bloke, not to mention extremely fit, in both senses of the word. I’ll be watching him every inch of the way in Germany (you see what I mean? Damn you, Terry and Robbie).

If you are not watching football, you have the freak show that is now Big Brother to keep you occupied throughout the summer. What a shower. Shabhaz, the only one worth watching, walked out following a series of rows. True, he was irritating and a bit mean, but then he had to contend with the bullying from the rest of the group, who, with just two exceptions, were despicable in their onslaughts.

Richard, who, like Shabhaz, is gay, expressed concern that people would tune in and think that all gay men were like Shabhaz – “and they’re not,” he added. No, you’re right: loads of them are over-the-top, self-obsessed bitches like yourself who don’t have a good word to say about anyone. Heck, I’m already hooked.

The spawning of related shows – Big Brother’s Little Brother and, this time round, Big Brother’s Big Brain – ensure that the roller-coaster keeps moving. The latter was particularly enjoyable, apart from “psycho physiologist” Dr Harry Witchel, who made everyone in the house seem almost normal.

I haven’t moved from my set all week, and had every sympathy with Homer Simpson, when Marge was this week encouraging him to go to a country club she wanted to join. “What’s the point in going out?” he said. “We’ll only end up back here anyway.”

My three must-watch programmes from the States continue to keep me indoors, even though I know that my new toy, Sky Plus, will record them for me. There were poker games in Prison Break (no, the inmates are still not out!) and House (where Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie, remains trapped in his own kind of psychological prison), and a plot about shame (still too much of silly Susan) in Desperate Housewives. “We all make mistakes,” said the final voiceover, adding: “There is redemption if we try to learn from those mistakes and grow.”

I love these three shows, but Dead Ringers has picked up on the clichés, quirks and predictable plotlines that characterise them. The week before last, it was House; this week, Desperate Housewives, with each woman summarising the specific role she plays in the show.

The television reference points in Dead Ringers are always spot on (I loved the Dragons’ Den sketches), but why does Jon Culshaw have to hog it so much? Note the plural: Ringers. This is not a one-man circus.

Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns was a mixed bag. Having only recently seen the work of Buster Keaton and become a huge fan, I especially enjoyed the film, The Goat, which Merton showed in full at the end. Paul on tour talking about it paled by comparison.

I was less enamoured by Grumpy Old Women, who set back the clock about 20 years with their whingeing about not being able to use technology.

As for The British Soap Awards: well, it is what it is, and I loved it – apart from Fern Britton and Phillip Scholfield’s appallingly unfunny script. Some of the results were also a bit dodgy, but then as I learned from Singing Together, it’s the majority that holds sway in such matters. A pity. Because they are invariably wrong.

Mail on Sunday 21st May
Funland (BBC2, Sunday) ****
The Moors Murders (ITV1, Sunday, Monday) ****
The Line of Beauty (BBC2, Wednesday) ***
The Prince of Wales: Up Close (ITV1, Tuesday) *****
Boom Bang a Bang: 50 Years of Eurovision (BBC1, Tuesday) **
Jason King (ITV4, Wednesday) ***

The tourism industry for the north-east has a tough job on its hands; it always has had. Economically and socially, it is never up there on one of those ubiquitous lists of the top ten places to live in the UK. Television has done it no favours, either, and things are about to get a whole lot worse for what has always been one of the few pleasure spots: Blackpool.
  Before he took up residence in the Tardis, David Tennant was in the seaside town in BBC1’s Blackpool, as the eccentric lover (dressed uncannily like Dr Who – clearly another economy drive by the BBC) of a married woman. The place had never looked so beautiful: romantic in the night light, and filled with promise and a sense of adventure.
  Funland takes us back there, but when the opening scene is that of what seems to be a gorilla throwing itself off the famous Tower, you know that fun is the last thing on the production’s mind (actually, it was a gorilla suit, but more of that later).
  So, to the inhabitants: Roy Barraclough as the mayor in an ill-fitting wig; a naked man stripped by a hen party and out to avenge the death of his mother; a gay taxidermist trying to have it away with said naked man, surrounded by boxes labelled “hooves”, “eyeballs” and “snouts”. Oh, yes, and a couple with sexual problems, lots of lapdancers, a seedy landlord, a thug . . . It goes on and on, and, in the midst of the darkness, is hilarious.
  “You have beautiful bones,” the creepy taxidermist told his visitor. “I know about bones. I like bones.”
  Writers Simon Ashdown and Jeremy Dyson have filled the script with many such delicious moments for this rich cast of characters. First shown on BBC3, it is a fine example of what can be achieved on a relatively small budget. One question, though: the story, which went in flashback to three and a half days before the gorilla drop, never made sense of that opening scene. How did the suit get from the landlord’s wall to the top of the Tower? Or am I being too literal?
  The vicious killing at the end of Funland was as nothing compared to the killing spree of the notorious Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, whose cold-hearted, ruthless and breathtakingly cruel child murders shocked the nation during the Sixties.
  See No Evil was the story not only of the couple, but the knock-on effects in Myra’s family, in particular Myra’s sister, Maureen (Joanne Froggatt). It was also, in the extraordinary sensitivity with which it dealt with the subject matter, a tribute to the victims and the families whose ordeals are unimaginable.
  Why, though, in such a beautifully understated production, include a scene in which Brady (Sean Harris), watched by Hindley (Maxine Peake), murders 17 year old Edward Evans? Although shot in sudden flashes in subdued lighting, it sat uncomfortably alongside the rest of the production.
  The Line of Beauty was as pretty as See No Evil was ugly. Think Brideshead Revisited meets Notting Hill, with Hugh Grant lookalike Dan Stevens doubtless already winging his way up Richard Curtis’s casting lists.
  If you like the combination of vacuous toffs and gays in English novels, then you will doubtless love this drama. Add a bit of outdoor sex with a black stud (ooh, they think they are so daring, these upper classes) and, at the pen of Andrew Davies, who adapted the three-parter from Alan Hollinghurst’s Man Booker prize-winning novel, and you have a winner. Just so long as you don’t take a machete to the screen because they, and their posh, silly names, are all getting on your nerves so much. Hated Brideshead. Loved Notting Hill. Love Hugh Grant. Don’t like anything that involves the outdoors. Mixed feelings, then.
  The toff of all toffs, Prince Charles, was Up Close with Trevor McDonald, who is not a toff, but manages to sound like one, with a slowness of pronunciation that makes you suspect that there are at least 76, rather than 26, letters in the English alphabet.
  This was a PR job on the Prince of epic proportions, and certainly went some considerable way towards undoing some of the damage caused by his last television interview, in which he confessed his adultery with his now wife, Camilla Parker Bowles.
  Pegging the programme to the 30th anniversary of the Prince’s Trust, it presented the Prince as a man of immense social conscience, humour and charm – and also someone whose Trust has undoubtedly turned around the lives of many young people. His sons, in particular William, came across as assured and likable; similarly, Camilla, whom the Prince clearly adores. It may have been a PR job, but what the heck, it won me over; I really liked the man. He has grown, and continues to grow as a person, and the country is a better place for him sticking his nose in where inept politicians would prefer he didn’t.
  Thirty years of the Prince’s Trust has done a great deal more for Britain than 50 Years of Eurovision. Most of the contestants should have been taken outside after the show and shot. The hair, the clothes, the songs – these were not simply signs of the times, they were signs of alien life forms among us.
  There was a bow-legged Cliff singing Power to All Our Friends, hundreds of foreigners with moustaches crying out for a topiarist, and a pair of guys with possibly the worst lyric in the history of music: “Your breasts are like swallows a’nesting.”
  The footage was hilarious, which was more than could be said for Terry Wogan’s appalling script. His spontaneity during the actual Eurovision Song Contest is always a joy; this was stilted, cringe-makingly unfunny, and worse than any of the featured acts. It made swallows a’nesting sound almost poetic.
  The monstrous moustache of Jason King (Peter Wyngarde) can be seen again in repeats of the eponymously named, hilarious show that delighted us all in the Seventies. The caftan-clad writer, whose hair sort of joined his moustache somewhere around his cheekbones, was, mysteriously, a huge hit with women. “It’s at night that I tend to be more active,” he smirked this week, before becoming embroiled in yet another impossible to believe adventure.
  He was hitting on women throughout, and he never gives up if they seem a little reluctant to respond to his dubious charms. “Offhand,” he said to one beauty, “I can think of four ways of persuading a woman – seduction, extortion, dental deception” (I think that’s what he said, anyway), “and rape.” Now there’s a man just crying out for a show on Blackpool Pier.                       

Mail on Sunday 9th April
That’ll Teach ‘Em (C4, Tuesday) ***

The Apprentice (BBC2, Wednesday) ****

Dalziel and Pascoe (BBC1, Monday, Tuesday) ****

The Family Man (BBC1, Thursday) **

30 Days: Anti-Aging (C4, Tuesday) *

Prison Break (Five, Monday) *****

Gray’s Anatomy (Five, Thursday) ****

House (Five, Thursday) *****;

Television likes bandwagons. Never mind that by the
time an executive gets around to making a decision,
commissioning, and waiting for the production, the
bandwagon has left town and gone looking to park
itself elsewhere.
   We’ve had the business bandwagon, made sexy by The
Apprentice and Dragon’s Den; the healthy food
bandwagon, driven by Jamie’s Dinners; the overcrowded
chef bandwagon, occupying anyone who has ever come
within one foot of a ladle . . . And so on.
   Now, it’s education. The drama Waterloo Road was
rushed into the BBC1 schedule and has just been
commissioned for a second series. The overbearing
Yolande Beckles managed to get herself a series on the
strength of being an “educational entrepreneur”
(heaven help us all when that starts to happen); and,
this week, That’ll Teach ‘Em came to the screen to
give 15 boys and 15 girls the chance to experience a
Fifties style of education.
   Out went their mobile phones, computers and I-pods,
and in came single sex teaching, harsh discipline,
uniforms, short haircuts, stodgy food and dormitories.
The teachers had been trained in the style and
techniques of the time, and off went the assembled
throng to the Charles Darwin School to begin their
four-week experiment.
   The documentary aspect of the series works better
than the experiment. The emphasis on science in the
Fifties, for instance, in a decade when Britain won
eight Nobel prizes, is a far remove from the education
system of today, with under 50% opting to pursue the
   But interesting as it is, watching the young people
interact in a strange environment and missing their
families, it doesn’t work for one simple reason: in
the Fifties, the slightest misdemeanour would have
meant being hauled off to the headmaster’s office and
being whacked several times on the backside with a
cane; no television programme in the world is going to
build that into its experimentation.
   It also doesn’t work because the youngsters know
that this life is not real. In four weeks, they will
return to their i-pods et al, and, while for many it
will have taught them to value what they have, their
long-lasting impression will simply be that Fifties
education was a disgrace.
   It was a world in which conformity rather than
individuality was encouraged; a world of bullying; a
world where creativity went undiscovered.
   Some, I suspect, will be rather damaged by the
experience. It is a tough person who can withstand
comments such as “You’re an idiot, a numbskull, a
fool!” from a teacher commenting on their work, even
one in an unreal situation.
   Brennon Gunston packed his bags and left after
three days. He was deemed “probably a mummy’s boy” for
doing so. I think he just knew he had learned
everything he was going to: namely, that it’s
frightening, lonely and boring being a guinea-pig. Why
stay on the wheel if you don’t have to.
   The young people in That’ll Teach ‘Em certainly
seem a lot smarter than the adults in The Apprentice.
Diminutive Phil Donald, who has a growth hormone
deficiency, performed better in the school debate in
That’ll Teach ‘Em than all of Sir Alan’s potential
employees have managed to do in their series. Their
research skills are appalling (just Google “fresh
lobster” if you need to find out where it’s sold;
don’t waste a day trudging the streets); their
presentation skills worse.
   The biggest mystery is how know-all Saed, who knows
next to nothing, is still in the competition. He has
now been on the winning team three weeks in a row, and
consistently behaves with an arrogance that, given his
lack of people, selling and communication skills, is
grossly ill-founded. They truly are a dreadful shower
and not in the same league as last year’s bunch. They
make great television, but pray that the future of
British business does not lie in any of their hands.
   Talking bull is not necessarily an antidote to
success (ask Saed), as Brian Fairmile (Stephen
Tompkinson) discovered in Dalziel and Pascoe. He was
running a kind of New Age centre called Arcadia, where
he was allegedly treating ex-bank workers his father
had robbed of their pensions.
   Except he was a money-grabbing crook, too (a
wonderful, creepy performance from Tompkinson), and he
was losing guests more quickly than Davina shed
   The story was ridiculous – women wishing to bump
off their husbands had joined an internet chatroom and
met at Arcadia – but made watchable by our two heroes
(played by Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan), managing
to make it not only humorous but almost believable.
   The Family Man came to a close, hitting its message
home with a sledgehammer about the ethical and moral
problems pertaining to embryo selection. Basically,
don’t do it if you don’t want to find yourself digging
up bodies in graveyards in the middle of the night.
Oh, okay, it was a bit more complex than that, but I’d
lost the will to live by this point. “In my
experience,” Dalziel had said, in Guardian Angel,
“nothing in life has been what I thought it would be.”
The Family Man certainly wasn’t.
   In 30 Days, the hugely irritating Morgan Spurlock
introduced people who were going to live somebody
else’s life for 30 days. Thirty four year old Scott
Bridges, for example, wanted to recover the
athleticism and physique of which he had been so proud
when he was younger. He therefore set out on a path of
steroids, growth hormones and exercise in order to do
so. The result? A malfunctioning liver, aggression,
lowered sperm count. You don’t say. Had this series
been made in the UK by, say, Endemol or RDF, you know
it would have been terrific; in Morgan’s hands, it was
a waste of space. What on earth was Channel 4
   The brilliantly branded Five is easily now the
most-watched channel in my house, and I greet the
postman with a kiss when Prison Break and House
arrive. This week, they were joined by the medical
drama Gray’s Anatomy, which, if you can endure the
hugely irritating music, is just as compulsive as its
   The suspense of Prison Break is almost unbearable,
especially now that Michael Scofield(Wentworth Miller) has calculated that they are one too many to escape successfully. Gray’s
Anatomy is a sharp, often painful learning curve for
the new interns, but not without its moments of
humour. As for Hugh Laurie in House: he and it are the
best things on television. This week, he settled an
old college grudge by proving an ex-colleague wrong.
That’s what you get when you call people idiots,
numbskulls and fools in their youth. They’ll always
come back to get you. That’ll teach ‘em.

Mail on Sunday 2nd April
How to Have a Good Death (BBC2, Thursday) ***

Tony Robinson: Me and My Mum (C4, Monday) ****

Don’t Mess with Miss Beckles (BBC2, Tuesday) *

Waterloo Road (BBC1, Thursday) ****

The Commander (ITV1, Monday) **

The New Paul O’Grady Show (C4, Monday to Friday)When does a kiss stop being a kiss and become a three
course meal? That is the question I have to keep
asking myself as EastEnders’ Naomi sets about Sonia’s
face. Sonia, a relatively happily married woman until
she met the cannibal, is going to need plastic surgery
if this continues, although  I suspect that nothing
short of an armed guard is going to protect the poor
girl’s face.
   There were a lot of kisses everywhere this week.
“Each kiss conveys a meaning all its own,” said the
narrative on Desperate Housewives. “ . . . The trick
is in knowing how to tell the difference.” Gabrielle
(Eva Longoria) kissed Tom in (Doug Savant) in jest and
upset Lynette (Felicity Huffman), while Carlos
(Ricardo Antonio Chavira) misinterpreted a revenge
kiss from Lynette as an incitement to have an affair.
   Over on Footballers’ Wives, Eva (Joan Collins)
planted a sinister, possessive kiss on Paolo (Jay
Rodan), who spent half of La Traviata being devoured
by Tanya (Zoe Lucker).
   And in House, the fallout from the kiss between
Gregory (Hugh Laurie) and Stacy resulted in him
ending their relationship for good.
   The kisses of farewell rather than passion
dominated two documentaries that dealt with the
subject of dying and, in particular, our inability to
face up to life’s great inevitability.
   How to Have a Good Death was presented by Esther
Rantzen, who, in recent years, has lost her father,
mother and husband. Taking her cue from a survey, she
discovered that what people want most from death is,
in order of priority, being with loved ones, pain
relief, dignity, privacy and peace, and a discussion
of their medical needs. Personally, I’d add a large
bag of Maltesers to the mix.
   Stanley Edwards was dying of prostate cancer when
the BBC started filming, and had agreed to let the
crew follow him “on his final journey.” Stanley
bemoaned the lack of dignity in having young female
nurses attend his most personal needs, and it was hard
to see how an accompanying camera crew was going to
restore it.
   Nothing is sacred in the world of television, and
watching people die on camera is now commonplace. But
does it really help? Despite the percentages thrown up
by the survey (82% of terminal cancer patients are
happy with their treatment, for instance), there was
still an air of voyeurism to the programme that made
for uncomfortable viewing. Did Stanley have a “good
death”, asked Esther at the end. Good grief. It’s like
asking if Goebels was a nicer war criminal than
   At least Stanley had a say in the proceedings,
which is more than could be said for Tony Robinson’s
mother in Me and My Mum. She was dying from a
degenerative brain disorder, but, said Robinson, this
was not a film about her death, but about care of the
   Morally, I am ill at ease with anyone being filmed
when they are not in an emotional or mental state to
decide whether they want to appear, let alone have any
control over how they come across. Robinson’s honesty,
however, and his genuine frustration at the ineptitude
of government to make care of the elderly a priority,
made this a less voyeuristic film. Desperately moving
as Stanley’s story was, it is always hard to take
Esther seriously; the more earnest she tries to sound,
the more you expect a quip at the end of a sentence.
When you see and hear Esther, you cannot help but
think That’s Life.
   If you thought the end of the road was hard, Don’t
Mess with Miss Beckles went a long way towards putting
you off the whole damned journey. “Nothing comes easy,
yeah?” said this “self-made, educational
entrepreneur”. “It’s not a lottery ticket, life,” she
   I have no idea how one gets to be an educational
entrepreneur, nor where one finds the waste of space
required to house such a person; and I was no clearer
at the end of this first of three programmes.
   Yolande was spending a term at Fortismere School in
north London, where she was devoting her energies to
two boys, Luke (16) and Josh (15). Although bright,
they were, like most boys of their age,
underperforming in the classroom, and Yolande’s job
was to instil some discipline borne of her
old-fashioned values.
   “We’re gonna break him,” she said, to Luke’s
mother. Well, guess what; she didn’t. Luke continued
to behave like a brat, and both boys showed just a
slight improvement in their classwork. They reckoned
the experience had helped them, though. As Josh gulped
from his pint, and Luke sat smoking, I doubted it.
   There were, at last, some improvements in classwork
in Waterloo Road, although largely because Steph
(Denise Welch) was favourably altering her pupils’
French coursework in order to endear herself more to
headteacher Jack (Jason Merrells).
   Welch’s character brings a great deal of humour to
the harsh world of education in this flailing northern
school, and it is welcome relief from the drippy Lorna
(Camilla Power) and Tom (Jason Done). Honestly, I
really don’t care whether they stay together, do/don’t
have a baby, or ever get to shed their gormless
expressions. Just hurry up and get Kim (Angela
Griffin) and Andrew (Jamie Glover) in the sack. Let’s
get some real education.
   There was not enough nookie in The Commander,
either. Goodness knows why, as Commander Clare Blake
(Amanda Burton) has precious little else to do. The
story centred on the murder of her god-daughter, but
it wasn’t all bad news, for enter Van Hauten (Yorick
Van Wageningen), a hunky Dutch copper in urgent need
of a visit to the dentist.
   Naturally, Clare allowed him to stay with her while
she worked out whether she could be bothered to speak.
Part two is next week and, quite frankly, isn’t worth
the wait. No plot, no nookie. Alas, poor Yorick; she
could have known him.
   The fabulous Paul O’Grady returned to our screens
in The New Paul O’Grady Show on Channel 4, while ITV1,
in a fit of pique following his departure, showed
re-runs of his shows in the same time slot. Grow up,
   There is no one to touch O’Grady for his quickness
of wit, charm and ability to communicate with people
of all ages. His skill in coping with what is now a
live show (as opposed to “as live” on ITV1) is equally
admirable. We were also treated, in the first show, to
a very funny appearance by EastEnders and Ultimate
Force star and sex god, Ross Kemp. In a week packed
with so many kisses, a girl could but dream.

Mail on Sunday 26th March 2006
House (Five, Thursday) *****

The Family Man (BBC1, Thursday) ****

The Best Man (ITV1, Monday, Tuesday) ***

Agatha Christie’s Poirot (ITV1, Sunday) ****

Taggart (ITV1, Wednesday) ***

Comedy Connections (BBC1, Monday) **

Footballers’ Wives (ITV1, Thursday) *****

The Chatterley Affair (BBC4, Monday) *****

The American stand-up comedian Rita Rudner had a joke
children sitting in front of her on aeroplanes. After
they bobbed up for the hundredth time, with their
inexhaustible energy for playing Peek-a-boo, she would
yell: “Look! It’s always going to be me!”
   There was a great moment in House this week, when
House (Hugh Laurie), in an airport terminal, was
subjected to a young boy throwing a ball against his
seat. Three scenes later, and House was nursing the
ball. The brilliance lay in our not being shown the
confrontation that must inevitably have taken place
for the irascible doctor to conquer the child’s spoil.
   Children are irritating. They are also delightful,
fun and charming, but mostly irritating. It is a
salutory lesson to remember when embarking on trying
to litter the world with small people, yet one which
people rarely learn. Babies are gorgeous, but they
grow into monsters. Then they grow into bigger
   None of this bothers the four couples attempting to
make babies in The Family Man. It stars Trevor Eve
(beardless again, thank goodness) as fertility doctor
Patrick Stowe, who loves a job that entails giving
couples “the thing they most want in life” (Actually,
I thought that was having their kids grow old and
leave home, but never mind). “Everybody should have
babies!” he enthused, at a party to celebrate his
2,000th success story.
   Now, I don’t mind sex on television; in fact, there
is very little that makes me squeamish. But when it
comes to eggs, I draw a blank. Growing eggs, borrowing
eggs, transplanting eggs - the fertilisation process
is a messy one; and when it always involves, on
television, a woman lying on her back with her legs
spreadeagled under a sheet, like a makeshift
Glastonbury tent, I do nothing but shudder.
   Yes, yes, I know it is sad when desperate couples
cannot conceive, but lines such as Patrick’s “This is
Pauline, our egg donor co-ordinator” make me go all
queazy and I am again unable to see the good for the
   Tony Marchant’s script is a strange mixture of pure
soap and pure rhetoric. Patrick is masterminding a new
technique called Pre-implementation Genetic Screening
(PGS), which involves making decisions about which
embryos should be planted in the womb - resulting in
one in ten being discarded and therefore raising major
ethical questions.
   The four couples are at various stages of different
conception processes, and, like all successful people
on TV, Patrick’s home life has suffered as a result of
his dedication to work. His children, Chloe (Flora
Spencer-Longhurst) and Calum (Dom Herd), who is a bit
of an egg-chaser himself (“I’m not promiscuous, I’m
popular”) have now left home, after hearing one too
many of their father’s egg-count updates. Maybe they
just wanted some scrambled for a change.
   There was good advice for anyone with an obsession
in The Best Man: “Sometimes, the things we hold on to,
for whatever reason, aren’t the best thing for us,”
said the psychiatrist treating Michael (Richard
   In his case, he was holding on to an unhealthy
relationship with childhood friend and possible
partner in crime, Peter (Toby Stephens). Recalling a
childhood trauma, he was having trouble moving on with
his life, until he met Kate (Keeley Hawes) at a
psychiatric unit. When they married, Peter’s jealousy
kicked in, and with the arrival of the sinister
ex-cop, Miller (George Irving) on the scene, their
lives started to crumble once more.
   As with all ITV’s “psychological thrillers”, it was
predictable nonsense, but fantastically well carried
by the wonderful cast. Irving, in particular, is a
high class act that is always a welcome addition to
any story, and what the plot lacked in subtlety it
more than made up for in the central performances.
   Crime remains central to ITV’s drama schedule, and
Poirot returned with another Agatha Christie story
(How many damned books did the woman write?) featuring
the murder of “one of the richest men in London”, a
Syrian by the name of Shaitana (Alexander Siddiq).
   No one is ever simply average in Poirot. This story
also featured “the famous Mrs Oliver” (Zoe Wanamaker),
who, apart from being a novelist, reckoned that “You
can never trust the Welsh.”
   Poirot (David Suchet) went about it all in his
usual meticulous way, but it seems to me that recent
Christie adaptations (including Miss Marple) are being
more free with the racism and homophobia of the time,
and are less enetrtaining and enjoyable as a result.
   Taggart returned with another largely
incomprehensible story about feuding fairground
workers and locals (too many names, too much potted
history about family rivalries), but it remained as
watchable as ever. A girl died, then another couple of
people died, then someone got caught. Oh yes, and the
lovely Stuart (Colin McCredie) got stabbed. That’s all
you need to know, really.
   There were some laughs in another heavy week, in
Comedy Connections,  a series that holds no interest
unless you happen to be a fan of the show to which
each programme dedicates itself.
   This week’s offering was the popular 90s show, Drop
the Dead Donkey, which both won awards and made stars
of actors who are now among the country’s biggest
names (Stephen Tompkinson, Neil Pearson).
   The show is as topical today as it was then, but
the intrusive and excessive arrows and graphics Comedy
Connections employs to illustrate TV family trees
detracts from the central subject. The proof of the
pudding is in the eating; how executives got it there
is only mildly interesting.
   For real comedy, you had to turn to Footballers’
Wives, where Joan Collins turned up as Eva De Wolffe,
lover of young Paolo Bardosa (Jay Rodan), who is
Earl’s Park’s latest signing.
   What she hadn’t bargained for was his meeting the
glamorous Tanya on the plane, a woman so incredible
she managed to change her entire outfit, plus style a
complicated hairdo, just as the plane was coming in to
land - and all from a ten inch square vanity box.
Naturally, she was straight in for the kill on young
Paolo, and there is the promise of more hilarity to
come, as rivalry between Tanya and her love rival hots
   The temperature was even hotter in The Chatterley
Affair, the story of the Penguin Books trial in 1960
(hilarious, in retrospect), which set out to discredit
D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover on grounds of
   The raunchy fictional elements revealed that writer
Andrew Davies, unlike The Family Man’s Patrick Stowe,
thinks differently about couples and “the thing they
most want in life.” In his case, it’s getting yer kit
off. Personally, I’m on his side. 

Mail on Sunday 19th March 2006
Six Nations Grandstand (BBC1, Sunday) *****

Mayo (BBC1, Sunday) ***

Midsomer Murders (ITV1, Sunday) *****

A Good Murder (ITV1, Sunday, Monday) ***

Dalziel and Pascoe (BBC1, Monday, Tuesday) ****

Criminal Minds (Living TV, Friday) **

CSI (Five, Tuesday) *****

Footballers’ Wives (ITV1, Thursday) ****

Desperate Housewives (C4, Wednesday) *****

A Place in the Sun (C4, Thursday) *****


No matter how bad things get at the moment, some of us
still have that ever-reliable comfort zone: “At least
England are losing in the rugby.”
   True, my home team, Wales, are nothing to write
home about, but I’m really enjoying the BBC’s
coverage. Eddie Butler was hilarious during the
France/England game, encouraging fellow commentator
Brian Moore to lighten up and try to enjoy it a bit
more. And in the studio, the lovely Jeremy Guscott was
looking very cute wrapped up in his scarf on a
freezing Paris day. His analysis was terrific, too.
   But these were the only high points in a week in
which the populations of both America and the UK
appeared to be under siege from every kind of killer
known to man. Country folk, city folk, coppers, old
ladies, young men, footballers – all were under
sentence of death; indeed, if you were human, the
chances of your surviving the week were minimal.
   There were also some new coppers on the street to
deal with the situation. The brilliant impressionist
Alistair McGowan arrived as DI Gil Mayo in, wouldn’t
you know it, Mayo, and he was joined by DS Alex Jones
(Jessica Oyelowo), who spent more time at the
hairdresser’s than at the police station.
   When she first arrived, she looked almost normal,
albeit a little overdressed for a murder scene. On her
second appearance, her hair had risen about three feet
in the air, as if its owner had been subjected to a
very severe shock and not had a hairbrush to hand to
tame her locks into the recovery position.
   The next look was a very straight one that
nevertheless consumed her head like a honey monster
embracing a very large pot of Gale’s. The “additional
dialogue” by Alistair McGowan we learned of in the
credits did not, alas, include the phrase “What the
hell have you come as now!”
   This was all very distracting from the plot,
although to be fair, a passing fly would have been
diversion enough. McGowan is amusing as the
linguistically obsessive detective, and there is a bit
of light-hearted relief in the form of Welsh sidekick
DC Martin Kite (Huw Rhys); but it’s back to the
drawing board on the plot. And the bird.
   Rugby aside, the Welsh are currently getting a good
airing on TV: Kite in Mayo, and the excellent Jason
Hughes as DC Ben Jones in Midsomer Murders. There are
inevitable comparisons between the two shows, because
both are trying to capture the peaktime Sunday night
audience that doesn’t want to have to work too hard
for its entertainment. But where Midsomer Murders
continues to send itself up (John Nettles’ Barnaby is
hilariously tongue-in-cheek), Mayo is not plot-driven
enough to be considered a good detective yarn, and not
ironic enough to carry what it perceives to be the
quirkier elements.
   Midsomer Murders was another joy, which also
involved Barnaby considering a move to another village
(probably because there is no one left alive in
Midsomer). Joyce (Jane Wymark) was given a major
storyline in which she got to make a honey balsamic
dressing. Phew. She had to take a nap afterwards.
   I must have had three birthdays during the course
of A Good Murder. Slow? One hundred and eighty minutes
of the stuff. I could have seen England lose two games
and had 20 minutes gloating in the time it took to
make it through to the end.
   It starred Juliet Aubrey as Kay, a woman with just
one gormless expression, no personality, and yet
stupid enough to believe that the gorgeous Niko (Mirek
Simunek) would fancy her.
   They met in the National Gallery, where she was
sketching Cupid and he was trying to escape some dodgy
Russians (is there ever any other kind in TV drama),
to whom he owed some money.
   To cut a very long story short, they got together,
she fell for him, and he engineered a scam to get her
vile mother Phyllis (Anna Massey) to sign away her
house. Along the way, though, Niko fell in love with
Kay and stopped the scam – just before the Russians
delivered the fatal stab wound which killed him. Well,
that’s romance for you.
   Kay’s severance from her domineering mother, along
with the beautiful, charismatic Simunek, were enough
to sustain interest outside the central plot. The
nature of duty and love, and one’s obligations to
others, but also to ourselves and our own happiness,
were also movingly explored, as Kay grew quietly, but
surely, in emotional stature. It took a bonking
Russian to get her there, but heck, whatever works, I
   Everyone who has ever appeared in a soap seemed to
turn up in Dalziel and Pascoe. There was Coronation
Street’s Matt , who is currently in a battle to gain
access to his son Joshua; Emmerdale’s Chastity;
Hollyoaks’ Izzy . . . Matt (Stephen Beckett) was
murdered by Chastity (Emma Atkins), and Izzy (Elize du
Toit) still had that silly accent that made her sound
as if she was breaking in a new set of teeth.
   Thank goodness, amid all the nonsense, for the dour
Dalziel (Warren Clarke) and reliable sidekick Pascoe
(Colin Buchanan). The show may be old-fashioned
alongside its American counterparts, but some
detective duos are built to last.
   Criminal Minds is another American import starring
Mandy Patinkin, of Chicago Hope fame. It has all the
usual ingredients – lots of shots of buildings, lots
of staring at names and faces on a board, and lots of
frowning by the brilliant guy heading the murder
investigation, who does nothing but gets his man by a
process of psychological deduction.
   Despite Patinkin, it’s not in the same league as
CSI, which this week investigated the death of an
officer and a member of the Hispanic community,
following a street shoot-out. As officers were
questioned in scenes that were gripping in their
stillness, Curtis (Louise Lombard) has to face up to
the possibility that she might have accidentally
killed her colleague. Part two of this terrific
two-parter is on Tuesday.
   The fallout from Conrad’s death continues to cause
much merriment in Footballers’ Wives, where Amber
(Laila Rouass), not a moment too soon, has been
confined to a psychiatric institution, and Tanya (Zoe
Lucker), has thankfully, returned.
   The consistently watchable Desperate Housewives saw
another death, too, when Bree (Marcia Cross) left
psycho George (Roger Bart) to die after he had taken
an overdose.
   Amid all this rigor mortis, it was good to welcome
back the light and fluffy A Place in the Sun, in which
firefighter Nick and his partner Manarzza were looking
to buy in Montenegro, which has a very low crime rate.
Thank heavens somewhere did this week.       

Mail on Sunday 12th March 2006
Waterloo Road (BBC1, Thursday) ****

The Road to Guantanamo (C4, Thursday) *****

Prison Break (Five, Monday) ***

Hustle (BBC1, Friday) ****

Rebus (ITV, Monday) ***

House (Five, Thursday) *****

CSI (Five, Tuesday) ****

Midsomer Murders (ITV, Sunday) *****


Thirty years is a long time in education. The most
deviant thing I ever did was to drink a can of Breaker
(malt liquor - whatever happened to it?) before the
annual school dance. When the Radio 1 Roadshow came to
town, some girls used to skip school to attend it, and
they were practically on a par with criminals on Death
Row. The worst admonishment I ever received was when I
sneezed in Geography. Maybe the teachers were just
tougher in Wales.
   Channel 4’s Teachers revealed how much things have
changed (as if walking down your average street were
not enough), and BBC1’s Waterloo Road is another
damning indictment of the British education system.
   Alcohol, drugs, joy-riding, lack of discipline,
thuggery - this is the everyday stuff of the run-down,
northern comprehensive school that is the focus of
this new drama, described by Radio Times as “gritty”.
   Now, we know what gritty means in television terms.
It’s the word people use when standing back from a
world they have no desire to inhabit: a word to
describe a working class culture the middle classes
consider distasteful, ugly and immoral (Shameless is
another “gritty” drama). It is a way of establishing a
distance between the world we like to believe we live
in, and the reality.
   The real world of education, with its limited
resources, social problems and deprived young people,
is a dreadful place, and the fiction of Waterloo Road
is nevertheless all too believable. It opened with the
headmaster howling from the rooftops, suffering the
throes of a mental breakdown, and it wasn’t hard to
see why.
   His deputy, Jack (Jason Merrells), took over the
reins, and was joined by Andrew Treneman (Jamie
Glover), who had come from a nearby posh school and
knew nothing about the realities of northern life.
   He is, of course, a stereotype (idealistic, too
strict, wet behind the ears etc. etc.), but then so is
almost everyone else. Kim Campbell (Angela Griffin)
managed to instil in Andrew a sense of what
comprehensive education should be about, and he
learned many salutory lessons in his first week. If
only the pupils were that malleable.
   The stereotyping slightly gets in the way of the
drama, which, coming from the stable of Footballers’
Wives and Bad Girls, is everything you would expect:
cleverly woven plots, strong, and (the occasional
speechifying aside), believable dialogue. And just in
case all that boring education stuff might get you
down, there is a whole load of emotional stuff about
the unrequited love between Izzie (Jill Halfpenny) and
Tom (Jason Done). Grit diluted with a bit of soap:
it’s worked before and it will again.
   I’m not sure whether being a teacher in Waterloo
Road is worse than being a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay;
there certainly seems to be the same level of
violence. At least in Waterloo Road, though, the
teachers can walk free; there was no such redemption
for the three British men from the west Midlands,
wrongly held in the US detention centre Camp Delta in
The Road to Guantanamo Bay.
   In 2002 they travelled to Pakistan for a wedding
and, after a trip to Afghanistan, found themselves
captured under suspicion of having links to the
Taliban. The drama, interspersed with real life
interviews with the three men (a fourth was killed
when the convoy vehicle in which he was travelling was
bombed), was a harrowing tale of injustice; it was
also one about the strength of human nature. The lack
of bitterness the men feel, and their desire and
ability to move on with their lives after their
horrific ordeal, is astonishing; the Americans’
refusal ever to admit that they were wrong, less so.
   Unlike the Tipton three, who bravely saw out their
detention, the detainees in Prison Break are still
intent on escape. To be honest, I’d have given up by
now and just eaten my morning gruel and seen out my
   But no. Not Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller),
who manages to dig through walls, climb pipes, shimmy
roofs, rescue maidens, and be back in his cell before
anyone notices he hasn’t been seen for hours.
   I love Prison Break. I don’t believe a word of it,
but Miller’s intense performance is hugely compelling.
This week’s riot was irritatingly noisy, however, and
the incessant music drowned out many characters.
   Pulling the wool over people’s eyes is also central
to the lives of Mickey’s (Adrian Lester) team in
Hustle, returning for a third series. The first
episode of this terrific series had the added bonus of
Mel Smith, who played the baddie, Benny Frazier, with
naturalistic ease. Being known primarily for his
comedy, it’s easy to forget just how good an actor
Smith is, and it made you wonder why on earth he isn’t
more prominent on our screens.
   For once, however, I had worked out the ending,
which wasn’t quite as slick as previous storylines.
Each episode normally pulls a veritable Shetland
sweater of wool over my eyes; this one didn’t even
manage the hem.
   The “gritty” Rebus (Radio Times, again) returned
with a story set on an Edinburgh council estate, and
heck, was it depressing. Chez Guantanamo, as Danny
McLeese’s (Paul McCole) place might have been called,
was on the roof; up the road was the Whitemire
detainee centre, which was excatly what it said on the
   Ken Stott, who plays Rebus, is a wonderful actor,
and the drama is well made. But please: sweep up the
grit once in a while.
   The ever reliable House gets better and better,
with Hugh Laurie continuing to turn in an incredible
performance as the irascible but brilliant doctor.
   This week’s episode was a beautifully layered
story, using flashbacks, in which we gradually learned
a little more information that would affect the
outcome of a legal investigation.
   We learned a little too much information in Five’s
other reliable import, CSI. Maggots, blowflies,
embryos - it was all rather graphic, but gave Gil
(William L. Petersen) his moment in court, when he
gave evidence against a dodgy scientist. I didn’t
understand a word of it.
   Midsomer Murders was another hilarious,
fantastically well made pantomime that appeared,
however, to have hit a technical problem. What on
earth was that bird that went
“WHARRRRRRRRRGGGHHHHHHH!” throughout the entire two
hours? I can only imagine that when they went to rekke
the quiet country estate, the bird (was it a macaw?)
hadn’t hatched, and your heart could only weep for the
sound technician who had to contend with it. All those
guns on the set and nobody shot the damned thing.
   Only a teacher at Waterloo Road manages to make
that racket in the space of a couple of hours. 

Mail on Sunday 5th March 2006
Love Lies Bleeding (ITV1, Monday, Tuesday) ***
Midsomer Murders (ITV1, Sunday) *****
Life on Mars (BBC1, Monday) *****
No Angels (C4, Wednesday) *
ER (C4, Monday) **
Davina (BBC1, Wednesday) *
Thin Ice (BBC2, Tuesday) *****
Desperate Housewives (C4, Wednesday) *****

Entering the Friends Reunited website after midnight
is ill advised. The temptation to e-mail the people
who made your life hell at school is too great to
resist when you are the wrong side of a bottle of
Rioja. Invariably, they are mystified (a) by your
memory, and (b) the fact that you still give a damn.
   I’m not sure that Carys writing “Well done Frazier”
on the blackboard, after the boxer beat my favourite,
Muhammed Ali, should have had quite such a
long-lasting effect, and neither was she when I
tracked her down in Italy. But old grudges run deep.
   It can’t be often that they turn people into
psychopaths, but that was what happened to DCI Stuart
Milburn (Hugo Speer) in Love Lies Bleeding. He tracked
down old schoolfriend Mark Terry (Martin Kemp), who
was a multi-millionaire with very bad taste in hair
dyes (a sort of You’ve Been Tangoed Mixed With Old
Spuds). It transpired that Mark had been put on the
road to good fortune after being left a fantastic
house by the wife of a teacher the boys had
accidentally killed. Stuart, who had been called “a
waste of skin” by the teacher, was branded a murderer
and sent away, while Mark flourished.
   Now, instead to finding Mark and beating him up, as
any normal man would have done, Stuart hatched a plan:
to get Mark framed for a murder he didn’t commit. For
this, he required Mark’s wife, Zara (Claire Goose),
who was grieving for the loss of their cot death son,
to fake her own death.
   I don’t know what she was drinking in the bar on
the night Stuart persuaded her to do this, but it
should be taken off the market pronto. He also had to
rely on a whole string of events relating to guns,
brothels and lawyers, for his dream to come true, and
it was ludicrous.
   When Mark was arrested for murder, Zara could have
gone straight to the police and told them all; but no.
She preferred to wait until a time when it was
unlikely anyone would listen, and her husband was on
the run in a bedsit where the apparently very nosy
neighbour failed to recognise the alleged killer.
   Anyway, it all ended happily – well, for Mark and
Zara, who were pretty much the only people who
survived at the gruesome hands of the Friends
Disunited monster. For all its ludicrousness, Love
Lies Bleeding was very watchable, not least for the
terrific cast. I was a little mystified by the house,
though. How could two-bit teacher in a village school
ever manage to afford such a residence?
   It’s the houses rather than killings that bother me
in Midsomer Murders, too. This week’s great excitement
was Oak Apple Week, into which children’s entertainer
John Starkey (David Bamber) threw himself with even
more gusto than Joyce Barnaby (Jane Wymark) throws
into her cake mixes. But with so little work, how did
he and his wife acquire such a mansion? Likewise, the
Slade family, whose only achievement was that daughter
Bella had once been crowned Oak Apple Queen.
   Here was another case of harboured grudges. Bella,
it turned out, had died in childbirth, and it was only
now, eight years on, that the Queen role was being
resurrected. Bella’s boyfriend, Rob (Tom Bennett) was
having none of it and set about bumping off anyone who
had ever breathed the same air as his beloved. Absurd,
all of it. But I love Tom (John Nettles), his sidekick
Ben (Jason Hughes), the music, the fact that it never
rains, and that Joyce lives her life in a state
marginally less exciting than rigor mortis.
   “I find this hard to believe,” said the local GP,
Dr Wellow (Simon Callow). You and me both, but I’ve
ceased caring.
   Coppers were everywhere again this week, and as
Life on Mars drew to its close, it is welcome news
that series two of this inspired formula is already in
   Sam (John Simm) did not make it back to the
present, but he discovered the ugly reason why his
father left home, and thought this might have been why
he had been sent back to 1973 in the first place.
   As the series developed, however, making it back
became less relevant, as Sam, with the brilliant
Philip Glenister as his boss Gene, locked swords over
their different policing methods. Apart from the
occasional lapse into sentimentality, the eight-parter
easily sustained the central joke, and the added
levels of social comment and poignancy ensured that
this was always more than a one-trick pony.
   The nurses were back in No Angels, drinking too
much and having precious little regard for their
patients. Anji (Sunetra Sarker) pretended to be a
doctor at a school reunion, and Kate (Kaye Wragg) was
annoying everyone with her over-officiousness.
   These are just two of the characters in an
incredibly boring line-up. If the series relied less
heavily on the intrusive pop music, maybe there would
be a chance for some half decent dialogue to get
   Normally, ER would be a blueprint for a medical
show, but that too was dire this week, as yet another
of those ubiquitous disasters (a mid-air collision)
provided casualties by the lorryload.
   That meant lots of darkness, fake blood, and
tedious shouting.
   Not as much shouting as Davina McCall is managing
in her new chat show, though. I really try to like it,
but it is dreadful. The dated set, Davina’s look
(Wednesday’s dress was having trouble staying on, and
why was there a squirrel attached to the back of her
head?), the pointless questions we have heard answered
on a million other shows, the bizarre camera shots (is
a camera operator from 1970 stuck up there on a
rafter?), the appalling editing, and, on Wednesday,
the dreadful, out of tune Sugar Babes, and so on and
on and on.
   Writers Simon Carlyle and Gregor Sharp have a gem
in Thin Ice, a sitcom set in the Derby Ice Bowl and
the world of amateur skating. It is full of
beautifully drawn characters and great lines, and the
first episode, in which a hawk on the loose attacked a
skater, inspired. You had to see it, really.
   There was more humour in Desperate Housewives, in
which Bree (Marcia Cross) became engaged to the creepy
George (Roger Bart) because she didn’t want to hurt
his feelings. Her therapist was stunned.. “Obviously
there’s a down side to having good manners,” she
   The therapist would not be long for this world, as
George, under threat, knocked him senseless and threw
him over a bridge. It was a week in which I learned a
lot about how I might handle my grudges in the future.

Mail on Sunday 26th February 2006

The Apprentice - Tim in the Firing Line (BBC2, Sunday)
The Apprentice (BBC2, Wednesday) ****

The Armstrongs (BBC2, Wednesday) *

Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (C4, Tuesday) *****

Footballers’ Wives (ITV1, Thursday) ****

EastEnders (BBC1, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday)

After 20 years in journalism, I have yet to meet
anyone who has a degree in the subject and managed to
obtain a job on the back of it. Many people I have met
- some of them the best in the business - do not have
a degree of any sort. They are in the position they
are because of their conviction, enthusiasm, inherent
ability, and desire to work very hard in an
exceptionally competitive field.
   You can count on one hand the people who actually
make it in the music business once they have appeared
on The X Factor or Pop Idol. As with journalism, my
view is that anyone worth their salt is just getting
on with the job and will make it irrespective of any
college course or TV talent show. The evidence proves
   Hot on the heels on Selling Yourself comes another
series of The Apprentice. Where the former brings
together five hopefuls each week to compete for their
dream job, the latter has whittled down 14 of the
country’s best young business prospects (allegedly) to
compete for a job as Sir Alan Sugar’s apprentice. The
reward is £100,000 salary and (allegedly, again) the
opportunity of a lifetime for a year with the man who
has come from nothing, to build up an empire of £800
   Again, you have to wonder why, if they are any
good, would the candidates not be better off spending
three months pushing themselves in the market place,
rather than being holed up in a posh house and
subjecting themselves not only to TV, but to the
criticism of the self-confessed “most belligerent
person you will ever meet.” And all for a hundred
grand? Sorry, but it’s not enough. That won’t even buy
you a rung on a rope ladder in London these days, let
alone a step on the property ladder.
   We saw what happened to last year’s winner,
ex-Underground worker, Tim Campbell, in Tim in the
Firing Line, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Having
landed the dream apprenticeship, he was told to head
up a new health and beauty division at Amstrad and
launch a re-devised anti-wrinkle machine that had
failed miserably the first time round.
   Sir Alan wasn’t happy with the prototype. Sir Alan
wanted more progress. Sir Alan didn’t like the
advertising. Sir Alan didn’t like the website. Sir
Alan didn’t like the results (just 1200 sold in the
first month). Poor Tim. Six months in, he was doing a
70 hour week and barely had time to see his family;
yet he was thrilled when Sir Alan, recognising Tim’s
potential, decided to extend his contract. Personally,
I’d go running back to London Transport.
   Sir Alan Sugar, however, is undoubtedly great
television, and the reality of what it takes to
succeed in a ruthless business world really came home
in the programme, even though the television cameras
were still present. In the first episode of the new
series, Sir Alan was no less demanding, and, in
television terms, no less compelling, and there is
another great cast of characters whom we will grow to
love or loathe in the coming weeks.
   For example, I already loathe Syed, an entrepreneur
who narrowly escaped being the first person fired.
“I’ve got my own plan . . . ” he said smugly at the
start. “Bring on the mind games.” If his suggestion of
calling the men The A Team is one of them, he needs a
new game plan. Fast.
   Then there’s Jo, who is more hyper than The Magic
Roundabout’s Zebedee, and yet burst into tears at a
suggestion from the men that women could only sell if
they capitalised on their sexuality. To be fair, in
this instance, buying and selling fruit and veg, they
did, and the team came away with the highest profit.
   This is where it all went awry. I normally agree
with everything Sir Alan Sugar says, and his ability
to put his finger instantly on the problem in any
situation is awesome. But despite the women’s team
fulfilling the task - making the grestest profit - he
criticised them on their methods and considered
whether to award the men the win. If there were rules
to go with the main objective, this should have been
made clear at the outset, and the ending left a rather
sour taste in the mouth.
   After The Apprentice, The Armstrongs leaves you
speechless. Who on earth commissioned a series about a
couple running into business problems in a Coventry
double glazing firm? Episode one told us nothing about
business, everything we already know about the bull
that consultants talk for ridiculous fees, and
reinforced our belief that double glazing and everyone
who sells it make for boredom on a mammoth scale. I
just wished I had had a double glazed fronted
television to protect me from the inanity of it all.
   Gordon Ramsay saved another business in Kitchen
Nightmares, which came from Oscar’s, in Nantwich,
Cheshire. Maura Dooris had thrown her life savings
into her family-owned, Irish restaurant, where the
menu was full of such delicacies as ribs cooked in
Coca Cola.
   Gordon’s job was to try to enthuse Maura’s son and
chef, Lenin (not a good name to give anyone to whom
you plan handing the reins of power), as he believed
he had fallen out of love with food.
   That was just the start of it. He also, as Ramsay
discovered later, had a real drink problem; on the
night before the re-launch, he collapsed and was
rushed to hospital.
   Ramsay’s talent both as a chef and a businessman
ensures some great success stories in this series; his
engaging personality - tough and uncompromising
professionally, but tempered with a sensitivity
towards the problems people face - is compelling
throughout, and reignites not only the participants’
enthusiasm for food, but viewers’, too.
   Footballers’ Wives returned, still desperately
missing Tanya (Zoe Lucker), who thankfully returns in
episode four. All the usual daft ingedients that make
the show compulsive viewing however, were there:
bigamy, sex, guns, beatings, absurd costumes, and
another new, over-the top couple in the form of
Tremaine Gidigbi (Chucky Venice - it’s a shame that’s
his real name; it’s better than anything the show
could have invented) and his supermodel girlfriend,
Liberty Baker (Phina Oruche), who also happens to be a
lesbian. Joy, oh joy.
   Gillian Taylforth, who stars in Footballers’ Wives,
died this week. But not to worry, it was only in
EastEnders, celebrating its 21st anniversary, when her
character, Kathy, died in a car crash. Her cafe,
Kathy’s, continues to bear her name, in neon lights.
If I were Sir Alan Sugar, I’d be re-launching it as
Toast. They serve it. She is it.

Mail on Sunday 19th February 2006
The British Way of Death (BBC4, Monday) ****

Life on Mars (BBC1, Monday) ***

Desperate Housewives (C4, Wednesday) *****

Agatha Christie’s Marple (ITV, Sunday) ***

Brat Camp (C4, Wednesday) **

Baby Race (C4, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) *

Why, when people die, do the survivors often say:
“It’s what he/she would have wanted? Personally, I
wouldn’t care if it was on the slopes at Aspen, or
quietly in my sleep, what I really would want is not
to have died at all.
   Similarly, I don’t get it when the dying request
that everyone have a great time at the funeral and
move on. I would prefer that my guests sob
hysterically and wonder how on earth they are ever
going to live without me.
   But then I’ve never been able to handle death. When
I was four, my mother told me that my dead budgie
George had flown away to a hot country (that would
have meant opening his cage, unlocking the front door,
boarding a train to Newport, changing at Reading for
Heathrow . . . I knew this because he would never
flown to the end of the road, the state his wings were
   The British Way of Death went some way towards
explaining our general inability to cope with one of
life’s great inevitabilities (another one being that
EastEnders will always need Ross Kemp back to boost
its viewing figures). As in so many areas, the
formality and correctness of the Victorians dictated
so much of later 20th Century attitudes and behaviour.
In death, for example, a widow was required to mourn
for a year and a day; a widower for just three months,
when he was then foot loose and fancy free to start
sowing his wild oats again.
   Things have changed, however (not least for men and
women, who these days seem to have their new lover
organised before rigor mortis has set in). The 21st
Century has seen “a new spirit of informality”, with
more personalised funerals and an openness that has
transformed dying from being “a defining rite of
passage” into something that is inherent to our choice
of lifestyle. Out go dirges about meeting your maker,
and in comes Robbie Williams (Angels is now the most
popular song played at funerals).
   This lovely little film, rather tenderly narrated
by Daniela Nardini (try to get a Scottish person to
tell you when you are dying; as with Scottish banks,
it’s so much easier to take bad news when delivered
with that accent), and could easily have stretched to
an hour, rather than 40 minutes. The last section,
which only briefly looked at responses to the death of
public figures, was incredibly rushed, and the Death
of the Princess of Wales (which was surely a turning
point in the British way of death), was barely
referred to.
   Interestingly, though, it questioned whether the
late 20th century rituals – republicising the cult of
grief – have become just as stifling and restrictive
as those in Victorian times. They are, the programme
noted, being governed by psychology, not religion:
roadside shrines where deaths have occurred; the
thousands of scarves, shirts, bears and memorabilia
that were taken to the football stadium following the
Hillsborough tragedy of 1989. But, it concluded,
although the ways of death may be different, the Why
remains the same. Does it? I’m not sure it’s that
simple; but that’s opening a whole new coffin of
   One way in which we deal with death is to watch
television drama, which is full of it. Hillsborough
turned up again in Life on Mars, where the basic
conceit – a modern-day detective transported back in
time to the Seventies – easily sustains itself with
some beautifully woven plots and great writing.
   This week’s episode, by EastEnders veteran Tony
Jordan, saw Sam (John Simm) and Gene (Philip
Glenister) trying to solve the murder of a Manchester
United fan in the week they were to play their rivals,
Manchester City.
   The respective men’s different attitudes to
policing again provided the laughs. Going undercover
at the Trafford Arms, to infiltrate the locals’
mentality, they needed the landlord temporarily
removed, and Gene ordered his arrest. At a loss as to
what he could get him for, the arresting officer
alighted upon . . . cattle rustling.
   The heart of the story, however, was a poignant
message – a tad heavily delivered – about football
hooliganism. “A good punch-up is all part of the
game,” said the killer, Pete (Anthony Flanagan). Sam,
coming from the future where he had witnessed
Hillsborough, talked of the escalation of violence
that simply breeds more violence, resulting in fans
being herded into pens, and then: “How long before
something terrible happens and we are dragging bodies
   Also inherent to Sam’s life is his relationship
with his father, here explored (again, a little
over-sentimental in its execution) through Sam’s
relationship with the dead man’s son. We still don’t
know whether Sam is, as he wonders, “mad, in a coma,
or back in time”, but it hardly seems to matter now.
   The relationship between fathers and sons was also
central to Desperate Housewives, in which Susan (Teri
Hatcher) managed to dispense with her lover’s son,
Zach (Cody Cosch), and Parker (Zane Huett) acquired
Mrs Mulberry, an imaginary friend. “Because of me, my
son’s imaginary friend has been crushed by a garbage
truck,” cried Lynette (Felicity Huffman), who had
spent the hilarious episode trying to get rid of her.
   In Agatha Christie’s Marple, Gwenda Halliday
(Sophie Myles) had to confront the possibility that
her dead father had been a murderer. Of course, it was
never going to be him. Right from the start, you knew
it was Kennedy, because  Phil Davis, who played him,
could bring sinister to the Messiah. It was a jolly
enough romp, though, if utterly implausible.
   The parents featured in Brat Camp must wish they
had never had their daughters, and it was hard to feel
any sympathy for these revolting specimens whose
uncontrollable lifestyle saw their parents dispatch
them to Utah to undergo intense training in the
wilderness. It’s an interesting psychological
experiment, which does not translate that well to TV
(the staged introductory shots lent an air of
inauthenticity to it from the start), and personally,
I hope the girls never make it back.
   The only thing worse than parents whingeing about
their kids is women whingeing about wanting them. Baby
Race looked at women in their 30s, all of whom were
desperate for a baby. They all reckoned they had
enough love for a child not to miss having a father,
which is just plain naïve. The awful sound throughout
programme one, together with the graphic information,
also did not inspire me to tackle programmes two and
   Still, in a world filled with so much death, I
suppose someone has to keep the ball rolling. I’m just
glad it’s not me.


Mail on Sunday 12 February 2006
The British Way of Death (BBC4, Monday) ****

Life on Mars (BBC1, Monday) ***

Desperate Housewives (C4, Wednesday) *****

Agatha Christie’s Marple (ITV, Sunday) ***

Brat Camp (C4, Wednesday) **

Baby Race (C4, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) *

Why, when people die, do the survivors often say:
“It’s what he/she would have wanted? Personally, I
wouldn’t care if it was on the slopes at Aspen, or
quietly in my sleep, what I really would want is not
to have died at all.
   Similarly, I don’t get it when the dying request
that everyone have a great time at the funeral and
move on. I would prefer that my guests sob
hysterically and wonder how on earth they are ever
going to live without me.
   But then I’ve never been able to handle death. When
I was four, my mother told me that my dead budgie
George had flown away to a hot country (that would
have meant opening his cage, unlocking the front door,
boarding a train to Newport, changing at Reading for
Heathrow . . . I knew this because he would never
flown to the end of the road, the state his wings were
   The British Way of Death went some way towards
explaining our general inability to cope with one of
life’s great inevitabilities (another one being that
EastEnders will always need Ross Kemp back to boost
its viewing figures). As in so many areas, the
formality and correctness of the Victorians dictated
so much of later 20th Century attitudes and behaviour.
In death, for example, a widow was required to mourn
for a year and a day; a widower for just three months,
when he was then foot loose and fancy free to start
sowing his wild oats again.
   Things have changed, however (not least for men and
women, who these days seem to have their new lover
organised before rigor mortis has set in). The 21st
Century has seen “a new spirit of informality”, with
more personalised funerals and an openness that has
transformed dying from being “a defining rite of
passage” into something that is inherent to our choice
of lifestyle. Out go dirges about meeting your maker,
and in comes Robbie Williams (Angels is now the most
popular song played at funerals).
   This lovely little film, rather tenderly narrated
by Daniela Nardini (try to get a Scottish person to
tell you when you are dying; as with Scottish banks,
it’s so much easier to take bad news when delivered
with that accent), and could easily have stretched to
an hour, rather than 40 minutes. The last section,
which only briefly looked at responses to the death of
public figures, was incredibly rushed, and the Death
of the Princess of Wales (which was surely a turning
point in the British way of death), was barely
referred to.
   Interestingly, though, it questioned whether the
late 20th century rituals – republicising the cult of
grief – have become just as stifling and restrictive
as those in Victorian times. They are, the programme
noted, being governed by psychology, not religion:
roadside shrines where deaths have occurred; the
thousands of scarves, shirts, bears and memorabilia
that were taken to the football stadium following the
Hillsborough tragedy of 1989. But, it concluded,
although the ways of death may be different, the Why
remains the same. Does it? I’m not sure it’s that
simple; but that’s opening a whole new coffin of
   One way in which we deal with death is to watch
television drama, which is full of it. Hillsborough
turned up again in Life on Mars, where the basic
conceit – a modern-day detective transported back in
time to the Seventies – easily sustains itself with
some beautifully woven plots and great writing.
   This week’s episode, by EastEnders veteran Tony
Jordan, saw Sam (John Simm) and Gene (Philip
Glenister) trying to solve the murder of a Manchester
United fan in the week they were to play their rivals,
Manchester City.
   The respective men’s different attitudes to
policing again provided the laughs. Going undercover
at the Trafford Arms, to infiltrate the locals’
mentality, they needed the landlord temporarily
removed, and Gene ordered his arrest. At a loss as to
what he could get him for, the arresting officer
alighted upon . . . cattle rustling.
   The heart of the story, however, was a poignant
message – a tad heavily delivered – about football
hooliganism. “A good punch-up is all part of the
game,” said the killer, Pete (Anthony Flanagan). Sam,
coming from the future where he had witnessed
Hillsborough, talked of the escalation of violence
that simply breeds more violence, resulting in fans
being herded into pens, and then: “How long before
something terrible happens and we are dragging bodies
   Also inherent to Sam’s life is his relationship
with his father, here explored (again, a little
over-sentimental in its execution) through Sam’s
relationship with the dead man’s son. We still don’t
know whether Sam is, as he wonders, “mad, in a coma,
or back in time”, but it hardly seems to matter now.
   The relationship between fathers and sons was also
central to Desperate Housewives, in which Susan (Teri
Hatcher) managed to dispense with her lover’s son,
Zach (Cody Cosch), and Parker (Zane Huett) acquired
Mrs Mulberry, an imaginary friend. “Because of me, my
son’s imaginary friend has been crushed by a garbage
truck,” cried Lynette (Felicity Huffman), who had
spent the hilarious episode trying to get rid of her.
   In Agatha Christie’s Marple, Gwenda Halliday
(Sophie Myles) had to confront the possibility that
her dead father had been a murderer. Of course, it was
never going to be him. Right from the start, you knew
it was Kennedy, because  Phil Davis, who played him,
could bring sinister to the Messiah. It was a jolly
enough romp, though, if utterly implausible.
   The parents featured in Brat Camp must wish they
had never had their daughters, and it was hard to feel
any sympathy for these revolting specimens whose
uncontrollable lifestyle saw their parents dispatch
them to Utah to undergo intense training in the
wilderness. It’s an interesting psychological
experiment, which does not translate that well to TV
(the staged introductory shots lent an air of
inauthenticity to it from the start), and personally,
I hope the girls never make it back.
   The only thing worse than parents whingeing about
their kids is women whingeing about wanting them. Baby
Race looked at women in their 30s, all of whom were
desperate for a baby. They all reckoned they had
enough love for a child not to miss having a father,
which is just plain naïve. The awful sound throughout
programme one, together with the graphic information,
also did not inspire me to tackle programmes two and
   Still, in a world filled with so much death, I
suppose someone has to keep the ball rolling. I’m just
glad it’s not me.


Mail on Sunday 5th February 2006

Imagine . . . (BBC1, Tuesday) **

The IT Crowd (C4, Friday) *****

Lewis (ITV, Sunday) ***

Challenger (C4, Friday) ***

CSI (Five, Tuesday) ****

Two years ago, I sat on a Royal Television Society
jury to decide the annual award for Best Comedy. One
BBC representative was adamant that the BBC1 sitcom My
Family was brilliant but under-rated and was being
overlooked in favour of less traditional work. He
gathered support, but the show never made the
   The next year, there he was again. Surely, this
time, we could not pass the great show over. It pulled
in large audiences, and . . . Well, that was it as far
as I was concerned; likewise, the rest of the panel.
This year, I was not asked to sit on that jury, so
don’t be surprised if the spectacularly unfunny My
Family wins.
   More than any other genre, situation comedy splits
audiences. The person who does not like Frasier, for
instance, is, to me, someone not worth knowing. I
loved The Royle Family, hated Father Ted, adored
Absolutely Fabulous, and never laughed once at Only
Fools and Horses (for the latter, there are many who
would have me declared certifiably insane). Laughter
is a very personal thing.
   This week’s Imagine . . . set out to examine
whether there was any truth to the often bandied
around accusation that the sitcom is dead. One-time
Controller of BBC1, Alan Yentob, talked to writers,
performers and producers about some of the most
successful shows of recent times, and concluded that
the sitcom was in very good health.
   It is certainly in a better state than arts shows
discussing such subjects. Imagine . . . felt
throughout like a guffawing gentlemen’s club with an
inflated sense of its own superiority. That is not the
fault of the participants, many of whom are clever,
hilarious people; but when you try to analyse why
something is funny, it is hard not to sound
pretentious. It is especially hard when the majority
of interviewees are men, which lent an air of smugness
to the proceedings that sat uneasily with the subject
   The male domination of the sitcom is, after all,
one of the reasons for the largely dire state of the
genre. Women turn to American shows for their laughs,
and, in recent years, women have been as prominent in
US sitcoms as men (for instance: Roseanne, Ellen, Sex
and the City). In Britain, comedy as a whole is a
testosterone-filled pool, with male producers, writers
and performers dominating this area of television.
   The programme concluded with Father Ted creator
Graham Linehan talking about his latest sitcom, The IT
crowd, which he wanted to be “just silly and funny and
cheer people up.” Having read Radio Times’s savage
preview, I wasn’t optimistic; however, I didn’t stop
laughing throughout both episodes. It is hilarious.
Great characters, beautifully woven running gags, and
full of unexpected twists and turns.
   Set in the IT section of an office, the IT crowd
are Moss (Richard Ayoade), Roy (Chris O’Dowd) and Jen
(Katherine Parkinson). Moss is your typical IT nerd,
Roy your typical lazy bum, and Jen is incompetent, but
disguises it well. Presiding over all is Denholm
(Chris Morris), whose ludicrous, over-the-top
management skills dictate the incompetency all around
him. “That’s the sort of place this is, Jen,” he told
the newcomer when she walked in on a couple in the
unisex toilet. “A lot of people not doing very much
work and having affairs.” There is a lot of mileage in
that. Yes, it is silly and funny, and it really
cheered me up.
   There was not much to laugh about in Lewis, which
began with the reminder of the detective’s old boss,
Morse, when Lewis nearly walked under a red Jaguar, of
the kind once driven by the Inspector. Next stop was a
graveyard, where we discovered that Lewis’s wife had
met a premature death.
   We never knew Valerie, of course, but she was
always there in spirit. Now, that’s all she is, and
her husband has to move on.
   Lewis (Kevin Whately) returned to the UK and the
body of a young woman who had been shot at night in a
sleep laboratory. His sidekick, DS Hathaway (Laurence
Fox) was a serious, competent chap who carried
smelling salts in his jacket pocket and had an
aloofness that made you wonder whether he completely
despised or totally respected his superior.
   It wasn’t the double act of Lewis and Morse, but
then that was always going to be a hard act to follow,
and if the show goes to a series, the partnership
might grow. But all the familiar benchmarks were here:
Oxford, Barrington Pheloung’s music, and a hoard of
   The problem was the story, which opened with a
young man writing a mathematical formula on a board.
We all know that when a mathematical formula turns up
in any drama, the central plot will be about its being
copied or stolen by somebody else. We know this as
surely as when Michael Maloney appears in the credits,
it is him wot dunnit. Sure enough: it was Ivor
Denniston (Michael Maloney) wot dunnit, and all
because the student had cracked a formula he had been
working on for most of his life. “In my experience,
people don’t always think straight,” Lewis said to
Hathaway. Alas, viewers had chance to do little else.
   There was not much suspense in Challenger, either.
The drama-documentary opened with the explosion of the
space shuttle, footage of which shocked the world 20
years ago.  It was especially shocking because one of
the crew in the vessel was mother and teacher Christa
McAuliffe, the first non-astronaut in space, who had
been recruited as a NASA PR exercise.
   When you begin with such a horrifying ending, it is
hard to sustain interest in what went before, and some
of the technical details as to the ship’s
unsuitability for travel meant that interest soon
waned. Bases on interviews, documented evidence and US
documents of the time, however, we can assume accuracy
(apart from the opening commentary, which stated the
year as 1985 and not 1986), which must be galling for
the victims’ relatives and friends.
   It was good to see CSI back, bathed in the usual
blue light and with everyone managing to look
glamorous as they trawled through bodies and rotting
   Keeping their minds on the job also proved
difficult, with Cath (Marq Helgenberger) smarting from
the news that Warrick (Gary Dourdan) has got married.
“Life is so short . . . ” he explained. “ So much
shorter than we would ever wanna believe.” Just like
The IT Crowd, really: a lot of people not doing very
much work and having affairs. I said there was a lot
of mileage in it.

Mail on Sunday 29th January 2006
Child of Our Time (BBC1, Sunday) **

Celebrity Big Brother (C4, E4, Sunday to Friday) *****

The House of Chanel (BBC4, Wednesday) *****

Prison Break (Five, Monday) ****

The Virgin Queen (BBC1, Sunday) ***

Judge John Deed (BBC1, Friday) ****

Baby Be Mine (BBC1, Wednesday) *****

There are many wrongs a parent can inflict upon a
child, and naming a son Nigel is one of them.
   Dramas, sitcoms, commercials – all have used the
name to convey a person of wimpish, ineffectual
persuasion, and who never has success with women.
   My brother blames me for his namesake. At the age
of two and a half, I requested a brother called Angel,
and Nigel was the closest my parents could get.
   It was an inauspicious start to what has always
been an extremely close relationship. When we played
school, I was the teacher, he the pupil; when we
played swans, he was the dying one, I the survivor;
when we played Monopoly, I tipped the board over when
he bought Park Lane and Mayfair. You get the picture;
but it worked for us.
   The second episode of Child of Our Time looked at
sibling relationships and questioned why some are
“arch enemies” and others “best buddies.”
   Now, I know that Professor Robert Winston, who
presents the series, is an expert in his field, but
there is something very unsettling about him coming
out with words like “buddies”. His job is to make
science palatable for the masses, but in his attempt
to popularise, his tone is more sinister than
simplifying. It is as if the Queen were suddenly to
swear in the middle of her Christmas address.
   The moustache doesn’t help, but then I am very
suspicious of all facial hair. If it is true that a
man with a beard is a man with a secret (just look at
Osama, Saddam, Peter Sutcliffe – and I am deeply
disturbed to discover that Have I Got News for You
star Ian Hislop has grown one), then a man with a
moustache is a man with a secret who doesn’t even have
the nous to keep that secret quiet. Anyway, it gives
me the creeps.
   The real problem with Winston’s demeanour, however,
is that basic scientific facts are made to sound as if
they were experiments of earth-shattering
significance. It is a very 21st century way of
presenting science on television, but is the BBC1
audience really so thick that it needs to be not so
much spoonfed, as bottle-fed, the material?
   What did we learn from this programme? That
identical twins can have very different personalities;
that only children have difficulty among friends
because they have no experience of interaction with
siblings at home; that an older child is protective of
the younger. Well, blow me down.
   When psychologist Linda Blair was wheeled in watch
an experiment to try to guess whether adults were the
youngest, middle, or eldest child in their family, she
got them all bar one wrong – which sort of defeated
the object of the programme, which was to show how
sibling relationships affect adult behaviour. So the
conclusion was really: sometimes it does, sometimes it
doesn’t. Don’t make a space on the mantelpiece for the
Nobel Prize for Science just yet.
   Adult interaction was at the heart of Celebrity Big
Brother, which surpassed all of its predecessors,
celebrity or otherwise. I don’t quite know how I am
going to live without it.
   Michael’s showbiz suicide, George’s stirring,
Pete’s cruel wit, Traci’s chest, Chantelle’s
irritating habit of playing with her dreadful
extensions and ending every sentence with “Yer know
wot I mean” – this was the zoo to end all zoos.
   Well done, Davina McCall, for brilliantly holding
it all together and quickly responding to the frantic
instructions in her earpiece; and well done, also,
Russell Grant (not the astrologer) on Big Brother’s
Big Mouth, for the hilarious banter on E4.
   Like E4, BBC4 is now one of the most watched
stations in my house. The House of Chanel is a
delightful series filmed inside the fashion house as
Karl Lagerfeld and his team prepare the season’s Haute
Couture collection.
   Narrated in French (with English subtitles) by the
very perky Regine Blaess, the first programme began
with stage one: Karl’s sketches. It was like Waiting
for Godot, as the team anticipated the arrival of the
great man and call after call informed them of his
whereabouts. Creating a real sense of drama with its
quirky tone, Loic Prigent (Director) and Marc Manivet
(Editor) conveyed the spirit of the place through the
distinctive, disparate characters.
   Five’s latest American import, Prison Break, shows
every sign of being as compelling as CSI and Law and
Order. It is set in a Grade One prison, where
honourable citizen Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller)
has managed to get himself incarcerated in order to
help his wrongfully imprisoned brother to escape.
   Michael, who is a structural engineer, was
instrumental in the prison’s design, and has had the
plans tattoed all over his body in order to plan the
break in meticulous detail.
   Lincoln (Dominic Purcell) is awaiting the death
penalty following the assassination of the
Vice-President’s brother, and so there is much talk of
the involvement of the Secret Service. Throw in a
murdered bishop, a heavy inmate, and some excruciating
dialogue (“I’m not asking you to love me . . . I’m
asking you to love yourself,” Lincoln told his son),
and you have the ingredients of another great criminal
   The first episode of The Virgin Queen was awash
with crime and intrigue, as Queen Mary (Joanne Whalley) tried to rid
the country of her sister Elizabeth (Anne-Marie Duff),
who was next in line to the throne.
   It is well enough made, but I had the feeling I had
seen it all before – which I had. How many more dramas
can we take about the woman? The viewing figures were
not as high as the BBC had hoped, and it’s not hard to
see why: anything with the word “virgin” in the title
is an immediate turn-off. BBC1, Sunday night, and no
one getting their kit off? Let’s hope they remedy
   Judge John Deed was on his high horse again, this
time about the dangers of phone masts, and
fortunately, Martin Shaw’s charisma is the only thing
that stops you wanting to hurtle a machete at the
pompous moralising of the judge who, as always, saw
that good triumphed over bad.
    Alas, it is not always the same in real life, as
some of the heart-rending stories in Baby Be mine
revealed. The first programme looked at four babies
adopted from Eastern Europe: 18 month old Chinese
Kaiya, now happily living in Shropshire, was one of
the lucky ones. In America, three year old Liam’s
adoptive father is serving time for his murder, and
his mother for his manslaughter. Being a child of our
time is just, it seems, the luck of the draw. 

Mail on Sunday 22nd January 2006

Friends and Crocodiles (BBC1, Sunday) *****

House (Five, Thursday) *****

Medical Investigation (Five, Monday) ***

Desperate Housewives (C4, Wednesday) ****

Hotel Babylon (BBC1, Thursday) ***

Eleventh Hour (ITV1, Thursday) **

Foyle?s War (ITV1, Sunday) ****

Northern Lights (ITV1, Monday) *

The French education system encourages respect for the
intellect; in Italy, all classes have access to, and
enjoyment of, high art; Spanish literary works are
perceived to be enjoyable by virtue of their
   And in Britain? If it’s intellectual, it’s
divisive; if it’s highbrow, it’s rubbish; and heaven
help you if it’s clever: then, it’s pretentious.
   The British attitude towards artistic achievement
is the real reason for the so-called ‘dumbing down’ of
our broadcasting. Blaming the executives who
commission the stuff is a copout: the rot sets in much
earlier, most significantly in the home and in school.
By the time most young people reach adulthood, they
have a disregard and lack of respect for anything
which strives to be even marginally above the
mediocre; the result is a contempt which breeds a
soullessness in which true creativity is not only not
recognised but not encouraged.
   This week, a work of true genius hit our screens
and was greeted with derision from many quarters. Yet
Stephen Poliakoff’s Friends and Crocodiles was 110
minutes of the most beautifully written, exquisitely
directed and wonderfully acted pieces of work ever.
The criticism of it missed the point: it was notan
attempt to satirise the business world of the Eighties
and Nineties, but a story about (as Poliakoff’s work
invariably is) the nature of history, both personal,
professional and social, with all its surprises,
coincidences and inevitabilities.
   Rich boy Paul (Damian Lewis), a Gatsby for our
times, employed down-to-earth Lizzie (Jodhi May), as
his PA and wooed her with the belief that she could
help him realise his vision of the future. But with
one eye on the future and one foot in the past, his
genius straddled two worlds: one, in which he had a
gift for gathering people around him, making them his
social creations; and the other one, in which his
professional creativity as an ideas person and
visionary, was always ahead of the times. When the
tables turned and Lizzie made it big in the city, the
story became Shakespearean in its scope: the city
versus the country; reality versus fantasy; venture
capitalism versus creative capitalism.
   ‘You always keep the past with you, wherever you
are,’ said Lizzie. The burning of the furniture from
the school Paul bought to ‘do up’ at the end of the
drama symbolically burned the past, as the pair looked
to the future and the possibility of working together
again, but in a very different world from the one in
which they met. You can choose your friends, but you
can’t always choose your crocodiles.
   The disparate worlds of the creative and the
sterile professional are at the heart of House, in
which Hugh Laurie (who this week won a Golden Globe
for his performance) plays a doctor whose
unconventional methods fly in the face of authority
but always win out.
   In the first episode of the second series, he had
the ironic task of trying to save the life of a man on
Death Row.
   Of course, he managed it, and in the process
discovered that the patient had a condition that might
have made him predisposed to do the killings which had
put him where he was in the first place. Meanwhile, a
doctor was having trouble telling a young woman that
her cough was terminal lung cancer. Pointing out that
the medic was undergoing the five stages of
bereavement, House (when the patient was finally told
the news), in a beautifully rounded-off story, wiped
the word ‘acceptance’ off his board.
   There were more medics in Medical Investigation,
another impressive new American import, in which a
crack team work against the clock to discover the
cause of seemingly unexplainable illnesses.
   It’s not as compelling as House, and you want to
smack the chops of the know-all woman who keeps saying
’Already on it’. The first episode was watchable
enough, though, and any disease which strikes down LA
actresses is worth a viewing. It’s just a pity the
team found the cure.
   I’m watching more and more American TV and was glad
to see the return of Desperate Housewives, in which
Bree (Marcia Cross) finally said goodbye to her dead
husband. Noticing that her mother-in-law had swapped
the tie she had chosen for Rex in the open coffin, she
scanned the congregation for an alternative. Alighting
upon Tom (Doug Savant), she ordered him to remove his
and re-dressed Rex, hauling his body up at a 45 degree
angle. It was another fabulously black comedy moment
in a show that also won a Golden Globe this week - for
Best Comedy.
   Returning to most British TV, after the slickness
of American productions (Poliakoff excepted) is always
going to be difficult, but the makers of Spooks and
Hustle learned a lot from their transatlantic
   Some of that is evident in their new show Hotel
Babylon, in which Tamsin Outhwaite plays Rebecca,
manager of a five-star hotel in which the staff always
get the upper hand over the guests.
   The excessive music is irritating, but adds pace as
characters seem almost to recite their lines in time
to it. Outhwaite is particularly impressive at this,
but her agent really must get all those close-up
mirror shots she does written out of scripts; they are
deeply unflattering.
    The first-person narrative, as told by Charlie
(Max Beesley, in charming form), reveals a world of
fraud, sex, and staff scams and cleaning habits that
you would rather not know about if you are planning to
stay in a hotel. But what is his secret to which a
parting guest alluded? I can already hear the walls of
Babylon crashing down.
   Eleventh Hour is a strange drama in which, for some
never-quite-explained reason, a very large man called
Professor Hood (Patrick Stuart) has a very diminutive
bodyguard called Rachel (Ashley Jensen).
   While he investigates disasters caused by dodgy
scientific practices (this week, the cloning of
foetuses), she, when she is not waving a gun, tries to
bed fellow officers - and thank heaven for it, as she
brings a much welcome lightness of touch.
   Foyle’s War returned with the charismatic Michael
Kitchen’s twitching lip, and some very unbelievable
Americans arriving in Hastings to wreak havoc among
the local ladies. Still, at least they will give the
vocally strained Sam (Honeysuckle Weeks) something to
think about other than where she can get surgery to
get her jaw unclamped.
   As for the very British (both in geography and
writing) Northern Lights: put them out. Alternatively,
get a crocodile to eat the cast. I won’t demean
Stephen Poliakoff by talking about it in the same

Mail on Sunday 14th January 2006
Celebrity Big Brother (C4, E4, daily) *****

Soapstar Superstar (ITV, daily)

No stars Invasion (C4, Sunday) ***

Lost (C4, Wednesday) *

Life on Mars (BBC1, Monday) *****

Judge John Deed (BBC1, Friday) **

Paul McKenna Will Make You Thin (Sky One, Monday) ****

What do you get if you cross Fraggle Rock with The Muppet Show, and a little bit of the Addams family? Something, I suspect, not a million miles away from Celebrity Big Brother, which has fast become the most talked about programme of 2006.   

Despite regular pontifications about the death of reality television, the public's hunger for it shows no sign of abating. At 23 days, the current CBB is the longest celebrities have ever spent caged, and the brilliant casting - essential to the success of reality shows - has ensured more backbiting, high drama and trauma than any of its predecessors. The morality of exposing clearly vulnerable people (Michael Barrymore is rushing, lemming-like, to the edge) is questionable; but heck, it makes great telly.   

What makes celebrities different from ordinary punters in the regular show is that they all have the same desire: to show the "real" person to whom they feel the public has been denied access because of those horrid things written about them.    The cruel irony is that the "real" person invariably turns out to be even more ghastly and insufferable than anyone had previously thought.   

Jodie Marsh went into the house worried that people thought she was "thick" and a "slapper". No change of opinion there, I'm afraid, and I would even add, to that minuscule list, self-centred, boring and orthodontically unsound. I've seen less blinding snowstorms than what's going on in her mouth.    Faria Allam, who is famous only for sleeping with men within a stone's throw of a set of goalposts, went in hoping that the show would either make her famous, or "take me back to where I was." No great distance to travel, then.    

By the end of the first week, some people emerged with improved standing: Pete, who revealed himself to be smart, witty and wonderfully bitchy; George, who trod a tenuous line between playing shrink and stirrer; and, bless him, Maggot, simply a nice boy from Wales.    The decision to throw an non-famous character into the mix was inspired; the decision to make that person Chantelle, who is a TV gift, from her name to her dreadful hair extensions, pure genius.   

Celebrities trying to prove that there is more to them than meets the eye turned up to display their wares on Soapstar Superstar. This, too, has been one of the most talked-about programmes of the week, but for different reasons.   

Blimey, it was bad. And I mean really, really bad. The celebrities were chosen purely by virtue of the fact that they happened to be free. With the exception of Richard Fleeshman (who plays Coronation Street's Craig), none of them would stand a snowball's chance in hell in the music business.   

Then there was the presentation. Ben Shephard is a huge talent who was so badly cast alongside Fern Britton, they could have been Laurel and Hardy, minus the laughs. Everything about Fern's tone smacked of daytime and would have been embarrassingly out of a place in any peaktime show, let alone one as ill-conceived as this.    

And what had she come as? On one day, her head appeared to have been struck by a low-flying pineapple; the contestants looked even worse: draped in creations even more hideous than the job lot of sequinned bin-bags recently churned out by The X-Factor.    

Bad does not necessarily mean unwatchable, as Invasion proved. All we know so far is that aliens have infiltrated a Florida community and, it seems, invaded the bodies of some of the locals.   

As with all American dramas, there is the proverbial good-looking hero, whose priority is keeping his wife and kids safe. Russell Varon (Eddie Cibrian) is married to TV reporter Larkin (Lisa Sheridan), and his ex-wife Mariel (Kari Matchett) is now married to Tom (William Fichtner). At least two of them are aliens. Probably.   

Why is it, though, that only fat blokes and cutsie kids have a sixth sense in the States? Russell's daughter Rose (Ariel Gade) is suspicious about her mother's new smell, and fat bloke Dave (Tyler Labine) took no time at all recognising that the place was awash with ETs, not least when one posing as a spooky light tried to eat him. It's all nonsense, of course, but rather fun.   

The bearded fat bloke was still being rather jolly in the last two episodes of Lost, in which I remain just as lost as I did during episode one aeons ago. How come he hasn't lost any weight? Even his fellow survivors are starting to comment on it.     Viewers remain no closer to finding out where everyone is, but then with series two in the pipeline, that was never likely to happen. What is at the bottom of the shaft Jack (Matthew Fox) discovered at the end? Who knows. Who cares. It's still rubbish and, unlike Invasion, not even watchable rubbish.    Treat of the week was Life on Mars which, for anyone who grew up in the Seventies, was a joyous trip down memory lane.    

DCI Sam Tyler (John Simm) finds himself back in 1973, following an accident in 2006 which leaves him in a coma. In the past, he finds a Sweeney-type, politically incorrect copper in Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), and you spend the rest of the show marvelling at how much life has changed.   

But Life on Mars is not just about spotting cultural references (hilarious though many of them are); episode one was also a good detective story, and the casting is perfect. At last - a drama from BBC Wales that owes nothing to the clichés of the country's heritage. Just as well. I was a teenager in Wales in 1973, and it was no fun, I can tell you.   

Judge John Deed is as politically correct as Life on Mars is not, and this week's episode was a particularly heavy-handed one about writer G.F. Newman's particular passion, animal rights.    

Charlie (Louisa Clein), who is possibly the world's worst ever barrister, was doing what she does best: being highly irritating and getting up her father's nose. She won her case, anyway, despite having an approach that owed more to the Trumpton high court.   

The promise that Paul McKenna Will Make You Thin came from Sky One, in which very fat people turned up to hear him tell them why they are fat.    He didn't tell them anything they probably didn't know already, but the beauty of McKenna's simple methods is that they work. You just have to obey the rules. The only problem is that I am not allowed to eat while watching television. And miss one nanosecond of Celebrity Big Brother? You must be joking.

Mail on Sunday 8TH January 2006

Sweeney Todd (ITV, Tuesday) *****

Shameless (C4, Tuesday) ****

Rebus (ITV, Monday) ***

Rome (BBC2, Wednesday) ****

Poirot (ITV, Sunday) ****

A Seaside Parish (BBC2, Tuesday) *****

Maybe I have a strong stomach and an even stronger
ability to absorb, without detrimental effect to my
psyche, sex, violence and swearing; I certainly do not
need television magazines to keep warning me of every
potential peril in what I am about to watch.
   'Violence, nudity and sexual scenes' were the
dangers Radio Times promised in Sweeney Todd; 'scenes
of a sexual nature, violence and strong language' were
the treats on offer in Rome. There were even more
horrors awaiting in Shameless, and Balderdash and
Piffle - 'contains strong language' ; and even two
warnings in a week for Three Men in a Boat - 'with
strong language'.
   All but one were BBC shows, and you can't help
wondering whether the Corporation and Radio Times
might save themselves a lot of energy and space simply
by indicating the programmes which are likely to cause
no offence to any sensitive soul (yet another repeat
of Only Fools, for instance).
   Naturally, any drama promising the triple whammy is
going to be the biggest ratings grabber, so Sweeney
Todd was the week's must-view production.
   This was not a show for vegetarians. In 18th
century London, the infamous barber, Sweeney Todd (Ray
Winstone), slit his clients' throats and chopped up
their bodies to provide meat for the woman he set up
in the pie shop next door.
   Mrs Lovett (Essie Davis) did not take much
persuading, even though Todd was bumping off any man
who managed to get into her corset. Todd claimed to
dislike them because 'They think they run the world'
and, as if to prove that he had a heart (which was
more than his clients had after a particularly close
shave), he selected his victims carefully.
   A blind magistrate, for instance, survived every
shave intact; his law-abiding sidekick became a victim
only when Todd confessed all. Todd's father fared less
well and, when he sussed what had been going on, Todd
chopped off his tongue and left it for him to ponder
(or, presumably, to have with chips later on).
   The throat-slitting was gruesome, although not
gratuitously so; likewise, the sex. Unwilling to have
participate himself with Mrs Lovett (for reasons we
never quite knew - organs had to be for baking, not
copulating, perhaps), he turned voyeur and watched her
through a hole in his wall.
   Winstone brought a tenderness to the barber in his
relationship with the pie-maker, especially when she
contracted the pox and became unattractive to other
men. Indeed, so great was his affection, that when she
asked him to slit her throat when their actions were
discovered, he duly complied.
   Why did he kill? 'Because I could; and then I
couldn't not' was his explanation to the magistrate,
shortly before slitting his own throat. I wonder where
they buried him. Under a giant pie crust, if there is
any justice in the world.
   Rebus came without any warning whatsoever, which
was bizarre, given the amount of blood shed. The
killer was tying people up, slitting their wrists and
leaving them to bleed to death. An effigy of a small,
smiling baby in a tiny coffin was left at the scene of
each crime.
   Ken Stott has taken over from John Hannah in the
title role and, as always, exudes intelligence; there
is also a lightness of touch in Rebus that he is often
denied in his usual tough-guy image.
   Rebus's sidekick, DS Siobhan Clarke (Claire Price),
is less impressive, not least because she is not the
sharpest tool in the box.
   'You clearly have a history with these people,' she
said, when Rebus visited Sir James Hogarth (Richard
Johnson) and his daughter. How could she tell? Could
it have been the dodgy sidelong glances, the awkward
silences, the clipped tones, the sarcasm, the fixed
stares? How smart did she have to be to have picked
that up?
   Hogarth turned out to have been sleeping with his
daughter Fiona (Andrea Hart), whose own daughter,
Philippa (Natalie Dormer) was the killer. 'I'm not
your mummy, I'm your f*****g sister,' she yelled at
the end. That was your lot on the strong language
front. Still, better late than never.
   Shameless saw fit to warn us only of 'strong
language' and not the sex scenes in every lavatory
during a New Year's Eve party at the start of the
show. But then once you start warning viewers about
Shameless, it's hard to know where to stop. Language,
sex, drugs, parental irresponsibility, and, this week,
a cancer scam.
   'In case you hadn't noticed, no one's bringing us
up,' said Debbie (Rebecca Ryan), who is now running
the household following the departure of eldest
daughter Fiona.
   To prevent her brother Liam (Johnny Bennett) from
being expelled from school, she shaved his head and
claimed he was dying. It was extreme even by the
Gallaghers' normal standards, and the inevitable
results, at the discovery of the ruse, darkly comic.
   Frank (David Threlfall) just gets more drug-crazed
and monstrous, but Threlfall continues to elicit
sympathy for a character with seemingly no redeeming
features. Frank loves his kids but doesn't care for
them; the miracle is that they love him nonetheless.
The only irritation is the ghastly, squeaking Sheila
(Maggie O'Neill). Where is Sweeney Todd when you need
   Todd was a veritable Barber of Seville alongside
the residents of Rome. In the finale to the series,
the viciousness of the gladiatorial scene was
stomach-wrenching - even more so than some of the sex
scenes have been.
   The final two episodes did not disappoint, and even
though I missed a couple and came back to discover
what seemed to be an entire cast change (maybe all
that sex and violence just aged people), it has been
an enjoyable romp and a far more pleasant way of
observing history than any documentary series.
   There was a bit of violence in Poirot, when a train
passenger had her face all but removed. Naturally,
this being Poirot, we saw only her legs, and the only
warning we needed was that part five would be the
boring bit, when our hero summed up the whole plot
while everyone inexplicably sat around and listened.
   No warnings were needed for A Seaside Parish, which
returned to show locals dealing with the aftermath of
the floods that destroyed much of Boscastle a year
   The star of this delightful series is 'Bishop
Bill', who presides over the 220 parishes in the
diocese of Truro. He was especially perceptive about
the railways.
   'I don't trust Virgin cross country,' he said. 'I
know now why they're called Virgin - because they
promise much and never deliver the whole goods.'
Bishops on virgins? Now surely that's something
deserving of a warning.


Secret Smile (ITV, Monday, Tuesday) ****

Perfect Day (Five, Sunday) ***

Magnificent 7 (BBC2, Tuesday) ****

Bleak House (BBC1, Thursday, Friday) *****

Taggart (ITV, Friday) ****

The British Comedy Awards (ITV, Wednesday) **

Why are women so slow to pick up on the shadier
aspects of men's personalities, or do they just choose
to ignore them? I once dated someone who managed to
get me to part with thousands of pounds in order to
keep his own bank account in credit, while mine went
overdrawn. He turned up over three hours late for
every date, and sent bottles of champagne to women he
fancied on other tables - on my bill. Incredibly, I
stuck it for seven months.

   So I had huge admiration for Secret Smile's Miranda
Cotton (Kate Ashfield), who ditched her new boyfriend
Brendan (David Tennant) after just ten days. They
slept together on the night they met, without even
discovering each other's names, but next thing, he was
helping himself to the spare keys, turning up
uninvited at the her apartment, and showing all the
signs of being a control freak. So that was that (I
would probably have strung it out for at least six
months, trying to understand him, until he took a
machete to my head).

   I think I would, however, have changed my locks
straight away. I don't like men hanging around at the
best of times (out by 1.30 am is great by me, so I can
make it to my club for last orders - you see? I am a
man trapped in a woman's body); but when they start
letting themselves in and uncorking the wine, urgent
action is called for.

   The two part-drama, which opened with Miranda's
family laying flowers at her memorial stone, then
flashed back to one year earlier, when Miranda met
Brendan at an ice-rink. When they broke up, he went
after her sister Kerry (Claire Goose) and wrought
havoc (including bringing about the suicide of their
brother). The rest of the family refused to
acknowledge what was going on until he ditched Kerry
for Miranda's friend Laura (Susannah Wise), who then
met with a suspicious end. Next, another girl, more
trouble, culminating with the disappearance of

   Now, we were supposed to believe that the psycho
had bumped her off, but you know something? Whenever a
drama starts with a death and then goes into
flashback, my first thought is: that person is not
dead - especially when there is no body.

   Watchable as the 180 minutes was, and fabulous and
talented as David Tennant is (he can play psycho or
charmer with equal brilliance), I could see it all
coming. Miranda, with Brendan's ex, Naomi (Keira
Malik), devised a way to make it look as if Brendan
had raped and killed her; he went down for life, she
went to Australia (I'm not sure who had the worse
deal). How she achieved this was all a little unclear,
which rather spoiled the end. But heck, she was alive.
Just as I knew she always was. Maybe I watch too much

   There was another dodgy man in Perfect Day, when
Amy (Claire Goose - again) decided on her wedding day
to Tom (Tom Goodman-Hill) that she preferred her ex,
Pete (Aidan McArdle), who turned up to wreck the big

   Why do dramas always employ Irish men to wreck
lives? Aidan Gillen's character did it in Walk Away
and I Stumble, and Perfect Day's Pete was of the same

   Weddings are ideal for bringing together a diverse
range of characters, so it was incredible that writer
Howard Overman managed to get such a dull group
together. The dialogue was often flat and predictable,
and it was impossible to believe that Rachel
(Josephine Butler) held a candle for her hapless,
hopeless ex, Rob (Bruce MacKinnon). The much better
written and less obvious story about the relationship
between Tom and his demanding, dreadful father, was a
meatier diversion.

   In the end, though, it was as good as any drama on
ITV these days, and terrific to see Five investing in
new writing.

   If you thought dealing with men was tough, try
living as a single parent with seven kids - four of
whom are autistic.

   Jacqui Jackson's real life experience was the
inspiration behind Magnificent Seven, which offered an
insight into the extraordinary life of this family
over one year.

   Helena Bonham Carter starred as Maggi, whose four
sons suffered different forms of autism that, in turn,
disrupted the lives not only of their own family, but
neighbours, fellow pupils, and, frankly, everyone with
whom they came into contact.

   The most moving of these stories was that of
Christopher (a tenderly amusing, beautiful performance
from Christopher Parkinson), whose problem was an
inability to understand 'anything that doesn't say
exactly what it means.' 'They won't bite you,' said a
man, trying to persuade him to take a crisp. 'I know
that . . . because crisps aren't alive,' he said. He
was, said Maggi, 'All at sea in a foreign land,
without a phrasebook.'

   Apart from being a little slow, and a really
hair-raising, excruciating speech Maggi gave at the
kids' school sports day, it was a rich drama that was
about so much more than one family's problems. It
offered a real insight into the worlds these children
inhabited: strange places, seen from different angles;
and the tools they had to employ just to get by.
  Bleak House ended as brilliantly as it had begun,
and Esther (Anna Maxwell Martin) ended up living
happily ever after with the love of her life, Alan
Woodcourt (Richard Harrington). The real revelation
was the hilarious Burn Gorman, whose exquisitely
observed Guppy never ceased to entertain. I'm still
only about a tenth of the way through the book, which
is the usual turgid Dickens stuff, and am always
grateful to television for saving me the trouble of
having to read any more.

   Taggart was a particularly nasty piece of work, in
which Jed and Archie Callaghan (Tom Jordan Murphy and
Michael Glenn Murphy), newly released from prison,
went about torturing anyone they thought had snitched
on them. This was unfortunate for Tony Benton (Paul
Morrow), who had - giving evidence 20 years previous
that had put the pair in jail.

   This story was a bit more predictable than most.
The police thought the Callaghans were guilty, and,
guess what, they were. But it is still one of the most
watchable detective series on the box.

   And so, again, to the chaos of The British Comedy
Awards, in which Jonathan Ross got to throw more
personal insults at his peers, and the comics
descended into a loud, drunken mob that came
dangerously close to drowning out the host completely.

   In a week of psychopaths, jilted lovers, autistic
kids, deaths and chopped off fingers, this year,
though, it seemed almost funny. I did say almost.


Dragon's Den (BBC2, Tuesday) *****

Make Me Rich (ITV1, Thursday) *

Making Slough Happy (BBC2, Tuesday) **

The Ghost Squad (C4, Tuesday) ***

Killer Instinct (Five, Thursday) ***

Secrets of the Dating Agency: Revealed (Five, Tuesday) ****

Married to the Prime Minister (C4, Monday) ***

Russian Godfathers (BBC2, Thursday) *****

Right. Here's the deal. Having launched my rugby/entertainment website last year, I now need to up the content on it and have come up with a scheme to help me do that. I approach a successful businessman or woman and ask them to cough up £100,000. Easy. All I have to do is answer a few questions, such as: What is to stop anyone else ripping off my idea? How do I turn my concept into a viable business? What percentage of my business am I prepared to give away in return for the investment?    Suddenly, it's not so rosy. And heaven help me if I turn up to ask for the cash wearing inappropriate clothes. And another thing. There is a great difference between having a passion for your product and being delusional.   

These, and many more issues like them, are raised with prospective entrepreneurs on Dragon's Den, which fulfils all the best business criteria: a great concept, brilliantly executed, utterly compelling, and more educational in its weekly half hour episodes than any business school course. The five "dragons" - five very rich business people - who assess the ideas put before them, are as fascinating as any character in drama, and I am completely obsessed both with them and John Hesling's brilliant series.   

Rachel Elnaugh is the more tender of the group; Doug Richard, at the other end of the scale, the toughest, and slightly terrifying. Duncan Bannatyne sounds hard just by virtue of his being Scottish, and will doubtless turn up in Taggart very soon (as all Scots do at some point in their lives). Then there's Peter Jones. Tall, handsome, breathtakingly divine Peter, to whom I would happily give £100,000 if he were to run away with me tomorrow.    

Peter is the deceptive one of the group. He has a kind face, which masks a ruthless streak that can cut some of the hapless, hopeless individuals down to midget size. Take Jonathan, who this week wanted £100,000 for shoving some advert on the street about keeping them clean. He turned up in jeans. Big mistake. If there's one thing that Peter can't stand, it's someone who can't present themselves properly, let alone their idea. "I'm going to ignore that comment, it's nonsensical," said Jonathan, when Peter suggested that he had not been able to afford a suit.   

The fifth dragon is the wonderful Theo Paphitis, whom I suspect is the greatest laugh; the incredulity he shows towards some of these hairbrained schemes is a riot. "Where are we going with this?" he asked the breathtakingly arrogant Jonathan. "I would rather stick pins in my eyes than invest in this."    Not having been on the panel last year, he missed the rotund Graham and Barry, who returned with their baby rocker idea. Like Duncan, he was prepared to put in £50,000, but on the proviso that the pair had nothing to do with the business. I thought they were going to cry. I tell you. Simon Cowell could take lessons from these people.   

Make Me Rich is as mind-numbing as Dragon's Den is brilliant. Money expert Martin Lewis advises people who have messed up their finances on how to make savings. In programme one, he showed Darren and Rowena, who have recently had triplets, how they could save £11,500 a year, just by transferring debt and cutting down. Telling them to invest in some condoms might have been better advice.   

Social scientist and economist Richard Reeves continued to spread the message that money does not bring happiness in the last episode of Making Slough Happy. He even took his gospel to the local church, where he declared that he was "evangelical about the possibility of greater happiness in our society."   

The 50 volunteers were still doing excruciating hugging sessions, and other locals were trying to summon up enthusiasm for the happiness anthem.   

The result was that the happiness of people in this dead-end town apparently increased by 33% by the end of the three month project. Of course it did. They had the support of a TV company, endless people to witter to about their problems, and the chance to appear on the box.   

But did we learn anything about what makes us truly happy? Sorry, but not living in Slough still tops my list.   

Happiness remains ever elusive for Amy Harris (Elaine Cassidy) in The Ghost Squad, which has a distinctly repetitive feel to it. As if her work were not difficult enough, this week she was dumped by her boyfriend, too. This required her to look even more enigmatic than usual, and I am beginning to think that nothing short of jaw-breaking surgery is going to bring a smile to her face.   

There was more sinister police work on offer in Five's latest American import, Killer Instinct. It has the proverbial tough- guy hero in Detective Jack Hale (Johnny Messner), and opened with a very creepy story in which a man was bumping off women   with deadly spiders. I can't help feeling that buying a shotgun might have proved the easier option.    There are easier ways of catching your prey, as secrets of the Dating Agency: Revealed showed us. The history of organised dating began in 1939, with the first marriage bureau, and it had a certain stigma attached to it. Today, vast numbers resort to the net, which, contrary to popular belief, is no more dangerous than meeting people in more ocnventional circumstances.    The mix of happy and sad stories was yet more evidence that people always have and still crave to be in a relationship. Why bother. No man has ever brought me as much happiness as my pay cheque.   

There was a brief insight into the Blairs' relationship in Married to the Prime Minister, in which Cherie talked about the difficulties of living in "the goldfish bowl" and talked to three of her predecessors.       

I like Cherie, who seems to me to be incredibly hard-working and a genuine supporter of women, as opposed to someone who just pays lip service to them. There was a bigger programme lurking here, focusing exclusively on Cherie; all we really learned about her predecessors was that they too found the lack of privacy tough.   

In a week in which I became strangely obsessed with money, I hugely enjoyed Russian Godfathers and the fascinating story of Boris Berezovsky, who in the 1990s became one of the richest men in the world, before being forced into exile in Britain when Putin came to power. He's worth £800 million, so maybe I'll tweak him for that £100,000 for my website. All supposing that Peter Jones doesn't get to me first.


The Osbournes (C4, Friday) *****

The Jeremy Kyle Show (ITV1, Monday to Friday) ****

ONE Life (BBC1, Tuesday) ***

Rome (BBC2, Wednesday) *****

Bleak House (BBC1, Thursday, Friday) *****

Born in the USSR: 21 Up (ITV, Tuesday) *****

Little Britain (BBC1, Thursday) ****

Everyone today is an expert in telling other people
how to live their lives. Despite the complexity of
human relationships, television and newspapers abound
with so-called experts who claim to have been there,
done it, got the T-shirt and now feel they have the
right to share their dubious “knowledge” with the rest
of the world.

Even Ulrika Jonsson is doing it, for goodness sake,
in a pontificating weekly newspaper column that has
trouble keeping up with her own relationship
break-ups, let alone anyone else’s.
Women columnists in general are particularly
opinionated when it comes to making black and white
pronouncements upon the emotional foibles of others.
Very few of them are trained to do so; invariably,
their only qualification is that they have been

One great worldwide exception in this field of
amateurs is US TV psychologist Dr Phil, whose shows
are not just pearls, but veritable oyster beds of
wisdom. Never cruel, never judgmental, what Dr Phil
does is listen very carefully: not, as our British
equivalents do, pretend to listen while planning what
they are going to say next, but really listen. Then,
he challenges statements in order that the
participants hear, and absorb, the full tenor of their

In the last episode of The Osbournes, Dr Phil
visited what has been called “the most dysfunctional
family in America.” There’s dad Ozzy, whose life has
been plagued by drink and drug problems, but is now
clean; two overweight children, Kelly and Jack; and,
of course, mum: queen of rock and X-Factor star,
Sharon. Then there are the animals: dozens of them,
all of whom, like the rest of the family, when they
are not fighting are running for cover.

To the outside world, the Osbourne household is a
menagerie. They swear incessantly, shout, argue, and
never seem to shut up long enough to try to get to
grips with what they need from one another. “Does this
family thrive on crisis? Do you need drama to be
okay?” asked Dr Phil, citing the fact that they have
lived in 27 houses in 24 years.

This, he said, is not “normal”; the norm is proven
by statistics which show how long people stay in one
place. Having moved 32 times in 10 years, I realise
that this puts me way off the norm radar, so to me the
Osbournes suddenly look like the most normal people in
the world.

The most fascinating aspect of Dr Phil’s session on
the couch was the family’s response: articulate, calm,
thoughtful and emotional without the hysterics. It was
hard not to like them, and, beneath the histrionics,
their problems might be those of any family. Dr Phil
concluded that they were “one of the most loving,
committed and mutually supportive families I’ve ever
seen.” When Sharon learns that throwing water at
decent human beings is both infantile and rude, they
might well turn out to be one of the most adult, too.
Jeremy Kyle is the closest male equivalent we have
to Dr Phil – well, close in that he is male. He is not
a doctor and, as far as I know, has only his own life
experience on which to draw for his morning
relationships chatshow.

Jeremy is relatively new to our screen and I have
never been sure whether he is a genius or a bully.
Increasingly, I am drawn to the former, and he is
streets ahead of everyone who has ever filled the
equivalent slot on any channel.

His approach is that of man of the people: guests
are referred to as “mate”, and he lives every moment
of each crisis they endure, ending statements with
platitudes that he somehow manages to deliver as if
they are being uttered for the first time. “It’s a
shame, it’s a shame,” he sighed, on Wednesday, when a
woman was refusing to allow her ex-partner access to
their child, “ ‘cos new life is precious.” “Life is
too short, right?” he concluded, to another woeful

The guests have got themselves into the same
hopeless messes as everyone else who has ever appeared
on these shows, and Jeremy sometimes takes the wrong
side. He doesn’t, for example, seem to like women very
much, and seems ignorant of the real hell, both
physical and emotional, that many men put them
through. But he is never boring.

Producer Richard Macer turned relationship expert
in ONE Life, which followed Steve Gough and Melanie
Roberts as they attempted to walk from Land’s End to
John O’Groats in the nude.

It was a new relationship, and not helped along the
way by Steve confessing after three weeks that he was
still sleeping with five other women. “Oh, sorry, now
I’ve let the cat out of the bag,” said Richard, as the
miaow echoed in Edinburgh.

Steve was unrepentant. “My brother, he’s got a
girlfriend, and he sleeps with other women, and she’s
okay about it.” That’s all right, then.

Richard’s musings on this bizarre couple were far
more amusing than the walk itself, which, predictably,
kept being interrupted by arrests and abuse from the
public. In this, we learned nothing new, but Richard,
who followed them with a single camera, is a star in
the making.

There was lots more nudity in the hugely enjoyable
Rome, with Titus (Ray Stevenson) analysing
relationship problems with women (“A good thrashing
once a day till they’re docile, but then they don’t
look so good”), and Atia (Polly Walker) doing the same
with men (“A large penis is always welcome” – remember
that, Jeremy, next time you’re slagging off the

That other great blockbuster, Bleak House, remains
low on nudity, but high on production values, and now
we are left with the great soap Who shot JR?-type
situation, with the murder of Mr Tulkinghorn (Charles

Like Bleak House’s Esther (Anna Maxwell Martin),
the young people of Born in the USSR: 21 Up have very
little to lighten their lives. The hopes and
aspirations they held at seven and 14 have been dashed
by a split country now hit by a commercialisation
culture that none of them can afford. The best they
make of their small lives was heartbreaking and yet
strangely uplifting in its intensity.

PR expert Max Clifford really hit the big time this
week, with Little Britain’s PR character Cliff
Maxford, to whom Vicky Pollard went with a dud story,
filled with yeah but no but yeahs about some unknown
mates. It was hysterical. Cliff advised her to come
back when she had a better one, which she instantly
did – “I’s done a gangbang with G4.”

In looks, temperament and social skills, Vicky
Pollard might well be the missing fifth Osbourne.


I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! (ITV1, daily) ****

The Paul O'Grady Show (ITV1, Monday to Friday) *****

Priest Idol (C4, Monday) ***

Inside the Mind of Adolf Hitler (BBC2, Monday) ****

Man Stroke Woman (BBC3, Sunday) ****

Life in the Undergrowth (BBC1, Wednesday) *****

Personally, I've never seen anything to celebrate about the great outdoors. I once went on a hike with the Girl Guides and cooked a sausage over a fire (Why bother? My mother had a grill). Last year, I bought a bike and have ridden it three times. My bladder is too small to sustain any long walks; my back too weak to carry a rucksack. And as for getting wet: if I wanted that, I'd have a bath.   

The participants in I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! presumably have no such qualms. At the start of each new series, they even revel in the fact that they have to go without their familiar creature comforts. But surely it is only the lure of money - the money they get for appearing, plus the spin-offs - that encourages them to undergo such torture.    

And torture it is. When Paul Burrell crunched on a kangaroo's testicle last year, I heaved; this week's feast of kangaroo tail likewise had me reaching for the bucket - and that meal was a regular one, not part of a Bushtucker Trial.   

The most difficult aspect of the exercise, however, must be living with the chosen people. Tara Palmer-Tompkinson, who is again presenting highlights of the show for ITV2, was a participant two years ago, and I could no more spend an hour with her than . . . well, eat a kangaroo's testicle. Her silliness as a presenter is unbearable, and why ITV continues to use her is as mysterious as David Dickinson being able to keep a straight face when he looks in the mirror (and why has he started talking like Michael Parkinson?).   

There are even more irritants among this year's mob. Carol Thatcher's jolly hockeysticks approach to everything makes you see why her mother turned out the way she did: even the tedium of late night sittings in the House of Commons must have been welcome relief from those plummy strains. "It's only a television programme!" she guffawed, to a tearful Gilly Goolden, who was chosen, along with Carol, for Wednesday's Bushtucker Trial.   

Gilly's tones are no less irritating, and one could only hope, as the two set off, that a whacking great dingo might appear and we never saw them again. Alas, it was not to be.   

The tedium of the camp in the first week has, as always, been saved by presenters Ant and Dec, who get funnier and funnier with each series. Their David Dickinson impressions are a riot, as are their youthful flirtations with the prettier members of the group. As a gig ("Did you have the salmon or the steak for dinner?" Dec asked Ant), it has to be one of the best, but they are worth every penny.   

Paul O'Grady is another presenter who gets funnier and funnier, and the speed of his gags during his daily afternoon show is breathtaking. There is nothing on which he does not have an opinion, and his quick thinking and incisive comments make the brilliantly produced Paul O'Grady Show one of the best entertainment hours in television history. The host's career is a showbusiness blueprint, and O'Grady's transformation from drag artist (how far away Lily Savage seems now) to presenter, is inspired, and one of ITV Daytime's greatest ever achievements.    

The presence of the dogs, Buster and Olga, at the start of the show, is equally inspired. Not only are they the cutest canines in the world, they are unintentionally hilarious.    Entertainment might be the answer to Father James McCaskill's prayers. The American priest has been trying to build his congregation in Lundwood, Barnsley, and has had nothing but nonchalance from his parishioners and negativity from the Parish Council, who prefer the more traditional approach.   

James, however, went to a marketing consultancy, where Steve and Julian came up with the idea of a Church Lite campaign, advertising a new-look establishment that would be more palatable than the old.   

I thought it was inspired, and you could only weep for James as the Parish Council heaped its dour Yorkshire scorn on the idea. Equally unimpressed was James's predecessor, Father David. "I wish he'd dress as a priest," he said.   

The three part series is, in theory, a good idea. The fundamental problem, however, is that there is only one thing guaranteed to bring more people to any institution: shove a TV crew in it and start filming.    Adolf Hitler was a bit of a Jesus enthusiast, too; the only difference being, that he thought he was him. Well, he certainly had a Messiah Complex, which made him identify with Christ the fighter.   

That was one of the theories propounded by Inside the Mind of Adolf Hitler, a fascinating analysis of a man whose life of "abuse, obsession and sexual perversion" apparently turned him into the monster he became.   

In 1943, Dr Walter C. Langer was asked by the CIA to draw up a profile of Hitler so that that the Allies might gain insight into what he might do next. Rooted largely in Freudian theory, it proved uncannily accurate, but, as with so much Freudian analysis, you couldn't help wondering whether everything was a little bit simpler: maybe Hitler was just nuts.   

The programme neatly explained the folly of this train of thought and presented a case trawling through Hitler's childhood and, in particular, the possibility that something went wrong at his potty training stage. Sorry, I'm still sticking to the barking theory.   

In the absence of any decent sketch shows on the mainstream channels, one increasingly turns to BBC3, and Man Stroke Woman is another gem. Produced by Ash Attala (The Office), it features sketches about relationships, and is often laugh aloud funny.   

I bellowed at the man waking up next to a hideous woman and sneaking out, only to get to the bottom of the stairs, see his wedding photo, and shrink with horror at the realisation that the woman was his wife. A very promising show.   

There is very little to say about David Attenborough's latest series, Life in the Undergrowth, other than it is even more brilliant than his previous brilliant series. Advances in technology mean that we can see the tiny world of insects and animals better than ever before, and it really is astonishing. If you think the celebrities are having a tough time in the Australian outback, think again: a male scorpion has to sting the female to make her drowsy enough to have sex with him. Sounds like a case of date rape to me. I still bet the female scorpion is easier to shut up than Carol Thatcher.