The flame still burns
To be fair, the latest stunt was far more engrossing from a story point of view than, say, the collapsing house was. There was a genuine reason for this conflagration as the story of Sarah’s death - told when the show had a tad more integrity - was brought to the fore. Far from dancing on Sarah’s grave, this storyline was resurrected with the reverence it deserved, far better than the last time it was revisited when Robert discovered the truth.
Key to this plot is the new improved Victoria. You’re not a true Sugden unless you’ve had a head transplant. Believe it or not younger viewers, Jack is not the original Jack, Sarah managed to change both head and personality completely as did young Robert. Andy appears to be the same lump of wood he always was but then he’s not a real Sugden, so not susceptible to the Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Actually the fire seemed to go on for ages. They must have cast iron lungs for these Sugdens to be able to survive so long. Pollard should have emerged the hero as he risked life and limb to save someone, but he saved Pearl! We were booing.
Booing, that is, until bad bad Billy Hopwood decided to brave the flames to save his stricken sworn enemy Mad Jack. Our catcalls quickly gave way to a chorus of Billy, Don’t Be a Hero, sadly to no avail. Billy failed to keep his pretty head low and was caught in what seemed to be an explosion of hair products, ironic bearing in mind he doesn’t have much hair, and probably a bit less after the big bang.
The moral of the story? If your house has been doused in petrol by a drunken teenager - you’d be amazed how often it can happen - don’t go upstairs, cutting yourself from all means of escape, get the hell out of there. I blame the demise of the public information film for people not being aware of these basic survival techniques.
Forget the fire though; the real excitement came at the quiz night where the villagers were thwarted by the Dingles' cheating. That was worthy of an hour-long special all of its own.
Or maybe not.
Just when we thought we couldn't bear any more excitement, Madge from Neighbours turned up and had a cup of tea with Edna.
It’s heartbreaking to see a much-loved favourite TV character being faced with their own mortality. When Doc Martin’s Aunty Joan was diagnosed with osteoporosis it looked as if the bottom had fallen out of her world. We needn’t have worried. She soon bounced back. Bounced back several times in fact, with the aid of a kitchen table and the bloke who’d come round to do her decorating. Of course the Doc walked in in the middle of the act. He was shocked by what he saw. I don’t blame him; I was slightly taken aback myself.
Surprise at this scene was obviously expected by the programme-makers, because after the ad break we were treated to an action replay of the deed just in case we hadn’t quite believed it had been graphically depicted the first time.
Now this could have been quite a tacky storyline to tackle but somehow – no doubt helped along by the more than impressive comic talents of Martin Clunes and Stephanie Cole – the whole thing managed to stay just on the right side of decency if not good taste, but what can you expect from a show where the hero turns up to a birthday party with a dead dog under his arm.
Somehow though, the charm of the setting just makes you forgive excess and this remains one of the best-made and frankly original shows on any channel at the moment. If only more British shows could be like this and feel like less like they’ve churned off the production line like tins of beans.
Cuts at the Beeb
I know that the BBC have to make the books balance and face severe financial challenges in the years ahead, but surely as a public service broadcaster, they shouldn’t cut funding in areas where if they don’t do things they don’t get done. What other broadcaster is going to let Bill Oddie loose in a hedgerow?
The BBC’s cuts in specialist factual programming will really hurt because they do it like no other. BBC Three seems to have been allowed to remain when there are countless commercial channels serving the audience it attempts to cater for.
We don’t need a cheap and cheerful BBC. There must be a fear that budget cuts mean that its news coverage may go downmarket. Think it won’t happen? Watch ITV’s news output these days; it’s not a patch on what it used to be.
They could save a fortune by dropping all those tedious daytime lifestyle shows but the fear must be that they remain while serious educational and informative programming will become rarer and rarer. You can’t make shows of the quality of Planet Earth on the cheap. Do we really want this replaced with the likes of Animals Do The Funniest Things. That must be the fear.
We're faced with more repeats. More repeats? BBC Two must have already worn out their Porridge tapes by now. People apparently appreciate "narrative repeats". As the country goes digital more and more of us will have PVRs. We can sort out our own repeats, thanks.
The cash squeeze at ITV has seen all its public service responsibilities marginalised or disappeared. The BBC Trust should be striving to ensure this doesn't happen at the corporation, not conniving at the destruction of what made the BBC what it is.
All on his Todd
Todd Grimshaw wandered back on to the cobbles of Coronation Street this week and quickly reminded us why we’ve haven’t missed him in the intervening years. Even Sean didn’t seem interested. I suspect that hoardes of Doctor Who fans across the nation were clicking their fingers hoping his skull would open up.
I normally don’t have much time for slack-jawed Jason or soppy Sarah either, but it has to be said that Sarah’s dress fitting was a piece of slapstick well worth seeing. Less edifying was the image placed in our heads when we were told of Jerry’s unclad antics in a fountain in Milan. At least we didn’t have to witness it, but the very thought seemed to curdle the milk in my tea.
You can’t exactly call Spooks tongue-in cheek can you? They seem to take life so seriously that you get the impression that if their coffee machine broke down, it would quickly escalate into an international incident.
The series began with Adam climbing from the ice cold Ros’s bed. He really should check for frostbite. Before long though, there had been a nasty atrocity in Tehran and our friendly neighbourhood spies had perpetrated it. Not good, but before long they managed to compound the error by letting a deadly plague loose in the streets of London. Worse still, both Zaf and Adam were infected with it. It was at this point that we were sure an antidote would turn up.
Po-faced this show may be, but it still is largely a slice of fantasy. Unlike James Bond though, who tends to go up against cartoon-like egotistical megalomaniacs, the scenarios here tend to be more likely, making the line between fact and fiction a little more blurred. It’s the one thing about this show I’ve never been quite comfy with. To quote Roy Walker, it’s good but it’s not right.
One thing you really can’t fault is the performances from Rupert Penry Jones's brooding intensity to the sheer bleak coldness of Ros. You wouldn’t want to play poker with Hermione Norris after seeing this now would you? Sadly, memories of Here Come the Double Deckers stop me taking Peter Firth seriously as heart-on-his-sleeve head honcho Harry. Things seem to be so dreadfully grave in every episode, so his hush low tones when pointing out the obvious are losing some of their gravitas these days.
Sure it’s hokum, but it’s unmissable hokum.
Coming up Blanc
I’d really enjoyed The Restaurant but the final show came as a bit of a disappointment. I found all of the couples marvellously entertaining but frankly on the evidence of the shows, I wouldn’t want to go into business with any of them.
What they did provide was great entertainment, none more so than eventual winners Jeremy and Jane, whose relationship really seemed under strain as times, Jane’s wish to achieve perfection colliding head on with Jeremy’s more laid-back approach to the venture.
Victory was theirs though, at the expense of the posh twins who’d looked like potential winners throughout and are probably unlucky not to have scooped the prize.
There was a lack of fanfare at the end, and little reward for the viewer who’d invested fifteen hours into this show. We didn’t even get to see the restaurant prize.
Dermot no more
Although I confess that I do prefer Bill Turnbull, I’ll still miss Dermot Murgnahan on the BBC Breakfast sofa in the mornings. It’s such a shame he’s defecting to Sky, but it’s something we may have to get used to now that Auntie’s strapped for cash.
How long before all of the BBC News shows are presented by Kate Silverton sitting on an orange box?
Bits 'n' Bobs
I’ve been trying to champion The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle but it’s a bit like trying to turn back the tide. The third episode was truly awful and the Brief Encounter thing didn’t work at all. A pity.
Peggy’s sudden debt problems in EastEnders have all the hallmarks of storyline bolted on to explore an issue rather than a character-driven one. It’s almost like the ghost of Brookside has arrived on Albert Square.
The news channels pulled out all the stops as Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan was marred by a terrorist attack and massive loss of life. However, it was hard to tell just how big a news story it was on BBC’s Ten O’clock News. It seemed they couldn’t wait to move on to the ITV scandal. I can’t help thinking there would have been much more coverage had a similar thing occurred in a western city.
A nice homage to the movie Seven in Prison Break, featuring special guest start Edna Box. I can’t wait till Michael finds out. How long to the next episode? Weeks? Pure torture.
How lifeless did Gabriel Byrne seem on The Graham Norton Show? Was a very hyper Letitia Dean sapping his energy in some way? Letitia had her legs out again. They seem to be on the telly more often than those annoying MFI ads at the moment.
It's seems I'm not alone in having a crush on Kate Garraway. So do the DVLA.
If you're a history teacher planning to use BBC Two's The Tudors as an educational aide, do yourself a favour and preview it first. You might just find that the biology teacher has more use for it.