TV blog: Joanna Lumley's India

Benjie Goodhart / 29 June 2017

Joanna Lumley begins a three-part series exploring India, the land of her birth. Plus, the best of the rest of the week ahead on TV.

Joanna Lumley’s India, 1/3, Wednesday 5th July, 9pm, ITV

I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Everyone’s always worrying these days about our ageing population, the pension deficit, and how our NHS will cope with the increasing burden of care. But I don’t believe there are many older people left in this country. As far as I can work out, they’re all off swanning around India, and having a frightfully good time. First, there were the Real Marigold gang – then the Real Marigold series two gang, then lovely Prunella and Tim on their luxury houseboat, and now Joanna Lumley.

Read Benjie's review of Great Canal Journeys: India

Not that I’m complaining. I could watch programmes about India until the cows came home, wandering, untouched and sacred down the middle of a busy urban road. And I could watch Joanna Lumley – posh, funny, radiant Joanna Lumley – present a twelve-part travelogue from Barrow-in-Furness and not get bored. So this is a heady mix indeed.

India and Lumley are inextricably linked. She was born there, and both sides of her family lived in India for generations before her. In this three-part series, she’s travelling 5,000 miles the length and breadth of the country, from the lush rainforest to the baking desert plains to the Himalayan foothills.

Discover the magical sights of Nepal, that sit in the shadow of the magnificent Himalayas. Find out more here.

Her journey begins in the southern city of Medurai, home to an astonishingly lovely ancient temple whose bright colours make it look like it was designed by an excitable Bake Off contestant on hallucinogens. Then she’s off to a tailor’s market, a vast collection of skilled artisans making bespoke clothes for customers. (Could we all please keep this place a secret from my wife, thanks so much!)

Next she meets up with an old family friend, who has spent much of his life travelling round India on an old Enfield motorcycle (it seems utterly fitting that Lumley has such louche and bohemian friends). He gives her a backie on his bike, along one of the most stunning and twisty mountain roads on earth. It’s majestic – though round every bend you keep waiting for Clarkson, Hammond and May to come roaring past in sports cars shouting about torque and traction.

Read about Simon Gandolfi's trip round India on a Honda 125

Her travels take in wild elephants, tea plantations, film studios in Hyderabad, and jute mills in Kolkata. (Kolkata, incidentally, seems to be a city where people communicate less through speech, and more through the medium of car horns). Saving the best for last, she travels to Sikkim, which turns out to be India’s least-populated state, nestling in the foothills of the Himalayas and looking up at the five mighty peaks of Kanchenjunga. Sikkim’s capital, Gangtok, was where Lumley’s mother was brought up. This time, it’s personal.

As ever, Lumley is a host of infinite charm, endlessly polite and warm and funny and self-deprecating, and India is, well, India. It’s not hard to see why this bewitching country has exerted such a hold over the British for hundreds of years. And, thanks to an almost constant stream of programmes, now you can experience the whole place from the comfort of your living room, safe in the knowledge that the temperature in mid-summer is unlikely to struggle much above 15°C.

Wimbledon, BBC One and Two, pretty much constantly for the next fortnight, yippee!

Hurrah! In case you’d not picked up on the fact that summer has arrived (the recent brick-meltingly scorching spell should have been a hint) good old Wimbers is back. Wimbledon is one of those British summer mainstays, like flooded barbecues and plagues of flying ants, that forms the fabric of our lives. I can still remember the joys of rushing home from school to sit in front of the TV with a banana milkshake and watch McEnroe, Borg, Connors, Evert, Navratilova et al. Wimbledon feels like one of those events that everyone can enjoy – tennis is, after all, the sport loved by people who don’t really like sport – and with a British champion defending his title in the men’s singles, there is much to get excited about.

As ever, the redoubtable Sue Barker will be at the helm, joined by a team including John McEnroe, Jo Durie, John Inverdale, John Lloyd, Tracy Austin and Boris Becker, who could probably do with the cash. Highlights will come from the equally redoubtable Clare Balding, who will present the nightly show from an open air studio (optimistic? Much?) by Henman Hill/Rusedski Ridge/Murray Mound/Konta Contour.

The coverage will also include live streaming, available on the red button, the iPlayer, and the BBC sport website. And on Sunday 2nd July at 5:20pm, the BBC will screen a documentary, Sue Barker: Our Wimbledon, in which she travels the world meeting some of the Wimbledon greats (including Sampras, Navratilova and Federer) to find out what the tournament means to them. This is all part of the 90th anniversary of BBC’s Wimbledon coverage (beginning with radio in 1927). One can only hope for 90 more years – the BBC does it brilliantly, and the idea of it ending up on ITV, presented by Paddy McGuinness and Lorraine Kelly, is too grim to contemplate.

The men’s tournament looks a riveting prospect this year. Defending champion Murray and former World No 1 Novak Djokovic have both looked peculiarly out-of-sorts of late. Meanwhile, the form of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, both of whom had long since been put out to pasture by most experts, has been extraordinary. Federer won the grass court tournament in Halle for the ninth time in his career last week, while Nadal’s implausible victory at the French Open saw him not drop a single set on the way to the title. Look out, too, for French Open finalist and multiple slam-winner Stan Wawrinka.

The women’s tournament is no less open, thanks in no small part to the absence of Serena Williams, who is off producing a tiny future 45-time Grand Slam winner due this autumn. Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova must start as favourite, an extraordinary achievement considering she was knifed in her own home only last December. There is also the small matter of Venus Williams, who must now be well past Saga-membership age, who will be eager to show that it’s not just the men who can roll back the years. And Britain’s Johanna Konta, the world No. 7, has a real chance to go all the way this year.

All in all, it should be a belter. Welcome back, Wimbledon.

The best… and the rest of the week ahead on TV

Saturday 1st July

Melvyn Bragg on TV: The Box that Changed the World, 9pm, BBC Two: Two-hour special, in which our Melv and a host of highbrow guests look at the extraordinary impact TV has had on our lives.

Sunday 2nd July

Dunkirk: The New Evidence, 8pm, Channel 4: For a long time, the events of Dunkirk were seen as a failure of the RAF. This film redresses the balance, outlining the massive sacrifices they made in order to make the rescue possible.

Monday 3rd July

The Betrayed Girls, 8:30pm, BBC One: Deeply harrowing feature-length documentary about the child sex-abuse scandal in Rochdale, with many victims speaking for the first time.

50 Shades of Gay, 10pm, Channel 4: Rupert Everett presents this film documenting the changes in gay life and gay culture since the legalisation of homosexuality 50 years ago.

Tuesday 4th July

Life Behind Bars: Visiting Hour, 9pm, Channel 4: Documentary filmed in the visiting room of one of Scotland’s largest maximum security prisons, giving an intimate insight into people doing time as they meet their loved ones.

Informative, in-depth and in the know: get the latest entertainment news, interviews and reviews with Saga Magazine.

Wednesday 5th July          

The Highland Midwife 1/3, 8pm, Channel 5: Documentary series following three expectant mothers in the Highlands. No, I’m not quite sure why, either, but I bet it’s pretty.

The Windsors, 10pm, Channel 4: Enjoyably daft, absurd and raucous comedy about the royal family. Theresa May wants Prince Charles to help secure a trade deal with China. When he proves resistant, Camilla is forced to step in.

Thursday 6th July

Who Do You Think You Are 1/10, 9pm, BBC One: Charles Dance’s search for information about his long-dead father takes him to the other side of the world, in this welcome return of the genealogy series.

Circus Kids: Our Secret World 1/3, 9pm, Channel 5: New series following the lives of children performing in circuses, some of whom are only two years old.

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