The Real Marigold Hotel, Wednesday 15th February, 9pm, BBC One
The fabulous US sitcom Cheers survived when the character ‘Coach’ left. Downton survived the tragic passing of Matthew. Taggart even survived the departure of its titular character. But can the Real Marigold Hotel really survive without Miriam Margolyes? The redoubtable force of nature was the undoubted star of the first series, and the recent ‘on tour’ spin-offs. Would the programme survive in its new, Miriam-less format? (Actually, Dr Miriam Stoppard might rightly take exception to the show being described as Miriam-less).
Anyway, the programme is – hurrah, hurrah – as charming, funny, informative, poignant, exotic and delightful as ever. This four-part series sees eight celebrities of a certain vintage travelling out to India (this time to Kochi, in Kerala) for a month, to see what it would be like to retire there. Those involved are former Goodie Bill Oddie (75), dancer Lionel Blair (87), snooker star Dennis Taylor (67), actor Paul Nicholas (72),TV chef Rusty Lee (67), Three Degrees singer Sheila Ferguson (69), actor Amanda Barrie (80) and TV doctor and agony aunt Dr Miriam Stoppard (79).
The eight are staying in a charming 16th-Century house built by Portuguese merchants. An impish Paul is absolutely delighted to be put in the intriguingly-named ‘John Thomas Room’. “What does the room come with?” he asks, eagerly. Meanwhile, the rather brash Sheila is setting about making damn sure she gets the room she wants (Ms Margolyes would approve!)
Lionel is finding the adjustment tricky. He is sleeping with his suitcase next to him on the double bed. “I’ll imagine my wife is lying next to me.” I’m sure that was intended as a compliment, Lionel, but in my limited experience, women tend not to enjoy being likened to suitcases. You may find one packed for you when you return home.
Oh, but this programme is simply joyous. Whether we’re watching Paul and Bill on a seemingly fruitless search for underpants, or Rusty accidentally putting vast amounts of vinegar into a curry, or the extraordinary process one undergoes to buy alcohol in Kochi, this is heavenly fare. All the individual characters are a complete delight, and they seem to enjoy each other as much as they do India.
They split into two groups to explore the frankly paradisiacal backwater canals that criss-cross the region, and the beauty is so intense it quite takes the breath away. It is, not surprisingly, a Damascene moment for Lionel. “If you wanted peace of mind, build a house and come and live here, because you couldn’t be happier.”
With its dazzling breadth of experiences and deep spirituality, India never fails to delight the senses and uplift the soul. Find out more here.
Then it’s back into town to throw a party for the neighbours. Sheila sings to the guests. Lionel does a dance.
There is a theory in TV that you need conflict for it to really engage. This TV show is about fabulous people in an extraordinary location, having an absolute whale of a time. And it is entirely infectious. Miss this at your peril.
Read Benjie's review of The Real Marigold Hotel on Tour
Read Benjie's review of the original series of The Real Marigold Hotel
Andrew Marr: My Brain and Me, Tuesday 14th February, 9pm, BBC One
In 2013, Andrew Marr had a stroke that nearly killed him. Not ‘nearly killed him’ in the kind of way you might claim to have almost died if you want to make a story sound a bit dramatic. This was the real deal. This was ‘nearly killed him’ in the sense that he spent days hovering between life and death. On two occasions his wife, Jackie, was told he wasn’t expected to live. If he did, there was a high expectation that he’d have severe brain damage.
Well it’s not much of a spoiler alert to reveal that Marr did not die. And, witnessing him regularly run rings around seasoned politicians on his Sunday morning show, I think it’s fair to say his faculties are all operating pretty effectively. But watching this one-off documentary, it immediately becomes clear that the stroke has left Marr with some lasting effects. When you’re used to seeing him interviewing guests, or listening to him on Start the Week, the extent of his disability comes as something of a shock.
What is equally apparent, over this utterly engrossing hour of television, is that Marr is a proud and dignified man, who loathes exhibiting any sign of weakness. Sitting at a table trying to put coloured pieces of plastic into a bowl, he compares himself to a toddler, before very firmly announcing he would like filming to stop. He is just as keen not to show any emotional weakness. At one point, he teases the director that she’s probing him so that she’ll get a treasured shot of a single tear running down his cheek. “Never going to happen,” he announces cheerfully. He abhors self-pity almost above anything else.
That Marr is a proud man is not to say that he isn’t also a charismatic and engaging figure. You don’t need to see that single tear to become emotionally invested in his attempts to improve his mobility, and to make the most of his life. He believes overwork was the primary cause of his stroke, so it’s been a quiet year. A weekly TV current affairs show. A weekly radio show. A couple of books. A few documentaries. Luckily, it’s been a pretty quiet year on the political front, too. As he himself reflects, on the day the Prime Minister resigned, it was the third story on the news, such was the chaos created by the referendum result.
There’s some fascinating scientific content, showing how Marr’s brain has compensated, and is adapting to his new reality. Marr also meets other stroke survivors (of whom there are a staggering one million in the UK) including a woman who can barely talk, but can sing word-perfectly, and a man with ‘face blindness’ who can’t recognise his own wife.
At the programme’s core, though, is Marr: Proud, determined, bloody-minded, workaholic, funny, grumpy, frustrated, frustrating, inspiring and ultimately triumphant.
The best… and the rest
Saturday 11th February
Terry Pratchett: Back in Black, 9pm, BBC Two: Pratchett’s death, in March 2015, of Alzheimer’s, robbed the world of a unique, creative, funny and mischievous mind. Here he is remembered in an appropriately idiosyncratic and entertaining film.
Monday 13th February
First Dates: Valentine’s Special, 9pm, Channel 4: Valentine’s Day hits the FD restaurant, hampered only by the fact that this was probably filmed in October, making everyone tell a hideous telly-lie every time they open their mouths to say “Happy Valentine’s Day”.
The Wedding Day, 10pm, Channel 4: Behind the scenes at the wedding of Serena and Jordan. Because a wedding day isn’t stressful enough, right?
Tuesday 14th February
Super Slimmers: Did They Really Keep the Weight Off? 8pm, Channel 4: Six weight loss champions, who lost a staggering 80 stone between them, discuss what happened next.
The Great British Skinny Dip, 10pm, Channel 4: Documentary following the marketing director of British Naturism as he tries to recruit new, younger members (pun intended) by organising an enormous national skinny dip. Each to their own.
Thursday 16th February
June Brown at 90 – A Walford Legend, 8pm, BBC One: June Brown, the fabulous, irrepressible, actress, turns 90 today. Still playing Dot Cotton to this day, she is an extraordinary example of how age is just a number. Happy birthday, your Juneness.
Mafia Women with Trevor McDonald, 9pm, ITV: What’s scarier than a Mafia man? Trevor McDonald finds out the answer…
Friday 17th February
The Lake District: A Wild Year, 9pm, BBC Two: I’ve not seen even a clip of this programme, but I think it’s safe to say you can expect a spot or two of rain…