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.”
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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