The Real Marigold on Tour, Monday 4th December, 9pm, BBC One
And so the latest instalment of TV’s newest fad rolls on. Since the BBC first discovered it had a hit on its hands with The Real Marigold Hotel, early last year, our screens have been deluged by the TV stars of yesteryear popping off to foreign climes to potter about and have a wonderful time.
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In less than two years, we’ve had two series of the Real Marigold, two series of Real Marigold on Tour, A Celebrity Taste of Italy, Celebrity Five Go Motorhoming, and most recently, the almost hallucinogenically bizarre Gone to Pot: American Road Trip. All of this is extremely good news for Bobby George, the former darts great who, presumably, thought that his career was beginning to wind down. Instead, in less than two years, he has been in four of the above series. His passport has got more stamps than Ban Ki-moon’s!
Of course, it’s not just good news for Bobby George – it’s good news for all of us. Because the genre in general is tremendous, and The Real Marigold programmes remain the standard bearers in terms of quality and entertainment. And the opening programme in this new series has brought its A-list of personalities: The always-enthusiastic Wayne Sleep, the shy-and-retiring wallflower (!) that is Rosemary Shrager, gentle (and gentlemanly) giant Bobby George, and the implausibly extraordinary force of nature that is Miriam Margolyes. The four are off to Chengdu, a quiet little hamlet of 14 million people in the Sichuan Province of China, to see what life is like for old people out there.
Right from the word go, the language is a problem. At the airport, Rosemary is trying to buy them bus tickets into town. But she doesn’t know the word for ‘four’. “Quatro,” ventures Wayne helpfully, apparently unaware that Spain and China are somewhat separate entities. Pretty soon, Miriam is lamenting the ageing process. “I’m an old lady,” she wails. “I’m a fat old lady. I’m a short, fat old lady.” I hope that’s not her dating site profile.
On arrival into the town centre, they head to their house, and after a brief argument about rooms (won, inevitably, by Miriam) they head out for a meal. Helpfully, the menu has English translations. Unhelpfully, the translations are things like ‘husband and wife lung film’. Yum. I’ll have two, please. The food is not a hit. Later, the group make friends with some locals in a park, who take them for a cup of tea. Bobby takes a sip, and pronounces it ‘disgusting’. All this travel hasn’t yet turned him into a member of the diplomatic corps.
In the quest for food they are comfortable with, they decide one of the group will cook for them. Obviously, they choose Bobby. Rosemary Shrager, presumably, is off to take part in a darts tournament at the same time.
In the quest for food they are comfortable with, they decide one of the group will cook for them. Obviously, they choose Bobby. Rosemary Shrager, presumably, is off to take part in a darts tournament at the same time. The next day, Wayne and Miriam go to a swimming pool, situated in a shopping mall 22-times bigger than Buckingham Palace. The pool itself looks fabulous, but something about it sends Miriam into a state of unbridled fury. After a healthy swearing session that would embarrass a navvy, she marches up to a lifeguard and shouts: “I HATE THIS POOL!” She’ll be joining Bobby in working for the Foreign Office sometime soon, no doubt.
Things cheer up when the group board a bullet train and head off to see Giant Pandas. Their guide explains that, like humans, pandas must fall in love before they mate. Saturday nights out in the UK suggest otherwise, for the humans at any rate. After mating, the pandas must be separated, in case they argue. Now that is more like humans! It’s safe to say, Miriam finds the whole panda experience a little more gratifying than the swim. Indeed, she seems positively overcome. She really is the most extraordinary woman. She deserves her own series. I’d watch her in a room, on her own, clipping her toenails. She is magnificent, curmudgeonly and terrifying all at once.
Find Me a Family, Tuesday 5th December, 9pm, Channel 4
Did I ever tell you how I met my wife? Probably not, on account of this being a TV previews blog, but never underestimate my ability to talk about myself on just the flimsiest of pretexts. Anyway, I met my wife at a party. I nearly didn’t go. I had a hangover sufficient to floor a hippo, and had phoned the hostess to cry off, but she gave me such a colossal talking to that I turned up, tail between my legs, only to meet the love of my life. Cowardice has its benefits.
We were by no means original. Lots of people meet their partners at a party. My dad met my mum at a party. What’s less common is parents meeting their kids for the first time at a party. But, turns out, in this weird and wonderful world of ours, it happens. That’s what this one-off film is about.
Every two weeks in the UK, a party takes place, where children in the care system meet potential adopters. In this eye-opening documentary, cameras capture one such party, and tell the story of the day itself, and of the people involved, from the organisers and carers to the children and potential adopters.
Only a fifteen-minute taster tape of the film was made available to me, so I can’t be truly definitive about it, but it looks like a truly fascinating and moving watch. Even in the brief glimpses I had, it was impossible not to be struck by the heart-rending plight of some of the children involved (including four siblings aged six-and-under, who will be split up if they can’t be housed together soon). Striking, too, is the generosity of spirit shown by people like Jo, a foster carer to the four, and the love and kindness of those looking to adopt. It’s depressing, that children are ever put in such a position, but it’s life-affirming to watch a film where you see the best of humanity, in the bleakest of places.
It’s not an easy issue, though, this one. In some respects, it feels disturbingly like a beauty pageant. Which child is the cutest? Oh, I like that one. Look at his little outfit. These are kids we’re talking about, it’s not a shopping trip. And some of the kids know the point of the party – how does it feel to them, if nothing comes of it? They’ve already been rejected once, and face a world filled with uncertainty. What must this do to their already fragile self-confidence?
But then again… Is it really better to make a decision by reading about a child? Isn’t that to ignore the indefinable bonds that can spring up when people meet? Should we deny the importance of chemistry? Of warmth, and interaction, of making each other laugh? And there’s something else. Some kids, on paper, are very hard to place. They might have behavioural issues, or disabilities. They might, for example, be a group of four siblings. And four siblings, on paper, looks like one hell of a handful. Actually, four siblings in the flesh, at the party, looks like one hell of a handful – but when you see them, who’s to say something remarkable won’t happen? And if this slightly awkward ‘pageant’ element is the price to pay for keeping four young, beautiful, adoring and brittle siblings together, and given a home in a loving family, who are we to judge?
On the basis of this 15-minute tape, there might – just might – be a couple willing to take them on. I’ll be watching when it finally goes out, and I will have everything crossed.
The best… and the rest
Saturday 2nd December
Can We Live with Robots, 7pm, Channel 4: Channel 4’s robot season concludes with a look at the significance of AI and its implications for humanity through, um, the medium of contemporary dance. Over on the BBC, Strictly must be panicking…
The X Factor: Live Final, 7:05pm, ITV: With X Factor being roundly trounced by Strictly in terms of audience figures, it feels as though the battle of the Saturday night entertainment behemoths has taken a final, decisive turn. Tonight and tomorrow’s live final could mark the last death throes of this format, which has now grown so tired and clichéd it has become a parody of itself.
Monday 4th December
Concorde: Designing the Dream, 9pm, Channel 5: First in a two-part series telling the story of the remarkable co-operation between France and the UK that allowed the countries to beat the USSR and the USA in the race to build the world’s first supersonic airline.
Tuesday 5th December
Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas, 8pm, Channel 4: Ms Allsopp is back to encourage us all to knit, bake, build, stick, crochet, whittle, carve, fashion and sew our way to the perfect Christmas. Meanwhile, those of us who struggle to wrap a present without Sellotaping ourselves to the fridge go about our normal business of preparing for the festive season by buying several cases of wine and checking the TV schedules.
Wednesday 6th December
My Son: The Serial Killer, 9pm, Channel 5: Steve Wright, the ‘Suffolk Strangler’, murdered five women who worked as prostitutes in Ipswich in 2006. Here, his father Conrad offers illuminating, disturbing and tragic insights into the case.
Thursday 7th December
Catching a Killer: A Bullet through the Window, 9pm, Channel 4: A 19-year-old man (boy, really) is shot through an open window in a quiet suburban street in Milton Keynes early one morning. With the killer on the loose and the weapon still out there, Thames Valley Police investigate with focussed urgency.