Review: Collectaholics, Tuesday, April 7, 7pm, BBC 2
TV loves an eccentric. The cameras could come round to your house or mine and film for a decade, and see nothing more interesting than people drinking cups of tea and belching loudly (that’s you, by the way, I’d never be so gauche). But someone like Margaret, in Tuesday’s episode of Collectaholics… You never did see the like.
Collectaholics was a three part series on consecutive nights on BBC 2 last week and was, in its own humble way, a gem. It followed two amiable hosts as they met some seriously dedicated collectors. Like Jack and Jan, from Wiltshire, who love mid-century modernism so much, they built a home to house their collection. Or Chris, a natural history buff whose collection of skulls, taxidermy, and fossilised poo is so large he sleeps in a chair. (He says it’s because of a bad back, but I think that’s probably a case of the chicken and the egg, both of which he probably has somewhere in his collection).
And then there’s Margaret. Margaret lives in a house in suburban London bedecked with bunting and plaques depicting members of the royal family. You can tell before going in that she’s a couple of minor royals short of a regal dynasty. But inside… wow. Just wow. Over 40 misspent years, she has built a collection of chintzy royal tat so huge it has taken over her entire house, which now resembles a Buck House gift shop run by Liberace.
She loves the royals, does Margaret. “I think of them as an extension of my family,” she remarks with inadvisable candour. When Prince George was born, she spent six days outside the hospital. Every day, she gets up at 4:30am so she can keep up with all the royal magazines.
She has 10,000 pieces in her collection, ad has even commissioned a stained glass window of Diana – although the result looks like Diana painted by Picasso. With the eyes of a wolf, and a face made from a saucepan lid. There’s also a Diana fresco. “You just think she’s looking down on you, don’t you?” Yes, I very much suspect she is, Margaret.
You can even have Bed and Breakfast at Margaret’s. In the Sandringham Room. “People come in who don’t know I have a collection, and by the time they leave, they’re royalists.” Wow, you can do all that in the 30 seconds it takes them to make their excuses and bolt?
At the end, there’s the tricky matter of valuation. Ten thousand items. It turns out the whole lot is valued at £5000-£10,000. That’s as little as 50p per item. Margaret doesn’t mind. To her, they’re priceless. Each to their own.
Review: Secret Britain, Wednesday, April 8, 9pm, BBC One
For this new three-part series, Countryfile’s Ellie Harrison and Adam Hanson are following tips from viewers as to the country’s rural secret gems. Presumably so they can share them with the world, ensuring that in a few months’ time there will be a coach park and a Nando’s there, and everyone can enjoy their little slice of bucolic heaven.
In this first programme, the duo are off to the Brecon Beacons. The programme gets off to a muted start, when they climb a mountain looking for a rare phenomenon, dragon’s breath. Disappointingly, dragon’s breath turns out not to be the fiery breath of a mythical beast, but, um, low-lying cloud. So, you know, not that rare in Wales. Though, as it happens, they don’t see it anyway.
This sets the tone for the ensuing hour, which largely seems to consist of Ellie and Adam talking excitedly about fairies, witches, myths and magic, before showing us something utterly prosaic. There is, for example, a huge rock that is said to get up and go for a drink every Mayday. Except, well, it doesn’t. On account of being, y’know, a rock.
There’s the Witches Pool, which holds a dark secret. The secret? They may have once drowned witches there. Except we’re not given any evidence to suggest they did, and the shallow pool looks like you’d struggle to drown a kitten in it. Hopefully you’d struggle to drown a kitten anyway. What are you, a monster?
Then there’s the enchanted lake with the large, invisible rock in the middle of it. According to the press release “the locals say this wonderfully isolated lake is the gateway to a magical secret kingdom.” Really? Which locals? Are they on day release? It looks to me like a gateway to hypothermia. Ellie meets a local man who explains the lake’s legend, before he “slips away as silently as he appeared [ie he walks off perfectly normally] leaving me alone – well, apart from the fairies.” And the film crew – Barry from Rhyl and Tony from Gosport.
Adam goes fly fishing with a local expert on the Usk. They catch a fish and celebrate wildly. It looks like a sardine’s younger brother. Ellie visits an island “that’s not an island”. Because it’s man made. So, um, it’s still an island then. It used to have some wooden houses on it. Now it has trees.
The programme tried so hard to engender excitement and mystery, and to suggest these were somehow secret and mythical places, that it failed to capture the actual magic that is inherent in places of such beauty and majesty. We don’t need to pretend Wales is Middle Earth. It’s Wales, and ruddy lovely it is too.
Stronger items saw a miserable and claustrophobic Ellie bravely exploring Britain’s deepest cave, and Adam looking back at remote farming homesteads that were still used in living memory. And there was an item on a couple who bought a toll bridge that I would have loved to explore further. Do they make a living from it? How much do they make? How much did they pay for it? Does one of them jump out of bed if a car comes past at 4am? Unfortunately, these questions remained resolutely unanswered, as we nipped off in search of trolls or fairies or goblins or something.
Events concluded with a dawn trip in a hot air balloon with a local poet. Three of my least favourite things – early starts, heights, and people reciting their own poetry.
Preview: Wild Ireland, Monday, April 13, 8pm, ITV
I blame myself, really. There are only so many rural travelogues a guy can take. Having explored the Brecon Beacons for an hour on the BBC, I should have known enough was enough. Instead, I plunged straight in to Wild Ireland, a new six-part series in which Christine Bleakley travels along Ireland’s cliffs and beaches, along ‘the longest coastal route in the world’.
So it was I moved from a programme featuring lots of hill walking, clambering about over rocks, mist, wild swimming, and talking to local experts in sensible outdoor attire, to the exact same thing, narrated in a slightly different accent.
We even opened with another bloody myth – this one about how Ireland got its name, something to do with a race between some sisters or something. To be honest, by this stage I was starting to drink heavily and cry all over my notes.
Christine starts, not unreasonably, at the northern tip of the country, where a coastal outcrop says EIRE on it in huge stone lettering. This was placed there during World War II, so that any bombers flying overhead would recognise it as a neutral country. Though, to be honest, if you had a pilot so dim as to not know what country he was flying over, the likelihood is he wouldn’t know what Eire was, probably couldn’t read, had no concept of neutrality, and would probably blow himself up if he tried to drop his ordnance.
Next, it’s off to the huge, 2000ft cliffs that are a feature of the Doneghal coastline. They are, by anyone’s standards, fabulously dramatic, and for a few moments I put down my absinthe, dried my eyes and gazed in raptured awe. Christine, who like me suffers from a fear of heights, is less enamoured. Especially as she is driving along wet roads, in high winds, and talking to the camera at the same time.
Soon afterwards, she’s off “in search of one of Ireland’s most renowned residents”. Excellent. Roy Keane? Shane McGowan? Sinead O’Connor? Oh… it’s the wild Atlantic salmon. That promises to be a less enlightening interview.
After visiting an Irish smokehouse, Christine moves on to County Mayo (it’s just like County Salad Cream except everyone’s fatter) where she goes Coasteering. This is an activity which basically involves climbing, swimming, cave swimming and cliff jumping. It sounds great fun. If you could eliminate the cliff jumping. And the climbing. And do it somewhere a bit warmer. Basically, I’d be fine with it, if it was swimming in Barbados.
Anyway, Christine Bleakley is a charming and enthusiastic host, and maybe I’d just seen too many mist-shrouded mountains, but I won’t be rushing back.
Preview: The Delivery Man, Wednesday, April 15, 9:30pm, ITV
I’d normally approach a new comedy on ITV with all the enthusiasm of a cow being given a guided tour of an abattoir by a hungry looking man holding a bolt gun in one hand and a burger bap in the other. But when said comedy boasts a cast including Paddy McGuinness, Faye Ripley and the hugely underrated Darren Boyd, it gets you thinking. Maybe that’s not a bolt gun. Maybe he’s a vegetarian, and he just wants some bread. Perhaps that stuff on the walls is just cranberry juice.
The concept of the show is simple enough. Boyd plays Matthew Bunting. Matthew is a former cop who quit the macho world of the force because he wants to do something, well, a bit nicer. And what could be nicer, you might reasonably ask, than watching women writhe around in agony for 16 hours before producing a mucus-covered screaming worm that will then prevent you from sleeping for a decade. Miracle of childbirth, my eye.
As a newly qualified midwife, he joins the Easthill Park Hospital Maternity Unit which, in true sitcom style, is peopled by the usual collection of misfits, weirdos and caricatures. Best among them is a self-satisfied obstetrician, Luke Edward, played by Alex Macqueen (Neil’s dad from The Inbetweeners). A nervous expectant mother asks for his mobile number in case of emergency. “”I don’t even give that to my wife!” “Will I see you tomorrow?” she asks. “Do you play golf?” “No.” “Then no.”
Matthew gets some lovely lines, too. There’s a beauty about immaculate conception, and an agonisingly embarrassing exchange with attractive midwife Lisa (romantic interest alert!) about a can of fizzy drink.
Holding the whole thing together is Darren Boyd. For my money, he is one of the best comic actors around – his turn as nervous sous-chef Bib in the criminally ignored sitcom Whites was a tour de force, and he won a BAFTA for his role in Sky’s comedy SPY. Here, he plays Matthew in a straight and understated way, but with an undeniable warmth, so that you can’t help but root for him.
The trouble with new comedies is that you only get 23 minutes in which to decide to give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. The comedy here isn’t exactly cutting edge, but it is likeable and full of heart. It is, in short, a baby in rude health. Which is more than I can say for that tired and clichéd baby analogy. Ugh. I’m off for a lie down.