TV blog: How to Stay Young

Benjie Goodhart / 31 March 2016

Angela Rippon and the van Tulleken twins unpick the latest research into ageing well. Plus, the best of the rest on the box.

The Durrells, Sunday 3rd April, 8pm, ITV

It’s 1935 Bournemouth, and all is not well in the Durrell family. Matriarch Louisa is widowed, miserable, and starts drinking gin every day at lunchtime. Youngest son Gerald is being caned at school. Daughter Margot is lazy and dim-witted, the limit of her ambition being to find a husband. Elder son Larry wants to be a writer, but is, to his evident horror, an estate agent. Other son Lesley… well, I can’t actually remember what his issue is, but he’s not exactly bouncing of the walls with happiness and success. Oh, and they’re skint. And there’s a lecherous neighbour over the road who wants to marry Louisa and send all the kids to boarding school, in spite of the fact that, Gerald apart, they all seem to be in their 20s.

So Louisa and Larry hatch a plan. To move to Corfu. As you do. Perhaps Louisa has seen Channel 4’s documentary series What Happens in Kavos, and decided to move to somewhere where drinking at 1pm is perfectly acceptable. Although, come to think of it, the show isn’t on for another 75 years, so it’s not the most likely hypothesis.

Anyway, upon arrival in Corfu, they are met by a local taxi driver, who is implausibly handsome, speaks immaculate English, and seems to double as a local housing expert. Within moments, he has them set up in the most beautiful old stone villa, with olive trees and cicadas in the garden and a terrace overlooking the sea. Ordinarily, it would be the home of an industrial magnate, but here, it’s just lying around waiting to be occupied.

The family encounter a series of two-dimensional local characters, as is only to be expected in a whimsical Sunday night drama. Then, in a rather peculiar turn of events, the children decide mum is a bit moody because she’s not getting enough sex. Unlike other children, for whom the idea of a parent having sex is enough to get them attempting to marinate their own brains in bleach, the Durrell kids decide to arrange a booty call for their dear ma. Unfortunately, on an island populated by Greek gods, they manage to find a sleazy, drunken and lecherous Captain Birdseye lookalike.

It’s all absolutely ridiculous, of course. But it is also highly watchable, thanks in no small part to Keeley Hawes being tremendous as the put-upon Louisa. Simon Nye’s script also contains the odd zinger (I particularly enjoyed Louisa’s line to her gun-obsessed son Lesley: “It’s the 1930s, we don’t need guns anymore!”) And Corfu is beautiful. I’m a little worried about Larry’s wife Nancy, though. On account of her not appearing to exist. In reality, Larry was married when the family relocated to Corfu. Here, poor Nancy has been airbrushed from history.

How to Stay Young, Thursday 7th April, 9pm, BBC One

It seems you can’t switch on the TV these days without encountering the van Tulleken twins. By my count, this is the 1000th documentary they’ve been involved with this year. They should probably get a commemorative mug for the occasion.

Not that their involvement is a bad thing. They are personable, funny and likeable, and they make rather good television programmes. This one being a case in point. In this two-part series, Chris van Tulleken (with a cameo from Xand) and Angela Rippon investigate the ways in which we can all hang on to our youth. Unfortunately, keeping a picture of oneself in the attic and changing our name to Dorian is not one of the options.

If you’re going to take lessons on staying young, there are worse people to listen to than our Angela. At 71, she’s in terrific shape, with a positive and upbeat approach to life, and legs that just won’t quit! First off, she does something called a sit-to-rise test, which is apparently an excellent indicator of longevity, and involves you having to get up from a seating position on the floor without using your hands or knees for support. I tried it myself. I think it showed that, technically, I’m dead.

Chris looks at a test that shows what medical age you’ve reached. You could be thirty, but if you live an unhealthy lifestyle, your medical age might be 36. Keith Richards, for example, is likely to be 147. Chris gets a couple of twins from the US involved. The results are intriguing, indicating that stress is one of the biggest causes of ageing. (They say smoking is the biggest cause of ageing – personally, I’d say the passing of time is the biggest factor, but what do I know?)

Chris then tests himself and brother Xand. The results are not pretty. Too much stress. I imagine being a working doctor who is also on TV every six minutes is pretty stressful. I watch TV for a living. There are few less stressful things. I’m going to live forever (you can stick your sit-to-rise test). On the other hand, the person with arguably the most stressful and high-profile job in the country is just about to celebrate her 90th birthday, so how does that work?

Now it’s back to Angela playing tennis. She’s probably got a medical age of 12. She’s got a mean backhand, too. She goes for an MRI. To her astonishment, she has a lot of internal fat around her liver and heart. If Angela has internal fat, the rest of us are all doomed. Still, apparently she’ll be okay if she eats six tonnes of lentils a  week. (Why is it never chocolate or chips?)

Diet is important. Apparently, we should all go vegan. Gah! It doesn’t prolong life, it just makes it feel longer (talking of ageing, that may well be the oldest joke in existence). A nutritionist also explains that “the more colourful your meal is, probably the more nutritious.” Kids, you’re gonna love dinner. It’s Skittles and Smarties!

The investigations continue – an exercise regime in Germany, a pet charity in Oxfordshire, and some remarkable research into an extraordinary medical condition prevalent in Ecuador. This is fascinating stuff, and full of nuggets that we could all do with digesting. Not chicken ones, though. Sorry.

Related: Read Jamie Oliver's tips for staying young

Best of the rest

Sunday 3rd April

Formula 1: Bahrain Grand Prix Live, 3pm, Channel 4: Channel 4’s first ever live Grand Prix, helmed by Steve Jones and David Coulthard. Expect the unexpected. If, by unexpected, you mean lots of cars going round in circles, and Mercedes winning.

Figure Skating World Championships, 3:30pm, BBC Two: People skate to music, the audience clap along, hopelessly out of time, and the Brits finish 17th.

Undercover, 9pm, BBC One: New thriller starring the excellent Adrian Lester and Sophie Okonedo, from the pen of Peter Moffat.

Home Fires, ITV, 9pm: Second series of the classy WWII domestic drama set in rural England, with Samantha Bond and Claire Rushbrook.

Monday 4th April

Britain’s Pensioner Care Scandal: Channel 4 Dispatches, 8pm, Channel 4: No tapes available to view, but this will not be the least depressing experience of your week.

Marcella, ITV, 9pm: New detective drama, because that is just what the world needs. Stars Anna Friel.

Sex Box, Channel 4, 10pm: People go into a box in a TV studio, then come out of it and talk about their experiences with a Belgian sexpert. Mary Whitehouse would have combusted.

Tuesday 5th April

Drive, ITV, 9pm: A new celebrity reality show where the almost-famous race cars against each other.

Wednesday 6th April

The People Next Door, Channel 4, 9pm: Fascinating, cleverly shot one-off drama about a couple who suspect a child is being abused next door and set about investigating their neighbours. Morally complex and compelling.

Thursday 7th April

Millionaire’s Mansions, Channel 4, 8pm: The latest in Channel 4’s property porn portfolio. See how the other half live, and hate them for it.

Army Girls, Channel 4, 9pm: Latest in Channel 4’s military training portfolio, only with a twist: They’re, like, actual women! Winston will be turning in his grave.

Friday 8th April

Golf: The Masters, 6:30pm, BBC Two: The most beautiful golf course in the world, for the most prestigious title. Come on Rory!

Lookalikes, 10pm, Channel 4: Peculiar but amusing little comedy set in a lookalikes agency in Eastbourne.

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