TV blog: Little British Isles

Benjie Goodhart / 13 October 2016

Actress Alison Steadman explores some of Britain’s 6,000 or so islands. Plus, more TV highlights for the week ahead.



Little British Isles with Alison Steadman, Wednesday 19th October, 8pm, Channel 4

In the future, we’ll all have our own travelogues. When literally every actor who ever worked has finished presenting them, they’ll move on to the rest of us. We’ll be running out of places by then, though, so we’ll all be tuning in to watch Bernie the Chartered Surveyor travelling around the satellite towns of Northamptonshire: Episode one: Kettering.

Thankfully, for now we’re still on rather lovely people going to rather special places, which is why we have Alison Steadman presenting this new three-part series touring the islands of Britain. Of the more than 6,000 islands that make up the UK, only 267 are inhabited. Steadman says she’s been fascinated by islands ever since she went on holiday to the Isle of Man as a kid. I’d suggest her interest may have been piqued rather more recently, when a producer suggested the idea of a series to her, but damn my cynicism, we’re lucky to have her, and this programme is a delight.

Discover some of Britain’s islands with on a magical cruise

In tonight’s opener, she’s off to the Inner Hebrides, starting out at the Isle of Gigha, population 160. It’s the height of summer in Scotland, so naturally she needs sub-Arctic thermals. But nobody moved to Scotland for the weather. The landscape, on the other hand… Suffice to say, you could frame pretty much any shot and sell it for thousands to an American tourist.

One American visitor liked it so much, he bought the island’s baronial manor house. He also found a wife on the island, and now lives in cheerful splendour, running his business, selling extracts from orchids. His wife, meanwhile, is a dairy farmer, so while he slinks about the house giving baths to flowers, she’s up and out at 5am rounding up her cows from the moors. Division of labour.

Jura is 26-times bigger than Gigha, but still has a population of just 200. George Orwell lived there for three years, writing 1984. It’s not the island’s only claim to fame. It makes a world-famous whisky, and Steadman is more than happy to get involved in a spot of tasting. She lets slip to her guide that she likes to drink hers with ice. He looks at her like she’d just said she likes it mixed with chocolate milkshake, Vimto, a Malibu chaser and a side order of kitten’s feet.

Jura is as lovely as Gigha. So is Colonsay, and Oronsay. It’s all lovely. And it’s more than just a treat for the eyes. Steadman is engaging and cheerful company, and it’s fascinating to observe how life can thrive on even these most inhospitable and remote outcrops. Next week should be just as lovely. She’s investigating racial tensions and inner city poverty on the Isle of Dogs. (Not really. She’s off to the Channel Islands, where I shall be enthusiastically joining her.)

Discover Britain’s most amazing river islands

Stand Up to Cancer, Friday 21st October, 7pm, Channel 4

Back in 2012, when Channel 4 first announced that they were to do a night of television dedicated to raising money for Cancer Research, I was more than a little worried about the venture. Big fundraising nights are surely the kind of thing the BBC does – a giant national broadcaster famed around the world throwing its considerable muscle and clout behind a project. In the face of regular telethons such as Children In Need, Comic Relief and Sports Relief, what on earth would Channel 4 manage to do? Little old Channel 4. They’d probably dredge up for our televisual entertainment a couple of extras from Hollyoaks, the bloke from Time Team who always seemed to be wearing his breakfast, and the Countdown champion of 1987.

Well, what do I know? (A question regular readers may have asked before). Since 2012, Stand Up to Cancer has raised £25 million. Thirty trials or projects have been funded, and 9,000 patients have participated or are waiting to participate. I was going to pontificate at this stage about how important this is, but I think we can probably dispense with the bit that explains that cancer is a bad thing.

So, this rubbish night of D-list hell that I expected has become an entertainment behemoth, an uproarious televisual monster that manages to be chaotic, anarchic, hilariously funny and deeply moving. And it’s no longer limited to just one night. Bear Grylls has been cheerfully watching a bunch of increasingly skeletal celebrities over the last few weeks in his special version of The Island, and this week we have one-off editions of Celebrity Child Genius, Celebrity Crystal Maze, and Tattoo Fixers (okay, no, no idea either).

The night itself will be presented by Davina McCall, Alan Carr and Adam Hills, a charming trio who possess the perfect mix of enthusiasm, wit and empathy to strike the right tone. They’ll be joined by a cast list including Michael Bublé, Britney Spears, Steve Coogan, David Tenant, Olivia Colman, Matthew McConaughey, Peter Kay, Eva Longoria, Jon Hamm, Jamie Dornan, Noel Gallagher and, um, Piers Morgan. We’re also promised an appearance from Jose Mourinho, who will probably find a way to blame cancer on the referee. There will be sketches, stunts, musical numbers, the revival of 1990s dating show Streetmate, a celebrity Gogglebox, and an appearance from a chap called Dr Mike, who is said to be the world’s most handsome doctor (don’t tell David Tenant…)

And, in amongst it all, there will be tears. There are always tears. It’s pretty difficult to watch films about people facing the end and not be moved. But that’s sort of the point. We watch. We laugh. We cry. And, if we can, we give, and collectively, we stand up to cancer.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 15th October

Meet the Parents, 7pm, ITV: New dating show, presented by Holly Willoughby, where singletons pick the person they want to date based on interviews with their parents. I’d have been single for all eternity…

Britain’s Ancient Tracks with Tony Robinson, 8pm, Channel 4: Baldrick travels along roads dating back 5000 years, looking at the stories and songs of our past. Even 5000 years ago, I bet the roads were quicker than the M25.

Sunday 16th October

Child Genius vs Celebrities: SU2C Special, 8pm, Channel 4: Alan Carr leads a team of celebrities in the impossible task of a test of knowledge against some of the encyclopaedias-made-flesh that are the child geniuses. Good fun.

The Crystal Maze SU2C Celebrity Special, 9pm, Channel 4: More celebrity-spin-off jollity as Stephen Merchant revives Channel 4’s iconic, weird and slightly rubbish game show for a one-off charity special.

The Greatest Tomb on Earth: Secrets of Ancient China, 9pm, BBC Two: Historian Dan Snow, anthropologist Dr Alice Roberts and explorer engineer Dr Albert Lin investigate a series of earth-shattering discoveries at the mighty tomb guarded by the Terracotta Warriors

Tutankhamun, 9pm, ITV: Ooh, it’s all about the tombs on telly tonight. Max Irons (son of Jeremy) and Sam Neill star in ITV’s lavish and no doubt entirely accurate drama series about the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Monday 17th October

The Victorian Slum, 9pm, BBC Two: A Victorian slum has been recreated in London, and a group of 21st century people are moving in (largely because it’s SO difficult to get 19th-century people these days…). Michael Mosley joins them to tell the extraordinary story of how the Victorian East End changed our attitude to poverty forever.

Rio 2016: The Superhumans Parade Live, 4pm, Channel 4: Jon Snow presents coverage of the open top bus parade through central Manchester to celebrate the British Olympic and Paralympic medallists.

SAS: Who Dares Wins, 9pm, Channel 4: One of the TV highlights of last year returns, with four former SAS hardnuts taking a bunch of exhausted civvies through SAS training. This time, they’re off to the jungles of Ecuador. I’d quit after 20 minutes and nip off to see the Galapagos Islands.

Tuesday 18th October

Who’s Spending Britain’s Billions, 8pm, BBC Two: As Britain continues to spend less on the public sector, do we really know where our taxes are being spent? Jacques Peretti investigates a tale of mismanagement and secrecy.

Ordinary Lies, 9pm, BBC One: Second series for the drama, with a whole new cast of characters, as we discover the small deceptions that can have big consequences in everyday lives.

The New Clampers - Where’s My Car Gone? 9pm, ITV: Surely if someone has clamped you, your car is exactly where you left it? Isn’t that kind of the point? Anyway, ITV’s peculiar fascination with parking continues.

Your Face Says It All, 8pm, Channel 4: If you know how to look, your face can give away your inner secrets: your intelligence, your sexuality and whether you're aggressive. And also if you look like a stewed prune.

Married at First Sight, 9pm, Channel 4: Return of the show which sees complete strangers getting married the first time they meet, and then seeing if they can make it work. Enough to make Daily Mail readers sick with rage at the modern world.

Wednesday 19th October

Puppy Secrets: The First Six Months, 8pm, ITV: Look, I’m sure this will be a deeply serious and scientifically valid documentary, and in no way an excuse to beguile us with an hour of cute shots of Labrador puppies romping about and falling over and… awww, look at that one’s big ears!!!

HIM, 9pm, ITV: New three-part drama from Paula Milne. A boy known only as HIM (Fionn Whitehead) finds himself struggling with adolescence, failing grades and feelings he cannot control. So far so normal. However, HIM just happens to have telekinetic powers. As you do.

Trump vs Clinton Live: US Presidential Debate, 1:30am, Channel 4: What’s Trump gonna do this time? The mind boggles (and weeps, and begs for mercy).

Thursday 20th October

Tattoo Fixers: Stand Up to Cancer, 10pm, Channel 4: Nope. Still no idea.

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