TV blog: My Mother and Other Strangers

Benjie Goodhart / 10 November 2016

A new drama for Sunday nights, an episode of Grand Designs highlights and the best of the rest for the week ahead on TV.

My Mother and Other Strangers, 1/5, Sunday 13th November, 9pm, BBC One

Drama. It’s 1943. Rural Ireland. School is closed for the potato picking holidays. Try selling that to a kid as a holiday activity in 2016. They’d shoot you a withering look before going back to Pokemon Go (other ways of wasting your life are available).

Life on this remote peninsula looks like it hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years. Oh, except for the fact that there’s an absolutely gargantuan US Air Base just down the road, and Superfortresses are roaring in and out every other minute. Plus, having 4,000 servicemen plonked on your doorstep might change the local dynamic somewhat.

The Coyne family run the local village shop, and the pub. They’re happy enough. There is a small, largely mute son, and an attractive but bookish and well-behaved teenage daughter. Her dad is taking her into town to buy books. She’s such a good, hard-working girl. Of course absolutely nothing will go wrong here. And who are we to worry just because a rakish pilot is giving her the eye?

Meanwhile, her mother, out for a walk, bumps into an American officer, and looks as though she might devour him whole. Do people really look at each other that hungrily upon first meeting? Nobody’s ever done that to me… but perhaps that tells a rather different story. Anyway, it’s clear that the Coyne womenfolk are quite pleased by the global tumult that has led these men in uniform to their shores.

Away from all the doe-eyed, longing, lustful looks, the local fellas don’t like the Yanks much. It’s difficult to compete with a pilot who likes big band music and smokes Lucky Strike, when the most sophisticated thing you do is pick potatoes and catch eels. It’s no wonder that things start to get… well, more than a little unfriendly. Mind you, of the 4,000 Yanks on the base, we only ever get to see about three of them. The other 3,997 must be confined to barracks.

There is a long and inglorious tradition of whimsical Sunday night dramas, either set in the middle of the 20th Century (Heartbeat, The Royal) or in a quirky Celtic setting (Monarch of the Glen, Hamish Macbeth, Ballykissangel). Generally, they bring me out in a rash, and as this came from the pen of the Ballykissangel writer, I was standing by with my dermatological ointment. But actually, it wasn’t half bad.  

Grand Designs: House of the Year 1/4, Thursday 24th November, 9pm, Channel 4

Frankly, what’s better than a bit of property porn? If you’ve ever watched Grand Designs, you’ll know that the main reason for doing so is for the money shot at the end, where you actually get to see the finished house in all its splendour. You sit through 45 minutes of Luke and Marion worrying about going over budget, getting their windows delivered from Antwerp, and seeing the rain fill up their mud-soaked site, for the last, seductive five minutes.

This programme is perfect, because it is just those last few minutes, but over and over again, in a series of ever more remarkable houses. It’s like getting a box of Celebrations where every sweet is a Malteser or a Galaxy, and nobody is left sifting through the Bounty at the end.

The first house is a massive, eco-friendly artists’ residence in the Forest of Dean. The roof is a meadow, and the building a glorious single-story melange of courtyards, studios and floor-to-ceiling glass. The couple who live there zip along the 45-metre corridor on scooters! It is stunningly beautiful, a sure-fire winner.

But then so is the next house, a fabulously creative and sympathetic restoration of an architecturally significant 1960s house, set in an exquisite landscape. And so is the one after that, a Zinc farmhouse in Scotland that manages the seemingly impossible task of looking like farm buildings, but being modern and effortlessly cool, sleek and luxurious.

After that, there is an astonishing Californian-style villa in Cornwall where every view looks like a postcard, and the building is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It even boasts something called a media room, which surely is a(nother) sign of a world gone mad. What happens in a media room? Is it just a room with a telly? Do you need to put newspapers in there as well? Is it full of chain-smoking hacks trying to find out about Prince Harry’s girlfriend? Who in the world needs a media room?

Oh. Apparently the people in house five do as well. Maybe I’m just behind the times. Anyway, house five is rubbish, it’s just a regular semi- near Luton. Is it heck. It’s a fortress in Jersey. Just what we all need. But, like the others, and like this whole programme, it’s a visual delight, beautifully described by the mellifluous tones of the wonderful Kevin McCloud.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 12th November

Balletboyz – Young Men, 8:30pm, BBC Two: BBC Two’s laudable commitment to Saturday night arts continues with a wordless look at the brutality of war, told through the medium of dance. Expect viewing figure records to remain firmly unbroken.

Festival of Remembrance, 9pm, BBC One: Huw Edwards presents a musical tribute live from the Albert Hall, featuring Michael Ball, Alfie Boe and Alexander Armstrong performing in front of the Queen.

Sunday 13th November

Tennis: ATP World Tour Finals, 1:45pm, BBC Two: The season finale of the men’s tour is live from the O2 on the BBC every day this week, as Andy Murray looks to continue his extraordinary run of success, making my father-in-law the happiest man on the planet.

Last Heroes of the Somme, 7pm, Channel 4: Fascinating look at some of the individual stories that happened in the fateful battle 100 years ago, with descendants of soldiers discovering new evidence of what happened to their forebears.

I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, 9pm, ITV: If your idea of the perfect evening involves watching Carol Vorderman and Wayne Bridge eating witchety grubs, then Christmas is about six weeks early this year.

Monday 14th November

Tricks of the Restaurant Trade, 8:30pm, Channel 4: Simon Rimmer and Kate Quilton give viewers tips on how to get the most from a restaurant experience. I’d always just assumed that involved never ordering anything with celery in it.

BBC Children in Need Rocks for Terry, 8:30pm, BBC One: A gig in memory of the sublime Sir Terry Wogan, whose commitment to Children in Need made him a national treasure every bit as much as his genius broadcasting ability.

NW, 9pm, BBC Two: 90-minute drama, an adaptation of Zadie Smith’s novel set in North West London.

Tuesday 15th November

International Football Friendly, England v Spain, 7:30pm, ITV: England friendlies are, generally speaking, turgid affairs, with all the urgency and energy of a teenage boy tidying his room. Even the presence of Spain, one of the world’s more attractive sides, can’t make this a tempting opportunity.

Prison, My Parents and Me, 10:45pm, BBC One: A sobering documentary following the lives of children who have a parent in prison. Short on laughs.

Wednesday 16th November

24 Hours in A&E, 9pm, Channel 4: The perennially gripping documentary series set in an A&E ward returns for its 12th series. A must-see show for anyone in America who thinks the NHS is a Communist concept.

Kids on the Edge: The Gender Clinic, 10pm, Channel 4: A remarkable, fascinating and ultimately moving documentary looking at children who have been born the ‘wrong’ gender, a daily agony you would not wish on anyone.

Thursday 17th November

DIY SOS: Million Pound Build for BBC Children in Need, 8pm, BBC One: Nick Knowles and the team renovate a neglected site in Blackpool for young carers.

The Secret Life of the Zoo, 8pm, Channel 4: Return of the series following the day-to-day life of animals and their carers in Chester Zoo. Will there be meerkats? There must be meerkats!!

Friday 18th November

BBC Children in Need 2016, 7:30pm, BBC One: The annual fundraiser returns, with the usual mix of sketches, stunts, music and chat, and a load of fundraising videos that will make you blub until you’re dangerously dehydrated. Marvellous stuff, though a certain someone’s absence will be acutely felt…

Coastal Path, 8:30pm, BBC Two: Explorer Paul Rose walks the 630-mile South West Coast Path in this new series. Explorer? It’s hardly the origin of the Nile now, is it? Lovely stuff, nevertheless.

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