The Real Marigold on Tour, Tuesday 27th September, 9pm, BBC Two
Earlier this year, The Real Marigold Hotel saw eight famous faces (and, indeed, their bodies) visit India to see what it would be like to retire there. It was a charming show, a lovely idea, beautifully executed, and with an arresting cast of characters. Now, four of them have returned for a two-part series, going on what the narrator calls a “world tour” which, let’s be frank, is a fairly grandiose term for a stop off in Florida (episode one) and another in Japan (episode – you guessed it – two).
Read Benjie's original review of The Real Hotel Marigold
While the original series was a belter, this, like so many spin-offs, could easily have ended up being Margolyes. The undoubted star of the original show, she is back here, louder, franker and more unabashed than ever. Which, for those of you who saw her in the original, is all you need to know.
And so it’s off to Florida for programme one. Miriam is excited. “I loathe Florida. It has vulgarity stamped all over it.” The gang are staying in a retirement community, Oak Run, home to 7,000 people. Basically an entire town populated by retirees. It’s unimaginable. Unless you live on the South Coast of England, in which case it’s just called everyday life.
Oak Run is peculiar, though – identikit houses on identikit streets, each one with manicured lawns and a star spangled banner. Miriam’s first reaction is unfavourable. “Looking at this pretentious rabbit hutch, there is no style, there is no taste, there are no books…” Her housemate is the redoubtable Rosemary Shrager, presumably chosen on the basis that she is perhaps the only person known to man who will not be flattened by Hurricane Miriam.
In the house next door, getting on with things rather more quietly, are Bobby George and Wayne Sleep. That’s right, Wayne and Bobby are the quiet, unflamboyant ones, perhaps for the first time in their lives.
After a while, Oak Run seems to work its charm on all of them – even Miriam. It’s not hard to see why.
Next, it’s off to a rather more upmarket retirement community in Palm Beach, where houses go for millions of dollars. “A grotesque spending of money. Deeply pretentious,” says… oh, you know perfectly well who says it. But it turns out Miriam is just warming up. Then things really kick off… Magical.
Fancy experiencing the Real Hotel Marigold yourself? Read about real-life Brits who did just that in the January issue of Saga Magazine.
Ethel and Ernest, Wednesday 28th December, 7:30pm, BBC One
One of the happiest days of my career thus far was when I went down a leafy, windy lane in Sussex, and entered into a ramshackle and chaotic old house overlooking the South Downs. There, I spent a happy hour interviewing the charming Raymond Briggs, writer of classic illustrated books including The Snowman, Fungus the Bogeyman, Father Christmas, When the Wind Blows, and countless more. But for me, his best work is Ethel and Ernest, the gentle and beautifully illustrated story of his parents’ life together.
This Christmas, BBC One is showing a feature-length, animated adaptation of the book, and it is a thing of wondrous beauty. It begins in London in 1928, when milkman Ernest (voiced by Jim Broadbent) and lady’s maid Ethel (Brenda Blethyn), two working class East Enders, spy each other through a window. What ensues is the story of their 41-year marriage, told against the backdrop of epochal events, from the great depression, through World War II, to the moon landings and beyond.
Progress, though, is measured not just in historical terms, but in the more mundane. An indoor privy. An electric fridge. A telephone. A TV (thank goodness). A car. This is both a love story and a social history of the mid-20th century, an age that seems immediately so familiar and yet so long ago. Try buying a house in London for £825 now. That’ll barely get you a coffee in fashionable neighbourhoods.
This is more than just a nostalgic wallow, although it undoubtedly is that. Every aspect of the production is beautifully realised, from the marvellous voice work of Blethyn and Broadbent, to the perfectly-judged sound-effects. But it is the animation that steals the show – Briggs’ pared-down, unfussy drawings are brought to life with care and respect, and the results are perfect.
The film is introduced by Briggs himself, in the self-same room where I interviewed him in Sussex several years ago. Back then, he was surrounded by a houseful of lovingly-accumulated clutter, although in his introduction, none of it is visible. You suspect Ethel, houseproud to the last, would want it that way.
The best… and the rest
Saturday December 24th
Carols from Kings, 5:45pm, BBC Two: As essential a part of Christmas as turkey, pudding, brandy butter, and heartburn.
Michael McIntyre’s Big Christmas Show, 7:25pm, BBC One: Aled Jones does Send to All, and Michael Ball and Alfie Boe perform.
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, 7:30pm, Channel 4: Breathtakingly lovely animated version of Michael Rosen’s popular children’s book. One for all the family.
Alan Bennett’s Diaries, 8pm, BBC Two: The brilliantly arch Bennett reads from his endlessly entertaining diaries, a national treasure of the first order.
Grantchester, 9pm, ITV: It’s 1954. The week before Christmas. Snow is on the ground, and everything is as it should be. What could possibly go wrong?
David Walliams Celebrates Dame Shirley Bassey, 9pm, BBC One: Can the girl from Tiger Bay really be 80? To hear that voice, as powerful as ever, you’d think she was 30 years younger.
Sunday 25th December
The Great Christmas Bake Off, 4:45pm, BBC One: The BBC has a last bite of the cherry Bakewell before the show moves to Channel 4. This two-parter sees various familiar faces return for some festive challenges.
Doctor Who, 5:45pm, BBC One: Hurrah! He’s back! Peter Capaldi’s Doctor winds up in modern day New York, a city in thrall to the welcome actions of superhero The Ghost.
Strictly Come Dancing, 6:45pm, BBC One: Some familiar faces (and arms, hips, legs etc) show up to contort themselves into unnatural positions to a succession of festive tunes.
Call the Midwife, 8pm, BBC One: The gang go off to South Africa, largely because it makes for a more entertaining Christmas special than watching everyone freeze in grey 1950s Poplar.
Mrs Browns Boys, 10:30pm, BBC One: Festive tomfoolery, including a priest in tight shorts that is apparently so funny the audience appears on the point of a collective haemorrhage. Fine, if you like this sort of thing.
Monday 26th December
Still Open All Hours, 8:30pm, BBC One: David Jason and Stephanie Cole return for a Christmas special of the classic sitcom. My mum will be delighted.
The Witness for the Prosecution, 9pm, BBC One: First of a sumptuous two-part Agatha Christie adaptation, boasting a fine cast including Toby Jones, Kim Cattrall and Andrea Riseborough.
Outnumbered, 10pm, BBC One: Brace yourselves – those cute kids are all grown up.
Tuesday 27th December
Amazing Spaces Snow Special, 8pm, Channel 4: George Clark and the team head for Canada, in this gorgeously picturesque wintry special. Enjoy the snow, it’s 10 degrees and drizzly outside.
Wednesday 28th December
What Britain Bought in 2016, 8pm, Channel 4: Shoes? Cotton buds? Beans? Irons? Verruca cream? This is going to be a long list, if we have to go through everything. Fortunately, Mary Portas is on hand to give things a smidge more direction.
Jonathan Creek, 9pm, BBC One: Alan Davis returns as the eponymous hero in this baffling-but-fun exercise in gentle whimsy. Sarah Alexander and Warwick Davies co-star.
Thursday 29th December
To Walk Invisible, 9pm, BBC One: The brilliant Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley) writes this feature-length drama about the remarkable Bronte sisters, whose lives were as grim as they were glorious.
Charlie Brooker’s 2016 Wipe, 9pm, BBC Two: The famously acerbic writer reviews the year gone by. Where do you even begin?
Guy Martin: Cycling Home for Christmas, 9pm, Channel 4: Now this is insane. Martin, who let’s remember is a mechanic, not a cyclist, is planning to cycle 4800 miles in 20 days, round the coast of Britain. That is 240 miles a day, double what they do in the Tour de France.
Friday 30th December
Noel’s Sell or Swap Live, 7pm, Channel 4: People sell or swap stuff they don’t want. Or something. Heaven knows, it’s live.
Judi Dench: All the World’s Her Stage, 8pm, BBC Two: A look back at the glittering 60-year career of this extraordinary, versatile, warm and much-adored actress.
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