Paramedics: Britain’s Lifesavers, Monday 13th July, 9pm, Channel 4
When my grandchildren ask me what I did during the great Covid-19 pandemic, I’ll be able to hold my head up high and tell them how amazing I was. I went to the supermarket. I went to recycle bottles on an embarrassingly regular basis. I watched a lot of telly. Admittedly, some days I just sat around, feeling nervous, not getting much done at all, but on others I managed to go to ASDA and walk the dog and hoover the bedroom. I’m still at a loss to figure out why there hasn’t been a national round of applause for me and my amazingness.
That said, there are a few people who have been even more amazing than me. We’ve all stopped going out and clapping the NHS on Thursdays – we’re now all too busy going to the pub or having sleepovers or wandering around licking each other – but it’s worth remembering how extraordinary our frontline workers were in helping us through the darkest months of the spring.
This documentary series follows the West Midlands Ambulance Service at the peak of the pandemic, with access to crews, control room staff and management as they struggle to stem what, at times, feels like an overwhelming tide of coronavirus cases. And it is a remarkable and genuinely humbling watch.
At one point in April, only 4 per cent of 111 calls were being answered. In the West Midlands, they would normally expect up to 4000 ambulance calls on a weekday. In April, that figure was 16,000. Members of the public volunteered to become call assessors for 111, and hundreds of student paramedics volunteered to go out in the ambulances. This hour-long documentary tells the story of four of the volunteers through a turbulent few weeks of spring 2020.
Jackie, 55, is used to working the phones, but is worried that her sales background might mean she has the wrong skills for the job. You don’t want to call up with an acute health problem and finish up with a new vacuum cleaner. But, like everyone in this film, she is driven, determined and compassionate. Ollie, also training to take the calls, has just turned 18. It should have been a seminal summer in his life – sitting his A-levels, buying his first legal pint, leaving school. Instead, these months will still shape him – but not as he’d envisaged.
Caitlyn, 20, is undergoing vital last-minute training as a Paramedic. Her brother is a police officer, out there in the front line already. Both live with their diabetic mother. Sam is 21, and has also stepped up to help out on an ambulance. He is keen to learn from his more experienced paramedic partner, but you only have to see him reassuring his patients and making them laugh to realise that he is a natural.
Ollie’s training is over, and now it’s time for his first call. Poor Ollie, trained up to the gills about how to deal with potential coronavirus symptoms, and his first call turns out to be a woman with rather personal gynaecological issues. But if Ollie’s having a stressful day, Caitlyn trumps him easily. After two shifts, she has a temperature. She is sent for a test.
When the history of this extraordinary time is written, it will not contain the stories of Sam, Caitlyn, Ollie and Jackie, and the tens of thousands like them, who helped the nation in its hour of need. Which is why this is such a valuable and inspirational film. Seeing people put their lives on hold and, in some cases, put their health at risk, to come to the aid of their fellow citizens, is enough to restore one’s faith in human nature. The logistics of helping the people of the West Midlands are remarkable and humbling, but the kindness – the kindness is the simplest, and most humbling, thing of all.
Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby 1/6, Tuesday 14th July, 8pm, BBC Two
Just as the Paramedics documentary series is an incredibly important piece of broadcasting, Amazing Hotels is also providing a significant and valuable public service right now: Escapism. On my, ahem, less robust evenings over the last patch, I have smothered myself in telly where nice people cook nice things, or look around nice buildings, or go for nice walks in nice places. And this series fits the bill nicely – it’s nice people (Giles Coren and Monica Galetti) looking at nice hotels.
Actually, that’s not true. It’s nice people looking at absolutely jaw-dropping, incredible, impossibly glamorous hotels. Incidentally, there may be those who would also query whether Giles Coren – outspoken journalist provocateur of no little infamy – qualifies as ‘nice’. I’ve no doubt he’d balk at the term himself. But he was a few years above me at school, and never tried to give me a wedgie or flush my head down the toilet. He’s also a fellow QPR fan. As such, in my book, his qualities are unimpeachable.
Anyway, this is series three of Amazing Hotels, and having watched it, I’m going to seek out the first two series (currently all on iPlayer, woohoo!). The format isn’t exactly ground-breaking – Coren and Galetti visit some of the world’s most extraordinary hotels, wander around looking suitably awestruck, and then do various jobs in the hotel to see how it all works behind the scenes. It’s not a complicated concept, and for it to work, it relies upon the hotels being more than a little sensational. Nobody wants to watch Giles Coren changing the sheets in a Premier Inn (although they do say there is a fetish for everything).
In the opening episode of this series, they’ve hit paydirt. The MGM Cotai Hotel in Macau is quite simply breathtaking. Macau, the only place in China where betting is legal, is basically a vast gambling Mecca – like Las Vegas, only more so. And the MGM is its most remarkable hotel.
Boasting 1390 rooms, it cost $3.4 billion to build, and is designed to look like Chinese jewellery boxes that have been stacked up in a pile. It’s fair to say, if you want understated and subtle, Macau may not be the place for you.
Giles and Monica are each given a remarkable, split-level Skyloft room, which are remarkably good value at £340-per-night. As with Vegas, the rooms are cheap because the real money is made in the casino. Giles’ room contains free food and drink, free gifts and toys, and even a hand-drawn caricature of him. Monica’s is no less special, with a water-effect pool table that has to be seen to be believed. Both rooms are controlled (lights, blind, temperature) by a smartphone app.
The scale of the hotel is mind-boggling. The 6,000 staff have their own on-site supermarket, doctor’s surgery and bank. The colossal atrium that forms the lobby boasts the largest self-supporting roof in the world, and is home to shops, priceless artworks and a Lamborghini dealership. It also contains the world’s largest LED screens, and a fabulous indoor garden consisting of 100,000 plants. The eight restaurants serve ten tonnes of food every day.
Galetti goes behind the scenes to check out the extraordinary logistics behind running eight restaurants, and has a crack at making a single, immensely long noodle (harder than it sounds). She also visits a Moroccan-themed section of the hotel that is so exclusive, it can’t be booked – it’s invite only. I think the Travelodge in Braintree does something similar.
Giles, meanwhile, is assigned tasks of a more aesthetic nature. He arranges flowers – and is touchingly delighted when they are deemed good enough to go on display – and is trained to give guided tours of the hotel’s artwork. Finally, he has an out-of-this-world experience at the hotel’s absurdly high-tech theatre.
This show is fabulous fun. We can’t all go to Macau just now (and, frankly, I’m not sure I want to spend a week gambling away my savings) but being able to have a poke around this unique combination of architecture, technology and human ingenuity is an escapist delight.
The best… and the rest:
Saturday 11th July
The Voice Kids, 7:25pm, ITV: 4th series of the junior singing contest, open to contestants between 7 and 14 years old. Emma Willis presents, and Paloma Faith joins the judging panel.
The Queen: Duty Before Family? 9:15pm, Channel 5: A look at the various family crises that have arisen during the Queen’s reign, including Princess Margaret’s desire to marry Peter Townsend, the death of princess Diana, and Prince Andrew’s links to Jeffrey Epstein.
Sunday 12th July
One Day: Sport’s Super Sunday, 8:30pm, BBC Two: A look back at the extraordinary day last summer when England won the ICC Cricket World Cup, and Roger Federer took on Novak Djokovic in one of the most memorable Wimbledon finals of all time. In case you were wondering, I was out in our garden dealing with a drain clogged with several years’-worth of unmentionable stuff.
Monday 13th July
University Challenge 1/37, 8:30pm, BBC Two: Jeremy Paxman returns with a new series of the quiz for enormous eggheads. Tonight, Glasgow take on Exeter.
Once Upon a Time in Iraq 1/5, 9pm, BBC Two: Documentary series examining the reality of life in this troubled country, from the days of Saddam to the horrors of ISIS. Those interviewed include soldiers on both sides of the conflict, and civilians.
Shoplifters: At War with the Law 1/6, 9pm, Channel 5: New documentary series following shopping centre security teams. Miami Vice this ain’t…
Tuesday 14th July
The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: Three-part documentary series chronicling the massive global influence of the Murdoch empire, and the struggles among the family for supremacy. It’s like the TV drama Succession, only terrifyingly real.
Our Yorkshire Farm 1/6, 9pm, Channel 5: Return of the series following farmers Amanda and Clive Owen (not that one) and their nine (that’s NINE) kids.
Wednesday 15th July
Bears About the House 1/2, 8pm, BBC Two: Conservationist Giles Clark travels to Laos to help tackle the illegal wildlife trade, and somehow ends up cohabiting with a young bear. As you do. Touching two-part documentary.
Thursday 16th July
Stephen Lawrence: Has Britain Changed? 8pm, ITV: Rageh Omaar and Anushka Asthana host a live debate to examine racial inequality in light of the George Floyd killing. The debate is followed by a screening of the 1999 drama The Murder of Stephen Lawrence.
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