TV review: Piers Morgan’s Life Stories: Sir Cliff Richard

Benjie Goodhart / 23 October 2020

Piers Morgan gets to know Sir Cliff Richard in Piers Morgan's Life Stories, and a fascinating documentary about bats makes perfect Halloween season viewing.

Piers Morgan’s Life Stories: Sir Cliff Richard, Sunday 25th October, 9pm, ITV

Sir Cliff Richard is very much like Marmite. He’s made from vegetable extract, malty, best served on toast, and can be bought in small quantities in jars at your local supermarket.

No, hang on, that’s not right.

Oh yes – he’s like Marmite in that people tend to either really, really like him, or really dislike him.

The Marmite rule doesn’t apply to me. I am one of those peculiar figures who is ambivalent about the stuff. And pretty much the same applies to Sir Cliff. I’m not a massive fan of his music (indeed, I consider The Millennium Prayer to be a cultural abomination up there with The Jeremy Kyle Show and freestyle jazz) but nor do I understand the animosity the chap seems to engender. As far as I can make out, he’s rather a good egg, as I suspect this show will reveal. I can’t say for certain because, at the time of writing, there’s nothing available to see.

If you’ve never seen Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, the format is simple enough. Piers Morgan and his subject have a conversation. Really, that’s pretty much it.

What makes it compelling television is that Morgan is actually rather a good interviewer. That is not a sentence I enjoy writing, because I consider Piers Morgan to be a man of extremely dubious moral character, whose conduct over the years embodies the worst excesses of tabloid journalism. But he is undoubtedly an intelligent man and a skilled interviewer, unafraid to ask the difficult questions, but not overly hostile and aggressive.

In the absence of any firm indications of what will unfold on the show, it’s fair to say that we can probably guess most of it anyway. There will be a bit of chat about the childhood of the boy born Harry Rodger Webb, who spent the first eight years of his life in pre-Independence India.

Then there’s his career. To be fair, the lad’s sold a few records in his time. Indeed, he sits third in the list of singles sold in UK chart history, behind those no-hopers The Beatles and some fella called Elvis. Over 130 of his singles, albums and Eps have reached the top 20, and he’s had 67 top ten singles and 14 Number Ones. Sir Cliff, along with Elvis, is the only artist to have made the charts in all of the top 40s first six decades, and he is out on his own as the only artist to have a Number One single in the UK in five consecutive decades. So it’s fair to say there’ll be a bit of chat about that. And about his new album of duets, released this month, to mark his 60 years in showbiz.

Then there will be his film career, his knighthood, his philanthropic work, his religious faith. There will doubtless be chat about his lack of radio airplay, and what he perceives (probably rightly) as a distinct dearth of support from the music industry and radio stations over the years. There will be stuff about his love of tennis (he really, really loves tennis) and his impromptu rainy Wimbledon singalong with its quite unique backing group of tennis superstars.

Inevitably, there will be discussion about his personal life. In this country, we have a somewhat prurient fascination with the romantic lives of celebrities, and Sir Cliff has been the subject of more speculation than most regarding affairs of the heart. So expect plenty of chat about that, including Una Stubbs, Sue Barker, and the speculation regarding his sexuality.

And finally, there will be talk about the dreadful invasion of his privacy that took place when police searched his Berkshire home in 2014 in relation to an allegation of sexual assault, and the BBC showed the raid on its news bulletins. Sir Cliff, who was never arrested or charged, has spoken of the years of anguish he went through, and has said he will never get over it.

All in all, there’s plenty of ground to cover, in what should be a pretty intriguing hour of chat. If they manage to get on to how it’s possible to look in your 40s when you’re actually 80, that would be illuminating too. Particularly to those of us for whom the equation has worked in the opposite direction.

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Inside the Bat Cave, Monday 25th October, 9pm, BBC Two

Initially, when I saw the title of this programme, I was rather excited. It sounded like it might be a thrilling, behind-the-scenes tour of Batman’s lair, a chance to check out his gadgetry and weaponry, to marvel at the extraordinary technologies he employs in his constant battle against the forces of evil.

Turns out it’s a documentary about bats.

I found this mildly irritating, as bats aren’t exactly flavour of the month with me just now. In fact, they’re up there with pangolins as among my least favourite beasties on earth. Bats and pangolins are why I can’t go for a late-night pint; why I can’t currently visit my mum; and why I haven’t been able to go and watch QPR for a year (okay, every cloud and all that…) It’s because of bats that I’ve spent the last eight months in my house, not sleeping well and sweating more than usual. And now I’m expected to watch a documentary about the blighters, and think how lovely they are, with their cute little faces, and how wonderful it is that we’re conserving them and their infernal germs.

So, not to put too fine a point on it, I determined there and then to hate this stupid programme. I mean, really. Just look at these ridiculous creatures. Imagine being a flying mammal. Can you think of anything more absurd? Well, yes, actually: A flying mammal that can’t actually see. And sleeps upside down. And navigates using sonar, like some tiny, furry, airborne submarine. Pah!

Presenter Lucy Cooke, a zoologist by trade, is visiting a colony of greater horseshoe bats in Dorset. They’ve taken over a kitchen in a derelict 18th century manor house. Because they are one of only 35 greater horseshoe breeding colonies in the whole of Britain, they are very well looked after. They have a specially heated room for their young, and even have mesh installed for them to hang off. It’s like the flipping Ritz for bats in there. Whatever next? Are we going to roll out the red carpet and build rat hotels, so we can all ensure we contract bubonic plague in 2021?

I continued to feel indignant right up until I saw a bat rescue lady hand-feeding a bat, with its tiny little nose and beady little eyes and cute furry body, whereupon I promptly decided that bats were really rather magical little creatures, and we should look after them all, and I very much wanted to watch a programme about them. (I think my mood may have become a little changeable in recent months).

The programme is full of fascinating little bat-related facts. Did you know, for example, that there are 17-types of bat native to Britain, some as small as pound coins, others ‘as big as a starling’. I think that’s meant to be impressive, but starlings are actually tiny. It’s like trying to impress someone by saying “He’s got the intellect of Frank Spencer and the bonhomie of Wolf from Gladiators.” Take the great horseshoe bat, for example. It sounds enormous, doesn’t it? Like some sort of terrific, mammalian version of a dragon from Game of Thrones. Actually, it’s more like a baby’s sock attached to a scrap of bin liner.

But they are undeniably quite cute. And they’re amazing, in their own daft way. I mean, flying while effectively blind is not smart, but the way they navigate, using something called echo-location, is pretty neat. Indeed, around 5 per cent of blind people in the UK now employ echo location in their everyday lives, though they’re some way short of achieving independent flight just yet. Not like the Brazilian Free-Tailed bat, which can achieve speeds of up to 160kmh - faster than the quickest bird can fly under its own power.

Bats, we are told, live in a fascinating, complex social world. It’s all bingo and Zoom quizzes for them. Okay, maybe not. But they can also migrate thousands of miles, and give birth to young that are a third of their adult size. That’s like delivering a 50lb baby. No wonder pregnant bats look so much like tennis balls.

This is not, let’s be honest, the fastest-paced, most action-packed hour of TV you’re likely to see in your life. But it’s a gently soothing hour about a little-understood and rather magical creature. Just don’t expect me to start waxing lyrical about pangolins, right?

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 24th October

Strictly Come Dancing, 7:25pm, BBC One: After last week’s launch show, this time around the celebs take to the dancefloor for the first time. Expect glamour, glitz, glitter, and some stinging barbs from Craig. Ahh, it’s good to have you back, Strictly.

Scotland from the Sky 1/3, 8pm, BBC Two

Maggi Hambling: Making Love with the Paint, 9pm, BBC Two: Hmm. That’s a rather messy and unhygienic title. In fact, in this hour-long arts documentary, the painter and sculptor allows cameras into her Suffolk studio, and discusses her career and work to mark her 75th birthday.

Sunday 25th October

ABBA: IN Their Own Words, 9pm, Channel 5: Sweden’s greatest export (with apologies to Volvo and the meatballs you get in IKEA) are interviewed , as our some celebrity fans, all intercut with fabulous – and very 70s – archive footage. Followed by a screening of the group live in concert at Wembley Arena in 1979.

Monday 26th October

The Sister 1/4, 9pm, ITV: New four part drama, screening on consecutive nights throughout the week, starring the consistently excellent Russell Tovey as Nathan, a man who has a terrible event hidden in his past. But with the unexpected arrival of Bob (Bertie Carvel), the secret may not stay hidden for much longer. Amanda Root co-stars.

President Trump: Tweets from the White House, 9pm, Channel 4: Documentary charting the impact on US politics of Trump’s unfettered and somewhat uninhibited use of social media as President. Sigh.

Paddington Station 24/7, 9pm, Channel 5: Return of the documentary series that looks at life on the rails around Paddington. This week – summer has come to the UK – but how will the rail infrastructure cope with a heatwave?

Tuesday 27th October

Autumnwatch 1/8, 8pm, BBC Two: Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Gillian Burke return each night to track the changes in nature during this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

Wednesday 28th October

Damilola: The Boy Next Door, 9pm, Channel 4: Unbelievably, it’s 20 years since the senseless killing of ten-year-old Damilola Taylor on a Peckham housing estate. Radio presenter and writer Yinka Bokinni, who was a friend of Damilola, looks into events surrounding the case, and revisits the community where she was raised.

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