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TV reviews: Grayson's Art Club and Joanna Lumley: Home Sweet Home

Benjie Goodhart / 29 January 2021

Grayson Perry's Art Club returns to Channel 4, and Joanna Lumley's latest travel show sees the star explore fascinating and personal locations across the UK.

Grayson’s Art Club, Sunday 31st January, 7pm, Channel 4

If I could change one thing about myself, it would be my complete artistic inability. No, scrap that. If I could change one thing about myself, I’d look like Brad Pitt. No, I’d be a bestselling novelist. Hang on… I’d have bullet-proof confidence. Actually, I’d have limitless patience. Or limitless Prosecco. And a less messy car. And a less stinky dog.

But I would dearly love to be better at art. My wife, and both of my kids, are supremely talented in this direction. They only need to wave a pencil over a page and they’ve created something magical. I, by contrast, can spend hours pouring over a piece of paper, tongue sticking out slightly, concentrating hard enough to start my eyebrows smoking, and produce something of unspeakable ugliness. Any ‘artworks’ I create come with a silent ‘f’ in front of them.

I also feel like a bit of a philistine when it comes to art. My wife takes the mickey out of my tastes, which she sees as being a bit ‘chocolate box’. It’s true, I’m quite partial to a spot of Monet or Van Gogh, and I can’t quite see the appeal of a cow cut in half or a load of spots on a canvas. I couldn’t tell a Kandinsky from a carpet salesman. In short, I’d always sort of assumed that art wasn’t really for me.

Which is where Grayson Perry comes in.

During the first lockdown, Grayson Perry started up his ‘art club’ as part of Channel 4’s #StayAtHome Academy. The idea was to get people not just watching his programme and engaging with art passively, but actively participating, quite literally getting their hands dirty. Every week, he and a guest artist (those featured included Antony Gormley, Jeremy Deller, David Shrigley and Maggi Hambling) would discuss the processes of creating art, in easy and relatable terms, before encouraging the viewers to have a go, and sending in their creations. Across the series, the public sent in a remarkable 10,000 submissions. And that is without mentioning all the viewers who were painting at home and not sending in the results.

Each week saw a different theme, from portraiture to animals, home to ‘the view from my window’. And each week Grayson was also joined not only by his wife (the equally marvellous Philippa Perry) but also by a guest comedian (including Noel Fielding, Vic Reeves and Jenny Eclair).

The real magic of the show comes from its utter accessibility. In the past, art shows on television were made by people in silk shirts and cravats, for people similarly attired to watch while perched on their antique furniture. But Grayson is all about destroying the elitism of art, and his show is self-evidently for everyone. With his tagline “Art is good for you, whoever you are,” and his emphasis on the catharsis of creativity, this was a show designed to inspire and soothe in equal parts.

And it worked. Over a million people tuned in each week. In November, an exhibition opened in Manchester featuring some of the artworks created by Perry and his viewers during the series. Infuriatingly, it was closed by Covid soon afterwards.

Hurrah, then, for the show’s return. While the names of the artists and celebrity guests have not yet been released, the themes for each week have. If you feel so inclined, get painting around the following themes: Family, nature, food, dreams, work and travel. Obviously I won’t be bothering (I know the show encourages everyone to participate, but Grayson hasn’t seen my efforts yet) but I find the inclusivity a joy. It makes me realise that art really is for everyone. Even me. And, as Grayson says, this show “is not principally about art, it’s a celebration of life.” Hear, hear.

Joanna Lumley: Home Sweet Home – Travels in My Own Land 1/3, Tuesday 2nd February, 8pm, ITV

Future generations will look back on the year 2020 (with information digitally transmitted on to the inside of their eyelids) and imagine it was a year where the streets were quiet, everyone stayed indoors and nothing much happened. As if!

The reality has been that the streets have been utterly logjammed, social distancing has been impossible, and vast human tsunamis have washed over this benighted isle. Because, judging by the TV schedules in recent weeks and months, Britain has been utterly awash with presenters and TV crews filming travelogues all about the UK. Simon Reeve, Sandi Toksvig, Romesh Ranganathan, Adrian Dunbar, Robson Green, Paul Whitehouse, Bob Mortimer, Jennifer Saunders and Michael Sheen, to name but a few, have all been furiously gadding about the highways and byways of the British Isles and doing pieces to camera in which they pretend that they’d rather be in a drizzly Cornwall than on a paradisical Caribbean beach.

Now it’s time to add another name to the list. Joyously, it is TV royalty personified, in the exquisitely elegant form of Joanna Lumley. In this charming new three-part series, she is… well, gadding about on the highways and byways of the British Isles and doing pieces to camera in which she pretends that she’d rather be in a drizzly Cornwall than on a paradisical Caribbean beach.

Oh but she’s good at it, though. She really makes you believe it. Who on Earth would want to be in Paris in the springtime when you could be in Tilbury Docks? Who in their right mind would choose Tuscany over Derbyshire? Why do we bother visiting the Alhambra when we could go to Whitby Abbey instead?

The secret to Lumley’s charm – above even her intelligence, wit and curiosity – is her sheer unadulterated enthusiasm for everything and everyone she comes across. And it is utterly infectious – in a good way, not in a mask-wearing, hand-sanitising way.

Her journey in episode one begins in Tilbury Docks, with the revelation that Joanna Lumley was a Windrush girl. Well, sort of. As a child, she travelled to Hong Kong on the Windrush. At the docks, she meets an artist, and child of the Windrush generation, who shows her the beautiful and moving installation he has created on a bridge.

Next up, a slight change of pace, as Lumley visits the Aston Martin factory, to reminisce about the DB5 that James Bond drove. It turns out the factory is building 25 exact replicas of the Bond car – complete with pop up bullet shields, revolving international number plates, and front-mounted machine guns. You can pick up one of these collectors’ items for just £2.75 million, plus taxes. Unfortunately, this will not grant you access to a road vehicle. It can only be driven on buyers’ private estates. Well, what do you expect, if you’re only willing to shell out £2.75m on a car?

Next, she visits a village in Derbyshire with a fascinating plague history that puts our own current travails into a healthy degree of perspective. After that, it’s on to an old haunt, the set of Coronation Street, where Lumley trod the cobbles in 1973 as Elaine Perkins. Remarkably, 47 years later, her romantic interest from those days is still acting in the show. She meets Bill Roache for a drink in the Rovers, where they chat about old times. And, is it me, or is Roache flirting with his former colleague? He is, it must be said, quite remarkable for 88.

There’s no time to rekindle old romances, though, as it’s off to the Lake District for Lumley, for a diet of Kendal Mint Cake and Beatrix Potter. Thence on to Bradford, where she meets a delightful women’s allotment group who come together to combat loneliness. After that, it’s on to the Yorkshire Dales, and a quite extraordinary feature called Gordale Scar. It is a narrow, dramatic and stunningly beautiful gorge that I can’t quite believe I’ve never heard of. It should be a national treasure. Much like the lady walking through it.

There’s still time for a trip to a hotel in Lumley Castle, Chester-Le-Street, built by a distant ancestor and now a luxury hotel. Finally, it’s on to Whitby, with its spooky ruined abbey, it’s links to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and its intriguing gothic heritage. The programme ends with Lumley as we have never seen her before. I’m not sure it’s her finest look, but as ever, she tackles it with gusto, humour and enthusiasm.

Find out about Joanna Lumley's favourite travel destinations.

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The best… and the rest:

Saturday 30th January

Stormborn, 7pm, BBC One: Ewan McGregor narrates this documentary series following animals eking out an existence in the harsh environment of the northern edges of the Atlantic.

When the Middletons Met the Monarchy, 9:30pm, Channel 5: The broadcaster’s royalty slot is filled this week by a documentary looking at what it must have been like for the Duchess of Cambridge’s family to suddenly find themselves part of the inner sanctum of the nation’s premier family.

Sunday 31st January

Stacey Dooley: Back on the Psych Ward, 9pm, BBC Two: The documentary presenter returns to Springfield Hospital, to meet patients in crisis as they battle with mental health issues that, in many cases, have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Rhod Gilbert: Stand Up to Infertility, 9:45pm, BBC Two: The Welsh comedian investigates the issue of male fertility, a cause close to his heart (or other bits) as he and his wife are struggling to conceive.

Monday 1st February

Garden Rescue 1/35, 7:35pm, BBC One: Charlie Dimmock and Harry and David Rich return for a new series. Tonight, they are helping reverend Karen and her husband Colin, who want to turn an oddly-shaped and weed-strewn garden in Romsey into an Italian retreat.

Panorama, 9pm, BBC One: The current affairs show examines links between boxing and organised crime.

The Drowning, 9pm, Channel 5: Four-part drama, showing nightly this week, about a mother who thinks a teenager she’s seen is her son, who went missing nine years ago. Starring Jill Halfpenny and Rupert Penry-Jones.

Tuesday 2nd February

Interior Design Masters 1/8, 8pm, BBC Two: Return of the interior design challenge, hosted by Alan Carr, and judged by Michelle Ogundehin. This week’s guest judge is the extravagantly-coiffured Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.

Thursday 4th February

Adrian Dunbar’s Coastal Ireland 1/2, 8pm, Channel 5: This two-part travelogue sees the Irish actor reconnect with his roots as he travels around the wild and rugged Irish coast. If he looks familiar, it may be because he plays Line if Duty’s Ted Hastings. Altogether now: “Mother of God!”

Friday 5th February

The Gadget Show 1/12, 7pm, Channel 5: A new series of the show that casts an eye over all things technological coming on to the market. Tonight, the team examine smart watches, the iPhone 12, and update us on the latest gaming news. The latter will, I’m sure, be a relief to all of us.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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