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TV review: Susan Calman's Grand Week by the Sea

Benjie Goodhart / 25 June 2021

This week comedian Susan Calman enjoys a great British holiday in Blackpool, and Wimbledon returns.

Susan Calman
Susan Calman’s Grand Week By The Sea, Channel 5. © IWC Media All Rights Reserved

Wimbledon, all over the BBC, every day, from Monday 28th June, 10:30am

Had enough sport yet? If the answer is yes, you might want to disconnect your TV, go and dig an absolutely colossal hole, and bury it in the very bottom of it, because I’m afraid to say, the summer of sport is only just getting started. The European Championships are only at the halfway stage, there’s plenty of cricket coming up on the BBC, and then the small matter of the Olympic Games closely followed by the Paralympic Games. And, of course, there’s Wimbledon.

Ahh, good old Wimbers. It’s as quintessentially British as queuing, Coronation Street, and binge-drinking. The emphasis on correct attire, the racing green colour scheme, the ivy-clad walls, the overpriced Pimms and strawberries and cream, and the crowds in patriotic hats giggling at pigeons landing courtside – it’s all a sort of magnificent outdoor summer pantomime. With added tennis.

The thing about Wimbers is that it’s sort of sport for people who don’t like sport. My sister, who would no more watch a football match than go into work dressed an Archbishop, watches Wimbledon. Come to that, even my wife watches Wimbledon, and her loathing of sport has such utterly uncharted depths it makes the Mariana Trench look like Trafalgar Square.

Anyway, last year, we were denied the delights of Wimbledon. I don’t imagine I need to explain why – if you’ve not yet noticed what’s been going on, you might need to pay a bit more attention to current affairs. This year, it’s back, with the BBC’s always excellent blanket coverage brining ball-by-ball coverage of a huge array of matches. In the old days, it was just one or two matches, on the main channels. Now, with the advent of the red button and iPlayer, you can pretty much take your pick. Coverage starts every day at 11am (10:30am on the first day) and is helmed, as ever, by the wonderful Sue Barker, recently named a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Meanwhile, every evening at 8:30pm, the equally magnificent Clare Balding will present Today at Wimbledon, from an open-air studio by The Hill. Both will be joined by the usual pundits, very much on the basis of it not being broken and therefore not needing fixing. Welcome, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Tracy Austin and Tim Henman.

The BBC’s Director of Sport, Barbara Slater, is thrilled that the event is back in 2021. “We are delighted to bring back Wimbledon, such a centrepiece event of the sporting calendar, to unite the nation after what has been an incredibly tough year.” I love tennis as much as the next viewer, but are we really sure it’s going to unite the nation? Never mind about the Brexit split, or the Scottish push for independence, Feliciano Lopez is playing Andreas Seppi on Court 13, so everything will be fine.

As for the actual sport itself… Well, you’d be hard-pushed to find a stronger favourite than Novak Djokovic in any tennis tournament. He is odds-on to win the title, having recently won the French Open on his least favourite clay surface. Rafael Nadal is off games, Roger Federer is almost subscribing to Saga, so the second favourite is Greece’s Stefanos Tsisipas, the world No. 2. As regards the British challenge, poor Andy Murray has been given a wildcard, but looks something of a busted flush. Meanwhile, Brits Dan Evans, Cameron Norrie and Kyle Edmund all have it in them to go reasonably deep into the tournament, but a British name on the trophy is as likely as North Macedonia winning the European Championships.

The women’s event is much more open. World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty is the favourite, but the bookies only have her narrowly ahead of the astonishing Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova and Garbine Muguruza. Look out, too, for the 17-year-old wunderkind, Coco Gauff. Sadly, the brilliant Naomi Osaka will be absent as she seeks to look after her mental health. We wish her well.

Susan Calman’s Grand Week By the Sea, Monday 28th June, 8pm, Channel 5

Susan Calman is going on holiday. That’s the premise of this cheerful, upbeat and rather charming new five-part series, stripped across every night this week. But she’s not flouting the rules, sneaking off for a luxury break in the Maldives, or being an amber gambler and nipping off to somewhere on the dreaded orange list. Nope, she’s off to spend a week by the British seaside. That sounds idyllic enough. The British seaside can be heavenly. But you have to question our Susan’s definition of what constitutes a holiday.

She’s off to five different British seaside resorts in a week. Now, clearly, the worst thing about holidays is the packing, the organising, the travelling and the upheaval. Once you get there, and can empty your suitcase, settle in, lie back and relax in situ, the vacation can really start in earnest. But for Susan, the entire holiday seems to consist of the moving around bit. She’s essentially planning on spending a week in a tailback on the M25, going from one resort to another.

Clearly, that wouldn’t make very good telly, and happily we are spared the details of her getting from A to B (to C to D to E). Instead, we get to follow our chirpy host as she gamely throws herself into the delights of the various locations she’s visiting.

Tonight’s episode sees her stay in Great Yarmouth, on the Norfolk coast. (Subsequent episodes are in Brighton, Southend, St Ives and Blackpool). To get things started, she goes for a little paddle. Beatles concerts seemed to involve less screaming than Susan having a paddle in the North Sea. I think it’s fair to say she’s not quite embraced the cold-water swimming trend.

She’s found a lovely beachfront B&B, with an enormous bed, and a breakfast that looks to be almost the same size as the bed. I don’t imagine she’ll need another meal all week. The owner of the B&B then waxes lyrical to her about the joys of the town. “Where better a place on earth?” he asks. Great Yarmouth is indeed a nice spot, but that’s a big call. Venice and The Maldives might as well give up and pack it in.

With a belly full of fry up, it’s time to visit the Pleasure Beach, because nothing compliments six tons of egg, bacon and sausage like a trip on the rollercoaster. Particularly a 90-year-old wooden rollercoaster that depends on a brake man to drive it safely. It turns out that Susan is as comfortable on a fairground ride as she is paddling. You don’t get this with Bear Grylls.

Next, she goes synchronised swimming in a quite extraordinary onstage pool in a theatre, before taking in a puppet show. I have always believed that there are few things more sinister than Punch and Judy – a tale of a hideous, red-cheeked, pointy-chinned, squeaky-voiced man abusing his wife and child, getting into a series of violent confrontations, and falling foul of the law, before being attacked by a crocodile. There is nothing in this sequence to disabuse me of the notion.

Next, there is a fascinating section where we see how a stick of rock is made – it’s genuinely remarkable, and very clever. After that, there’s time for a quick visit to the Venetian Waterways in the resort’s beautiful seaside gardens. And then Susan meets up with a squeaky-voiced man of a rather less violent nature than Mr Punch, the gentle and rather sweet Joe Pasquale, who used to be a bluecoat in Great Yarmouth and has fond memories of the place. They have a sandcastle-building contest, and Joe goes up in an aerobatic plane.

The pace is all quite frenetic, and a lot is packed into the hour, but the sum total is a show that is long on charm and good-natured humour, much like its host. It is warm, welcoming, unpretentious and ever-so-slightly tacky – much like the British seaside itself. Enjoy.

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The best… and the rest:

This section is fairly short this week. Please don’t think that is because I am being lazy (although admittedly that is my natural state of being) but because, what with the football and the tennis, there isn’t much room for anything new. Anyway…

Saturday 26th June

Kate: Our Queen in Waiting, 9pm, Channel 5: Feature-length documentary about the Duchess of Cambridge and her personal and professional development over the past decade. They do love a royal doc on Channel 5, don’t they?

Glastonbury in the 21st Century, 9pm, BBC Two: Saga’s regular cover star Dizzee Rascal narrates this look back at the festival since 2000, including all sorts of appearances from people and bands you couldn’t give a stuff about.

Monday 28th June

Countdown, 2:10pm, Channel 4: A new era begins, as Anne Robinson takes over presenting duties on Channel 4’s longest-running show. Hopefully she’ll be in softer mode than her dominatrix-style presentation of The Weakest Link suggested. It should be fun finding out…

Tuesday 29th June

Bronte’s Britain with Gyles Brandreth, 9pm, Channel 5: The former Tory MP and wit visits West Yorkshire, and looks at the young lives of the sisters who would go on to become the most extraordinary literary family in British history.

Wednesday 30th June

Extraordinary Twins 1/2, 9pm, ITV: Documentary following Nick and Chelsea from Idaho, whose twin daughters Callie and Carter are joined together at the sternum. The programme meets the family as the twins approach their fourth birthday, and their parents face the agonising decision of whether to put them through complex surgery. Concludes tomorrow.

Thursday 1st July

Big Dog Britain, 10pm, Channel 4: Documentary looking at (you’ve guessed it) big dogs, and the people who own them. I’d be worried about… you know… the picking up with the bags bit…

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