TV blog: 100 Year Old Driving School

Benjie Goodhart / 07 September 2017

A new series follows an inspirational bunch of drivers aged over 90. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on TV.

100 Year Old Driving School, Tuesday 12th September, 9pm, ITV

There are 100,000 people over 90 on the UK roads. There are also 248 centenarians who are still getting behind the wheel. With more elderly people than ever driving regularly, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has introduced an assessment test to advise the mature motorist on how they might improve their vehicular skills. This warmly wry three-part documentary series looks at a handful of drivers over 90 as they undergo this rigorous examination.

This is, it’s fair to say, a pretty inspirational bunch of individuals. There’s Jack, a 93-year-old Judo black belt who still teaches the sport, and is as sharp behind the wheel as Lewis Hamilton, if a little more circumspect. He’s also got better hair. And, just a vowel away from Jack is Jock, a magnificently spry 101-year-old who has hopped onto his scooter to nip down to the harbour so he can take his son’s motor boat for a spin. He’s a dab hand on a motorbike – as well you might be, after 94 years riding the things (was the early part of the 20th century filled with seven-year-olds riding motorbikes, or was Jock the exception?)

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Clocking in a year older than Jock is John, a decorated naval officer who has been driving since 1935 (I don’t think they mean without stopping, although I wouldn’t put it past him). He loves motoring – in the 1950s he drove across Europe in a vintage Rolls Royce. (My dad did much the same, although he did it in a second hand butcher’s van, so perhaps is slightly marked down in the glamour stakes). And now to possibly the oldest model of all on display. No, not Jill (a sprightly 92) but her Toyota Carina, which looks positively ancient. Okay, it actually dates from 1989, but it’s some beast. It couldn’t look any more 80s if it was sporting shoulder pads and a bubble perm.

But the star of the show is Joan. At 91, she may very well be the most cheerful person in the country. She seems to laugh from the moment she wakes until the moment she closes her eyes. And probably in her sleep, too. Her driving is of the gleefully erratic variety. She roars along the roads of Washington (Tyne and Wear, not America) doing 40 in first gear (I don’t rate the car’s chances of reaching old age), answering all of her (clearly terrified) grandson’s comments with a lusty giggle (that’s enough brackets in one sentence). To be fair, I don’t think she can hear him, though whether that’s because of deafness or the high-pitched scream of the over-wrought engine is debatable. If Jean passes her assessment, I’m a tangerine.

Hold on. Jack, Jock, John, Jill and Joan. Clearly there’s a message here. If you want to make it into the furthest reaches of your golden years as a spry, independent and resilient individual, you need to have a four-letter first name starting with J. I’m changing mine to Jenj, just to be safe. And, to be extra safe, I might steer clear of the roads in Washington for a while.

How to Stay Young 1/3, Wednesday 13th September, 9pm, BBC One

This is a timely programme, particularly for me. It transmits on the day my own age ticks forward another year (please send all gifts care of Saga). We’ve already established how to stay young: The four-letter J-thing. But In case there are still some of you for whom my rigorously-researched and deeply scientific theory remains implausible – there’s no accounting for sceptics, after all – this three-part series, presented by Angela Rippon and Chris van Tulleken, offers an alternative approach.

It turns out we have two ages. Our actual age, and our body age. (I’d suggest we also have a mental age, and that for most males it never really gets beyond about eleven). The series will meet a plethora of individuals who are worried about their lifestyles, who are then subjected to a battery of tests at Newcastle University’s Institute for Ageing, in order to calculate their body age.

First up is Patrick. He looks loads younger than his 51 years, is slim, and works in the NHS. Wow. If Patrick has a high body age, there’s no hope for any of us. No, mark my words, he’s in really good sha… oh. Right. He has a body age of 73. Surely not? The computer must have a glitch, or a sense of humour. Patrick looks twice the man I am. Or, more to the point, half the man.

Nope, this is no mistake. Patrick’s problem is his diet, and lack of exercise. He might look like a recently-retired athlete, but internally, it’s a cholesterol-fest. Used to grabbing food on the go, his diet is mostly junk, and he begins each day with a fry-up. He is put on a three-month programme by the Newcastle team, and goes shopping with a nutritionist. She makes him put back all his crisps, biscuits and tea cakes, and replaces them with reduced fat hummus, cucumber and walnuts. As the old joke goes, it might not make you live any longer, but it’ll certainly feel longer.

Chris isn’t alone in being shocked by his body age. The programme follows two other subjects – 47-year-old Jennifer, and Harminder, 54, both of whom have a shockingly high body age. The reasons range from insomnia and lack of exercise to stress and anxiety, and the solutions recommended by the experts are bespoke and diverse. Three months later, the trio return to Newcastle to find out whether they have been able to do the impossible, and turn back time. It’s fair to say, the results are little short of remarkable.

There are many useful lessons in this fascinating film – not least, that it is never too late for us all to make improvements to our lifestyle. But it also begs the question whether we should all be finding out our body age, and be getting our own tailor-made courses to improve our health. On the basis that prevention is both better and cheaper than treatment, this is an area that certainly warrants further investigation.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 9th September

Strictly Come Dancing – The Launch, 7pm, BBC One: Welcome return of the show with more fake tan than David Dickinson’s bathroom cabinet and more sequins than Liberace’s wardrobe, as Tess and Claudia introduce us to the 15 dancers vying for the Glitterball Trophy in 2017. Nothing of importance happens in the launch show, but the introduction of a new judge, and a tribute to the late, great Brucie should make for diverting viewing.

Monday 11th September

Upstart Crow, 8:30pm, BBC Two: Huzzah! David Mitchell returns as one William Shakespeare in Ben Elton’s cheerful sitcom. An impressive supporting cast includes Liza Tarbuck, Harry Enfield and Mark Heap.

Liar 1/6, 9pm, ITV: New thriller starring Joanne Froggatt (Anna in Downton) and Ioan Gruffudd as a couple who are set up on a date, only for a series of unforeseen events to change their lives forever.

Rellik 1/6, 9pm, BBC One: The BBC have been heavily trailing this new cop-versus-serial-killer series, meaning they must have some confidence in it – unsurprisingly, as it comes from the fraternal-writing duo responsible for The Missing. The story, apparently, works backwards (as does the title, see?) An intriguing idea.

The Search for a New Earth with Stephen Hawking, 9pm, BBC Two: Rather depressingly, no lesser figure than Stephen Hawking believes the human species will have to populate another planet within 100 years if we are to survive. In this feature-length programme, he and other scientific eggheads look into the reality behind the ambition of interplanetary colonisation.

The Undateables 1/5, 9pm, Channel 4: Return of the utterly charming, award-winning series which follows the trials and tribulations of people with a disability who are looking for love.

Inside the Railway, 1/4, 9pm, Channel 5: Return of the series going behind the scenes at London’s biggest stations. Tonight, Paddington deals with 20,000 football fans and the knock on effects of a terrorist attack at London bridge.

Tuesday 12th September

Robson Green’s Coastal Lives 1/6, 8pm, ITV: The genial Geordie explores the extraordinary lives and homes of people who live on Britain’s coastline, and whose lives are inextricably linked with life by the sea.

Horizon: Mars – A Traveller’s Guide, 9pm, BBC Two: Following on from last night’s Hawking doc, this film asks where on the planet the first people on Mars should visit, and what they would need to survive there.

Thursday 14th September

Without Limits: Vietnam 1/2, 8pm, BBC One: Six people with different disabilities travel 900 miles through Vietnam in an epic and moving adventure. Those involved include Vicky Balch, who lost her legs in the rollercoaster accident at Alton Towers in 2015, and Paralympic wheelchair rugby captain Steve Brown.

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