Antiques Roadshow, Sunday 24th September, 8pm, BBC One
The past is a foreign country, as LP Hartley observed. 40 years ago, we lived in a very different world. Computers were things owned by the MoD, the size of small houses. Phones were of the chunky, slow, rotating-dial variety, not pocket-sized portals to every piece of information in existence. We’d not had a female Prime Minister, we got by on three TV channels (ugh!), and had never even had a Pot Noodle. There may be more culturally significant things than the Pot Noodle, but dashed if I can think of them.
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But it wasn’t all bad news back then, because 40 years ago, a modest little new series started in Hereford. Presented by Bruce Parker, the show invited members of the public to bring in their treasured knick-knacks to be looked over by an expert. Parker recalls being worried that nobody would show up, and the programme would never get beyond its first episode.
They showed up. And they kept showing up, episode after episode, series after series, until now, 40 years later, the show is one of the longest-running in the world. To mark this auspicious anniversary, the team has travelled to one of the most spectacular stately homes in the UK, namely Castle Howard in Yorskhire (forever familiar to a generation of TV fans as Brideshead thanks to the TV adaptation in 1981, and indeed the film remake in 2008). The house was designed in 1699 not by an architect, but an actor – the equivalent of giving Ross Kemp £100 million and asking him to build you a family home to last a millennium. Luckily, it was a stunning success, albeit taking 100 years to build (that would end up being quite a lengthy episode of Grand Designs).
Antiques Roadshow has been so successful largely because the formula has remained resolutely unchanged across the decades, and so it is here with this 40th anniversary special. Very little differs from the 1977 edition, except there are fewer moustaches, lapels are smaller, and the picture’s a bit better. But the joy of the antiques, and the stories behind them, endures. In this episode, there is a startling letter from Charles Darwin, a necklace bought for £1 from a charity shop, a 300-year-old political plate, a tankard presented to a rioter, a teardrop diamond delivered by post, a Renoir sketch, and a death mask of Napoleon.
But there’s more. As a special treat, the show looks back at some of the more significant moments from series past, including a dolls’ house you’d be unlikely to let your kids play with, and a woman in Hexham with an astonishing collection of oriental porcelain. There are interviews with Bruce Parker, and with expert David Battie, who has been on the show throughout its existence. There is also a sequence where expert Ronnie Archer Morgan is brought to tears by an exhibit which takes him back to a troubled childhood spent in care. It is one of the more moving bits of television you’ll see this year.
Of course, the ultimate joy of the Roadshow comes at the moment of valuation: enough about a piece’s wonderful gilt-effects or its spectacular glaze – give us the bottom line! So, in true Antiques Roadshow style, I am delighted to inform you that this wonderful antique TV show, dating from the modern Elizabethan era, is not just valuable – it’s priceless.
Celebrity Taste of Italy, Friday 29th September, 9pm, Channel 5
What are the national treasures of this sceptred isle? The monarchy? The landscape? The history, architecture, literature and culture? Oh, and Diana Moran, of course. You know, the Green Goddess? According to Channel 5, she’s a national treasure – as are her companions in this new series: Rula Lenska, Judith Chalmers, Johnny Ball and Ian Lavender.
All five of the contributors in this new series are cheerful and fun, and the idea is a gem. Think The Real Marigold Hotel, but with cannelloni instead of curry.
The series involves getting a bunch of semi-famous older people who don’t know each other, sticking them in a luxury villa in some far flung foreign clime, and watching them as they try to come to terms with daily life in their new environment.
To give the show at least the appearance of originality, the five are in Italy to learn how to cook – but rest assured, this takes up remarkably little of the programme. Instead, we see them doing their exercises in the morning, going shopping or sightseeing by day, and having a meal and a natter in the evening,
Of course it’s all absolutely charming. The five are highly amiable companions, and the scenery and architecture are breath taking (they are in Tuscany, after all, where even the petrol stations would be Grade I listed were they in this country).
Johnny Ball is sweet and cheerful, and touchingly lost without his wife. Diana Moran is notable for having what must be the world’s largest collection of sun visors. Ian Lavender is not fond of exercise. Judith Chalmers is the redoubtable grande dame of travel programmes.
The best… and the rest
Saturday 23rd September
Britain’s Ancient Tracks with Tony Robinson 1/4, 7pm, Channel 4: Exploring the ancient tracks, over 5000 years old, that criss-cross the nation, and the myths and legends that surround them. Tonight, our Tone travels to Dartmoor.
Sunday 24th September
The Invictus Games 2017, 5:35pm, BBC One: Coverage from Toronto of the opening ceremony and athletics on the first day of the games for injured service personnel. Prepare to be inspired. Coverage continues all week.
Escape to the Chateau 1/3, 7pm, Channel 4: Return of the delightful series following Angel Strawbridge and her husband Dick, an enormous, walking moustache, as they struggle to restore a huge 19th Century chateau. Magnifique!
The Child in Time, 9pm, BBC One: Feature-length adaptation of Ian McEwan’s Whitbread Prize-winning novel, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a children’s author who faces a terrible future when he loses his young daughter in a supermarket.
Electric Dreams: Impossible Planet, 9pm, Channel 4: The ambitious anthology of standalone hour-long sci fi stories based on the works of Phillip K. Dick continues tonight with a tale about an old woman desperate to see Earth for the last time, and the two conmen who agree to take her there, only to get more than they bargained for. Starring Geraldine Chaplin, Jack Reynor and Benedict Wong.
Monday 25th September
The Human Body: Secrets of Your Life Revealed 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: The entirely ubiquitous Chris and Xand van Tulleken reveal the extraordinary stories hidden within each and every one of us: the story of how we grow, survive and learn.
Tuesday 26th September
The Yorkshire Vet, 1/8, 8pm, Channel 5: Return of the series about a vet. You know.. in.. um… Yorkshire. Okay, okay, it’s possible I’ve never actually seen it.
Wednesday 27th September
The Pact, 10pm, BBC Two: Comedy drama about two friends who make a pact, as teenagers, to marry if they’re both single at 35. 20 years later, they have drifted apart… but fate has a surprise in store for them. Starring the wonderful Sarah Solemani and Brett Goldstein.
Thursday 28th September
Russia with Simon Reeve 1/3, 9pm, BBC One: The intrepid and likeable presenter tours the world’s largest country on the 100th anniversary of the revolution. Tonight, he visits Yakutia, the coldest inhabited region in the world. Let’s hope he packed his winter smalls.
Friday 29th September
Britain by Bike with Larry & George Lamb 1/4, 8pm, Channel 5: The EastEnders actor and his son George hop in the saddle and take in Britain’s national parks by bike. In tonight’s series opener, the duo visits the Yorkshire Dales.
The Last Leg, 10pm, Channel 4: The award-winning and irreverent series returns with its unique blend of satire, topical comedy, chat, and nonsense. Tonight, Adam Hills, Josh Widdicombe and Alex Brooker are joined by the uniquely heavenly presence that is Joanna Lumley.