TV blog: Bancroft

Benjie Goodhart / 06 December 2017

A new police drama delivers an ambitious and intriguing twist on a tired formula. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on TV.

Bancroft, Monday 11th December, 9pm, ITV

You know what would make a really great idea for a drama? Something to do with the police. Maybe an investigation of some sort. Ideally a murder – that raises the stakes a little. You could have a maverick lead detective, who doesn’t do things by the book, and has a complicated, lonely personal life. An eager, slightly green protégé. A senior commander who’s a bit of a bureaucrat and a pen pusher. You follow this investigation through all of its ups and downs. And then you have a really dramatic denouement, where everyone’s life is in danger and someone is holding someone else hostage, and here are knives and guns and someone yelling “take the shot” and all that malarkey. I’m going to write this damn drama, and it’s going to give birth to a whole new genre of programming, and I can retire to a gated community where I’ll have a whole wing of the house to store my awards.

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The only thing is, I’m slightly worried that someone may have beaten me to it. Somewhere, in the deep recesses of my mind, I have a vague memory of watching 40 trillion different versions of this scenario play themselves out on my TV screen over the past decades. In fact, the theory is that when John Logie Baird first tested his 30-line, vertically-scanned greyscale image, the set actually picked up a bloke in a raincoat yelling “You’re going away for a very, very long time for what you did, you mug.”

Yep, police dramas are two-a-penny alright. And they’re so utterly formulaic, you could mix them with water and serve them to a baby.

Welcome, for example, to Bancroft. 27 years ago, a woman called Laura Fraser was murdered. Nobody ever found her killer. So we have a cold case, a trope beloved of police thriller writers. Then there’s Bancroft herself (the always watchable Sarah Parish): Brave, strong, maverick – doesn’t always do things by the book, but she gets the job done. There are, however, hinted-at anguishes in her personal life.

Below Bancroft is the young ingénue, a bright, determined and ambitious cop, DS Stevens, played by Faye Marsay. Above Bancroft is the pen-pushing bureaucrat, a weasely chap played with satisfying weaseliness by Ade Edmondson. Above Edmondson is Art Malik’s DCS. The actors get more celebrated the higher we go up the rankings. If we meet the Commissioner of the Met, they’ll have to exhume Gielgud. Meanwhile, the police are after Athif. No, not a thief. Athif. (Note to criminals – if you’re called Athif, you might want to change your name to something less incriminating like Aniceguy.)

Anyway, all the characters are here, we’ve got our cold case, we could all pretty much go ahead and write the rest of it ourselves. Or so I thought. But around three-quarters of the way through this opening episode, everything changed. Well, not everything. My sofa was still the same colour. I still didn’t like smelly cheeses. Trump was still POTUS. But things on my tellybox changed dramatically. And astonishingly. And, it has to be said, brilliantly.

I’m not going to even hint at what happens, but suffice to say, it certainly shakes up the whole tired police genre thread just a little bit. In a stroke, this goes from just another police procedural drama to something altogether more ambitious and intriguing. Writer Kate Brooke should be commended for attempting to inject new life into something of an industry cadaver. The concluding three episodes are on over the next three nights, and if you’re anything like as fascinated as I am, you won’t be anywhere else.

The World’s Most Expensive Presents, Tuesday 12th December, 9pm, Channel 4

What are you hoping for, for Christmas? Me? (No, I know you’re not hoping for me for Christmas, my ego isn’t that rampant quite yet. I was asking the question to myself.) Me? I’m not sure what I want. It drives my wife round the twist. I just can’t think of anything that I need. I have a very comfortable, happy life. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not some hemp-wearing ascetic who rejects material possessions. I would throw out my family before I’d get rid of my giant flat-screen telly, and if my phone was taken away from me, I’d probably be found, naked, cold and confused somewhere off the A303 about two weeks later, talking to myself through my matted beard.

It’s just that I genuinely think I have what I need. And this makes me rather difficult to buy presents for. Because – get this – I’m not even tempted by the idea of a gold-plated racing bike, as seen in this film. I mean, fine, if my wife wants to spend £250,000 on me at Christmas, be my guest. But not on something quite so naff and gaudy. Spend it on something in this programme with a little more good taste. No, keep watching. Something will come up. I’m sure it’ll be fine. Look, there’s a… no, no, you’re quite right, everything in this programme is vulgar beyond all human imagining.

Ah, but that’s sort of the point of programmes like this, isn’t it? We get to laugh at all of these bonkers eccentrics with more money than sense, and less taste than a rice cake, as they career around in their gull-winged sports cars swigging champagne and buying solid gold bath taps and diamond-encrusted loo roll (actually, that would be a really, really bad idea…) It’s great fun. We laugh at them, and feel all superior because we’d never be so gauche, then we go back to our beans on toast, they swan off to The Ivy with their toned bodies and beautiful friends. But that’s okay, because we feel superior to them. (You’ve got a little bit of baked bean sauce on your chin, by the way).

Anyway, this foray into how the other half lives is as hilarious and jaw-dropping and disgusting and riveting as you’d expect. Items for sale include a bespoke colouring book (an artist draws the stuff to be coloured in, based on your life experiences). Yours for £24,000. One chap, at a luxury games. company, reveals he once sold a personalised Monopoly game for £500,000. Now THAT is exorbitant. Mayfair is the most expensive area in the whole of London, and you could buy it 1250 times over for that amount!

Then there’s Rachelle, who’s designing a ball gown featuring 40,000 hand-sewn crystals, on sale for a cool £40,000, If that seems a lot, you’ve not heard the best bit: It’s for a dog. Yes, Rachelle is a dog couturier (which has to be up there with traffic warden, bailiff and tabloid journalist as jobs you don’t want to confess to having).

All of this, and I’ve not even mentioned the really obscene stuff. The $1m watch. The cake that dispenses champagne. The (wait for it) £11.5m pair of shoes. My wife could get SIX pairs of shoes for that!

Anyway, watch and enjoy. And remember who the real losers are here. (Yes, it’s us, but shhhhh…)

The best… and the rest

Saturday 9th December

John Noakes, TV Hero, 5:30pm, BBC Two: My childhood hero was never an athlete or a rock star. It was John Noakes, the Blue Peter presenter who loved his dog and threw himself into every challenge with almost mythical levels of derring do. He died in May of this year, and this documentary sees colleagues and his wife look back at the life of a remarkable man.

Sunday 10th December

Britain’s Wildest Weather, 6:30pm, Channel 4: The broadcaster’s annual look back at the national obsession encompasses the weirdest and most dramatic meteorological phenomena of the last twelve months, and the explanations behind them. Because who doesn’t love a bit of weather?

Attenborough and the Giant Elephant, 9pm, BBC One: Everyone’s favourite naturalist presents a one-off doc telling the sad story of Jumbo, a colossal elephant whose life in captivity in the mid-19th Century encompassed both London Zoo and the circus.

I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, 9pm, ITV: Ant and Dec (who have, as ever, been on fine form throughout this series) present the show’s final, in which, if charm and kindness are to be rewarded, Toff will be crowned Queen of the Jungle.             

Monday 11th December

White Right: Meeting the Enemy, 10:40pm, ITV: Award-winning film-maker Deeyah Khan meets US Neo-Nazis, and attends a huge and violent far-right rally.

Wednesday 13th December

Harrogate: A Yorkshire Christmas, 9pm, Channel 5: Two-part documentary series, revealing how Harrogate celebrates Christmas every year. Much like anywhere else, I’m guessing.

Thursday 14th December

Gypsy Kids at Christmas, 8pm, Channel 5: One-off documentary looking at how the travelling community celebrate Christmas. Much like everyone else, I’m guessing.

George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, 8pm, Channel 4: The architect presents a wintry snow-and-ice special from Norway, including a remarkable tree house and a 30-room ice hotel.

The Crystal Maze: Celebrity Special, 9pm, Channel 4: The marvellous Richard Ayoade hosts a sleb spesh of the eccentric gameshow, with stars including Strictly’s Mollie King, and gold-medal-winning athletes Nicola Adams and Ellie Simmonds.

Friday 15th December

The Sweet Makers, 9pm, BBC Two: One-off Christmas special following on from BBC Two’s series earlier in the year that saw a group of modern confectioners take a trip back in time to see how things were done in the old days. Tonight, the gang tackle sugar plums, Yule Logs, and spectacularly-decorated cakes.

I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! Coming Out, 9pm, ITV: The slebs from this year’s show return to their natural environment, a bizarre world of paparazzi, parties, and the ability to eat forest fruits without causing a diplomatic incident.

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