TV blog: holding back the years

Benjie Goodhart / 23 March 2017

A five-part series explores making the most of retirement. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on TV.

Holding Back the Years, Mon-Fri, 9:15am, BBC One

For the first time in history, there are more people in the UK over the age of 60 than under 16. We’re living longer, our lifestyles are better, and we’re retiring later. The social landscape of our nation is changing.

In this delightful five-part series, showing every morning this week, some familiar faces will investigate what life is like for pensioners in 21st-Century Britain, and how to make the most of it. Angela Rippon, Bill Turnbull, Arlene Phillips, Ainsley Harriott and Maureen Lipman will each explore an aspect of life that has specific significance for them, from finances to health, housing to lifestyle. In the series opener, Maureen Lipman investigates the importance of staying active and sociable.

Loneliness can be a curse for older people. An estimated ten per cent of the elderly experience extreme loneliness. Lipman knows whereof she speaks. She was married to the playwright Jack Rosenthal for over 30 years before he died, and she knows the importance of keeping active and sociable, particularly for those living alone. In this enchanting programme, she returns to her native Hull to find out how people manage to stay busy well into old age.

Saga is proud to be supporting The Silver Line, the only free confidential helpline providing information, friendship and advice to older people. Open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, the charity has just taken its millionth call. For information about how you can help visit

There’s the Darby and Joan Club, a social club where senior citizens go for a meal and a chat. They certainly don’t go for the raffle prizes (as far as I can work out, second prize seems to be a tin of tuna chunks and a can of sardines. First prize is just a tin of tuna chunks.) Intriguingly, the people who volunteer here are in many cases older than their clientele. We meet and 81-year-old volunteer, then a 90-year-old volunteer, then a 92-year-old volunteer. 

Older men, it seems, are more prone to loneliness than women. What a surprise. It’s almost as if decades of occasionally grunting at each other during televised sport hasn’t equipped us with very many emotional tools. Luckily, there is an organisation, Men in Sheds, which allows older men to basically meet up in large workshops, do manly stuff like build shelves and use drills, and occasionally grunt at each other. It’s rather lovely.

Next, Lipman meets the students of the University of the Third Age. It sounds like a cult which is waiting for the Holy Overseer from the planet Zagrox 7 to visit Earth and save us all, but is, in fact, a gathering of retired and semi-retired people meeting in the pub to learn stuff. It’s like going to University, except there’s no real work involved, you spend a lot of time in the pub, and nobody goes to tutorials. So exactly like going to University.

This is a delightful programme, and Lipman is a charismatic and funny host. Most of all, though, this is a useful, informative and optimistic look at how we can all help ourselves, in our latter years, to make the most of life and to keep happy, healthy and busy. 

Find out more about Men in Sheds

The best… and the rest

Saturday 25th March

All Round to Mrs Brown’s, 9:15pm, BBC One: The hugely popular Mrs Brown gets her own chat show. Tonight’s opener features Louis Walsh, ‘audience shenanigans’ and the music of James Blunt. Draw your own conclusions.

Sunday 26th March

World Cup 2018 Qualifier Live: England v Lithuania, ITV, 4:30pm: Gareth Southgate’s team look to follow up a reasonably encouraging display in the friendly with Germany with what should be a more straightforward task against Lithuania. Anyone know the Icelandic for “Don’t count your chickens…?”

Monday 27th March

Question Time: Britain After Brexit, 8:30pm, BBC One: This 90-minute QT special will come as a relief for anyone who feels that Brexit is just not quite being discussed enough. Others may wish to put a brick through their TV.

Travel Man: 48 Hours in Tenerife, 8:30pm, Channel 4: The inestimable Richard Ayoade travels to the Canary Islands with comedian Lena Durham for 48 hours of exploration, deadpan faces, and snarky comments.

Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby 1/6, 9pm, BBC Two: Giles Coren and Monica Galetti go behind the scenes at some of the world’s most iconic hotels. Tonight, Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, whose 9,500 staff (!) host up to a million guests every year.

Tuesday 28th March

The Martin Lewis Money Show, 8pm, ITV: The money-saving expert hosts an hour-long live show which could save viewers hundreds of pounds. Effectively, being paid to watch telly (a gig I can heartily recommend).

Stargazing Live Australia 1/3, 8pm, BBC Two: Dara O Briain, Professor Brian Cox and Liz Bonnin travel down under to see what the stars look like from there (small, white and glinty, I’m guessing). On for three consecutive nights.

Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad, 9pm, BBC One: In 2015, Ferdinand’s wife, Rebecca, died of breast cancer. In an exceptionally brave move, Ferdinand meets other bereaved spouses to discuss grief, depression, and the pressures of raising kids on your own.

Wednesday 29th March

Masterchef 1/25, 8pm, BBC One: John and Gregg return to cheerfully shout at amateur cooks of varying skill levels, while the audience wonders what a velouté is.

Thursday 30th March

Galapagos 1/3, 9pm, BBC One: Liz Bonnin achieves the impossible feat of travelling from Australia to the Galapagos Islands in the gap between programmes. She’s brave, going there – I’m not going within a thousand miles of those racer snakes (see Planet Earth Two – or rather, don’t!)

Friday 31st March

Decline and Fall, 9pm, BBC One: Jack Whitehall, David Suchet and Eva Longoria lead an all-star cast in the BBC’s adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s comic novel.

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