TV blog: Sir Bobby Charlton at 80

05 October 2017

A look at the life of Sir Bobby Charlton as he turns 80. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on TV.

Sir Bobby Charlton at 80, Sunday 8th October, 10:30pm, BBC One

The problem with the over-use of the phrase national treasure is that it’s a bit harsh on those people who really do warrant the title. People, in short, like Sir Bobby Charlton, who turns 80 on 11th October. Charlton was, to my mind, one of England’s top three all-time footballers, along with Les Ferdinand and Paul Parker. I’m prepared to concede that it’s just possible I’m letting my support for QPR cloud my judgement slightly, and that Charlton stands alone as the greatest the country has ever produced.

To mark the august milestone of Sir Bobby entering his ninth decade, the BBC has made an absolutely riveting documentary about the life of this extraordinary footballer. And what a life. As Eric Cantona (who, rather disturbingly, looks like he’s been on a desert island for several years) points out, someone really should have made a major film about him.

He shared a childhood bed with his big brother Jack, only for the two of them to become World Cup winners together in 1966.

This, after all, is a man who came from nothing, who grew up in the poverty of the Northeast mining town of Ashington, and who went on to become one of the best footballers of all time. He shared a childhood bed with his big brother Jack, only for the two of them to become World Cup winners together in 1966. He set the record for both appearances and goals for the world’s most famous football club, and scored more goals than anyone else ever had for England. And he survived the Munich Air Disaster, when the team’s plane, refuelling in a snowy Munich after a game in Yugoslavia, crashed, killing half of his teammates.

The film, packed with archive footage and personal testimony, is particularly strong at dealing with Munich, with Sir Bobby’s teammate Harry Gregg’s memories agonisingly fresh and compelling. Charlton’s own recollections are more circumspect, but the emotion is writ large, as if that day, almost 60 years ago, had never ended.

Interviewees include the great and the good of football, from Charlton himself, and Gregg and Cantona, to Dennis Law, Sir Alex Ferguson, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Gordon Banks, Geoff Hurst and Bobby’s brother Jack. That’s a pretty impressive XI right there. And you wouldn’t get much argument about who should be captain.

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The best… and the rest

Saturday 7th October

Basquiat: Rage to Riches, 9pm, BBC Two: Thirty years after his death from a drug overdose, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is big business once more, after one of his infamous Skull paintings sold for a cool $100 million. This feature length documentary tells the story of this extraordinary and influential artist.

Sunday 8th October

World Cup 2018 Qualifier Live, 4:30pm, ITV: If watching an already-qualified England grind out a workmanlike result in Vilnius is your bag, knock yourselves out.

Louis Theroux: Dark States – Heroin Town, 9pm, BBC Two: America is in the grip of a massive drug epidemic. Heroin claims more lives than both gun crime and car accidents, and is largely responsible for the first fall in the country’s life expectancy in over two decades. Louis Theroux embeds himself at the heart of the epidemic, in a small Appalachian town in West Virginia, to investigate.

Electric Dreams: Crazy Diamond, 9pm, Channel 4: The latest in this anthology of Philip K. Dick stories sees Steve Buscemi play Ed, a man seduced by a synthetic femme fatale (Side Babett Knudsen) who draws him into a world of crime and murder.

Snowfall, 10pm, BBC Two: This ten-part drama follows the spread of the crack cocaine epidemic starting in the US in the early 1980s. Downton Abbey this definitively is not.

Monday 9th October

After the News, 10:45pm, ITV: Nightly show in which two studio guests debate the issues of the day, under the stewardship of either Emma Barnett or Nick Ferrari (they will alternate each night). An interesting new direction for ITV’s post-news slot.

Tuesday 10th October

Our Girl, 9pm, BBC One: Lance Corporal Georgie Lane (an implausibly beautiful Michelle Keegan) and her unit are sent on a post-earthquake relief mission to Nepal – and so begins another four-part series of the diverting military drama.

Russia 1917: Countdown to Revolution, 9pm, BBC Two: Drama documentary telling the story of the tumultuous events of 1917 that saw Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky emerge from obscurity to become some of the most powerful men in the world.

Celebrity Hunted 1/4, 9:15pm, Channel 4: Various celebs go on the run, intent on avoiding a team of captors for 14 days, in aid of Stand Up to Cancer. Those involved include Anneka Rice, and Steph and Dom from Gogglebox. Rollicking good fun, for a good cause.

Friday 13th October

Australian Wilderness with Ray Mears, 8pm, ITV: New seven part series in which the survivalist and all-round hearty outdoorsy type looks at how people adapt and thrive in the Outback, one of the harshest environments on earth. (Is it just me, or has he done rather a lot of Outback stuff? Does he have a job lot of cork hats to use up?)

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