TV blog: Women at War

Benjie Goodhart / 02 November 2017

This week’s TV highlights include a jewel squirreled away in the daytime schedules, as well as what makes some people naturally slim.

Women at War – 100 Years of Service, Monday 6th November, 9:15am, BBC One

In the world of television, executives are obsessed with peak time. They probably don’t look at what goes out during the day from one year to the next, let alone worry about what the audience figures are. Daytime television is where programmes go to die – a tedious mishmash of tired gameshows, celebrity chat, property makeover and competitive antique-selling. If they don’t bother with it, why should we?

But every now and again – with approximately the same regularity as a full solar eclipse or a Crystal Palace goal – daytime will produce an absolute gem. And this week, BBC One has a televisual jewel glittering away every weekday morning at 9:15am, in the form of this five-part series looking at the role of women in the 100 years since women were first allowed to join the Armed Forces.

As we count down towards Remembrance Sunday, the series will remember the heroism and sacrifice of those women who signed up for King and Country, and put their lives on the line. While the women who served in the past may not have seen active combat, they were often given work that was laborious, dangerous, dirty and thankless. The show will meet veterans who lived through World War II, and today’s recruits who now serve on the front line, and are trained to fight alongside their male counterparts.

What really brings the series to life, though, is the individual contributions of guest presenters. Across the week, five well-known faces tell the stories of their time as women serving in the armed forces. They include June Brown, Dame Kelly Holmes, and the implausibly un-martial figure of Pam Ayers. The other two presenters, Nicky Campbell and Edward Fox are not, as the sharp-eyed among you will have observed, former servicewomen, but both had female relatives who served.

First up is the redoubtable figure of June Brown, known to millions as EastEnders’ Dot Cotton. Still going strong (and playing Dot) at 90, she remembers her time as a Wren in World War II, when women were encouraged to join up to do the navy’s non-combat work in order to “free a man for the fleet”. Her own experience didn’t stretch beyond being a cinema operator, showing training films to troops, and she has set ideas about women and combat. But having taken control of a warship, and learned more about the lives of women on board, she finds her views starting to change.

Later episodes see Nicky Campbell and his mother learning more about her pivotal role in the D-Day landings; Pam Ayers recalling her days in the Women’s RAF as a military intelligence ‘plotter; Edward Fox learning about his aunt’s work as a land girl; and Dame Kelly Holmes meeting the first woman to become an Army Commando.

The Truth About Slim People, Wednesday 8th November, 9pm, Channel 4

We’ve all got one. That friend who can eat and drink like an elephant at a free buffet, and spend the time they’re not eating prone on the sofa covered in crumbs and smacking their lips, and they never seem to put on a pound. They are, I think we can all agree, awful people, who contribute nothing to the world except misery, with their toned thighs and six-packs and aren’t-I-lucky-I-can-eat-what-I-want metabolisms.

Anyway, the point of this one-off documentary, presented by comedian and actor Andi Osho, is to follow two such slim-Jim’s around for five days, in an effort to find out why they’re seemingly immune to the odd spot of podginess.

Yemi is 37. He works at a desk all day, and rarely moves. He comes home, and inhales vast portions of food with huge rapidity. He is married to a chef, whose food he adores. He has a weakness for biscuits, and can easily eat a whole pack in one sitting. By rights, Yemi should be the size of Stockport. But he isn’t.

And then there’s Anne Marie. Anne Marie is 41. She enjoys a large McDonalds, likes nothing more than hoovering up vast portions of cheese, and practically bathes in salad cream. Like Yemi, she has a desk job, and isn’t keen on unnecessary movement. “She’d get an Uber to the toilet if she could,” observes a colleague, archly.

Both are likeable subjects (once you can get beyond the whole eat-what-they-like-skinny-thing) and it’s fascinating watching them go about their weekly routines, as experts (including nutritionists, doctors and metabolism experts) search for clues to understand how they manage to stay in such good shape, the lucky, greedy, skinny, aaargh (best leave it there – Ed).

The best… and the rest

Sunday 5th November

Blue Planet II, 8pm, BBC One: A journey to The Deep, tonight, as cameras go in search of the weird and wonderful beasties that inhabit the inky black depths 8km down. Here, among the hairy crabs, walking fish, and bone-eating worms, are volcanic geysers that may hold the secret to all life on earth.

Sheridan, 9pm, ITV: The multi-award-winning actress and singer belts out a few numbers from her new album, and chats to Alexander Armstrong about her stratospheric career, including a Bafta for her portrayal of Cilla Black.

Monday 6th November

Prince Harry and Meghan: Truly, Madly, Deeply, 9pm, ITV: New documentary about the relationship between the Prince and his girlfriend, presumably treading broadly the same ground as last week’s Channel 4 doc. I will not be watching, but you can bet your last red cent my mum will be hoovering it all up with indecent relish!

Chris Tarrant: Extreme Railways, 9pm, Channel 5: The veteran broadcaster clambers aboard the gravy train for series four, travelling across Europe, Africa and the Middle East on some of the world’s most extreme railways. Tonight, he travels across Morocco, and goes in search of an old trans-Saharan railway to Timbuktu.

Tuesday 7th November

MasterChef: The Professionals, 1/21, 8pm, BBC Two: Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti step into the fragrant shoes of John Torode and Gregg Wallace to present the professionals’ version of the classic cookery show. You know the score – expect a lot of pointless shaping of things with spoons and streaking great smears of stuff artfully across a plate.

The Secret Life of Four Year Olds, 1/4, 8pm, Channel 4: Return of the charming series filming little people as they go about the hugely important daily business of pottering about, arguing, making up, cuddling, giggling and throwing the odd tantrum. As ever, a team of behavioural scientists are on hand to make sense of the lunacy.

Daily Mirror’s Pride of Britain Awards 2017, 8pm, ITV: Princes William and Charles join a galaxy of stars celebrating the nation’s unsung heroes in this worthy annual event. Tissues at the ready – you have been warned!

Rick Stein’s Road to Mexico 1/7, 9pm, BBC Two: The veteran chef and presenter hits the road once more, this time retracing the steps he took almost fifty years ago, travelling from San Francisco to Mexico. Nice work, if you can get it.

The A Word 1/6, 9pm, BBC One: New series of the drama about an autistic child and his family, featuring a fine cast including Christopher Ecclestone, Morven Christie, Lee Ingleby and the magnificently-monickered Pooky Quesnel.

Grand Designs: House of the Year 1/4, 9pm, Channel 4: Kevin McCloud looks at the houses that have been shortlisted as the best house built in the last 12 months. A gorgeous chance to nose around people’s remarkable homes, it’s like the best bits of Grand Designs over and over again.

Motherland, 10pm, BBC Two: Welcome new series for the show piloted last year as part of the landmark sitcom season. The brilliant Anna Maxwell-Martin and the always-hilarious Diane Morgan lead the cast as put-upon mothers trying to survive the impossibly competitive and pressurised world of parenting in 21st-Century Britain.

Hotel for Refugees, 10:45pm, BBC One: Uplifting film showing how the people of Ballaghaderreen in Ireland have welcomed hundreds of Muslim refugees into their town in 2017.

Wednesday 8th November

The Big Life Fix with Simon Reeve, 9pm, BBC Two: In this wonderful Children In Need special, adventurer Simon Reeve and a team of remarkably creative computer, electronic and engineering geniuses try to help four children who, for different reasons, struggle with simple tasks. Hankies at the ready, people. Best play it safe and buy two boxes…

Thursday 9th November

Trump: An American Dream 1/4, Channel 4, 9pm: This four-part series looks at the extraordinary journey of Donal J Trump, from businessman to TV celebrity to politician, to one of the most divisive figures in modern history.

Angry, White and American, 10pm, Channel 4: Journalist Gary Younge travels from Maine to Mississippi, talking only to white Americans, to understand why so many have been sent into angry retreat. 

Friday 10th November

International Football Friendly: England v Germany, 7:30pm, ITV: Gareth Southgate begins England’s preparations for the 2018 World Cup with an uninsipiring 2-1 home defeat to Germany’s reserves.

Extreme Wives with Kate Humble 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: The first in a three-part series examining the role of women in different communities around the world, tonight Kate Humble travels to Kenya, and meets a tribe where the practice of female circumcision still goes on. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.