Age Before Beauty 1/6, Tuesday 31st July, 9pm, BBC One
This brand new six-part drama comes from the pen of Debbie Horsefield (actually, let’s be honest, she probably uses a computer), who has been adapting the Poldark books for the BBC. Those of you tuning in hoping to see a set of chiselled abs galivanting around the wilds of 19th-Century Cornwall, however, will be disappointed.
This is a thoroughly contemporary and urban beast, about life and love, set in a Manchester hairdresser’s. Hmmm. A drama about life and love set in a Manchester hairdresser’s – if I were the writer of Cutting it, the popular series of 15 years ago about the lives and loves of those working in a Manchester hairdresser, I’d probably think about suing. However, seeing as that writer was also Debbie Horsefield, that may not be a problem.
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Any-old-hoo, the drama itself. We are introduced to all the main characters in a breathless and utterly confusing opening couple of minutes. Then, as they all climb into their cars, one of them, Bel (Polly Walker) goes back in to fetch her husband Wes’ (James Murray) phone. That almost always signifies one thing, and lo and behold, as she’s picking it up, a text comes in. In real life, of course, the text would say “Have you been in an accident that wasn’t your fault?” or “Cabbage or broccoli?” But this one, it turns out, features a photograph of Wes in bed with a nubile young personal trainer.
And then we jump back a month. Bel and Wes are dropping their kids off at university, and Bel is facing empty nest syndrome. Meanwhile her sister Leanne (Kelly Harrison), a blonde bombshell of botox and bitchiness, has been running Bel’s old business, a hairdressing salon called Mirrorbel, into the ground. Her husband Ted (Robson Greene), an accountant, wants Bel to come back and run things again, to save the business.
Elsewhere Wes, a joiner-cum-plumber, is installing a kitchen for a nubile young personal trainer called Lorelei (Madeleine Mantock). They get on well and have a laugh, so naturally she starts giving him personal training sessions. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve ended up paying tradespeople using my day job. There are some very confused electricians who have gone home with half-pay and a TV preview of Love Your Garden.
Anyway, one thing leads to another, and before you know it, Wes and Lorelei are celebrating her new kitchen by getting absolutely blootered together. I’ve lost count if the number of times I get wildly drunk with the bloke from Dyno-Rod after he’s fixed my loo. Then one thing leads to another (between Wes and Lorelei, I mean, not with me and Mr Dyno-Rod) and Houston, we have a problem.
The drama clips along at a cracking pace, and Walker and Murray are excellent in the lead roles. Special mention, too, to Harrison, who has an absolute ball as Leanne, possibly the most wildly unpleasant character outside of a serial killer drama. And the cast also includes Lisa Riley and Sue Johnston (the latter as Bel’s mother, who has started an affair with a bullfighter called Hector, as you do…) And then, halfway through the first episode, a twist pops up and gives you a good slap about the chops, and we’re really off and running. A very promising start!
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The best… and the rest
Saturday 28th July
Big Star’s Little Star 1/6, 7pm, ITV: The children of celebrities reveal some secrets and home truths about their parents. Might be stretching the term ‘big star’.
A Year in the New Forest, 7pm, Channel 4: New series filmed over (duuuh!) a year in the ancient woodland, telling the story of its wildlife and its people.
My Family and the Galapagos 1/3, 8pm, Channel 4: This absolutely charming series sees conservationist Monty Halls take his wife and two toddlers off to live on the Galapagos Islands for three months. The wonder in his little girls’ eyes is a joy to behold.
Reginald D Hunter’s Songs of the Border, 9pm, BBC Two: The comedian embarks on a 2000-mile musical odyssey on the US-Mexican border, against the backdrop of President Trump’s purported wall.
Sunday 29th July
Travels in Trumpland with Ed Balls 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: The former MP makes an excellent host as he visits the Deep South to meet people who voted for Donald Trump, in an attempt to find out what motivates them and why.
Monday 30th July
The Bermuda Triangle Enigma 1/3, 9pm, Channel 5: Ortis Deley and Rick Edwards investigate the phenomenon that was basically discredited about 30 years ago. Hurrah!
Wednesday 1st August
The Real Marigold Hotel 1/4: Yes, yes, I know, I should have previewed it. But it wasn’t published in the BBC’s original list of programmes, so we’ll have to catch up with ep 2 next week instead. In the meantime, enjoy as a cast including Syd Little, Selina Scott, Stephanie Beacham, Stanley Johnson and the Krankies(!) travel to Udaipur to try out a new life.
Thursday 2nd August
The Prosecutors: Prisons, Drugs and Drones, 9pm, BBC Two: Following a crown prosecutor over a year as she tries to build a complex case against a network of people inside and outside prison who are using drone technology for nefarious and narcotic ends.