TV blog: Britain in Bloom

Benjie Goodhart / 12 April 2018

Britain in Bloom brings a touch of floral delight to weekday evenings. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on TV.

Britain in Bloom 1/15, weekdays from Monday 16th April, 6:30pm, BBC Two

Spring is definitely in the process of springing. You can tell that is the case because the stuff falling from the relentlessly slate grey skies has changed from snow to sleet to rain. To celebrate the fact that the worst winter outside of Game of Thrones is finally behind us, there is a green-fingered element to proceedings this week.

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We begin with the delight that is Britain in Bloom. The series, presented by former flower trader Chris Bavin, focuses on 15 different communities as they prepare to enter the Royal Horticultural Society’s annual competition.

First up is Usk, known as Tref O Flodau in Welsh, and Town of Flowers in English. Which is odd, as it’s in the large Village category, but there you go. I love the Welsh language, incidentally. Do you know how they spell Uruguay? Wrwgwai. Marvellous, look you!

Anyway, Usk is rather lovely. Chris first visits as the locals are preparing for the competition. They meet once a week, all year round, which either shows impressive dedication to the cause, or is a reflection of the fact that the meetings take place in the local watering hole. Whatever their motivation, it’s working. Usk has entered the competition for the last 36 years, and has won a Gold Medal in 35 of them.

One if the keys to Usk’s consistent botanical excellence comes in the stern shape of a man called Len, who leads the gardening team. Nothing gets past Len’s expert eye – he is practically out with a spirit level and measuring tape inspecting the height, width and angle of each petal. He’s also not afraid to tell it how it is. He’s quite the horticultural dictator – misplace your dahlias and you’re likely to end up in the gulags – or at least getting a stern dressing down from a man armed with a trowel.

The village must be ready for the visit of the RHS inspector a few weeks hence. Their idea is to have three main sites – the village square; the primary school, where the kids are heavily involved in tending the grounds and growing fruit and veg; and a new community garden to be shared, as far as I can work out, by bees and girl guides.

Weeks later, and the big day arrives. Usk looks undeniably stunning. The whole town seems to have got in on the act, and every house appears to be bedecked with hanging baskets and planters, all alive with colour. It’s like Elton John’s annual flower budget has all been splurged at once. Best of all is a garden belonging to a lady called Marion. It isn’t pretty as a picture, because I’ve never seen a picture as beautiful as the front garden of her house. Presumably round the back she’s just got an old fridge and some broken bicycles, like the rest of us.

This show is an absolute treat for the eyes. It also showcases all that is best about community, and people working together to make their hometown (village!) the best it can be. I’m not going to reveal whether Usk gets another gold medal – the secret of who shot JR was not so closely guarded – but what I can confirm with absolute confidence is that this is a miniature floral delight of a show.

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The Queen’s Green Planet, Monday 16th April, 9pm, ITV

Continuing this week’s horticultural theme, we move on to matters of a more arboreal nature with a riveting royal offering from ITV. The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy is a proposal to get countries across the Commonwealth to dedicate swathes of forest to the scheme, pledging to protect and maintain them for future generations.

To mark this project, last June, the Queen donned a particularly floral frock and took a walk around the grounds of Buckingham Palace with Sir David Attenborough. Oh to have been a fly on the garden wall for such an event! Two of the most astonishing, indefatigable, charming and delightful nonagenarians imaginable, taking a constitutional together and nattering about flora (for the purposes of clarity, they were not discussing margarine).

Except – joy of joys – we don’t need flies on walls, we’ve got a TV crew who accompanied them on their stroll. They wander through the dappled sunlight of the oak-fringed avenues in the royal garden, discussing the trees and what they mean to her. Four, in particular, have a special place in her heart, as the ones she planted to mark the births of her children.

Her Maj seems on particularly twinkly form – mind you, who wouldn’t be delighted to have their own personal botanical session with Sir David – and the two appear to enjoy an effortless bond. Sir David seems to be fully at ease, which is no small achievement in such exalted company. Admittedly, he does laugh for fractionally too long at her jokes, but that’s only good manners.

It seems to me that in the last year or so we’ve got to know the Queen in a way we never have done before. I’m not talking about her portrayal in The Crown – gripping and informative as it is – but her participation in documentaries. Some would argue that it removes the royal mystique, and damages the institution. I would suggest that it has increased her popularity, and strengthened the royal brand, thanks to her self-evident decency and charm.

The same, incidentally, is true of future royal generations. William and Katherine and Harry all feature in this film, visiting areas of the project overseas. Prince Harry, in particular, plays a prominent part in the programme, and talks with vision and clarity about the project. His effortless interactions with people all over the world show him in a very good light.

This is as pleasant an hour as you could wish to pass. And that’s without mentioning Angelina Jolie flying a plane, a Canadian tribal elder called Eagle Nose Great River, the 1,000-year-old trees of Epping Forest, and an insight into Windsor Castle at Christmas (you may not be surprised to hear that their tree is bigger than yours).

Why, then, am I left with a vague sense of unease? Because I cannot escape the conclusion that the Queen and Sir David should never be in the same place together. Like the US President and Vice President never taking the same plane, the possibility of calamity is too terrible to contemplate. These two national treasures – almost certainly the two most popular people in the country – must never be allowed to meet again, for all our sakes.

Read our interview with Sir David Attenborough

The best… and the rest

Saturday 14th April

Britain’s Got Talent, 8pm, ITV: Return of the talent show that has the significant advantage of being neither X Factor nor The Voice. That said, the loss of Ant McPartlin from proceedings as the series progresses will leave a big gap, and have executives sweating.

The Forest 1/6, 8pm, BBC Two: New documentary series about (yes, you win a gold star) a forest, namely Galloway Forest Park. If nice people doing good work in beautiful settings doesn’t lull you into a cheerful Saturday evening state of mind, nothing will.

Gettys: The World’s Richest Art Dynasty, 9pm, BBC Two: There is mystifyingly little information available on this documentary. Suffice to say, I’m guessing it takes a look at the Gettys and their not-insubstantial collection of art.

Sunday 15th April

My Year with the Tribe 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: Writer Will Millard visits the Korowai tribe in Indonesia four times over a year, to find out more about a people who only came into contact with the modern world 40 years ago.

Meghan Markle: The First 100 Days, 8pm, Channel 5: A night of unadulterated bliss for monarchists on Channel 5, as doc series The Royals is followed by a look at Prince Harry’s fiancée and how she has coped with her first 100 days as a (sort of) member of the Royal Family, followed by…

Meghan and Harry: In Their Own Words, 9pm, Channel 5: Profile of the happy (and rather charming) couple based on their public pronouncements and interviews.

Tuesday 17th April

Top of the Shop with Tom Kerridge 1/8, 8pm, BBC Two: Four food producers with young businesses compete to win the hearts of the locals in a Yorkshire Dales village. The opening episode features preserves and pickles, which are verily the food of the devil. As a confirmed pickle-aphobe (yes, it’s a thing) I will be boycotting ep one on a matter of principle.

Stephen: The Murder that Changed a Nation 1/3, 9pm, BBC One: Extraordinarily, it is 25 years since a young man called Stephen Lawrence was murdered at a bus stop in South London. This three-part documentary series, showing over the next three nights, looks at what happened, and the wider ramifications of the resulting investigation.

Wednesday 18th April

Watchdog 1/6, 8pm, BBC One: Return of the long-running consumer rights show. Tonight, the team investigates shocking behaviour at one of Britain’s best-known establishments, and examines the mendacious lengths parking companies will go to in order to hit people with unnecessary charges. I can feel my blood boiling already.

Parking fines: know your rights

The Secret Life of the Zoo, 8pm, Channel 4: Return of the charming series following daily life at Chester Zoo. Tonight, a couple pf pregnant orangutans and some nervous meerkats take centre stage. Turns out meerkats don’t wear smoking jackets and speak with Russian accents. Who knew?

Thursday 19th April

Nature’s Biggest Beasts, 8pm, BBC Two: Documentary about… well, you can probably guess. Did you know a whale’s tongue weighs as much as an elephant? Also, features the most sinister creature in the whole animal kingdom, the Komodo Dragon.  

Friday 20th April

The Button 1/8, 8:30pm, BBC One: This new gameshow sees five families compete in a series of challenges across a day, all from the comfort of their own living rooms. The winning family wins a fat wedge of cash, the losers get… well, they get to be on telly for a few minutes.

Portillo’s Hidden History of Britain, 9pm, Channel 5: Our Mickey is on unfamiliar territory here, nowhere near a train, and not dressed in a lime-and-mauve combination. Instead, he’s presenting a new four-part series on abandoned locations of historical significance. Tonight, London Hospital in Whitechapel gives up its fascinating and occasionally grizzly secrets.

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