Britain’s Favourite Walks: Top 100, Tuesday 30th January, 7:30pm, ITV
My father died a year ago this month. As a result, a lot of things have made me think about him recently – not least among them is this offering from ITV. He would have absolutely loved it. Dad and ITV were not natural bedfellows – I think he saw it as something of an annoyance that got in the way when flicking from Channel 4 News to University Challenge – but he would have been glued to this.
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He was passionate about walking. When I was a kid, he and I went walking in the Lake District, the Brecon Beacons, the Alps, you name it. When I say “we” went walking, I mean he walked, I staggered up mountains fuelled by tears and tantrums and abject fury at not spending my holiday in some beachside arcade. I think the only thing that got me to complete the walks was the realisation that the alternative was dying of exposure on a windswept hillside. Even then, I gave it some thought.
And yet… I remember picnics stolen behind sheltering walls, overlooking sun-dappled valleys dotted with farms. I remember the joy of having my dad all to myself. Restorative pieces of Kendal Mint Cake when energy supplies were waning. Evenings resting by an open fire, with muscles satisfyingly aching, dad planning the next day’s walk, me planning the subjects of my tantrums.
It has to be said, dad also had quite the crush on Julia Bradbury, who presents this programme along with Ore Oduba. So this would have been doubly tempting for him. Throw in a glass of Famous Grouse and a treacle pudding, and he’d have had the full set.
The show itself is an absolute delight. It follows the same format as Britain’s Favourite Dogs a fortnight ago. It’s basically a countdown, with a little bit of information and some beautiful shots for each entry, plus occasional longer VTs to add a bit of colour and detail. Celebrities talk about their favourite walks, and we meet some extraordinary walkers, from the man in the early stages of Alzheimer’s who has climbed the Old Man of Coniston over 5000 times, to the climber who continues to enjoy the mountain life in spite of having lost his arms and legs to frostbite.
The walks themselves, voted for in a survey of 8000 walkers, vary in distance from a leisurely mile to a frankly ridiculous 40 miles (even dad knew not to take me on one of them…) and each one is graded for difficulty. Every kind of walk is here – from meandering wanders across picturesque cityscapes to woodland walks under the canopy, from mountainous treks to beachside rambles.
It’s a glorious way of spending an evening, and you don’t need to be a walker to enjoy it. It’s packed full of fascinating bits of history, and the views are breath-taking. It’s a reminder of how lucky we are to live somewhere so magnificent. I’m not allowed to tell you which walk tops the poll – ITV have trained hitmen dotted around the nation ready to take out anyone who ruins the surprise – but I’m delighted to say, I did it with dad. And it’s a beauty. I’m not even sure I had a tantrum. (Okay, I almost certainly did).
Celebrity 5 Go Barging, Friday 2nd February, 8pm, Channel 5
I think novelty is overrated. I’m something of a creature of habit. I can pretty much order my chosen meal in any restaurant chain in the country, because I know what I like and I don’t like to vary it. Straying from the norm, as my exasperated wife often urges me to do, only ever results in disappointment and recrimination. By the same token, I know what wine I like, where I like to go on holiday, which authors I like to read, and what I like to have for my lunch from the sandwich shop next to work. (I also like to have the same person make the sandwich for me, because he does it best…)
The point is, I don’t crave new experiences. Which is just as well, because when TV executives find and idea that they like, they flog its equine form until it’s not just dead, but decomposed, buried, carbonised and fossilised. Which is how we end up at Celebrity 5 Go Barging.
Putting celebs on barges, and watching them pootle up-and-down canals, commenting on how relaxing and tranquil everything is, is not a new idea. We’ve had Timothy West and Prunella Scales doing it, John Sergeant, and less than a year ago, an almost identical show to this one, on the same channel, Celebrity Carry On Barging, with the bizarrely mismatched crew of Simon Callow, Nigel Havers, Lorraine Chase and Debbie McGee.
In all honesty, then, Celebrity 5 Go Barging is never going to win awards for originality. Actually, it’s unlikely to win awards for anything. But it’s definitely worth a watch. For a start, it’s got a rather winning cast of celebrities. Singer Tony Christie is cheerful and undemanding, Penny Smith is funny and game, Tom Conti is the avuncular leader of the group, and Diarmuid Gavin is mischievous and impish. Meanwhile, whatever Tessa Sanderson has been taking, I want some of it. She’s 62, and doesn’t look much different from when she won Olympic gold in 1984.
The five of them are off barging in Southwest France, along the River Lot. If the amiable company doesn’t do it for you, the scenery should. It’s difficult not to feel an unhealthy level of jealousy, watching them all pottering about on deck in their shorts, while rural France glides by in delicious summer torpor. They also visit Cahors, which holds a special place in my nightmares. My wife and I once went to a wedding there, in the middle of the biggest heatwave France had seen in decades. I managed to book just about the only room in Cahors without aircon. I slept with my head wrapped in a wet towel, which had the added benefit of drowning out my wife’s sobs.
But Cahors itself, like this show, is brimming with charm and gorgeous to look at. I would recommend both in a heartbeat. Originality, after all, is highly overrated.
The best… and the rest
Saturday 27th January
All Together Now, 7:15pm, BBC One: Comedian Rob Beckett presents a show that will either be brilliant or unspeakably bad. It’s a singing talent show (of course, yaaaawn) with a twist: The judges are a panel of 100 music industry experts and performers, and when they like a singer, they go and join in the song. The winner is the person who has most people singing with them. The group of 100 is headed by Geri Horner, formerly known as Ginger Spice.
Holocaust: The Revenge Plot, 9pm, Channel 4: Documentary telling the remarkable story of the Avengers, a group who set out to take revenge on Germany for the atrocities of the Holocaust. Unheard recordings and exclusive interviews tell a fascinating, troubling story.
Sunday 28th January
Billionaire Kids, Diamond Lives, 8pm, Channel 5: Documentary about the luxurious lives of children from wealthy families, including the teenage son of a Formula One entrepreneur who has access to personal chauffeurs and fitness trainers.
Monday 29th January
Two Doors Down 1/6, 10pm, BBC Two: Series three for the popular sitcom, and Burns Night is coming to Latimer Crescent with a vengeance.
Tuesday 30th January
Can You Rebuild My Brain? 10pm, Channel 4: A few years ago Lottie Sodderland almost died from a massive stroke at the age of just 34. With her brain significantly altered by the experience, she meets neuroscience pioneers to discover the risks and rewards of brain repairs, and asks herself whether she would ever want to change the way she is now.
Thursday 1st February
Animals with Cameras 1/3, 8pm, BBC One: Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan presents a new series in which the animals themselves do the filming, thanks to being fitted with tiny cameras. The resulting footage is unique and intimate. Tonight, we get up close and personal with the meerkats of the Kalahari, the chimps of Cameroon, and a phalanx of Argentine penguins.
Death Row with Trevor McDonald, 9pm, ITV: The broadcaster revisits maximum-security Indiana State Prison, where in 2012 he first met condemned men awaiting execution for a two-part ITV documentary.
Friday 2nd February
Requiem 1/6, 9pm, BBC One: Lydia Wilson stars as Matilda Gray, a cellist unwittingly drawn into a sinister investigation into events from the past in this new six-part drama. Tonight, Matilda’s mother inexplicably commits suicide, leaving behind her a box of secrets…
Nigel Slater’s Middle East 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: The cookery guru embarks on a Middle Eastern odyssey, exploring some of the oldest and grandest cuisines in the world. Tonight, he travels to Lebanon, and discovers how their culture and food have been shaped by both geography and decades of conflict.
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