TV blog: Holding Back the Years

Benjie Goodhart / 08 March 2018

This week’s TV highlights include a second series of Holding Back the Years, plus the best of the rest.

Holding Back the Years, Monday 12th March, 9:15am, BBC One

I bow to no-one in my fondness for television. My oblong-flat-screened chum is part of the family, and far less trouble than the other three individuals in our household (it also doesn’t wake me up at night demanding a cuddle, or go through the knees of every pair of trousers within fifteen minutes of buying them). TV provides my entertainment, my information and my education, not to mention my income.

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I have to say, though, that I’m not really one for watching TV in the mornings. Don’t get me wrong – TV has its uses in the mornings – but that’s normally when it’s acting as a third parent, keeping the kids entertained for an hour or two if mum and dad have had a couple of glasses of Chablis the night before. But I don’t get up and pop the telly on myself. Mornings are for radio. I’m far more likely to wake up and switch on the Today programme for my current affairs fix. (Okay, as long as my mum isn’t reading this column, I’ll admit I actually listen to Chris Evans on Radio 2, and only encounter the Today programme if I’m in a car with some actual grown-ups).

Besides, morning TV is all absolute guff, right? It’s property programmes made on the cheap, or Jeremy Kyle encouraging people to emotionally lay themselves bare for our gratification in the name of entertainment and short-lived infamy. There are, of course, exceptions – I will not hear a bad word said about Pip and Holly on This Morning. And Holding Back the Years, a returning ten-part series on BBC One, is a fascinating and eye-opening magazine programme looking at all aspects of life for senior citizens, on every weekday for the next fortnight.

The series is presented by Fiona Phillips, Dr Rangan Chatterjee, and Bill Turnbull. Turnbull, you may be aware, has this week revealed that he has prostate cancer, which has now travelled to his bones as well. He is not going to get better, though he may have up to a decade more of life. It would be remiss of me not to point out my admiration for a hugely talented journalist, and a warm and affable broadcaster. He seems to be a delightful man, and we wish him the very best for his continued treatment.

The show itself looks at a huge range of subjects. Those tackled this week include Britain’s first intergenerational care home, where seniors and toddlers look after each other; the pros and cons of equity release; how to avoid strokes; cooking classes for retired men; motoring classes for senior citizens; alternatives to painkillers; counteracting loneliness; the importance of sleep; downsizing your home, and much, much more.

At the time of writing, there is nothing available for preview, which is frustrating, given how intriguing the subject matter is. It’s like seeing a tempting option on a menu, ordering it, and being told it’s off for the day. It differs from the first series, where each episode had just one presenter, and dealt with one issue. Here, it’s more of a magazine show format, a bit like The One Show, but less likely to make you hide behind the sofa with embarrassment.

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Pilgrimage: Road to Santiago, Friday 16th March, 9pm, BBC Two

The determination to find new and strange ways for celebrities to do reality TV continues unabated. We’ve gone from celebrity ballroom dancing to celebrity sheep-herding to celebrity coffee enemas. Now, this three-part series sees a celebrity pilgrimage (I love it when high-brow BBC Two tries to jump on the celeb bandwagon!). Seeing as the show involves quite a lot of walking and a bit of moaning, combined with the occasional philosophical chat, it sounds about as tempting as being locked in a lift with a hungry bear. Don’t be deceived. It is absolutely wonderful, one of the undoubted TV treats of the year so far.

The featured celebrities are as follows: Debbie McGee, actor Neil Morrissey, comedian Ed Byrne, singer Heather Small, Gogglebox’s Kate Bottomley, Paralympics presenter JJ Chalmers, and journalist Raphael Rowe. Their series sees them walk the old medieval pilgrimage, the Carmino de Santiago, an 800km trek through France and Northern Spain to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

They’re not doing all 800km, but they’re doing 15 days of it, so a fair old chunk. At least, that’s the plan. The first day doesn’t augur well. In point of fact, the first hour doesn’t augur well. They’re already exhausted and moaning. “I don’t feel closer to God, but I definitely feel closer to death,” says Morrissey. Byrne, an enthusiastic walker, is unimpressed. “They’re moaning because they didn’t realise a pilgrimage involved walking. So they’re not just moaners, they’re idiots!”

The group are not all religious. There are humanists, Christians and atheists. Journalist Rowe, who spent 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, is understandably cynical. “I’ve always seen religion as the root of all evil.” That doesn’t exactly put him in the mildly agnostic camp. At the other end of the scale is Rev Kate Bottomley. The clue is pretty much in the title. “Each has their own reasons for being here,” intones the voiceover. In more than one case, you suspect that their reason for being here may be because their agent told them it would be excellent exposure.

Never mind that, though – they’ll be experiencing exposure of an entirely less-welcome variety if they don’t buck up their ideas. I’ve seen glaciers move faster than this lot. And what awaits them at the end of each day is a series of hostels, where they will eat meals with other pilgrims, and sleep in dormitories. It’s not exactly the diet of swan roulade and chilled bubbly that we associate with the celebrity lifestyle.

So why is it so good? Well, it’s visually absolutely stunning. Whoever chose the route of the pilgrimage was no fool. If you started off an atheist, you could finish the walk believing in a divine power just on the basis of the rolling hills and endless horizons on view. And it’s funny (Byrne and Morrissey are particularly good value) and deeply touching (thanks in no small part to McGee, who genuinely seems as lovely as the landscapes). But it also offers real food for thought. There’s discussion of faith, or lack of it, of people’s philosophies, of history, of culture, of life. And you don’t get that with celebrity sheep herding.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 10th March

Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, 9:50pm, ITV: The host talks to Jim Davidson, the controversial comedian and gameshow host, whose career and personal life have been what the tabloids euphemistically refer to as ‘colourful’.

Sunday 11th March

Sir Bruce: A Celebration, 9pm, BBC One: A hugely deserved tribute to one of the titans of UK entertainment over the last 70 years, this programme, compered by his co-host Tess Daly, takes place at the London Palladium. Filmed just recently, there are no previews available, but we are promised a variety of famous faces, and an array of music, dance and entertainment, some of Bruce’s favourite songs, and some cherished memories of the great man.

Monday 12th March

Armed and Deadly: Police UK, 10pm, Channel 5: New four-part documentary series following Britain’s armed police on some of their 16,000 operations in England and Wales last year. The programme combines real footage from the missions with news coverage of the aftermath, and testimony from the officers themselves. Has to be more interesting than Traffic Cops.

Wednesday 14th March

Saving the British Bulldog, 9pm, BBC One: Actress and comedian Catherine Tait examines the truth behind the health problems that have plagued the British Bulldog, and meets owners and experts to ask what can be done to help this iconic breed.

Thursday 15th March

Four Days that Shook Britain, 8pm, ITV: Feature-length documentary telling the story of people who were directly affected by the wave of terror attacks that shook Britain across a four-month period in 2017, which saw attacks on Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, London's Borough Market and Finsbury Park Mosque.

My Baby’s Life: Who Decides 1/2, 9pm, Channel 4: Thought-provoking, informative and, ultimately, profoundly sad two-part series about the ethical issues of keeping alive small children with life-limiting conditions. The lasting feeling is not just of sadness, but of the astonishing dedication and humanity of the NHS staff involved.

Friday 16th March

Scruffts, Channel 4, 8pm: Alan Carr meets the last six (adorable) dogs standing in the competition to be named Scruffts winner. Alan and his fellow Kennel Club judges decide who should win the coveted title of Scruffts Family Crossbreed Dog of the Year.

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