TV blog: Inside the Tower of London

Benjie Goodhart / 19 October 2018

A peek behind the scenes of the Tower of London, plus the best of the rest of the week on TV.

Inside the Tower of London 1/4, Tuesday 23rd October, 9:15pm, Channel 5

Truth be told, I’m not really a journalist at all, a fact which may have been obvious to many of you for some time now. I’m actually a master criminal, the whole writing thing is just a cover. Don’t believe me? Give me £25, and I’ll get you into past the guards and beyond the massive walls of one of the most high-security venues in the world. I can get you within touching distance of possibly the single most valuable haul on the planet: The Crown Jewels. The rest is up to you.

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Of course, others might call my genius criminal enterprise ‘buying a ticket to the Tower of London’, but I’m a gangster, I’m not interested in semantics. If you are up for taking on the job, you could do worse, by way of research, than watch this new four-part series on Channel 5 looking at the Tower’s fascinating history and day-to-day life. It’s had quite the time of it – it’s been a fortress, a palace, a prison, a zoo, and the venue for some shocking acts of savagery.

The oldest part of the site, the White Tower, began construction in 1066, part of William the Conqueror’s plan to subdue rowdy locals. The White Tower is currently undergoing a spot of building work. I mean, it’s ridiculous, in 2018, to have such a prime piece of Central London real estate without a Jacuzzi, underfloor heating and decent Wifi.

Actually, joking apart, it looks like a pretty cool place to live. The whole site is home to a community of around 150 people, who live in medieval splendour in some truly beautiful old houses. There are prices to pay. If you want to do a spot of naked sunbathing, you’ll have a crowd of around 15,000 people shuffling slowly past you, all eager to see the Crown Jewels (as it were). And the place shuts down each night at 10pm, after which nobody can enter or leave. There’s no nipping out for a kebab at midnight here.

The whole lockdown thing dates back 700 years, to the time of Edward III. On a surprise nocturnal visit to the Tower, the king was able to stroll right in, unobserved. Quite reasonably, he wondered what the point was of having a massively fortified castle if the gate was left open. Ah well, at least the place was secure after that…

… well… not entirely. Because just a few decades later, the peasants were revolting (personal hygiene being such a challenge back in the days before shower gel and antibacterial wipes). They were also very angry, namely about Richard II’s new poll tax. A furious and heavily-armed mob marched on London, and converged on the Tower. Where, to be honest, they could have stayed, standing around scratching their heads and looking at the impregnable walls for a few days before going home to their diet of misery and turnips, if only they hadn’t had the gates opened for them. I would have thought rule 1.0 in the Castle-Guarding Handbook is ‘Do not let in heavily-armed and angry mobs’. Richard II wasn’t there, but the Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon of Sudbury, was dragged out and beheaded.

But it wasn’t all murder, misery and mayhem at the Tower. Henry III, for example, turned it into Britain’s first zoo. He was given a lion as a wedding present (and you thought a set of bath towels from John Lewis would cut the mustard). Other gifts followed – a polar bear from Norway, a family of baboons, and Britain’s first elephant.

In amongst all the fascinating history is an agreeable look at how the Tower operates today. This mainly centres around three beefeaters sitting in an office cracking amiable jokes at each other – a pastime that has probably happened on site for most of the last thousand years. Although, admittedly, the 11th-century inhabitants probably didn’t have mobile phones that played the Darth Vader theme when their wife rang.

Stand Up to Cancer 2018, Friday 26th October, 7pm, Channel 4

I went to the launch of Stand Up to Cancer back in 2012. Gwyneth was headlining the occasion, and it was diverting to see such a Hollywood star up close. If only I’d been the Saga TV blogger back then, she’d have been able to enjoy an equal frisson of excitement. Who knows? If things had gone differently, maybe I’d currently be living on some sort of a macrobiotic diet and having children called Earthflower and Pomegranate.

Anyway, I remember thinking that Stand Up to Cancer would probably be a one-off, and something of a damp squib. What with Comic Relief, Sport Relief, Children In Need and so on, I didn’t think there was an appetite for more charity telethons, and besides, I wasn’t convinced something like that would really work on Channel 4.

Fast forward six years and Stand Up to Cancer has raised over £38 million, funding 35 trials, and is about to embark on its fourth TV extravaganza, to be fronted by Adam Hills, Alan Carr and Maya Jama. This will represent the first time that Davina McCall has not fronted the show, though word is that she will be back for the next one. It’s a shame, as in many respects she’s the heart of the show – she’s a brilliant presenter of live TV, and balances the levity and melancholy of such occasions beautifully. MTV’s Maya Jama (the girlfriend of grime MC Stormzy, as I’m sure you already knew) has some big shoes to fill, though the redoubtable comic pairing of Hills and Carr should guide her through.

This year, we are promised a show that is ‘bigger and better than ever’. Part of me, I must admit, longs for the day when a programme’s blurb states that it will be ‘smaller and slightly worse than last time’, but perhaps not for a charity telethon. There are a number of programmes running across the week in support of the show, including Celebrity First Dates (Thursday), featuring Lady Colin Campbell, Joey Essex and Melinda Messenger. A series of Celebrity Hunted will continue on Tuesday, with celebs including Kay Burley, Olympian Louis Smith, and MP Johnny Mercer trying to stay undetected for two weeks. In Mercer’s case, this may be simply so he can avoid yet another parliamentary debate on Brexit. And, if you decide that the best way to deal with your problems is to seek telephonic advice from celebs including Louie Spence, Kimberley Walsh and Kim Woodburn, you can tune in to Celebrity Call Centre on Monday.

The night itself should be the usual organised chaos, mixing hilarity with heartbreak, as sketches and live performances vie with achingly poignant videos. Among the treats in store there is Celebrity Gogglebox (whose cast list we have yet to discover) and a Carpool Karaoke with James Corden and Michael Bublé (if you’ve never seen Carpool Karaoke, it’s great fun). There will also be appearances from Matthew McConaughey, Jon Hamm, Kate Beckinsale, Rita Ora, The Muppets, Gary Lineker, David Mitchell, Jamie Oliver, and World Cup 2022-winning manager Gareth Southgate.

It should be an absolute belter. Enjoy and – if you can – dig deep.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 20th October

Invictus Games, 5:25pm, BBC One: All week: BBC One will be showing highlights from the Invictus Games taking place in Sydney, presented by JJ Chalmers and Alex Jones.

Tuesday 23rd October

Martin Lewis: 10 Things Your Kids Should Know, 9pm, ITV: The financial expert looks back at his own childhood and reveals how losing his mother forced him to become self-reliant and assure his own financial security for the future.

Wednesday 24th October

Trevor McDonald and the Killer Nurse, 9pm, ITV: The veteran journalist examines the famous and chilling case of Beverly Allitt, tracks down those who survived her crimes and those who pursued her, and watches the interview tapes shown here for the first time.

Thursday 25th October

100 Days to Victory 1/2, 8pm, BBC Two: First of a two-part documentary revealing how the allies’ final, massive offensive brought the Great War to its bloody conclusion in 1918. The archive footage, diaries, historians and dramatic reconstructions bring a familiar story vividly to life.

Horizon: Vitamin Pills: Miracle or Myth?, 9pm, BBC Two: Dr Giles Yeo investigates the multi-million pound vitamin industry in the UK and asks if vitamin supplements are doing us any good.

Friday 26th October

Made in Great Britain 1/6, 9pm, BBC Two: BBC Breakfast’s Steph McGovern tells the story of the UK’s craft and manufacturing history, and takes four professional craftspeople along for the ride.

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