Australia with Julia Bradbury, Thursday 14th February, 8:30pm, ITV
I adored my dad, but he and I were very different. I wish I was more like him. He was infinitely cleverer than me, more conscientious, confident, ambitious and determined, which is why he ended up in the House of Lords and I ended up watching telly for a living. He was also kinder than me, more even-tempered, and utterly morally unimpeachable. But, on the flip side, I could run faster, particularly once he entered his 80s, and for a great number of years I had more hair than him. So who’s the real winner, huh?
One thing we did have in common was… well… not to put too fine a point on it, we both had a bit of a crush on Julia Bradbury. (I use the past tense only because dad is no longer with us. My own crush is still thriving, and I imagine dad’s may be, too, albeit in some rather more celestial manner). So the opportunity to watch her new travel series around Australia was too good to turn down.
I know, I know, travelogues seem to be two-a-penny these days. I reviewed one last week with Susan Calman in Scotland, and there’s also a very good one in just now with Ade Adepitan in Africa. If you include all the celebrities-go-barging/camping/caravanning/cycling series, you can pretty much spend all of your waking hours watching someone who you vaguely recognise from Holby City in the 90s going round Mongolia in a Sinclair C5.
It’s also worth mentioning that we’ve seen rather a lot of Australian travel shows, and, if you’re looking for something truly out of the ordinary, you’re unlikely to find it here. This is familiar fare. We start in Sydney Harbour, visiting the iconic bridge and the iconic Opera House. But then again, what’s she meant to do? Go to Sydney and ignore the two most famous monuments in the country?
Next, she’s pootling about on one of the many ferries that service the bay. They are used by thousands of commuters every day. At the time of writing, I find myself on a delayed train from London to Brighton. Opposite me is a young French couple who are basically devouring each other’s faces. Next to me is a man with a stinking cold and no handkerchief. A quick commute across a picturesque harbour in the pleasant Sydney climate seems almost mythical in its beauty.
Then she’s off to the Opera House for what is (I’m frightfully sorry, Julia) one of the less enthralling interviews I’ve ever seen, with… the head of wigs and costumes for their production of Evita. It’s hardly an exclusive with Eva Peron. But before long we’re back on track with a visit to the beach. Australia has 10,000 of them, more than any other country in the world. Julia’s visiting a little-known stretch of sand called Bondi Beach, where she hangs out with a lifeguard. Fortunately, there isn’t much lifesaving to do, as Julia’s brought some distinctly un-Australian weather with her. The lifeguard is the only female one of 40 who work there, due to the stringent fitness tests involved. It’s enough to make you doubt the veracity of Baywatch.
Surrey Hills might sound like a peculiarly dull middle class suburb of Sydney, but it’s actually the edgy, bohemian, creative heart of the city, a bit like Haight Ashbury in San Francisco before it became naff. She visits a tattoo parlour, but being neither drunk nor a hipster, she doesn’t get one done. Coward. Even David Dimbleby’s got one these days.
Finally it’s off for a well-deserved night out. Sydney is Australia’s gay capital, in spite of the fact that, rather shockingly, homosexuality was illegal in New South Wales until 1984. Julia is off to the infamous Imperial Drag Club, to see the competition for Aboriginal Drag Queen.
It’s great fun, and packs an awful lot in to its half hour. And, of course, the presenter is marvellous. My dad would never forgive me for saying anything else.
Discover more about Australia and its famously laid-back pace of life on the holiday of a lifetime. Find out more here
The Making of Me, Monday 11th February, 10pm, Channel 4
When I was young, I had a washboard stomach. I had hair where it was meant to be, as opposed to today’s cruel, wiry parody that populates my back while my head stays resolutely naked. I could eat and drink whatever I wanted, and never put on weight. In my first year at University, I had smoked sausage and chips every night for a year, washed down, as often as not, with 412 pints of lager. I came back looking like a beanpole.
Then you get older, and things start to sag. Today, I could spend six hours a day in the gym, and eat nothing but organic lentils for a month, and I’d still put on 3lb. (This, of course, is conjecture, as I have no intention of doing either of those things). The point is, when I look in the mirror, this is not what I signed up for. A part of me still expects to see the youthful Adonis I once was. (I should point out that Adonis is a relative term. I don’t recall having to walk around with a stick to keep the opposite sex away.)
But imagine this. Imagine waking up every day feeling that you are literally trapped in the wrong body. Not just one that’s a little bit old and droopy, but that mocks, taunts, embarrasses and humiliates you every time you look at it. One that doesn’t allow you to show your true self to the world, or even to experience your true self on your own. A body that is the wrong gender.
This new three-part documentary series looks at people who are undergoing gender reassignment, following them for 2-3 years as they seek to become their true selves. The first programme follows three people on their journey. It is fascinating, moving and educational fare.
As a young woman, Cairo had a successful modelling career. Now identifying as a man, and taking testosterone, he is keen to get back in front of the lens. His mother and sisters are endlessly supportive. But for his girlfriend, Charley, it is a tricky business. It can’t be easy to start off with a girlfriend, only to end up with a boyfriend.
Just ask Julie. She’s been married for 35 years. But the man she married, Simon, is now Jackie. Jackie is going in to hospital for the first step in the process of changing her body – she’s having facial surgery (privately, at a cost of £17,000). Julie asks hopefully if Jackie will come out looking like Tom Hiddleston, but under the circumstances, that seems unlikely.
Vicky has been taking oestrogen for a year. A security guard from Sheffield, formerly known as Rupert, she is divorced, and shares custody of her two children. She worries about the effect her transformation will have on her kids. Ten-year-old Izzy’s response is pithy and accepting: “When he’s doing make up and stuff, I get to watch TV.”
There will be many who watch this series with a sense of disgust. Some will think it simply unnatural, an affront to nature. Others will object to perceived selfishness on the part of the transgender individuals, marching forward and leaving a trail of emotional devastation in their wake. But others still will see courage and resolution and individuals trying to move forward and end a lifetime of agony.
Certainly we have much to understand about the younger generation, for whom gender identity and sexuality is more fluid than in days gone by. Next year, my son is likely to start in a school that has featured in the papers for having 40 pupils who don’t identify with their gender. This is not an issue that is going to go away. As such, programmes like this, that do not rush to judge, but simply listen to the experiences of the protagonists involved, offer a valuable insight into an often-misunderstood world.
The best… and the rest
Saturday 9th February
David Bowie: Finding Fame, 9pm, BBC Two: Feature-length documentary telling the story of David Robert Jones, the man who went on to become one of the greatest musical icons of all time. Featuring previously unheard demos and unseen footage, and interviews with friends and colleagues, this is a must for all fans of the Thin White Duke.
Sunday 10th February
Endeavour, 8pm, ITV: The Morse prequel, starring Shaun Evans as the eponymous detective, returns. It’s 1969, Morse is back on the uniform beat, bored out of his wits, until a shock discovery changes everything. To be fair, a series of him directing traffic would have been quite dull…
The British Academy Film Awards 2019, 9pm, BBC One: Joanna Lumley takes the helm once more for the British Oscars. Rather confusingly, in the best picture category, the favourite is, um, The Favourite, which could sweep the board with 12 nominations.
Monday 11th February
The Secret Lives of Slim People 1/4, 8:30pm, Channel 4: How do some people stay slim despite never dieting and appearing not to exercise? And, more to the point, how do they actually have any friends?
Famous and Fighting Crime 1/4, 9pm, Channel 4: Five famous(-ish) faces Katie Piper, Penny Lancaster, Jamie Laing, Sandi Bogle and Marcus Brigstocke – join the Cambridge constabulary as volunteer officers to tackle crime in a series that promises to be eye-opening and just a little bit odd…
Tuesday 12th February
Shetland 1/6, 9pm, BBC One: Douglas Henshall returns as Perez in the excellent and atmospheric police drama. It may not be the mean streets of New York, but there is still plenty of gruesome crime going on in the windswept islands. So much so, it’s a miracle anyone’s left alive there…
Wednesday 13th February
Skint Britain: Friends Without Benefits, 9pm, Channel 4: The roll-out of Universal Credit in Hartlepool led to spiralling crime, homelessness, loan sharks, hunger and evictions as claimants struggled to survive. This new series looks at the grim reality behind the stats.