TV blog: Gary Linekar: My Grandad's War and M&S vs Waitrose: Which Is Better?

Benjie Goodhart / 07 November 2019

Gary Lineker delves into WWII Italy to learn about his grandfather's past in this moving BBC documentary.

Gary Lineker: My Grandad’s War, Monday 11th November, 9pm, BBC One

It must be odd, being Gary Lineker. Not bad, exactly. I can think of worse experiences than captaining your country and winning the golden boot at a World Cup, before going on to be paid considerable amounts of money to talk about football. But it must be odd having people fly into an absolute rage every time you talk about anything that isn’t football. I follow him on Twitter, and every time he issues an opinion on anything that isn’t to do with the offside rule or Lionel Messi, he is inundated with furious messages about how he should stick to football.

Why? Why are you expected to stop having opinions because you were once (very) good at kicking a ball into a net? Do you ever find yourself ending a conversation with the postman by telling him he should stick to discussing special deliveries and the cost of franking? And what the hell are you expected to talk about if you’re a urologist?

In truth, Lineker is an intelligent and articulate individual, a one-man counter-argument to the suggestion that footballers are all essentially intellectual amoebas incapable of using a spoon. And this is never more evident than in this absorbing one-off documentary, in which he retraces his grandfather’s wartime steps in a bid to understand his experiences. Lineker was close to his mother’s father, Stanley Abbs, but is struck by the fact that he never discussed his war. Now he wants to know more.

Fortunately for Lineker, his grandad didn’t see action on a trawler in the North Atlantic, or deep in the Burmese jungle, but instead in Italy. Lineker visits in summer, and spends his time alternating between driving along winding mountain roads in an open-top Jeep, looking across heavenly vistas, and sipping cappuccino in beachside cafes.

His grandfather’s experience, he is quick to point out, took in rather less of la dolce vita. Indeed, it sounds genuinely hellish. Armed with his grandad’s service record and his unit’s wartime diary, Lineker is able to draw a pretty vivid picture of what Stanley went through. He was part of the Army Medical Corps. This might conjure up images of a man safely cocooned way behind the lines, in a hospital full of starched linen sheets and smelling of disinfectant. In reality, it meant going out into no man’s land, unarmed and under a hail of bullets, to try and decide who was worth saving and who was too far gone. Decision made, you’d patch them up and move them out – all the while in mortal danger yourself. Brave doesn’t begin to cover it.

Lineker’s Italian sojourn starts at Salerno, a beautiful Italian resort near Naples, with thousands of people lining the beaches. It seems almost unthinkable that, in living memory, somewhere of such tranquillity and beauty played host to mass slaughter. Perhaps this is why the soldiers who fought their way up through Italy were mockingly referred to as D-Day Dodgers. But, with the help of the old army records, some military historians and, most vividly, the recollections of the last surviving veterans, a more genuine picture of the events in Italy begins to emerge.

One of these veterans is William Earl, an extraordinarily spry 104-year-old former soldier in the Medical Corps, who meets Lineker in an Italian café at the bottom of what they used to refer to as Murder Mountain. Earl, a football fan, is touchingly excited to meet Lineker, although events take a sinister turn when he reveals his penchant for Arsenal to the former Spurs star. Earl is as disarmingly modest and humble as most of his generation, but his memories are traumatic and troubling.

Lineker’s encounters take him on through the mountains, to Monte Cassino, scene of one of the theatre’s most brutal battles. He stands in almost the exact spot where his grandfather stood, and reads an account of a battle written by a doctor. Here, the river ran red with blood, and men drowned or died screaming in agony. Reading this, Lineker lets his polished veneer slip for perhaps the first time I have ever seen. It is a profound and moving moment.

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M&S vs Waitrose: Which Is Better Value? Thursday 14th November, 9pm, Channel 5

When Channel 5 started out, its schedule, as admitted by its then director of programmes, was built around the three fs: football, films and… well, for the sake of readers of a sensitive disposition, let’s pretend the third option was finger-puppetry. Anyway, things have changed a good deal since then. Now, for example, Channel 5’s stock-in-trade is documentaries about the very, very rich, and the very, very poor. It’s either bailiffs or superyachts.

I’m a particular fan of the docs about the playthings of the super-rich. On a Friday night, Mrs G and I like nothing more than to crack a bottle of something chilled and watch The World’s Most Luxury Trains/Yachts/Hotels, where gold-leaf swans have taken the place of good taste and people take baths in Evian water. And now, the programmes about the super-rich have reached their apogee, their crowning glory, with their most luxurious and extravagant programme yet: One about people who can afford to shop at Waitrose and M&S!! I mean, commissioning your own 100-metre floating palace complete with helipad is one thing, but buying the red-pepper hummus at Waitrose? That’s the sign of real wealth.

This one-off documentary looks at the battle for pre-eminence in the world of uber-middle-class supermarkets. It is, according to journalist Harry Wallop, “a fight to the death”. Wow. They must take their quarterly figures really seriously in the retail world!

So which is the best? Well, each has its own secret weapon. M&S has a respected clothing brand, particularly underwear, that helps draw shoppers in. But Waitrose has a Royal Warrant. In short, M&S has pants, but Waitrose has the Queen. That’s not a battle that’s easy to call. Both, after all, offer vital support to the British people every day.

Then again, do people really give a monkey’s about a Royal Warrant anymore? Before you nip out for a pint of semi-skimmed, do you check where the Queen goes to shop? Are you expecting to bump into her over the frozen pizzas?

Apparently, there is something called the Waitrose effect in the property world. Someone with considerably too much time on their hands has calculated that having a home near a Waitrose can boost your property’s value by 12 per cent. To illustrate this, we meet an estate agent called Keith, who shows us two different properties in totally different areas, and then values them, in what must be the least scientific test ever conducted. Keith says that house buyers frequently ask him if there is a Waitrose near the property they are seeing. I’d charge them an extra 12 per cent just for being twits.

Next, we have a rather fascinating potted history of the two organisations. Waitrose was founded by three men, Messrs Waite, Rose and Taylor (poor Mr Taylor, consigned to the dustbin of history) in the early 20th Century. It was sold to John Lewis in 1937, giving it huge commercial clout. Meanwhile, Marks and Spencer made its reputation with undies (see!) but enhanced it by introducing the British public to new foods like the avocado, which confused customers initially consumed with a sprinkling of sugar. This was in the 1950s, though a shout out to the guy in front of me in Hammersmith M&S in 2009 who looked at an avocado like it was an alien and asked the lady behind the till if it was a grapefruit. True.

Latterly, M&S got a leg-up with its almost pornographic food advertising. THAT oozy, steaming chocolate pudding advert is still the most erotic thing I have ever seen on TV, though that may say more about my proclivities than anything else. Incidentally, following that advert, the pudding’s sales increased by 3000 per cent. And not all of it was me. Waitrose fought back with its Duchy Originals range, and its Heston Blumenthal range.

When everything went majorly wonkaloid in the UK, financially-speaking, in 2008, both companies reacted. M&S launched its meals for £10 scheme, while Waitrose introduced a cut-price Waitrose Essentials line, for the cheaper everyday goods every house needs. Like, um, Flageolet beans and a Limoncello dessert!

The film is both informative and hilarious, while being commendably even-handed. You’re basically left wanting to shop in both Waitrose and M&S. Which is absolutely fine, as long as you can afford it. You might just need to downsize the superyacht a bit first.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 9th November

Festival of Remembrance, 9pm, BBC One: Huw Edwards presents coverage of the Royal British Legion’s annual Festival of Remembrance from the Royal Albert Hall, in the presence of the Queen.

Novels that Shaped Our World 1/3, 9:45pm, BBC Two: A new series examining how literary works have instigate social change. Tonight’s programme focuses on women’s voices, from Austen to Atwood.

Sunday 10th November

Remembrance Sunday, 10:20am, BBC One: David Dimbleby presents coverage live from Whitehall, as the nation pauses to remember all of those killed in conflict around the world.

Harvey Nichols: Britain’s Poshest Department Store, 8pm, Channel 5: If you thought Waitrose and M&S were pricey, get a load of this cheeky little boutique. More Bolly, darling?

Ant & Dec’s DNA Journey 1/2, 9pm, ITV: Two feature length docs (the second tomorrow) following the likeable twosome as they delve into their ancestry and meet relatives they never knew they had. This is ITV trying to muscle in on Who Do You Think You Are territory.

Wednesday 13th November

Why Dad Killed Mum: My Family’s Secret 1/3, 10:35pm, BBC One: A young woman searches for answers as to why her father killed her mother, grandmother and aunt in a housefire when she was just 16 months old.

Thursday 14th November

Live International Football: England v Montenegro, 7pm, ITV: Mark Pougatch presents live coverage of the European Championships qualifier which England will win 5-1, with a Stirling hat-trick. Youy heard it here first.

Friday 15th November

Children In Need, 7:30pm, BBC One: Graham Norton, Tess Daly, Mel Giedroyc and Ade Adepitan present and evening of music, entertainment, fundraising, and Pudsy Bear. Highlights include EastEnders does Strictly, the Children in Need Choir, the return of Crackerjack, a Star Wars spectacular, the Countryfile presenters as you’ve never seen them before, and a surprise courtesy of the England football team. Hopefully it won’t be that they lost 3-0 to Montenegro last night.

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