TV blog: Ghosts and Hard to Please OAPs

Benjie Goodhart / 11 April 2019

A spooky new BBC sitcom impresses TV blogger Benjie Goodhart, and a star-studded cast are left unimpressed by the latest technology breakthroughs in Hard to Please OAPs.

Ghosts 1/6, Monday 15 April, 9:30pm, BBC One

I had meant to watch the first in a new series called Earth from Space for this preview. It sounded spectacular, a look at the way the planet works, but from an entirely new and unique perspective. The show will use hundreds of images from more than 20 satellites to tell the story of the Earth’s most remote habitats in astonishing detail. But I couldn’t get the ruddy show to work on my iPad.

We have the capacity to photograph, with breath-taking accuracy and detail, any spot on the planet from multiple viewpoints thanks to astounding flying computers orbiting our planet, but I can’t get a programme to play on my tablet. It’s probably just as well I don’t work for NASA (and if I did, I think we can safely assume I’d be employed in the canteen).

But what a happy accident this turned out to be. Stuck on my train journey with nothing to watch, and desperate to distract myself from the man opposite me who had taken his shoes off and was loudly eating what appeared to be a gherkin sandwich, I stumbled upon BBC One’s new sitcom Ghosts. And I loved it.

In a vast, sprawling, picturesque but distinctly dilapidated country pile, an old woman lies on her deathbed. Around her bed stand a group of onlookers. Even a casual observer might notice there is something a bit off about them. They are in costumes from various periods of time, which is odd, unless a fancy-dress deathbed scene is your thing. (Come to that, it might add a much-needed sense of levity…) Also, one of them appears distinctly singed around the edges, one has an arrow through his neck, and one is holding his own head.

They are, of course, ghosts. As she passes away, the dead woman sees them for the first time, regards this motley crew, and decides, not unreasonably, to take her chance in the afterlife elsewhere. Exit stage le… actually, I think she went through the ceiling.

Meanwhile, young married couple Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) are flat-hunting in London. We know what a joy that can be. They are looking around an apartment the size of a pair of socks, in a salubrious neighbourhood where the local eatery is Buddy’s Fish and Pizza, a culinary combination that simply oozes quality. But their living arrangements are looking up, because it turns out that Alison is about to inherit, from a distant and unknown relative, a rather large, sprawling country pile with a few spectral sitting tenants.

Alison and Mike move in, and begin to make plans. Mike will handle the renovations himself, on the basis of the fact that he tiled the splashback in their last flat. The pair have great plans for the place, and to the horror of the ghosts, the plan involves turning it into a hotel, complete with themed rooms (Old Worlde, 1950s, Club Tropicana). The ghosts decide to kill them (if they didn’t, I’m sure English Heritage would – I mean, Club Tropicana???) But faced with the prospect of then having to live with their ghosts for all eternity, decide, instead, to haunt them, and scare them out of the place. The problem is, they’re a bit, well, rubbish.

It's a glorious concept, and entirely unlike any comedy I’ve seen before. The ghosts themselves are a beautifully eclectic bunch, including a caveman called Robin who lived on the land back in prehistoric times (Laurence Rickard), a milkmaid burned as a witch (Katy Wix), and an MP who appears to have died with his trousers off (Simon Farnaby). The show has been created and written by six of the cast (the team behind excellent CBBC show Horrible Histories) and the action moves along at a great lick, with the jokes coming thick and fast. And the end features an absolutely marvellous twist that promises to change everything. Highly recommended.

Hard to Please OAPs 2/8, Tuesday 16 April, 8:30pm, ITV

This programme actually started last week, so apologies for not having previewed it. Occasionally the ITV keeps certain programmes hidden from its forthcoming highlights page, ostensibly to keep its schedules secret from other broadcasters, although really I know it’s just to make my life more difficult.

Anyway, the series’ premise is a reasonably straightforward one: Get eight celebrities of a certain age, and get them to interact with some of the more irritating aspects of modern life, and talk about it to the camera. If you saw Grumpy Old Men, or Grumpy Old Women, on BBC Two over a decade ago, you’ve basically seen this programme. Except that in this show they mix up the genders. How terribly racy of them.

The first thing to note is that Lionel Blair is 90. Ninety!! Flippin’ ‘eck, when did that happen? To me, he is perpetually 65. I was staggered to hear this, which reminded me that I’d been staggered to hear that he was so old about a year ago when he was on one of the Real Marigold programmes. I may, therefore, have a pretty shoddy memory, but nobody could call me inconsistent.

Right, now we’re off to Windsor for the day, where Harry Redknapp, singer Sheila Ferguson and Michael (Jack’s father) Whitehall are off shopping for the day. They are testing out the next thing in contactless payment. Now, instead of tapping your card on the machine, you can tap a specially programmed ring or bracelet on to the card reader, and pay that way. The problem is, when they get to Windsor, they can’t even work out how to pay for their parking.

Meanwhile, John Sergeant and June ‘Dot Cotton’ Brown are testing out a floor-cleaning robot, while actress Amanda Barrie is testing out the Grillbot, a robot that cleans your barbecue. Barrie is worried about Artificial Intelligence and the rise of the robots. I wouldn’t worry too much about the Grillbot. What’s it going to do, clean you to death?

Back to the Windsor group, who have finally managed to park. Harry is distinctly disappointed with his contactless ring, and the fact that he can’t spend more than £30 on it. There might be a few football club chairmen who wish Redknapp had been similarly hamstrung when he’d been sent out to buy players!

June Brown is another one who has financial frustrations, but hers are due largely to the fact that she can’t get used to the new-fangled money terms people use. Unbelievably, she’s referring to decimalisation, which happened 48 years ago. Mind you, June is quite the force of nature. She’s 92, and seems to be chuffing away on a ciggie pretty much constantly. I have a suspicion that she might, in fact, be immortal. She also admits to being worried about Artificial Intelligence, as she watches a robot cleaner trying to mop up an egg. Maybe she’s worried that in 10,000 years, she will be the last human left, with only robots for company. Looking at the robot cleaner hopelessly spreading raw egg all over the kitchen floor, I’d say we have a while yet before they are our mechanical overlords.

So, to recap: This series is totally derivative. It features a cast of characters you’ve seen on reality TV shows a million times before, some of them a disturbing shade of taupe. It could barely be less original if it tried. But the whole concept of the programme is that not all change is good. Sometimes things should be left just as they are. And, in the case of this highly diverting and wry half-hour, it’s difficult to disagree.

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The best… and the rest

Saturday 13 April

The Massacre that Shook the Empire, 9pm, Channel 4: Writer Sathnam Sanghera tells the story of the Jallainwala Bagh massacre on its 100th anniversary, when hundreds of civilians were killed by the British army in Amritsar for protesting against colonial rule.

Sunday 14 April

Live Golf: The Masters, 6:30pm, BBC Two: The battle for the coveted green jacket enters its final stages at Augusta, to the mellifluous tones of Peter Alliss.

Monday 15 April

Supershoppers 1/6, 8pm, Channel 4: Sabrina Grant and Kate Quilton return with the consumer advice show. Tonight, store loyalty schemes and phone contracts are under the microscope.

Travel Man: 48 Hours in Athens, 8:30pm, Channel 4: Richard Ayoade is back with his hilariously offbeat travel show. This week, dawn French is accompanying him to the cradle of civilisation, Ashford. Sorry, Athens.

Not Going Out 1/7, 9pm, BBC One: Lee Mack’s amiable sitcom is back for another run of foolish wisecrackery.

Tuesday 16 April

The Great British School Swap, 9pm, Channel 4: A predominantly white school and a mainly Asian school in the West Midlands swap pupils in an experiment to see what happens when children from non-diverse areas mix for the first time.

Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild, 9pm, Channel 5: This absolute gem of a show has maintained its consistently high standards largely thanks to the charm of Fogel, who is once again off to the back of beyond to meet the people who have turned their back on civilisation in search of something different.

Wednesday 17 April

Location, Location, Location, 8pm, Channel 4: Return of the long-running and ever-popular property show. This week, Phil and Kirstie are helping a couple in Woking, Surrey.

Chimerica 1/4, 9pm, Channel 4: Involving and intelligent new political thriller following a photojournalist as he tries to track down the man he photographed in Beijing in 1989 – the Tank Man of Tiananmen Square.

Earth from Space 1/4, 9pm, BBC One: Cameras in space tell stories of life on our planet from a brand new perspective, to reveal new discoveries and explore Earth's most remote habitats. In the first episode, satellites follow an elephant family which is struggling through a drought, reveal previously unknown penguin colonies, and discover mysterious ice rings that could put seal pups in danger.

Thursday 18 April

Martin Clunes: My Travels and Other Animals 1/12, 8:30pm, ITV: The actor and presenter reflects on the best bits of his travels over the years.

Climate Change: The Facts, 9pm, BBC One: David Attenborough presents this stark and sober look at the science of climate change, with contributions from leading scientists.

Joanne Dennehy: Serial Killer, 9pm, ITV: Susanna Reid meets the serial killer, one of only three British women ever to be sentenced to spend the rest of her life behind bars.

Friday 19 April

British Made with John Prescott, 8pm, Channel 5: The former politician travels around the country, finding out what makes the nation’s factories tick.

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