TV blog: Harry’s Heroes

Benjie Goodhart / 14 March 2019

Harry Redknapp assembles a team of 1990s footballing stars for a match against their German equivalents. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on the box.

Harry’s Heroes: The Full English 1/2, Monday 18th March, 9pm, ITV

I used to write about sport. But then I realised that it was a ridiculous way to make a living, simply writing about vacuous egotists behaving unnaturally for the unedifying entertainment of the slack-jawed masses watching idly from their sofas. So I decided to write about telly instead. Yes, I’m now aware of the irony.

Anyway, in that time, I interviewed Harry Redknapp. Far from being a vacuous egotist, he was a thoroughly decent bloke, more than willing to give up his time to chat to a fledgling journalist who, realistically, had nothing to offer in return. In fact, I’d go so far as to say he was the second nicest sportsman I ever interviewed… after his son, Jamie, who is quite possibly the nicest man in the Universe.

The point of this rather pathetic and needy name-dropping is to say that I was thrilled when Harry won I’m a Celebrity… and am not in the least surprised to see him developing quite the TV career, of which this new two-parter is the latest example.

Showing over two extended episodes on consecutive nights, this is an odd but hugely amiable beast. It sees Harry recruit a veritable who’s who of footballers from the 1990s, in an effort to get them fit over a 12-week period, before they face a team of German all-stars of a similar vintage in a one-off match.

If you’re not interested in football, it might be worth you skipping this paragraph, as I’m going to list the players involved. Go and make yourself a nice cuppa. Paint a still life. Learn Spanish. Do whatever it is you weird non-football fans get up to. For the benefit of the rest of us, the players are David Seaman, Neil Ruddock, Ray Parlour, Chris Waddle (the oldest of the group at 57), Lee Sharpe, Matt Le Tissier, Mark Wright, Paul Merson, Mark Chamberlain, Rob Lee, and Robbie Fowler, the baby at 43. Also joining the group is John Barnes, who was due to be playing until he injured himself playing volleyball at his son’s wedding (eh???) and will be assistant manager instead.

First up, the guys are going to have their bodies tested to find out what sort of shape they’re in. You don’t need a biometric read-out to tell what shape Ruddock is in. He’s a proper unit, tipping the scales at 24 stone. You can just see some athletic 52-year-old German ex-pro who probably cycles 45 miles before a breakfast of granola and yoghurt making absolute mincemeat of ‘Razor’ on the pitch. And you’d get quite a lot of Bolognese out of that mincemeat.

You can see why he’s there, though. As well as giving the show an interesting narrative (can he change his ways and improve his health) Ruddock is hilarious. I believe it’s what’s known as Bantz. And he is, if you’ll excuse the expression, pound-for-pound the funniest of the lot. Good for morale, see? Which is handy, as he has to come off after just a few minutes of the players’ opening training match… against an Under 14s team.

It quickly becomes apparent to Harry that his ‘heroes’ have maybe eaten a few too many Heroes (other mixed-confection boxes are available). And maybe sunk a few too many pints. He puts them all on a strict diet. Razor’s response is to go off on a cruise with family and friends. And food. And booze. He’s going to be a tough nut to crack, all right.

Meanwhile David Seaman takes Robbie Fowler and Paul Merson away for a day’s fishing. Fowler and Merson are bored witless, but an environment where literally not a thing happens for hours on end (it’s like watching the Big Brother live feed) leads them to discuss Merson’s addiction issues, and his mental health. It’s all strangely touching, and Fowler asks tenderly at the end: “You’re alright now though?” Merson shrugs. “I’d rather not be f***ing fishing.” (That’s not him saying fishing twice, by the way).

Like I said, this is an odd programme. It doesn’t seem to know quite what it is. Is it a documentary about the lives of ex-pros, a redemptive fitness show, or a fly-on-the-wall football-cum-entertainment romp? And, in the end, does it matter? Much like its host, it’s warm, funny and engaging. I really don’t fancy our chances against the Germans, though. Plus ça change, as they don’t say in Berlin.

Can I Improve My Memory? Friday 22nd March, 8pm, Channel 4

Memory is a weird thing. My wife can’t remember our anniversary from one year to the next, or even the most basic plot points in a TV drama, but she can remember, literally word for word, everything that was said in an argument months previously, and can turn it against me with forensic ferocity. I can remember faces for all eternity, but if you tell me your name, I will have forgotten it before the last syllable has even died on your lips.

I have spent my life forgetting things. My children do it now, and I haven’t got the nerve to tell my wife it’s all my fault, that it’s just genetics in action. I can recall with startling clarity the day, when I was aged about 8, that I pushed open the black gate at the side entrance to my school, and looked down as I did so, to discover I was wearing a very cosy pair of soft purple slippers, because I’d forgotten to put on my shoes. I couldn’t remember to put on shoes, for heaven’s sakes, but I can remember the burning embarrassment and anxiety 40 years later.

Yet, even in the full and certain knowledge that I am a forgetful person, every time I forget something these days, I worry that my brain is starting to atrophy. This has worsened considerably since my dad died of Alzheimer’s a couple of years ago. The moment even the most trivial thing slips my mind I start Googling neurologists.

Valerie Singleton clearly feels the same way. She worries that her memory is worsening now she’s entered her ninth decade, and wants to find ways of improving it. That’s why she’s signed up to this fascinating one-off programme in which she will be trained by an expert before having her memory put to the test. Alongside her are two other guinea pigs. One is Joey Essex, who doesn’t seem the sharpest knife in the drawer, even if the only other thing in the drawer is a spoon. Made of sponge. The other is Gok Wan, who once almost bought the house I now live in. (That’s not strictly relevant, but it’s all I have).

All three are going to be tested on subjects that are completely baffling to them. For Gok, it’s the periodic table. For Valerie, it’s UK Grime Artists. For Joey, it could be pretty much anything, but is, in fact, William the Conqueror. “I don’t even know who that is,” he says. Later, he complains his name is too long to remember. I don’t hold out much hope. They are to be trained in this endeavour by a memory champion, Mark, whose surname, ironically enough, I have forgotten. He teaches them visualisation techniques, and it’s fair to say the results are quite extraordinary.

The trio are quizzed by Michael Buerk in front of a live audience in the wood-panelled splendour of the Law Society. Their performances are all extraordinary (for different reasons). Also, I was interested to learn, during Gok’s questions on the periodic table, that Krypton is a real element, and not something out of Superman.

The second round features the contestants having to memorise 25 items on a tray, using more techniques taught to them by Mark, before naming as many as they can in two minutes.

All in all, this is a very interesting hour, although (yet more irony) not especially memorable. Apart from the bit where Valerie Singleton utters the words “I quite like draw. Draw is a bag of cannabis.” She was talking about liking the slang word rather than the product. I think.

The best… and the rest

Tuesday 19th March

Save Money, Lose Weight, 8pm, ITV: More weight-loss, only this time without ex-footballers. Sian Williams and Ranj Singh put five diets through their paces to discover the best value per lbs lost. Ranj looks at freezing fat cells, while Sian has the (hopefully) more pleasant task of testing low calorie beer and wine.

Wednesday 20th March

The Bay 1/6, 9pm, ITV: Hurrah! Another police drama! Morven Christie plays DS Lisa Armstrong, who is investigating a case of missing teenage twins in Morecambe. Co-starring Jonas Armstrong and Chanel Cresswell.

Married at First Sight 1/3, 9pm, Channel 4: The series which pairs up complete strangers and introduces them at the altar as they get married, returns for a fourth series. None if the couples from previous series are still together, which tells you all you need to know about the success of algorithm and experts in predicting affairs of the heart.

Mums Make Porn 1/3, 10pm, Channel 4: From affairs of the heart to regions slightly lower down, with this ambitious and original new documentary series. Five mums, appalled by the wave of hardcore pornography freely available on the internet, decide to write and direct a porn film that they consider appropriate and sexy.

Thursday 21st March

Stabbed: Britain’s Knife Crime Crisis, 9pm, BBC One: If anyone has earned the right to talk about knife crime it is Duwayne Brooks who, 25 years ago, was with his friend Stephen Lawrence when he was murdered at a bus stop in South London. In this sobering documentary, he looks at the reality behind the alarming figures, and meets the families, friends and perpetrators of this epidemic.

Fraud: How They Steal Your Bank Account, 9pm, ITV: Documentary, part of ITV’s never-ending Crime and Punishment season, following the detectives who specialise in tackling fraud as they, um, tackle fraud.

Friday 22nd March

Euro 2020 Qualifier Live, 7pm, ITV: Mark Pougatch presents live coverage of England’s first qualifier for next year’s European Championships. The Czech Republic is a former powerhouse now somewhat on the wane, while England’s game looks to be in the rudest health for a generation. But there are no sure things in football…

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