Chaos at the Castle, Sunday 19th May, 7pm, Channel 4
Nestling in the verdant Devon countryside is the 11th Century Bickleigh Castle, the oldest inhabited castle in England. I dare say when it was built by Lord Johnne the Bloody or whoever it was who conceived it, they had the idea that it might stand for a thousand years, but they probably never envisaged it would be run as a B&B and wedding venue, complete with disputes about Pimms and snarky TripAdvisor reviews.
The place is run by Robbie and Sarah, a couple who should be enjoying the fruits of retirement, but are instead working themselves to the bone in an attempt to keep their business afloat. They bought the castle 12 years ago, complete with huge grounds and various thatched cottages, for £2 million, which will probably get you a bedsit in Bethnal Green at London prices. It is absurdly, ridiculously beautiful, but beauty comes at a price. It costs £250,000-a-year just to run the place. The heating bill is £32,000. That’s even more than our heating bill, and my wife likes the house at an ambient 110°f all year round.
But business isn’t what it once was. In the past, they had 30 weddings a year. Now they’re lucky to get half that. So they’ve opened the place as a B&B as well, under the stewardship of Sarah’s cousin John. This utter gem of a documentary follows events at the castle over a summer season, capturing every marriage and meltdown along the way.
The whole operation is hugely complex, and much of the grunt work falls to Richard, the handyman who lives on site in a caravan with his dog, seven cats, two guinea pigs and a lion. Okay, I’m kidding about the lion. Richard is a splendidly abrasive character, who takes every instruction from his employers as if it were a brutal personal insult.
It’s difficult not to feel sorry for Robbie and Sarah, although they don’t help themselves with one or two of their opinions, which seem to have been fashioned around the same time as the castle. You can almost see Sarah’s lip visibly curl, for example, as she looks at the fish-and-chip van her guests have booked for their pre-wedding party. “It’s a pretty poor show,” she scoffs. “It brings the tone down.”
Meanwhile, John is dealing with a complaint from an irate B&B customer, about the state of the breakfast table. John doesn’t like criticism. (I snuck a look at his responses to some critical reviews on TripAdvisor, and he doesn’t take them lying down, put it that way). Soon Robbie becomes involved, and issues the presumably placatory line “We’re all English together.” This, apparently, is a key factor in sorting disputes about dirty crockery.
As the summer goes on, relations between Richard and his bosses deteriorate further, largely because every request to do something results in a volley of abuse. He’s asked to attend a meeting, and you’d think he’d been asked if he’d mind cutting off both his legs and sticking them to his head. Robbie is understandably outraged, though he doesn’t do his cause much good when he opines: “He’s a Maltese immigrant, basically. His temperament isn’t as calm as yours or mine.”
There is something glorious, even heroic, about the levels of eccentricity on display. Observational documentaries such as this live and die by the quality of the characters involved, and this lot have character in spades. They couldn’t be dull if you filmed them asleep. And it’s all set against a backdrop of indescribably lovely medieval gorgeousness. John, you can put your keyboard down, old son, I’m giving this one five stars.
Hatton Garden, Monday 20th May, 9pm, ITV
“Finally, the story can be told” shouts the trailer for this new four-part series showing on consecutive nights on ITV. The drama was first scheduled to be shown in December 2017, but had to be pulled at the last minute, because one of those involved was on trial. It doesn’t help a jury’s impartiality over-much if they can go home and watch a dramatized version of you committing the largest burglary in British criminal history. So they re-scheduled it for March 2018 when – wouldn’t you know it – another member of the gang was caught and put on trial. So now it’s third time lucky for ITV.
On the other hand, ‘finally, the story can be told’ is a bit rich. I mean, the story has been told. Really told. The papers were absolutely agog with excitement about the whole thing, largely because the criminal gang involved were all of a, ahem, rather mature vintage. Oceans 111, as it were. As such, they covered absolutely every element of the case in microscopic detail. Since then, there have been two films about the case, one starring Larry Lamb and one with Michael Caine. It has also featured in true crime documentary series The White Rabbit Project. Oh, and there are at least seven – SEVEN – books about the heist. It’s practically a better-known story than the Nativity!
Which isn’t to say the drama’s not good. It is. Very. It’s got Timothy Spall in it, for heaven’s sake, how could it be anything other than marvellous? Spall plays Terry Perkins, 67, an old career criminal looking for one last payday on a final job. David Hayman plays Danny Jones, 61, an old career criminal looking for one last payday on a final… look, they’re all old criminals looking for a last payday, okay? In charge of the gang is Brian Reader, 76, played by the redoubtable Kenneth Cranham, who must have played more hardnut gangland bosses in his time than Keeley Hawes has played softly-spoken women with a steely inner core.
Clearly, one of the remarkable things about this case was the age of the participants, and the drama wastes no time in hammering the point home. Terry has to administer regular injections to himself. Brian groans and wheezes so much while putting on his shoes that he sounds like he’s doing a tractor pull in the World’s Strongest Man. When the gang are all rounded up in the van, there’s discussion about who has to sit in the front because of a bad back and dodgy knees. All I the first five minutes. Alright already, we get the picture – they’re not acrobats.
But then, pretty quickly, the raid is on. And it is beyond audacious. There are alarms to be disabled, sensors to avoid, electronic doors to circumnavigate, and a socking great concrete wall to drill through before the gang can get to the promised land. The promise land, in this case, being a room filled with safety deposit boxes containing untold riches. Well, untold apart from in news articles, books and films. But it sounds better than saying “safety deposit boxes containing told riches.”
Everyone has a specialist skill in the heist. Everyone, that is, apart from one chap, whose job seems to consist of sitting at a window across the road, drinking tea and eating and keeping a (very vague) eye on things. That would be my role in a criminal gang. Skills? Having eyes, and demolishing sandwiches. I could even have a nickname. Something threatening, like Ciabatta.
The drama is extremely adept at ratcheting up the tension, which is no mean feat, considering we pretty much know the outcome. There will, inevitably, be complaints about whether the criminals are made to seem too human – they were, after all, career criminals, and probably not someone you’d want to take tea with in the Vicarage. But it’s difficult to care about characters if you don’t imbue them with a little warmth, so it’s inevitably a tough balancing act. Anyway, the other episodes are on over the next three nights, so there’s not long to wait to find out.
The best… and the rest
Saturday 18th May
Match of the Day Live: The FA Cup Final, 3:55pm, BBC One: Gary Lineker presents coverage of Manchester City 3 Watford 0 from Wembley (kick off 5pm).
Britain’s Most Historic Towns 1/6, 8pm, Channel 4: Historian Dr Alice Roberts looks at Dover, and the extraordinary role it played in World War II.
Eurovision Song Contest 2019, 8pm, BBC One: Graham Norton presents the annual croonfest live from Israel. Hartlepool’s Michael Rice will be hoping to finish above all the Finnish Heavy Metallers and the Austrian songstresses dressed as milkmaids.
Sunday 19th May
What the Durrells Did next, 7pm, ITV: Keeley Hawes marks the end of the popular ITV drama by looking at the story of what the real Durrells did after their time on Corfu came to an end.
Gentleman jack 1/6, 9pm, BBC One: The ever-watchable Suranne Jones stars in the equally-brilliant writer Sally Wainwright’s latest drama, based on the story of the controversial 19th-Century landowner Anne Lister.
The Ranganation 1/6, 9pm, BBC Two: Romesh Ranganathan presents as topical comedy show that seeks to involve the audience as a sort of focus group.
Monday 20th May
Thatcher: A Very British Revolution 1/5, 9pm, BBC Two: This documentary series examines the rise and fall of Mrs Thatcher, as told by members of her inner circle.
The Hunt for Jihadi John, 9pm, Channel 4: Richard Kerbaj’s thoughtful, meticulous and harrowing film looks at the rise of ISIS, and the recruitment of its most notorious soldier, and speaks to an impressive roll call of talking heads.
Tuesday 21st May
Alastair Campbell: Depression and Me, 9pm, BBC Two: Tony Blair’s former press secretary talks about his lifelong battle with depression, and explores whether science can help him.
Wednesday 22nd May
Summer of Rockets 1/6, 9pm, BBC Two: Drama set during the Cold War. A Russian-Jewish inventor is approached by MI5 and given a covert mission. Starring Toby Stephens, Linus Roache and Keeley Hawes (does the woman never sleep?)
Thursday 23rd May
Big Animal Surgery 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: Liz Bonnin enters the world of wild animal surgery.
Free Solo, 9pm, Channel 4: Oscar-winning documentary about climber Alex Honnold’s attempt to become the first person to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan without ropes or safety equipment. The loon.
Friday 24th May
Hatton Garden: The inside Story, 9pm, ITV: With the four-part drama series concluding last night, here is a factual account of what really happened. Presented, naturally, by Ross Kemp.
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