TV blog: Judi Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure

Benjie Goodhart / 27 June 2019

The wonderful Dame Judi Dench visits the magical rainforests of Borneo. Plus, the best of the rest of this week’s TV.

Judi Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure 1/2, Tuesday 2nd July, 9pm, ITV

Anyone who knows me will be able to attest to the fact that I am totally down with the kids. I may have grown up in West London as opposed to the mean streets of LA (more Brompton than Compton) but I am so streetwise and hip it actually hurts. At least, I assume that’s why my wife winces every time I do something I consider to be uber-cool.

Anyway, because I am essentially from the urban jungle (and ignoring the fact that I am middle aged resident of East Sussex) allow me to educate you as to a little bit of the vernacular of the street. One word, to be precise. The word in question is ‘Dench’. It is used by a large number of modern youth to mean something that is undeniably excellent. The latest LP to top the hit parade, as I believe the young people call it, might be dench. You could have a dench haircut. Your new avocado bath suite might be de… actually, probably not.

I decided to open this review by pointing out the amusing coincidence that a word that means something totally brilliant is also the name of one of our national treasures. But, having looked into it, it turns out that it’s no coincidence at all, because the etymology of the word ‘dench’ is Dame Judi herself. As implausible as it may sound, the rapper Lethal Bizzle (with whose canon I’m sure you are familiar) started using ‘dench’ on social media back in 2012, inspired by the great actor and national treasure. In short, you know you’ve made it when the chattering classes are all thrilled with your latest Desdemona, and yet at the same time you’re a byword for cool on the streets of south London.

Anyway, the magnificent Dame Judi is back on our screens this week in an absolutely enchanting two-part series that sees her visit the magical rainforest of Borneo. The world’s third largest island, behind Greenland and New Guinea (Australia is included as a continent, please don’t write in), is 7000 miles away, a remote and hard-to-reach spot where temperatures reach 42°C and humidity is 90%. In short, the habitat would floor an Olympic athlete, let alone an 84-year-old woman who’s so tiny she looks like she could ride away on the back of one of the disturbingly large cicadas that make such a racket there.

But she’s not to be cowed, our grand Dame. She has long nursed an absolute adoration for the natural world, and her enthusiasm for her bewitching new surroundings is infectious. It helps that she’s there with the man she rather charmingly refers to as ‘my chap’, David Mills, and helps even more that he’s a conservationist. Also, the fact that they’re staying in an astoundingly lovely eco-lodge must help matters. But you get the distinct impression that Dame Judi would be just as happy on a foam mattress in a canvas tent on the forest floor. (I have to say, having seen the potentially lethal centipede that stalks the forest, I would not be so sanguine myself).

Visit the Borneo rainforest with Saga

Mind you, she’s a good deal braver than me. For instance, at one point she’s offered the chance to go hundreds of feet up in a sling towards the forest canopy. I’d be back at the hotel with my feet in the pool and a cocktail in each hand before you could say vertigo. But she’s practically leaping into the sling, and looks happy as Larry dangling up in the ether. And this from a woman who’s not used to being more than about 4ft above ground level.

The treats keep coming, from an Atlas beetle that looks like it belongs in Game of Thrones, to a ‘charismatic’ dung beetle called Bob, to bears being re-released into the woods, so that they might do what bears do in the woods. Lucky dung beetles. But, as ever, the biggest, and littlest, treat of all is Dame Judi herself. Dench by name…

Untamed beauty abounds in the tropical rainforests of Borneo, while mainland Malaysia dazzles in a different way. Discover more about holidays to Malaysia

Inside the Ritz Hotel 1/4, Wednesday 3rd July, 8pm, ITV

I’ve taken Mrs Goodhart to some truly classy establishments in our time together, from the hotel that doubled as a parole boarding house in Slough, to the place in Yorkshire with a broken telly, headless dolls and coffee mug stains on the sheets. But even my legendary largesse doesn’t extend to taking her to stay at The Ritz (though I’ve promised her we can go for our 150th Wedding Anniversary). Sadly, then, it’ll be another 141 years before she gets to set eyes upon its gilded interiors. Because the thing that makes truly high-class establishments like The Ritz special is their mystique, their private exclusivity that means only the select few ever see inside its hallowed portals.

So what, in the name of crustless cucumber sandwiches and vintage champagne, is the place doing letting in the cameras for a fly-on-the-wall documentary series? And not even one on BBC Two or Channel 4, where it will be watched by wealthy arty types with waxed moustaches. The Ritz is on ITV!!! Verily, we are living in the end days, people.

Actually, the truth comes out in the intro. The Ritz is existing in a world where the competition from rival hotels and airbnb rentals is such that everyone is feeling the squeeze.

This, then, is an advert for The Ritz. And, as such, it does a pretty good job. Talking heads line up to pay tribute to the place. If you had to guess the celebrities who would be waxing lyrical about the place, you’d probably get them all in your first 20 guesses: We have Richard E Grant, Vogue editor Anna Wintour (complete with surgically-attached dark glasses), Penny Hamilton and, of course, the ubiquitous Biggins. Oh, and Liverpool forward Mo Salah. Go to the top of the class if you guessed him.

They love the place, all right. Anna Wintour loves the fact that, when she first stayed there, she used to take the pictures down in her room and put them in drawers, and now when she gets there, the pictures have already been removed. It’s very solicitous – I’d have sent her a bill for the extra work of having to re-hang the blasted things after her departure.

The place was founded by Cesar Ritz in 1906, and still follows his famous maxim: “Never say no when a client asks for something, even if it is the moon.” I’m going to make a point of checking in and asking for my room service to be delivered by Charlize Theron. See how they manage to say yes to that.

It does look frightfully nice, mind you. I like the look of Richard E Grant’s suite. So does he, judging by the humungous grin on his face. It comes with a butler, though what on earth does one do with one’s own butler in such circumstances, I hear you cry. The interiors are all Louis XVI, ornate, gilded and more than a little camp. The place has its own Rolls Royce Phantom Eight for hire, and its own champagne, made by Baron Philippe Sereys de Rothschild. You remember him, right? Used to work in KFC on the high street? Has Luton Town Forever tattooed on his forehead?

This, it has to be said, is pretty standard fare. We’ve all seen the fly-on-the-wall hotel documentary series before (most recently with Cliveden House). It essentially consists of sweeping shots of luxury rooms, the odd crisis in the kitchen, and a desperate search for a ‘character’ among the staff, normally a long-serving concierge.

And I all works very well in this series. It is fascinating to see inside such a venerated institution, and it’s not difficult to see why The Ritz has become a byword in luxury. But, in the end, it does leave one feeling slightly that you’ve just watched a half-hour-long advert, with a break for other adverts halfway through. It’s not so much that there is the odd bit of product placement in this series. The product placement is the series.

The best… and the rest

Sunday 30th June

John McEnroe: Still Rockin’ at 60, 10:30pm, BBC One: If ever a piece of information can make you feel old, it’s the revelation that the original Superbrat is turning 60. With time he has mellowed into an excellent pundit, art collector and music fan. Those interviewed include friends Chrissie Hynde and Bjorn Borg.

Monday 1st July

Wimbledon 2019, 10:30am BBC Two, and then all over the BBC for the next fortnight: Hurrah. Wimbers is back. Two weeks of top quality tennis, the odd bit of celeb-spotting, strawberries, and crowds laughing uproariously at even the most banal comic antics of players. Johanna Konta will be hoping to fly the flag deep into week two, along with a host of men’s doubles players, not least one A Murray esq.

Kirstie’s Celebrity Craft Masters, 5pm, Channel 4: Craft Queen Kirstie pits celebs against each other in creativity challenges in this new daytime series. Today, Rav Wilding and Angelica Bell lock crafty horns.

Trawlermen: celebs at Sea 1/2, 9pm, Channel 5:  Boyzone's Shane Lynch, chef Antony Worrall Thompson and former England rugby union player Ben Cohen join the crew of a trawler to see if they have what it takes to handle one of Britain's toughest jobs. Honestly, who comes up with these ideas? Two hours of B-list celebs hand-gutting fish on a trawler? It’ll probably win a Bafta.

Tuesday 2nd July

Match of the Day Live: FIFA Women's World Cup, 7:30pm, BBC One: In the blink of an eye, we seem to have reached the semi-final stage. If England have beaten Norway, they will face either France or the USA, a formidable task either way. France are the hosts, USA the holders, and the pair are joint favourites. A big ask.

The Great Gardening Challenge, 8pm, Channel 5: Nicki Chapman and Diarmuid Gavin host a horticultural competition, in which two teams of designers are challenged to transform unloved spaces in just 48 hours.   

Inside the Bank of England 1/2, 9:30pm, BBC Two: Two-part documentary series following events at the Bank of England in 2018, including preparations for B… B… no, I’m not saying the B-word. I think we may have heard it enough now, don’t you?

Wednesday 3rd July

Match of the Day Live: FIFA Women's World Cup, 7:30pm, BBC One: Italy or the Netherlands will play Germany or Sweden (the form guide would suggest the Netherlands v Germany). A cynic might suggest this is merely a match to determine who will lose to the USA in the final, but who knows…?

Anna: The Woman Who Went to Fight ISIS, 9:30pm, BBC Two: The tragic story of 25-year-old Anna Campbell, who went to the front line to fight with Kurdish Women's Protection Units (YPJ) in 2017, and was killed shortly afterwards in a Turkish air strike.

Thursday 4th July

Serengeti, 8pm, BBC One: This dramatized natural history show, narrated by Star Wars’ John Boyega, features real footage from the African savannah, given a dramatic anthropomorphic spin. A bit like dear old Johnny Morris used to do.

Sarah Payne: The Untold Story, 9pm, ITV: Susannah Reid talks to Sara Payne about her daughter Sarah’s abduction and murder 19 years ago, and the repercussions since then on her family, and on the law.

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