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TV blog: Secret Scotland

Benjie Goodhart / 01 February 2019

This week’s highlights include a visit to Scotland. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on TV.

Secret Scotland with Susan Calman, Friday 8th February, 8pm, Channel 5

Many of you will be familiar with Susan Calman, the host of this chirpily charming new travelogue series around Scotland, from her delightfully inept performances on Strictly Come Dancing a couple of seasons back. Her new series sees her travelling around Scotland discovering some of its lesser-known gems.

The action starts in Edinburgh, a place very close to my heart. I spent four years there as a student, where I received the most marvellous education in lager, sausage suppers, sleeping, and playing Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega Megadrive. It is also the city where, ten years later, I fell in love with my wife. Sadly, for me, Susan Calman is not revisiting these nostalgic moments of mine, because nobody wants to watch a long-haired wastrel getting drunk and playing computer games, and the only thing worse than that would be to watch him mooning about writing poetry and plucking up the courage to hold hands.

Instead, she starts the series at Edinburgh Castle, in the middle of an absolute blizzard, which narrows down the timeframe to somewhere between September and May. She meets the soldier who fires the one o’clock gun. Call me a pedant, but possibly Scotland’s most famous monument, and the most famous thing that happens there, don’t exactly constitute ‘Secret Scotland’.

Then it’s off to the privy, where the Crown Jewels were once dumped. No, that’s not an unusual euphemism, but instead the story of Scotland’s Crown Jewels, which were hidden, during the Second World War, in a long-forgotten ancient toilet deep in the bowels of the castle, in case of German invasion. Calman is tickled pink by what a genius notion this was. I’m a little more dubious – surely there are better places than under the pan lid of a loo in historic Edinburgh Castle.

Then it’s off to see Greyfriars Bobby (perhaps the second most famous landmark in Edinburgh) before a ghost tour of the hidden vaults of Edinburgh. (I used to go clubbing in those vaults, so somewhere she may encounter the ghost of Benjie past, dancing very badly but convinced he is exceptionally cool. Sometimes ghosts are more pitiful than petrifying.) Most presenters on a ghost tour would crack jokes about the silliness of it all. Not Calman, who believes in ghosts (sigh) and is on the point of dumping the crown jewels, to coin a phrase.

After that, it’s off to Fife, with its world famous Forth Rail Bridge. Yep, you guessed it, it’s another part of ‘Secret Scotland’. That said, it’s always worth another look, as an astonishing piece of engineering. Sadly, painting it is no longer a Sisyphean task, since they discovered a more durable paint. It was last given a fresh coat in 2011, and isn’t due for a new one until 2031.

Thereafter, there’s a trip to St Andrews for something called ‘Hickory Golf’ (basically golf with old wooden clubs, where everyone dresses in tweedy plus-fours and parties like it’s 1799). There’s a trip to the nation’s best chippie, where Calman is taught how to make fried fish. If you thought it was simply a matter of coating it in batter and popping it in the frier… um… you’d be right.

So far, it’s all been very jolly, and Susan Calman is a pocket-sized delight. But the last section of the programme is genuinely fascinating. Calman visits Roslin Chapel, a place of astonishing beauty, and almost certainly the only location in the world of a stone angel playing the bagpipes. Here, she discovers a story, about a piece of music hidden in the carvings, that is genuinely remarkable, and leaves our normally perky host moved to tears.

Teachers Training to Kill, Monday 4th February, 9pm, Channel 4

When I was at primary school, we used to have a short-tempered Latin teacher, whose name has long since been obscured by the mists of time. If he caught you messing about, chatting or not paying attention (and who the hell pays attention in Latin anyway?) he would hurl some projectile at you, normally a piece of chalk or a blackboard duster. At secondary school, we had a geography teacher who would dispense his own brand of physical retribution to errant pupils by smacking the tip of their heads with his fist, with the level of physical force used measured on a scale from one-to-five.

What neither of these rather short-tempered individuals ever did was fire a gun at one of their pupils. They might have wanted to at times (to be fair, some of the pupils at my school were pretty trying) but they were prevented from doing so by the rather key fact that neither of them were permitted to carry a concealed firearm at school. This, you would think, is a fairly logical standpoint: Giving individuals, who are often in fairly stressful situations, surrounded by a phalanx of the world’s most irritating creatures (groups of schoolchildren) a lethal weapon does not scream logic.

In America, a spate of school shootings has led to calls from many to call for teachers to be armed in schools. This fascinating documentary follows a campaign by Sherriff Richard K Jones, of Butler County, Ohio, to do just that.

Sherriff Jones is your standard, bushy-moustached, Stetson-wearing, motorbike-riding, gun-advocating Trump supporter who probably has the US Second Amendment tattooed across his heart. On the other side is Larry Knapp, the superintendent of the local school district, who is the kind of lily-livered snowflake who subscribes to the not-altogether-insane notion that putting more guns in schools might, in some way, lead to an unhealthy and occasionally dangerous environment.

Meanwhile, another school district has permitted teachers to carry firearms. So the cameras follow a group of teachers who have volunteered to be trained to use them. That a kindergarten teacher sees it as part of their job requirement that they can carry and operate a 9mm Beretta in their workplace should tell you all you need to know about what is wrong with this idea.

The same thought occurs when you watch teachers and pupils at Hamilton School going through a gun-attack drill. Or when you watch a teacher, Lynn, getting ready for her shift at school: Bag packed, lunch made, she straps on her weapon and loads a couple of spare magazines. Back in my day, if a teacher had a couple of spare magazines, it meant they were reading Cosmo while they set us a test so they didn’t have to teach us.

Most shocking of all is the story of Cooper Caffrey, a 15-year-old who was shot and almost killed by one of his best friends in a school shooting three years ago. Cooper and his father Marty are intent on fighting the idea of arming teachers because, not unreasonably, Cooper feels that having more guns in schools as opposed to fewer guns is unlikely to solve the problem. You’d think the authorities might listen to a kid who’d actually been the victim of a school shooting.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 2nd February

Ireland v England, Six Nations Rugby, 4:45pm, ITV: The action kicked off last night, with Wales taking on France, and Italy visit Scotland earlier on today, but the big, potentially championship-defining clash, takes place in Dublin, where Ireland, currently the best team in the Northern Hemisphere, will be strong favourites to beat England.

Great British Car Journeys, 8pm, Channel 4: Christopher Timothy and Peter Davison, stars of the classic TV series All Creatures Great and Small, go back to the 1930s to relive the golden age of motoring, setting out on a series of journeys along Britain's most beautiful vintage roads. It sounds rather lovely, but TV is very odd, isn’t it?

Secrets of the Royal Servants, 9pm, Channel 5: Stories from the royal household's staff, with a cook revealing the Queen's surprisingly simple favourite treat, and a footman of the Queen Mother recounting his most embarrassing gaffe, involving wine and Princess Margaret. Most of my embarrassing gaffes involve wine, though not many involve Princess Margaret.

Sunday 3rd February

Africa with Ade Adepitan 1/4, 9pm, BBC Two: The presenter explores the continent, and examines how African nations may influence international affairs in the next 50 years as life expectancy, population, and economic growth rise. He starts by travelling from Cape Verde to his birthplace in Nigeria.

NFL: Superbowl LIII, 10:45pm, BBC Two: If you’ve not had your fill of grown men knocking each other over with the Six Nations this weekend, there’s a chance for one final splurge tonight, as the New England Patriots take on the LA Rams in American Football’s showpiece event.

Tuesday 5th February

Call the Cleaners 1/6, 7:30pm, ITV: Extreme cleaning sisters Yvonne and Angela tackle a hoarder’s house that is so bad the lady has been sleeping in the shed for the last six years; and father and son team Steve and Jamie have to rid a drugs den of thousands of dirty needles.

This Time Next Year 1/6, 8pm, ITV: Davina McCall returns with the show about people hoping to dramatically change their lives over 12 months. Tonight, five individuals pledge to lose 50 stone between them.

How the Other Kids Live, 8pm, Channel 4: Families from the same neighbourhood, but different social, economic or ethnic divides, open up their homes for a playdate. Tonight’s series opener comes from Birmingham.

Martin Clunes Islands of America 1/4, 9pm, ITV: The ever-popular actor and presenter embarks on a journey around the islands of America, from the ice-bound islands of Alaska to the presidential playgrounds of New England.

Paxman on the Queen’s Children, 9pm, Channel 5: Two-part series in which our Jezza looks into the lives of the Queen’s four children, with tonight’s programme focussing on their childhood.

Friday 8th February

Eurovision: You Decide, 7:30pm, BBC Two: I think it is safe to say I’ve already made my decision with regards to this.



The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.