Easy Ways to Live Well 1/3, Wednesday 22nd January, 8pm, BBC One
Let’s face it, January is a rotten, foetid, dark, chilly, stinking swamp of a month. The ‘wahaay’ excesses of December, when money and booze and food are chucked about with hedonistic abandon, are replaced by a month-long hangover of exhaustion and impecuniousness as we blearily scan our bank statements and wonder what the hell went wrong. To make matters worse, we’re now told that, on top of any other resolutions we may have made, we ought to do Dry January and Veganuary, and essentially give up everything that makes life vaguely tolerable.
Now the BBC are getting in on the act, by telling us how we can live more healthily. Brilliant. Another lecture on how we should live: Eat less garbage, drink less alcohol, exercise more, blitz up revolting drinks featuring spinach and broccoli, replace crisps with seeds, yada yada yada! I approached this programme, the first of a new series, with all the excitement I normally reserve for shopping expeditions with my wife.
Unlike shopping expeditions with my wife, however, this turned out to be a rather jolly experience (and one that didn’t involve further financial depletion). It’s pretty much what you’d expect from the title – a magazine-style show featuring items to do with physical and mental health – but the whole thing is done with energy and charm and humour. This is down, in no small part, to the presenting team of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Steph McGovern.
Both are disarmingly open about their own issues. Hugh is a worrier, existing in a semi-permanent state of stress. Steph has, er, ‘digestive issues’. She also says that she has something of a tummy, and says she is often mistaken for being pregnant. A word of advice to the men of the world: Never, ever tell someone they look pregnant unless you are absolutely certain that they are. To be safe, wait until the baby’s head is literally crowning before mentioning it. (Also, ask permission to check it’s okay to be in the birthing suite…)
Steph tackles her digestive issues by going to see a specialist. She is asked to give a sample, and in quite the oddest moment I have ever witnessed on TV, complains that this will necessitate her doing a poo on the floor. (Readers, this is never, ever necessary.) Steph is so open about everything, I half-feared that she might invite the cameras in to witness the movement, but that is one dubious pleasure we are spared.
Hugh, meanwhile, is encouraged to adopt a stress-management regime where he has to immerse himself in cold water every single day. It doesn’t look like phenomenal fun, but as he graduates from the cold showers to cold baths to jumping into an agonisingly cold sea, something remarkable seems to happen.
Elsewhere, the two visit a medical practice in Cardiff which seems to have a major snacking problem. They’re all at it: Biscuits, chocolate, crisps, you name it. The place is like a confectioners with a sideline in doctoring. It makes Willy Wonka’s look like Holland and Barrett. In an experiment, half of those present are given peppermint oil to sniff when they feel tempted to snack. Peppermint, apparently is an appetite suppressant. My new dietary plan is to get a few tubs of Mint Choc Chip ice cream – that should do the trick. The other half of the practice have their treats locked in a cupboard that takes 25 seconds to open – apparently that delay will see the cravings pass. (Not my experience, I’m proud to say my cravings are invincible…)
There’s a look at the importance of limiting screen time, and a test to see how effective vibrating abdominal belts are at giving you a six-pack (go on, guess…). By the end, I feel like I’ve been both entertained and informed, and you can’t ask for much more than that. Although I do feel I know far more about Steph McGovern’s bowel movements than is strictly necessary.
Inside the Crown: Secrets of the Royals 1/4, Thursday 23rd January, 9pm, ITV
Thank goodness. Finally, something about the royal family to discuss. They’ve been right off the agenda, what with it having been such a quiet few months for them. Needless to say, my mother, who finds every miniscule titbit concerning the House of Windsor absolutely riveting, is absolutely hooked on every pronouncement, rumour, declaration, opinion and smidgeon of scurrilous gossip that emanates from Buck House. On the flip side, while I miss him every day, I am thankful that my dad is dead – I think all this royal chat would have killed him!
This is a new four-part series that promises to take us inside the royal family, letting us in on their secrets, and telling the real story of the Queen’s reign for the first time. If you discount all the other documentaries that have done the same thing. And the Netflix drama The Crown. And the film The Queen. And all the books, newspaper reports, magazine articles, editorials, radio shows and blogs. The thing is, I’m not sure there really are any secrets to do with the royals anymore. Prince Andrew, of course, may know different.
When I was given access to the documentary, I was reminded that this is a rough cut, and not necessarily the final version. It’s not difficult to see why. Recent events have slightly driven a fleet of gilded royal coaches through the narrative. Take the show’s opening, in which the voiceover announces “We look at the perpetual conflict for the royal family between love and duty.” Yeah, only the biggest love-duty conflict since Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson is unfolding, and you’ve missed it.
Intro over, the credits roll. Good, right, maybe we can overlook the absence of the Harry-Meghan story. What’s up first?
We open with Harry and Meghan’s pre-wedding interview. “I know that she’ll be unbelievably good at the job part of it as well,” coos Harry. “She’ll be able to deal with everything else that comes with it.” Yiiikes. That dated quickly.
The programme charts the love story of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who have been married for a whopping 72 years. That’s some achievement, particularly living in the gilded cage that has seen divorces for the Queen’s sister and three of her four children. Speaking of which, here’s the story of Charles and Diana once again, including the stock footage, shown approximately every three days since 1981, of Diana walking out of a building and getting into her small red car. Then it’s on to the wedding, by which stage, according to one observer, “the relationship was in a very, very bad way.” It’s yet another chance to see the world’s longest wedding train. Presumably, someone thought it had to be the length of an actual train.
It’s worth remembering poor Diana was just 19 when she went through all of this. It’s hardly surprising it didn’t work out that well. Mind you, I had a great day. I was eight, and I won an engraved royal wedding glass in a raffle at a village fete. And there was loads of cake.
There’s also chat about Margaret and her affair with Peter Townsend, including a fascinating letter she wrote to Anthony Eden. There’s nothing on Anne or Andrew though, and poor old Edward never gets much of a mention, does he?
In the end, this is a programme that is distinctly short on massive revelations, due to the fact that it’s all been so well-covered. But it is an expertly-crafted documentary series, with just the right balance of archive footage, expert analysis and a delightful bunch of poshos being interviewed. Among those being quizzed are India Hicks, Lady Glenconner (whose book and appearance on the Graham Norton Show caused quite the ripple!) and former Palace spokesman Dicky Arbiter, whose name always makes me think of him as a sickly referee.
The best… and the rest:
Monday 20th January
999: What’s Your Emergency, 9pm, Channel 4: Series 10 of the show following the emergency services in Northamptonshire. The first episode looks at antisocial behaviour in town centres.
Tuesday 21st January
Midsomer Murders, 8pm, ITV: Delayed from last week. Is anyone actually left in Midsomer-land? Why do they choose to live there? What have two decades of ceaseless murders done to the house prices? Anyway, tonight, Ferrabees Circus comes to town, bringing with it exactly what the area didn’t need: More murder.
Chris Packham: 7.7 Billion People and Counting, 9pm, BBC Two: What is the impact of the massive population growth across the world? And in light of the prediction that the global population could hit 10 billion by 2050, what can be done to mitigate these effects? Those interviewed include one David Attenborough. No? Me neither. Some naturalist apparently. Done a bit of telly.
Wednesday 22nd January
Yorkshire Walks, 7:30pm, BBC Two: In this first of a new series, artist Shanaz Gulzar explores Wensleydale, finding signs of its industrial past, examining its heritage railway and, of course, doing some sketching.
Spy in the Wild 1/4, 9pm, BBC1: Camouflaged cameras go undercover to bring us unique, natural footage of animals in their own environment. Tonight, a gorilla family is shown at work (mostly TV blogging) and at play.
Thursday 23rd January
Travels in Euroland with Ed Balls 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: Following his excellent series Travels in Trumpland, the former Labour bigwig travels around Europe, once again examining why voters are abandoning the mainstream parties ands supporting populists. His journey starts in Holland and Spain.