One World: Together at Home, Sunday 19th April, 7:45pm, BBC One
How’s your lockdown going? It turns out that I’m rather good at spending night after night not seeing people, sitting on my sofa drinking wine and watching box sets. In many respects this is the crisis I have spent the last several decades preparing for.
I have finally got round to watching all five series of Last Tango in Halifax – and what a delight that turned out to be. It’s on iPlayer, in its entirety. As is the quite magnificent, wry and big-hearted The Detectorists. If you’ve not seen either, treat yourself. Last night, I also introduced my 12-year-old son to the superb film The Shawshank Redemption. It was a delight to watch him engage with a film that featured neither superheroes nor spaceships.
It’s fair to say that much time in our household has been spent watching box sets and films, and rather less watching actual TV as it is transmitting. My wife and I occasionally tune into the news of an evening, which often as not finds us sitting there hours later, rigidly staring at the screen, our knuckles whitening around the stems of our glasses. We have decided to limit our news intake accordingly. I would recommend it.
But every now and again it’s good to have a reminder that we are all in this together, and this remarkable project should afford us just such an opportunity. According to the organisers, this is “a global broadcast and digital special to support frontline healthcare workers and the WHO.”
The Who? Heavens above, why? Has Roger Daltry got COVID-19?
Oh, hold on. The World Health Organisation. Sorry. For those in doubt, the World Health Organisation is the single most important body in humanity’s fight against COVID-19. Sadly, ‘those in doubt’ include Donald Trump, who has decided this would be an appropriate moment to play politics and stop US financial contributions to the WHO. I told you watching the news was a bad idea.
Anyway, this event is raising money for the WHO’s efforts to supply frontline healthcare workers with protective equipment, and for charities providing food and shelter to those in need. But just as important as raising money, it aims to raise spirits as well, a reminder that humanity is capable of great things when we pull together.
This is a concert – but not like any we’ve seen before. Instead of a huge stadium filled with adoring fans, the action will take place inside the performers’ homes. Sir Elton John might be used to performing in huge venues, vast, cavernous spaces capable of hosting tens of thousands at a time. So performing in his dining room won’t represent much of a change. And what an exciting opportunity to see inside a few celebrity homes. The only thing better than snooping round someone’s house is snooping around someone famous’ house.
And famous doesn’t even begin to cover it in this case. The list of those taking part is endless. Honestly, it looks as though the event itself will go on longer than the coronavirus. Many of them, of course, will be unfamiliar names. There is someone, for example, who goes by the rather unfortunate moniker Milky Chance. But on more familiar territory, there will be appearances from Stevie Wonder, Annie Lennox, Michael Buble, Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney, Celine Dion, David Beckham, Lewis Hamilton, Idris Elba, Oprah Winfrey and Samuel L Jackson.
Details of what they will all be doing remain sketchy, though presumably David Beckham will not be singing, on the basis that humanity is suffering enough. What we do know is that the event itself takes place live at 8pm New York Time on Saturday (so actually 1am on Sunday over here). If you want to watch it, you can find it streaming live on Facebook, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video. But it might be better to catch the 90-minute highlights programme on Sunday evening on BBC One, which will involve less insomnia and fewer bits where you have to watch someone called Milky Chance do whatever he or she does.
Our Queen at War, Wednesday 22nd April, 9pm, ITV
There has been a lot of talk about the Second World War recently. People have been invoking the spirit of the Blitz in the fight against this ruddy virus. The Queen herself, in her rather splendid recent address, made comment that this generation was showing the same fortitude that previous ones had displayed in times of crisis. I think it’s safe to say she wasn’t referring to the great fashion crisis of the 1980s with its attendant bouffant hair and shoulder pads.
But few of us alive today actually had first-hand experience of the war, and among that distinguished group is our Head of State herself. This one-off documentary looks at the Queen’s wartime experiences, and how they shaped her.
In the first three days of the war, over 1.5 million children, pregnant women and the infirm were evacuated from cities. That is a jaw-dropping statistic, a simply astounding logistical undertaking. Children were taken from the bosom of their families and moved to live with strangers. It must have been heart-rending. That said, after a month of isolation with me, my kids would quite happily take the evacuation option if it was offered to them right now.
The Queen and Princess Margaret were moved to Birkhall, on the Balmoral Estate (where, 80 years later, Prince Charles and Camilla would self-isolate during COVID-19). Here, the Queen lived cheek-by-jowl with children evacuated from Glasgow. Well, cheek and jowl were probably separated by several walls, but they were at least in the same postcode.
Next up, we have the recollections of the redoubtable Lady Anne Glenconner, whose recent revelations about her husband’s, ah, eccentric approach to married life proved quite the hit on Graham Norton. Here, she outlines her wartime plot to kill Hitler. It consisted of her feeding him a drink of revolting stuff she kept in a jar. It’s fair to say, it wasn’t the von Stauffenberg plot.
The government was advising the King and Queen to send Elizabeth and Margaret abroad, but the Queen famously replied: “They won’t go without me, I won’t go without the King, and the King won’t leave.” When Buckingham Palace was bombed, the Queen was said to have remarked that now she felt she could look the East End in the face.
It wasn’t all bad, though. On a trip to Dartmouth Naval College, Elizabeth was drawn to a tall, blonde cadet five years her senior. Luckily, he happened to be Prince Philip of Greece, which is always handy when you’re a royal yourself. He entertained Elizabeth and Margaret by taking them to jump over a tennis net, before suggesting a game of croquet. It’s fair to say dating techniques have changed a little since then.
For the rest of the war, Elizabeth kept a photo of a bearded Prince Philip on her mantelpiece, looking for all the world like a cross between a young Captain Birdseye and a Hoxton hipster. The documentary charts the future Queen’s progress through the war, including her radio address to evacuees, her pantomime turn as Aladdin, and how her 16th birthday was marked by her becoming Colonel-in-Chief of the Grenadier Guards. All I got was a denim jacket. As the war drew to a close, the Princess joined the ATS, and learned how to drive a truck, a skill which has doubtless proved no use whatsoever throughout the rest of her reign. Finally, the programme charts the “most exciting night of her life,” VE Day, when the princess was allowed out to mingle with the jubilant crowds in London.
This is not a documentary long on revelation. If you’re hoping to tune in and discover that our monarch spent the war careering about in occupied France with a knife between her teeth, you’ll be disappointed. There’s nothing here we didn’t know already. But it is a meticulously crafted retelling of a familiar story, featuring extensive archive footage and expert testimony. And, ultimately it is a tale from which we can all draw inspiration in these trying times.
The best… and the rest:
Sunday 19th April
Stacey Dooley Investigates, 9pm, BBC Two: Our Stace visits a US Women’s prison that takes a radically progressive approach to even the most hardened criminals.
Killing Eve 1/8, 9:15pm, BBC One: Return of the archly-comic spy drama. Eve (Sandra Oh) attempts to rebuild her life after being shot and left for dead in Rome. Villanelle (the brilliant Jodie Comer) is approached by an old foe with an offer.
Monday 20th April
University Challenge, 8:30pm, BBC Two: After 36 shows, we reach the final of the series, an earlier episode of which saw my niece knocked out by Corpus Christie and its human Google, Ian Wang. Tonight, Wang comes up against Imperial College London with its own talismanic brainbox, Brandon Blackwell.
A Mother’s Son, 9pm, ITV: This two-part drama (concluding tomorrow) sees Hermione Norris play Rosie, a beleaguered mother who finds bloodstained trainers in her home after a local girl is murdered. Could her son or stepson be responsible? Paul McGann and Martin Clunes co-star.
Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins for Stand Up to Cancer, 9pm, Channel 4: A bunch of foolhardy slebs put themselves in the none-too-tender hands of Ant Middleton and his fellow sadists as they discover what it’s like to train for the SAS. Those in the firing line include Anthea Turner, John Fashanu, Helen Skelton and Brendon Cole.
Tuesday 21st April
Life and Birth 1/6, 8pm, BBC One: Cameras filming in three Birmingham maternity hospitals follow the action as new lives come into the world.
A Very British Lockdown: Diaries from the Frontline, 8pm, ITV: Documentary examining what goes on behind closed doors up-and-down the country. In our house, it’s largely video games, occasionally interrupted by me shouting “Read a ruddy book!”
Wednesday 22nd April
The Great British Sewing Bee 1/10, 9pm, BBC One: Joe Lycett returns with twelve new amateur sewers hoping to be named the nation’s finest. Sounds deathly to me, but the wife adores it.
Can Science Beat the Virus, 9pm, Channel 4: Scientists, as opposed to politicians, discuss our future direction and what should happen next.
Thursday 23rd April
The Big Night In, 7pm, BBC One: Much like One World: Together at Home, this is a coming together of celebrities, under the banner of Comic Relief and Children In Need, to raise both money and morale in these distinctly tricky times. The show promises a mixture of sketches, music and chat, with presenters including Lenny Henry, Zoe Ball, Matt Baker and Davina McCall.
Friday 24th April
Hubble: The Wonders of Space Revealed, 9pm, BBC Two: April 1990 saw the launch of one of the most productive scientific instruments in history. In the last 30 years, the telescope has taken over 1.5 million observations of the Universe. This documentary tells the story of this remarkable piece of kit.