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TV blog: The Windermere Children

Benjie Goodhart / 24 January 2020

Our TV blogger takes a look at The Windermere, The National Television Awards and the best of the rest...

The Windermere Children, Monday 27th January, 9pm, BBC Two

On this day 75 years ago, Soviet troops arrived at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau and uncovered a scene of horror unprecedented in all of human history. In recognition of this, since 2001 January 27th has been designated as Holocaust Memorial Day. To mark the occasion, BBC Two is showing this extraordinary and deeply moving feature-length drama, based on the true story of the Windermere children.

A philanthropist, Leonard Montefiore (played here by Tim McInnery), had secured permission from the British government to bring 1,000 Jewish children who had survived the concentration and labour camps to the UK, so that they might be rehabilitated. In the event, around 730 children were brought over – it's said that the figure of 1,000 could not be reached because finding children who had survived the Holocaust was so difficult.

In August 1945, a squadron of converted bombers picked up the first 300 children from Prague, and flew them to an RAF base near Carlisle. They were then placed on buses, and taken to their home for the next four months: factory workers’ accommodation a short distance from Lake Windermere.

The drama opens on one of the buses. As the children arrive, being bussed into a new camp, their reaction is, quite understandably, one of considerable apprehension. The feeling increases as they are made to line up for medical inspections, and to take off their clothes, which are to be burned on a bonfire. This is a scene too familiar, and with unthinkable connotations, for all of them.

Under the stewardship of German child psychologist Oscar Friedmann (a marvellous performance by Thomas Kretschmann), the children are given an opportunity to come back to life. Helping him are art therapist Marie Paneth (Romola Garai) and sports coach Jock Lawrence (Iain Glen).

The drama is both shattering and uplifting, highlighting both the best and worst aspects of human nature. It is in the small details that the real heartbreak comes. When Jock asks one of the boys his name, he replies with the concentration camp number tattooed on his arm. When the children are given bread at lunch, and all seize it and scatter to the winds to hide it. Most poignant of all are the scenes where Friedmann walks among the cabins while the children sleep. The silence of the Lake District night is punctuated constantly by the agonised screams of children suffering night terrors.

Simon Block’s sensitive script tells a difficult story with beautiful understatement, and the result is as powerful as one would hope. The film is book-ended by testimony from some of those children, now old men and women, as they look back with humbling gratitude at the nation that took them in. Seeing the Windermere children as they are today, standing with quiet dignity by the lake and looking back at their lives, is one of those rare moments in our fast-moving culture: unforgettable.

The National Television Awards, Tuesday 28th January, 7:30pm, ITV

Many people consider the National Television Awards to be the most significant ceremony in the whole vast panoply of TV awards, because they are voted for by the general public. As far as I am concerned, they are the least significant ceremony in the whole vast panoply of TV awards, because they are voted for by the general public.

I mean, really. The public are morons. That’s why crab sticks still exist, and why Love Island is all people talk about, and why people think it’s a good idea to drink tequila. Not you, of course, dear reader. You, like a fine wine, have achieved more depth as the years have passed. You have the wisdom, self-knowledge and clarity of thought that can only come with time. Your own tastes are, quite naturally, beyond reproach. After all, look at what you are reading right now…

Anyway, regardless of what I think of the NTAs, there’s always a great big hoo-hah surrounding them, and this year it’s going to be a bigger hoo-hah than ever. A HOO-HAH, if you will. That’s because it’s the 25th anniversary of the show which, due to some symmetrical pattern concerning our decimal numbering system, means this figure is given some random sense of significance. (You can tell, can’t you, that I’m a real romantic about wedding anniversaries).

This year the show will be hosted for the first time by David Walliams, live from the O2 Arena. This marks the tenth time the awards have been broadcast from the venue, which, due to some symmetrical pattern concerning our decimal numbering syst… [Get on with it – Ed]. And this year could see Ant and Dec make history, as they stand to win their 40th NTA, which, due to some symmetrical [I’m warning you – Ed]. They have also won the Best Presenter award for the last 18 ceremonies, meaning if they win this year and next, they will have won it 20-times in a row, which, due to some symm… [That's it, you’re fired – Ed].

Okay, so on to the awards themselves. The list doesn’t exactly ooze highbrow quality. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as keen on a Saturday night singing/dancing/falling over on ice show as the next man, but I’m also quite fond of a spot of grown-up telly from time to time. In these awards, there is no current affairs category, no news coverage award, no arts award, nothing for writing or directing. But there is an award for the best TV judge, and three different awards in the Soap category. (They call it Continuing Drama, but nobody’s fooled).

There is one category for factual programmes, but it is something of a travesty. In a year that has seen multiple remarkable documentaries, not least the many that we saw about Northern Ireland, and about the Holocaust, the best factual programmes up for the award are: Gordon, Gino and Fred: Road Trip; Jesy Nelson: ‘Odd One Out’; Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs; Gogglebox; and Ambulance. Reader, I am audibly sighing as I write this.

There are some programmes that I am desperate to see win. In any sane world, Chernobyl would absolutely walk the New Drama award, but this is anything but a sane world, as Chernobyl, ironically enough, showed us. I’d love The Graham Norton Show to win the entertainment prize – for a long-running chat show, it never rests on its laurels, and has been better than ever in the last 12 months. I’d like The Great British Bake Off to win the Challenge category, because, well, it’s Bake Off. And I will literally remove my own brain with a teaspoon if Good Morning Britain wins Best Live Magazine Show, feeding the insatiable ego of you-know-who.

Incidentally, if you want to vote, you can do so here: Votes must be in by midday on Tuesday. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 25th January

Match of the Day Live: Brentford v Leicester City, 12:15pm, BBC One: Gary Lineker presents coverage of this FA Cup 4th round match from Griffin Park. Brentford, having another strong Championship season, will not lack confidence against what is likely to be a second-string Leicester side. BBC One is also showing live coverage of Manchester City v Fulham and Shrewsbury v Liverpool tomorrow.

Sunday 26th January

Win the Wilderness, 9pm, BBC Two: This new series follows six British couples as they compete for the ownership of an extraordinary home in the Alaskan wilderness. They must impress the current home-owners in a series of survival and wilderness challenges, with couples potentially being eliminated each week.

Keeler, Profumo, Ward and Me, 10pm, BBC Two: One-off documentary from veteran journalist Tom Mangold, looking back at the fateful events of 1963 thanks to new evidence from audio tapes. Follows on from the last in the six-part drama series about the Profumo affair.

Wednesday 29th January

Farage: The Man Who Made Brexit, 9pm, Channel 4: Two days before we leave the EU (with or without the Big Ben bongs) a look back at five months in the life of Nigel Farage, including a general election campaign fraught with complications.

Auschwitz Untold: In Colour, 10:30pm, Channel 4: In what promises to be a challenging and important film, restored and colourised archive is accompanied by personal accounts voiced by Holocaust survivors.

Friday 31st January

The Last Leg: Countdown to Brexit, 10pm, Channel 4: Adam Hills, Josh Widdicombe and Alex Brooker are joined by a host of celebrity guests including Armando Iannucci, in a special extended episode, as The Last Leg counts down live on air to the historic moment that Britain leaves the EU.

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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.