TV blog: VE Day 75th Anniversary programming

Benjie Goodhart / 01 May 2020

Our TV blogger takes a look at VE Day 75th Anniversary programming, Isolation Stories and the best of the rest...



VE Day 75th Anniversary programming, all channels throughout the week

There has been a lot of martial language used to describe the current situation that we find ourselves in. We hear all about “the war on Coronavirus” and “fighting an invisible enemy”. Boris Johnson has talked of a second Battle of Britain, President Macron has repeatedly asserted “We are at war” and President Trump has even referred to himself as a wartime president. Mind you, he’s also referred to himself as a stable genius, so it’s just possible we shouldn’t listen to a word he says. Apart from his medical advice, of course – he’s great at that.

Anyway, with the papers all shouting about the Blitz spirit, and the military rhetoric building to a crescendo, this week’s 75th anniversary of VE Day comes as a welcome reminder of what war is really like, and of what our parents and their generation lived through 75 years ago. Because – and I may have my facts confused here, so do forgive me if I’m mistaken – to the best of my knowledge, World War II didn’t involve several months of staying home and watching Netflix on the sofa with a glass of Merlot.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not belittling the severity of this horrible virus, nor the profoundly unsettling nature of the way life has changed so abruptly and dramatically in recent weeks. Far from it. As someone who has struggled with anxiety of late, I understand how unpleasant all of this is. But we are not engaged in a global military conflict that will wipe out a generation of young men and could have seen the world fall under the pernicious grip of Nazism. We will get through this.

Friday 8th May will mark 75 years since the guns stopped firing across Europe. All of the broadcasters are marking the occasion, kicking off with Channel 5, who have tried to steal a march on their rivals by being first put of the blocks. VE Day: The Lost Films is on Saturday 2nd May at 8:30pm, and looks back at the raucous and uninhibited celebrations of that day using eyewitness accounts and old cine film shot by ordinary people. The films cover the party everywhere from central London to rural Yorkshire.

On a similar vein, the following night Channel 4 is showing VE Day in Colour: Britain’s Biggest Party (Sunday, 8pm) which also draws upon personal testimony and archive footage, but reflects, too, on how the moment was tinged with sadness at the large number of troops who would never be coming home.

From Monday to Thursday at 7pm, BBC Two is showing repeats of its four-part documentary series The Greatest Generation, which features the recollections of those who lived and/or fought in World War II, and who are now in their 90s or older. And speaking of older, on Thursday 7th May there is a tribute to a centenarian. Dame Vera Lynn: We’ll Meet Again is a revised repeat from the songstress’ 100th birthday in 2017, and sees Katie Derham meeting, and telling the story of, the forces’ sweetheart, while celebrity guests pay tribute.

Another centenarian is the focus of a documentary on Friday (8pm), when ITV shows Captain Tom’s War. Captain Tom Moore has become an undisputed national treasure after raising squillions for the NHS while walking round his garden. This documentary, screening the week after his 100th birthday, sees him looking back at his wartime experience in the ‘forgotten war’ of Burma.

Friday will see BBC One going large on VE Day, starting with The One Show at 7pm. Details of what they have planned are still sketchy, but they are marking the anniversary, probably sandwiching it between reports on the history of galoshes and something to do with the Spice Girls. VE Day 75: The People’s Celebration (8pm) will mix the recollections of the wartime generation with songs of the era performed by the likes of Katherine Jenkins and Shane Richie. At 9pm, there will be a national rendition of We’ll Meet Again, all the more poignant due to social distancing measures. Tissues at the ready! And at 9:10pm, VE Day: Remembering Victory is a repeat of the 2015 programme in which celebrities including David Attenborough, Michael Parkinson and Miriam Margolyes recall the war and VE Day.

Isolation Stories, Monday 4th – Thursday 7th May, 9pm, ITV

I have had nothing to watch for the column this week. Much of the stuff for VE Day is either a repeat or live TV, and this new drama anthology series is still being fine-tuned and edited as we speak, so there is nothing available to view. In an ordinary week, this can be quite handy. I can just waffle on about it without having to take the time to watch it, which means I’ve got an hour to get on with writing my terrible screenplay or walking the dog.

But, typically, just now I really want to have stuff to watch. The more TV I have to look at, the less time I am able to spend downstairs in what can only be described as a war zone. I know this blog started off with my criticising excessively militaristic analogies, but honestly, there is no other way of describing what is going on downstairs. My wife has parked her home education tanks firmly on the kitchen table, but my kids are resisting the informational siege with a burning rage that would almost make you proud. Sometimes I sit here in my office and feel the floor shake from the shouting. And yet… with nothing to watch, I really should go down there.

I’m also upset about there being nothing to watch because this looks like an absolutely fascinating and laudable televisual experiment. Isolation Stories is a series of four standalone dramas, each one just 15-minutes long. Produced by Oscar-nominated Jeff Pope, each one depicts life in lockdown, and all have been filmed in strict accordance with the rules. What this means, in practical terms, is that the cast are, generally, all family members, and they also take it in turns to do the filming, while being instructed remotely by a director watching from their own home.

The first, Mel, stars Sheridan Smith as (you guessed it) Mel. Mel is pretty fed up with her lot. She’s heavily pregnant and alone – the married father of her unborn child having elected to stay with his family. Her own family have shunned her. She might be the only person in the world (with the possible exception of Jeff Bezos) who is pleased about the lockdown. She doesn’t have to see anyone, and everyone else can now be as miserable as her.

The second episode, Ron and Russell, is written by Jeff Pope himself, and stars the father-and-son team of Robert and Tom Glenister. Ron (played by Robert) has the virus, and is confused. His son Russell (played by Tom, surprisingly enough) is isolating with him, and looking after him. Under these stressful circumstances, old wounds reopen, and Russell becomes increasingly frantic as he tries to help his dad through the illness.

The third instalment, Mike and Rochelle, stars the consistently brilliant Darren Boyd as Mike, a self-obsessed, narcissistic hypochondriac who is convinced this outbreak spells his imminent doom. In his time of need, he turns to friend and online therapist Rochelle (Angela Griffin) too help him through the crisis. But who is the shrink and who is the patient? (I don’t really know what that means, but that’s what the publicity material says, and it sounds intriguing…)

Finally, we have Karen, starring the excellent Eddie Marsan and his sons Blu and Bodhi, none of whom play someone called Karen. Karen, it seems, has left her husband (Marsan). But, during lockdown, Karen’s dad (played by David Threlfall) decides to cheer up his grandsons by walking past their house and fooling around in their garden to entertain them. His grandsons are delighted, but his son-in-law seems less enamoured of the daily visits.

This is ambitious, innovative and risky television. It might be absolutely execrable. But even if it is, I think the effort deserves praise, for simply trying to reflect what is happening to us all, while it is still going on. In years to come, I can guarantee you there will be squijillions of dramas about this period of time. But to watch one while it is actually happening is a remarkable opportunity.

Right, I can hear shouting downstairs. I really should go down there… Perhaps just one more YouTube video?

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 2nd May

The Queen and Charles: Mother and Son, 9:25pm, Channel 5: Another Saturday, another night of royal programming on Channel 5. Sigh. This one looks at the relationship of, and significant life moments for, the Queen and her heir.

Sunday 3rd May

Van der Valk, 8pm, ITV: The Dutch detective, played by Marc Warren, returns to investigate the murder of a woman with links to a wealthy philanthropist with an interest in global mysticism.

Stacey Dooley Investigates: The Whale Hunters, 9pm, BBC Two: Stacey goes on a commercial whale hunt aboard a Norwegian vessel, and meets the Faroe islanders who practice the ancient traditions of whaling, before hearing from those implacably opposed to hunting these creatures.

Monday 4th May

Mastermind: The Grand Final, 8pm, BBC Two: John Humphrys returns with six egg-headed brainboxes in an hour-long grand final of the interrogatory quiz format.

Horizon: The Great British Intelligence Test, 9pm, BBC Two: Mathematician Hannah Fry and doctor Michael Mosley assess the nation’s intelligence, aided by a team from Imperial College London.

Police: Hour of Duty 1/4, 9pm, Channel 5: This real-time documentary shows officers on duty between 9 and 10pm on one evening, as they deal with everything from a car driving into someone’s garden to an overdose and a mother attacked by her daughter.

Tuesday 5th May

The A Word 1/6, 9pm, BBC One: return of the drama about a family with an autistic son and chaotic, complicated lives. Starring Morven Christie, Lee Ingleby and Christopher Ecclestone.

Wednesday 6th May

NHS Heroes: Fighting to Save Our Lives, 9pm, Channel 4: NHS workers working tirelessly to keep us safe from Coronavirus tell their stories.




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