Review: The Big Painting Challenge, Sunday, March 29, 6pm, BBC One
This week, you’ll have to grant me the opportunity to be grossly self-indulgent. (“Only this week?” I hear you mutter...) Two of my friends appeared on the TV, both of them accomplishing such remarkable achievements it’s impossible not to be consumed by pride (oh, and envy, and hatred, and a smattering of rage).
First up was my friend of 12 years, Paul Bell, in The Big Painting Challenge. The six-part series reached its final week last Sunday, and the four remaining artists went to the Naval Training College in Dartmouth. In the opening challenge, they were asked to paint something inspired by the college itself. Paul painted a powerful evocation of loneliness with two cadets lying in their bunks. Richard produced an image from the point of view of a cadet in his bunk on a submarine. Amy painted a submarine floating in a sea of flags. And Claire painted, um, a white rectangle on a grey background.
It was her first ever abstract painting. “I’m slightly terrified they’re just going to say I’ve painted a rectangle,” she fretted. “Which is what I have done.” The judges were brutal. Poor Claire had a disastrous week. Her pencil sketch of cadets marching was criticised, and her final painting, of Dartmouth harbour, was only half finished. It’s a shame, as generally speaking, she was brilliant. But she is only 20. 20!! At 20, I was only interested in beer, football and smoked sausage. To be honest, not much has changed in the intervening decades.
In contrast to Claire, Paul played a blinder. The judges loved his bunk painting, praised his marching cadets, while his Dartmouth harbour finale was absolutely joyous. I want it. I might pop by The Tate (where it is currently exhibiting) and slip it under my jacket. I might also grab a couple of Monets while I’m there. You know, as a sort of pension plan...
There’s no question, in my supremely biased eyes, that the right man won. All four of the finalists were hugely talented (if I’m honest, in contrast to some of those in earlier rounds) but Paul was different gravy. I had a hunch he’d won. We went and stayed with them a few weeks ago, and whenever we asked him about it, he just smiled and poured us another drink. Mind you, that’s what Glaswegians do, so maybe I read too much into it.
I loved this series. I’ll remember it for some truly outstanding paintings, as well as the occasional shockingly bad one. I’ll remember judge Lachlan Goudie’s seemingly endless collection of brightly coloured trousers (this week he wore canary yellow ones with a turquoise sweater – I almost adjusted my set). I’ll remember what a brilliant and very cool lady Una Stubbs is. And, most of all, I’ll remember my friend struggling to control his emotions as he spoke about the pride his family will feel at his extraordinary, life-changing achievement. It’s not just your family, Paul. Way to go, pal.
Review: The Richard Dimbleby Lecture, Monday, March 30, 10:45pm, BBC Two
Part two of Benjie’s Great Name-Drop Challenge (it’s a new game I’ve invented, I’m pitching it to Channel 5) featured my old school friend Martha Lane Fox. Martha was giving the annual Richard Dimbleby Lecture, an honour which has previously been accorded to names including Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Prince Charles and Barry Chuckle (what would I do without you, Wikipedia?)
Now, I need to play this very carefully. I want to get Martha to retweet this blog (she has about a squillion followers on Twitter) but I know that she will never do it if I’m too nice about her. So I’ll say this. Martha is a visionary, who combines that vision with incredible industry and effortless charm. She is also a woman of unimpeachable morals, who genuinely cares about others. But, on the downside, the woman who made millions from the startup Lastminute.com has never once bought me a car, and has failed to acknowledge the part I played in her rise to success. (I distinctly remember taking her to one side at school, back in 1989, and saying “When something called the Internet comes along, why don’t you start a company selling cheap travel and accommodation?”) So there you have it. Light and dark.
Anyway, Martha’s 40-minute lecture, Dot.Everyone – The Power, Internet and You, was an electrifying call to action, as she laid out the reasons why this country needs to embrace the digital age and become the most connected, internet-savvy nation in the world.
I won’t attempt to recreate the lecture here – partly because I don’t have the space, and partly because I don’t look as good in a vivid pink trouser suit as Martha. But here are a few of the more salient points.
The Internet is brilliant. It turns out it’s not just good for reading self-indulgent TV blogs. It can revolutionise the way we do pretty much anything. For example, public services. At a time when money is at a premium and cuts are savage, if we embraced the internet for administrative ends, we would save countless billions. Literally. £6 billion, for example, on community nursing alone, according to academics. In the corporate sector, it is calculated that getting small businesses to embrace the digital age would be worth £18 billion to the economy.
So much of life now happens on the Internet. It is a tool for education, advice, for entertainment, for social contact. And yet 10 million adults in this country are not online – half of them over 65. This needs to be rectified. If you don’t know how to use the internet: 1. Find out how. And 2. How are you reading this?
There was also a rallying call for more women to get involved in the tech industry. Fascinatingly, Martha, who is a Baroness, pointed out that the fusty old House of Lords is 24 per cent women, while the egalitarian brave new world of tech industry has... um... 14 per cent women. It’s time to do better.
Her call, then, is for the government to set up an organisation, Dot Everyone, that will help lead Britain into a brighter, more connected future.
And here’s the thing: It will improve people’s lives. It is inclusive. It is educational. It makes life easier and more fun. It is morally the right thing to do. But it will also make the country richer. It’s like being paid to have fun. It’s the ultimate no-brainer. Martha Lane Fox's Dot Everyone e-petition is available on Change.org.
Preview: The Code of a Killer, Monday, April 6, 9pm, ITV
Disappointingly, I don’t know anyone in this two-part drama. I’m beginning to find TV that doesn’t feature close personal friends of mine frightfully dull.
Actually, that’s simply not true. This is a compelling look at the remarkable series of real life events that led to DNA Fingerprinting being discovered and implemented in criminal cases.
It’s 1980s Leicestershire. The cars are bad. Everyone smokes. Some of the fashion on display is a crime. (Insert your own “It’s much like 2015 Leicestershire” joke here, I would never be so cheap). Alec Jeffreys (John Simm) is a geneticist working at Leicester University, attempting to map people’s DNA profiles. He’s married to his work. Unfortunately, he’s also married to his wife, and she’s getting a bit fed up with his constant late nights.;
Then, one day, Lynda Mann, a 15-year-old local girl, is raped and murdered. The police, led by Detective Chief Superintendent David Baker (David Threlfall), move in. But no breakthrough is forthcoming, either in the case or in Alec’s lab.
Then, on September 10, 1984, at 9:05am, Alec Jeffreys has his Eureka moment. He realises that every single person has their own unique DNA fingerprint, in every cell in their body. And he knows how to map it.
That, though, is just the start of it. Jeffrey’s scientific genius, combined with Baker’s dogged determination and vision, go on to literally change the face of modern history. The scene where the two of them discuss whether Jeffreys’ techniques could be extrapolated for use in criminal cases is remarkable, because you are aware that you are watching the course of history being altered right there, in that moment.
Of course Simm and Threlfall are outstanding, because, well, they’re Simm and Threlfall. But it is the facts that are the real stars of the show. The story of how two men changed everything. Why don’t we all know about Alec Jeffreys? Why isn’t he on our stamps? Why don’t we have posters of him on our walls? Why, most importantly, isn’t he my friend?
Finally, if I could remove one line of dialogue from anything this year, it would be this absolute clunker, delivered by Jeffreys’ assistant, “I’m going to see... The Smiths. It’s a new band from Manchester.” Sound the exposition klaxon!!!
Preview: The Island with Bear Grylls, Wednesday 8th April, 9pm, Channel 4
Do you know what we need more of on TV? Apart from crime dramas, cookery shows, celebrity travelogues and Top Gear reruns? Bear Grylls. We need more Bear. There was a week recently where he wasn’t on TV at all. It was a disgrace.
He’s just finished tormenting celebrities in the Costa Rican jungle in ITV’s Mission Survive (guess what? They all did!) and now he’s back again, this time tormenting normal people on Pacific Islands.
I should clarify – that doesn’t mean he’s going round Fiji putting itching powder in jockstraps and such like. Instead, he’s taking two groups of 14 Brits out to separate deserted islands and leaving them there to either survive, call for rescue, or kill and eat each other. To add spice to proceedings, and as a fascinating social experiment, the groups are divided along the lines of which soap opera they watch. Oh, and also gender. The men are all on one island, the women on another.
Tonight’s episode is given over to the men (the women are on tomorrow). They are there for six weeks. They’ve been given water for one day. Not that it seems to matter, as it barely stops raining there at this time of year. They also have basic medical supplies, simple tools, and some rudimentary survival training. What they don’t have is Bear Grylls, who pops up from whichever luxury hotel he’s in to do a piece every now and again, presumably with his pina colada and personal masseuse slightly out of shot.
The men land on the island and immediately fall out. They then continue to fall out pretty much throughout the entirety of the first episode.
It doesn’t help that none of them are getting any sleep, it never seems to stop raining, they are cold, wet, hungry, thirsty and exhausted. Spirits improve at one stage when they see some whales out to sea. Give it a week, they’ll be swimming out there with sharp sticks to skewer the giant blubbery things.
The exhaustion seems to be hitting builder Andy particularly hard. “I don’t know what day it is,” he says to camera. Well, you can understand, time probably stands still after you’ve been there for lo... “...Day two or day three.” Eh? You’ve lost track of days after one or two days???
To be fair, Andy isn’t coping. Nor is he getting on very well with anyone. Unfortunately, nor is Paul. This is a problem, as he is the other builder. Five days in, and they both decide to leave. Why couldn’t it have been someone else, like the young graphic designer? Oh, he wants to leave as well.
Frankly, I can’t blame them. It looks utterly hellish. I’d hate it, too. But then I didn’t apply to go on the ruddy show. That said, I’m more than happy to watch it. There’s nothing like observing other people suffer to make you appreciate what you’ve got.
Tomorrow, it’s the turn of the women. The benchmark has not been set high.