TV review - Pride of Britain Awards

Benjie Goodhart / 24 September 2015

A look at this week's top television highlights including Cider with Rosie and The Kennedys plus the lowdown on what many think is the best show ever.

Cider with Rosie, Sunday 27th September, 8:30pm, BBC One

I’ve not written anything so far about BBC One’s season of classic 20th century literature, largely in objection to the fact that neither Hollywood Wives nor Riders made the cut. Disgraceful! But Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee’s gorgeously evocative coming-of-age novel, is a book for which I have no little affection, so I crumbled.
The thing about watching an adaptation of a book you have enjoyed is you either love it or hate it. Reader, I am pleased to announce that I fall very firmly into the former camp. This is stunningly well-executed, capturing all the lyrical beauty and the almost intolerable joy and heartbreak of Lee’s prose.  

The tale is set in the Cotswolds, just over a century ago, which is to say that it’s identical to the Cotswolds today, except poverty, hardship and death are there in place of Ocado vans and tourists from Alabama. It tells the story of Lee’s childhood, growing with six siblings in a house filled with love by his saintly mother (wonderfully played by Samantha Morton). The story flits between Lee in his first and last years at school, the most formative of his young life. It is a world of joy and wonderment, with the young Laurie (Loll) alive to the beauty of the countryside, and to the preciousness of youth. A world where “it seemed like no disasters could happen. That nothing could ever touch us.” Hmmm. That can only ever mean one thing in a drama: Lady Luck is about to take an overseas holiday. And so it proves. The story is replete with sorrow, even if the overall tone is one of optimism and the burgeoning excitement of youth.

The cast, including June Whitfield, Annette Crosbie, Jessica Hynes and some adorable performances by the younger cast, is uniformly excellent, but the show is stolen (twas ever thus) by Timothy Spall, who narrates Lee’s rich prose with complete authenticity. 

This is a show about the passage of time, with its attendant joy and tragedy. It is pitch-perfect in every respect, and is filled with trees heavy with blossom, golden summer evenings, honey-coloured Cotswold stone, and the most delicious ingredient of all – Lee’s writing. Gently spectacular.

All Star Mr and Mrs, Wednesday 30th September, 8pm, ITV

1980s ahoy. I can only assume I’ve somehow travelled back in time, watching a show that was last in fashion fully 30 years ago. With its overly glitzy set, its cheesy music and a concept so ancient it needs carbon dating, the show could only be more 80s if it was wearing shoulder pads and hair lacquer and singing a soft rock power ballad. At first I assumed it was a one-off special to mark ITV’s ongoing 60th anniversary celebrations – but it turns out to be an eight-part series.

It’s a light entertainment show on ITV, so obviously Philip Schofield is presenting. I suspect the man never sleeps, and that if you strip away his skin, you’ll find a super-robot with sophisticated algorythyms allowing him to crack dad-jokes and tilt his head sympathetically at the appropriate moment. I like him, mind. You can’t not like Pip. You’d have to have a heart of pure evil not to be won over by the silver fox. 

Events get off to a confusing start when he bounds on to the set while the voiceover announces: “He’s the love DJ, ready to mix it up: It’s Philip Schofield.” I found myself mulling over what clever double-meaning this statement must have had. Then I felt myself looking even for a single meaning. But there’s nothing. Zilch. Nada. It simply means absolutely nothing at all.

Anyway, the show features three celebrity couples answering questions revealing how well they know each other. They are Actor Jimi Mistry and wife and Strictly star Flavia; Martina Navratilova and her partner Pam Shriver. Sorry, force of habit – her wife Julia. And Good Morning Britain presenter Sean Fletcher and his wife Luned. Yes, Luned. That is not a typo.

When each couple is introduced, we are treated to a sickeningly saccharine video clip in which they discuss how much they weally weally wuv each other, and they keep kissing, like they’re at a school disco and have had too much White Lightning extra strong cider. I’d love an honest video: “I married him because I didn’t want to die alone. He sickens me with his crusty socks and his pants all over the floor.”Anyway, there it is. Like a lot of the 80s, it’s bizarre, over-the-top, occasionally confusing, and, in an inexplicable way, quite fun. 

Pride of Britain Awards 2015, Thursday 1st October, 8pm, ITV

Oh Lordy. Tissues at the ready, gang. If there is one programme guaranteed to have you so hysterically lachrymose that you’re in danger of succumbing to dehydration, it’s this annual recognition of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. On the other hand, if the refugee crisis, war, man’s inhumanity to man, hunger, global warming, poverty and the rapidly approaching end of Downton Abbey have you despairing about the future, you could do worse than watch this to be reminded of the exceptional power and fundamental decency of the human condition.

The awards, presented by Carol Vorderman, celebrate acts of outstanding bravery or selflessness. Last year, for example, a young boy saved his mother and baby brother from a vicious dog attack by making himself the target. A young girl also saved her baby sister from an attacker and put herself in the way of his blows. I consider the day to have been a success if I have prevented by kids from throwing each other’s toys down the loo.

Other awards include teacher of the year. Last year, this award didn’t go to someone whose history set got much improved grades at GCSE, but a man who gave one of his pupils his kidney. Other awards went to people whose fundraising, campaigning or research had saved thousands of lives, and a woman who had personally fostered over 1200 kids in four decades.. And there was a posthumous award for the remarkable Stephen Sutton, the teenager who raised millions of pounds through his Facebook page and inspired a nation with his extraordinarily positive and courageous attitude to his impending death. 

A few of this year’s awards have been announced, including a couple who have campaigned to raise awareness of paediatric first aid after their baby died at nursery; a couple whose son became the youngest ever organ donor in history; and an eight-year-old boy with cerebral palsy who has raises money by competing in triathlons. Mystifyingly, there doesn’t yet seem to be an award for people who have written blogs about telly. 

The Kennedys, Friday 2nd October, 9:30pm, BBC One

If Mr and Mrs transports you instantly back to the 80s, then this new sitcom from BBC One is so redolent of the 1970s you can almost smell the pot pourri and feel the kaftans. Luckily, that’s more intentional in this case, as the show is set in 1970s Stevenage. It is based on the memoirs of actress and presenter Emma Kennedy, and centres around her childhood and family life. Any similarity to the BBC’s other new sitcom, Cradle to Grave, set in the 1970s and based on presenter Danny Baker’s memoirs, and centring around his childhood and family life, is purely coincidental. It’s like waiting for buses – you wait for ages and then two turn up at once, 40 years late, and sporting wing collars and large sideburns. (Actually, that’s not much like waiting for a bus, is it?)

Just as with Cradle to Grave, the prevailing feeling is of wry affection for a bygone era, and the characters are lovingly drawn, imperfections and all. The three main protagonists – enthusiastic and naïve youngster Emma (Lucy Hutchinson) and her parents, the kindly but social-climbing Brenda (Katherine Parkinson) and the long-suffering, dutiful Tony (Dan Skinner) are all beautifully realised.

The plot for the first episode is based around Brenda’s brainwave, to become the first family in Jessop Square to have a dinner party. She wants to cook (or rather wants Tony to cook) something truly exotic Lasagne. “But that’s pasta,” reasons Tony. “And not in a tin! Madness.” It’s a good joke, and a worthwhile reminder of how the world has changed in the last 40 years. The past is indeed a foreign country – though certainly not Italy, where the pasta is plentiful, and does not come shaped like a hoop, in a sealed can, in sugary tomato sauce. The sub-plot revolves around the neighbours, and feels a bit like it belongs in a Carry On Film (extramarital affair with a busty blonde, cartoonish sex, slapstick) but I suspect this is an intentional sop to the 1970s. And, to cement the period theme, the dinner party itself, complete with pineapple and cheese hedgehog and German wine, is the worst since Abigail’s Party. At least, at this one, nobody insists on putting on Demis Roussos. 

Fawlty Towers

In May 1970, the Monty Python team stayed at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay. Whilst there, John Cleese became fascinated by the owner, Donald Sinclair, who he described as “the rudest man I have ever come across in my life.” Singularly ill-suited to a career in hospitality, Sinclair’s foibles included throwing a bus timetable at a guest who asked when the next bus to town would leave; placing Eric Idle’s briefcase behind a wall in case it contained a bomb (in spite of the fact that Idle was standing next to it); and berating Terry Gilliam’s ‘un-British’ table manners for switching his fork between hands while eating.

Cleese and wife Connie Booth stayed at the hotel after the others left, and studied Sinclair. The result was arguably the greatest TV show ever made. Certainly the BFI’s poll of industry professionals, in 2000, named it as the best British show of all time.

As with all tales of phenomenal success, there is a story of the man who turned it down. BBC exec Jimmy Gilbert rejected it, saying “This is full of clichéd situations and stereotypical characters, and I cannot see it as being anything other than a disaster.” Hmm.

If you’ve been living in a remote corner of the planet Zog, with no TV reception and nobody to speak to for the last 40 years, Fawlty Towers is the story of a nondescript Torquay hotel run by an eccentric husband-and-wife team (him: downtrodden and furious at the world; her: overbearing and bossy), their chambermaid Polly, and a hapless Spanish waiter, Manuel. But I’m willing to wager not a single person reading this will be unaware of all this, such is the show’s justifiably legendary status. Famously, only twelve episodes were ever made (two series of six episodes), but they were filled with enough comic brilliance to sustain audiences for decades to come: the shows have been repeated regularly by the BBC ever since. And who can blame them.

Fawlty Towers is available on Netflix, Amazon Instant and Google Play. A DVD is available from Amazon for £9.99.

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