TV blog: Five Star Babies

Benjie Goodhart / 07 April 2016

The UK’s most famous private maternity hospital opens its doors to TV cameras, plus a second look at How to Stay Young and the best of the rest on TV.

Five Star Babies: Inside the Portland Hospital, Wednesday 13th April, 9pm, BBC Two

Childbirth. It’s hard work, and no mistake. Our first child took 36 hours to arrive. It was a shatteringly exhausting process, not to mention a feat of quite extraordinary human stamina and determination. My wife found it quite tough as well.

If only we’d gone to the Portland. The Portland Hospital, the subject of this illuminating two-part documentary series, is the UK’s only private maternity hospital, playing host to the likes of the Duchess of York and Victoria Beckham. It looks lovely. It’s like a posh hotel, where you check in, spend a few days lying around on Egyptian cotton sheets ordering room service, and then when you check out, they give you a baby.

And a bill. Quite a large bill, actually. You won’t get any change from £10,000, although guests have been known to clock up tabs as high as £500,000. I’d want a pretty good return for £500,000. Maybe a genius baby, or one that could change its own nappy. Or triplets. No, hang on, not triplets.

Any hospital that employs a “hotel services manager” is alright by me. “Not every hospital stocks Dom Perignon,” boasts said manager. Nah. They waste it all on things like medicine. Mind you, meds don’t come cheap. At the Portland, it costs a grand to have an epidural! At this stage, I’d be whispering to my wife about the beauty of natural childbirth, the nobility of the pain. I mean, I could get 250 pints for that!

Okay, I know, I’m the least sympathetic husband in the world. Actually, perhaps the second least, behind the man in this film who orders chicken biryani and a lemon cheesecake from room service while his wife is in labour. Sometimes at night I still wake up screaming, remembering the look my wife gave me when I finally cracked and had to eat a sandwich 14 hours into her labour.

This is an involving and wry look at how the other half live. When I say half, I mean, the other 0.0001%. We meet the usual roster of characters – everyone from cleaners to consultants (including one who’s a Countess. She’s a consultant, obviously. Countesses don’t clean, do they?) On the NHS, a consultant will look after 30 labouring patients at once. Here, the care is one-to-one. Mind you, the births are more complicated here – those silver spoons keep getting in the way. And, of course, we meet the families (including a couple whose bedroom at home is adorned with posters of the scantily clad wife).

It’s like an episode of One Born Every Minute, filmed at the Dorchester. We get to see the miracle of childbirth. Pinky-bluey-grey little mealy-worms covered in gunk, coming out spluttering and howling. The miracle, I suppose, being that anyone ever does it more than once. Or, in the case of the Portland, that anyone can afford to.

How to Stay Young, Thursday 14th April, 9pm, BBC One

I don’t normally preview a programme more than once in a series, but I’m drawn back to this one because last week’s was both entertaining and informative, and because I am fascinated by Angela Rippon. She read the news when I was a kid, and yet she doesn’t seem to have aged a day. What’s her secret? She’s either taken remarkably good care of herself or made some terrible pact with the devil, whereby in the afterlife she’ll be forced to read the news at midnight on Channel 5 for all eternity.

Last week’s programme dealt with how to keep the body healthy. This week looks at how to do the same for the brain. By the age of 70, the average person has lost a fifth of their brain capacity. Angela goes for a scan. Unsurprisingly, she has the brain of a person thirty years younger. (And not even a really thick person thirty years younger).

Related: Read Benjie's review of last week's episode of How to Stay Young

But why do some brains age faster than others? As ever, it is probably a mixture of genetics and lifestyle, but studies these days are indicating lifestyle is a far more significant factor than we’d previously thought. Your genes, it seems, account for only 25% of what happens to your brain. The rest is up to you.

So what should you do? Well, exercise is key. Ruddy exercise, it’s always key. Why is it never about cake? Fellow presenter Dr Chris Van Tulleken travels to Okinawa, which has the highest life expectancy on the planet. As well as a healthy, outdoor culture, one of the key reasons for this is that purple sweet potatoes form such a significant part of the diet here. On average, people eat half-a-kilo of it every day! This food is rich in anthocyanins, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you. Anthocyanins are good for the brain. And if you don’t have vast swathes of purple sweet potatoes in your veg patch or your local supermarket, fear not. Blackcurrants, blueberries, blackberries, red cabbage and aubergines are also rich in anthocyanins.

The brain also needs to be kept active. Unfortunately, that doesn’t just mean sitting watching endless amounts of telly (I am doomed!) but learning new skills. A new language. A life drawing class. Table tennis. Intriguingly, new research indicates that a good education and enriched early life experience helps fight dementia too. 

The best (and worst) of the rest

Saturday 9th April

The Grand National Live, Channel 4, 2pm: Enormous horses supporting tiny people run twice around a vast circuit watched by people in exotic hats, while the nation kindly donates money to impoverished bookmakers.

Britain’s Got Talent, ITV, 7pm: The competition for who can wear the most plunging neckline resumes between Amanda Holden, Alicia Dixon and Simon Cowell. Meanwhile, the deluded, the bizarre and the genuinely talented all perform, and the nation falls in love with a dog. Hurrah!

Sunday 10th April

Hidden Britain by Drone, Channel 4, 8pm: Flying cameras access hitherto secret areas, such as the estates of billionaires, or secret military strongholds. Manna from heaven for snoopers and enemies of the state.

Monday 11th April

Fifteen to One, Channel 4, 2:10pm: People stand in a circle answering general knowledge questions and nominating each other with increasing vitriol, until an accountant from Birkenhead punches a plumber from Ascot and all hell breaks loose. Sandi Toksvig referees.

Tuesday 12th April

River Monsters, ITV, 7:30pm: “Fishing detective” (he’s basically just a fisherman) Jeremy Wade travels to Southeast Asia in search of a river beast that has sliced clean through the unmentionables of an unfortunate local. Cue an excess of hyperbole and dramatic music of a chap, um, fishing.

The Yorkshire Vet, Channel 5, 8pm: Documentary series looking at the real life James Herriot. Um, except James Herriot was the real life James Herriot. Anyway, a look at the life of men who wash their hands very thoroughly before sitting down to their dinner.

Wednesday 13th April

Match of the Day Live, BBC One, 7pm: West Ham United take on Manchester United in the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup, with the winners set to face Everton in the semi-final. Come on United (though I’m not saying which one).

Horizon, BBC Two, 8pm: A look ahead to the end of the solar system, when an expanding, dying sun will consume our planet, extinguishing all life. Quick, pack in those experiences, people, we’ve only got 8 billion years to go!

Tonight at the London Palladium, ITV, 8pm: You know what to expect. We’ve been watching these programmes since the 1950s. Bradley Walsh hosts.

Scott and Bailey, ITV, 9pm: The brilliant detective series, starring Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones, returns for a three-part series, all dedicated to a single case. I’m guessing it won’t be a woman who shoplifted a can of beans and a coke from Aldi.

Thursday 14th April

Jungle Animal Hospital: Natural World, BBC Two, 8pm: A look at how exotic animals are cared for in Guatemala, many of them orphaned by the illegal pet trade.

Paul O’Grady’s Animal Orphans, ITV, 9pm: A look at how exotic animals are cared for in Malaysia, many of them orphaned by the illegal pet trade.

Friday 15th April

The Food Detectives, BBC Two, 7:30pm: Medical Professor Alice Roberts, journalist Sean Fletcher and shrinking chef Tom Kerridge set out to improve what we eat and how we eat it. Invaluable tips aplenty.

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