TV blog: How to Blow Your Pension and other highlights

Benjie Goodhart / 09 January 2015

TV blogger Benjie Goodhart on the best of this week's television.

Preview: How to Blow Your Pension - Channel 4 Dispatches, Monday 12th January, 8pm, Channel 4

I’m not one of life’s economists. I handle my finances with all the aplomb of a fish trying to play ping pong in the desert. I did economics A-level, and it’s not inflating the truth to say my interest rate was very low. I hated it, except for the fact that we used to hide our poor teacher’s briefcase. That was fun. Perhaps if we’d spent less time tormenting the poor man, I’d have more of a clue. Suffice to say, me attempting a cogent preview of a programme about pensions is like Katie Price passing comment on a documentary about Wittgenstein. Still, nothing ventured...

As you’ll no doubt be aware, come April, anyone over 55 will be able to take as much as they want out of their private pensions. This, in theory, is a good thing, as it will give people greater flexibility and choice. But is it that simple? Michael Buerk investigates the considerable repercussions this legislation entails.

First, he meets people who are planning to take their pensions and blow the lot on holidays, cars, new kitchens and the like. Now, I’m no expert, as I believe we’ve established, but I would suggest that this is not a good idea unless you have plenty of money saved elsewhere. Or are happy to live in a dumpster and eat cold beans for much of your 70s. Yet 50 per cent of those surveyed say they will take out some or all of their pension money when the opportunity presents itself.

Of course, not everyone wants to withdraw their money to blow it on fripperies. Some want to reinvest it. Which is fine, if you do it wisely. But as Burke discovers, there are plenty of sharks out there circling, targeting newly cash-rich pensioners with schemes that do not stand up to any scrutiny. The lesson here, then, is choose your investments carefully. If it looks too good to be true, that’s probably because it’s run by a man with tights over his face carrying a bag with ‘swag’ written on it.

Then there’s a bit about annuities. I could explain it, but I don’t want to ruin the whole programme for you. This is by no means indicative of any lack of understanding on my part of what an annuity actually is. Got that?

In short, the lessons from this are simple. Look after your money. Be careful. Be sensible. Read all Saga's sound advice on this esteemed website. And don’t ever take financial advice from people who hid their teacher’s briefcase during economics lessons.

Review: Billionaire’s Paradise: Inside Necker Island, Tuesday 6th January, 9pm, BBC Two

One thing you could do with your pension, as Michael Buerk conspicuously failed to discuss in his programme, is take a holiday to Necker Island. Of course, you’d blow your entire life’s savings in about ten minutes there – but what a ten minutes.

Necker Island, for those of you who aren’t professional footballers, rock stars, hedge fund managers and Hollywood icons (you abject failures) is Richard Branson’s private Caribbean island which he’s turned into the world’s most luxury resort. The whole island accommodates only 30 guests, though there is a staff of 100 attending to your every need. And once you’re there, everything is free. It’s like an all-inclusive holiday I once went on, except it’s not in a hotel constructed almost exclusively of MDF and strip lighting, and the vodka isn’t made in Venezuela.

If you like, you can hire the whole island for a week, if you don’t mind shelling out the £280k. Just imagine! Your sleeping time would cost you £90 grand.

The programme followed the guests and staff, as well as featuring quite a bit of Richard Branson, who pretty much lives on the island. He appears to make a habit of attending parties and dinners with the guests, which is either utterly charming or slightly presumptuous, I can’t decide which. He admits that people have been known to book a holiday on Necker just for a chance to pitch to him. Imagine if he was away on business!

Necker is certainly a place of beauty – a fact which extended to the staff, who were uniformly bronzed, single, athletic 20-somethings. Including Branson’s two personal assistants. Where did it all go wrong, Rich?

All of the staff trotted out the same lines about it being a brilliant place to live and work. Normally, you’d think they were just toeing the party line. But here, it was pretty tough to argue with. There was a moment of controversy when one of the watersports team described Necker as “The sickest place in the world to work.” But it turns out that’s a good thing.

There was a fire on Necker a few years ago, and Branson’s mother had to be rescued. “Kate carried my mum out,” he remarked. That’s Kate Winslet to you. In the kerfuffle, Richard ran, stark naked, he says, “into a cacti”. Good. You may live in paradise, surrounded by beauty, Richard. But I know cacti is a plural, so who’s the real winner here? Okay, yeah, it’s you.

Read Benjie Goodhart's preview of Nature's Weirdest Events and his review of Walking the Nile on page 2

Preview: Nature’s Weirdest Events, BBC Two, Tuesday 13th January, 8pm, BBC Two

I like animals. They can be cute, funny, beautiful, majestic, fascinating and companionable, and the ones that aren’t are normally edible. I’m also a fan of nature documentaries, especially those on the BBC, and having listened to his searingly honest and deeply moving Desert Island Discs, I like Chris Packham, too. A shame, then, that this is such a diabolically bad television programme.

Apparently this is series four, and maybe that’s the problem. Maybe nature doesn’t have that many weird events, and we’ve used them all up in the first three series. Either way, the only truly bizarre and surprising thing evident here was that this tripe ever got made. 

So, if you’re a fan of utterly bland, patronising, hyperbolic TV, look away now, because there are some pretty big spoilers coming up. I’m going to reveal what happened in the programme so the rest of you don’t have to watch it.

Those ‘weirdest events’ then? Pigs in the Bahamas that can swim. Just like pigs everywhere else. A submarine worm that can hide in sand! And eat things!! Killer whales that play in the wake of boats! A stoat that jumps about a lot! The world’s most dangerous bird! A tick that can make you ill!! Algae!!!

All of these utterly humdrum occurrences were presented with the sort of breathless enthusiasm my three-year-old daughter reserves for only her most impressive bowel movements. Which, frankly, I’d rather have watched. The subject matter, and how it was handled, was so infantile, I had to check and re-check that this wasn’t a children’s programme. Or an ITV documentary.

The only bright spot was the tarantula hawk wasp, a creature of unbridled sadism. The mother will attack and paralyse tarantulas, leaving them alive but unable to move. Then it will place its larva inside the spider. The larva will eat the spider alive, from the inside, starting with the least essential organs. Which, for any tarantula watching this witless, carelessly constructed programme, would be the brain.

Review: Walking the Nile, Sunday 4th January, 9pm, Channel 4

I was going to review Broadchurch this week, right up until the moment I watched the first of this extraordinary four-part series. To be fair, the other three episodes might just be a bloke strolling along beside a river whistling, but the first part was extraordinary enough to warrant the hyperbole. 

The programme features an explorer attempting to become the first person to walk the length of the Nile. It started ordinarily enough: the explorer was your typical handsome, posh, gung-ho former army boy (think Bruce Parry and Bear Grylls). He met up with a local guide, Boston, and set off to find the Nile’s source. Intriguingly, this turned out to be a different source from that visited by Joanna Lumley and Simon Reeve in their respective TV series, and different again from that ‘discovered’ by Top Gear.

At first, all was pleasant enough. They all walked through what is today a relatively content and remarkably peaceful Rwanda, and crossed into Tanzania. On Christmas day they drank whiskey and ate goat under a tree decorated with stinking socks, much as they celebrate Christmas these days in Kensington. Levison gave Boston a Christmas jumper – just what you need on an African trek.

Soon afterwards, things started to go weird. In most travelogues, if they encounter an area too dangerous to visit, they will say as much and move on. Not our Lev. He and Boston cheerfully entered an area full of murderous gangsters, even when their guides refused to accompany them. They quickly came across the grave of a Danish man who had done the same, and been murdered. Soon afterwards, they were stopped, and robbed, in a genuinely chilling scene, which Lev, at great personal risk, covertly filmed.

On into Uganda, where they went fishing on Lake Victoria, with a captain swigging whiskey, and a first mate smoking a spliff the size of Wales. Back on foot, they encountered a group illegally fishing, and looked on helplessly as the local police administered a public beating.

 As they walked on by the banks of the Nile, dodging close encounters with hippos and terrifyingly fast-moving and gargantuan crocodiles, it became ever more apparent that this was the equivalent of a travel programme scripted by an eight-year-old boy with an over-active imagination, and starring Sylvester Stallone.

And then real, genuine, cast iron tragedy struck. Lev and Boston were joined by two experienced journalists, for a particularly remote and arduous section of their trek across rural Uganda. They ate, walked, laughed, and bonded. And on they walked, through temperatures touching 48 Centigrade, with little shelter. And then one of the journalists, Matt Power, started to struggle. They stopped, took shelter, and tried to call for emergency assistance. An hour later, Matt was dead from heatstroke. And the programme ended, leaving a stunned audience trying to come to terms with what they’d just seen.

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.