TV blog: Joanna Lumley’s Japan

Benjie Goodhart / 01 September 2016

This week’s highlights include Joanna Lumley’s tour of Japan and the start of the Paralympics.

Joanna Lumley’s Japan, Friday 9th September, 9pm, ITV

There’s a moment fairly early on in this programme, the first of a three part series, where we are introduced to the red-crested crane. A long-legged, slender creature of grace and beauty, it is seen as a symbol of longevity in Japan, as it can live for up to 30 years. Big deal, I say. If you want longevity, we’ve got a long-legged, slender creature of grace and beauty of our own, and she’s been around for 70 years already, and shows no sign of slowing down.

In truth, I’m a little bit in love with Joanna Lumley. As well as being absurdly beautiful, she’s warm and funny and mischievous. And that voice! It’s like having a bath in rather posh, velvety treacle. Only not as sticky. Or as weird.

Read our interview with Joanna Lumley

Japan is an extraordinary country – in a really, really good way. Lumley visits the Sapporo snow festival, home to the most outlandishly fabulous snow sculptures imaginable. The finest of the lot is built by the army, probably because the nation is avowedly non-combat, so troops can spend all day playing in the snow. If being in the army involved more snow sculptures and less being shot at in this country, I’d be enlisting tomorrow.

Read more about Japan

Then it’s off to a sake brewery. (Do you brew sake?) The process includes massaging the rice, which Lumley does enthusiastically. Lucky rice. After that, there’s time for a walk in the woods, to a jaw-dropping pagoda built in 1372, entirely from wood (not even any nails) and still immaculate. Lumley appears to be the only person there. In this country, we’d have a Starbucks and a Drive Thru Maccy D’s on site.

But most astonishing of all is her visit to a town near the nuclear plant at Fukushima, evacuated after the tsunami-induced meltdown. Today, it has a population of one. The man who refused to leave. His story is extraordinary, a tale of heroism and goodness that is well worth a watch.

Finally, it’s off to Tokyo on a bullet train. It goes at 200mph and is never late. For those of us on the Southern Rail network, this is a pipe dream akin with touring Japan with Joanna Lumley. In the meantime, I’m more than happy to observe both on TV.

Discover the culture and beauty of Japan with Saga 

Paralympics 2016 Live, 7-18 September, Channel 4

As I was sitting here, mulling over how to start this preview, my son, who is eight, came and looked at my laptop over my shoulder. He’s perennially nosy. He saw I was previewing the Paralympics, and got very excited about the fact that I would get to see them before everyone else. Cue an explanation about the difference between live TV and a pre-record. I think he was disappointed I didn’t know what was going to happen.

Except I’ve got a pretty good idea what will happen – at least if 2012 is anything to go by. Channel 4’s coverage of the event last time around was extraordinary – from their award-winning trails to their ground breaking (and long overdue) use of disabled talent onscreen. But, appropriately, it was the sport itself that proved the most compelling aspect of the coverage.

Nobody who watched the games is likely to forget the mesmerising performances of Sarah Storey, David Weir, Hannah Cockroft, Ellie Simmonds, Jonny Peacock, Lee Pearson and Richard Whitehead – to name just a handful. And all of them are back this time around, part of a 258-strong British team that will be hoping to replicate the success of their Olympic colleagues.

Channel 4 will be showing 19-hours-per-day of action, including morning highlights shows before the live coverage begins at 1pm. The daytime slots will be filled by Ade Adepitan and Arthur Williams, both veterans of 2012, before newbies Sophie Morgan and JJ Chalmers take over. The evening coverage will be helmed by the unflappable genius that is Clare Balding, who will be due a ruddy good holiday by September 19th. The evening coverage will also feature The Last Leg, an inspirational and hilarious daily look at the games, and one of the breakout hits of the 2012 coverage.

The opening ceremony is on Wednesday, and the action begins on Thursday with Dame Sarah Storey in search of the gold medal that would take her past Baroness Grey-Thompson as Britain’s most decorated female Paralympian (even if it does sound more like a meeting of the ladies’ branch of the Bullingdon Club). Britain will have plenty more medal opportunities in the Velodrome and the pool today as well.

Friday sees what should be one of the highlights of the games, as the astonishing Jonny Peacock attempts to reassert his position as the fastest man on one leg. It should be a lightning quick final, with six runners capable of going sub-11 seconds. But, frankly, talking you through the schedule of events is a waste of time. It’s all brilliant. Trust me. If you’ve not done so before, do yourself a favour and tune in. You won’t be disappointed.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 3rd September

Strictly Come Dancing – The Launch Show, 6:50pm, BBC One: The epitome of sequinned fabulousness returns for a 14th series. I will watch for as long as Ed Balls is in, by which time I’ll doubtless be hooked.

The Nation’s Favourite Carpenters Song, 9:45pm, ITV: Richard Carpenter is at the piano for this look at the duo’s back catalogue, before the results of a survey are published which will more than likely reveal that Close to You is the nation’s favourite.

Sunday 4th September

Live Football: Slovakia v England, 4:30pm, ITV: Sam Allardyce’s first game in charge of England, as they seek to qualify for the next World Cup, in 2018, where they will lose 2-1 to Mongolia.

Roald Dahl’s Most Marvellous Book, 6:30pm, Channel 4: A sheer delight, as ten celebrities, including Steven Spielberg and Julie Walters, champion their favourite Roald Dahl book ahead of a public vote. David Walliams presides.

Speed with Guy Martin, 8pm, Channel 4: Old looniechops is at it again, this time taking part in the world’s fastest road race, the Nevada Open Road Challenge. What must his insurance be like?

Poldark, 9pm, BBC One: The abs are back, still attached to the body of Aiden Turner, who plays the eponymous hero in this superior costume drama.

Monday 5th September

The Billion Pound Flower Market, 8pm, Channel 4: Great Britain is the world’s third biggest consumer of cut flowers, thanks largely to the combination of Elton John and my wife. This doc looks at the industry.

Crimewatch, 9pm, BBC One: Jeremy Vine and Tina Daheley try and catch the baddies. Yay!

Cold Feet, 9pm, ITV: It’s back. One of the most iconic dramas of the last 20 years returns, with the same cast (apart from poor Helen Baxendale, whose character died, making a return, er, tricky). But will the remake sully the memory of such a dearly loved series, or prove an iconic sequel? I can barely bring myself to find out.

Read our in-depth interview with Bathurst in the September 2016 issue of Saga Magazine

Tuesday 6th September

Fishing Impossible, 7:30pm, ITV: An adventure travelogue following three fishing fanatics as they scour the globe in search of thinks to get their hooks into. Expect lots of slightly OTT voiceovers as they try to ratchet up the tension of what is still, undeniably, three men fishing.

Wednesday 7th September

Our Girl, 9pm, BBC One: Michelle Keegan steps into the shoes of the departing Lacey Turner to play a woman in the testosterone-fuelled world of the British Army. Ben Aldridge plays her suspiciously handsome superior officer.

Thursday 8th September

Inside Scotland Yard with Trevor McDonald, 9pm, ITV: This documentary series sees our Trev go back through the history of Scotland Yard, and look at some of its most famous cases.

Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue, 9pm, BBC Two: Two-part doc about the workings of the magazine. I used to work upstairs from Vogue, and can confirm they were all very beautiful and never ate lunch.

Friday 9th September

Countrywise: Guide to Britain, 8pm, ITV: Ben Fogle and Liz Bonnin reveal the hidden gems of the British countryside in this new 15-part series.

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