TV review - The Nation’s Favourite Beatles Number 1

Benjie Goodhart / 05 November 2015

Benjie Goodhart on what's got him talking this week including Children in Need and Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild UK.

The Nation’s Favourite Beatles Number 1, Wednesday 11th November, 8pm, ITV

The world is divided into two types of people. Those who like The Beatles, and sociopathic monsters. Not liking the finest pop group of all time is basically akin to marrying your dog or building your house out of cheese – it marks you out as weird, and nobody will want to be your friend. 

Even my parents like the Beatles, and they generally believe that music begins and ends with the harpsichord. 

Anyway, possibly to mark some sort of anniversary (50 years since the group had lunch in a roadside café near Whitby?) ITV are showing a two-hour extravaganza counting down the nation’s favourite of the 27 Beatles songs that were number ones in either the UK or the US. Why the US, I’m not sure. Why not Belize, or Vanuatu? 

The results are based on a survey of some sort, I think. It may be becoming apparent that this blog entry is even more ill-informed than usual (in the face of no little competition). 

This is because the programme as a whole was unavailable for preview, so I’ve only seen snippets of what’s on offer. But it looks like a fascinating smorgasbord of songs, interviews, archive footage and well-I-never facts. Did you know, for example, that The Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in America garnered a ridiculous (then record) 73 million viewers? Or that, one week in 1964, the group filled all top five places on the US Billboard 100? Or that All You Need Is Love was written for a unique 1967 TV experiment, Our World, a live show broadcasting to 19 countries around the globe? 

And, perhaps most ridiculously of all, that Let It Be was never Number 1 in the UK? We live in a world where Let It Be reached the same position in the charts as Touch My Bum by the Cheeky Girls. Perhaps, in 50 years, we’ll have a TV retrospective of the Romanian pop-duo’s finest moments. Still, it should be short, and thankfully I do not expect to be around to see it.

Buy The Red Album on Amazon for £22.93

Peep Show, Wednesday 11th November, 10pm, Channel 4

Okay, I’ll be honest. This probably isn’t entirely suitable for a lot of viewers. It is very sweary, and rather debauched, and generally not the sort of thing you would recommend to your maiden aunt. But I looked around for an alternative. Honest I did. The Dispatches about how Aldi manages to be so cheap wasn’t ready to view. The press officer looking after the new BBC drama London Spy failed to answer repeated emails, and will not be getting a Christmas card from me. (Mind you, nor will anyone, I’m too hopeless to send them). 

MasterChef: The Professionals is just a MasterChef too far (I love the format, but if I hear Gregg Wallace tell me cooking doesn’t get tougher than this one more time, I’ll scream). And I really couldn’t bring myself to watch The Great Pottery Throwdown. (How long before we’re watching competitive lawn-mowing?)

Anyway, for those of you who have never seen Peep Show, and like a bit of sweary, risqué comedy, this is right up your street. Only problem is, it’s series nine, and there’s not going to be a series ten. So, um, welcome to the party. It’s about to end.

The comedy stars David Mitchell and Robert Webb as Mark and Jeremy, two feckless, hopeless losers caught in a mutually-dependent but largely antipathetic friendship. The show’s conceit is that we see the action through their own eyes, and hear their own internal monologues. 

The series kicks off with the stag do of a reformed bad-boy called Superhans, who begins the day on freshly squeezed organic juices and ends it, well, on something with a bit more zing. Meanwhile Jeremy has moved out of Mark’s flat and is living in Superhans’ bath. “I think of it as a sunken bed… Don’t even need to leave the tub. Drink from the tap and, when I need to… the bog’s right there,” he says with desperate enthusiasm. 

Mark, meanwhile, is stuck living with quite literally the world’s most boring man, and decides to take action.

I love this show. But it’s not for the faint-hearted. It reminds me of the time my sister gave me The Hangover on DVD for Christmas, and suggested we sit down and watch it en famille after Christmas dinner. Her young daughters loved it. My parents did not. All of us, I think, were changed by the experience.

Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild UK, Thursday 12th November, 9pm, Channel 5

It’s only a couple of weeks since I commented on the ubiquity of Ben Fogle, who seems to pop up on just about every TV show I see. I swear, they must have cloned him. 

Somewhere in a warehouse on an industrial estate just off the M25 there are 500 exceptionally nice blonde chaps in gilets pottering about asking each other about crop rotation and managing to look interested in the answer. I’m not sure, but I think I saw him pop up in a background shot in Neighbours the other day.

Anyway, here he is again, back on our screens, with a new series. His recent show New Lives in the Wild saw him travel to some of the most remote places on earth to meet people who had upped sticks and relocated there from the modern world. This show is broadly the same, except it’s set in the UK. This immediately presents us with a couple of problems. 

Firstly, nothing seems that wild and remote in the UK, because frankly you’re not that far from family and friends, and almost certainly within an hour of the nearest Sainsbury’s Local, with its attendant tubs of couscous and artichoke hearts. And secondly, it’s more fun watching people battling giant spiders, volcanos and cultural differences in South America than it is watching them sit in the drizzle in Wales.

For this series opener, Ben visits Emma, a 61-year-old Oxford graduate who, 15 years ago, turned her back on modern society (as well as her husband and three teenage kids) to go and live off grid, in a house made of straw and horse poo. She says that leaving them behind was “a difficult time for me.” I imagine it wasn’t a bowl of Frosties for her kids, either.

She lives a remarkably frugal and basic life. A year ago, her hut burned down, so she built a new one. She lost all her possessions – which amounted to a few “things my kids had made, and some instruments.” Yeah, love, and the Playstation, you’re not fooling anyone! 

Now she lives a solitary life, occasionally communing with others who have also escaped society to live what looks like a miserable existence in the Welsh woods. Fogle can feel their presence, though none want to be filmed. “I’m sure there are people watching me now,” he says, walking through the woods. Yeah, but it’s Channel 5, Ben, so not that many…

BBC Children in Need, Friday 13th November, 7:30pm, BBC One

Friday the 13th might be unlucky for some, but it’ll be an extremely good day for some of the most vulnerable and at risk people in society. In an ideal world, we’d never need fundraising telethons and campaigns, particularly for children who are facing lives filled with hunger, neglect, sickness or pain. 

But in the real world, there will always be the poor, the marginalised, the malnourished, and if helping them means we have to watch the BBC newsreaders doing the Timewarp dressed as fruit, or whatever is in store for us, well, bring on a gyrating Huw Edwards in a Pineapple costume.

Children in Need has been going since 1980, in no small part thanks to the tireless efforts of St Terry of Wogan, possibly the nicest bloke in showbiz. In that time, CiN has raised a staggering £790m, and the past two years have seen the event’s fundraising record broken.

As ever, there has been a lot of associated programming and fundraising in the build up to Friday’s event – from a Tom Jones and Rob Brydon special (on Thursday 12th, BBC One) to Chris Evans’ hugely lucrative auctions on his Radio 2 breakfast show. But it’s the night itself that is the main event, and this year promises – well, it promises to be pretty much exactly what you’d expect. 

There will be music, dancing, comedy, glamour, glitz, Sir Terry, Tess, Fearne etc, all intercut with films that will make you blub like a lachrymose toddler with a sore toe cutting onions while watching Peppa Pig being tortured. 

Highlights should include a Call The Midwife/Strictly Come Dancing Special (complete with Sir Bruce), Scott Mills abseiling down Blackpool Tower, Harry Hill’s offbeat history of TV, a star-studded Star Wars sketch, and the EastEnders cast doing something other than looking miserable and having fights in the Queen Vic. Good luck to all involved. 

Box Set: The Complete Blackadder

Quite a lot surprises me in life. Why we don’t have immediate and violent sanctions for people who stick chewing gum under tables. How plastic surgeons are allowed to charge money to make people look like shiny-faced ducks. Why umbrellas (or Eyeball Death Spears, as I call them) aren’t illegal. 

But few things surprised me as much as the discovery, when researching this item (yes, I research!) that the last series of Blackadder was filmed 26 years ago. 

It seems like only yesterday that the nation used to rush about shouting to each other about our ‘cunning plans’ and sticking pencils up our nose and saying “wibble”. 

Of course, as with Fawlty Towers, much of the familiarity with the material comes from numerous repeats of the show over the years – and why not. It remains one of the best British sitcoms ever made. Indeed, a 2004 poll to find the nation’s best sitcom placed it second, behind Only Fools and Horses (of which more in a few weeks).

Yet the show very nearly never made it beyond its first series. Set in 1485, the sitcom, written by Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis, featured a vast and impressive cast, and was filmed on location. As a result, it was hugely expensive – costing almost £1 million. 

It was also, according to Atkinson, a little thin on jokes. The BBC were within a whisker of not recommissioning it, and only agreed to do so on the basis that Curtis and new co-writer Ben Elton wrote a studio-based sitcom that barely ever ventured outside.

What they got was Blackadder II, featuring a brilliant turn by Miranda Richardson as Elizabeth I. This series saw Blackadder go from the bumbling fool of the first series to a Machiavellian, scheming smart-aleck, while the previously cunning Baldrick became a turnip-obsessed nitwit (a formula that was to last throughout the remaining series).

Blackadder the Third, set during the regency period, saw Edmund and Baldrick in the service of the dim-witted and foppish Prince Regent (a delightful Hugh Lawrie). But Blackadder reached its apogee with the incomparable Blackadder Goes Forth, set in the trenches of WWI, a show that pulled off the exceptionally hard trick of combining biting satire with a deep emotional punch. A brilliant end to a fabulous series.

The Complete Blackadder is available on Amazon for £79.99

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