TV blog: The Last Dukes and other highlights

Benjie Goodhart / 22 October 2015

TV review Benjie Goodhart is seduced by thrilling rugby and impressed by a liberal adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde and also takes the opportunity to relive Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Jekyll and Hyde, Sunday 25th October, 6:30pm, ITV

We’re all familiar with the concept of the mild-mannered soul who turns into a raging, murderous alter-ego with a hideous temper,  some of us because we’ve read The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and others thanks to the bonds of marriage. But any purists  out there who want to see a faithful adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel are in for a queer shock. 

Unless (and I’m  guessing here, having – shhh! – not read the book) the original was set in the 1930s, in a world peopled by hideous half-human-half-dog mutants, shape-shifting monsters and a secret government agency, MI0, tasked with keeping these beings at bay. Nope, thought not.

So this, then, is a rather liberal re-imagining of the tale, penned by the Fast Show’s Charlie Higson. Its 6:30pm transmission time suggests it’s been made for a family audience, and there are certainly enough lobster-clawed mutants to keep my seven-year-old son happy. (At that age, there are no stories that aren’t improved by lobster-clawed mutants, from the Nativity to Romeo and Juliet). 

The story sees Dr Jekyll relocate from 1930s Ceylon to London after being informed of an inheritance. Once there – well – things start to go a bit weird. London, it turns out, is absolutely chock full of weirdos, wrong-‘uns and half-dog mutants (mum always warned me about going south of the river). 

Tom Bateman plays Jekyll as a charming and loyal naif, and Hyde as a hard-drinking, over-sexed bad-boy, with superhuman strength and a taste for one-liners. In this he is reasonably successful, although Hyde’s penchant for wearing mascara and shouting “Raaah” a lot and throwing things about is slightly embarrassing. 

Meanwhile, Richard E Grant, as the head of MI0, is his usual, understated self, having great fun hamming it up and delivering lines like “This’ll be something to tell your grandchildren, Mr Sackler. Except I would have to kill you if you did.”

Definitely worth a look, if you don’t mind a large portion of hokum with your Sunday tea. 

Modern Times: The Last Dukes, Monday 26th October, 9pm, BBC Two

At the Queen’s Coronation, there were 28 non-royal Dukes. Now, there are 24. This exclusive band is being diminished as the lines of inheritance come to an end. With the last Duke having been created in 1889, we are faced with the chilling prospect that one day, in several hundred years, we may have to negotiate life without any Dukes at all. 

Never mind climate change, now I’m really worried.

Michael Waldman’s wry and keenly observed documentary looks at a few of the remaining Dukes and how they are adapting to life in the modern world. If, indeed, they are actually aware of the modern world (one is reminded more than once of the Dowager Countess of Grantham wondering at the concept of a weekend).

It turns out that the highest echelons of the aristocracy are every bit as prone to triumph and disaster as the rest of us, and some of the stories told wouldn’t look out of place on EastEnders, albeit without the cockney accents and the fights outside the pub. 

After all, why would you get involved in a boozy punch-up when you’ve got Europe’s only private army to resolve your grudges. Word to the wise – don’t pick a quarrel with the Duke of Atholl. Although actually, he seems an affable soul, if a slightly implausible aristocrat – he runs a sign shop in a provincial South African town.

At the more predictable end of the scale are the Duke and Duchess of St Albans, who observe that they’re terribly informal and relaxed about how they’re addressed. Oh, except “I don’t like Christian names, for example.” Heavens, no. I don’t even let my wife indulge in such over-familiarity. 

Infuriatingly, they can’t put Duke and Duchess on their passports – there isn’t the facility – although they’re “absolutely not the type to use our names to get better seats on aircraft”. Which is a shame, as I would have thought that’s almost the sole practical, useful point of a title. Particularly as their old family seat is now a Best Western Hotel.

On we go, through the panoply of poshos, from the rather lovely and slightly sad daughter of the last Duke of Leeds, to the frightfully impressive Duchess of Rutland, opening her home of Belvoir Castle up to the lucrative Asian wedding market. 

Thank goodness the Dowager Countess isn’t around to see any of it.

Read more about Downton Abbey here 

Cuffs, Wednesday 28th October, 8pm, BBC One

Welcome to BBC One’s new eight-part police drama, set in the divine environs of Brighton. Mind you, I would say that – I live there. Or, more accurately, here. Which is one reason why I’ve been looking forward to this series for some time. 

Another reason is that it boasts, an excellent cast, including Ashley Walters, Amanda Abbington and Shaun Dooley. But mainly because it’s always nice to be able to point at the screen and shout “I’ve been to that newsagents,” or “the number 5 bus doesn’t go THAT route.”

Anyway, it turns out you should never get excited about anything, because this show couldn’t be any more of a dog’s dinner if it came in a can boasting of the benefits of marrowbone. The characters are crudely drawn, the plot is contrived and simplistic, the dialogue is laughable, and the clichés mount up quicker than, um, a thing that mounts up really quickly.

The story centres around a rookie cop, Jake Vickers, on his first day on the job, who is partnered up with (you’re not going to believe this) a reluctant hardened pro, Ryan Draper (Walters). Only Draper, while giving Vickers a hard time, actually has (get ready for another MAHUSSIVE surprise) a heart of gold.

The pair encounter a string of baddies straight out of the school of criminal casting, from a sweaty, unkempt man outside a playground, to a racist thug with greasy hair and tattoos of the Union Jack and the word ‘mum’. Yes, seriously.

Meanwhile, most alarmingly for the residents of Brighton, our pleasant, safe seaside town seems to have turned into a seething hotbed of crime, policed by the most astoundingly inept coppers outside of a Buster Keaton novel. Their jaw-dropping inability to apprehend criminals who are right in front of them is absolutely beyond parody. As, sadly, is the drama as a whole.

Rugby World Cup, semi-finals Saturday 24th/Sunday 25th October, final Saturday 31st October

Do you remember the opening fixture of the Rugby World Cup? Back when TV was broadcast in black-and-white from Alexandra Palace, and England were good? If it seems like a lifetime ago, that’s because it practically was. England’s comfortable victory over Fiji took place on 18th September. 

Two weeks into the six-week tournament, the hosts were out, throwing a large bucket of cold water on the whole tournament, and an even larger bucket of anxiety soup over ITV executives.

But if you take England out of the equation (thanks a bunch, Wales and Australia, for doing this for us) this has been an astonishingly good tournament. The highlight, which I was lucky enough to attend, was Japan’s astonishing, logic-defying victory over South Africa. 

Sitting in the glorious autumn sunshine in Brighton’s Amex stadium, with a chilled cider, surrounded by incredibly sporting and good humoured South Africans and desperately excited Japanese, watching expansive, thrilling rugby in an atmosphere of unmistakable bonhomie, was a delight. The moment when Japan scored the winning try with the last move of the game was perhaps the most unforgettable sporting experience of my life.

There have been many other highlights, not least Scotland’s heroic quarter-final performance against Australia, which saw them cruelly robbed of a place in the semis thanks to a refereeing error. The Aussies will face a fabulously free-running Argentina in the semi-final, after the Pumas gave Ireland a mauling in an unexpectedly one-sided match. 

Meanwhile, Japan’s victims, South Africa, have pulled up their socks since then, but will not fancy their chances against a simply outstanding All Blacks side that turned in one of the all-time great performances against France, running out 62-13 winners in their quarter final.

And so, for the first time ever, we are left with no Northern Hemisphere sides in the last four. This is, of course, a disappointment, and cause for some post-tournament investigation. But in the meantime, the stage is set for what should be a thrilling climax to perhaps the best Rugby World Cup there has ever been. Enjoy.

Box set: Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Looking back at the best series from the past available on box set, it is inevitably a matter of time before one stumbles into the surreal and anarchic world of Monty Python. Last week saw the Pythons in the news twice – first for the 40th anniversary re-release of one of my favourite films – Monty Python’s Holy Grail, and secondly, because Bournemouth council finally lifted its 35-year-long ban on screening The Life of Brian.

Also, the 46th anniversary isn’t exactly seen as a significant one, but Monty Python’s Flying Circus made its TV debut 46 years ago this month. It marked the first time the whole group had worked together. John Cleese and Graham Chapman were already collaborators, as were Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Eric Idle. The two groups joined together, Palin suggested the addition of Terry Gilliam, and the rest is TV folklore.

Right from the word go, the series tore up the rule book, eschewing the familiar and the recognised comedy tropes and ploughing its own utterly bonkers furrow. Sketches would finish without a punchline, but instead with a large cartoon foot stamping on someone, or a posh man behind a desk announcing the next sketch. The opening titles would sometimes appear halfway through an episode. On one occasion, the closing credits immediately followed them. 

Sketches ranged from the intellectual (the Philosopher Footballers) to the slapstick (Ministry of Silly Walks) to the satirical (Four Yorkshiremen, Upper Class Twit of the Year). As often as not, they involved a bunch of grown men cross dressing, with rollers and headscarves, speaking in falsetto voices.

Although the word Pythonesque is now a byword for eccentric comedy, the group’s name was so nearly very different. They toyed with (among others) Owl Stretching Time; The Toad Elevating Moment; A Horse, a Spoon and a Bucket; and Gwen Dibley’s Flying Circus. Legend has it that the group were only persuaded to stick with their eventual title when the BBC told them it had gone to press with Flying Circus in its schedules and wouldn’t change it. And so a legend was born. Monty Python's Flying Circus - Complete Series is available on Amazon at £13.40.

Subscribe to the print edition or download the digital edition for more great articles delivered direct to you every month.

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.