The Real Marigold Hotel, Tuesday 26th January, 9pm, BBC Two
I’ll just come out with it: This is a splendid programme, the first of a three-part series. Don’t miss it.
It features eight celebrities, with an average age of 70, travelling to Jaipur, India, to see what it would be like to retire there.
It’s also the first time in years (possibly ever?) where there has been a celebrity reality show where I actually know who all of the participants are. By virtue of the fact that they are all senior citizens, none of them are from second-rate pop acts, TOWIE or Made in Chelsea. They are actual people who have had actual careers.
They are also a complete joy, to a man, woman and child (the child in question being Patti Boulaye, a stripling at 61). The others are Wayne Sleep, Bobby George, Jan Leeming, Sylvester McCoy, Roy Walker, and the two greatest forces of nature known to mankind, Rosemary Shrager and Miriam Margolyes.
The eight are put up in a rather beautiful Indian house built around a shaded courtyard. Their challenges include coping with the stifling heat, the Indian traffic, the culture shock, and living with each other. Including Miriam, who states flatly: “I do fart, and they have to accept that. It’s just one of those things.”
Day one involves going to the market to buy food. Rosemary’s approach to the chaotic traffic is simply to march across shouting “Do you mind if I cross?” It’ll be a brave rickshaw that tangles with such a redoubtable lady. Out shopping, Miriam needs the loo. Bobby takes her hand and they go and find a public toilet, an experience which Miriam describes with admirable brevity as “vivid.”
After shopping, cooking and clearing up, the group has to make a decision. Do they hire a retinue of staff to look after their every need, at a cost of £20 each per week, or do they continue to labour in the heat? So not what you’d call an agonising quandary. It’s just as well, as Miriam has already announced “I never do housework. It’s a sort of rule of mine.”
In a fascinating development, they visit some of the poorest and richest people in Jaipur. Miriam’s goat has been got. “I haven’t got much time for Maharajas.” Maharajas and housework are out, farting and frank discussion of toilet visits are in. I think Miriam may be a nine-year-old boy.
Finally, the team throws a party for some locals. But beforehand, a stressed Rosemary visits and ashram to experience meditation. That should test the mettle of any gurus there.
The whole thing is a gorgeous televisual treat, and all of the contributors come across as sympathetic, funny, and delightful. But first among equals must be Rosemary and the hilarious and wonderful Miriam. Give them their own show. Just steer clear of housework.
More on the BBC’s Real Marigold Hotel
Read our interviews with Jan Leeming, Roy Walker, Rosemary Shrager and Wayne Sleep in the February issue of Saga Magazine. Subscribe to the print edition or download the digital edition today.
Children Saved from the Nazis: The Story of Sir Nicholas Winton, Wednesday 27th January, 10:45pm, BBC One
In the tattered notebook that passes for my organised filing system, I have my notes about Sir Nicholas Winton and about Donald Trump on consecutive pages. All human life is here. Two people of greater contrast you could not imagine.
You may well know the extraordinary story of Sir Nicholas, the man who saved almost 700 (mostly Jewish) Czech children from almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis. You might be familiar with the story of his appearance on That’s Life in the 1980s when, unbeknown to him, all of the audience sitting around him were those he had saved.
It doesn’t matter. Some stories are worth telling again. And again.
For those of you unfamiliar with the tale, Winton was a 29-year-old stockbroker, something of a playboy who loved skiing, sailing and fencing. In 1938, he was packing for a skiing holiday in Switzerland when his friend rang from Prague to explain that he couldn’t join him on holiday because he was helping the poor refugees from Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland. So, on a whim, Winton went and joined him.
What he discovered changed his life. He realised he couldn’t abandon so many poor, hungry, cold and desperate families to their fate at the hands of the Third Reich. If he could do nothing else, he would get as many children out as possible. And so he embarked, almost single-handedly, on the most ludicrously ambitious programme to fund and arrange transportation for hundreds of penniless children to travel across Europe, delivering them to caring and loving homes at the other end. It is a story of such selflessness and indefatigability it defies credibility.
And yet, after the war (in which he served in the RAF) Winton simply forgot about it. He never told a soul what he had done. Not even his wife. It was she who, 50 years later, discovered the scrapbook in their attic that told his extraordinary story.
This is almost unbearably poignant watching at times. It’s impossible not to imagine the agony of those parents, giving up their children in the knowledge they would probably never see them again. Many of those children rescued by Winton, now senior citizens themselves, are interviewed in this film. One recalls: “The last thing my father said to me was I should be his brave, cheerful little girl. And I think I have been.”
The film ends with Winton’s moment on That’s Life. To me, it is one of the most magical moments in the history of the medium. If you can watch it with a dry eye, you’re doing well.
The Day Hitler Died, Sunday 24th January, 10:15pm, ITV
After the war, a rumour gained traction that Adolf Hitler had escaped, and was alive and well, living in secluded comfort. So Captain Michael Musmanno, a US Navy layer who had been a judge at the Nuremberg trials, spent two years travelling all over Germany to track down and interview all of those who had been in Hitler’s bunker during the last days of April 1945, to put the outlandish rumours to bed. He filmed the interviews, with a view to showing them to the world, but by the time he’d completed them, the world was no longer interested. People were focussed on moving forwards rather than looking back. So the films were never seen, and sat, forgotten and gathering dust, in a university archive, for 65 years.
This programme shows these interviews for the first time on British TV, intercut with recreations of the scenes they describe. It is expertly done, and makes for grimly riveting viewing. You can almost feel the oppressive, stifling atmosphere of despair in the windowless, airless bunker, as Hitler’s insane, megalomaniacal dream finally crumbles to dust in front of him.
The documentary is rich on revealing detail, of which just a little here: Much of the fascination revolves around how Hitler’s senior staff reacted to the realisation that defeat was inevitable. Many of his military top brass simply stopped obeying his (increasingly lunatic) orders. Others, however- particularly those in the bunker with him, swore unyielding fealty, and decided to die with Hitler. Goebbels and his fanatical wife Magda resolved to kill themselves and their six young children rather than live in a world without national socialism.
Meanwhile Himmler, hundreds of miles away, had attempted to negotiate a peace with the allies. Hitler took the news badly. He ordered Himmler’s second-in-command, a general who was unfortunate enough to be in the bunker, to be shot. This, in spite of the entreaties of Eva Braun, who was the unfortunate general’s sister-in-law.
As the end grew nearer, the generals in Hitler’s bunker got drunk. As the Soviet bombardment intensified, the sewage system failed, and the toilets backed up. And so, ultimately, Hitler ended his life defeated, broken, humiliated, surrounded by drunk generals and the stench of faeces. The heart very definitely fails to bleed.
Band of Brothers, Box set
Back in the late 1990s I went on a date. (I know! I’m still proud of myself!) I took a rather lovely young lady called Kathy to the cinema. Trying to be the Alpha male (for the first and last time) I chose the film. So it was that we spent three traumatic hours under intense emotional bombardment as we watched Saving Private Ryan. It was a fairly visceral and shattering experience. Afterwards, I think we may have gone for a rather silent drink in the pub. There was no second date.
Mind you, it was almost worth it. What a film! It brought home the full horror and heroism of war, and laid bare all the chaos, squalor, camaraderie and insanity of millions of men trying to kill each other. So when, a couple of years later, Spielberg and Hanks teamed up again, this time to executive produce a World War II series, Band of Brothers, rumours abounded of something very, very special.
They were not wrong. Band of Brothers was widely acclaimed as the best war drama ever made, winning both the Emmy and Golden Globe for best miniseries.
Based on Stephen Ambrose’s 1993 nonfiction book, it tells the story of Easy Company, part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who took part in some of the most significant battles of the war. Each episode is bookended by clips of interviews with the real soldiers of Easy Company, a salutary reminder that this is more than just a rollicking yarn.
The action opens with the training of Easy Company, and follows the troops, over ten gruelling and gripping episodes, throughout the war, from the Normandy airbourne landings, through operation Market Garden, the Siege of Bastogne right up until the capture of Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s alpine retreat, at the end of the war.
Naturally enough, with such a drama, there is something of an ensemble feel to the piece, with a large and exclusively male cast including (in roles of varying prominence) Dexter Fletcher, Donnie Wahlberg, Marc Warren, Michael Fassbender, David Schwimmer, Stephen Graham, Tom Hardy, Simon Pegg and James McAvoy. But Spielberg and Hanks felt that the piece needed to be held together by one central character, a heroic figure called Major Winters. And so a young, British unknown was cast, by the name of Damian Lewis. It was an astounding performance, and one that paved the road for the career to come.
Terrifying, adrenaline-fuelled, poignant and glorious, Band of Brothers belongs with the best Box Sets ever made. If you’ve not seen it, do yourself a favour.