TV blog: The World's Most Famous Train

Benjie Goodhart / 26 November 2015

Benjie Goodhart relishes the bygone elegance of the Orient Express. Plus, a look back at the nation's no.1 sitcom of all time - Only Fools and Horses.

The World’s Most Famous Train, Monday 30th November, 8pm, Channel 4

Channel 4’s latest obsession is shows about the super-rich, and the ways in which they spend their money on having a good time.

I keep writing about these programmes in the vain hope that at some stage Saga’s sagacious and munificent editor will read it and think “Ooh yes, he’s fascinated by this sort of thing, I must commission him to write a piece about what it’s like to holiday on a private yacht. For a month. In the Seychelles.”

So far, no dice. But let’s give it another crack this week, as we look ahead to Channel 4’s latest money-porn extravaganza, travelling on the Orient Express.

It’s possible to get to Venice in about two hours, for less than £100. Why, then, would you choose to spend the fat end of £2k to take 24 hours to get there? Watch this programme and you’ll know why.

The Orient Express is a thing of such old-fashioned, stylish, opulent beauty it takes the breath away. It’s not so much a train as a time machine, transporting travellers back to the 1920s, to a bygone age of glamour and steam and silver service.

You can have a cocktail in the bar carriage, which looks like something out of Downton, before weaving (is it the train or the Cosmopolitan?) to the dining car for a gourmet meal (apparently trains can do more than heat a soggy ham and cheese bap to molten temperatures – who knew?) The only thing you can’t have is fried food, as the train is wooden and combustible.

“The only time I’ve made chips was for John Travolta’s son,” namedrops the chef. “He really wanted a hamburger, which I made with filet de boeuf… and chips.” That’s one classy Royale with Cheese.

The programme talks to the passengers and staff who people this extraordinarily luxurious experience. An experience that I’d be happy to bring vividly and expertly to life for you, dear reader, if the editor will just say the word.

No? Oh, fine then. But you can bet your life the moment I preview a programme about working in Birmingham’s sewers, her eyes will light up…

The Murder Detectives, Monday 30th November, 9pm, Channel 4

It’s a long way from the train terminus at Venice to the mean streets of Bristol, but on Monday night Channel 4 will transport you from one to the other in the time it takes you to watch six dodgy Christmas adverts in a row (more of which later).

Be warned – this ad break marks something of a gear change, between a dreamy look at how the other half live, and a bleak and harrowing look at how the other-other-half live and – more pertinently – die.

Over three consecutive nights this week, Channel 4 will follow a murder investigation that took place in March 2014 in the St Paul’s area of Bristol.

The victim, Nicholas Robinson, a 19-year-old black man was stabbed to death at his front door. He was a conscientious, church-going boy with a spotless record. The police are at a loss as to who would want to kill him. Mind you, we live in a world where men (and boys, for heaven’s sake) will kill each other for wearing the wrong colours.

This is a fascinating look at the inner-workings of a massive police operation, with its twists and turns, breakthroughs and culs-de-sac, triumphs and tragedies.

And the tragedy here is writ large, and not easy to watch. At one point, we hear a stricken Nicholas placing a 999 call as he staggers along the street, bleeding to death.

More unbearably still, we discover that Nicholas’ mum lost her other son a year before – to another murder. Both her children dead, she faces life alone. Even the hardened cops are thrown by her plight. How could you not be?

This Is Tottenham, Wednesday 2nd December, 9pm, BBC Two

I mentioned last week that TV seems obsessed with the lives of the very rich and the very poor. (Incidentally, sorry to keep referencing what I’ve written before, but I can’t help it, I just find myself so compelling and wise).

This week has done nothing to disabuse me of this theory. From the Orient Express to murder on Bristol’s mean streets, to life in Tottenham. If you’re unfamiliar with the place, let me tell you, we’re dealing with the poor end of the scale here – a few miles from the leafy streets of Islington, it’s also a lifetime away.

This programme is a frank and unflinching look at life in Tottenham, through the prism of local MP David Lammy and his regular constituency surgeries, as he struggles to deal with the endless stream of problems, complaints and anguished pleas for help from his disenfranchised and desperate flock.

Lammy is a local – he grew up in Broadwater Farm. If the name rings a bell, that’s because there were brutal riots there 30 years ago, when a policeman was hacked to death with a machete. More recently, there were riots in Tottenham in 2011. The area is also synonymous with the cases of Baby P, Victoria Climbie and Mark Duggan. Lammy, it’s fair to say, has his work cut out.

The film sees him tackle issues including a mother who believes her missing son has been murdered; a young mum fighting for a life-saving operation for her son; a young woman who is prevented from going to university by bureaucracy; and a man, whose wife has liver cancer, who wants more than a one-bed flat for his family of five. Most heroically of all, Lammy has to stay positive, polite and upbeat when a man comes in every week to talk to him about car parking.

Lammy comes across as funny, likeable, and in touch with his constituents. Mind you, it would be a pretty dim MP who invited the cameras in to his surgery and then proceeded to abuse his constituents and then mock their problems behind their backs. This, it turns out, is a nice bit of PR for Lammy, verging on a hagiography. But maybe that doesn’t matter. He’s doing something, doing his best. And that’s all the people of Tottenham can really ask for.

Christmas adverts rundown

It’s a quiet week, preview-wise. The broadcasters are keeping their powder dry for Christmas, and I’m a Celebrity is on every night, so there’s not a lot around to get excited about.

However, tis the season of jollity, over-indulgence and, most importantly for retailers, the comforting sound of ringing cash tills. So here’s our rundown of the best Christmas adverts, 2015:

John Lewis: The big cheese, the one everyone gets excited about, John Lewis set great store by their Christmas ads. This year’s one is a bit weird though. Why has the old fella with the unkempt hair been exiled to the moon? Possibly because of a scary ability to breathe in space, and not be affected by low-gravity environments? Also, take note kids, you can’t send presents to the moon by attaching balloons to them. Great song though. 6/10.

Sainsbury’s: This is the one everybody’s getting excited about this year. Written by Judith Kerr, it features her character Mog, a hopelessly accident-prone cat, the feline Frank Spencer, who manages to destroy an entire house by accident. During what s effectively a kitchen Armageddon, the entire family remain fast asleep, leading me to believe they are dangerous substance abusers. Also, I’ve never met a cat who likes boiled eggs. 5/10.

Asda: I like the Asda ad. Like Christmas, it’s a bit noisy and gaudy, and very good fun. It’s got a thumping soundtrack, a car covered in Christmas lights, a truck in antlers, a man in antlers, a dog in antlers, pantomime, inappropriate behaviour at an office party, and some low-level alcohol abuse. It’s what Christmas is all about. 7/10.

Burberry: The least Christmassy Christmas ad ever, Burberry have decided to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Billy Elliott in their advert, because 15 is such a significant milestone and Billy Elliott clearly changed the world. It features celebrities bouncing on a bed, including Sir Elton John and Julie Walters. I have absolutely no idea what this is all about. Nuts! 4/10.

Body Shop: People singing Jingle Bells in the shower. Oddly, it works. And, for bottom fans, there’s one at the end. Though no jingly bells on view, thankfully. Fun. 7/10.

Currys PC World: The Best British advert this Christmas.  Jeff Goldblum plays himself, teaching a couple about giving decent gifts, and how to react accordingly. It’s very funny, and totally different from any other Christmas advert. Hurrah! 9/10.

Spanish Lottery Advert: Okay, this one’s not actually British, but it’s so wonderfully, beautifully perfect, it simply demands to be watched. It features a kindly nightshift security guard in a mannequin factory, and is brimming with humanity, love and kindness. (Let’s draw a veil over the fact that it’s encouraging people to gamble). The animation is out of this world. 9.5/10.

Only Fools and Horses: Box set

Back in 1980, John Sullivan, writer of Citizen Smith, submitted two scripts to the BBC. One was a comedy about football. The other was a comedy about a cockney market trader in London. Both were rejected. But Sullivan persevered with the second of these, tinkered with it, and re-submitted it.

At the same time, ITV was celebrating a hit with its new show Minder, about a lovable rogue ducking and diving his way through various moderately illegal scrapes in working class London. Funny how things work…

Only Fools and Horses would go on to become one of the biggest shows in British TV history, making a star of Nicholas Lyndhurst, whilst raising David Jason to the level of national treasure.

The travails of the Trotter brothers, two very different but ultimately devoted brothers from Peckham who were always trying to get rich, enchanted a nation. So much so that the 1996 special, “Time on Our Hands”, was watched by 24.3 million people, a record audience for a sitcom. In 2004, the show topped a BBC poll to find the most popular sitcom of all time.

Across the seven series, the cast of supporting characters became much loved figures in their own right: the dim-witted Trigger, the snobbish Boycie, Granddad, Uncle Albert, Denzil et al. But at its heart, this was an odd couple show, about two brothers who would fall out on an almost daily basis, but loved each other anyway.

Moments from the show will live long in the memory – Del Boy falling through the bar, and the ‘chandelier moment’ have become part of the national cultural heritage.

God bless Hooky Street!

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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