I’m not going to say it was like a Crimewatch reconstruction, because that would be to imply it was crap. And it’s a cheap and unfunny remark anyway.
It was a bit like a Crimewatch reconstruction. This, in case a) you’re still here and b) wondering, was Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This (ITV Monday, 9pm). At two hours, it was proper Easter hols viewing, up against BBC1’s Jamaica Inn – which I didn’t watch, so don’t worry. The drama saw David Threlfall genuinely transformed as Cooper, and although some scenes did play out in the shadow of the nose and the chin, even when the prosthetics were distractingly obvious, he remained invisible. What a performance.
The whole production was quite admirable; Simon Nye’s script showed the humour of Cooper in his everyday life without it feeling too tiresome or show-offy. Helen McCrory was lovely as Cooper’s mistress, Mary, talking in a precise, old-fashioned manner that you don’t hear anymore. And Amanda Redman also impressed playing what felt like another forgotten archetype in Cooper’s battler wife, ‘Dove’. But – this whole paragraph is constructed to lead into a ‘but’, isn’t it? – I didn’t find myself at involved with Tommy for almost all of the programme.
I seem to have been making this criticism a lot, moaning about shows that presume our interest rather than earn it. So maybe it’s just me. Yes, intrinsically, a drama about Cooper is a good idea, but it still needs to prove that. Where I did become fully engaged, I’m ashamed to say, is during the final sequence. And that’s why I was banging on about Crimewatch. Suddenly the thing becomes about the circumstances leading up to a person’s death. The caption: ’15 April, 1984′. Tommy coughing: “I’ll phone in sick”. Tommy groaning: “I’m not feeling funny”. Tommy on the phone to Eric Skyes, who tells him: “You’ve never called me before a show”. Mary vowing: “I’ll look after you”. It’s very portentous, although I doubt that’s Nye playing tricks. I’m willing to believe, insofar as it could be established or remembered, these were the conversations that just happened to precipitate something awful. This is a reconstruction.
Nonetheless I’m now hanging on – hanging on – waiting to see it happen. And when it does, I’m glad to say Cooper’s death during Live From Her Majesty’s (thankfully there’s no play on the potential irony of that name) denies any cheap thrills. It continues, pretty much, as it was, Cooper’s weirdly comic snores and all. Briskly, we cut from his son backstage rumbling his dad’s apparent pratfall – “He’s got a bad back, he’d never do that” – to the hastily cued in ad-break covering up the tragedy for millions at home. There’s no dramatic weight in: “This is the new Acorn Electron…” We remain at a distance from the great man as he passes… just like that. 1
Perspectives (ITV Sunday, 10pm), saw Alan Davies investigating the life and death of another legendary entertainer; Houdini. It was one of those workaday documentaries that seems to promise nothing much, and then delivers rather a lot. Best bits saw Alan taking part in a seance with a 90-something chap who actually saw Houdini perform, and the revelation the escapologist had invented for himself a fictional child when it transpired he and his wife couldn’t start a family. The way this programme told it, Houdini’s devotion to his craft meant he ended up trapped in a body riddled with pain and on a regimen that, every evening, saw him submerged upside-down into a water-filled cabinet. And yet, in that, he still found escape.
I like Kevin McCloud. He’s got a lovely voice. It’s like the aural representation of a crinkled forehead. There was a lot of Kevin hedging into shot on Kevin’s Supersized Salvage (Thursday C4, 9pm) and being all concerned and impassioned. The object of the documentary was to see if he and a team could ‘upcycle’ a condemned Airbus A320 into an array of “beautiful and useful objects”. Kevin tottered around throughout like a well-disposed college tutor coaxing and challenging his designers. He doesn’t mince his words so much as turn them into fine tartare. He was “inspired and moved” by the project’s results, and I very much like how he never becomes too self conscious to use such rarefied terms. At the end, as he always does, Kevin did a piece to camera and then wandered off, presumably on the scent of something else inspirational.
BBC2 had a big birthday. It wasn’t nearly as good as their last big birthday. Instead, as is the way of things currently with the corporation, it was nothing too self-aggrandising. The BBC not shouting about its own brilliance. So there was a thing about 50 years of sport on BBC2, and a thing about 50 years of music. I didn’t watch either. At some point there’s going to be another thing about comedy. And then there was All About TWO (BBC2 Sunday, 9pm), that title presumably run through the Beeb style-guide. 2 Did hearts sink or flutter in the planning meeting when someone – probably the same person who always pipes up – suggested that, hold on, why don’t we do a panel game to celebrate the anniversary? You know, another one of those quizzes where there’s no real proper scoring, and we’ll flag up rounds that we’ll just ditch in the final edit.
Nonetheless, this was as reasonable a panel game as they get. Dara Ó Briain always seems engaged in whatever he’s presenting (“One thing we can guarantee you – there will be lots of montages!”) and, of course, Richard Osman… well, he’s marvellous. I loved the title sequence. I loved the clip from Starshot. I loved Richard going into the details of the industrial action prompted by the Play School clock. I really loved some of Dara’s chats with the guests (we only got a spit of what was obviously a terrific conversation with David Attenborough, Dara asking him about how he prescribed the vision for BBC2). And I was impressed by Gareth Malone making a marzipan representation of Babcock Power Construction’s buoyancy aids. But I wasn’t so keen on having the likes of Johnny Ball and Tommy Walsh come on simply to whistle. Or guests just ‘appearing’ beside Dara (where are your manners?). Or the boring ‘name the characters’ round, which involved a montage of characters, then a long sequence of a team trying to name them, then a long sequence of them being told the correct names – twice over. And I really didn’t like Dara fruitlessly asking for any other answers in the ‘what happened next?’ bit when Gareth had already offered up the correct prediction regarding Rick Stein’s dog. Sometimes you’ve got to forget the fun and just go with the right thing.
Well, there you are. At the end of all that, totting up the scores – there’s no clear winner! Good night!
Next week: Watched #18 will travel through the AM with ITV’s Good Morning Britain