Watched #31
The continuity announcer diligently slowed the pace: “Now on ITV, it seems the end was just the beginning as we return to… Broadchurch.” Whereupon we were presented with a man in a pig mask being chased by police officers. “A break from the drama, with Skoda”.

I believe you can extrapolate a lot about Broadchurch (ITV Monday, 9pm) from the title. It’s a place name that, when we first heard it, somehow already carried the weight of tragedy, almost like a Hungerford or an Aberfan. Furthermore, I actually think even its font bears meaning. The kerning is immaculate1, indicating a production of impeccably judged spaces: How the characters (I mean people, not typographical) interact, when they interact – even how the sky cuts across the picture, two-thirds down.

But before all that, ah, the speed-bump of  sponsorship. I’m not trying to say that you should need planning permission before erecting something like this  – the money has to be got – but it upset the tone. Later, it was into the commercials, again  with that lovely typeface, the migraine-like incidental music… and then another break from the drama courtesy of Skoda.

That was only a small irritant. The best thing about Broadchurch being back was it immediately felt like we were back in Broadchurch. Some dramas struggle to recapture the same sense of place, but perhaps by virtue of the storyline following in the immediate aftermath of Danny Latimer’s death, everything was set on just the right track. Because of this, it was easy to feel resistant to newcomers and I was annoyed with Charlotte Rampling’s retired QC Jocelyn Knight. Why pretend you’ve no intention of taking on the case when your whole purpose in the story is patently to take on the case? Let’s get on with it! Conversely, it was novel to experience the suburban, fenced-in, tiny spaces of Sandbrook at the end of the episode. A new and exciting location to explore, with secrets presumably boxed up inside those boxy homes.

It’s very satisfying to sit here right now knowing we’ve seven more weeks to  wonder about. Mark Latimer secretly playing FIFA with young Tom Miller – you can understand why this might provide comfort for the grieving father, but there’s also an echo of Joe Miller’s relationship with Danny. Where might this lead us? And now she’s stopped procrastinating, (“Spare me the sentimental populism!”) Ms Knight is teed up for a mighty clash with Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s Sharon Bishop. I’m up for it all. Except those breaks in the drama.

Talking about breaks, I’m battling with new shoes. I’ve got to break them in. I walked a couple of miles this morning, then applied plasters to my heels – welts had opened up. I’ll keep going, because eventually they’ll yield and it’ll be worth it. I won’t be trying again with Celebrity Big Brother (Channel 5 Wednesday, 9pm). It’s a hard show to criticise without 1) Sounding like a complete middle-class knob and 2) Trashing a whole seam of entertainment that so many clearly enjoy. A potential easy-win would be to write something negative about Katie Hopkins, but I’m cautious because that is her oxygen. Nonetheless, I have to point out how ill-equipped she was to fulfill the brief of becoming some kind of catty commentator on the virtues of her housemates. Lots of head swaying and finger wagging, covering for stilted, half-connected and cliche-ridden barbs. The fact that they were traded with the rough-cut guide-commentary that is now the stilted voice of Big Brother didn’t help.

All the while, folks tumbled into the house, the women nearly all branding themselves “bitches”, everyone attempting to own their own notoriety. “Ken used to have a collection of vintage American limousines!” bellowed Marcus Bentley as the forever-Reg Holdsworth mounted the stairs. The “used to” bit told his story. Patsy Kensit to win, though. “I’ve done some pretty shit films,” she confessed in her VT. “The problem is, I fart a lot”. I tried making an “I hope they’re not Absolute Be-lingerers” joke on Twitter. Hash-tagged it up #CBB. It got no purchase.

There’s another TV experiment going on in Bring Back Borstal (ITV Thursday, 9pm), in which 14 young troublemakers submit to a 1930s-style Borstal regimen for four weeks to see what effect it might have on their behaviour. The premise is a little wonky. Nowadays 80 per cent of people who’ve been through a young offenders’ institute go on to commit further crime within two years of release, compared to 30 per cent who endured the old system. There are clearly huge societal differences which also contribute to these numbers – but nonetheless, I thought the programme was quite instructive. It was telling (but of what I’m not sure) that so many of the inmates were young fathers, and in 19-year-old Casey Spence the show found a particularly eloquent contributor who talked about his struggle to turn his life around. Professor David Wilson2 talked of the whole thing as being “one of the toughest challenges I’ve taken on”, because it’s television and he has to. But you can already see this is going to be less about crime and punishment and more about rehabilitation.

Sandra is in dispute with Matt because his hose is hitting her zinnias. Jo Jo has been tickling her potatoes in the hope it’ll inspire growth, while others are worried about theirs getting scab. And, actually, Lena’s have caught blackleg. Over in the ‘Eat’ challenge, Thane Prince wants to see sauce jars filled up to the ‘shoulder’. Who knew jars had a shoulder? In many respects The Big Allotment Challenge (BBC2 Friday, 9pm) is about absolutely inconsequential things. Details. The arbitrary straightness or tidiness of an item. But at the same time it’s tapping – digging – into something fundamental, the arts of growing, eating and making. I very much like the fact it’s not chasing drama. There is no booming voice-over track, and the omnipresent music doesn’t so much build to anything, as move us along like an attentive party host. The contestants – drawn from a broad demographic spread – even hold hands at the end of the episode when one of them is asked to leave the allotment. It doesn’t get the adrenalin pumping, but it does feed the soul.

  1. If Chris Chibnall ever were to become boss of Doctor Who, I, for one, would be excited about the possibility of the show sporting nice typography for the first time since 1986
  2. Who was governor at HMPS Wormword Scrubs, Grendon and Woodhill, to name a few
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Watched #20
“Oh well.” The last words uttered in Alan Bennett at 80: Bennett Meets Hytner (BBC4 Saturday, 9pm). Even if you didn’t see it, you can be certain which of that duo said them. Who sighed them. The Eeyore-ish response was prompted by director and Bennett’s sometime colleague Nicholas Hytner rallying for a suitable end to their TV hour together. He’d said, after Alan had talked uncomfortably of future works, “Well, I’m looking forward to as much more as you care to write!”

“Oh well”.

I came to this interview – two people in a studio with cameras self-consciously in shot or reverentially plaining around them as per the BBC4 house-style – not as a particular Bennett devotee. That isn’t a judgement, more I’ve never properly made the time. I’ve certainly enjoyed his work in theatre and on TV. And I’m aware of its critical worth. But I’ve never specifically sought it out. Perhaps I might make a start. His conversation with Hytner was unusually weighted, the interviewer, perhaps by virtue of also being a collaborator, talking rather a lot. Lucky he’s so clever. “What kind of literature do you find fellowship in?” he asks, not a question I would ever have thought to pose. But the real sparkle, of course, comes from Bennett. Bennett with his hair ruffled at the back, and arm, at times, slung around the back of the chair. He talks with a delicate wisdom that seems matter-of-fact. “The things that you remember,” he says, “are the things you didn’t do”. This leads into a clip from Talking Heads: Waiting for the Telegram (one of perhaps too many excerpts which break into the conversation) and a wonderful performance from Thora Hird, talking with bitter regret about the day she didn’t jump her fiancé‘s bones. Cut back to Bennett, who is gently shaking his head, as if trying to cast off that emotion.

Referring to that series, he says now: “They came like poems… but it’s not there anymore.” Then he reads a bit from his memoir, The Lady in the Van, his feet pulsing gently. Hytner talks about how they’re both trying to flog this project as a movie and that there’s “lots to come”. But Bennett, who can sometimes be a nostalgic, is no romantic. “I find it harder and harder to write,” he says. “All writing is writer’s block”. We’re back at the end, and another impeccably crafted phrase before Hytner makes that flourish. Bennett says his work isn’t like upholstery, you can’t lean back on it. “It’s not a comfort you’ve done all this stuff, it’s a rebuke you can’t do it now”.

The colon is  enjoying a purple patch right now. So many shows employing it to connect up their increasingly disclosive  titles, named almost with an eye on search engine optimisation1. Here, then, is The Comedy Vaults: BBC2’s Hidden Treasure (BBC2 Sunday, 9pm). I’ve written a lot about old telly over the years, and have come to bristle at phrases such as ‘rare’ and ‘archive’ in TV journalism when talking about the provenance of some obscure footage. They’re prissy, dead words. Nonetheless, it’s still kind of exciting when they pop up within the remit for a clip show. “We’re not going to be serving up the familiar classics,” says Tamsin Greig in the voiceover booth. And, let’s not get too nit-picky, it pretty much didn’t. The star turn, of course, was the horrendous Elton-Curtis-penned pilot for Madness, which from the small excerpt we got (and any more than that would have set the nation bilious) was lumpenly staged, performed and written, relying far too heavily on that 1980s stand-by of breaking through the fourth wall. I could have done with more, however, of Kevin Turvey: The Man Behind the Green Door, while the bit from Clinton: His Struggle With Dirt was exactly the right bit for me. I remember howling at the “she was actually carrying on the affair under him during this televised denial” back in the day, despite having no other memory of the show per se.

“Audi lying about safety standards, Sports Direct with discounts you shouldn’t believe, Sky Broadband punishing you for not having their products, plus the B&Q paint that left this woman allergic to her own sitting room.” Stay with me. “Yes, we’re back”. Here it comes. “It’s Watchdog, the programme you cannot afford to miss.” Let me just restate that in bold and italics with a bracketed bit for the sake of my format: Watchdog (BBC1 Wednesday, 8pm). I thought MasterChef was going to be on at 8pm, you see. Here’s the consumer series mustering for another eight-part run, airing live and hosted by Anne Robinson. I’ve been nasty about the show before (blimey, nearly 10 years ago), but I confess it’s still a fascination. In part, because it conspires to create a world where people refer to Anne Robinson as ‘Annie’. We learn much about her life over the hour, that she drives an Audi, that it would be an affront to infer she might buy her lunch from a supermarket (Riz Lateef: “I’m not suggesting you do, Annie…”), that she doesn’t like high street sales, and that she owns a coat that costs a lot more than £88.

Desperate to loosen Annie’s grip is Matt Allwright, who works his Rogue Traders concession  vigorously, hawking hard for our attention. His report about a seemingly dishonest airport car parking firm ends up in a good place, Allwright challenging the MD’s assertion he’s not “obliged” to answer any questions by pointing out: “When you say ‘obliged’ it kind of goes with the territory of taking money off people that you don’t lie to them.” But along the way he throws in a million added-value gags, that just makes the whole enterprise seem nervy. Comedy riffs with Tony Hadley, because the company in question is called Gold Parking Ltd. And jaunty, please-do-not-change-channels banter like, “We need answers to this airport parky malarkey”.

When the end credits roll, he’s joshing away with fellow wagster Chris Hollins. Annie, meanwhile, presumably having the Audi brought round.

The Big Allotment Challenge (BBC2 Thursday, 8pm) is now over, with a perfect cob of sweetcorn – “Yes, you’ve got a nice lot of sheath on it,” confirms judge Jim Buttress – and a perfect melon. Followed by dahlias and a hanging design. “Shall we put borage in there?” And lastly a hamper, including a chilli vodka that nearly finishes dear Thane Prince. This is a corner of England, forever green, And like that image, it feels like something comforting from the past (specifically last autumn’s Great British Bake Off final). I’ve said beforewe’ve all said before – there’s nothing new in this. But I like it. I hope they turn the soil and do it all again next year.

  1. Big digression, but wither the pun show name? I remember when it was announced Alexander Armstrong was going to be playing Sir Clive Sinclair in a drama about his Spectrum years, the title, at that stage, was the excellent Syntax Era. When it came to screen? Micro Men. Sigh.