Humankind Cannot Bear too Much Reality TV

I keep trying not to watch too much TV but it’s hard because by the time I get to 7.15 (the hallowed hour after the Archers) I don’t have the brain to do much else. I keep hoping for something new and terrific and sometimes I find it but often I end up scrolling through the schedules saying ‘nope, nope, nope – seen it, nope, nope, nope’ from after the Archers right up until bed time. Everything seems so formulaic these days and there’s far too much so-called ‘reality’ TV. Even if I’m interested in it – for example I quite enjoy ‘Saving Lives at Sea’ and if you want something to restore your faith in humanity, that’s it – even then you have to wade through two minutes of introduction (without the option to skip, as you do in drama series) with music jogging along in the background and then a minute or two at the end when they preview the next programme. I don’t want to know what’s on next time! I’ll watch it next time! I shout at the screen. Some programmes, presumably believing that we have the attention span of a gnat – even recap in the middle. I know that in teaching the mantra is ‘tell ’em what you’re gonna tell them and then tell them what you’ve told them’ – but this is ridiculous. Some series are better of course – David Attenborough keeps the progsplaining to a minimum (oo, have I invented a new word there?) and so does Michael Palin who skilfully weaves the recap into a stylish sentence as he boards the train to Krakow but others are not so considerate.

Generally I find TV a perpetual disappointment. Over the weekend I read about an upcoming series where Kathy Burke talks to celebs about ageing. I’ve always liked her so I thought it might be interesting: it wasn’t. In spite of interviewing interesting people like Jenifer Saunders and Bill Bailey the questions were dull and nothing new was said. After half an hour I decided this was not enough to compensate for the infernal adverts and switched it off.

Depressingly I often find myself turning to older programmes for entertainment. On Britbox I came across the classic Goodnight Sweetheart starring Nicholas Lyndhurst, who I consider to be vastly underrated. Nobody can do deapdan reactions or slow realisation like Nicholas Lyndhurst (I still remember him as the sensitive and intuitive younger son in Butterflies) and he is on top form in this time-travel comedy. He plays Gary, a TV repair man unfulfilled in his work and marriage who goes through a time warp and finds himself in 1940’s London in the middle of the Blitz. They could have made this a simple story of a man dissatisfied with his high-achieving wife finding love with a conventional wartime inamorata but it’s much more complex and nuanced than that – and very funny.

Then again I wonder – have we been spoilt by too much choice? If I were to look at the schedules for, say, this day in 1973 would they be any better? Or did we just concentrate harder because once it was over it was gone and you’d have to wait for the repeat several years down the line? Perhaps I should find a time warp and travel back to the ’70s; I might be happier there.

Think I’ll stick with these colours – I quite like them.

Kirk out

It’s Nice to Have Comments

Though my followers are few, yet they are valuable and when someone comments (as they did yesterday) that it’s good to see me blogging again, I feel all warm and fuzzy and have to go for a lie down. Not so long ago I thought this blog was over. I thought I’d said everything I needed to say and had no more ideas. I didn’t think I’d miss it: for months I didn’t miss it, and then I did; sentences started to spring up in my mind and I’d think ‘I’ll put that on the blog’. Or I’d watch a film and think, ‘I must review that for the blog.’

One of the things that dispirited me was the number of followers. There used to be more but they dropped off when WordPress (in its infinite wisdom) decided that you could no longer link automatically to social media, and they never recovered – even though I can copy and paste the link myself. Something had broken and it wasn’t morning – and now my followers are so few that I feel like the organiser of some whacky fringe religion. The Judean Popular Front, perhaps. I am depressed by the awareness that in internet terms I am but an infinitesimal speck; yet I don’t know how to change this. I’ve tried all sorts of approaches but all they do is to make me seem a stranger to myself without garnering any more attention. Hey ho.

The more I see of Ben Wishaw the more I appreciate him. Not only has he captured perfectly the voice of Paddington bear, he played Norman Scott to the life in ‘A Very English Scandal’, the story of Jeremy Thorpe and his gay lover. I think there should be an embargo now on calling things ‘a very British’ or ‘a very English’ something-or-other as it’s been done to death and you can’t remember which very British thing is which – but will they listen? I doubt it. Anyway, it’s a very gripping and well-told story. Hugh Grant is terrific as Thorpe; Machiavellian with a crocodile smile as he lures Scott into an affair and then dumps him. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a watch (and has resurfaced on BBC i-player.) The other thing I enjoyed recently was a webinar on ‘Being Mr Wickham.’ This is a one-man play starring Adrian Lukis who played Mr Wickham in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice. The play tells the story from Wickham’s point of view, asking the viewer, in my situation what would you do? It sounds very interesting and I wish I’d been able to see it.

Book-wise I’ve been reading ‘Bullshit Jobs’ which I mentioned yesterday – I may blog more about this another day – and re-reading ‘Miss Mapp’ by E F Benson. I’ve blogged about his books before

and they are an eternal delight. His style is so Dickensian and the way he describes the minutiae of life in terms of a Greek epic is delicious.

As a true Tillingite would say, au reservoir darlings – and I appreciate you all.

Kirk out

A Likely Lass?

I’m one of the Likely Lads today. Why? Because I haven’t seen the last episode of Happy Valley. I was too tired last night to do it justice and seeing that it’s going to be the juiciest, most jaw-dropping final episode of any drama ever, I want to be fully awake to watch.

Remember that episode of The Likely Lads where they hadn’t seen the footie results?

They spent the whole day avoiding spoilers only for someone to tell them the moment they got in the door and prepared to watch Match of the Day (or whatever it was). In the same way, I have to spend the whole day without seeing any spoilers. So, no social media, no news and if I run into one of my friends I’m going to have to stick my fingers in my ears and go la la la if they start talking about it.

The day did not begin well. You’d think you were safe enough with Radio 4’s Thought for the Day but no: it opened with ‘Good morning. Last night’s final episode of Happy Valley…’ I screamed ‘No! No no no no!’ and we turned it off.


So, should any of you be tempted to post spoilers here, be warned: I shall not read comments until I’ve watched it. This is going to take some discipline, as I normally slice up periods of work with scrolling on social media and reading blog comments. But today I shall be mostly… avoiding the results.

Kirk out

Over-Egged and Dated

There are far too many box sets around at the moment and if you’re not careful you can end up swallowing one after another without digesting them. We’re onto The Tourist at the moment, an intriguing drama of murder and amnesia, but before that I watched Rules of the Game. I’m not sure I’d have bothered with this if it hadn’t starred Maxine Peake, but it did so I did. And was it worth it? Mmnah. Not really: despite good performances by Alison Steadman, Rakhee Thakrar (Holby City) and Peake herself it seemed rather stale. The premise, that in work environments men abuse and dominate and are abetted by complicit women, would be more suited to an 80s or 90s drama than one where #metoo has taken hold. I’m not suggesting of course that sexual harassment is no longer an issue, but this drama came across as rather dated and over-egged, a bit like a bad pudding.

I also worry about the effect that this may be having on boys and young men. Of course we should document and dramatise misogyny but I worry that there are no positive role models for them, if all they see is men behaving badly , where do they get their ideas of what a man is supposed to be? Sure, we have superheroes but as far as ordinary men go, I can’t see there’s much out there.

Men Behaving Badly – now there’s a great series.

Anyway Rules of the Game is still on the iplayer, though for how much longer if the government have their way, remains to be seen. I tremble if this lot stay in power, I really do.

Kirk out


I have an elderly relative who says this, but I put it down to them growing up in an age before mobiles. Then I heard it on TV; in the drama series The Girl Before to be specific, and again today on the radio. It’s taking hold. What is it? The phenomenon of texed.

You can see how it happens: as the word text morphs from a noun into a verb it begins to sound like a past tense in itself: you have to stop and think in order to realise that the past tense is actually texted. But it sounds clumsy so instead people say he text me or he texed me, which isn’t actually a word. How would you write it?

The Girl Before is an excellent drama a little reminiscent of The Draughtsman’s Contract. A paranoid and deeply controlling architect designs an extraordinary house. In the process his wife and child die. Is it an accident? Did he kill them? And is he responsible for what happened to the girl before? His latest tenant tries to find out and nearly loses her life in the process. Fascinating stuff.

Alas, the same cannot be said of A Very British Scandal, the story of how the Duchess of Argyll was hung out to dry for doing the exact things her husband was guilty of. But in order to care I’d have to be interested in the characters and after half an hour in the company of the most boring and self-absorbed people I’d ever come across, I switched it off and watched the Christmas University Challenge instead.

Kirk out

University Challenge: is it Easier Than it Was?

A few weeks ago I blogged about University Challenge and Beetleypete commented that it seemed to be easier now than in the days of Bamber Gascoigne. Ever since then I’ve been meaning to watch an old episode and compare, and today I managed it.

There are lots of episodes available on YouTube but the one I chose was from 1984, UWIST v Queen Elizabeth London. This is obviously far from being an exhaustive study but it does give you a reasonable idea of the differences. What struck me first of all was the friendliness of the presenter: Gascoigne is approachable and smiles a lot, unlike the irascibly avuncular Paxton who rarely smiles, is often critical and sometimes verges on rudeness. Paxman is much stricter than Gascoigne, although he allows more time for the bonus questions, just saying irascibly, ‘Oh, come on!’ when they take too long. Gascoigne also indulges in friendly banter, a skill which seems alien to the soul of Paxman, so that the 1984 experience comes across as altogether more relaxed than now.

But what about the questions themselves: are they any easier now than they were then? On this sampling, I’d have to say no, definitely not. On a good day with Paxo I get around 12-15 questions right: with Gascoigne I managed 18. That’s not unheard of nowadays but if anything I found the 1984 version easier. Interestingly there were 2 questions which also came up in Monday’s Christmas episode (FYI I’m not comparing the Gascoigne version with the Christmas episodes as the latter tend to be easier.)

If anything I think the modern University Challenge is sharper, more focused and yes, harder.

So there.

Kirk out

Why Can’t I Launch You?

You know the song: sung with unbearable slowness, it goes, ‘if a picture paints a thousand words then why can’t I paint you?’ Fair question: it then goes on to wonder, ‘if a face could launch a thousand ships,’ to which the obvious follow-up is ‘why can’t I launch you?’ It brings a bit of light relief to a very sloooow song. I don’t know why I mention this except that it was on my mind and I often start blog posts with something that’s on my mind and hope it will lead somewhere.

We’ve been having a bit of a Doc Martin fest lately, but all good things come to an end and after 9 series we were left missing our Port Wenn fix. But fear not! cried OH, for there are films available. Indeed there are, three of them in all, fairly short, made-for-tv films. So watch them we jolly well did. Two of them anyway. They’re very different from the series, with a much jollier doc being pleasant and polite to the patients he inherits from an incompetent sitting GP, having fled London to escape the pain of his wife’s multiple infidelities. All the Dibley-on-sea rural charm is there but none of the other characters are, and Port Wenn is cloudy unlike the eternal sunshine of the TV series. It’s like going home again and finding everything the same but different.

And on radio we have the delight of a new Douglas Adams that isn’t actually Douglas Adams, Starship Titanic. I’ll get to that later.

In the meantime I have to go and get my booster jab.

Happy Monday.

Kirk out


I didn’t think we’d be able to see this highly acclaimed series as it’s on Sky something or other, but turns out it’s available on our Now TV stick. And it was certainly worth it.

Landscapers is an odd title for a true crime series, though how accurate the series is, is debatable (the intro tells us it’s a true story before deleting the word true). The title refers to the fact that Susan and Clive Edwards ‘landscaped’ Susan’s parents’ garden by burying their bodies in it, a crime which remained undetected for 16 years; it also denotes the landscape of their fantasy world, immersed in cowboy films.

The delightfully ubiquitous Olivia Coleman stars with David Thewlis (Harry Potter, An Inspector Calls) as a couple seemingly adrift in modern society. But this is a story not a documentary, and the question of whether they, or she were guilty of murder or whether, as Susan claimed, her mother shot her father whom she then shot in self-defence, is not answered. What isn’t in doubt is that they then buried the bodies in the garden and ran off to France.

As crime dramas go, this is a very unusual production, with flights of fantasy interspersed with realistic drama. At times it’s almost play-like and you can easily imagine the set pieces transferred to a stage. Susan and Clive are shown as people born out their time and clueless at navigating the modern world. She was supposedly abused by her father with the full knowledge of her mother, abuse which according to this narrative continued in other forms after she left home and which may have triggered the double murder.

Whatever their guilt or otherwise, Clive and Susan seem to have been a very strange couple. In spite of having an adequate income they racked up massive debts through buying signed celebrity photos, and seemed to have a fantasy relationship with Gérard Depardieu. In the final episode I could have done with a bit more of the courtroom and a bit less of the cowboy fantasy but overall this was a compelling and very unusual drama.

Kirk out

Seeing the Doc

No, I’m not ill: I’ve been remarkably energetic lately, what with decorating the bedroom (now a lovely shade of aqua) and moving things around, but come the evening I’m fit for nothing but a sprawl on the new sofa and a binge-watch of good drama. We can’t seem to find much worth watching on terrestrial TV, hence Britbox where we found no fewer than all 9 series of Doc Martin.

I say drama but it’s also quite like sitcom with stock characters Large and Son doing their own Only Fools and Horses sub-plot, but most of it is drama with comic moments (I’m resisting the word dramedy but I guess that’s how you’d describe it.)

For the benefit of the two and a half people who have been asleep for the last decade, Doc Martin centres on a character with autism and his struggles to connect with the rest of society – or to be more accurate, the rest of society’s struggles to connect with him, in particular his eventual wife, normal-human-being Louisa Glasson. Martin Ellingham (we’ve just sussed that the name is an anagram of writer Minghella) is cold, unemotional and spectacularly rude, but is redeemed by being an excellent doctor who genuinely cares about the health of the community he serves.

Comic staples aside, there is a real authenticity to the characters, not only the doc and Louisa but his aunts Joan (Stephanie Cole) and Ruth (Eileen Atkins), the former a farmer and the only person who cared about Martin as a child, the latter a dry, sardonic but decent woman, herself a retired psychologist. And of course there’s an endless parade of patients with interesting problems: part of the pleasure of watching is in trying to figure out what’s wrong with them before the doc does.

But perhaps the greatest joy of watching this is in the setting. Port Wenn (real-life Port Isaac) is stunningly beautiful in the way only a Cornish village can be, with fantastic coves, bays, headlands, twisty roads and cottages all providing a variety of locations and, since it’s always sunny when they film, a great antidote to these cold grey winter days.

Kirk out


I don’t watch a lot of quiz programmes on TV but I do still enjoy University Challenge and Mastermind, hence Monday night is quiz night.

I always watched Mastermind when I was younger and rightly or wrongly assumed that the contestants were there to display and test the knowledge that they had gained in some particular field. Of course they would have brushed up on the subject before coming on the programme, but essentially it was about the knowledge that they had gained in the course of their lives.

Not so nowadays. Last week I was stunned to see one of our neighbours on the programme. ‘Look!’ I said excitedly. ‘It’s that woman from down the road!’ Turned out it wasn’t as she lived in Manchester and when I thought about it I realised that her hair was different too. So why did she look so familiar? Eventually I worked it out: she’d been on Mastermind before, and probably other programmes as well. Last year’s winner had not only been a contestant in previous years but had also appeared on other quiz shows. People are in quiz leagues and clubs: they go quizzing up and down the country. It’s almost a profession.

The only quiz that does seem to be a genuine test of knowledge is University Challenge.

Kirk out