Category Archives: TV reviews

Gone With Noakes

Image result for John Noakes

People are dropping like flies now: the baby-boomer generation is being mown down like an army at Passchendaele, and barely a day passes without further news of a hero or heroine being taken from us.  Today saw the death of one of my childhood icons, John Noakes.  Like the rest of my generation I grew up with Blue Peter, specifically the Blue Peter of Val, John and Peter Purves (aka Peter Perfect) who to me were the definitive BP team.  I liked Val; she was pleasant and sensible, and Peter was OK but I never really felt close to him.  But John!  John was unique.  In these days of wacky TV personalities it’s hard to appreciate the impact of an eccentric personality on a child in the late ‘sixties, but John broke the mould.  He was not only physically daring, he was accident-prone and clumsy, tripped over his words and laughed at himself.  In an age of staid, respectable, word-perfect presenters, Noakes was a breath of fresh air.

I was upset, though, when I found out later about some of the programme’s secrets.  For some bizarre reason the presenters never had an autocue: they had to learn the script by heart which, for a live programme which went out twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays as God intended) must have been an added strain.  But Noakes later complained that he had felt underpaid and undervalued by the BBC – and when I heard that, I felt almost betrayed.  I had felt so sure that what we saw was what we got – a happy family all working together.  It made me sad.

So RIP John Noakes.  Those of us who came home from school to watch you in black and white will not forget.

John and Shep reunited.

Kirk out

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Count Arthur Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeak

WordPress has recently informed me that I’ve been doing this blog for nine years.  Well, who’d ha’ thowt?  When I started I had just two readers (outside of family members); now I have – oo, at least, erm – actually it’s hard to say because although daily views are quite low, on aggregate (as they say in football) it could run into – well, dozens at least.

Actually I try not to worry too much about numbers.  I used to check my stats obsessively each day and try to work out what was popular and why.  I failed utterly.  There’s no fathoming readership statistics so, rather than spend my whole life worrying about them, I try to be thankful I have some readers and just get on with writing about what interests me.  Because the whole reason I started this blog was to practise writing about a variety of subjects in order to improve both thinking and expression.  Readers are basically a bonus: comments doubly so.

Of course many people like and comment on Facebook, since the blog is linked to that particular medium, and these do not show up in the blog stats.

None of which has anything to do with today’s title.  So let us consider the mystery of humour.  Why do the things that make you laugh do so?  And conversely, why does some comedy leave you utterly cold?

Now, I’m on record (buried somewhere deep in this blog) as saying that Count Arthur Strong is just absolute rubbish.  It’s utterly lame, there’s only one joke which they keep plugging, the actor isn’t remotely convincing and it’s just awful.  In my book he’s basically Harry Worth for adults (you won’t remember Harry Worth unless you’re over 40, but he was fun if you were a kid.)

 

And yet, I know of several adults – educated, intelligent, thoughtful adults – who claim to like Count Arthur Strong.  I simply cannot comprehend it.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08r8dtk/count-arthur-strong-series-3-1-count-arthurs-house-of-horrors

Apparently there are people in the world who don’t laugh at Monty Python.  And they’re not the same people who like CAS eitehr.  Go figure.

Give me an evening of Victoria Wood any day:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08qhn17/our-friend-victoria-series-1-6-fame

Kirk out

* PS OH says that his Maths teacher used Harry Worth’s shop window routine as an illustration of symmetry:

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Charles III and Another Windsor

Camilla (Margot Leicester), King Charles III (Tim Pigott-Smith), Kate Middleton (Charlotte Riley), Prince William (Oliver Chris), Prince Harry (Richard Goulding) in King Charles III

Image result for open source images barbara windsor

(no copyright infringement intended: images will be removed on request)

Notwithstanding Ken Loach’s recent comments about historical drama on the BBC, with which I substantially associate myself:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-37679158

the Beeb does produce some stonking drama; and two gems I’ve seen lately tend towards the biographical; one retrospectively and one futuristically.  They are also royally linked; the subject of the first, ‘Babs’ being about a self-styled Windsor and the second, ‘Charles III’, featuring an actual member of that family.

I have never been a fan of Barbara Windsor.  You could argue that the construction of the dumb bombshell with the humungous bazoongas was a creation of male writers and directors, but it was one in which she was complicit.  Her ‘Carry-On’ persona so completely eclipsed her earlier acting talent that I was completely gobsmacked to find that she’d worked with Joan Littlewood.  You would think that Littlewood, a Communist in early years, would be anathema to the conventional and staunchly royalist Windsor; but work together they did.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02t02pl

Littlewood warns Windsor in this production that if she’s not careful she’ll play the dumb blonde for the rest of her life, a prophecy which came true – at least until Babs moved to EastEnders.

I liked this programme, in spite of it’s following the ‘Lady in the Van’ convention of having two narrators: it showed a side of Windsor I would never have imagined.  But it was as nothing to the stupendousness of last night’s ‘Charles III,’ an imagining of the first months of Charles’ reign following the death of the Queen.

Tim Piggott-Smith plays Charles (Smith was shortly afterwards to die) in a tour de force.  But though the acting is superb, the success of this begins with the script.  With the great soliloquys written in iambic pentameter, it brings to mind every Shakespeare play that ever featured a monarch, and takes us back to the power-plays of Richard II and Henrys IV and V.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen this yet I strongly advise you to watch before reading on.

Charles is known nowadays to be proactive behind the scenes; this play sees him make some disastrous decisions in his first days by refusing to sign a bill which comes before him, thus precipitating an answer to the age-old question of where royal power resides.  The paradox has been sustained for generations; the Queen signing bills with which she almost certainly disagrees, being fully aware that not to do so would precipitate a constitutional crisis.  You have to pick your battles, and Charles’ tragic flaw in this is that instead of waiting and discussing, he charges straight in like a bull at a gate, prompting the Prime Minister to call his bluff and enact the bill into law with or without royal assent.  The Machiavellian Leader of the Opposition advises the King to follow the example of William IV and dissolve Parliament: this he does, and the ensuing crisis is Charles’ downfall.

What was most interesting was the role of Kate in this.  Bored by her portrayal as a smiling and supportive wife, she urges the indecisive William to take control and intervene.  Kate is the typical Shakespearian female malcontent, albeit with more possibilities open to her than a Tudor princess: and from the moment she persuades her husband to act, the writing is on the wall for Charles.  He becomes Lear; pathetic, outcast, bemoaning the treachery of his children and only giving way when they threaten to leave the palace and take his grandchildren with them.

Also interesting was a sub-plot centring on Harry’s desire to be a commoner: he returns to the fold just in time for the coronation.

And this is how the play ends: with William being crowned in his father’s stead, and stability being returned.  At the last minute Charles snatches the crown from the Archbishop, seeming to be about to put it on his own head.  Instead, in a touching gesture, he places it on William, murmuring ‘my son.’

And there’s even a Shakespearian ghost: Diana returns to speak to both widower and son, telling them both that they will be the greatest king ever: in a nice twist, it seems Charles will achieve this by abdicating.

I can’t sing the praises of this enough: I’m going to watch it again in a few days.  I’ve only scratched the surface here.  I urge you to see it while you can:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p04z0n7s/king-charles-iii

Kirk out

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Frog Spawn?

What with netflix, i-player and itv.com, we are never short of series to watch.  But there’s a limit to how many you can get involved in, since many dramas demand no less than total immersion for the entire length of two, three or more clutches of episodes which – if they’re American – can run to unfeasible lengths.  Interestingly, bridging the Atlantic (so to speak) is the series Episodes featuring the divine Tamsin Grieg (whose praises I sang so loudly the other week) and Stephan Mangan.  The series-within-a-series is written by these two: it’s a great success in the UK but loses practically everything in being translated to LA:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1582350/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

But I digress.  Due to the diligence and devotion demanded of the viewer, I have chosen thus far not to begin with The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad or Line of Duty.  I have watched one or two Scandi noirs but you have to pick and choose these, and in the smorgasbord of my viewing I prefer to mix drama with comedy, documentary with soap (Casualty and Holby are staples) and Mastermind with University Challenge.  My current drama fix is the excellent BBC London Spy, first broadcast a year or so ago, now available on Netflix: this comes highly recommended, and I am also hoping to get another chance to view Capital, starring Toby Jones.

As regular readers will know, I am a great fan of really good sitcom: recent gems include Uncle and Detectorists but definitely, DEFINITELY not the latest offering, Bucket.  The usually excellent Miriam Margolyes does her best with the fairly lame script, but the whole thing is ruined for me by the main actor and author, a hitherto unheard-of woman called – if you can believe it – Frog Stone.

Frog Stone!  I ask you – what sort of a name is Frog Stone?  And why does this unknown woman – who as far as I can gather has done nothing else – get an entire series of her own?  OK it’s a nice idea, a comedy series about a dying mother and her daughter trying to get through her bucket list, but it’s just not that good.  As far as I can see the preposterously-named F*** S**** is neither an accomplished actor nor a very good writer.  So how do people get this work?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08mp2lb/bucket-series-1-episode-2#group=p02q32p1

Mind you, I have a thing about incomprehensible names: I was once unable to listen to an entire interview with Lionel Shriver because my brain kept shrieking how can a woman be called Lionel?  How can a woman be called Lionel?  It was like the elephant in the room – and nobody mentioned it! *

So answer me this: how can a woman be called Frog Stone?  I demand to know.

Kirk out

*I later found out that she chose the name as a tomboy and it stuck

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Misery Loves Company but Company Does Not Love Misery

I’ve been thinking about a woman I know – let’s call her Linda.  Linda is a talented and potentially interesting woman; she is creative and has an unusual history.  But I avoid her as much as I possibly can.  Why?  Because, frankly, Linda is a misery.  Sure, she has problems: who doesn’t?  I know I have.  But Linda is unhappy.  I don’t know what has caused her to be this way: I don’t mind listening now and again, but when a person’s conversation consists of nothing but problems, compassion fatigue sets in.

Linda lives in the same town  as me, and whenever we meet she takes the opportunity to tell me how much she hates it.  I don’t hate it, and I’ve told her so: I’ve been here about six months and in that time I’ve got to know Quakers, church people, Labour party members and others on the Left; folk clubs, beer clubs and cinema clubs.  I’ve got involved with stuff: and that’s the key.  I know some people find integration harder than others, but if all you do is sit around and feel sorry for yourself, you are bound to feel miserable.  If misery is at the forefront of your mind, it will affect your interactions; and if your conversation consists of nothing but misery, other people will start to steer clear.

Yes, positive thinking has its drawbacks, though it can help; but better than positive thought is positive action.  Do something: get involved with projects, interact with people, especially those worse off than you.  There’s nothing like a visit Sound Cafe for putting my own problems into perspective; there’s nothing like hearing about refugees for helping me to value everything I have.  We all have something to be thankful for – and at the risk of sounding like ‘Thought for the Day,’ every night I think about the good things that have happened during that day.  It’s a good practice when you wake up, too…

So don’t be like Linda.  Be like Manny after he’s swallowed The Little Book of Calm:

It’s 15 minutes in.

Kirk out

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Lark Rise to Kembleford

Seeing as how I often involuntarily rise with the lark, when dusk approaches I tend to be tired, so I take a trip to Kembleford where Father Brown lives.  Chesterton’s detective-priest might seem utterly dated today but this adaptation, while preserving the setting, modernises some of the attitudes.  As the parish priest of Kembleford, a village where the murder rate is so extraordinarily high it’s a wonder they have any inhabitants left, Father Brown manages to insert himself into every investigation and inevitably finds clues the police overlook in order to crack the case.  A priest makes an unlikely detective but they do have things in common: like detectives they hear confessions and they have a pass to situations where the rest of us can’t go.  They are also present at the end of life.

The plots are highly improbable and most of the characters cardboard cutouts, but what makes this watchable is the character of Father Brown.  The central character is done just right by Mark Williams of The Fast Show (also Mr Weasley in the Harry Potter series.)  He reminds me of the recently-deceased Rabbi Lionel Blue:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lionel_Blue

Though of different faiths they both exhibit the same patient, understanding manner; the same humility, the same essential faith. Father Brown’s belief in the potential of every human being for redemption causes him to stand alongside criminals and victims alike; a great antidote to these days of tabloid recrimination.

The episode where the character’s strength hit me most is The Eagle and the Daw, where Father Brown is wrongly accused of murder.  Instead of ranting about his innocence he sits patiently in his cell and waits for the outcome to unfold, even though these are still the days of capital punishment and the stakes are high.  Then when he is, inevitably, exonerated – and solves the case to boot – everyone gathers round to congratulate him.  But instead of lapping it all up he tells this story:

Once there was a jackdaw who was very vain.  He watched an eagle one day, soaring in the air.  ‘I can do that,’ said the jackdaw.  He watched the eagle swoop down on a baby lamb and carry it off into the sky.  ‘I can do that, easy,’ said the jackdaw, and he flapped his wings and flew high into the air.  He hovered over the flock, then swooped on a baby lamb and stuck his claws into it.  But he didn’t have the eagle’s strength so no matter how much he flapped his wings he couldn’t lift the lamb off the ground.  Then the farmer came along, caught him and put him in a cage for his children.  And there the jackdaw stayed.

There’s no vanity whatsoever in the character of Father Brown: he has no concern for his appearance, nor for social status.  Sometimes I wish I could be like that too – but it’s a bit of a tall order.  Still, inspiration can be found in the unlikeliest of places…

Here’s the latest episode:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08b83rj/father-brown-series-5-13-the-tanganyika-green

Kirk out

PS  Like the title?  See what I did there?

 

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Honey I Watched the Programme

OK it’s time once more to talk about Transgender issues.  If you are totally bored, fed up, sick and tired of hearing about this seemingly ubiquitous topic, I understand.  Feel free to scroll down to the next post.  However if, like me, you are baffled and confused and would like to understand it better, read on.

But first I would like to discuss something that’s happening a lot at the moment, and that is the closing down of debate.  I’m all for disallowing a platform to those who would use it to spread hatred of other groups; to insult people or to incite violence.  These are unacceptable and besides, we have laws about them.  But this has got confused with the idea of denying a platform to people who we disagree with.  Universities have banned speakers who support the state of Israel, for example, and Germaine Greer fell foul of students who disliked her stance on transgender people.  And last week a number of people decided (without watching it) that the BBC were ‘promoting’ the views of Dr Kenneth Zucker, who believes that parents know better than children when it comes to gender issues.  Now, as it happens I don’t agree with him – but that’s not the point.  Kenneth Zucker lost his job at a gender clinic for expressing and acting on views which most people (it seems) now disagree with.  There’s a new orthodoxy: challenge it at your peril.

I find this worrying.  We have to be free to express certain views, even at the risk of upsetting some people.  This is not the same thing as abuse or hate speech: to say that parents know best about their children’s gender, is not the same thing as calling trans people names, or saying they shouldn’t exist (and there’s plenty of that about).  People like Kenneth Zucker should be allowed to express their views, provided that within the context of a documentary they are balanced by a range of other views – which in this programme they were.

So: to the documentary, broadcast last week and called ‘Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?’  The programme featured the voices of children and parents on both sides of the argument, centring on – as the title says – who knows best: children – or parents and ‘experts’?

Now, I confess to a bit of seeing both sides here.  As a home educator I am firmly child-centred, allowing my children to choose how, what and where to learn (I don’t want to defend this approach here but I have blogged about it elsewhere: https://wordpress.com/post/lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2199)

So I am sympathetic to the idea that children know best who and what they are.  I also disagree with Kenneth Zucker’s view that the child is play-acting.  ‘You wouldn’t feed a child dog-food because they pretend to be a dog,’ he points out.  No, you wouldn’t – but play-acting is different from gender dysphoria.  A child might pretend to be another gender for a while, but gender dysphoria is, as the mantra has it, consistent, insistent and persistent.  In other words, it is repeated long and loud and it doesn’t go away.  If a child pretended to be a dog insistently over a long period of time, you would get help: so clearly something serious is going on here.  But on the other hand, childhood is a process, an evolution; a becoming.  So I’m uneasy about allowing children to make choices at too young an age which will affect the rest of their life.

What did become crystal clear to me was this: traditionally gender has been assigned at birth by the body you were born into.  This was the bottom line, and whatever thoughts or feelings the child was experiencing needed to come into line with the body.  Whereas nowadays, we tend to think the opposite: the mind and feelings express the ‘reality’ and the body must come into line with them, even if that means surgery.

Alongside this there is a demand that society should accept the transgender person for what they are.  Again, fine with me (in general, that is, putting aside my personal issues).  However, in practice this means remembering names, preferred pronouns and styles of address, and for the hapless ‘ordinary’ person it can be a minefield.  The other day I witnessed an unhappy interaction between a friend of ours and a m-to-f trans woman.  Our friend had known this woman for years as a man and was struggling to remember to call him ‘she’.  The woman really tore into him and I felt embarrassed and sorry for him because he was clearly not doing it to upset her; he just kept forgetting.

These demands that everyone accept us, remember what we want to be called and do it Or Else, are problematic.  I’ve just started doing an online course where one of the tutors, for reasons best known to herself chooses not to capitalise her name.  With the best will in the world, it’s extremely difficult to remember an individual set of names and pronouns every time you meet someone: I found this when I went to the ill-fated discussion on Gender in Nottingham (see this post: https://wordpress.com/post/lizardyoga.wordpress.com/12186).  To be honest, these days it’s as much as I can do to remember people’s names without having to deal with genders and preferred pronouns.  Yet if you forget, all hell can break loose.

So here’s the thing: no-one has the right to deny another’s right to exist.  Yeah, right on.  Totally signed up to that.  But no-one (and that includes me) has an absolute right to self-expression: we have to take account of those around us.  There has to be dialogue and interaction and discussion.  Which kind of brings me back to where I started…

Kirk out

 

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