Anyone in Britain will know that postcode as well as they know their own, for it is that of the Beeb, our beloved Auntie, allowing nation to speak peace unto nation and still producing some of the best TV around and all of it sans adverts. W1A dates from a few years back, though series 3 is more recent, and stars Hugh Bonneville as Ian Fletcher, former head of Olympic Deliverance (in ‘2012’) along with Jason Watkins, Nina Sosanya and Sarah Parrish.

It took me a while to get the full flavour of what is really going on here. Not being well-schooled in office politics it didn’t immediately strike me that Ian is being set up to fail by his colleague Simon (‘Head of Strategic Governance’) who has – or claims to have – the ear of the BBC chairman and who constantly passes off the crap jobs (‘I don’t know how these things work and you’ll know how you want to deal with this…’) whilst swooping in to claim responsibility for all the good ideas emanating from Ian’s environs. But Ian’s soon onto Simon and does some pre-empting of his own, getting hold of strategic plans and coming in early to beard Tony in his den and pass them off as his own which in this case they actually are. The frozen smile on Simon’s face when this comes out is exquisite.

W1A is full of such moments, too full to list them all but it rapidly becomes clear that Ian is no fool and always seems to pull something out of the hat at the last minute. Hurrah. The dynamic in his team is paralleled by the sub-plots of Izzie Gould and Lucy Freeman (the only other competent workers in the BBC) who in turn are plagued by slimy opportunist Jack Patterson, office idiot Will Humphries and the utterly unbearable and totally Machiavellian David Wilkes, while Siobhan Sharp (Jessica Hynes) makes everyone’s life a misery without even trying. The voice-over (David Tennant) is a joy in itself. So go watch the BBC having fun on itself with itself. Yes no, very good, very strong.



Kirk out

Mum Season Three


If there was ever a sitcom where so little happens and where narrative is stretched to an unbearable degree, it’s Mum. I’ve blogged about series one and two before, and since Michael and Cathy finally – sort of – almost – get together at the end, I’d assumed that was it. But there’s more – and this time the tension comes from the fact that as a couple they are not ‘out’ yet, especially not to Cathy’s son Jason who, still reeling from his father’s death, is giving Michael a hard time. Cathy finds an unexpected ally in daughter-in-law Kelly who eventually tells Jason he’s being a ‘bellend’ but as always nothing is resolved until the final seconds when Cathy and Michael run away to frolic in the woods. ‘What a moment to put herself first!’ complains Pauline, who never does anything but.

They’ve cleverly gone for a new setting this time: the series spans a week away in a country mansion, hired to celebrate Derek’s birthday. Girlfriend Pauline has indulged her snobbery to the utmost in hiring the place for the week: it’s got towels in the shape of swans and when people arrive she tells them all she was ‘just about to take a dip in the pool’, despite it being freezing cold.

My main beef with this is that apart from Cathy and Michael who progress towards union at a snail’s pace, the other characters don’t change. There’s plenty of opportunity for small epiphanies but potential sub-plots such as Kelly’s unacknowledged pregnancy and whether Derek and Pauline will get married, are not developed. Even when Cathy gives Pauline a longed-for slap in the face and tells her to ‘go f*** yourself’ nothing changes: Pauline carries on treating Derek like dirt and he carries on taking it. In fact he abandons self-respect to such a degree that it’s embarrassing.

So on the whole it’s a bit of a Giant’s Causeway of a series. If you enjoyed the first two it’s worth seeing, otherwise it’s not worth going out of your way to see.

Kirk out

The Voiced and the Unvoiced: Mum’s the Word


Here, for your delectation, is a link to one of the best sitcoms of modern times, ‘Mum’.  A sort of updated ‘After Henry’


it’s the story of a widow from the day of the funeral until the day she is able to move on.  Cathy, the ‘Mum’ of the title, is surrounded by people who are ostensibly there for support but who actually do little but irritate and interrupt.  From her son and his live-in girlfriend to her brother and his unbearable partner, to her unpleasant and bickering parents, the house is continually full of annoying people.  They are the voiced, giving utterance to every thought, no matter how rude or unhelpful, while Cathy is the unvoiced.  She just smiles, puts her head on one side and says ‘Okay?’ whilst folding linen, taking out the trash and cooking three types of dinner for these ubiquitous guests.

Cathy’s only confidant is her husband’s best friend Michael.  It is completely obvious from his first appearance that Michael is besotted with Cathy.  It seems equally obvious that they are destined to end up together; but the writer ekes this out to the n’th degree and (I hesitate to put SPOILER ALERT because it’s such a little thing) at the end of the final episode she intertwines the tips of her fingers with his, and that’s as far as it goes.  It’s a beautiful, infuriating, tormenting sitcom, a perfect antidote to series where people are forever jumping in and out of bed, and I urge you to watch it NOW.

It has only just occurred to me, I confess, that the title may be a pun; because as well as being a Mum, Cathy keeps mum.  The voicing or not-voicing of thoughts is a staple of sitcom, and on the opposite end of the spectrum we have Alf Garnett and Basil Fawlty.  Alas, unlike the divine Fawlty Towers, ‘Till Death Us Do Part’ can never be shown again due to its overt racism.  Alf Garnett not only voices his every thought, he shouts it from the rooftops, holding court from the depths of his armchair and giving the world the benefit of his homespun bigotry.  The disturbing thing about Alf Garnett was that for many he became a hero as he voiced their thought as well; and here’s the danger: such figures can be double-edged.  I expect for many Basil Fawlty was a hero too – but then again, doesn’t he speak a little bit for all of us?  Who among us has not wanted to jump up and down and scream at a rude customer or give the car a good thrashing when it won’t start?  Who among us is without thought-crime?  Who is fit to cast the first branch?

Kirk out

There’s More to This Than Meets the I-player

W1A, the sort-of sequel to 2012, is a mockumentary about the BBC; specifically, its staff who work behind the scenes in Broadcasting House.  It has been going for two or three years, and at first I found it subtly enjoyable but short on real laughs.  But it has grown on me.  As I pointed out a few days ago:


it’s a sort of cross between The Office and Dilbert with bits of Reggie Perrin thrown in (there’s a pair who say ‘brilliant’ and ‘cool’ which is surely the modern version of ‘great’ and ‘super’:


Most of the characters work in jobs no-one understands, least of all themselves: and top of the incomprehensible heap is Ian Fletcher, formerly Head of Olympic Deliverance, now appointed as the BBC’s Head of Values (or Captain Values, as his colleague Simon likes to call him.)  We first see him arriving on his Brompton; it’s not long before Simon gets a better one, thus beginning a running gag about Brompton bikes.

In series two Anna Rampton, previously moderately competent, is promoted to Director of Better, a job neither she nor anyone else understands:

‘The fact is this is about identifying what we do best and finding more ways of doing less of it better.’  This is pure Dilbert; but as the series went on I found myself irresistibly reminded of Theresa May, another woman promoted beyond her capabilities and reduced to repeating meaningless soundbites.

Simon’s Machiavellian  antics, previously confined to bikes and buck-passing, reach new heights in this third series when a new post is created and no-one tells Ian Fletcher.  When challenged, Simon tells Ian the post was considered beneath his grade.

‘Well, can I sit on the interview panel then?’

‘Sorry, that’s just for the big-wigs.’

‘Great.  So I’m too important to apply for the job but not important enough to sit on the interview panel.’

‘It’s a unique position Ian.’

Brilliant stuff.

Meanwhile Lucy, the only competent person in the BBC apart from Ian Fletcher, is spending every spare moment being pursued by the intolerable David who keeps bending her ear about his problems and then passing off his ideas as her own.

But in spite of the Dilbert connection I suspect this wouldn’t work in the US because none of the comedy would arise if it wasn’t for everyone being just too damned polite.  Siobhan Sharpe of the BBC’s PR company is everyone’s worst nightmare and impervious to – well, anything at all really – but no-one has the gall to tell her so: Simon is a shit-stirrer extraordinaire who dodges every bullet by saying ‘well, I don’t know how these things work and you’ll know how you want to deal with this’ whereas David’s tactic is to go uber-camp: ‘I know!  Tell me about it!  It’s a nightmare!’ when everyone knows it was his incompetence that caused the problem in the first place.  But they’re all too polite to say so – all except Neil, the old-fashioned tell-it-like-it-is head of news who says things like ‘bollocks’ and ‘we’re f***d.’  But alas, his tropes are no more effective than anyone else’s.  The last series ends with Lucy and Ian almost getting together… but I’m sure some nightmare co-worker will turn up and put a stop to it, and they’ll be too polite to tell them to **** off.

I urge you to watch this if you can.  Series 3 is on i-player and if you have Netflix you can watch series 2 there as well.  You can watch it on your syncopatitablet…


Kirk out

Comfrey Cuttings? Cut!

Image result for comfrey open source images

I just discovered this post lurking in the drafts folder: I wrote it a week ago and thought I’d published it, but not so.

I’ve got a bit carried away with gardening this week, and while the two lavender cuttings were settling into their pot, I looked up methods of propagating comfrey.  Mark used to joke about this herb, ‘it doesn’t come free, you know,’ but actually – it does.  Not only that, if it’s in a place where you don’t want it, it’s very hard to get rid of.  But I wanted to take some from between the cracks in the front garden and transport it to the back – to which end, I did some research – and, surprise, surprise, you can’t take cuttings.  I more or less knew this, but whereas the recommended method is to divide the plants and transplant one half, the only comfrey plants available to me have wedged themselves so tightly between paving-slabs that it is impossible to get any garden implement in there.

But all was not lost.  As I wrote ‘comfrey cuttings’ on my notepad, a small twinge occurred in my brain.  It reminded me of something.  Some poking around revealed this to be an abortive follow-up to Dad’s Army called Parsley Sidings.


And all of this set me thinking about sequels to sitcoms.  Ones which failed include Joey, the unsuccessful follow-up to Friends; Going Straight, the much less exciting spin-off from Porridge, and one which only I seem to remember, Constant Hot Water, which featured Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner of Coronation St) as a B&B landlady.  I didn’t know, however, that there had been a sequel to M*A*S*H called Aftermash, but so it was.

However not all spin-offs are doomed to oblivion.  Some do even better than their progenitors.  Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? is widely considered to be better than the original, and Frasier is far superior to Cheers.

None of which gets me any further with the comfrey.  I did attempt to dig up a couple of roots, but they both perished.

And this post has gone all squashed.  Maybe that’s what happens if they don’t see the light of day…

Kirk out



One Richard Up, One Down…

So farewell then… Richard.  Yes, Richard Briers, aka ‘The Actor in the Car-park’, has died aged 579.  Known for his roles in The Good Battle of Bosworth and Ever-Decreasing Plantagenets, this much-loved actor’s reputation suffered after he played roles in Shakespeare where his deformities were exaggerated and he was only allowed to portray villains.  This was in marked contrast to his role in Real Life where he was well-liked, playing opposite such great women as Queen Margaret (‘Margot’) Leadbetter.

Richard Briers III was killed by a blow in the head from a tractor whilst out digging in Bosworth Field, although for years he had suffered from curvature of the spine due to walking in Ever-Decreasing Circles.

Oh, all right then… Richard Briers is dead.  This is very sad, though probably not unexpected as he was 79: he seems to have as well-liked in person as he was loved in his acting roles, the best-known of which were characters he himself disliked.  He found Tom Good unbearable and Martin Bryce (of ‘Ever-Decreasing Circles’) “a man of giant insecurity”, but was able nonetheless to make them sympathetic.  The Close, featured in the latter sitcom, could be a prototype of Harry Potter’s Little Whinging – and, though The Good Life was funnier in many ways, I found EDC more intelligent in the way it got inside the characters.  Another feature of the programme which I liked was what I called ‘Howard-and-Hilda jumpers’: each week Martin and Ann’s neighbours (and friends) would appear sporting a different set of matching knitwear.  There’s a classic example in this clip – about 3 minutes in:


I love the attention to detail in this series – the way Martin always turns the phone round when he comes in the house; the way Briers got his walk and mannerisms exactly so.  Briers also did a lot of voice-over work as he had an inimitable and highly individual voice: breathy but with a note of urgency and insistence; a voice that said; ‘You can be comfortable with me but I’m not a will-o’the-wisp.  He will be much missed.

Another blast from the past – we actually watched Coronation Street last night with Holly.  Amazingly, Ken Barlow and Gail thingy are still in it!  Take a look:


And that was yesterday.

Kirk out