This week it’s time to explore the BBC’s resurrection of its Saturday night autumn line-up.
And that means the return of flagship show Strictly Come Dancing which came back with a one-off launch show in which the celebrities, who had been announced mid-week, would be paired with which professional dancers. Of course the pairing we all knew was going to happen was between goofy has-been Anton DuBecke and Anne Widdecombe, a woman who is a fan of the show but one who is blatantly going to be awful. Although the Anne and Anton partnership won’t last as long as John Sergeant’s reign of terror they should last a couple of weeks. Also not destined to last long is Paul Daniels who is partnered with last year’s champion Ola Jordan, something else I predicted, as Ola did well last year there’s no way that they’d let her win again. Potential winner Matt Baker and potential first out Goldie were the other two couples I predicted correctly, Kristina who has been paired with Goldie hasn’t had much luck with her partners although she was last paired with current boyfriend Joe Calzaghe so it’s not all bad. The Strictly producers are looking for more romances after Joe and Kristina and Ali and Brian both got together last year and this year’s best hope for this is between Sarah Platt from Corrie and new boy and High School Musical alumni Jared Morello who look like a cute couple. Brendan Cole and Patsy Kensit would also have been a potentially fiery pair but instead the former has been hooked up with Destiny’s Child’s Michelle Williams and the latter coupled off with new boy Robin Windsor. The show featured a group dance in which the bookies were able to see how all the celebs would fare for the first time and so the odds changed on certain stars. For example rugby boy Gavin Henson was one of the front-runners but has now dropped down whereas Jimi Mistry and Felictiy Kendal have both scored with the latter a possible dark horse winner. Overall this launch show was an incredible tease and should’ve been a pre-amble to the actual series but in reality that couldn’t happen because of training regimes and the possible horror of the press finding out. But it did demonstrate that this is one of the strongest years of Strictly ever and has a lot better class of stars than last year which ended with a Hollyoaks hunk and BBC’s breakfast’s sportscaster.
Stricly was followed by autumn drama series Merlin, the show that kind of fills the Doctor Who void in the year’s darker months. For those who don’t’ watch it, the programme follows the exploits of the young Merlin and King Arthur in the time before either was the great legendary figures that we have read about. Instead Merlin is still hiding his magic a secret only known by Victor Meldrew and more recently the young Lady Morgana who started the series as a bland Irish ward to Anthony Head’s Uther but has turned a bit evil and has become a bit of a campy villain. The third series begins with Arthur, Merlin and a bunch of expendable Camelot soldiers still on the hunt for Morgana a year after she disappeared. Morgana reappears but with her strange staring eyes now being used a lot more now that she’s a bit evil. However the only suspicions of her evilness come from Merlin. Meanwhile with Morgana now back she is plotting the downfall of Camelot by sending Anthony Head’s Uther slightly potty by using his tears as a way to enter his head. All this is to get revenge for Uther’s treatment of all the people with magic who he had either banished or killed after the death of his wife. At the end of episode one Morgana’s villainy was revealed as she unleashed an army of CGI spiders onto Merlin in an attempt to finish him off however Camelot’s resident dragon swooped in to save the day, but what are the dragon’s motives? Although it’s utter trite at the best of times Merlin is still an enjoyable romp which has benefited from a slightly larger budget as the magic insects launched upon Merlin can testify to. The plot seems to have finally picked up some pace and even the performances of the young actors have slightly improved (apart from Bradley James as Arthur who is still shockingly bad) which means that this series of Arthurian adventure may be the best one yet.
Moving on to more drama now as the BBC dramatises the beginnings of ITV’s flagship soapy drama Coronation Street. To make things even more interesting one of BBC’s most enduring soap actresses Jessie ‘Kat Slater’ Wallace playing one of Coronation Street’s most famous women Pat Phoenix.. The story starts as Tony Warren a jobbing actor is drafted in to the new-look Granada T.V. as a writer under Canadian scribe Harry Eton. Warren presents Eton with a script for Florizel Street a series set on a normal Manchester street which meets with disapproval from Granda’s upper-class bosses who don’t understand the importance of the goings-on on a normal Manchester street. The inital screenings aren’t well received with the uppers not knowing whether it is a comedy or a drama but after Eton sees his cleaning lady enjoying it he decides to pitch it to the working class women at Granada who all relate to the story-lines. Running parallel to this is the casting sessions in which Warren insists that all the actors be cast from Manchester, Annie Walker actress Doris Speed doesn’t seem to be a problem to cast as does William Roache as Ken Barlow (played by Roache’s son James). When it comes to Elsie Tanner, the mouthy Pat Phoenix manages to get the part after impressing in an audition opposite Warren. The hardest to cast is the ballsy battleaxe Ena Sharples who is finally cast when Warren suggests an actress who threatened to slap his bottom, Violet Carson played by Lynda Baron. I did really enjoy this programme although it was full of clichés it still managed to portray a realistic Manchester-set drama. The performances were spot on especially those from Wallace, Baron and David Dawson as Warren. There were also nice little touches as Speed tells Carson that some people had said that Corrie would be around as long as The Archers while everybody thought that William Roache would be heading to Hollywood and as we know 50 years on Roache is still playing Ken Barlow. Overall The Road to Coronation Street was a well-made and well-acted nostalgia fest with a few insights into what went into making Britain’s most-loved TV institution.
More drama and a tribute to the Battle of Britain in Albert’s Memorial starring David Jason as a cab driver who has promised to bury his friend Albert in Germany a place that they served during the war. Jason’s Harry is joined by David Warner’s Frank, of course Warner is best known to this generation as Filch from Harry Potter but has done a lot more than that. Transporting a body from England to Germany in a London cab obviously isn’t an easy feat and there are a lot of comic mishaps as Harry and Frank end up putting Albert’s body in a lorry in order to get it past customs however they lose the lorry. Harry and Frank then pick up a German hitch-hiker called Vicki who helped them get Albert’s body back by driving like a maniac and then flirting with the lorry driver. Although the drama wasn’t all hijinks as the pair and particularly Frank have a dark secret involving a German girl that he fell in love with. Certain parts of Albert’s Memorial were well done, the chemistry between Jason and Warner was great and you could believe Frank and Harry’s relationship while some of the comic elements also worked. Where the programme fell down was in its darker moments and its final revelations about Vicki almost ruined everything that had gone before. What had started as a light-hearted feel-good romp descended into a maudlin piece of regret and lost friendship something that should never have happened in my view. In the end Albert’s Memorial turned out to be a disappointing programme which was almost a waste of time watching it in the first place.
We’ve said goodbye to a lot of T.V. institutions in the past week Sun Hill Police Station, The Big Brother House and Peggy Mitchell now Aidensfield, Yorshire in the 1970s also bids us a fond farewell as Heartbeat comes to an end after a staggering 18 years. I do remember Heartbeat in the days of Nick Berry and the roguish Greengrass both of whom have since left. However some of the stalwart characters are still there including Oscar Blaketon, Alf Ventress and Tricia Penrose as Gina. The final programme started with a stolen cab containing some sausages but soon turned a lot darker and featured a story about Russian espionage and double crossing posh boys. Meanwhile Alf and Oscar took centre stage as they originally planned to go biking around France but ended up staying at the pub however to prove their worth they got involved in the main storyline and were threatened with being shot before Oscar fell on a rake. For a series finale the final scene was awfully tragic as Oscar didn’t die but was on his last legs all the other regulars raised their glasses to the man who used to operate Basil Brush. Whereas The Bill ended with a gritty speech and Last of The Summer Wine saw the characters going off together on a bus, the end to Heartbeat didn’t feel like a proper conclusion and that was probably because Oscar didn’t pop his clogs. I think with the clear-out of old-school shows it was right that Heartbeat disappeared and its surprising that this nostalgic slice of small-town life lasted so long.
When I saw that The Young Ones was cropping up as a new show in the BBC schedules I thought that Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer and gang were back but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Instead we have an ‘experiment’ in which more mature celebrities are forced together into a 1970s style house to see if this can make them feel younger. All the celebs are in their 70s and 80s and all have an assortment of ailments, walking sticks and wheelchairs. Eldest of the bunch is Liz Smith, one of my favourite TV people of all time who sadly had three consecutive strokes and now needs two sticks to walk around. The other female of the group is another actress Sylvia Sims while rounding off the bunch are former cricket umpire Dickie Bird, ex-newsreader Kenneth Kendall, former News of The World editor Derek Jameson and dance maestro Lionel Blair. Blair is the only participant who I don’t really deserves to be there, he seems to be a lot more capable than the rest and is probably there for the exposure instead of the hope of feeling a bit younger. The events are watched by several behaviour and medical experts whose job it is to moderate the experiment. In the first episode both Derek and Sylvia are almost finished off when they have to drag their suitcases up the steep staircase they are then left to fend for themselves in the kitchen and also are taught yoga for some reason. The point of the experiment is that the six have to pretend it is 1975 as this will apparently make them feel younger and more agile. On one hand this is an admirable show as some have personal goals Liz wants to walk on one stick while Kenneth doesn’t want to give up his dogs which may be achieved through the experiment. But at the same time I can’t help but thinking this is a little bit cruel I didn’t see the second episode but I do hope that the group did feel a bit younger otherwise the whole thing would’ve been for nothing.
Finally we find another bunch of celebrities are undergoing a challenge for no apparent reason other than to gain a bit of exposure in more than one way as they trek across Northern Norway in 71 Degrees North. The group include former Strictly contestant Andrew Castle, upcoming Strictly Contestant Gavin Henson and Eastenders returnee Shane Richie. Also along for the ride are Suzie Amy and Marucs Patrick who are both associated with the awful Echo Beach and Xtra Factor host and Mrs. Charlie Brooker Konnie Huq. Rounding off the gang are Matthew Rose from Eastenders, gardener and the bloke on the Morrisons adverts Diarmind Gavin, Misfits star Lauren Socha and some Scottish woman who makes bras. The whole thing is hosted by Kate Thornton (who always makes me want to poke my eyes out) and Gethin Jones (another Strictly alumnus). The two are split into two groups initially lead by Castle and Richie and begin a hike which will see one group having to camp outside while the other get a lovely log cabin. Castle’s group make the end point first but seem to have less of a fun time in the cabin than Richie’s lot do in the tent. That is mainly due to the sulky nature of Lauren who seemed to dominate the first episode with her moaning ways and refusal to eat the dinner presented her. However methinks that she just wanted to get out of the programme as she isn’t a has-been as she currently stars in the BAFTA-award winner for drama and also was nominated for another BAFTA for her performance in Samantha Morton’s The Unloved. Surprisingly she was unanimously voted out of the show which I think she was happy about as she didn’t have to go through any more of the immunity challenges. This week challenge saw all of the contestants having to strip down to their swimsuits and swim across a freezing cold river which was shockingly won by uber-fit rugby star Henson. Overall there will be one winner but I’m not sure what they will win precisely and whether it will be worth possibly getting frostbite. 71 Degrees North is a bit like an Arctic version of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here but without any of the bickering or interesting parts. In other words its a complete dud.
Next Week: Joe Maddison’s War, Seven Days and The Special Relationship