British TV in 2012: A Year of British Pride, Period Drama Success and the decline of Nasty Reality TV

So here we are in 2013 with a whole year of TV in front of us but before all that it’s time to look back at the year in British TV both the highs and the lows.

A Year of British Pride

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As a non-sports fan I was a bit sceptical about the Olympics and wondered why we had to endure endless hours of handball and fencing over the normal programming. However even I was swept up in the Olympics following Danny Boyle’s great opening ceremony which had everything from The Queen’s cameo in the James Bond sketch to Mr Bean to a ‘music through the ages’ bit featuring a live performance from Dizee Rascal. Obviously there were lowlights of the event, step forward Trevor Nelson’s commentary, but overall the opening ceremony gave us a hint of what we had to expect over the next few weeks.

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Obviously the event peaked with Super Saturday in which we saw Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farrah all pick up Gold Medals in their respective events while Andy Murray also got Gold in the men’s singles tennis. We also had the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton and Tom Daley bring us towards our second largest medals total in a Summer Olympic Games. Aside from Super Saturday my abiding memories of the Olympics have to be admiring the theatrics of the Beach Volleyball and the Tron-like splendour of the fencing. I also was gripped by events that I never thought I would be such as the shooting finals and the diving even though, like most, I really struggled to understand the scoring system.

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The Closing Ceremony, while not as spectacular as the Opening Event, will still go down as the most watched TV programme of the year. There were some lowlights most notably George Michael who, instead of playing Careless Whisper, instead dazzled us with a new number that none of us really wanted to hear. Thankfully though there were a lot of highlights including Take That, The Who and the reformation of the Spice Girls who all performed atop London taxi cabs presumably because they didn’t want to be that close to one another. Just as the nation were about to suffer from Olympic withdrawal the Paralympics came along and introduced us to a new crop of unknown athletes who took the world by storm namely Ellie Simmonds, Dave Weir and Sarah Storey. The event is also notable for being broadcast on Channel 4 who did an incredible job mainly by poaching the presenter who has become synonymous with London 2012 – the wonderful Claire Balding.

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The Olympics and Paralympics weren’t the only big events of the year though as we also celebrated sixty years of Queen Elizabeth II with a number of events. Firstly we attempted as a nation of trying to kill her off by drowning her which resulted in Prince Philip going to hospital before treating her to a lovely concert. To me this concert was a bit more special than her 50th do as Madness performing Our House on the top of the palace beat Brian May’s guitar solo ten years previous. Though there were some moments that bought this concert down – Gary Barlow and Cheryl Cole’s duet, the mini Kylie concert and the booking of Grace Jones in general overall it was a great event. From Robbie Williams through to the official jubilee single and the final Paul McCartney numbers this was an unforgettable moment though I personally will never be able to forgive Lenny Henry for cutting Rolf Harris off during ‘Two Little Boys’ but at least he didn’t react like Adele did at The Brit Awards. After a 2011 Royal Wedding and a 2012 Jubilee Concert the only royal event in 2013 will be the birth of a new heir to the throne when the Duchess of Cambridge pops one out. Though unless everybody gets a day off work and there’s a concert at which Take That perform ‘Babe’ and Diana Ross sings ‘Baby Love’ then it won’t have the same aura as the events of the past couple of years.

Period Drama Reigns Supreme
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2012 was a strong year for drama from the first episode of series two of Sherlock which aired on New Year’s Day right through to the Christmas Special of Doctor Who however it seemed that the majority of the Brits wanted their drama still rooted in the past. This was evidenced early in the year with the arrival of Call the Midwife an adaptation of the memoirs of Jennifer Worth who worked as a midwife in the early 1950s while living at a convent. I think the appeal of the programme was the combination of familiar faces with a story of hope and courage plus the fact that Miranda was there to say something funny when needed. Despite most of the episode featuring on poor and deprived families everybody seemed to have a smile on their face and it was this picturesque squalor that saw Call the Midwife become the biggest BBC drama success in years. The show was rightfully rewarded with a Christmas special, which festively featured both a neglected pensioner and a teen mother giving birth in secret, but surprisingly this became the lowest rated episode of the series so far.

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Period drama was also the biggest hitter on ITV with the third series of Downton Abbey which achieved record figures and occasionally got better overnight ratings than both Strictly Come Dancing and The X-Factor. After the shockingly quick finish to World War I, this series took us through the roaring twenties and introduced us to Cora’s mother played in theatrical style by Shirley MacLaine. There was also glee as Matthew and Mary finally got hitched however Mary’s sisters didn’t too well with Edith getting jilted at the altar by the guy from Cold Feet and Sybil dying while giving birth to her son by the bitter Irish ex-chauffeur. The series ended on a slightly happier note as Thomas got his job back, Bates was released from prison and everybody else celebrated the success of the house in the annual cricket game. Like with Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey also got its own Christmas Special however it wasn’t particularly well-received and ended with the death of another character after Matthew perished shortly after his son with Mary was born.

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Elsewhere cult drama ruled the roost with my favourite drama series of the year being Sherlock whose final episode had me gripped from beginning to end as Sherlock died before coming back to life. It was also an exciting year for Doctor Who as the new block of five episodes were essentially mini-movies with the final New York-based instalment being a farewell for Amy and Rory who departed the Tardis after two years of accompanying Matt Smith’s Doctor. The Christmas Special also properly introduced us to the new companion in Jenna Louise Coleman’s mysterious Clara Oswin Oswald who has appeared in two episodes and died in both of them however that at least sets up a central mystery for next year’s series. We also bid a fond farewell to Merlin after five years and in a final episode, which had a lot of Brokeback Mountain about it, Arthur finally discovered Merlin’s secret before they vanquished Morgana and Arthur popped his clogs to become the once and future king or something like that. In terms of other favourites of mine the BBC had a stellar year with Good Cop, Accused, Line of Duty, Silk and Parade’s End being some examples of their best offerings of the year. ITV1 also produced a whole host of new dramas with the second series of Monroe and Scott and Bailey being particular highlights while Mrs Biggs, DCI Bank and The Town all won rave reviews. Channel 4 had a notably quiet year until the final months gave us three brilliant dramas in political thriller Secret State, family saga Everyday and the gritty The Fear.

Nice Reality TV triumphs over Nastiness

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Though it had become a sleeper hit in 2011 I don’t think anybody could’ve predicted the success of the third series of The Great British Bake-Off. What is essentially a village fete is transformed into a gripping programme thanks to clever camera-work, compelling contestants and two very different judges in Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. I think though the thing most of us liked about Bake-Off was that camaraderie that existed between the contestants which is a rarity in these sort of shows. Meanwhile Mel and Sue are on hand to counsel the contestants and listen to their dilemmas while at the same time taking a cheeky nibble at what they’re baking. With an audience of over six million for the final, in which John triumphed over James and Brendan, it was clear that the Bake-Off was a success and with an American adaptation and a move to BBC1 it is clear that the general public want to see nicer contestants winning awards for genuine abilities.

Chris Maloney on The X Fa 010 British TV in 2012: A Year of British Pride, Period Drama Success and the decline of Nasty Reality TV
Compare that to the latest series of The X-Factor which suffered from low ratings, uninspiring contestants and a finalist who nobody liked. The problems started with the first live show in which camp Essex lad Rylan fell into the bottom two with country chanteuse Carolynne Poole with Louis Walsh taking the vote to deadlock after supposedly being told to by producers. Personally Rylan didn’t offend me that much and his colourful performance, as well as his banter with Barlow, won me over by about week four. The bigger problem was Christopher Maloney who was constantly criticised by all of the judges, notably Tulisa, and therefore received sympathy votes from the public which made him the lead the votes for the majority of the contest. Christopher came across as a fame-hungry, cheesy ballad singer who claimed to be crippled by nerves yet had a previous career singing on cruise ships. Better singers such as Jade, Melanie, Ella and the aforementioned Carolynne were cast by the wayside in favour of Christopher and Rylan while problems continued with the inane comments of Louis Walsh and the bitchiness of Tulisa. The only saving grace of this year’s series is in new judge Nicole Scherzinger whose off-the-wall comments and made-up words were a highlight of an otherwise boring series. There’s no surprise then that X-Factor was beaten in the ratings by one of the best series of Strictly Come Dancing where all the contestants seem to leave the show at the right time. Though there was a slight backlash against the almost-professional Denise Van Outen taking part overall likeable sorts such as Lisa Riley, Dani Harmer, Louis Smith and Kimberley Walsh more than made up for it. Even bitchy judge Craig softened this season which might of been the influence of newcomer Darcey Bussell who more than replaced Alesha Dixon in her dancing knowledge and general likeability.

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While the BBC may have triumphed over Cowell in the autumn it was another story earlier in the year when reality TV newcomer The Voice took on Britain’s Got Talent. Initially The Voice got rave reviews due to its knowledgeable judges/coaches, who included Will.i.am and Tom Jones, and its focus on pure singing talent with the spinning chairs being a particular highlight. The Voice started to gain momentum and beat Cowell’s Britain’s Got Talent in the ratings despite the latter having a fresh judging panel and a new style. Things changed though when The Voice started its live rounds and people grew tired of the now tired singing format while on Britain’s Got Talent they were charmed by finalists Only Boys Aloud, Ashleigh and Pudsey and Jonathan and Charlotte. As The Voice ratings plummeted, Britain’s Got Talent’s final got one of its biggest ratings ever as the likeable Ashleigh and Pudsey triumphed while no-one can remember who it was that actually own The Voice. Elsewhere Channel 5 pumped out three series of Big Brother with the celebrity series featuring Julie Goodyear turning on everyone and Julian Clary triumphing while the pleb version was the most complained about show of the year thanks to nasty Connor’s various attacks on Indian beauty Queen Deana. The year finished as always with I’m a Celebrity Get Me out Of Here which featured mainly nice characters and was only saved by the brutally honest Eric Bristow and always the likeable hosting style of Ant and Dec.

The Saville Scandal
Though it’s a thoroughly unpleasant story it wouldn’t be a review of the year if I didn’t mention the scandal that rocked the BBC and exposed a former national treasure as a nasty piece of work. It started in October with an instalment of the ITV1 Exposure documentary strand in which it was revealed that Saville used his TV shows and charity work to sexually abuse children. Over the rest of the year more and more victims of Saville came forward meanwhile the BBC were criticised for postponing a Newsnight investigation into a side of Saville that some of them obviously knew about. This decision ended up seeing the resignation of the BBC Director General George Entwhistle and the arrests of several high profile figures who are said to have been involved in similar activities to Saville. My hope is that the all that were abused by Saville get the closure they need and that no-one need mention this man again.

Ending with a Laugh
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We’ll finish by looking at comedy and we’ve had a mixed bag this year with BBC1 having one of its worse years thanks to The Royal Bodyguard, Mrs Brown’s Boys, Citizen Khan and Me and Mrs Jones. There was brighter comedy on the horizon though with my favourite being Channel 4′s brilliant student comedy Fresh Meat whose second series was a thousand times better than its first and thankfully it has been renewed. The same cannot yet be said for my other two favourites BBC3′s grotesque love story Him and Her and BBC4′s nursing sitcom Getting On which were both full of believable characters and hilarious moments. The biggest shock though is that Sky has become one of the best producers of comedy in 2012 with A Touch of Cloth, new Alan Partridge specials, Walking and Talking, Stella and the second series of Trollied and Spy all providing plenty of laughs throughout the year. The best of the Sky output though had to be the brilliant Moone Boy, Chris O’Dowd’s semi-autobiographical sitcom about growing up in Ireland which featured the magnificent David Rawle as Martin Moone and O’Dowd himself as his imaginary friend. It shows the confidence that Sky had in the programme that it granted it a second series before the first had even aired and after watching this charming and funny show I can see why they did.

So it’s Happy New Year to all my readers and let’s hope for some great TV shows and moments as we proceed into 2013.

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