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Friday, 4 March 2011

Me & Arthur Haynes, BBC4

After exhuming stars of silent films, Paul Merton jumps forward a few decades to enlighten us with another neglected comedy genius, Arthur Haynes.

Merton follows the same format he did when lauding the silent stars. An amusing lecture punctuated with clips to elucidate each point he makes. Only here there is one important difference. He is able to call on the wit and wisdom of Haynes’ straight man, Nicholas Parsons (who looks well for 87).

With Parsons, Merton is able to crawl inside the story of Haynes, feeding Parsons a notion of what he wants to talk about and letting Parsons recount what Hayne was like. This is made better by the evident rapport between Merton and Parsons from their time on Just A Minute together.

Perhaps the biggest revelation is how well the sketches have aged. In the context of the whole programme you build up an affection for the performance of Haynes and Parsons and the scripts of writers such as Johnny Speight.

Although many of the sketches follow a formula – Haynes playing himself, Parsons playing a vicar, a policeman or some other establishment figure – the way in which the two interact is redolent of every classic double act of the TV era from Pete and Dud, the Two Ronnies, Morcambe and Wise, Ant and Dec to Walliams and Lucas. And it’s this interplay that is humorous.

Watching a few of sketches without an introduction of who Arthur Haynes was might leave you feeling a little cold to a quaint comedy sketch from fifty years ago. But after getting to know them, the conflict between protagonist and antagonist is just as funny as any other era.

We also got an insight into the way TV has changed. With the shows broadcast live and Haynes a little lazy in learning his lines, Merton brought out numerous examples of where he forgot his lines and had to be prompted by Parsons. Or it might be that Parsons would corpse and the pair would have to muddle through until they regained their composure. Parsons, meanwhile, explained how health and safety worked in the early-60s: it was non-existent. With no rehearsals, live broadcasts would feature gushing flames singeing Haynes’s eyebrows off (or near enough).

Unlike the stars of silent screen lauded by Merton, we hadn’t really heard of Arthur Haynes and Merton did seem a little upset at the way he has ostensibly been erased from television history. And judging by the gems he brought out to back up his case, it’s a sentiment we can only agree with.

Jamie's Dream School, Channel 4

Jamie Oliver’s quest to rid the nation of all the things that rots its soul has arrived at stupidity. Only it’s not stupidity. The kids – from ‘all backgrounds’, ie, one token posh hoodlum and a bunch of distracted, disruptive, diabolical drop-outs – are, in his eyes, “brilliant”. A conclusion he rapidly arrives at, basing their educational misery as analogous to his own. And hoping that they will discover some latent, stellar talent that will be lured into existence through a few lessons taught by the great and the good (and the obnoxious if you include Alastair Campbell) of British culture.

It’s a noble ambition and one that continues Jamie’s heartfelt desire to enhance the prospects of the downtrodden and dispossessed members of society.

Sadly, all of his good work is smashed to smithereens within a few hours. David Starkey has been hired to teach history. To liven up the lessons and revive the slug-like grey matter lying dormant in the pupils’ craniums, he brings in some Anglo-Saxon gold. This, he hopes, will impress the ‘bling’-obsessed generation.

But it’s as misguided as the rest of the escapade. No sooner has Starkey started to lecture – which Jamie had said was the main reason the kids loathed school – the pupils (calling them “failures”) than he is embroiled in a slanging match with Conor. Starkey snapped: “You are so fat you can hardly move.”

This enrages Conor and destabilises everything Jamie had said about building up the kids’ confidences. Conor isn’t without blame. In spite of Jamie’s insistence that all the kids are “brilliant”, Conor is an easily recognisable type to anyone who has ever attended school. A vulgar, obstreperous bully. And so it’s difficult to feel much sympathy with him. Even more so, when he later says to his mother, “I felt like picking up a table and throwing it at him.”

Conor was one of the pupils picked out for star treatment in the first episode, and, provided he doesn’t get expelled, will be one of those through whom the success of the experiment will be measured.

You see, there are elements of Dream School ripped wholesale from the DIY Book of Inspirational Documentary Series. The first of which is to establish in the first episode a sense of hopelessness and despair not felt since the Luftwaffe were bombing the hell out of Coventry with sneering impunity.

The ever-jovial Rolf Harris is a broken man at the end of his first art class, lamenting his failure to inspire the pupils with the same despondency as someone who has just watched a small child drown after swimming to within three feet of the place where their soft, brown mop of hair was sucked beneath the churning waters.

But amid all this depression, we already have our first success story! Henry, the token posh kid, was sullen and apathetic ahead of his sailing trip with Ellen MacArthur, speaking to his long-suffering parents with the same ill grace and impudence as Kevin the Teenager.

However, one trip round the Isle of Wight, pulling a few ropes and getting a bit wet and he returns home a new boy. He apologises for putting his parents through years of hell and seems to be turning over a new leaf.

Seemingly, a couple of days later in a one-to-one class with Rolf and he’s throwing his toys out of the pram again.

Did Henry go from recalcitrant ogre to contrite son back to recalcitrant ogre all in the space of a few days? Of course, it’s possible given the caprices of adolescence but the contrived way in which Jamie’s Dream School is ‘scripted’ and edited makes it difficult for a bond of trust to form between viewer and programme, almost as difficult as the one the teachers are attempting to forge with the pupils.

Monday, 28 February 2011

The TV WEEK: Saturday 5th March - Friday 11th 2011

9.00pm New Novelists: 12 of the best from the Culture Show BBC2 - The Culture Show has formed a panel chaired by professor of English John Mullan to examine the debut novels of writers published in the last two years and to identify the most important new voices in British literary fiction right now. The film witnesses the in-depth discussions of the panel as they narrow the list of new novelists down to just 12.
8.00pm Civilization: Is the West History? Channel 4 - In his fourth and most ambitious series for Channel 4, Niall Ferguson asks why it was that Western civilization, from inauspicious roots in the 15th century, came to dominate the rest of the world; and if the days of Western ascendency are now coming to an end.
9.00pm Wonders of the Universe BBC2 - Having explored the wonders of the solar system, Professor Brian Cox steps boldly on to an even bigger stage - the universe. In this episode, Brian seeks to understand the nature of time and its role in creating both the universe and ourselves. From an extraordinary calendar built into the landscape of Peru to the beaches of Costa Rica, Brian explores the cycles of time which define our experience of life on Earth.
9.00pm Country House Rescue Channel 4 - Third series of the series where former Hotel Inspector Ruth Watson comes to the rescue of the country's historic homes.
10.20pm My Dad's Army ITV -  The stories behind the headlines, as the children of the UK's fallen military heroes speak about their fathers. The children featured range from two to 21 years old and the bravery and courage of each one is remarkable. Thirteen-year-old Ethan and 11-year-old Wesley Taylor's father was a Royal Marine. They also have a baby brother, who is too young to remember his father, so the boys are building a memory box for him as he grows up.
6.30pm Royal Upstairs Downstairs BBC2 - Antiques expert Tim Wonnacott and chef Rosemary Shrager travel in the footsteps of Queen Victoria, visiting the houses, castles and stately homes she visited throughout her life. Using her own diaries and other first hand accounts of her visits, they discover the extraordinary preparations that were undertaken and explore the legacy of each visit - upstairs and downstairs
7.00pm Parents Under Pressure BBC2 - Sophie Raworth travels across Britain to find out why parents seem to be bringing up a generation of kids who are unhappier, unhealthier and more unruly than they've ever been. Armed with the latest research into childhood, she meets mothers who find it hard to give their babies the love and attention they need; parents worried about the effect of leaving their children in nursery care for long periods; and young people who've been affected by parents who are in conflict, who work very long hours or who have split up.
9.00pm Law & Order UK ITV - Fourth series of the crime drama starring Bradley Walsh. When a former footballer is beaten to death on a London street in what looks like a robbery gone wrong, investigations lead Ronnie and Matt to Mike Jones. He was seen in the area at the time of the murder, has motive and is linked to the murder weapon. Protesting his innocence, Mike points the finger at a well-known East End gangster who he claims he saw at the scene of the crime.
9.00pm Caroline Quentin: A Passage Through India ITV - First in a new three-part series in which actress Caroline Quentin makes an epic journey through the Indian subcontinent from north to south. She begins in the colourful city of Varanasi - the religious and cultural capital of India - where she attends an evening ceremony in which thousands of people light lamps and pray to the River Ganges.
9.00pm Agony & Ecstacy: A Year with the English Ballet BBC4 - Series going behind the scenes at English National Ballet over one of its toughest and most dramatic years. In the first episode, we follow the production of Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall and its cast of experienced company dancers and new wannabes fighting for recognition. When choreographer Derek Deane puts his reputation on the line by casting a talented but inexperienced young dancer with a world-class guest ballerina, the challenge is on.
8.00pm The Great British Food Revival BBC2 - A series in which ten of the BBC's best-known chefs and cooks are on a mission to popularise traditional British produce. Each chef champions a produce that is close to their heart but is in danger of being lost forever. They also demonstrate how to cook fabulous meals featuring these ingredients. In this first episode of the series, two-star Michelin chef and co-host of Masterchef - The Professionals, Michel Roux Jr. campaigns for the return of the artisan baker to the UK high street and shares his own unique recipes to show how easy and rewarding home baking can be.
9.00pm 23 Week Babies: The Price of Life BBC2 - Award-winning director Adam Wishart has unprecedented access to the babies born in such extreme prematurity on a Birmingham neonatal unit, and asks the difficult question: is it always right to keep them alive?
8.00pm Bang Goes the Winter Weather BBC1 - A special hour-long edition of the science programme sees Liz, Dallas and Jem get under the bonnet of Britain's recent weather by building a unique weather chamber in the workshop. In a Bang first they try to make cloud, rain and snow from scratch, and recreate some of the worst weather to have hit our shores this winter.
9.00pm The British at Work BBC2 - Kirsty Young looks at British working lives since the Second World War. This programme combines the memories of ordinary working people with vivid archive from documentary, television and film to look at an era in which work was a great mass experience and work places were lively, welcoming communities.
9.00pm Monroe ITV - New drama starring James Nesbitt as fantastic Nerosurgen Gabriel Monroe. At work, Monroe has the courage to perform cutting-edge brain surgery but at home, he is afraid to admit that his life is falling apart. When Alison Bannister is admitted with a brain tumour, Monroe has to help her make a frightening decision.
7.30pm Comic Relief: Girl on a Wire BBC1 - The full story of daredevil Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton's incredible attempt to walk a high-wire between two chimneys of London's Battersea Power Station - and set a new record for the highest high-wire walk ever by a woman in the UK.
8.30pm Gardeners World BBC2 - Return of the series fronted by Monty Don.

The TV WEEK: Monday 28th February - Friday 4th March 2011

9.00pm How to Live with Women BBC3 - Series in which a boyfriend with bad habits and chauvinistic attitudes is sent to live with three different, inspirational women in an attempt to make him into the perfect partner.
9.00pm The Story of Variety with Michael Grade BBC4 - 2-parter about the history of variety theatre.
9.00pm Leah's Dream ITV - Leah Garfitt looks just like any other little girl, but her body holds a tragic secret. She was born with a cruel genetic disorder and is slowly going senile. Leah was diagnosed with the childhood equivalent of Alzheimer's - a very rare condition which is always fatal. Leah's mum Lindsey is recovering from pituitary cancer, but the support of her family is so strong that for Lindsey, caring for Leah means making every day a happy one.
9.00pm The Listener FX - Second series of the US crime drama.
10.35pm Neighbourhood Watched BBC1 - Second series of the documentary that shows the work of the UK's Housing officers. Ivan Wright from the enforcement team takes on an abusive tenant with a short temper and a string of exotic pets, who believes he is being victimised; and a former asylum seeker faces life in the UK without his family, a job or a home.
11.20pm Girls Behind Bars BBC1 - Documentary series, filmed over a year in Scotland's only women's prison, which reveals an intimate and often shocking portrait of jail life.
7.30pm The Boat That Guy Built BBC1 - Guy Martin starts a six week mission to renovate a neglected narrowboat with inventions from the Industrial Revolution.
8.00pm David Attenbourough and the Giant Egg BBC2 - David Attenborough returns to the island of Madagascar on a very personal quest. In 1960 he visited the island to film one of his first ever wildlife series, Zoo Quest. Whilst he was there he acquired a giant egg. It was the egg of an extinct bird known as the 'elephant bird' - the largest bird that ever lived
9.00pm Jamie's Dream School Channel 4 - Nearly half of British children leave education without the qualifications they need to succeed. Jamie Oliver was one of them: he left school at 16 with just two GCSEs. Now he wants to do something about it. So he's bringing together some of Britain's most inspirational and expert individuals to try to persuade 20 young people, with just a handful of qualifications between them, to give education a second chance.
9.00pm OMG! with Peaches Geldof ITV2 - The socialite meets people with extraordinary stories alongside  by Radio 1's Aled Haydn Jones and therapist Emma Kenny.
9.00pm Famous, Rich & in the Slums for Comic Relief BBC1 - Lenny Henry, Samantha Womack, Reggie Yates and Angela Rippon experience unimaginable poverty as they spend a week living it for real in this ground-breaking, two-part documentary for Comic Relief. All four agree to swap their lives of privilege and luxury for life in Kibera, reportedly Africa's largest slum.
9.00pm Love Thy Neighbour Channel 4 - Reality series where 12 families to compete for the chance to move into their picture perfect lifestyle - and the villagers get to decide who stays.
9.00pm Working Girls BBC3 - Series in which girls with a non-existent work ethic are teamed with successful businesswomen in an attempt to whip them into shape. Unemployed party princess Kaycie Yates follows in the footsteps of her great-great-grandmothers to see if the experience can inspire her to get off benefits.
9.30pm A League of their Own Sky1 - Third series of the sports panel show fronted by James Corden.

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