Saturday, 12 September 2020

DES + LOUIS THEROUX: LIFE ON THE EDGE

This article was originally published in The Courier on 12th September 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

DES

Monday to Wednesday, STV, 9pm

Dennis Nilsen is one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers. His necrophiliac killing spree came to an end in 1983, when human remains were discovered in his drains. That’s where this superior drama begins. 

David Tennant is mesmerising as Nilsen. It’s an understated, almost offhand performance; his matter-of-fact demeanour is chilling. Nilsen initially appeared willing to help the police with their investigation, but Des (his nickname) suggests that his primary motivation was to remain the centre of attention for as long as possible. An arrogant, manipulative psychopath, someone whose motivations you could never fully hope to understand. Des resists the temptation to glibly psychoanalyse him. 

Despite the grisly nature of Nilsen’s crimes, this isn't a graphic, exploitative drama. The murders are never shown on screen, it’s respectful towards his victims. As always, however, you can't stop thinking about their families. I'm as hypocritical as you are, we find these stories fascinating.

INSIDE THE BOMB SQUAD

Monday, Channel 4, 8pm

According to this urgent new series, Britain’s bomb disposal squad are called out more than 2,000 times a year. Most of their destinations are ordinary streets. Boasting unprecedented access, the programme follows some of the elite soldiers who risk their lives in the line of duty. The production crew obviously haven’t been granted access to sites containing suspect devices – doubtlessly much to their relief – so the experts have agreed to wear 360 degree cameras while they carry out their highly dangerous work. They also talk about the psychological effects of dealing with these life-or-death situations. “There is that balance between adrenaline and fear going on,” says one soldier, “but you’re sort of trained to handle it.” Sort of?

LOST AT SEA: MY DAD’S LAST JOURNEY

Wednesday, Channel 4, 10pm

In 1983, Peter Bird became the first person to row non-stop and solo across the Pacific Ocean. Tragically, in 1996 he was lost at sea. In this candid, touching documentary, his son, Louis, attempts to understand more about the father he never knew. What drove this warm, sociable man to spend so much time on his own, away from his family, in treacherous conditions? Louis, who was deeply affected by his father’s death, talks to some of Peter’s friends and family members, and pores through his vast archive. The intrepid rower recorded video diaries during his solo journeys and taped a message for Louis “so you won’t forget me”. He hasn’t been able to listen to it until now. 

LAST WEEK’S TV

LOUIS THEROUX: LIFE ON THE EDGE

Sunday 6th September, BBC Two

Theroux has been making documentaries, some of them classics, for 25 years. In this series he reflects on some of his most memorable investigations. It’s a chance for the master interlocutor to turn inwards for once, as he discusses the moral dimensions of his work and his outlook on life. All very interesting. 

The theme in episode one was belief. Theroux has met numerous people with fervent beliefs over the years, all of whom he’s tried to approach with an open mind. That can’t be easy when you’re dealing with racists, charlatans and conspiracy theorists, but it’s a hallmark of his empathetic style. He’s genuinely interested in what makes people tick. 

It also featured catch-ups with notable figures from his past; it was gratifying to learn that the little girls who were forced to perform white power songs by their Nazi mother have renounced those views completely. They didn’t understand what they were espousing. Now they do. Maybe people can change for the better after all.

MINDFUL ESCAPES: BREATHE, RELEASE RESTORE

Monday 7th August to Thursday 10th August, BBC Four

This, folks, is valuable public service broadcasting. Four serene episodes in which a former Buddhist monk delivers lessons in mindfulness. Just his voice and some beautiful natural world scenery. If you struggle with anxiety, as I do, it may help.

 

Saturday, 5 September 2020

SUE PERKINS: ALONG THE US-MEXICO BORDER + THE BLACK FULL MONTY

This article was originally published in The Courier on 5th September 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

SUE PERKINS: ALONG THE US-MEXICO BORDER

Monday and Tuesday, BBC One, 9pm

If we must have celeb-fronted travelogues, then I’d rather they were hosted by the likes of Perkins. She’s likeable, witty, compassionate, and always engages sincerely with the issues at hand. In this two-part report she visits the world’s most contentious border. Interviewees include Mexicans who can only touch flesh with their displaced loved ones through tiny holes in The Wall. Perkins also meets wealthy white Americans living the retirement dream; undocumented migrants who couldn’t care less about their hypocrisy. This is both a celebration of Mexican culture and, by direct extension, a condemnation of the Trump regime’s racist narrative. “The more we shut doors,” says Perkins, visibly angry, “the more we shut doors on our own humanity.”

DOG TALES: THE MAKING OF MAN’S BEST FRIEND

Tuesday, BBC Four, 9pm

Dogs: what’s their agenda? How did these once wild creatures evolve into loyal and loving domesticated pets? This illuminating programme provides some answers. In an effort to solve the puzzle of domestication, leading canine scientists conduct ground-breaking experiments involving genetic data and behavioural selection. Most experts agree that dogs first became domesticated around 15,000 years ago, the direct descendants of wolves who chose to become friendly with humans as a survival mechanism. We also gain some remarkable insight into the power of that special emotional bond between people and their pets by visiting a U.S. penitentiary, where specially-trained dogs are used as part of a programme to transform the behaviour of hardened criminals. It seems to work.

CAN WE CURE KIDS’ CANCER?

Wednesday, Channel 4, 10pm

A pioneer in its field, the Royal Marsden Hospital has been treating children with cancer for over 60 years. It runs the largest programme of experimental drug trials for young cancer patients in the UK. In this candid programme, we follow hospital staff and three families as they go through the long, arduous treatment process. Three-year-old Charlotte has a very rare form of cancer. She is one of the first children in the UK to receive a new life-saving drug. Teenager Lilly is being treated with a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Toddler Artemis requires a stem-cell transplant. This isn’t an easy watch. Prepare for uplifting moments punctured by cruel shards of reality.

THE BLACK FULL MONTY

Thursday, Channel 4, 10pm

The Chocolate Men are Britain’s only all-male black strip group. These generously-proportioned dancers put on a tactile show; it’s literally in your face. They present a fantasy version of black male sexuality, which has led to accusations of profiting from the perpetration of racial stereotypes. They flatly deny this, arguing that it’s honest graft. This non-judgemental documentary follows them on a successful nationwide tour. One of the dancers, Nigerian-born Django, named himself after the Tarantino film in which a slave becomes an emancipated hero. “We’re the bottom of the food chain,” he says. “This is me taking my power back.” Unfortunately, his good intentions are undermined when he gets carried away during a performance. Disaster looms.

LAST WEEK’S TV

WHEN BOB MARLEY CAME TO BRITAIN

Saturday 29th August, BBC Two

Bob Marley regarded Britain as his second home. It was the springboard for his international career. This tender documentary featured contributions from some of the black Brits whose lives were touched by his positive, almost messianic presence. He provided hope. The undoubted highlight was a charming account of when he and Johnny Nash played a secret afternoon acoustic gig for some astonished Peckham schoolkids. They hung around afterwards for a kickabout in the playground.

DIRTY SECRETS OF BRITAIN’S TAKEAWAYS

Monday 31st August, Channel 4

In this emetic series, “hard-man of hygiene” Gareth Jones (in reality a softly-spoken Welshman) and restaurateur April Jackson join environmental health officers in their fight against unhygienic takeaway outlets. Call me a naively empathetic clod if you will, but I actually felt quite sorry for the businesses whose reputations were ruined. Sure, their hygiene standards were appalling, but who’s to say they wouldn’t have improved following this public inspection? Think on.

CALL THE COPS

Tuesday 1st September, Channel 4

This sobering series is of more social value than most frontline police documentaries. Episode one featured a young man caught in a hopeless spiral of self-destruction, and 29 terrified, starving Vietnamese men and women being trafficked in the back of a van. What they’d been through is unimaginable. Meanwhile, Farage is out there on the beaches with his binoculars, munching pasties and squealing to teacher.  

 

Saturday, 29 August 2020

SOUL AMERICA + PLANET EARTH: A CELEBRATION + COUNCIL HOUSE BRITAIN

This article was originally published in The Courier on 29th August 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

SOUL AMERICA

Friday, BBC Four, 9:30pm

The revolution began on stage in 1959, when Ray Charles improvised a call-and-response jam that eventually evolved into What’d I Say. A transcendent fusion of rhythm and blues and gospel, it was the template for soul music: secular testifying. This beautiful series articulates how soul became an expression of what it meant to be black in America from the 1960s to the 1980s. It was the soundtrack to the Civil Rights era. It fuelled Black Power. It paved the way for hip hop. A distinguished volley of talking heads provide persuasive definitions of what soul music actually is. My favourite: it’s gospel with the word ‘God’ replaced by ‘baby’. The stars of chapter one are Brother Ray, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and the first wave of Motown deities. The key themes: integration, emancipation, crossover.   

PLANET EARTH: A CELEBRATION

Monday, BBC One, 8pm

“We are living in extraordinary times,” intones David Attenborough at the start of this compilation of some of the most memorable sequences from Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II. He frames it as an emergency respite from the crisis currently surrounding us. A rather lofty pretext for a clip show, perhaps, but there’s no arguing with its content. Highlights include the bittersweet saga of a snow leopard and her cub, some flamingos performing a comical courtship dance, and that quite frankly distressing yet magnificently directed sequence in which baby iguanas are chased by snakes. It’s not all old content; Hans Zimmer and Jacob Shea have composed a new symphonic score featuring piano contributions from acclaimed rapper and singer-songwriter Dave.

COUNCIL HOUSE BRITAIN

Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm

Don’t be put off by the title, this isn’t another poor-bashing series from the channel that once brought you Benefits Street. On the contrary, it’s a humane appraisal of life in the London borough of Southwark, where over 100 thousand people live in council housing. A prominent figure in episode one is Charmain, a sympathetic local housing officer who was raised on a council estate. “These people are proud,” she says, “They want a good life for themselves and their families.” The programme doesn’t paint a naively positive portrait of the housing system, it’s openly critical of Universal Credit, local government underfunding and private rent increases, but it celebrates good people and challenges ignorant, patronising assumptions. Brought to you by the team behind the equally laudable 24 Hours in A&E, it cares.

LAST WEEK’S TV

MORTIMER & WHITEHOUSE: GONE FISHING

Sunday 23rd August, BBC Two

Two genial old friends shooting the breeze against a backdrop of beautiful scenery. That’s all there is to this gentle ripple of comfort viewing. It doesn’t need to be anything else. Series three began with Bob and Paul salmon fishing in the River Tweed. As always, there was a wistful undercurrent. Bob, in his wholly unpretentious way, is a rather philosophical soul. If Gone Fishing is about anything, it’s about savouring the precious time we have here on Earth. Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think. Bob being Bob, he somehow managed to inject humour into the story of how his dad died in a car accident. That must sound awful written down, but it was actually rather sweet. Welcome back, gents.

HARRY HILL’S WORLD OF TV

Sunday 23rd August, BBC Two

Hill’s latest venture is an ersatz guide to various TV genres. He began with soaps, which have served him so well over the years. You know the score: incongruous narration, music and silly voices added to decontextualized archive clips. Rhys Thomas is now the king of this format; Hill sounds quite tired. The show is, at best, mildly amusing. Harmless. Quite dull for the most part. Hats off, however, to the writers and researchers for poring through acres of footage with no higher purpose than to score some silly and often downright obvious gags. They should also be applauded for deviating from the predictable Corrie/Eastenders/Emmerdale axis  – when was the last time you saw clips of early British soaps The Grove Family and The Newcomers on TV?  Full marks for effort.

Saturday, 15 August 2020

CORONATION STREET ICONS + THE AUSTRALIAN DREAM

This article was originally published in The Courier on 15th August 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

CORONATION STREET ICONS

Wednesday, STV, 8:30pm

And here we go again, yet another piece of emergency Covid schedule filler. Still, archive clips of Corrie are always a fun distraction. Episode one pays tribute to Ken Barlow, the longest-serving character in TV soap history. It reminds us that Ken, the street’s resident Guardian-reading paragon of righteous sense and virtue, a soft leather elbow patch in human form, has actually experienced his fair share of brawls and romantic entanglements over the years. No one who's never seen Corrie before will watch this programme, but if they do they'll be left with the impression that Ken has spent the last six decades embroiled in a never-ending orgy of mindless sex and violence, alleviated only by the occasional slapstick scrape. A lord of chaos living on the edge of reason.

AFRICAN RENAISSANCE: WHEN ART MEETS POWER

Monday, BBC Four, 9pm

Africa is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world. It’s also demographically the youngest continent, with six in every ten people being under the age of 25, and far more culturally diverse than anywhere else on Earth. In this enlightening new series, British journalist Afua Hirsch visits three African countries - Ethiopia, Senegal and Kenya – to examine the ways in which they’ve reasserted their identities as leading cultural lights. The through-line in her opening essay is the extraordinary story of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, a powerful yet complex symbol of the country’s proud history of fierce independence. Hirsch also meets renowned artists who are keeping Ethiopia’s fecund cultural legacy and defiant spirit alive in the 21st century.

MANCTOPIA: BILLION POUND PROPERTY BOOM

Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm

The Manchester skyline is in a state of flux. Expensive high-rise homes are popping up with such velocity, the city centre looks nothing like it did just a few years ago. Manchester’s population is set to double in the next few years. Manctopia, an incisive four-part series, examines the drastic impact this unprecedented regeneration is having on existing residents. We meet a local millionaire property developer, a man with a vested financial interest in eradicating homelessness, who plans to transform the red light district into a luxury residential hub, and a single working mum who can no longer afford to stay in the increasingly gentrified area she’s lived in all her life. The free market in action, folks.

UNREPORTED WORLD

Friday, Channel 4, 7:30pm

As you read this, billions of locusts are devouring crops and vegetation all across Kenya. As a result, farming families are starving and destitute. If this devastating plague continues, Kenya will be brought to its knees. The Covid-19 pandemic has compounded the catastrophe. In the latest edition of this august foreign affairs series, reporter Sahar Zand travels to a country where agriculture provides a livelihood for more than 80% of the population. She hitches an urgent ride with one of the teams responsible for spraying infested areas with pesticide. Seeing as most areas in Kenya appear to be infested – in one particularly horrifying scene, Zand visits a town where the walls are caked with locusts – their task is Herculean.

LAST WEEK’S TV

THE AUSTRALIAN DREAM

Sunday 9th August, BBC Two

The indigenous Australian football star Adam Goodes never set out to be an inspirational spokesperson for racial equality. All he ever wanted to do was play his beloved sport at a professional level. But as a prominent black public figure who has experienced blatant and casual racism throughout his life, he felt he had to make a brave stand and speak out. This intensely angering documentary examined the backlash he faced after forcing white football fans to confront the toxic vein of racism that has coursed through Australian society for centuries. And you don’t need me to tell you that institutional racism isn’t a problem specific to Australia. It’s all around us right now. Goodes’ message was clear: we need to talk, listen and learn. That’s our only hope of ever developing more empathy and understanding of what racism actually means. The film is still on iPlayer, I highly recommend it.

HOW TO BEAT… PAIN

Tuesday 11th August, Channel 4

Do you remember that late ‘80s/early ‘90s vogue for splicing kitschy old clips of public domain American films into contemporary TV documentaries? The geniuses behind this otherwise blandly presented health series certainly do. It’s as tiresomely unfunny now as it was then, a literally cheap trick.

 

 

Saturday, 8 August 2020

MANDY + ONCE UPON A TIME IN IRAQ + THE YORKSHIRE JOBCENTRE

This article was originally published in The Courier on 8th August 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

MANDY

Thursday, BBC Two, 9:30pm

Now this, at last, is a proper Diane Morgan vehicle. Hitherto best known as Philomena Cunk from those Charlie Brooker shows and their lacklustre spin-offs, Mandy is written and directed by Morgan. She plays a permanent jobseeker, an insecure working-class oddball with a fishhook grimace, but Mandy is such an exaggerated cartoon of an unemployable person (at one point she attempts to deny her prominent involvement in a series of online gambling adverts), it’s clearly not intended as reactionary social satire. Mandy idly flattening tarantulas on a banana conveyer belt. Mandy getting her skew-whiff bouffant caught in an extractor fan. Mandy and Maxine Peake as estranged Touch the Truck contestants. I laughed. Mandy plays to Morgan’s strengths. She’s a very funny person with an innate gift for silly, deadpan farce.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN IRAQ

Monday, BBC Two, 9pm

And so, this starkly illuminating series reaches its end. But the story remains open-ended. In 2011, the coalition forces finally left Iraq. Victory Day. Within a few months, sectarian tensions resurfaced, tensions stoked by Iraq’s new President. America shook his hand and turned a blind eye. Problem solved, nothing to see here. Enter ISIS. The catastrophic legacy of the Iraq war has, as far as I’m aware, never been essayed on British television in such acutely human detail. It revolves around a diverse array of talking heads, most of them exhausted, traumatised, by the sheer horror of it all. If you haven’t done so already, I urge you to watch the whole thing on iPlayer.

THE YORKSHIRE JOBCENTRE

Monday, Channel 4, 9pm

I have mixed feelings about this series. Filmed in a busy Leeds jobcentre just prior to the Covid crisis, it confronts Britain’s dire unemployment situation (there are 29,000 unemployed in Leeds alone). It follows claimants from various walks of life to illustrate the point that anyone can find themselves in need of benefits, a fact which shouldn’t need restating, but one which blinkered people find difficult to comprehend. It features sympathetic insight from jobcentre employees and vulnerable people living on a pittance. It highlights the chaotic injustice of Universal Credit. But… it also strikes a patronising tone: “Aww, these likeable claimants all get short-term happy endings!” I, Daniel Blake it ain’t. Well-meaning yet uneasily compromised.

GREAT CONTINENTAL RAILWAY JOURNEYS

Wednesday, BBC Two, 8pm

Michael Portillo is living proof that Tory politicians can always reinvent themselves, especially if they affect a sort of ersatz chumminess. If you didn’t know any better, you would assume – if you could even be bothered - that this primary coloured slab of uncooked giblets was a harmless train enthusiast; at worst, a tediously sensible village green Lib-Dem. Nah. He’s a voracious Thatcherite, a nasty piece of work. Do not trust him, don’t ever forget. And here he is again, for his umpteenth series of travelogues funded by the notoriously socialist BBC. This week he’s in Germany, where he waxes solemnly about the rise of fascism. It’s like being lectured on the dangers of smoking by Keith Richards.

LAST WEEK’S TV

PHIL SPENCER’S STATELY HOMES

Wednesday 5 August, Channel 4

Well this was just appalling. Phil Spencer, a blandly humanoid C-3P0 who makes his genuinely unpleasant Location, Location, Location (so bad, they named it thrice) co-star Kirstie Allsopp look like a fluorescent Mrs Claus riding a rocket full of sweets to the moon, presides over an offensive celebration of stupid old toffs and their ridiculous houses. Haven’t we suffered enough of late? Phil Spencer cooing over a gold-upholstered bath which was once soiled by King Ralph of Freedonia is volcanically insulting. I’m all for mindless escapism, I crave silliness and whimsy. Hell’s clanging bells, we don’t have to be angry all the time. Imagine how exhausting that would be. But programmes such as this are indicative of the rot at the heart of British society. Tug your forelock, know your place. We. Are. Doomed.     

Saturday, 1 August 2020

EVERYTHING: THE REAL THING STORY + A SUITABLE BOY

This article was originally published in The Courier on 1st August 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

EVERYTHING: THE REAL THING STORY

Friday, BBC Four, 9pm

In 1976, the Real Thing became the first all-black British band to top the charts. You to Me Are Everything, a shimmering bauble of Philly soul perfection, came straight outta Liverpool. They were authentic, handsome, effortless; that charmingly cocky moniker fit them like a pair of snug satin strides. Other hits followed, but the Real Thing, a talented vocal group who also wrote their own socially conscious songs, struggled to escape from their teeny-bop image. This excellent feature-length documentary gives them their due. The group’s problems were compounded by falsetto pin-up Ray Stone’s mental health and drug issues. His bandmates pay tribute to that troubled soul man with palpable warmth, candour and sadness. It’s a deserved, if overdue, profile of a pioneering outfit.

CUBA: CASTRO VS. THE WORLD

Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm

This absorbing two-part series attempts to explain how, during the Cold War, the tiny island of Cuba successfully challenged sabre-rattling superpowers. Fidel Castro’s relationship with the Soviet Union was at the heart of his mission to spread Marxist revolution across the continents, but the alliance was often strained to breaking point. While the surface narrative in episode one is familiar – the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion followed by the world-threatening Cuban missile crisis – it’s fleshed out by insightful contributions from an array of elderly men who were directly involved in the struggle. A clear-eyed and authoritative essay, it’s yet another feather in the cap for acclaimed documentarian Norma Percy (The Death of Yugoslavia).

SEMI-DETACHED

Thursday, BBC Two, 10:05pm

I’m all for tragicomedy when done well, but this sour new sitcom is utterly depressing. Lee Mack plays against type as a needy, desperate middle-aged man struggling to adjust to fatherhood with a partner twenty years his junior. It plays out in real time, presumably in an attempt to ramp up comic tension. Instead, it merely cultivates an air of queasy housebound claustrophobia which is inimical to farce. Small-scale, real-time domestic sitcoms such as Friday Night Dinner and The Royle Family succeeded because the characters are all essentially likeable. Comedy characters don’t have to be Good People, of course, but this pathetic shower are exhausting. It’s frenetically charmless and squanders the talents of a fine supporting cast.

SQUEAMISH ABOUT…

Thursday, BBC Two, 10:30pm

In this hastily cobbled together new series of comedy shorts, Matt Berry narrates incongruous nonsense over obscure archive footage. He does so in the guise of social historian Michael Squeamish, i.e. the same character Berry always plays. I’m usually quite partial to his absurdly-enunciated whimsy, but this is weak sauce. It’s not enough to just place clips out of context, you have to write some good gags too. Series creator Arthur Mathews (aka the Father Ted co-creator who isn’t a raging transphobe) should know better. Toast of London, the sitcom he co-wrote with Berry, was often very funny, but they’re on autopilot here. Comedians such as Peter Serafinowicz and Rhys Thomas have mined similar territory with far superior results.

LAST WEEK’S TV

A SUITABLE BOY

Sunday 26th July, BBC One

Set in a newly post-independence, post-partition India, this ambitious BBC drama is the first to feature an all-Asian cast. In that sense it's a welcome landmark. It follows a young woman faced with an impending arranged marriage to one of three ‘suitable boys’. A promising premise, but episode one was painfully slow. Adapted by That Man Again Andrew Davies from Vikram Seth’s epic novel, it failed to properly establish an extensive array of characters who were presumably more sharply-defined on the page. A frustrating state of affairs, as a major BBC production examining this tumultuous period in history has potential. Seth has said that he wouldn’t have allowed it to go ahead without Davies at the helm. Fair enough. Davies, however, has somehow managed the impossible: an inert drama rife with activity. Wild idea, I know, but maybe an Asian writer would’ve handled it better?

THE CONFESSIONS OF THOMAS QUICK

Monday 27th July, Channel 4

Sture Bergwall – aka Thomas Quick – was once regarded as the Swedish Hannibal Lecter. After confessing to 39 horrific murders, he was incarcerated for life. Years later, Bergwall was released. His confessions were fabricated. This extraordinary docudrama recounted the tragic, complicated saga of a mentally ill man and some highly dubious psychologists.


Saturday, 18 July 2020

RODNEY P'S JAZZ FUNK + ONCE UPON A TIME IN IRAQ


This article was originally published in the Courier on 18th July 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

RODNEY P’S JAZZ FUNK
Friday, BBC Two, 9pm


This lovingly-curated documentary captures the energy and excitement of Britain’s first home-grown black music culture. Hip hop legend Rodney P reveals how jazz funk began as a thriving underground club scene, before going on to shape the sound of early ‘80s British pop. It was created by the first generation of suburban and inner city black kids born in Britain, and although it was influenced by the heavy fusion innovations of American musicians such as Herbie Hancock, it allowed them to create their own distinct identity. That pioneering scene was also an early example of multiculturalism and gender equality, during an era when overt racism, sexism and homophobia were rife. A valuable, funky social document.

THE REAL EASTENDERS
Tuesday, Channel 4, 10pm


The Isle of Dogs was once the healthy heartland of London’s docklands community. A place where you’d find ‘proper’ working-class cockneys. Today it stands in the oppressive glistening shadow of Canary Wharf. The only boats you’ll find nearby are on the other, more affluent side of the river. Hak Baker, a local resident and musician, presents this insightful, tender ode to his neighbours. It’s not a sentimentalised account, razor-edged shards of sadness often poke through, but it never wrings its hands in a patronising way. The stars of the show are the kids Baker meets. They’re funny, smart, innocent, brilliant. Boris Johnson will never watch or understand this beautiful programme.

EASTENDERS: SECRETS FROM THE SQUARE
Available now on BBC iPlayer


While EastEnders prepares to resume production, super-fan Stacey Dooley visits the set to meet some of Albert Square’s more notable residents. The banter flows thick and fast when she sits down for a socially distanced chinwag with Danny Dyer and Kellie Bright, who play Mick and Linda Carter. Dyer and Bright come across well, they have natural chemistry. Dyer claims that he occasionally adds authentic cockney slang to his dialogue, while admitting that his career was in the doldrums when he got the part. Carter first appeared on the show in 1986, as an extra at Michelle and Lofty’s wedding, and reveals that she channels elements of Carmella Soprano into her performance. A harmless piece of cheap emergency filler.

MIRIAM MARGOLYES: ALMOST AUSTRALIAN
Friday, BBC Two, 9pm


Six years ago, Miriam Margolyes became an Australian citizen. “It was a day of supreme happiness,” she beams at the start of this typically honest and thoughtful travelogue. The self-described “78-year-old Jewish lesbian”, whose partner is Australian, embarks upon a 10 thousand kilometre voyage to find out whether the so-called Australian Dream still exists in 2020. Did it ever exist? Margolyes' findings are pretty bleak. She meets the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to the Victorian parliament, which only happened in 2017, and is shocked to discover that women over 55 now make up the fastest growing homeless population in Australia. She also uncovers the devastating effects of drought on farming communities, and encounters a young Afghan man who has been denied permanent residency.

LAST WEEK’S TV

IMAGINE… THIS HOUSE IS FULL OF MUSIC
Sunday 12th July, BBC One

Filmed during lockdown, this documentary visited the Kanneh-Mason family from Nottingham. Mum and dad looked on proudly as their seven children, all of them virtuoso classical musicians, performed various pieces. It existed for pure pleasure alone, a calming symphony of respite.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN IRAQ
Monday 13th July, BBC One


This riveting series is essayed through the eyes of the civilians, journalists and soldiers who lived through the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the years of chaos which followed. It’s an expertly woven, detailed patchwork of brutally frank talking head interviews; an essential document, scathing and humane. Notwithstanding the extravagantly whiskered Iraqi man who still regards Saddam as a martyr, the most troubling figure in episode one was a tequila-swigging American marine who was trained to view his mission as a glorified Rambo adventure. He looked broken, haunted. Meanwhile, a sharp-witted young man, who initially viewed the invading forces as emissaries of freedom, vividly encapsulated the utter insanity of the situation. When Saddam’s statue was toppled, he, like so many Iraqis, assumed the nightmare was finally over. As one war correspondent put it, with a rueful gallows smile, “What we didn’t realise was that the invasion wasn’t the war. The war was to come.”