Sunday, 30 November 2014


A version of this article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 29th November 2014.

Remember Me: Sunday, BBC One

Paul Whitelaw

Ideal viewing for these Godless winter evenings, Remember Me is a highly promising three-part ghost story made all the more effective by the casting of 'cuddly national treasure' Michael Palin in a central role. Given his involvement, the timeslot and channel, its ghoulish intensity could almost be described as subversive.

An underrated and underused dramatic actor, he's wonderful as Tom, an enigmatic, twinkly pensioner who's endured solitary exile in a gloomy terraced house for decades. Tom is what would emerge if Alan Bennett's typewriter ever became haunted.

Desperate to escape his mysterious curse, he eventually fled to an elderly care home, the presence of which makes Remember Me feel like an even more horrifying version of Ricky Gervais' Derek. The lead care-worker is even named Hannah, which I insist is no coincidence (it probably is).

A teenager living in a house where you can practically smell the damp – every character seems trapped in their own dark, cluttered space – Hannah became embroiled in Tom's mystery following the shocking death of his social worker, who was hurled from his window by powerful forces unknown.

Also on the case is a sympathetic detective (the quietly impressive Mark Addy), who's the sort of sad-sack cop who spends his evenings alone supping melancholy pints in the local Dog and Gizzard.

Indebted to classic British ghost stories such as M.R. James' Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad, this atmospheric spook-show is a tightly woven knot of unease. Writer Gwyneth Hughes understands that horror tends to be more effective when rooted in a mundane, everyday environment. While picturesque Yorkshire towns have been the setting for countless Sunday night dramas over the years, here the effect is anything but cosy. What with this and Happy Valley, I'd be surprised if anyone ever visits there again.

Director Ashley Pearce masterfully exploits the underlying terror of Yorkshire's stunning rural landscape, where the drizzle pours incessantly from vast, oppressive, spectral clouds. It's an immensely confident production full of darkly beautiful imagery. That strange spectre of a veiled, bedraggled woman rising from a desolate beach will linger in the memory for quite some time.

Kudos too to the sound department, who really earn their keep with a wonderfully chilling soundtrack of bumps, groans, scuttles and drips. While jump scares, i.e. sudden loud noises, are often used as a cheap device in horror, here they worked in tandem with a carefully constructed atmosphere of compelling dread.

The claustrophobic scenes set in Tom's abandoned home were highly effective. A particularly nice touch was the sparing use of subliminal movement in his collection of antique photographs, the subtlety of which was blown asunder by the orgiastic, heart-stopping climax which managed to encompass every haunted house cliché – creepy attics, rocking chairs, slamming doors etc. - without slipping into outright parody.

Granted, even these scenes had their flaws. Hannah's visit to Tom's sepulchral abode was undermined by some textbook moments of dumb horror illogic. While characters in supernatural yarns obviously don't know the rules, some of her actions were downright daft. Who, while creeping around at night in a creaky house crammed with spooky old artefacts, would then decide to sit at a piano and play from some sheet music? Even Bobby Crush would resist that temptation.

Naturally, her impromptu performance of Scarborough Fair invited further ghostly creaks from upstairs. So thank God she had her torch to investigate them with. But it was too late. Her innocent recital of the haunting folk standard dragged her further into Tom's nightmare world.

You brought the song away in your heart,” he railed, “now you can never take it back!” Someone should warn Simon & Garfunkel.

Fleeting moments of silliness aside - moments which, in any case, are arguably part and parcel of the genre - Remember Me is clearly the most outstanding supernatural drama to grace our screens in years.

It's a supremely unsettling experience, and I for one applaud the BBC for their bold commitment to scaring the bejesus out of unsuspecting licence payers.

Sunday, 9 November 2014


A version of this article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 8th November 2014.

Broadmoor: Wednesday, STV

Frankenstein and The Vampyre: A Dark and Stormy Night: Saturday, BBC Two

Paul Whitelaw

Given what we now know about Jimmy Savile, ITV's claim that Broadmoor has “unprecedented access” to the high security psychiatric hospital feels like an unfortunate boast.

Nevertheless, it's true that, for the first time in its 150 year history, this secretive institution has allowed a documentary crew to film within its walls. Home to notorious serial murderers such as Peter Sutcliffe and Kenneth Erskine – neither of whom chose to participate, much to the surprise of no one – Broadmoor tends to be viewed in the popular imagination as a terrifying cauldron of criminal violence.

While this sobering two-part series doesn't quite seek to reverse that reputation, it succeeds in presenting a more balanced, responsible and humane view of Broadmoor's patients. The abiding theme of episode one was encapsulated by Clinical Director Dr Amlan Basu, who observed that, despite their horrendous crimes, these men are also victims.

It's very easy to see somebody as either the perpetrator or the victim. It's much more difficult to understand that somebody might be both.” That the programme set out to do just that is hugely commendable.

We were introduced to patients, their identities concealed for obvious reasons, whose severe mental health disorders were the tragic by-product of childhoods scarred by repeated psychological and sexual abuse. One psychiatrist claimed, almost with a rueful smile, that he could easily identify future patients if he'd met them as children.

Eventually greenlit following five years of careful negotiation, Broadmoor is necessarily compromised at times. While the vigilant staff were candid to a point – for want of a quiet life, they rarely tell people where they work – certain subjects were firmly off limits. Forbidden from filming a restraint procedure on a patient who refused to return to his room, the crew were also banned from showing a reluctant patient being forcibly injected with anti-psychotic medication.

But rather than harm the programme's integrity, these enforced omissions actually heightened its carefully handled tone of detached compassion. Images of self-inflicted scars on a suicidal patient's arms were all we needed to see. Anything more would've been gratuitous. Wisely, the ever-present threat of violence against staff was implicit.

Graced with sensitive narration from actor Eddie Marsan, Broadmoor is neither prurient nor exploitative. Uncomfortable, sad and challenging, it offers no easy answers. It's intelligent enough to realise that life is too brutal, too complicated, for that.

Part of a BBC season devoted to all things Gothic, Frankenstein and The Vampyre: A Dark and Stormy Night was a suitably melodramatic documentary recounting the unusual circumstances which led to Mary Shelley creating her horror masterpiece.

Literally the stuff of nightmares, Frankenstein came to her one evening during a sensual lakeside holiday in Geneva with her bohemian husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, randy old Lord Byron, and an aspiring yet hapless writer named Polidori.

High on wine and ether, as freak storms raged outside, this tempestuous group challenged each other to write a ghost story. The twist in the tale was that the little known Polidori, belittled as a joke by Byron in particular, eventually wrote the first published modern vampire story. His fiendish inspiration? None other than that aristocratic rake, Lord Byron himself. It was revenge of sorts.

With articulate contributions from talking heads such as Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood, this handsome reconstruction of a weird, dazzling summit was a late Halloween treat. 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014


A version of this article was originally published in The Courier on 1st November 2014.

The Missing: Tuesday, BBC One

Intruders: Monday, BBC Two

Paul Whitelaw

There is something uniquely visceral about stories involving vanished loved ones. The thought of losing someone through unexplained circumstances is a terror we can all relate to. So much so, it doesn't bear thinking about.

Thank heavens, then, for fictional drama! Like an unflattering mirror, it reflects those fears from a safe, if queasy, distance. Two new shows explored this area last week, albeit in markedly different styles.

Promising eight-part thriller The Missing stars the excellent James Nesbitt on suitably fraught and haunted form as the father of an abducted child. Five year-old Oliver was snatched during a happy family holiday to France in 2006. While standing in a crowded pub showing World Cup coverage, Tony (Nesbitt) suddenly noticed that Oliver was missing. There one moment, gone the next.

This impressively handled sequence tracked Tony's rising panic as he frantically searched their holiday resort. Every parent's nightmare writ large.

From there we switched between 2006 and the present day, where Tony, burdened with guilt, has become a heavy-drinking loner obsessively trawling the town where Oliver was last seen. His refusal to let go had torn his marriage apart, forcing his ex into the arms of the (rather creepy) British police liaison officer responsible for Oliver's case.

This plot point struck a rather jarring note, as did the highly convenient twist of tracing Oliver's movements through a second-hand shop with meticulously thorough records of sale. What's more – and call me a heartless monster if you will – the cliff-hanger discovery of Oliver's drawing of jug-eared daddy on a basement wall was, I'm afraid, borderline comical.

There's nothing funny about the subject matter, of course, but the execution was slightly overcooked at times. With such a sensitive issue at its core, sibling writers Harry and Jack Williams – who up until now have a background in mediocre comedy - need to tread very carefully.

Fortunately, The Missing is carefully handled for the most part. Niggling missteps aside, it's an engrossing mystery with a powerful emotional kick. While it remains to be seen if they can sustain this story over eight hours, for now it contains enough dark hints and unanswered questions to maintain a hefty sense of intrigue.

Incidentally, aside from its self-evident basis in the Madeleine McCann case, The Missing may be partly inspired by a little-seen yet painfully affecting independent film from 2004 called Keane, featuring a tour de force performance from Damian Lewis. For connoisseurs of bleak art, it comes highly recommended.

Tentatively, I'll make a similar claim for Intruders. Not for the faint-hearted, it's a grisly conspiracy thriller rooted in horror and sci-fi in which John Simm – passable US accent and all – plays a former cop on the hunt for his missing wife.

That's the simplified synopsis. What Intruders is really about is anyone's guess at this stage, although the concept of reincarnation is obviously key to its mystery.

Written by X Files alumnus Glen Morgan and directed by Eduardo 'The Blair Witch Project' Sanchez, its chilly, disquieting atmosphere is occasionally punctured by blunt bursts of violence. I knew I was watching an unconventional drama when at one point it looked as though we were about to see a child being murdered in cold blood. NB: we weren't.

A hint of dark humour undermines Intruders' more portentous leanings, and the central conceit of a shadowy underground organisation visiting homes and murdering the inhabitants is fundamentally chilling. Let's just hope it doesn't descend into abject bloody nonsense, as these things often tend to.

Sunday, 26 October 2014


This article was originally published in The Courier on 25th October 2014.

The Apprentice: Wednesday, BBC One

Paul Whitelaw

Despite being in its tenth year, it's clear that most Apprentice candidates have never seen The Apprentice before in their lives. How else to explain their complete inability to learn from the blunders of previous hopefuls?

Or is it simply that anyone foolish enough to apply for The Apprentice in the first place is so tragically lacking in self-awareness, they can't appreciate it in the same way as the rest of us? They take it seriously. That's their tragedy.

Funnier than most actual sitcoms, The Apprentice is essentially a comedy, edited and manipulated for maximum farce. Though it may initially have maintained some thin pretence of having anything to do with serious business practice, the makers realised years ago that no one, apart from the grasping candidates themselves, viewed it as anything other than a cringe-inducing showcase for eminently mockable buffoons.

We watch it because, when viewed in light of these narcissistic bozos, it makes us feel better about ourselves as human beings. We're all idiotic in our own way, of course, but at least we're not as hopeless as these people.

Is it cruel? Not really. Unlike The X Factor, where those lined up for mockery are all too often harmless and vulnerable, The Apprentice carefully selects a group of risible fools who basically deserve to be mocked. They have no one to blame but themselves.

Take James, a stand-out character so far on account of his mouthy, arrogant, pea-brained pronouncements and uncanny resemblance to woman-fearing humour vacuum Dapper Laughs (if you don't know who that is, then I urge you to remain oblivious). James is a typical Apprentice contestant in that he does everything a competent candidate – and such anomalies do exist – shouldn't. Mistakenly overconfident, he never listens to instructions due to an aggressive belief in his own verbal diarrhoea.

Last week he committed the cardinal sin of, while pleading for his life in the boardroom, obsequiously comparing himself to Lord Sugar. James! Don't you know that this is one of Sugar's pet peeves? Evidently not. James is oblivious. Sugar eventually told him to shut up. “Definitely, Lord Sugar,” he replied. What a twit.

Of course, one of the show's most consistently comical participants is Sugar himself. The deference the candidates pay towards this brogue-faced millionaire barrow boy is hilarious, as are, for entirely the wrong reasons, the belligerent prune's own attempts at humour. His scripted quips get more excruciating by the year. I'm certain his writers are giving him any old gibberish for a backstage bet now. “Never mind Aloe Vera, looks like it's more of a case of goodbye Sarah.” I mean, I ask you.

As for the rest of the contestants, only a few stand out at this stage. Roisin is James' archetypal opposite in that she's clearly a capable contender, while Sarah Millican soundalike Katie appears to be this year's token 'nice one'. Whenever she talked about profits and margins during the most recent task, she sounded like a child consulting My First Business Kit from Mattel.

Elsewhere there's Daniel, who clearly thinks he's Don Draper. He looks more like Fred Flintstone summoned for court. Mark is a constipated Ben Affleck, or, if you prefer, a wrestler who's turned up at the wrong Christening, while Steven is already shaping up to be one of the most overbearingly delusional contestants in Apprentice history.

Even after ten years of unchanging formula, I do so love this ridiculous programme. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014


This article was originally published in The Courier on 18th October 2014.

The Great Fire: Thursday, STV

Gotham: Monday, Five

Paul Whitelaw

While trudging through the first half of The Great Fire last week, it struck me that the reason why no one has ever produced a drama about the Great Fire of London before is because the man who accidentally started it, baker Thomas Farriner, is an exceptionally dull protagonist.

Though I appreciate that every good disaster flick must first put all its characters in place before hurling them into chaos, most of episode one was bogged down with Farriner fretting over his terminated contract with the Royal Navy. Call me an impatient thrill-seeker if you like, but it was hardly the stuff of scintillating drama.

As played by Andrew Buchan, replete with anachronistic haircut, Farriner moped around his Pudding Lane bakery in the company of an entirely fictional sister-in-law – it appears that writer Tom Bradby, ITN's Political Editor no less, was moved to invent a sub-plot involving Farriner's dead brother in the hope of jazzing things up a bit. It didn't work. I know it's wrong, but I was desperate for the actual blaze to erupt so as to escape from this dreary storyline.

More interesting by far were the political shenanigans taking place in the court of Charles II (Jack Huston from Boardwalk Empire on suitably foppish form), where Lord Charles of the Dance expertly sold every brooding moment of ambiguous skulduggery.

Daniel Mays, too, is typically excellent as the King's forthright confidante, Samuel Pepys. Traditionally depicted as a bawdy, rather comical figure, this iteration of Pepys is more morally questionable. Though fundamentally decent and wise, his behaviour at times is deplorable. The scene in which he slept with a woman while her paid-off husband seethed in the next room was bizarrely arresting and uncomfortable.

Given his political background, it's hardly surprising that Bradby has opted to draw blatant parallels between the state of the nation in 1666 and Britain today. While I hesitate to describe it as subversive, The Great Fire is unusual for an ITV drama in that it openly critiques the injustice of a ruling elite of uncaring toffs living high on the hog while the poorest members of society are left to rot and burn. Rife with sectarianism and paranoid xenophobia, it's depressing to note how so little has changed over almost 400 years.

It's unfortunate, then, that Bradby's ambition is undermined by some terrible, clunking exposition and his rather bland depiction of the proletariat. His heart is in the right place, but he's obviously more excited by the vile machinations of the periwigged brigade.

Still, it's early days. Perhaps Buchan's Farriner will come into his own in later episodes. When his bakery finally went up in flames – at last! - we were treated to a suitably dramatic sequence in which he escaped from an attic window with his terrified daughters in tow. With a bit of morbid, harrowing luck, the nightmarish horror of the Great Fire will presumably be explored in due course.

In a busy week for urban hell-holes, Batman prequel Gotham proved that, in the hands of a hack, even the most intriguing premise can be squandered. An abject disappointment, this laughable drama has more in common with a stilted daytime soap than the smart, gritty, comic book noir that any reasonable person would expect.

It's well cast, and the production design is impressive, but the earnest dialogue is atrocious. Basically little more than a conventional, clichéd cop show, it's an unappetising turkey.

Saturday, 11 October 2014


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on Saturday 11th October 2014.

Grantchester: Monday, STV

Paul Whitelaw

If I may make so bold a generalisation, then for anyone starved of thrills since the demise of Tom Bosley's ecclesiastical crime thriller Father Dowling InvestigatesMurder She Wrote in a dog collar, no less – the arrival of Grantchester must've felt like manna from murder mystery Heaven.

Set in 1953 in the titular Cambridgeshire village, and written by James 'Son of Archbishop' Runcie, it follows a frustrated young vicar who gains a new lease of life when he becomes an amateur sleuth.

Operating a million country miles from his disturbing performance as Happy Valley's chief psychopath, the versatile James Norton plays Sidney Chambers as a handsome and progressive clergyman who, lest anyone doubt his modern credentials, enjoys whisky, jazz, cigarettes – note that all-important comma - and frolicking in lakes with frightfully nice young ladies.

This workaday existence is changed forever when the grieving mistress of a suicide case approaches him to cry murder. A depressed alcoholic lawyer, he'd told this poor woman that, once he'd left his wife, they would “live as we have never lived!” I mean, I ask you, are those the words of a suicidal man?

Gripped by this compelling evidence, Chambers' eyes widened. As the mistress explained, helpfully setting up the premise, who better to investigate a mystery than a pillar of the community who can go anywhere and ask any question? A romantic dreamer desperate for excitement, Chambers plunged into the case with schoolboy-ish enthusiasm, much to the short-tempered chagrin of lovable Police Inspector Geordie Keating.

Yes, it's come to this for the personable Robson Green, he's finally playing a character called Geordie. Has the man no self-respect? Would Ray Winstone accept the role of a character called Cockney Ardman in a six-part ITV crime drama? Yes, he almost definitely would if the money was right, but you take my point.

Anyway. Gimmick-led detective dramas are as old as Marconi's folly itself. There's nothing wrong with the concept, just how it's delivered. Grantchester is delivered professionally, smoothly, like a tray of Baileys to an elderly group of lunching ladies. It also provides dialogue, plotting and exposition as subtly as an anvil through a vestry window.

The shadow of the war hangs over this sleepy little village like a vast, heavy-handed subtext. The dead man's wife was a sad-eyed German given to quasi-poetic soliloquies. Chambers is a veteran himself, as was every other whisky-driven male character. That makes sense dramatically, historically, humanely. There's something to be explored there. More concerned with scenery and mood, Grantchester reduces it to a man staring solemnly over a cornfield.

Oh, I dare say we'll soon be treated to a scene in which someone challenges Chambers on why God allows such suffering. That'll pass for depth before the case at hand is solved.

This tolerable slice of sub-Agatha Christie is a pot-boiler, a page-turner, just another blood-stained slice of genteel comfort viewing, forever destined to gather dust on ITV3 in the afternoons and maybe, if it's lucky, be given away free with The Daily Mail. It's polished in the sense that dutifully tended silverware is polished, as robustly inoffensive as oatcakes, bell ringers and the face of Martin Jarvis. It's a big old tassled pouffe of nothing, but at least it rests your heels for an hour of a dark Monday evening.

I can't praise fainter than that.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014


This article was originally published in The Courier on Saturday 4th October 2014.

Peaky Blinders: Thursday, BBC Two

24 Hours in Police Custody: Monday, Channel 4

Paul Whitelaw

Deliberately over-stylised and luridly violent, the first series of Peaky Blinders was an entertaining riot of period gangster mayhem. Granted, the dialogue was often rather clunky, but I found I was willing to overlook its flaws and go along for the ride. It was fun and propulsive, with just enough depth to justify its self-conscious swagger.

Can it keep that momentum going over a second series? On the evidence of last week's return, I'm not entirely certain. It may sound odd to describe a drama full of choreographed violence and cold-blooded murder as curiously muted, especially one which began with a pub being blown to pieces, but episode one felt rather hollow and lethargic. Critics immune to the charms of Peaky Blinders have always accused it of being mere style over substance, but in this case the accusations felt valid.

As we returned to 1920s Birmingham, which in the hands of writer Steven Knight is depicted as a hellish furnace at the lawless ends of the Earth, implacable gangster Thomas Shelby was firmly ensconced in his role as the city's leading crime kingpin. His plans for an expansion to London dominated proceedings, to the extent that it appeared to be the only major plot development. Knight spent too long putting his pieces in place at the expense of moving the action forward.

The lengthy, slow-motion scene in which Thomas assassinated someone on behalf of his Irish associates was pure padding, seemingly included because the director couldn't resist matching his eye-catching visuals to the music of Johnny Cash. While the show's anachronistic blues/country score is a vital part of its grungy western aesthetic, scenes such as this make it feel like an elongated music video. The clanking, igneous, soot-drenched production design is stunning, but it should never dominate as much as it did here.

Apparently sculpted entirely from glass, Cillian Murphy continues to thrive on pure charisma as Thomas, but I did find myself impatiently waiting for the much-publicised arrival of the great Tom Hardy. Alas, he was nowhere to be found in episode one, which simply added to the sense of anticlimax.

This stodgy curtain-opener was hopefully just a fleeting wobble, before it returns to form next week. Peaky Blinders is one of our most distinctive TV dramas, so it would be a shame if it ran out of gas so soon.

Produced by the team behind the justly lauded 24 Hours in A&E, 24 Hours in Police Custody is a similarly engrossing observational documentary following the Bedfordshire police force as they attempt to charge their suspects within hours of arrest.

Without an ounce of dubious contrivance, it succeeds in providing the police with the sort of positive publicity they're currently in dire need of. The officers involved came across as decent human beings doggedly in pursuit of justice. Episode one's unlikely star was DC Martin Hart, whose affable approach to interrogation was honed during his time spent working as a holiday rep. Here was an ordinary copper, simply doing his job to the best of his abilities.

His prolonged efforts to charge a man suspected of conspiracy to murder resulted in a simple yet effective hour of television, steeped in tension and humour. There was more drama in the minutiae of this process than you'd find in most scripted police procedurals. Thoughtful, enlightening stuff.

Saturday, 27 September 2014


This article was originally published in The Courier on 27th September 2014.

The Driver: Tuesday, BBC One

Downton Abbey: Sunday, STV

Paul Whitelaw

Stories about innocent men thrown to the slaughter are to the thriller genre what improbable mishaps are to the world of trouser-dropping farce. Remove these hardy perennials from either genre and both would collapse like a careless round of Buckaroo. Hitchcock famously revisited the wrong man theme on several occasions, thus cementing it as a sturdy template upon which future generations of screenwriters could hammer their own dents.

So it's unfair to criticise three-part crime drama The Driver for cleaving to a well-worn theme. Writer Danny Brocklehurst has every right to chuck another fictional everyman – in this case, David Morrissey's put-upon taxi driver, Vince – onto the bonfire for our nail-biting edification. He's simply carrying on a popular storytelling tradition. No, the most important thing is that he takes this malleable putty and moulds it into surprising shapes. And that's where episode one came unstuck.

Unless you've never witnessed a drama before in your life, Vince's story unfolded much as expected. A decent man who'd had enough of his dreary suburban existence and thankless occupation – Brocklehurst made sure to heap as many foul indignities upon him as possible – Vince was in desperate need of some excitement. Practically ignored at home, he demanded some respect and a renewed sense of purpose. Enter his old mate Colin (Ian Hart). A career criminal just out of jail, Colin offered Vince the chance to opt out of the rat race, and score big to boot, by becoming the personal driver/courier for his boss.

Of course, Colin's boss is a gangster. Not only that, he's a gangster played by Colm Meaney and nicknamed 'The Horse'. You'd have to be, not so much naïve, as thunderingly stupid to think that working for a self-made stereotype with an animal-themed alias was going to be a bed of roses.

When Vince eventually discovered Colin's violent true colours during a brutal kidnapping, his shock was matched only by a few million viewers blaring, “Well what did you expect?!”

Yes, good men are often driven to desperate measures in dire times of need. Terminally ill Walter White becoming a criminal kingpin in Breaking Bad to provide for his family is a grippingly nuanced exploration of this theme. By comparison, a despondent cabbie getting involved with some wrong 'uns to pay off the mortgage lacks a certain dramatic heft.

It's frustrating, as having peeked ahead I can report that The Driver improves in part two, as Vince's predicament gains more emotional depth. It's just unfortunate that this rather thin opener, regardless of the typically fine performances from its leads, did practically nothing that we hadn't seen before. There are only so many stories, but there are infinite ways of telling them.

I'll let you into a trade secret: reviewing Downton Abbey is pointless. Its inherent flaws and obvious appeal are so self-evident and so widely documented, at this stage it would be like trying to offer an original critique of breathing.

It's simply there, still, an unchanging formula dutifully poured into a decorously-carved goblet at yearly intervals. Lord Grantham grumbles exposition at breakfast, Dame Maggie purses sculpted bon mots over luncheon, Carson booms his wry instructions like a rich tea biscuit awaiting the King's own urn. It's unique in TV history in that it became a parody of itself almost instantaneously.

It exists if you want it, like the current touring version of Level 42. Who honestly cares?

Friday, 26 September 2014


Cilla: Monday, STV

Doctor Who: Saturday, BBC One

Paul Whitelaw

The sound of minds being blown rippled across the land last Monday when ITV revealed that Cilla Black was friends with The Beatles. That Cilla has neglected to mention this fact at any point during her 50 year career is testament to her humility.

Joking aside – that's what that was – Cilla is a surprisingly engaging and energised dramatisation of the singer's early days. Written by Britain's very own biopic potentate Jeff Pope, whose previous credits include Fred West drama Appropriate Adult and the Oscar-nominated Philomena, it stars Sheridan Smith on knockout form as the young Priscilla White. Appropriately tough, cheeky, naive and endearing, she bravely contends with a false chipmunk overbite and oddly ill-fitting wig to deliver an affecting central performance.

And just in case you missed the blaring on-screen credit, she also does all her own singing. The real Cilla often gets a lot of stick for her singing voice – often from people who only know her as a TV presenter – but truthfully she had a powerful, if occasionally wayward, voice in her prime.

So why substitute her singing with Smith's? It's presumably because an actor miming to old recordings seldom looks convincing, so seeing as Smith can sing, the decision to use her vocals provides a satisfying realism. Another reason is that, in episode one at least, Cilla is depicted, not as a melodramatic balladeer, but as a raving rock 'n' soul belter, a period in her musical career which was never documented on tape. Smith could hardly have mimed to recordings which don't exist.

The production also benefits from an obviously large budget, with early 1960s working-class Liverpool impressively realised in all its dusty post-war glory. Cilla often recounts her hard scrabble origins with a kind of rose-tinted nostalgia, but Pope wisely tempers those sentiments with pointed references to sectarianism and an overall resistance to schmaltz.

Despite being endorsed by Cilla herself, it doesn't always depict her in a sympathetic light. Yes, she's the lovable girl next door, but she also betrays a career-minded ruthlessness and, in later episodes, a diva-esque sense of selfish entitlement. She may be ITV royalty, but this account of her life is thankfully no whitewash.

While it inevitably hits some of the usual biopic beats – there were a few awkward moments of “Hello, I'm George Harrison of The Beatles” exposition – Pope doesn't present it as a standard rags-to-riches saga. Instead he focuses on the touching romance between Cilla and budding impresario Bobby Willis. It's as much his story as hers, and Aneurin Barnard manfully overcomes his dyed-blonde resemblance to a live-action Thunderbirds puppet to deliver an exceptionally sympathetic performance. It helps that she and Smith share a charming chemistry.

Destined to be regarded as a classic, the latest episode of Doctor Who was a quite beautiful piece of television. Based around the idea of what the Doctor gets up to while alone in the TARDIS – answer: wraps himself in existential musings on the nature of fear - it combined genuinely creepy psychological horror with a strong emotional kick which, in a small yet significant way, added to Doctor Who's ongoing lore.

Witty and ambitious in the best Steven Moffat style, it was all the more impressive for being entirely ambiguous yet dramatically satisfying. The moment where the Doctor, Clara and young Danny/Rupert Pink encountered an erect entity lurking beneath the bedclothes - Freudian imagery on primetime Saturday night! - was arguably one of the most disturbing scenes in Doctor Who history.

Bolstered by canny, atmospheric direction from Douglas Mackinnon and an exemplary performance from Peter Capaldi, this thrillingly claustrophobic yarn was a reminder that Doctor Who is often more effective when delivered on an intimate scale.

Saturday, 6 September 2014


A version of this article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 6th September 2014.

Chasing Shadows: Thursday, STV

Educating the East End: Thursday, Channel 4

Paul Whitelaw

I often worry about the fear-caked world of ITV drama, where murderers and sex offenders are only an episodic crime spree away from being apprehended by miserable anti-heroes. Whenever it isn't wallowing in the wake of scaremongering tabloid headlines, it's paying forelock-tugging tribute to the past via Downton Abbey. That can't be healthy.

Its latest carnival of horror is Chasing Shadows, a crime thriller so generic it seems to have taken Charlie Brooker's gloriously silly A Touch of Cloth at face value.

Seriously in danger of being banged up by the cliché squad, it's a woefully derivative bore in which Reece Shearsmith plays our tired old friend, the maverick cop who gets results through unorthodox means. Writer Rob Williams should be awarded some kind of medal for devising a character so utterly lacking in originality.

All the boxes are dutifully ticked: he's eccentric, (literally) buttoned-up, maddeningly antisocial, yet utterly devoted to solving the case with his computer-like genius. It's as if Williams sat down at his desk and thought, “To hell with it, I'll just rip off House and Sherlock. No one will notice or care.”

That staggering lack of imagination courses through Chasing Shadows like a virus. Assigned to a Missing Persons unit, Shearsmith's DS Stone butts heads with his new colleagues – Alex Kingston's mumsy Hattersley and Noel Clarke's bloke in a suit - while racing in pursuit of a serial killer. In case we hadn't quite got to grips with this complex creation, Clarke's character actually described him as someone who “marches to the beat of his own drum.”

It's a sorry state of affairs when the only unexpected wrinkle in this character's make-up is the presence of his supportive, loving partner. Williams clearly thinks he's being exceptionally clever here. "He's not lonely after all! Didn't expect that, did you?!" Well, no. I also don't expect to be killed by a falling piano tomorrow, and nor do I welcome the prospect.

Meanwhile, fans of laboured visual metaphors will have enjoyed the running conceit of the mismatched Stone and Hattersley literally travelling side-by-side in separate vehicles. I'm not entirely convinced that Williams wrote Chasing Shadows in the conventional sense. It feels more like the result of feeding basic information through an automated software package.

It's disappointing, as the justly lauded Shearsmith usually displays more discernment than this. His recent turn in true-life crime drama The Widower suggested that one of our finest comic actors was broadening his palette in an interesting way. And while he does what he can with the role – his darting, uptight little walk is a nice touch – there's little he can do with such lacklustre material.

Financial rewards aside, I can only assume he accepted this hopeless gig by letting his real-life fascination with serial killers cloud his judgement.

London's Frederick Bremer School is the setting for Educating the East End, which has the unenviable task of following the all-conquering Educating Yorkshire. Can it capture our hearts in quite the same way?

Episode one suggested that, with this talented production team in charge, you could place cameras in any secondary school in the UK and find an absorbing mass of drama, humour and pathos.

Its latest star is English teacher Mr Bispham, who struggled to imbue his boisterous pupils with the wonders of Shakespeare while on a stressful two-year placement. Avuncular yet sensitive, his lack of teacher training caused some toe-curling gaffes. It was a textbook example of romantic idealism versus the practical realities of teaching. But in a twist typical of this heart-warming series, he eventually triumphed with the touching support of his pupils.

Granted, like all documentaries of this nature, these real-life narratives are condensed into neat little arcs with convenient happy endings. The lives of some of the pupils at Frederick Bremer are obviously far more complicated than 60 minutes of populist entertainment will allow. But I can forgive the Educating franchise its contrivances.

The welcome antithesis of the cynical point-and-laugh exploitation that blights so much of Channel 4's factual output, it's clear that everyone involved in the project is fundamentally benign in their intentions. With the education system continually under fire, this exemplary series is, quite heroically, a compassionate political statement on its battered behalf.

Saturday, 30 August 2014


This article was originally published in The Courier on 30th August 2014.

Doctor Who: Saturday, BBC One

Paul Whitelaw

Fans of Doctor Who are notoriously critical. I should know, I've been one since I was two. But in all that time I've never witnessed the kind of mass approval that Peter Capaldi enjoyed when news of his casting was announced. Even before he'd set foot in the TARDIS, fans were already confident that his Doctor would be one of the best. Had we set our hopes too high?

Of course we hadn't. Would I have opened this review with a rhetorical question if we had? Don't answer that. His performance in head writer Steven Moffat's Deep Breath was nothing short of immaculate.

It's traditional that every Doctor must first go through a period of post-regenerative instability before gradually settling into their new persona. Moffat and Capaldi handled this process with the utmost assurance.

Despite never doubting his prowess as an actor, I had mild concerns that Capaldi – famously a life-long Doctor Who fan – might approach the part self-consciously. But there isn't a trace of fussy detail to be found in his portrayal. Instead, he's utterly, organically commanding as he flips with ease between acerbic eccentricity and a Tom Baker-esque sense of brooding alien danger.

Much has been made of the game-changing 'darkness' of this new Doctor – a claim which blindly overlooks the depths of his incomparable predecessor, Matt Smith – and while he's certainly a fiercer, more morally ambiguous proposition, he may be one of the funniest iterations yet.

Fans of The Thick Of It will already be familiar with Capaldi's razor-sharp talent as a comic actor; his perfectly timed delivery of vituperative rants is a rare gift. Moffat, himself a sardonic Scotsman, is clearly in his element with Doctor # 12. The scene in which he realised with glee that he was gruffly, uncompromisingly Scottish was genuinely very funny; it's no coincidence that, after an unsure start, the episode kicked into gear at this point (I'm all for a measured pace, but its 75-minute running time contained some obvious padding).

Capaldi aside, Deep Breath also benefited from Moffat's concerted efforts to embellish the character of companion Clara. Little more than a one-dimensional plot device last year, she was finally given the chance to show some mettle as she came to terms with this abrasive incarnation of her old/young friend. Jenna Coleman is a personable actress, previously ill-served by flimsy material, but her spiky chemistry with Capaldi bodes well: Moffat has obviously been listening to some constructive criticism.

It could've easily backfired, but his framing of Clara as a surrogate viewer in need of assurance that this mercurial Doctor could be trusted was skilfully handled. The poignant cameo from Matt Smith didn't undermine Capaldi's début, it bolstered it by grafting an element of charming vulnerability to this outwardly cocksure anti-hero.

That said, Moffat's niggling flaws were still in evidence. A middle-aged family man, his adolescent obsession with flirting is embarrassing, and once again he blatantly regurgitated past ideas to the point of self-parody. I don't mind him reviving the clockwork droids from The Girl in the Fireplace – the Doctor's inability to remember them fed into the theme of him shakily reconnecting with his past – but the conceit of outwitting them by holding your breath was far too redolent of his senses-sensitive foes, The Weeping Angels and The Silence.

But I'm nitpicking. Flaws and all, Deep Breath was an exemplary introduction to a promising new era. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014


This article was originally published in The Courier on 23rd August 2014.

The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill: Friday, BBC Four

Paul Whitelaw

In keeping with her status as an elusive living legend, Kate Bush was satisfyingly absent from her own documentary tribute last night. Having largely shunned media attention for the last 20 years, during which she's released just two albums of original material, seeing her pop up on BBC Four to cheerfully pick over her life and career would've rather dented her mystique.

Instead, her only contributions to The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill came via archive footage and, of course, examples of her unique artistry. Believe me, I don't use such terms promiscuously. Unique, original, iconoclastic, maverick: these adjectives are oft overused and abused. I creep upon the word 'genius' as one might approach a hammer-wielding Boris Johnston. But how else to describe an artist who sounds like no one else before or, blatant imitators aside, since?

As correctly pointed out by Elton John, who was just one of many celebrity fans queuing up to sing her praises, Kate Bush is hardly your average million-selling art-pop songwriter. “They're not normal songs,” he said, almost in awe, like a craftsman examining a bizarrely imaginative sculpture with envious admiration.

Elsewhere, author Neil Gaiman described her work, lovingly, as “book music”, a point proven quite literally (no pun intended) by the likes of Wuthering Heights and the James Joyce-influenced The Sensual World. Steve Coogan, a Byron quote never far from his lips, cut to the chase by stating, “Liking her makes you feel a bit clever.”

Delivered by non-musicians, both quotes were rather telling. As evinced by his self-mocking turns in The Trip et al, Coogan is entirely aware of his own pretentiousness and elitist tendencies. Perhaps more than any other contributor – in a roster including Peter Gabriel, John Lydon, Brett Anderson of Suede, and popular Kate Bush tribute act Tori Amos – his comments tapped into Bush's singular appeal: yes, she's literate and arty, but her eccentric sense of humour – that controlled yet natural 'madness' – is what elevates her above mere po-faced experimentalism.

It's a pity, then, that the programme occasionally veered into Pseud's Corner territory. I welcomed the lack of patronising narration – replaced instead by the occasional explanatory caption – and I don't doubt the sincerity of her gushing apostles. But one could easily picture Bush chortling along at home, both flattered and amused by such blanket fealty. Presumably aware of this, the director pointedly closed with a gently ribald quote from Coogan to puncture the often church-like drift of the preceding 60 minutes.

Nevertheless, the level of insight from our esteemed talking heads was, at its best, of a higher standard than your average hagiography. The worshipful tone was a bit much at times, but we should all be thankful for the dearth of clueless hack comedians spluttering, “Babooshka? What were all that about?!”

Yes, the borderline comedic aspects of her early, flailing, leotard-clad persona were fleetingly acknowledged, albeit placed fairly in the context of a young and exceptionally talented prodigy in the grip of wild expression. In any case, the point was neatly made that an artist as – that word again – unique as Bush was a gift for impressionists. Such is the small, amusing price you pay for daring to be different.

Given the circumstances, it was a classy, affectionate tribute to an admirably private subject.

Sunday, 17 August 2014


This article was originally published in The Courier on 16th August 2014.

Boomers: Friday, BBC One

Almost Royal: Sunday, E4

Paul Whitelaw

I magnanimously welcome the idea of a sitcom aimed at older viewers, but I'd prefer a funnier example than the lacklustre Boomers. Set in a quiet seaside town inhabited by pensionable baby boomers, it contains nary an original bone in its body.

The setting for this first episode was a funeral, which in more capable hands can be a fecund source of black comedy and pathos. Unfortunately, such pleasures are beyond the reach of writer Richard Pinto, whose most notable credit to date is the bland Citizen Khan.

I can't argue with the quality of Boomers' all-star cast – including Alison Steadman, Stephanie Beacham, Russ Abbot and Phil Jackson – but I can easily take issue with Pinto's second-hand script. Unforgivably light on gags, whenever it does attempt a funny line, e.g. Paula Wilcox saying of the deceased, “Most of my memories of Jean are mainly power walking-based,” they come across as self-consciously sculpted and clumsy.

Pinto also made the schoolboy error of building up a character before he arrived on screen, with inevitably anticlimactic results. That character is Mick, an ageing lothario played by Nigel Planer who was the subject of every conversation within the first ten minutes. The subtext was: wait 'til you get a load of this guy, viewers. Someone even described him as “a real character”.

Of course, when Mick finally arrived he was a mid-life crisis stereotype with – God help us from this knackered cliché – a much younger eastern European wife. Does Pinto really think this is an original, funny character? Even the dire Little Britain based some sketches around an older British man with a mail order bride, and that was nearly ten years ago.

Still, at least Mick's wife gave the ever-reliable James Smith, alias Glenn from The Thick of It, a chance to perform his repressed bumbler shtick. It was the only mildly amusing highlight.

The problem with Boomers is it's gentle to a fault. Low-key character pieces of this kind require the wit and observational depth of an Alan Bennett or Victoria Wood. Pinto has all the right pieces in place, but he lacks the inspiration to crank them into life.

The cast are as solid as you'd expect, but they provide the only hint of sparkle on an otherwise dull and unremarkable trinket.

Funnier by far is Almost Royal, a Borat-style comedy in which comedians Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart pose as aristocratic British siblings on a mission to bamboozle America. But whereas Sacha Baron Cohen was partially concerned with exposing the prejudices of those he encountered, there's no real point being made here. Free of malice, it's simply an excuse for a welter of daft gags delivered by two nimble comic actors.

While it gently exploits America's love of all things British, no one is made to look foolish. The pleasure comes from watching real people indulge the sublimely naïve Georgie and Poppy Carlton with a mixture of confused politeness and amusement.

The admirably straight-faced Gamble and Hoggart never miss a chance to misunderstand or question their patient hosts. I particularly liked Georgie innocently asking a car dealer, “Where does this car go?” and later, while observing production on daytime soap The Bold and The Beautiful, saying to one of its stars, “Is this set in a different world?”.

It's a neat, breezy twist on the innocents abroad formula.

Saturday, 9 August 2014


This article was originally published in The Courier on 9th August 2014.

In the Club: Tuesday, BBC One

Siblings: Thursday, BBC Three

Paul Whitelaw

Even without seeing her name in the credits, loyal TV hounds would've recognised In the Club as the work of Kay Mellor. From Band of Gold to Fat Friends and The Syndicate, her signature style runs as follows: assemble a group of predominantly female characters in an enclosed environment – a red-light district, a slimming club etc. - and trace their various ups and downs.

You could probably suggest any group setting to Mellor – a sewage farm, a terrorist cell, a UKIP sex cult – and she'd conjure a bittersweet ensemble drama around it. Not that she's a hack by any means. Her formula could easily come across as cynical were it not for her obvious gifts as a dramatist.

As evinced by episode one of this engaging drama, she has a knack for creating empathetic characters struggling with dire and unusual circumstances. That's more or less the essence of all drama, but Mellor harnesses it skilfully (for the most part: more on this later).

Her protagonists in this case are a group of pregnant women from different walks of life who come together via their weekly antenatal class. They include Katherine Parkinson as Kim, a gay woman carrying the child of a man who artificially inseminated her partner 15 years ago (a surprise twist revealed that Kim was actually impregnated by more traditional, furtive means), and Rosie, a bullied teenage girl who's been hiding her pregnancy from her widowed dad.

After seeking motherly advice via Kim's pregnancy blog, Rosie burst into the class having gone into labour. Despite her trauma, she gave birth to a healthy baby as kindly Kim leant support. So far, so acceptably dramatic.

Unfortunately, Mellor – who also directs – spiralled into inadvertent camp during a climactic, winsomely-scored montage in which Rosie's dad crashed his van as his daughter nurtured her newborn in hospital. Have this poor family not suffered enough? Apparently not, reckons Mellor. Despite its obvious sincerity, her writing is often clumsily schematic.

I also wasn't entirely convinced by the central thread of Diane's secretly unemployed, debt-ridden husband, Rick, deciding on a whim to rob a bank. Desperate men are often driven to extreme measures, but posing as a bomb-toting bank robber to buy your children pizza stretched credulity.

It's fortunate, then, that Rick is portrayed by the excellent Will Mellor (no relation), who radiates everyman pathos without ever overdoing it. The scene in which he begged, with shades of Boys from the Blackstuff, for work on a building site was particularly touching. Likewise, his sincere, almost tearful apologies to the terrified bank teller were affectingly played.

It's frustrating, as these smaller moments have far more emotional impact than La Mellor's more melodramatic flourishes. Nevertheless, I'll be back for more. Daft, cloying overindulgences aside, she's a propulsive storyteller.

Similarly promising is Siblings, a sharp new sitcom about a dysfunctional brother and sister duo. Fresh Meat writer Keith Akushie takes a gilded leaf from Seinfeld's book by miring his characters in selfishness and idiocy. 

Like George Costanza, Hannah, played by Fresh Meat star Charlotte Ritchie, puts Herculean effort into her lazy self-interest, while oblivious Dan is more of an overbearing, bumblingly needy type: imagine a slightly nicer cousin of Jez from Peep Show.

These obvious influences mesh rather nicely. This first episode, as predictable though some of it was, suggested Akushie has a neat grasp of escalating farce, and the two leads fill their roles with just the right amount of warped likeability. Their flailing misfortune may grow on you.

Saturday, 26 July 2014


This article was originally published in The Courier on 26th July 2014.

The Mill: Sunday, Channel 4

Paul Whitelaw

In theory at least, The Mill is everything a factually-based period drama should be: a thoroughly researched, character-driven piece that resonates politically, culturally and emotionally with modern viewers. Given that it was Channel 4's most successful drama of 2013, some would argue it succeeds on those terms.

And yet, and yet... its fundamental failing is writer John Fay's heavy-handed eagerness to draw parallels between the oppressed plight of 19th century working class mill workers and the injustices endured by the poor and vulnerable in 2014. It's not that these shameful parallels shouldn't be highlighted – centuries of unbreakable government oppression is hardly a trifling matter – but that Fay makes his point with all the subtlety of a pitchfork crashing through a Westminster window.

I'm all for furious polemics aimed at the establishment, just as long as they don't descend into inadvertent farce. The Mill skirts dangerously close at times.

As we returned to Quarry Bank Mill in rural Cheshire, Fay wasted no time in reminding us of its brutality. Huddled urchins trudged through muddy puddles, their hob-nailed clogs offering scant protection from the elements, as a coughing girl warned of an incoming smallpox epidemic. But at least they have the support of each other, as we're reminded time and time again. Meanwhile, thin-lipped overseers - to whom the mere idea of human happiness is a damnable sin – cracked the whip and cow-towed to their privileged masters.

The problem I have with this particular mise en scene isn't that it's misleading, it's that it undermines genuine historical suffering by going for the jugular in a borderline comical fashion. Fay's intentions are entirely sincere, but a little finesse wouldn't go amiss. This opening episode was a shapeless, spluttering mouthpiece. It struggled as drama.

It's frustrating, as his talent for characterisation is obvious. Mill girl Esther – played with exceptional charm, cheek, grit and soul by Liverpudlian actress Kerrie Hayes – is one of TV's strongest female protagonists. It's just a pity she's sidelined by clumsily-written scenes in which Irish trade unionists bop us on the nose with Fay's central themes.

The English labourer did not cause the downturn,” he railed, “a banking crisis in America started it. So why should he suffer?!” Do you see, viewers? Do you see?

In case you missed the thrust of Fay's point, he juxtaposed this rabble-rousing speech with scenes of a girl giving birth to the entitled mill owner's child in full hot water and towels agony. And the world turns.

Again, it's frustrating. These scenes take place in reaction to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1843, a repulsive, far-reaching mandate placing the poor into 'deserving' and 'undeserving' categories. Iain Duncan-Smith probably has it stitched into his duvet. But you should never patronise your audience when delivering an important message.

Writing these words gives me no pleasure, as I'm constantly droning on about the urgent need for more politically aware, compassionate populist dramas. The Mill ticks all those boxes, albeit with a paste brush strapped to a cannonball.

In the seasoned hands of someone like Jimmy McGovern – with whom Fay has collaborated – this approach can work. It's also effective if the intent is scabrous, sledgehammer satire a la Lindsay Anderson. Unfortunately, The Mill never quite settles on the appropriate tone.

Saturday, 19 July 2014


This article was originally published in The Courier on 19th July 2014.

Nick & Margaret: Too Many Immigrants?: Tuesday and Wednesday, BBC One

The Great Big Romanian Invasion: Thursday, BBC One

Paul Whitelaw

Few would argue that immigration is at the forefront of the news agenda. That's because organisations such as the BBC constantly push it there. They were banging this knackered drum again last week with two documentaries which sought to address the issue once and for all.

The first was Nick & Margaret: Too Many Immigrants?, a nauseatingly titled “social experiment” in which Alan Sugar's Apprentice sidekicks paired five sets of UK-born citizens with various immigrants to ascertain whether – ghastly rhetoric alert - they're a “gain or drain” on Britain.

I'm surely not alone in saying that no one is better qualified to tackle the complex subject of immigration than two wealthy white capitalists, one of whom lives in France and presents an afternoon quiz show.

Their baffling involvement aside, the programme's worst crime was its lazy, reductive, tiresome predictability. The British-born citizens coughed up the usual Daily Mail-fed opinions before coming to the conclusion that – hey! - these immigrants are actually a decent, hard-working lot after all. With minimum effort, it managed to patronise both participants and viewers in one fell swoop.

The answer to the teeth-grinding question posed in the title was always going to be a resounding “NO”. As pointed out by the qualified experts who popped up to deliver actual facts and evidence, Britain's housing problem and crime rates categorically can't be blamed on its immigrant population.

Cheap and manipulative thought it was, the programme at least had its heart in the right place in that it sought to present viewers with a positive view rather than irresponsible conjecture. If it broadened a few narrow minds in the process, then job done. Indeed, that aspect alone saved it from total redundancy.

Sadly, however, the likes of John – one of those paranoid bores who thinks British culture is under threat of extinction – will always exist. He graciously tipped his hat to the Filipino care worker with whom he was paired, but it was obvious he'd never change his mind on immigration. People like him are immune to reality.

The best participants by far, if only on account of their ludicrous views, were Ted and Margaret, a retired couple living in an ethnically diverse part of London. Paired with a Pakistani couple who run an adult education course for immigrants, they argued that such schools just encourage people to move into their area. Yeah, flippin' foreigners, coming over here and having the audacity to learn our language. They also felt that immigrants shouldn't have access to the NHS, an attitude almost heroic in its bone-headed lack of compassion.

Ted had the droning voice of a born complainer, while Margaret was wearily dumbstruck from years of ill-informed anxiety. Still, their eyes were opened by a visit to a local mosque. Ted was pleasantly surprised by how peaceful it was. “There's nothing sinister going on.” What was he expecting, a scene from The Wicker Man?

I particularly enjoyed the moment where Ted complained that, thanks to immigration, traditional suits and ties are a thing of the past. Cut to his new Pakistani acquaintance strolling alongside him wearing a traditional suit and tie. Ted was wearing neither. Beautiful.

Incidentally, I'm aware that by poking fun at the likes of Ted, I'm guilty of being as judgemental as he is. That's the manipulative power of television for you.

In The Great Big Romanian Invasion, journalist Tim Samuels, himself of Romanian extraction, looked behind those scaremongering media reports about millions of eastern Europeans swamping Britain.

Adopting a wry yet sympathetic tone, he joined Keith Vaz and reporters at Luton Airport on January 1st to greet an expected flood of new Romanian immigrants. Famously, only one turned up. A bemused pig farmer, he went from being a media darling to a hounded hate figure in the space of a week. Welcome to Britain, chum.