Monday, 28 December 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 26th December 2015.

We're Doomed! The Dad's Army Story: Tuesday, BBC Two

From Andy Pandy to Zebedee: The Golden Age of Children's TV: Monday, BBC Four

Paul Whitelaw

The BBC, especially at Christmas, is entitled to wallow nostalgically in its own legacy. Last week it even wallowed twice with barely a hint of self-congratulation. On the contrary, We're Doomed! The Dad's Army Story depicted certain BBC executives as the myopic villains of the piece.

An affectionate comedy-drama about the troubled origins of the much-loved wartime sitcom, it showed how writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft (who also produced) struggled to convince their overlords – particularly BBC One Controller Paul Fox, perhaps unfairly portrayed by Keith Allen as formidably humourless – that a comedy about the Home Guard could work. With WWII still in living memory, might it be deemed insensitive?

It's laughable to think that a sitcom as benign as Dad's Army could ever be thought of as tasteless, but it was clearly a real concern in 1967.

So, while the story hit familiar behind-the-scenes beats – writers search for a great idea, slave over scripts and shape their vision, are forced into compromise by unsympathetic bosses before being proved all along that they were right – it was told in such a breezy, charming, witty way, it never felt redundant.

Packed with touching detail, good gags – I loved the fleeting references to Jon Pertwee and Trevor Eve - a nice sense of bright, smoky '60s period, and winning performances from an adroitly chosen cast of fine character actors – John Sessions' total transformation into the endearingly temperamental Arthur Lowe was miraculous – it was a refreshingly warm antidote to the BBC's notorious, and hopefully extinct, glut of dubious tears-of-a-clown biopics.

Despite its relatively brief running time, writer Stephen Russell managed to add depth to most of the principle players. The pathos of the frail Arnold Ridley, the flinty insecurity of Arthur Lowe, and the core dramatic struggle of Perry, a frustrated actor who desperately wanted a part in the show until he realised that writing was his calling, were handled with commendable sensitivity.

A poignant highlight was the scene of Perry shedding tears as his ageing comedy hero Bud Flanagan (Roy Hudd, who else?) recorded the Dad's Army theme song in one avuncular take. And yes, it ended with a “You Have Been Watching” roll call. Delightful stuff.

Another nostalgic labour of love, From Andy Pandy to Zebedee: The Golden Age of Children's TV celebrated the pioneering origins and reign of the BBC's generation-shaping children's output from the '50s to the early '90s.

Despite some curious narrative leaps – forgiveable, perhaps, given the 60 minute running time – this was a tender cut above most archival clip shows. It scoured the vaults with an evident sense of craft and care. It also made a point of explaining how innovative and important the likes of Play School, Vision On and, for all its dryly middle-class faults, Blue Peter were in educating and entertaining children. 

And kudos for devoting time to the inadvertently nightmarish spectre of Noseybonk from Jigsaw; truly The Child Catcher of '80s TV.

On a cheerier note, the sight and sound of eminent talking heads such as Johnny Ball, Bernard Cribbins and the man who injected some rare jazz/soul groove into kid's TV, Derek Griffiths, was enough to inspire a Proustian rush. You know you're watching a decent documentary about popular entertainment when it's inhabited by relevant, knowledgeable contributors, rather than fatuous modern comedians.

As former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis observed only half-jokingly, a channel entirely devoted to Cribbins' soothing presence could cure the world's ills. Now that really would be public service broadcasting.

I also challenge anyone to refute that the ambient voice of Oliver Postgate is the voice of God Himself. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, 19 December 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 19th December 2015.

Luther: Tuesday, BBC One

Love You To Death: A Year of Domestic Violence: Wednesday, BBC Two

Paul Whitelaw

There was a moment in the latest episode of Luther so perfect in its knowing heavy-handedness, I suspect that writer Neil Cross has been waiting to use it ever since he created this uniquely ludicrous series.

As we reconvened with TV's most dysfunctional maverick cop, he was living in a remote cottage on a much-needed leave of absence. The location of his hideaway? On the edge of a precipitous cliff. That's right, he's literally living on the edge. In case you didn't pick up on this hilariously blatant visual metaphor, Cross even had a character point it out. That one moment encapsulated the tongue-in-cheek absurdity of this bombastic thriller.

After being told that Alice, his psychotic paramour, wasn't dead after all, Luther (Idris Elba) returned to London to find out the truth. This involved a series of, even by his standards, insanely reckless set-pieces. Only Luther would breeze into a pub full of armed criminals and, while staring down the barrel of a gun, defuse the situation with insouciant amusement rather than chair-tossing aggression. King of the barely calculated risk, he makes Jack Bauer look like an over-cautious pen-pusher.

Later he barged into a building rigged with explosives and emerged, via an air duct, without a scratch. Luther, played by Elba with a fascinatingly unfathomable, charismatic eccentricity/wooden sincerity (possibly both), is basically an indestructible superhero living in a heightened universe of grotesque, violent fantasy. The back-in-business scene of him putting on his familiar grey overcoat was the “Hell yeah!” equivalent of Tony Stark climbing into his Iron Man costume.

Typically, his latest nemesis is no mere murderer. No, he's a grandiloquent serial killer with a penchant for cannibal erotica. I wouldn't expect anything less.

Some have argued that Luther wallows irresponsibly in OTT violence, but surely that's the point? We're not supposed to take it seriously. Cross is fully aware of all the cop show tropes and clichés, hence why he has such fun with them. It's why Luther is far more entertaining than most UK detective dramas. It is, like the man himself, a brazenly confident, self-amused barnstormer.

Sadly, thanks to Elba's rising international profile, it's only back for two episodes this time. I hope he always finds time in his schedule to return to this preposterous role.

Mindless escapism is all very well, but we should never ignore the reality of unflinching documentaries such as Love You To Death: A Year of Domestic Violence. A sad, humane, compassionate film, it shed light on the shocking issue of fatal violence against women.

In 2013 alone, 86 women were murdered either by their partner or ex-partner. The programme honoured them all by listing their names and the circumstances of their deaths. Its point was clear: these were human beings, not mere newspaper headlines.

Some of the women received more attention via emotional testimonies from their friends and families. These accounts were necessarily blunt and upsetting. Shying away from the violent details of such crimes would rob them of their awful truth.

A heavy sense of tragic inevitability permeated each of these stories. It was a sobering litany of oppressive, violent, mentally ill men terrorising women behind closed doors. Meanwhile, their loved ones were left behind to grieve and pick up the pieces.

Without doubt one of the most important pieces of television I've seen in some time.

Saturday, 12 December 2015


A version of this article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 12th December 2015.

Doctor Who: Saturday, BBC One

Prey: Wednesday, STV

Paul Whitelaw

Farewell then, Clara Oswald, I'm sure I speak for many when I say you were definitely a companion in the hit sci-fi series Doctor Who. Please don't come back.

A fortnight after she was killed off, Clara returned in this year's series finale. Head writer Steven Moffat just couldn't let her lie, thus undoing the impact of her demise. But at least he only revived her to give her tangled story an absolutely final happy ending. Didn't he?

Having essentially become a surrogate Doctor after all that time spent with him, she whizzed off in her American diner-shaped TARDIS to have intergalactic adventures with a female companion of her own. In a bittersweet twist – one that explicitly mirrored/subverted the tragic demise of Donna Noble - the Doctor, after spending 5 billion hellish years trying to reverse Clara's death, had all his memories of her erased.

This, in its vaguely underwhelming way, was actually one of the nicest, most poetic send-offs a companion has ever had. It's just a shame it was wasted on Clara.

Had she been a more engaging character, her exit would've carried greater emotional weight. Instead it came across as merely clever. A neat conjuring trick. Moffat the technician. Unlike most previous companions, Clara was a bland non-event. Introduced as little more than a mysterious plot device during the Matt Smith era, she never developed a personality beyond Moffat's standard quipping, sassy auto-bot setting

I didn't dislike her. How could I? It was impossible to feel any strong emotions about such a thin, inoffensive character. She was pretty. Her clothes were nice. Clara Oswald, a life.

It wasn't Jenna Coleman's fault, she's a competent actress. But even the greatest board-treader would struggle with such an unfocused role. It didn't help that she was paired with Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi, two of the most magnetically charismatic actors to ever fill the Time Lord's boots. She didn't stand a chance.

So why did Moffat keep her around for so long? Possibly because he was determined to fix a character who simply didn't work. He wanted to make her seem important in the grand scheme of DW lore because he regretted having created such an insubstantial character. But she never came alive.

Still, at least we can look forward to a new companion next year, one who will hopefully prove worthy of Peter Capaldi's magnificent central performance. He commands the screen with total assurance.

The unevenness of the finale – which, though beautifully directed and full of interesting ideas, didn't quite cohere - was frustrating given that this series was one of the best in years.

Capaldi's electrifying anti-war speech from the Zygon adventure was the most powerfully direct political statement in DW history, while the extraordinary episode in which the Doctor found himself trapped within an hallucinatory Kafka-esque nightmare has rightly been hailed as an all-time classic.

It was a reminder that, when inspired, Moffat is one of DW's greatest ever writers. If, as rumoured, the next series is his last, I hope he exits on the high note he deserves.

Series one of Prey starred John Simm as man wrongly accused of a terrible crime. The loosely connected second series finds his old Life On Mars mucker Philip Glenister in a similar predicament. Last year, Ashes to Ashes' Keeley Hawes found herself wrongly accused and framed in Line Of Duty 2. Is that entire cast suffering from a paranoid persecution complex? Do they have something to tell us?

As a prison guard blackmailed into allowing a female inmate to escape, Glenister plays his standard role with practised hangdog aplomb. I'm a sucker for a Wrong Man scenario, and Prey riffs on the theme quite assuredly. It's a pot-boiler, but competently brewed.

However, the real star of this reasonably diverting thriller is Rosie Cavaliero as the engagingly cynical, humanely downbeat detective on his trail. I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of this fine character actress in future.

Saturday, 28 November 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 28 November 2015.

Capital: Tuesday, BBC One

Arena: Night and Day: Sunday, BBC Four

Paul Whitelaw

Like a sinister live-action Pigeon Street, Capital unfolds on a single London street populated by residents from various economic and ethnic backgrounds. Modern Britain in microcosm.

One morning they each receive a mysterious postcard through their letterboxes, bearing the stark legend: “We Want What You Have.” The sender of this subtly threatening missive had yet to be revealed by the end of episode one of this intriguing new drama, but whoever they are it's probably safe to assume that they're making a vigilante stand against rocketing property prices in the area.

Adapted by leading TV dramatist Peter Bowker from the best-selling novel by John Lanchester, Capital makes no bones about its satirical intent. Yes, it's occasionally heavy-handed – the closing montage of our miserable protagonists scored to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! was straight out of an EastEnders Christmas special – but that's surely intentional.

Credulity may have been stretched by the closing shot of “We Want What You Have” daubed in enormous letters along the length of the street, but only if we approach Capital as an earnest piece of social realism. It's not. It's a tragicomic polemic.

That layer of discomfiting humour is typified by Detectorists co-stars Toby Jones and Rachael Stirling as an investment banker and his spendthrift wife. Owners of a multimillion pound property that would've once been home to lower middle-class families, their unhappy, sterile existence is a nightmare vision of success. Their children are just another accessory, an achievement on a par with their house extension.

Upon being informed that he'd received less than half of his promised £1m bonus, a furious Jones delivered the key, soul-shrivelling line: “What use is £30,000 to anybody?!”

Neighbours include Gemma Jones as an elderly widow with a terminal illness who's witnessed decades of change first-hand, a Zimbabwean refugee living under a false identity, a Polish builder tasked with building dream homes for his employers, and a Muslim family with two adult sons, one righteously devout, the other more measured in his beliefs.

However it pans out, it's refreshing to see a primetime TV drama tackling immigration, greed and social inequality in a witty, thoughtful, timely manner. Despite being set in a city where, unlike anywhere else in recession-hobbled Britain, property prices continue to soar, its themes strike a chord nationwide.

A harbinger of quality, that bobbing neon Arena bottle scored to Eno's Another Green Day is the most weirdly moving ident in British television history. Arena: Night and Day paid suitably esoteric tribute to its record-breaking 40-year reign as our greatest arts strand.

Introduced by John Lloyd as “an evocation” of its irreverent, witty spirit, this new film was a beautifully edited, dawn-to-dusk archive mosaic starring such diverse luminaries as Orson Welles, Poly Sytrene, Francis Bacon, Tony Hancock, Kendo Nagasaki, Gerald Scarfe, Yoko Ono, Mel Brooks, Sister Wendy and Elvis Presley's personal cook.

Its diversity was illustrated via highlights such as a massed ukulele recital at a George Formby convention in Blackpool, Andy Warhol and William Burroughs schmoozing at the infamous Chelsea Hotel, a politely baffled Mick Jagger being introduced to every single member of a Moroccan drumming troupe, and Jeffrey Bernard avoiding deadlines while boozing with Tom Baker in Soho.

A mere best-of compilation wouldn't have done justice to Arena's unconventional vision. This charming celebration was the perfect birthday gift.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 21 November 2015.

Storyville: Orion – The Man Who Would Be King: Monday, BBC Four

The Coroner: Monday to Friday, BBC One

Paul Whitelaw

Among the many offbeat footnotes from the Elvis Presley saga, the little-known tale of Jimmy Ellis is one of the saddest.

Two years after The King's death in 1977, Ellis appeared in the mysterious guise of Orion, an uncanny Elvis soundalike in a tacky Lone Ranger mask who managed to convince some gullible fans that he was the genuine article. And so the urban myth that Elvis faked his death was born.

That was hardly Ellis' intention. On the contrary, he wanted to be taken seriously as an artist in his own right. And yet he was unable to escape from Elvis' shadow. His remarkable vocal resemblance was a curse.

After several unsuccessful years in the business, he was desperate to achieve stardom, and so allowed himself to become compromised by a gimmick foisted upon him by opportunistic music biz sharks: a Faustian pact in the dark heart of Nashville.

Although he enjoyed a brief flurry of cult novelty fame in the early '80s, by the end of his life he was making a meagre living performing in high schools, still wearing that ridiculous mask. A forgotten man, in 1996 he was shot dead during a botched pawnshop robbery. His story, in its way, is as tragic as the rise and fall of Elvis himself.

Thankfully, the extraordinary documentary, Orion: The Man Who Would Be King, finally afforded him the dignity he was never granted in life. Despite the bizarre truth-is-stranger-than-fiction nature of the tale, this was a sensitive, sympathetic account of a troubled man in search of his own identity. An adopted child, he never really knew who he was.

One wonders if he ever truly appreciated the irony of trying to make his name using the unmistakeable vocal style of one of the word's most famous singers. The film couldn't clarify whether he consciously aped Elvis' sound, or whether it was simply a strange coincidence. But it did present Ellis as a mass of contradictions.

Friends insist he would've been a star had Elvis never lived. But surely he wouldn't have sounded like that were it not for the existence of Elvis?

He was a hapless pawn, exploited by the unscrupulous owner of Sun Records (yes, he was actually signed to Elvis' original label). Contractually obliged to wear the mask in public, he was embarrassed by the whole Orion charade. Yet still he went along with it in the hope of finding fame. Sadly, it ruined his credibility.

During an audio interview recorded towards the end of his life, he recalled how people always told him that he'd never become a star by sounding like Elvis. “It didn't do Elvis any harm,” was his stock reply. The twisted logic of that statement encapsulates the mind-boggling weirdness of the whole sad story. He even recorded a song called I'm Not Trying To Be Like Elvis while sounding exactly like Elvis.

Director Jeanie Finlay, who also made the similarly fantastic The Great Hip Hop Hoax, treated Ellis with the compassion he deserves. Steeped in a vivid atmosphere of Deep South melancholy, it's one of the best pop culture documentaries I've seen in some time.

A new daytime drama, The Coroner stars Claire Goose as the titular cadaver-poker and crime-solver. Based in a picturesque Devonshire coastal town, squint and you could mistake it for Broadchurch on the cheap.

Goose and Matt Bardock as her ex-partner turned local police sergeant are fine, but the supporting cast overact wildly in that uniquely daytime drama way. A serviceable pot-boiler, but nothing more.

Monday, 16 November 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 14th November 2015.

London Spy: Monday, BBC Two

Josh: Wednesday, BBC Three

Paul Whitelaw

A few years ago Ben Whishaw starred in Criminal Justice, a gripping BBC drama about a young man trapped in a waking nightmare after being wrongly accused of murder. Last week he starred in London Spy, a gripping BBC drama about a young man trapped in, well, you get the picture.

It's easy to see why Whishaw, a fine, interesting actor, gets cast in such roles. His ability to project boyish, vulnerable charm makes him an ideal candidate for torture of this kind. The scrawny sod, he's innately sympathetic.

In London Spy he plays Danny, a lonely gay romantic on a path of self-destruction. Early one morning by the Thames, after a solitary night of hedonism, he has a chance encounter with Alex, a fellow lost soul.

In typical romantic fiction style, they couldn't be more different. Danny is garrulous and indie-kid scruffy, while Alex is an inscrutable model of Savile Row elegance with the face of a sad-eyed camel. After a faltering start, they eventually embark upon an intense eight-month relationship.

Socially maladroit Alex claims to be a virgin, so Danny – who has a complex sexual past – takes care of that. They fall madly in love. It's all rather touching, and hardly what you'd expect from a drama titled London Spy. We're all expecting some sort of thriller twist, of course, but the slow-burning build created an unexpected, disarming mood.

Then one day Alex mysteriously disappears. Danny is heartbroken. Under curious circumstances, he eventually manages to enter Alex's apartment, where he's shocked – as you would be – to discover a secret attic full of bondage gear drugs, sex toys... and Alex's corpse squeezed inside a trunk.

Suddenly, and quite brilliantly, a sensitive love story has transformed into a bizarre, dark conspiracy thriller. Naturally, Danny is suspect number one, but how can he answer questions about a partner who'd apparently lied to him all along? It's a classic Hitchcockian 'Wrong Man' premise, made all the more effective for taking its time to establish character first.

Handsomely shot, thoughtfully written and superbly performed – Jim Broadbent, without a hint of “old queen” cliché, is wonderful as Danny's wealthy saviour/mentor – London Spy is one of the boldest dramas of the year so far. Despite playing along with standard spy conventions, it's emotionally richer and more offbeat than yer average thriller.

Writer Tom Rob Smith is the partner of Ben Stephenson, the Controller of BBC Drama Commissioning. Normally that would set off the nepotism klaxon to cacophonous levels, but in this case it's clearly been commissioned on its own merits. No, really. It's excellent.

By contrast, Josh, a new sitcom vehicle for comedian Josh Widdicombe, is entirely standard stuff. Based around three flatmates in their early thirties, plus their know-it-all landlord (Jack Dee, clocking in), its humour is almost exclusively based around tired, overdone pop culture puns and references: vaguely amusing pub banter at best.

It's also cursed by a particular kind of 21st century comedy performance style that's like Kryptonite to myself and anyone else who's latched onto it. It's basically an irksome marriage of Alan Partridge emphasis, Martin Freeman awkwardness and Bill Nighy vagueness, which around 80% of British comic actors under 40 have appropriated in the last decade. 

Widdicombe is particularly guilty. He sounds like a helium-addled Partridge with lockjaw.

Still, nice use of Big Maybelle's version of 96 Tears over the end credits. I'll give them that.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 7th November 2015.

Dominic Sandbrook: Let Us Entertain You: Wednesday, BBC Two

Joanna Lumley: Elvis and Me: Wednesday, STV

Paul Whitelaw

Last week, to my delight, I was reminded that The Beatles' return to England following their first US tour was covered live on Grandstand. Such was its import as a major world event, even the BBC's flagship sport show was forced to interrupt its cricket coverage and treat it with due reverence.

Alas, that grainy archive footage was one of the few surprises in episode one of Dominic Sandbrook: Let Us Entertain You, a new series in which the noted historian examines how, following the post-war decline of Britain's industrial, economic and political influence, it gained a potent new superpower as the world's greatest exporter of popular culture.

The likes of James Bond, Agatha Christie, Doctor Who, The Beatles and Harry Potter have all become symbols of Britain's vaunted position as purveyors of beloved escapist entertainment. Only a madman would reject this inarguable statement of fact, but it wasn't Sandbrook's central thesis I took issue with.

A recurring problem with documentaries of this nature is that anyone interested in watching them will already be quite knowledgeable about the territory they cover. Sure enough, swathes of Sandbrook's narrative felt awfully predictable.

He also has a habit of stating the bleedin' obvious. Quoth our learned guide, “The '60s only swung for a tiny minority.” You don't say? And here was me thinking Dundee city centre was once our shaggy equivalent of Haight-Ashbury.

A stout defender of the British Empire, it's hardly surprising that Sandbrook argued in favour of Victorian values being at the heart of every world-shaking explosion since. He was almost visibly vibrating with pleasure when paying tribute to the “cultural uplift and commercial self-interest” that made Britain great again. It was most unseemly.

Yes, popular culture has always been driven by commerce, but Sandbrook seems to revel in that fact above all else.

It was essentially an extended tribute to post-war commercial entrepreneurs such as J. Arthur Rank, Brian Epstein, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Charles Saatchi, whose marketing nous was a pivotal factor in the electoral success of Margaret Thatcher. They were all drawn from the same cloth, he argued.

That's a rather simplistic view. He's been given four episodes to analyse this subject, you'd expect more nuance.

Describing Britain's vast cultural contribution to the world in purely commercial terms is, of course, anathema to groovy non-bread-heads. This is art, not product. It belongs to us, not The Man. I dare say Sandbrook, who seems like an affable soul with a genuine interest in popular culture, has some sympathy for this dangerously idealistic viewpoint. But that didn't stop him from coming across as the sort of point-missing, number-crunching dullard who values record sales over artistic merit.

For an Elvis fan such as myself, there was an alarming moment near the start of Joanna Lumley: Elvis and Me in which the actress teetered on the verge of regurgitating the tired fallacy that Elvis' post-army career was worthless. Thankfully, it soon became clear that rebellious teen idol '50s Elvis was simply her favourite model, hence why it was the focus of this heartfelt travelogue in which she travelled to Memphis to meet those who knew and loved him.

For once it wasn't simply a case of attaching a famous face to a subject they know little about. Lumley's deep affection for the young, smouldering King was abundantly obvious.

That it was entirely non-critical didn't matter, as it wasn't intended as a sweeping Sandbrook-ian essay on Elvis' cultural significance. Rather, it was a charming tribute to a malleable idol from an eternally smitten fan. 

Monday, 2 November 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 31 October 2015.

Jekyll and Hyde: Sunday, STV

Detectorists: Thursday, BBC Four

Paul Whitelaw

Ever since Doctor Who reasserted its position as the reigning champ of weekend family viewing, ITV has made a few, almost grudging, attempts at establishing a suitable rival.

Time-hopping dinosaur romp Primeval was their most successful effort, but even its biggest fans would concede that it never troubled Doctor Who in terms of capturing the wider imagination. And the less said about Demons – which only shell-shocked TV critics and around 50% of those who made it choose to remember anyway – the better.

So it's perhaps surprising that it's taken them this long to enlist the talents of Fast Show alumnus Charlie Higson, a critically acclaimed, best-selling author whose success with the Young James Bond novels has secured his reputation as a gifted purveyor of intelligent children's fiction. On the basis of episode one, Jekyll and Hyde already feels like ITV's first serious challenger to Doctor Who's crown.

However, it's not without its flaws. An unofficial sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's classic exploration of a vexing split personality disorder, it follows Jekyll's grandson, Robert, as he gradually unearths his poisoned family lineage.

Raised by a family in Ceylon – hence his impeccable upper-class English accent – he's introduced as a kindly colonial physician capable of superhuman feats of strength when emotionally piqued. He's basically a 1930s Hulk, and Higson doesn't stint on the comparisons. With its canted angles, stylised action sequences and somewhat campy feel, the show is framed as a live-action comic book.

That heightened-reality approach ensures that its flashes of violence and horror don't feel inappropriate for a family audience. Children can differentiate between this world and ours. Granted, the sight of a dog-hybrid 'Harbinger' – Higson's Jekyll universe if full of bizarre creatures - was unsettling for even a man as robust and fearless as myself, but God forbid I should represent the psyche of the average child.

More troubling, perhaps, was the fiery death of Robert's adoptive Indian family, murdered at the hands of an intriguingly sadistic villain in British military uniform. Then again, I doubt many children were conscious of its significance as an historical metaphor. They were probably just perturbed by the spectacle of some kindly people being incinerated by a greasy Englishman with an evil moustache. So that's okay.

Though peppered with clunky exposition – hopefully that will subside after this attention-grabbing scene-setter – this was a decent introduction.

The charismatic Tom Bateman handles his twin roles impressively: a Colin Firth-esque bumbler in Jekyll repose, a lascivious demon in two-fisted Hyde mode. From Frederic March to Jerry Lewis, Jekyll/Hyde tales rely upon acting versatility. Higson's reinvention shows promise, but Bateman is selling it so far.

There's something deeply heartening about the deserved success of writer/director/actor Mackenzie Crook's award-winning sleeper hit Detectorists. Maybe it's because no one ever expected Gareth from The Office to come up with a sitcom of such depth, wit and sensitivity.

It makes Derek, the saccharine dogs dinner served up by his former employer, Ricky Gervais, look even worse by comparison.

A low-key sitcom about two charmingly co-dependent metal detectorists - the other played by the great Toby Jones - when it returned last week I instantly eased back into its rural rhythms. Space precludes me from writing more, but I urge you to befriend this wonderful show. It's one of the best British comedies of the last ten years.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 24 October 2015.

Psychedelic Britannia: Friday, BBC Four

SAS: Who Dares Wins: Monday, Channel 4

Paul Whitelaw

A kaleidoscopic tapestry of wonderful archive footage, seasoned talking heads and mind-blowing music, Psychedelic Britannia paid bewitching tribute to one of the most colourful periods in British pop history.

It chronicled those forward-thinking years between 1965 and 1970 when bands such as Pink Floyd, The Yardbirds and yer Beatles swapped their beat/blues roots for experiments in jazz, classical, the avant-garde, Indian drones and holy modal chanting. It was a time of studio experimentation and long, wiggy improvisations, where anything went and usually did.

It was also a time of drugs. Lots and lots of consciousness-expanding drugs. After all, that's how the genre got its name and most of its untrammelled vision.

One of many choice interviewees, Yes/Tomorrow's Steve Howe, aka the librarian ghost from Ghostbusters, said he once played his guitar for ten hours continuously while on acid. Time, alas, hasn't archived this marathon.

Soft Machine's Robert Wyatt claimed that one of the reasons they played endless jams at London's legendary UFO club was because they didn't allow any gaps for the crowd to boo. They were probably too zonked to care anyway.

Wyatt also revealed that he barely knows what a CV is. “I was too young to take any notice of that crap,” he chuckled. Wyatt was typical of the many young hairies who dropped out of conventional society to form a bohemian counter-culture steeped in a unique British fusion of pastoral Edwardian whimsy and cultural revolution. Within months it had infiltrated the mainstream.

Of course, not everyone from his generation was impressed by this new Arcadian Age. One of the programme's many great finds was a clip of a young mod at Alexandra Palace's 14 Hour Technicolour Dream. A BBC reporter asked him what he was expecting. “Sumfink better than this,” he sniffed. It was pure Quadrophenia.

I was always going to enjoy this beautifully assembled programme, as British psych is one of my favourite genres. But I was particularly impressed by the way it managed to gently mock its sillier excesses, while simultaneously treating it with respect. That's precisely the right approach, as the pie-eyed eccentricity of British psych is one of its defining and most charming characteristics.

Even the choice of narrator, Nigel Planer, alias Neil from The Young Ones, was inspired. His affectionately droll script correctly argued that this is when British pop found its first truly original voice.Only 60 minutes long, I can excuse its exclusion of the lesser-known, one-shot acts that gave British psychedelia much of its quirky identity. Only an hour, but it was quite a trip.

It's probably safe to assume that “Turn on, tune in, drop out” isn't part of the SAS handbook. But what does it take to join this rock hard military unit? SAS: Who Dares Wins attempts to explain by following a group of ex-Special Forces soldiers as they put 30 civilians through a recreation of the gruelling selection process that they once endured.

Despite the insight it affords into this grimly serious world, it's basically a generic boot camp show of the type we're all familiar with. It even finds the judges/trainers sitting around a table to decide which of the contestants/recruits should stay in the competition/process: The Great British Bloke Off. On that point, why aren't there any women involved?

Such mysteries aside, the programme does at least reveal that psychological strength is essentially more important than physical fitness in the SAS. Alpha males aren't necessarily welcome. And for the shallower among us, we can all get a kick from the fact that the chief instructor has clearly modelled himself on the classic bearded Action Man.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 17 October 2015.

River: Tuesday, BBC One

The Returned: Friday, More4

Paul Whitelaw

Just when you thought the hoary old cliché of the troubled detective with an extensive vinyl collection had been pummelled beyond repair, along comes River to show that there's life in the old dog yet.

The effectiveness of this new cop drama from Abi Morgan (The Hour) is enormously surprising, as from the moment I first heard about it I assumed the worst. After all, the very concept of a maverick cop named John River sounds ridiculous. 

It reminded me instinctively of Simon Day as John Actor in The Fast Show's Monkfish sketches (“John Actor is a tough, uncompromising inspector/doctor/vet...”).

However, putting aside the vast unlikelihood of the great Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard playing a character named John River, this is undoubtedly the most confident attempt yet at transplanting the existential angst of Nordic noir to British climes. Face facts, From Darkness.

The opening ten minutes alone offered some of the most arresting drama I've seen on TV all year. Scored to Tina Charles' disco classic I Love To Love, the sequence immediately established a warm, understated chemistry between the endearingly discomfited River and his more exuberant partner DS Stevenson (the always believable Nicola Walker, who also shines at the moment in ITV's above-par crime drama Unforgotten).

Their affectionate banter was punctured suddenly when River spotted a petty drug dealer. Chasing him on foot, our wheezy, ageing hero unwittingly drove the suspect to his death. The scene that followed seemed standard at first: River's weary chief (the wonderful Lesley Manville of Mike Leigh renown) arrived to chastise him for causing the young man's demise.

As Stevenson offered him support, the camera span around slowly to reveal a gaping wound on the back of her head. She'd been killed in action, and now exists only in grieving River's mind. It's a measure of how well this twist was handled that its invocation of another great comedy sketch – Chuffy, the imaginary sidekick from Armstrong & Miller – didn't make me laugh. It was so unforeseen, I admired its audacity.

It transpired that River is haunted by other ghosts, namely a murdered teenage girl whom he'd failed to rescue, and – there's no way of describing this without it sounding ridiculous – a 19th century serial killer (Eddie Marsan, another gifted Leigh veteran). They're voices in his head, a manifestation of his troubled psyche. Ghosts who assist him in solving problems. 

If his noggin wasn't already crowded enough, the episode ended with a bedtime visit from the innocent man he "murdered" at the top of the episode. It's quite a party in there.

Judged incorrectly, this swirling cavalcade of psychological eccentricity could easily descend into farce. But so far at least, River gets the tone just right. It's rather subversive and unusual in an intelligent, dry-witted way. Skarsgard inhabits the role of River with sad-eyed charm and intensity. For once, the old cop-with-a-difference cliché seems justified.

Bathed in shades of medicinal green and nocturnal red, it's also directed with a sharp eye for striking composition. Delightfully, this highly promising show confounded all my expectations.

One of my favourite dramas of recent years, The Returned made good on its title last week for a second series of French supernatural mystery. Despite its ambiguous finale, I actually felt quite satisfied with series one as a self-contained piece. Is another series necessary?

Steeped in glacial intrigue, the opening episode suggested that there's more to be gleaned from this everyday saga of a remote French town populated by photogenic zombies.

Granted, thanks to a two year transmission gap between series, it took me about half an hour to fully remember who the hell everyone was. But once the fog had cleared, I was cautiously hooked all over again.

God only knows if it'll ever make complete sense, but that's not really the point. It's a disquietingly atmospheric mood piece, an exercise in odd, beautiful Twin Peaks-esque style. I'm glad it's back, to linger in the memory like one of River's manifests.  

Saturday, 10 October 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 10 October 2015.

From Darkness: Sunday, BBC One

Unforgotten: Thursday, STV

Paul Whitelaw

You know you're watching a po-faced crime drama when the opening credits are scored to an ethereal ballad sung by a woman who sounds like a haunted Victorian doll. But the problems with From Darkness run deeper than that.

While it isn't bad exactly – no drama starring actors as great as Anne-Marie Duff and Johnny Harris could ever be truly bad – it contains nothing that we haven't seen a million times before. By the end of episode one my generic cop show bingo card was full.

A former police constable, Claire (Duff) left the force 16 years ago when a case she was working on was shut down. She'd drawn a connection between several missing prostitutes, but her superiors wouldn't listen (they never do). Traumatised by the experience, she essentially ran away – she's shown to be a keen runner, in case you missed that subtext – to the Western Isles of Scotland with her husband and daughter.

When the remains of two women are found in what was once the red light district that Claire was investigating, her former boss and lover (Harris) travels from Manchester to draw her back in. Naturally, she resists. But could this be her chance to vanquish her demons and find justice for the women she'd “failed”? Is the killer still at large?

If this all sounds familiar it's because a police chief trying to convince a retired cop to return to the fold to reopen an unsolved case is such an overused trope. It felt particularly tired here as it dominated most of the episode. We knew from the start that Claire would capitulate and start looking into the case, but it took far too long to get her to that point.

Crime dramas can work when taken at a leisurely pace, but only if the story is involving. Despite some solid work from Duff and Harris, From Darkness is just too rote to arouse interest.

Though it began with an almost identical set-up – the discovery of human remains on an abandoned urban site – Unforgotten is a far more effective thriller. Or rather, it has potential. As always with dramas of this nature, it may well turn to ash as it unfolds, but episode one established a strong, intriguing mystery with impressive efficiency.

A cold case investigation was the fulcrum around which several seemingly unrelated scenes revolved. What is the connection between these disparate characters? The vicar, the Alan Sugar-like businessman, the retired book keeper and the community worker, do they all have something to do with the murder of a young black man in 1976? It's like a Byzantine game of Cluedo.

Granted, while playing Cluedo one doesn't tend to, as Unforgotten does, address the argument that society has a responsibility to punish people for their crimes, no matter how long ago they took place. But you take my point.

Our chief detectors are nicely underplayed by Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar, who feel more grounded and believable than most TV sleuths. It's perhaps unwise to gauge the quality of a production based on the strength of its cast, but the presence of actors such as Tom Courtenay, Bernard Hill, Gemma Jones, Trevor Eve and Ruth Sheen suggests that Unforgotten is a cut above.

You wouldn't normally see a roll call as stellar as that outside of a Mike Leigh film. This could be a keeper. 

Wednesday, 30 September 2015


A version of this article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 26 September 2015.

Doctor Who: Saturday, BBC One

Midwinter of the Spirit: Wednesday, STV

Paul Whitelaw

Those moments when we shout at the television, not in anger but with thrilled surprise, are a rare and precious commodity. Breaking Bad is one of the few recent shows I can think of where audacious twists caused me to grin and gasp with pleasure.

So, Steven Moffat, the brains behind the last five years of Doctor Who, deserves bounteous plaudits for pulling off that feat in – how's this for chutzpah? - the first five minutes of the latest series.

On a war-torn alien wasteland, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) tried to rescue a boy trapped within a quagmire of killer hand mines (literally hands with an eye embedded in the palm). The, if you must, OMG moment came when the boy revealed his name: Davros.

Cut to the Doctor looking horrified. Cue opening credits. Bang! That's how to kick-start a series. Thankfully, the rest of the episode lived up to its fan-baiting intro.

In terms of scope and intensity, it felt more like the first part of a series finale than a series opener. Dramatic stakes were ramped skywards as the Doctor wrestled with the moral dilemma of whether to save Davros – essentially the 'Would you kill baby Hitler?' conundrum on an intergalactic scale – while intimating that, for reasons yet unknown, his Time Lord days are numbered.

Meanwhile, his other arch-enemy, Missy/The Master (a wonderfully bananas turn from Michelle Gomez), formed an unlikely alliance with Clara (Jenna Coleman, competent as always) in a bid to rescue him from Davros' clutches in the Dalek city on Skaro. The arresting conceit of the devious Time Lord/Lady seeking to assist the Doctor, however ambiguously, is something we haven't seen in Doctor Who since the saturnine reign of Roger Delgado in the 1970s.

Some critics have complained that the episode, titled The Magician's Apprentice, was far too continuity-heavy for the casual viewer, but I'd argue that all the essential information and backstory they needed – Davros is the creator of the Daleks and, well, that's it really – was clearly explained within.

It was inward-looking in the sense that it's essentially an exploration of the complex relationship between the Doctor and one of his oldest, deadliest enemies, but it was hardly a self-indulgent odyssey aimed squarely at hardcore fans. On the contrary, there was plenty here for children, those most important viewers of all, to enjoy. 

They must have surely been delighted by the spectacle of millions of Daleks buzzing around their spectacular home turf, plus the creepy presence of Davros, his snake-shifting henchman Colony Saarf, and the supremely entertaining hat-stand villainy of Missy.

As for the Doctor himself, Capaldi achieved the impossible feat of nailing an extended comic set-piece that, in theory, should've been excruciating.

As it turned out, a shades-wearing Doctor rocking out on electric guitar atop an armoured tank while delivering bad jokes was actually very enjoyable. As great though David Tennant could be in the role, just imagine him hamming the life out of that scene. You'd cringe yourself a hernia. It's a mark of Capaldi's authority that he can nail this 'wacky' business without making a fool of himself.

Though still spiky, the acerbic, antisocial misanthrope who replaced Matt Smith last year has gradually softened to reveal more warmth and charm, a development neatly illustrated by that sweet little moment when, upon meeting up with Clara again, he strummed a few bars of Roy Orbison's Oh, Pretty Woman on his guitar. He's almost, almost cuddly now. I don't see that as a cop-out, but rather an organic evolution of his character.

The best and boldest season opener since The Impossible Astronaut back in 2011, The Magician's Apprentice suggests that Moffat, who must be nearing the end of his tenure on the show, is attempting to shake up the formula somewhat. Doctor Who has survived, off and on, for over 50 years due to its willingness to change and adapt like the ancient Time Lord himself. As ever, I hope he succeeds in his fiendish goal.

From the writer behind notorious Halloween “hoax” Ghostwatch, Midwinter of the Spirit is an enjoyably creepy supernatural drama starring Anna Maxwell Martin as a village vicar with an unusual sideline: she's a trained exorcist.

When a man is found crucified in the woods, the police request her assistance. Meanwhile, she becomes “infected” by the evil spirit of a dead sex offender and animal-torturing sadist. It's like The Vicar of Dibley gone drastically awry.

By treating this subject matter in a fairly low-key way, its scares become more potent. This aura of authenticity may be due in part to the advisory involvement of an actual CoE exorcist. Yes, such people really do exist. By the power of Christ, what a strange world we live in.

Sunday, 20 September 2015


A version of this article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 19 September 2015.

This Is England '90: Sunday, Channel 4

Paul Whitelaw

The biggest shock of the TV week? An archive cameo from Scottish soap Take The High Road. Its cardboard charms cropped up briefly in This Is England '90, the third and presumably final TV sequel to Shane Meadows' BAFTA-winning 2006 coming-of-age classic.

The background presence of STV's stinging riposte to Dallas was sweetly indicative of Meadows' offbeat attention to period detail. As everyone surely knows by now, this is the continuing saga of a group of working-class Midlands pals growing up in 1980s Britain. The latest chapter catches up with Beaky, Choo-Choo, Fliegel and the gang as they stumble into adulthood in the Madchester era.

True to form, it began with a craftily assembled, scene-setting montage of period news footage. The music used on the soundtrack this time was There She Goes by The Las. Why, I ask you, what could possibly be the connection between that song title, the poll tax riots, escalating unemployment, homelessness, drug abuse, mad cow disease and Thatcher's ignominious exit after eleven years in power? As an amusing piece of blunt satire, it worked a treat.

We then lurched into a charmingly lackadaisical episode that touched upon the growing sense of nostalgia one feels in your early twenties – sweetly symbolised here by the Proustian tang of school dinner chips – and the awkward transition into 'settling down' when you've barely grown up yourself.

Lol and Woody (Vicky McClure and Joe Gilgun, whose droll comic timing is second to none) are now living together and raising Lol's daughter. Woody's bizarrely boring yet well-meaning parents are, without being broad caricatures, beamed in from a universe far less grounded than the one inhabited by their son.

Meadows' ability to shift seamlessly from low-key character comedy to drama and pathos in the space of a single scene was encapsulated by these stand-out moments of domestic absurdity. While This Is England '86 was rightly criticised for its jarring leaps from knockabout farce to harrowing scenes of sexual violence, thankfully he hasn't repeated that clumsy error since.

Despite being the original film's protagonist, young Shaun's role in the overarching Woody/Lol narrative remains fairly inessential. Nevertheless, as played by Thomas Turgoose, who these days resembles a forlorn potato, Shaun is TV's most convincing teenager by far: the hurt and confusion on his face speak volumes about the anxieties of wading through that awkward age.

Rarely do you come across such unaffected performances and authentic-sounding, semi-improvised dialogue in British TV drama. Meadows' work harks back to the days when the likes of Alan Clarke and Ken Loach cropped up in the schedules to present powerful slices of social-realism hewn from genuine warmth and compassion. He actually makes us care about these characters as if they were – gosh! - real human beings.

Granted, as enjoyable though it was the episode did contain a few self-conscious “Hey everyone! It's 1990!” howlers. And I wish Meadows' would ditch his unnecessary penchant for slow-motion, sad piano montages. He doesn't need to labour the point, we know how we're supposed to feel in those moments.

Still, at least the inevitable scene of the gang taking drugs and grooving to The Stone Roses was dispensed with early. In any case, the Madchester disco sub-plot was worth it for Woody's throwaway reference to indie dance-floor classic “Idiot's Gold”.

Anyone familiar with Meadows' work knows that it won't be long before these light-hearted japes give way to tragedy. The monstrous ghost of Lol's abusive father, Mick, still haunts this world; it's only a matter of time before his pervasive evil causes another explosion. And what of Combo (Stephen Graham), who's still in prison for making it look as though he, not Lol, murdered Mick? His redemption isn't yet complete.

However it unfolds, I'm cautiously confident that we're in for a satisfying conclusion to one of the best British dramas of recent years. We'll miss it when it's gone.

Saturday, 12 September 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 12 September 2015.

Doctor Foster: Wednesday, BBC One

Lady Chatterley's Lover: Sunday, BBC One

An agonisingly slow and implausible confection, Doctor Foster is a rare misfire from Suranne Jones. This fine actress usually chooses her projects wisely, but she's hopelessly adrift in this bone-dry drama about a GP who begins to suspect that her husband, Simon, is having an affair.

The brunt of episode one – God only knows how they'll stretch this out to five hours – was preoccupied with Foster floundering in a mire of paranoid anxiety, after she discovered a stray blonde hair on Simon's scarf. Most people wouldn't regard this as incriminating evidence of extra-marital misdeeds, but for some inexplicable reason Foster leapt instantly to that conclusion.

We were initially given no evidence to suggest that Simon was the philandering type, so Foster's behaviour – checking his phone, following him from work and even asking a patient to spy on him in exchange for sleeping pills – felt borderline deranged.

The idea behind this was obvious. We were supposed to feel as panicked, confused and compelled as she was. But the conceit backfired. You simply can't relate to a protagonist whose actions don't ring true. The tension evaporates.

It didn't matter that she was eventually proved right – there would be no story otherwise - as by that point she'd been established as weirdly unsympathetic. Hats off, then, to writer Mike Bartlett for managing the seemingly impossible feat of penning a drama about infidelity in which the wronged spouse comes across as a tiresome nuisance. He also proved that it's possible to be terminally dull and absurdly melodramatic all at once. That's quite an achievement.

I get the point he's trying to make: Foster's problems drive her towards the kind of self-destructive irrationality that she warns her hypochondriac patients about. Even a respectable, sensible GP can exploit their privilege and unravel in times of personal crisis. Should we ever fully trust these supposed pillars of society?

There's a potentially interesting story to be told here, but Bartlett botches it by forcing Foster into increasingly unlikely corners. Even allowing for her rattled mental state, the scene in which she threatened a patient's abusive boyfriend was preposterous. Maddening and enervating, the Doctor Foster “experience” is like churning through a very boring fever dream.

Having never read DH Lawrence's infamous book, I couldn't tell you if Lady Chatterley's Lover was a faithful adaptation or not. However, I feel I can state with some confidence that, notwithstanding a strong, elegant performance from apple-cheeked Holliday Grainger as Lady C, it resembled a live-action Mills & Boon novella with delusions of grandeur.

Its central theme of scandalous love and lust across the class divide in Edwardian England was blatantly present and correct. Subtlety wasn't invited to this particular party. Yet at no point did the rebellious relationship between the sexually frustrated Chatterley and chippy gamekeeper Mellors feel remotely organic or convincing.

As played by a bemused-looking Richard Madden, Mellors came across as a stridently humourless northern stereotype whose thrusting nipples strived in vain to compensate for a total lack of charisma.

I kept thinking how much more effective this production might have been with, say, Poldark's Aidan Turner filling Mellor's britches. The role as written was rather thankless, so Madden wasn't entirely to blame. But an actor of Turner's smouldering calibre could, perhaps, have made it work.

As it stood, this po-faced, inadvertently comical drama was, for a supposedly erotic drama, curiously cold and neutered. I know enough about the novel to appreciate its purpose as a transgressive, challenging work of art. Shorn of its deliberate shock value - sex and profanity were thin on the ground here - it seemed pointless.

It's the first offering from BBC One's new Sunday night slate of classic 20th century literary adaptations. Things can only get better from here, right?

Saturday, 5 September 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 5 September 2015.

Cradle To Grave: Thursday, BBC Two

Danny and The Human Zoo: Monday, BBC One

Paul Whitelaw

Innit typical? You wait ages for an autobiographical account of a popular entertainer growing up in 1970s Britain, then two come along at once.

Barrelling out in front, Cradle To Grave is a serial adaptation of Danny Baker's hilarious memoir Going To Sea In A Sieve. One of our greatest radio broadcasters, for years he's regaled fans with picaresque anecdotes from his whiz-bang youth, many of them revolving around his father, Fred.

Better known as Spud, this atom-powered character was a docker by trade Regardless of size, quantity and dubious provenance, everything that passed through Millwall Docks was fair game as far as Spud and his workmates were concerned. An incorrigible wheeler-dealer, he made Del Boy look like a rank amateur.

Spud, played with an uncertain South London accent by Peter Kay, is the star of the show. Danny and the rest of the Baker brood barely registered in episode one, as we plunged pell-mell into Spud's chaotic world of scams and fiddles.

Funny, charming stuff, but its energy was slightly exhausting. Kinetically edited like a cockney Goodfellas, it was overloaded with dizzying incident. It's as if Baker and co-writer Jeff Pope (Cilla; Philomena) were afraid of pausing for breath. They needn't have worried; these wonderful stories don't require the hard sell. Thankfully, it settles down next week to allow more room for nuance.

A genuinely warm, cheering comedy, this Polaroid-tinted labour of love is suffused with all the wit, warmth and attention to detail you'd expect from Baker.

By curious coincidence, Lenny Henry named his barely disguised alter ego Danny in self-penned biopic Danny and The Human Zoo. That wasn't the only curious thing about this uneven story of a working-class boy from a first generation Jamaican family breaking into the predominately white showbiz world of the 1970s.

Lenny has described it as “a fantasy memoir” due to certain fictionalised elements. So, while the details of his family situation were essentially true – as a teenager, he really did discover that the man who raised him wasn't his biological father – this version of his early forays into comedy felt like retroactive wish fulfilment.

To his eternal regret, Lenny appeared on The Black & White Minstrel Show after winning New Faces in 1975. However, unlike Danny he didn't rebel against its offensive outdatedness by appearing on stage naked daubed in tribal markings. I understand why he felt compelled to rewrite history; it must've been cathartic. But the honest truth – that he was young, naïve and eager to please – is less heroic, more complex, and therefore more interesting.

The film was more assured when dealing with Danny's relationship with his parents (touchingly played by Cecilia Noble and Lenny himself), his search for an authentic identity, and the racism he encountered almost daily. It didn't ignore the painful fact that he had to make self-mocking jokes to win audiences over. “You may have seen some of these impressions before, but not in colour!” ran his catchphrase, pointedly repeated throughout the film with needling discomfort.

Despite its awkward mix of fact and fiction, plus newcomer Kascion Franklin's inability to convincingly impersonate Lenny impersonating Frank Spencer et al, it did succeed as a unflinching record of the bigoted attitudes that once festered on the surface of British society.

Things are different these days, of course. Now they fester more subtly. Plus ca change, Len.