Sunday, 3 September 2017





If there’s a more heart-warming show on TV than the award-winning ‘Educating…’ franchise, I’ve yet to find it. I probably couldn't cope if I did.

The latest iteration of this observational documentary series is EDUCATING GREATER MANCHESTER, which follows the usual winning formula of tracing everyday life in a secondary school full of dedicated teachers and pupils struggling with various sensitive issues.

Episode one focused on the subject of racial integration. Its quiet star was Rani, a Syrian refugee. Rani arrived in Manchester last year and found it hard to make friends. Gradually, with assistance from the staff, we saw him assimilating into this concrete microcosm of multicultural society.

Highlights included a nice wee white lad named Jack befriending Rani in the playground, an older Syrian boy serving as his benign protector, and the literally symbolic sight of him becoming fully integrated by joining a group of friends in that time-honoured ritual of drawing rude illustrations on a dusty van.

The theme of racial and religious sensitivity was starkly compounded by the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert, which occurred during the making of this series.

We witnessed emotional testimonies from pupils who were at the Manchester Arena that night, and followed the concerned staff as they tried to ensure that the tragedy didn’t inflame tensions among their pupils. Thankfully, it didn’t. Kids are generally better than that.

As trite as this may sound, Jack’s mum inviting Rani over for tea just days after the attack spoke volumes about the essential decency and resilience of ordinary human beings. By the end of the episode, the boys were proclaiming friendship for life.

In lesser hands, this carefully structured uplifting narrative could’ve come across as crassly contrived and manipulative. But the makers of ‘Educating…’ aren’t cynical in the slightest, their sincerity is palpable. That’s why it works so beautifully.

The Edinburgh Festival/Fringe is the world’s greatest arts hoedown. It turned 70 this year, but where did it come from? How did it grow into the sprawling behemoth we know and love today?

Jack Whitehall, just one of the countless comedians who made their name at the Fringe, found out in FESTIVAL TALES: EDINBURGH AT 70, a solid documentary celebrating its eventful story, frequent controversies and eclectic spirit.

It was the brainchild of Rudolf Bing, an Austrian Jew with a profound belief in the power of art to bring light in times of darkness. This, after all, was 1947. That he strove to encourage a global healing process in conservative post-war Edinburgh – a dour town without an opera house or gallery of modern art to its name - turned out to be an eccentric masterstroke.

With assistance from esteemed Fringe veterans such as Claire Bloom, Stephen Fry and Michael Palin, Whitehall roamed the venues, alleyways and toilets of Edinburgh, sainted, scented venues which have played host to everyone from Richard Burton and Maria Callas, to Jerry Sadowitz and Puppetry of the Penis.

I doubt that, as a reviewer, I'll ever go through the lonesome, stressful hell of attending the Fringe again. But this fond tribute did serve as a reminder of why it's such an important, freewheeling nightmare.

Former Edinburgh resident J.K. Rowling wrote the Cormoran Strike mystery novels, for adults, using her Robert Galbraith pseudonym. STRIKE – THE CUCKOO’S CALLING is the first TV adaptation of this functional set of sleuth-driven dramas.

Like most police procedurals, it’s inoffensively adequate in its time-passing way. But, as a species, do we really need to witness another disheveled detective solving made-up crimes on a Sunday night? Strike is a boring character. Why should anyone care?

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