We must sit on our hands and address the return of The X-Factor to ITV this week on Telly Addict, the Roman Empire of TV formats – even though I only managed to sit through ten minutes of it; on a more progressive note, HBO’s The Newsroom also returns to Sky Atlantic; the houseshare whodunit What Remains proves a welcome addition to Sunday nights on BBC1; Celebrity Masterchef goes synch crazy with the music and the cookery; Ben Miller meets His Hero Tony Hancock in My Hero on BBC2; and Chickens on Sky1 gets a quick mention because I rather like it.
We’ve hit that competitive cookery sweet spot where Celebrity Masterchef is still on BBC1 as The Great British Bake Off begins on BBC2. A mouth-watering week for Telly Addict, then, with an unholy amount of blue tape around its ravaged fingers and thumbs. More blood and guts – for one unfortunate farm animal at any rate – on Under The Dome, Channel 5’s latest import, this time a CBS adaptation of a fat Stephen King novel about a town in Maine that’s … under a dome; the welcome return of Top Boy to C4, proving that the channel can look at the vexed issue of poverty – or at least an underground capitalist economy – without humiliating anyone; and the finale of season one of The Americans on ITV, which ended as it began with a period-appropriate song. No room for Sky1’s promising Chickens or BBC1’s intriguing What Remains this week; will remedy that next week.
Catching up with the Masterchef final on BBC1 from last week this week on Telly Addict. Also, the quick death of Four Rooms on C4; Da Vinci’s Demons on Fox; a much more promising new US drama, Banshee, on Sky Atlantic; and two new sitcoms on ITV, Vicious and The Job Lot, one of which I’m sticking with. Due to the Bank Holiday, I hadn’t seen the final episode of The Village when I wrote this one, so I’ll catch up with it next week, as I understand it ended with a song and dance number.
So, we’ve reached 100 and nobody’s taken us off the air yet. This is the centennial of Telly Addict. I wrote and read out the first one in May 2011, and have done so pretty much every week (except occasional public holidays and the week I had off when the insanely ambitious Stuart Heritage siezed his opportunity) ever since, for 100 weeks in total, not including the Bake Off special I did at Christmas. That’s a lot of first episodes of a lot of TV programmes that I never watched again, assessed in a pithy and I hope lenient manner while sat at a diagonal from the camera, straining at the Autocue, and taking care to rotate my shirts so that the same one doesn’t appear more often than once every six weeks. (Don’t go back and check, nerds, as I’m more vigilant on this score now than I started out being, and anyway, a lot of those black shirts are different black shirts.)
The big celebration is just a normal Telly Addict, except with a rare clip from one of the first shows I reviewed, which I feel sure you’ve all forgotten, Exile on BBC1. From the modern day: the final moments of Broadchurch on ITV; The Politician’s Husband on BBC1; The Wright Way on BBC2; Playhouse Presents: Snodgrass on Sky Arts; Masterchef on BBC1; and a couple of quick nods to Mad Men, and Da Vinci’s Demons.
I am, unusually for a working day, sitting in my kitchen. It is Good Friday. The British Library is closed, which is fair enough, as Good Friday is a bank holiday. I have too much to do to contemplate a day off, but I’m not angling for sympathy. To everyone who does get the day off, on full pay, I wish you a most excellent day (and likewise on Monday, which is Easter Monday, when I will be writing and filming Telly Addict at the Guardian just like it was a normal Monday). At least at home, I can drink my own coffee, and not pay through the nose for it.
Actually, of late, and to beat the system, I have been taking a flask out with me, charged with homemade coffee, which I then decant into a paper Peyton & Byrne cup in the Library canteen. There are polite notices up stating that only food and drink purchased on the premises can be consumed there, but I don’t believe this has ever been aggressively policed – at least, Library users are exactly the type to bring in their own sandwiches. Tupperware tubs are prominent, and, frankly, as long as most diners pay through the nose for Peyton & Byrne’s expensive cakes, I feel sure that capitalism ticks over. I don’t flaunt my not-bought-on-the-premises food and hot drink, and if I’m meeting someone, I always buy Peyton & Byrne’s coffee, and if the person I’m meeting is paying, I always have an overpriced cake too!
Talking of food and drink, I’m hooked back into Masterchef. I usually favour the Celebrity version for reasons shallow, but I reviewed the first episode of the new series of the Civilian one for the Guardian and haven’t been able to tear myself away. It’s formulaic, but some of the most comforting telly is, and Gregg and John move ever further into self-parody, but, again, it isn’t broke, so why fix it? (The irony here is that Masterchef has repeatedly tried to fix itself when unbroken, but aside from the impossible new “palate test”, this series is relatively untinkered.)
I was given the basic Great British Bake Off Learn To Bake book for my birthday earlier in the month, and I’m also watching Paul Hollywood’s Beard on BBC2 and finding him a stout and reliable tutor, so cooking is back on the agenda. I made this marbled chocolate banana bread at the weekend, which was supposed to be baked in individual tiny cake cases but I chose to do it in a single loaf tin. The result is not “marbling” in the elegant Baroque sense. But it tastes bloody nice. (Someone on Twitter asked if it was gluten-free. I’m afraid not. I have tried baking with rice flour, and various ancient grains, none of which truly did the job. The gluten is the protein that binds dough, and without it, you’re on the back foot. I avoid wheat for reasons of waistline expansion and maintenance of general energy levels, but I am not allergic to it, so when it comes to cake, it’s gluten or the highway.)
I’d read that you can freeze individual slices of cake, but never tried it before, so – after a call-out for tips and advice on Twitter – I wrapped them in tin foil and put them in a sealable bag. Yesterday I took one out, and by the time I was ready to eat it, it was as good as new. (Typically of Twitter, someone re-Tweeted my call for advice to food writer and TV cook Nigel Slater himself, who said, “It should work, but I’m no expert.” I was happy to report back to him that it did work, which makes me an expert.) When you’re baking to save money on shop-bought cake and biscuits, you have to learn how to ration. There’s a war on.
I should, by rights, have been in Glasgow last night, attending the studio recording of the final episode of “the Pappy’s sitcom” for BBC3, which as you know I script-edited. (I think it’s still called Secret Dude Society, but that may not be fixed.) However, it was being filmed in BBC studios, and the wrap party was also being held on BBC premises, so I didn’t travel up for what would have been, for me, a massive jolly, as the NUJ and Bectu were on strike from midday, over redundancies and “bullying”, and it would, for me, have been inappropriate. (It’s an entirely personal matter, and I make no judgement on anyone else.)
Anyway, I got a lot more work done yesterday and this morning as a result. As usual with these writer’s blogs, I cannot give too much away, but I have three comedies in development, currently, all at varying stages. Of the two pilots script that I’ve written, one, with C4, is written and delivered, and has hit a stalemate, but it’s not over yet. The other, for the BBC, was delivered last year and sent back for a complete overhaul – it’s the one that gave me writer’s block – and I have finished the second draft, which I wrote again from scratch, a blank screen. It’s almost ready to go to the broadcaster. The third comedy has only just been green-lit for development, and I’m carefully constructing a story breakdown with a production company before launching into the script. In comedy terms, I have three plates spinning. It’s all about keeping them from crashing to the floor.
I’m printing this picture in memory of Richard Griffiths, who died yesterday but whose passing was announced today. I feel certain it was taken at the first Empire Awards, which were in 1996, although I can find no record of the event to confirm it. I was definitely at the first Empire Awards, and the second, as a chaperone, and I had a terrific time at both, with various approachable film people, so who knows? I seem to recall a whole load of people connected with Withnail, so was there a special award for that film, or for Bruce Robinson? Don’t look on Wikipedia, as it’s not there. If anyone can help, I’d be grateful. I certainly jumped at the chance to have my meeting with Richard Griffiths captured on camera, and it’s a treasured Polaroid in my archive. Someone on Twitter pointed out that he can only have been 48 at the time, as he was merely 65 when he died. I am 48 today. Mortality is a terrible c—, if you’ll pardon the apposite language.
Two further things before I sign off:
Went to the cinema this afternoon – awarding myself half a Bank Holiday, as I’d completed my main writing task of the day by getting up at 6.30am – and after the trailer for A Late Quartet, starring Christopher Walken, I heard an older gentleman in the row behind claim loudly to his wife, “That’s Angelina Jolie’s dad!” (I resisted the urge to turn round and say to her, “It’s not. Don’t listen to him.”)
Now that we’ve seen the David Bowie exhibition, with all of his costumes on display, seeing footage of him on TV has taken a new turn. Catching the end of another repeat of BBC4’s Ziggy Stardust documentary (the one narrated by Jarvis), we found ourselves going, “Ooh, we’ve seen that cape!” and “Ooh, we’ve seen that fishnet vest!” It reminded me of my own dear Nan, who used to love to point out places she and Pap had been on holiday if they ever turned up on television. “Ooh, we’ve been there, Reg!” she would shout, if they showed, say, Minehead.
As you know, I’m hooked on TV cookery competitions, and I’m currently following The Great British Bake Off – to which I came relatively late – and Celebrity Masterchef – which I have been faithful to since its inception. (Pictured above is my favourite Bake Off contestant, vicar’s wife Sarah-Jane, who I really hope goes all the way to the final, although she’s prone to mistakes and self-flaggellation, and had never been on a train on her own before the competition, so it won’t be a breeze, and that’s why I’m rooting for her.)
You’ve probably noticed, but there’s also a lot of very expensive, star-studded, cinematic new drama on both BBC and ITV – Parade’s End, Downton Abbey, Good Cop, Mrs Biggs … But I sometimes wonder if all of the talented, hardworking, dedicated, creative and technical people who write, perform and produce this drama could ever speed up an audience’s heart rate and lure them closer to the cusp of their sofas as economically and efficiently as last night’s episode of Masterchef, when Emma Kennedy (someone I’ve met!), footballer Danny Mills and Northampton-born TV presenter Michael Underwood were tasked with feeding the hungry cast and crew of … a BBC drama, New Tricks, from a catering truck.
It was all going so well. They were confident. They were on time. And then one of them left a pan of custard literally spinning around on the edge of a work surface …
Look at her poor face! (Scroll through on the iPlayer to about 20 minutes in for the moving pictures. Or, watch the whole thing.)
Two weeks is a long time in television, although not so much when there’s an Olympics on. As you know, I made my own entertainment between the Opening and Closing ceremony, so it’s nice to get back in the saddle and review a few TV programmes again while looking into a camera. Telly Addict has never before been “off the air” (I had one week off last year and Guardian scribe Stuart Heritage filled in), so it feels weird, but here it is. I’m mostly talking about Celebrity Masterchef, back for its seventh series on BBC2; A History Of Art In Three Colours, a splendid antidote to all that cheering and winning on BBC4, with my favourite TV academic Dr James Fox; a nod to Friday Night Lights, season two – eek! – Sky Atlantic; and a glance at Jimmy McGovern’s Accused on BBC1. Next week, I shall be at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, so Telly Addict will act accordingly, by being filmed in the lobby of an exhibition centre in Edinburgh, with TV types wandering past in laminates, although there may be opportunity for other filmed delights. We shall see. Anything is possible after the Olympics.