HOME FRONT HEROES – Series 1 : Episode 1.

In the run up to Remembrance Day this year the BBC has made a new daytime series entitled Home Front Heroes.

The primary purpose of it is to celebrate the selfless contributions that thousands of men and women made on these shores towards Britain’s wartime victory effort.  Five celebrities will talk about how some of their relatives were once involved.

In this first episode, the programme looked at the heavily bombed port city of Liverpool and in particular the story of its well-known TV actress Sue Johnston.

What we got throughout was an extremely moving, educational and informative forty-five minutes.  In some respects it was reminiscent of that other history show on the Beeb, Who Do You Think You Are?  However, it was considerably better than that though because the emotive testimony here made this show a lot more captivating and involving.

Firstly, we learned about medicine and in particular the nursing profession during the Second World War.  We were told about Sue’s Aunt May, who was an auxiliary nurse at her local Whiston Hospital.  Whiston Hospital specialising then in groundbreaking plastic surgery which has left a profound legacy to this very day.

Furthermore, it felt like a privilege to hear present day testimony from 102 year old former nurse Kathleen Thomas, about her experiences back then.  It was emotively revealed to us how nurses on the home front still went about their medical duties even during enemy bombing raids.  Liverpool being very significant here because it was the most bombed English city outside of London.

Later on in the programme, Sue emotionally talked about how her late father was an auxiliary firefighter during the Second World War.  It truly is amazing just what such people did during these times.  For instance, they would get home from their day jobs and then go out saving lives in their other official capacity.

It was good how the show continually linked the past to the present day.  As well as hearing countless testimony from survivors of the Second World War, it was interesting to see Sue talk to two present day medical professionals and firefighters.  They talked about the legacy and differences in their jobs since this war took place.

The only thing that really needs questioning with this series is the scheduling of it.  It aired everyday in the mornings at 9.15am.  Therefore, its target audience must be the older generation who are not at work or at school.  This largely denies educating the younger generations about such history.  It was easy and very accessible to understand and so feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity.

Overall, a really well made first episode.  It did not over sensationalise or dramatise this period of history, which it so easily could have done much to its detriment.  Programmes like this are what the BBC does best! 4/5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’LL GET THIS – Episode One review.

There is a very well-known English phrase that goes, ”don’t judge a book by its cover”.  Nevertheless, this was pretty hard not to do with the premise in mind of the new BBC2 celebrity game show, I’ll Get This.

Five well-off(most probably) celebrities playing a series of party games to determine who must foot their swanky extravagant restaurant bill at the end.  It sounded dire stuff so expectations were low as it started.

Such prior misgivings were severely misplaced though because this show was an absolute unexpected triumph.

In a very overcrowded genre this programme stood out because most of all it was fun to watch.  It was easy viewing that was funny and enjoyable.  In this first episode the dinner guests were Rylan Clark-Neal, Anton Du Beke, Carol Vorderman, Ellie Taylor and Ed Gamble.

Rylan stole the show on the humour front but every single celebrity made a valuable witty contribution.  This show is all about the comical nature of the celebrities so whoever booked these for this first episode needs praising.  The way they all beautifully gelled together made it an appealing watch.

At the start each celebrity put their bank card in a bowl that was at the centre of the table.  In between courses they then played a series games with the winner of each round taking their card out of the bowl until one was left.  It was competitive banter without being too competitive.  Humour was at the heart of this show, even when things got slightly tense at the end and it was revealed who’d have to pay.

However, this programme was not faultless television sadly.  There was one comment by Rylan at the beginning of the evening that was really disappointing.  He stated out loud in a jokey way, ”I just like to be thorough, alright I’m very OCD”.  I’ll personalise this review now by saying that I have had severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for over twenty-five years.  It can be a heartbreaking, debilitating and bullying illness to suffer from that has caused me major trauma in the past, e.g. self-harm and suicidal feelings.

Therefore, having OCD is not somebody who is just very thorough.  It was really frustrating to hear such a comment from such a person who is normally so likeable.  It was also doubly frustrating that this comment by him wasn’t edited out by the production team.

Overall though, this was a great new show where the time absolutely whizzed by(always a sure sign of enjoyment).  Episode two next week is definitely worth a watch! 4/5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Made in Great Britain – Series 1: 1. Steel

”You have to know the past to understand the present”.  This is a famous quote by Dr. Carl Sagan.  It is used here because it beautifully encapsulates the approach taken in this impressive new BBC2 historical documentary series entitled, Made in Great Britain.

Presented throughout by the very likeable Steph McGovern(who is an ex-engineer), this first sixty minute episode looked at the subject matter of steel.  This is an industry with its roots firmly placed in the South Yorkshire city of Sheffield and so this was the focus for the entirety of the programme.

The biggest dilemma with a programme like this is how the makers of it decide to present the history to us.  It needs to be informative, engaging and to some degree also original.  I am pleased to say that all these things were achieved here.

Viewer engagement was done via us being introduced to four current but different artisans.  We met ceramicist Claire, chef Carlton, blacksmith Katie and leatherworker Jason.  Throughout the programme they were given tasks to do which had historical significance involving the production of steel.

Firstly, we saw our four participants have a go at making a scythe(known nowadays from featuring in the Poldark TV series) at Abbeydale Works.  The Victorian Age was then focused on with regards to the production line of cutlery.  Interestingly, we learnt how it became a status symbol of the middle class.

The war effort involving Sheffield steel was the most poignant aspect of the whole documentary for me.  We were told how this city thus became a target for German bombing raids due to the integral part it played in the making of munitions.

With the quote at the start in mind, the programme concluded by looking at the Sheffield steel industry today.  All of the artisans had a go at making stainless steel forks at a state-of-the-art factory run by Corin Mellor.  This way of presenting the history to us via present day activities accompanied with archive footage and photos, it was a clever way of doing it.

Visually speaking, this programme looked stunning on occasions and so it needs to be congratulated on this.  We got many glorious picturesque panning shots of the city of Sheffield.  The rural juxtaposed against the postindustrial city landscape of today.

All-in-all, a well made first instalment of a documentary series that looks very promising!   4/5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FOR FACTS SAKE- Episode one review.

Despite it being a very overcrowded genre, when done well TV panel shows are still a joy to watch.  I’m thinking here of Would I Lie to You?, the best panel show on the telly right now.  The format remains fresh because the stories and panellists remain as funny as ever.  Watch the ones with Bob Mortimer in them because they are always comedy gold.

However, when done badly a panel show can become absolutely excruciating to watch.  This my friends is what happened recently with the first episode of the new BBC1 panel show For Facts Sake.  Hosted by Brendan O’Carroll, from Mrs Brown’s Boys and featuring also some of the cast from the show, dire is probably the best word that sums it up and that is putting it kindly.

Before elaborating on the negatives, lets first mention the positives because there aren’t that many to mention.  Firstly, if you love the Mrs Brown’s Boys sitcom then you will no doubt like this show too.  Some of the gags were blue and there was swearing aplenty, somehow making the studio audience laugh hysterically.

The second positive is that I think I half-smiled at one of the jokes, although to be honest I was doing a lot more grimacing than smiling so maybe I didn’t even do a half-smile after all.

Now lets talk about the things that wound me up about it.  My biggest issue was that it just was not funny.  I do not get the fits of giggles when somebody merely swears or says a rude word, in this case it was host Brendan doing this the most.  The studio audience were irritating because they were laughing their heads off at all the banal humour on show.

Talking of the studio audience, they seemed to wind me up as much as the actors and panellists.  There was one round in the format where Brendan put on a silly wig in order to pretend to be a Professor asking the questions.  Upon him putting on this wig the studio audience then fell about laughing at this. How was that funny I ask you??

The difference with this panel show is that the team members apart from the captains, are ordinary members of the public chosen from the studio audience.  Their selection reaction was that crazed and over-the-top that it was reminiscent of that iconic 80’s game show The Price is Right.  It was up to the two captains to buzz them off the show once they’d had enough of them or they’d ceased their supposed comical use.  In this episode, the two captains were Danny O’Carroll and Paddy Houlihan from Mrs Brown’s Boys.

The show then contained a series of rounds which involved an endless amount of unfunny rude jokes.  Near the end there was a sports round and this featured sports presenter Kirsty Gallagher.  Surely her agent can do a better job than getting her a gig on a show like this you’d think? Her extremely brief highlights included doing a Monica Seles ‘grunt’ impersonation, as well as talking about a female golf trophy that looked like a phallus(much to the hilarity of the studio audience of course).

It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t original and it felt like an extremely dated crude show.   After watching this first episode, then I’m surprised it ever got commissioned in the first place! 1/5.

 

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The Big Audition- episode one review.

Think Pineapple Dance Studios(that Louis Spence docusoap from 2010) meets The X Factor, and that pretty much sums up ITV1’s new reality TV show called The Big Audition.

By this I mean that it was funny in parts, engaging in parts, but it also went for the jugular at times in trying to make us cry.  Do not get me wrong here it was genuinely moving in places.  For example, we met an old lady who’d taken in a rescue dog with one eye and their love for each other was a joy to see.  However, it did go a bit over-the-top at times much to the programme’s detriment.  The problem with having watched The X-Factor all these years is that it has desensitised us to most sob stories these days. Overall though, it was easy viewing television that had me smiling throughout.

The format of the show was that there were three jobs up for grabs.  This week the jobs up for casting were dog model, TV shopping presenter and King Henry VIII.  Throughout the hour we were introduced to a whole host of different characters wanting the roles.

I did fear at first that window cleaner Barry Titler from Wigan, auditioning for the role of TV presenter, was a bit of a cruel set-up like they do with some of the contestants on The X Factor.  Thankfully, as the audition played out it soon became clear though that we would be laughing with Barry, rather than at him.

Another person that it was impossible not to like was fifty year old mum Linda from London.   She too was up for the role of TV shopping presenter.  Her backstory made me like her, however it was her brilliant contagious laugh that made her standout.  She just had that instant likeability factor about her which made me want to root for her.  It was just a shame that the programme went overboard with her regarding the emotive ‘cry now’ bits.

Megastar Julie Walters, did the voice-over narrating bits really well.  She did it that well in fact that I didn’t realise it was her until reading the credits.

I do wonder though how this samey format each week is not going to lead to boredom somewhat as the weeks proceed.  It is going to be difficult to keep it fresh and interesting by week six in my opinion, i.e. audition repetition.

A likeable show that was not perfect, but one that prompts me to watch episode two.  End of the week easy viewing, job done! 4/5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Defending The Guilty

Brand new sitcoms these days tend to be very hit or miss.  This week we saw the pilot episode of one based around the judiciary on BBC2 entitled, Defending The Guilty.

My initial impression of it was that I really liked it.  It was not perfect and certainly was not a laugh a minute, however there definitely were more things to like about it than to dislike.

I liked the slightly quirky feel to it all.  I liked the writing of Keiron Quirke and the pace of the script.  In a sitcom it’s important to like the protagonists, which I did in the form of characters Will Packam(Will Sharpe) and Caroline(Katherine Parkinson).

Most important of all though for this genre, I found it witty and funny.  Do not get me wrong here, it wasn’t full of belly laugh moments but at the same time it was genuinely amusing in places without trying too hard.

This episode was based around young and naive trainee barrister Will, trying to get through his working day and impress his new boss Caroline.  We soon learnt that there were four trainee barristers(that included Will), competing for just one position at the practice.  This led to funny competitive banter between them all. Furthermore, this saw their odds of them getting the job, being written on a whiteboard in the office alongside amusing nicknames.   Main character Will came in last with odds of 12-1, with the nickname ‘DJ Stupid’.

Will Sharpe gave a great performance as Will Packham.  He was slightly awkward and haphazard without ever overplaying it and making himself appear unbelievable.

For me, actress Katherine Parkinson is one of the best female performers on our TV screens at this current time.  Everything that she does is superb in my book.  She was the best thing in that average Kay Mellor baby drama In the Club, and I also loved Katherine in the recently just ended impressive Channel Four sitcom, Hang Ups.  I can’t have been the only one to have found it funny at Caroline’s insistence at being called ‘mummy’ all of the time by Will, can I?

The only aspect of Defending The Guilty that went slightly over my head a bit was the legal narrative stuff.  This led to Caroline’s and Will’s client having the charges against him being dropped.  I suspect this fast confusion of events was totally deliberate though on behalf of the writer so it is not really a justifiable criticism.

All-in-all, an amusing sitcom that was a bit different.  On the basis of this pilot it deserves a full series and I for one hope it gets one! 4/5.

 

 

 

 

 

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PRINCESS MARGARET: THE REBEL ROYAL, episode one.

When the BBC was formed in 1922, its now well-known guiding principles were to inform, educate and entertain the British public.  Today, it still strives to achieve these three Reithian commandments against a competitive backdrop of niche broadcasting.  A brilliant example of this is the documentary that aired this week on BBC2 entitled, ‘Princess Margaret: The Rebel Royal’.

The first part of two sixty minute programmes, this first episode was entitled, ‘Pleasure vs Duty’.  Programmes like this are what the BBC does best.  It was a balanced objective account about the life of the late Princess Margaret, focusing from the 1930s to the 1960s.  The documentary maker had no obvious agenda here, unlike say with Michael Moore’s or Nick Broomfield’s films that always have a strong clear emotive message.  The history and its repercussions were just presented to us and it was up to us how we made sense of them.

What was impressive about this documentary was how well it combined using interesting archive news footage with present day interviews to tell us the story.  The archive footage put us back there in time and helped us imagine what life was like back then.  We got all the pomp and pageantry of big Royal state occasions like when Princess Margaret’s father, George VI, became King somewhat unexpectedly.

In contrast, we also heard from members of the public that had been captured on the news back then.  The most striking part of the whole documentary was when it discussed Princess Margaret’s relationship with Group Captain Peter Townsend.  We were told how their love affair was a scandal due to him being a divorcee and that this led him to be exiled to Brussels.  To listen to what ordinary working men and women thought about this was compelling stuff.  Such views were significant to highlight because they illustrated a wider change in attitudes towards marriage back then in Britain.

Although non of the Royal Family were interviewed in this documentary, an insightful collection of Royal authors and old friends that were in Princess Margaret’s inner circle were interviewed.  Again, their interesting accounts helped place us back there in time.  An example of this was when Lady Jane Rayne, recalled asking Princess Margaret about her father once.  ”Do you mean the King?”, replied the princess in an admonishing manner she said.

Speaking as a child of the late 70s, an appealing aspect of this programme was that it revealed information about Princess Margaret, that I had not known up to this point.  For instance, I no idea that the Queen and Princess Margaret did not receive the same level of education when they were growing up.  It was stated that Princess Margaret did not receive the same high standard of education as the Queen, so she would not be seen as a threat to her in the proceeding years.

Although this documentary was balanced and objective, in some ways you could also argue this was a sympathetic account of Princess Margaret’s life.  Her aloofness at having no clearly defined role for herself within the Royal Family was discussed at length.  It was also highlighted how when she married Anthony Armstrong-Jones, she was unaware of his continuing behaviour with other women.

Therefore, this programme needs praising for being so informative not just about the life of Princess Margaret, but also about the changing attitudes taking place in Britain that came about in the 1960s.

A thoroughly enjoyable watch which was really well put together, the BBC at its best! 4/5.

 

 

 

 

 

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