Category Archives: Documentaries

From Corrie and Family Guy to The Chase and Christopher Jefferies: What Our Man has been watching this week

soaps-eastenders-4973-06While I have been nursing my throbbing, swollen, pus filled tonsils back to health during my annual Winter blogging hiatus, I have characteristically managed to keep up with what I normally would have written about, had the lovely germs from Jack Frost allowed me to do so.

Rather than spam the site with a ridiculous amount of articles at once, therefore, I am taking the concise and genius steps of merging my thoughts together in one post so that it’s easier for those of you who tend to skip my articles (I know who you are!).

From glittery costumes  and a very pregnant and non drugged up Kylie on The Chase to Homer Simpson beating up Peter Griffin, my viewing pains and pleasures have been as varied as the voices Emmerdale’s Belle Dingle is currently hearing. So let’s press on folks…the quicker I start, the quicker this will be over for all of us.  Continue reading

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Filed under Comedy, Coronation Street, Documentaries, Drama, EastEnders, Emmerdale, Game Shows, The Chase

Fry’s Planet Word: Episode 2

S Fry not in exotic location

How is Stephen Fry allowed to get away with this?  A production budget you could buy a small football club with, or at least which you could lay out in multiple piles of notes, nail to a piece of wood, set fire to and call art. Profligacy thy name is Fry.

I suspect a younger, hungrier Fry would have satirised the fuck out of this patchy and uneven effort. As it is, as with late era JK Rowling or French & Saunders, once you become a national treasure no-one is prepared to take you aside and tell you that you’ve confected a pile of poo. Continue reading

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Time Shift: Dear Censor ‘unbridled hooliganism and reckless driving’

Calm down dear, it's only Michael Winner with a large boom in his pocket

I love BBC4, I stumble across such delights there, and the Time Shift series is a gift that keeps giving. This week it was about the British Board of Film Classification and the way they have navigated over the decades the difficult path of classification vs censorship with taboo-challenging films. Some of these were far more serious than others of course, and the less appealing sections included a gleeful Michael Winner talking about the soft porn drivel he produced under the guise of representing ‘naturism’, in the form of Some Like it Cool (1961). Continue reading

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102 Minutes That Changed America

 To coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the History Channel showed the documentary 102 Minutes That Changed America, which unfolded in “real time,” using footage taken, mainly by amateurs, as the terrible events in New York on that day unfolded (some of the videos are here).

The video and audio was brilliantly edited together, with no commentary apart from a clock that silently recorded the time. Because it was all stitched together from recordings made at the time by ordinary New Yorkers, it gave a sense of being there that was almost impossible to watch at times.

Two women filmed the first Tower on fire, from their apartment window. At the time, they didn’t know a plane had crashed into it, or at least, not been deliberately crashed into it. It looked like a terrible accident. One of them said she thought she saw people falling. “It might have been paper,” the other said, trying to convince herself (I’m paraphrasing – this wasn’t a programme where you would stop and take notes). Then the camera lurched away and the women screamed. Continue reading

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Herb Alpert – Brass, Bopping and the Battle for BBC Four

It’s 8:35 on a Sunday evening and I am ironing. Only television can make this experience tolerable. But what shall I watch? I flick idly through the channels, until I come to the most spectacularly incongruous and unexpected sight; Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass!

Not only Herb Alpert but also his Tijuana Brass

Somewhat unbelievably, whoever it is programming BBC4 spotted a 25 minute gap in the schedule on a Sunday night in August in 2011and decided that the most obvious thing to fill this with would be archive BBC footage of Herb Alpert and co from the 1960s apparently miming to a selection of their light jazz hits on a set made to look like a beach scene but is quite clearly actually a draughty warehouse on an industrial estate in Slough.

So – is it any good? Well, most of Herb’s fellow band members look like accountants, used car salesmen or unholy mustachioed cross-breeds of both. Large parts of the set look prone to collapse at any moment. Festooned around it are glamour girls quite possibly plucked from the typing pool to gamely bop along. Herb himself seems to alternate between knowing hipster cool and huge embarrassment at the fact that his jazz legend dreams seem to have dissolved into delivering horrendously bad scripted puns about Mexicans whilst miming along to pre-recorded bilge like Spanish Flea.

Strangely, I wrote this blog before I found this picture. Cosmic, man.

To answer the question – yes, it is BRILLIANT. The bad bits are hugely entertaining and a welcome antidote to the po-faced, tedious “all about the music, man” attitude that seems to have a hold on modern music problems. Jools Holland, I am looking straight at you. And speaking of Jools Holland, Herb Alpert’s “presenting” makes Jools look like Melvyn Bragg in comparison. But the music, unexpected, is superb. There is little in the way of razzle-dazzle, besides the set. The band simply plays nice tunes in smart suits and Herb tells us a little about each song in between. There are no winks to camera by clueless shrieking presenters in Motorhead t-shirts that have probably been bought from Top Shop half an hour ago (Fearne Cotton, come on down!), no vox pops with witless audience members bussed in and pumped up with Red Bull, Smirnoff Ice and god only knows what else. It is Proper Music on a Proper Television Programme. I know I have essentially become my dad here but I remain unbowed – how sad it is that all of these things have become a novelty in music programming? A programme where one is simply allowed to enjoy the music?

Plus, there’s a wider point to be made here. This is on BBC4. Where else is this being broadcast? I accept the point that there are channels like Sky Arts but I don’t want to watch only what is “cool” or “worthy” and I don’t want to have to pay some communications-tampering Australian in order to do it. I want to watch it on my television, like I just have done. I want the opportunity just to stumble on these things without planning first, to get the singular pleasure of really enjoying something you would probably never have planned to watch in a million years – which I just have done. The BBC has tons of this archive footage. I don’t want to go to an archive or even go online to view it – it should be enjoyed on television, as it was originally designed to be. Continue reading

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Extreme Couponing: Yes. Really.

Last night in a vain attempt to find something to watch that didn’t involve plastic-looking forensic detectives solving crimes through a microscope, or a cookery programme featuring recipes that no one in my household would even look at let alone eat (we  Sky+ the good shows and save them for the weekend), I scrolled through the hundreds of channels provided by those wonderful people at Sky.  And I came across a programme that literally made my jaw drop. Extreme Couponing.

Yes, there is a reality TV show out there that tells us the story of women who collect coupons in their thousands, and go to the supermarket and spend them against their shopping. These women spend hours every day searching for coupons on the internet, in newspapers (one woman even climbed into dumpsters to collect discarded coupons) then go to the supermarket for their weekly shop.  With nine shopping trolleys loaded with food, cleaning products, cosmetics, pet food and toilet roll, Amanda (who describes herself as “crazy about coupons” – no way?)  started to put all her shopping through the checkout. $1,175 (yes, it’s American) later and out come the coupons. The checkout man had the patience of a saint, putting each coupon through as eagle-eyed Amanda watched the total of her shopping bill go down and down. Until… disaster struck and the till crashed under the sheer pressure of so many items being put through in one transaction, at which point Amanda practically hyperventilated. The shopping had to be split between three different tills and all put through again. Eventually all 1,000 coupons were entered and the total balance of her shopping came to $2. For nine trollies-worth of food etc. Not bad, I hear you groan? Certainly better than the measly Clubcard points I manage to acquire over several shopping trips, and my husband cringes with embarrassment when I use them to pay for a bottle of milk.

With two cars full of shopping  at a cost of $2, and an extremely understanding husband, I begin to think collecting coupons is not such a bad idea, until we see the inside of Amanda’s house. Shelves and shelves and box upon box of pasta, washing powder, cat food, tins in rows and thousands of tubes of toothpaste clutter every single bit of space in her house. She has more stock than the supermarket she has just shopped in. You realise this is more than just saving a few quid every week, this is an obsession – and a really boring one at that. As Amanda describes “When I have done a whole shop using my thousands of coupons I feel like I have climbed a mountain.” Well love, save yourself some time, give your poor husband a day off  and just climb up that mountain of loo roll you have stashed in your back bedroom instead.       Continue reading

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Filthy Cities: Poo, pig innards and pongs galore

It seems I wasn’t the only one watching a lot of shit last night. Although, I have to say Filthy Cities was excellent TV, even if it was up to its ankles in poo. (Well, technically the fabulous Dan Snow was up to his ankles in poo, animal dung, rotting fish, wee and entrails.)

If you’re thinking, thank god they haven’t invented smellovision yet, then for God’s sake don’t use the scratch ‘n’ sniff cards the BBC have sent out to accompany the series. The smell of medieval London’s sewage sludge nearly made me (and Dan, by the looks of things) throw up.

This isn’t for the squeamish, though Hat Jr (just turned 6) sat entranced through the whole thing after school today. Famous for her poo-fixation, she was enthralled by Dan mixing up mud, dung, wee, fish etc to recreate the genuine, revolting underfoot experience of the average medieval Londoner.

Equally fascinating, to my daughter, was the butchering of a ‘poor pig’ (um, hope she doesn’t make the connection when she finds ham sandwiches in her lunchbox tomorrow…) and the rats and Black Death section. Her favourite bit, however, was watching a leech engorging itself on the sanguivorous contents of Dan Snow’s (rather lovely) forearm.

Back to the grown-up review: Filthy Cities was rarely less than fascinating (the horse-poo-shovelling section went on a bit, frankly I’d have settled for an extra 30 seconds of Dan in his swimming shorts). I know now way too much about the filth on London’s streets in the Middle Ages, but also know that it’s better to catch bubonic plague than pneumonic plague (the latter has a 100% fatality rate). I’d still like to avoid bubonic plague though – it’s so dangerous that the MoD scientists wouldn’t even let Dan Snow hold a sealed petri dish of it inside one of those sealed glass units that have gloves attached to them so you can do your important microbiology stuff safely.

Entertaining and educational – full marks BBC! Next week: Revolutionary Paris. Mon dieu! etc.

Posted by Jo the Hat

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Sex and the Sitcom: Ooh, er missus

Sex and the Sitcom examines how British sitcoms have dealt with the subject that brought Mary Whitehouse out in hives. This programme gave me pangs of nostalgia, particularly with regard to Butterflies and the wonderful Wendy Craig’s never-to-be consummated affair with Leonard. After the relentlessly male perspective of sexuality in sitcoms such as On the Buses and Casanova 73, it’s clear Carla Lane’s arrival resulted in a really interesting era of sitcoms with complicated and fascinating women characters. I watched every episode of Butterflies as a child, and somehow got caught up in colluding with the men, her boys and husband, that Ria was a bit daffy and a lousy cook. Now, watching a clip of it as an adult, I get a much sharper sense of her longing for something of her own, a relationship where she can feel attractive, noticed, away from the pleasant but stultifying home life where she’s endless washing Y fronts.

There were many other gems in this programme. I’d forgotten how refreshing the arrival of Agony was, with Maureen Lipmann and two lovely gay men (first in a British sitcom not to be Mr Humphreys camp or Frankie Howerd ‘straight’). I never had any interest in watching Men Behaving Badly, so I missed out on the ‘radical’ airing of porn mags and ‘sticky tissue on the face’ of Caroline Quentin Christmas Special wank scandal. I feel sure I can survive the disappointment (I should point out that I do rather love Martin Clunes in general, just not in this).

The programme featured intelligent, thoughtful between-clip discussions by some fine comedy writers, such as Simon Nye, Carla Lane and David Nobbs. Much was said about how British sitcoms traditionally relied on male characters who are somewhat inadequate, stuck, unable to communicate, and never able to have sex with the women that they fantasize about. And even if they do get the girl, they don’t actually know what to do with her. This was beautifully illustrated by a clip of the magnificent Leonard Rossiter being led by the hand to the bedroom, looking terrified, by Audrey from Corrie, in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

And an interesting fact I learnt – that Idris Elba appeared, as a tasty bit of trouser, in an episode of Ab Fab.

Posted by Inkface

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Lily Allen: From Riches To Rags – Absolutely Not-So Fabulous

We’ve all fancied a career change at some point of our lives, haven’t we? When I was a bit younger (*cue wibbly-wobbly flashback screen*) I dreamt of being a Brain Surgeon. I then found out that this wasn’t a type of Secret Agent but in fact involved slicing into people’s heads in an incredibly complex and dangerous manner. At this point, I somewhat went off the idea. The relief sighed by humanity leaves me deaf in one ear to this very day.

You may think I’m digressing (was that the word the Careers Office used for me? I forget) but in a strange way, this makes an apt intro to the Channel 4 documentary “Lily Allen: From Riches To Rags”. Lily Allen is bored of being a Pop Star so thinks about what she wants to do instead. What does Lily like apart from music? Clothes. Pretty, lovely Vintage Clothes. But not everybody has the budget that Lily has. We know this because she reminds us of this, particularly HER MASSES OF MONEY approximately EVERY THIRTY SECONDS even though she REALLY DOESN’T LIKE TALKING OR THINKING ABOUT MONEY because she’s not used to THINKING ABOUT MONEY as she has RATHER A LOT OF IT.

Misses Lucy In Disguise - aka Money Can't Buy Me Business Acumen

So Lily has a plan. She’s going to set up a shop where bright young things like her can rent pretty vintage dresses at affordable prices! And she’s going to run it with Sarah Owen, her sister, to whom she only resumed speaking to a couple of years ago having hated her for years and subsequently wrote this song about her! And Sarah has no retail experience at all and seems to spend her whole life “working” (I use this term loosely – it mostly seems to involve switching lights on and having a runny nose) in nightclubs! Their shop even has a cool, funky Beatle-punning name and everything!  “Lucy In Disguise!” (“More like “For The Benefit of Misses Shite” grumbles my unimpressed Microbiologist pal via text message). What could possibly go wrong?

Basically, lots. Sarah is known in the family as the dippy one so of course is instantly put in charge of the budget. Lily is in charge of buying stock – which she does on her own personal credit card as they haven’t got round to setting up a business account yet. Needless to say, the £250,000 invested by Lily disappears even quicker than her businesswoman credibility. Sarah is sent to LA on orders to buy low-cost stock. She returns a week late, having run out of petrol on the way to the airport. “It could happen to anyone!” she whines. The look on Lily’s face by this point suggests that it certainly has never happened to her and that something else even more annoying might happen to Sarah pretty quickly. The look on Lily’s face also suggests that she’s just worked out that running a retail business is Slicing Brains rather than Secretly Agenting.   Continue reading

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Model Agency: “You know, that girl with the really pretty face”

The cast of Model Agency

Welcome to the rather bewildering world of Premier, one of the world’s leading modelling agencies and the subject of Channel 4’s fun new documentary series “Model Agency”. Which on this evidence seems to boil down to minicabs, high-spirited swearing and people in bad knitwear crying a lot. Familiar territory to anybody who’s ever been to a Velocity Girl family wedding, believe me.

Carole runs Premier. She is referred to as “Auntie Carole” and does genuinely seem to care about her staff (“the bookers”) and the models they all represent. However, she’s not above a temper tantrum every now and again, that is to say approximately every 30 seconds. “F***ING CALM DOWN!” shrieks her Managing Director brother Chris at one point, obviously adopting the “do as I do and not as I say” approach.

The funny thing is, for all the supposed glamour, the pressure of organizing models for the various Fashion Weeks, the glossy magazine covers etc, it’s just like any other office. People complain about their contact lenses, pretend to be interested in each other’s drab conversations and have petty vendettas against each other. What keeps it entertaining is the sheer wealth of fun characters who also seem to be pretty natural. Intense, nervy Head of New Faces Annie, the long-suffering Chris, Carole’s languidly beautiful daughter Sissy and lots more. However, an early stand-out is booker Paul, whose uproarious camp has me howling with laughter throughout. If there was a A Little Book Of Paul, I would certainly subscribe. Paul on language –  “Nobody can say “Naff” like a queen can say it!” Paul on his colleague’s proposed tattoo – “It’s so tackyyyyyyy! What’s that?! It’s a load of old s***, it’s horrible!” If we really must live in a world where anybody who’s so much as walked past a telly camera for 3 seconds gets their own chat show, why not this bloke.

There’s drama too. Whilst anybody with half a brain is aware that supposed “reality” documentaries like this are more heavily scripted than any big-budget period drama or soap, it’s refreshing to see it done as well as the Model Agency manages it. The approach is one major “storyline” per episode. Episode 1 centres around the saga of India Farrell, a 16-year old bright young thing who has gone to New York for her big break and promptly broken down. We soon learn that this is most likely attributable to her having been told she was “too fat” by a casting agent on the first day. India is probably the same weight as I was when I was three years old.

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