Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Keith Telly Topping Presents ... The From The North TV Awards (2013)

Welcome, dear blog reader, to the sixth annual Keith Telly Topping & His Very Top TV Tip Awards for, in his own - completely un-respected - opinion, the best and worst TV shows of the year. In what is rapidly becoming an annual observation, you may notice that there are about twice as many highs listed here as there are lows. This imbalance is not, necessarily, any sort of reflection on the actual ratio of good television to bad during this past year. Oh, deary me no. Rather, it's because, generally, we tend to try and remember all the good stuff and forget about the crass, risible, odious, wretched, banal rubbish which ITV (and Channel Four) shove in front of us. Or, indeed, anything featuring odious, irksome, unfunny lanky streak of piss Jack Whitehall. Unless, of course, it's unforgettably bad, in which case, we simply can't. We've got about fifteen of those lined-up especially for you later. But, first -
Thirty Extra-Primo-Rad Highlights of TV in 2013:-

1. Broadchurch
Written by Chris Chibnall - an author with a reputation lower than rattlesnakes piss amongst The Special People end of Doctor Who fandom (as if that means anything) - Broadchurch was the kind of drama that British TV used to produce by the bucket load fifteen or twenty years ago but, these days, tends not to all that much. A slow-moving character-based mystery thriller focusing upon and around the death of a young boy in a sleepy seaside town. With its once-in-a-lifetime ensemble cast, sharp observations about many aspects of modern British life (the pressure on police to produce results, dysfunctional families and the scummishness of the tabloid press and the way in which they can destroy lives without a second thought), Broadchurch has won many awards and will probably win a lot more. It's also got a second series on the way which may - or may not - further its already impressive reputation as genuine, twenty four carat TV masterpiece. The final episode had its critics but this blogger thought it was a particularly brave and interesting way of concluding a story which had gripped the country for the previous seven weeks (revealing the murderer before the first advert break and using the entire second act as one long flashback to the events that brought about the death of Danny Latimer). Perhaps one of Broadchurch's main achievements in these days of 'box-set TV' where many viewers will think nothing of devouring entire series of drama over the course of a weekend (and, hell, this blogger is as guilty of that as the next person) is that it reminded us the episodic format for TV is not dead; that weekly-scheduled drama can still be massively effective in producing the 'water-cooler' effect even in the second decade of the Twenty First Century. Broadchurch wasn't faultless but it was beautifully human from beginning to end and, for that reason alone, quite aside from David Tennant and Olivia Coleman et al acting their little cotton socks off, it deserves the title of the best TV show of 2013.

2. Borgen
Last year's runner-up retains its reputation as one of the world's finest TV artefacts. BBC4's showing of the acclaimed Danish political drama's second series, early in the year and Borgen's third - and, sadly, final - run in November are pretty much perfect bookends for 2013 and demonstrate that, whilst it may seem at times as though quality is in short supply in the modern television landscape, if you look hard enough for it, you'll probably find some. In Scandinavia, like as not. If the first series of this stunning drama concerned the inevitability of power corrupting and the second had, as its central theme, power diminishing and dehumanising until one is faced with the ultimate choice of giving it up or giving up caring about what you should be caring about, the third began as it meant to go on. In the best traditions of The West Wing it. seemingly, set out to prove that the politics idealism and the politics of necessity when mixed do not, automatically, produce the politics of compromise. With its superb cast - Sidse Babett Knudsen, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Pilou Asbæk, Lars Knutzon, Søren Malling - and its essential belief the doing the right thing, even if it isn't always the easy thing, is what separates conviction politicians from - opportunist - career politicians, Borgen was a thing of beauty, elegance and, most important of all, integrity. If you missed it, dear blog reader, find yourself the DVDs of all three series and watch them once a day for the rest of your life. Because, quite simply, there may never be another TV show quite like it.

3. Doctor Who
'You're me? Both of you? Even that one?' That a daft little family SF drama about a madman in a box could have survived fifty years, eleven changes of lead actor and become a national treasure in the compromised world of television is a remarkable enough feat in and of itself. That it did so after a - long - period when being a Doctor Who fan was to invite ridicule from the great ignorati is, for those of us who were there and suffered the shame, a source of considerable pride and more than a smidgen of 'I told you so' boastfulness. It all started half-a-century ago in a fog-shrouded junkyard in London. A mystery, wrapped in a riddle, inside an enigma. That's bigger on the inside than the outside. Who would have ever - ever - predicted that it would come to this? The eight episodes at the start of the year which constituted the second half of Doctor Who's seventh series since its 2005 revival included several proper corkers - The Bells Of St John, Hide, Cold War (featuring the return of The Ice Warriors) and The Name Of The Doctor - with only one real disaster, the normally reliable Neil Gaiman's oddly paced and rather shallow Nightmare In Silver. Even the much-derided The Rings Of Akhaten - hated by a lot of The Special People, apparently - had a lot in its favour for this blogger (an oblique and caustic essay on the process of bullying, for one). Then there was a lead up to the fiftieth anniversary. These are wonderful times to be a Doctor Who fan. dear blog reader. Late in the year we saw the recovery of several long-lost Patrick Troughton episodes in Nigeria, almost daily, wall-to-wall - and for the most part hugely supportive press coverage - the resurrection (albeit only for six minutes) of another much-loved Doctor in an online mini-sode, a quite wonderfully nostalgic and touching dramatisation of the show's origins and early years, Matthew Sweet's glorious Culture Show special which made bold - but entirely justifiable - claims on the show's influence on a huge spectrum of British popular culture. And then, the fiftieth anniversary special itself, The Day Of The Doctor. An episode which celebrated Doctor Who's almost unique ability to survive, on many levels. And it was brilliant (with an audience reach covering all platforms of about a quarter of the entire population of the country into the bargain, that's before we start counting its massive international following). Before the year is out, we will have one final episode for Matt Smith's Doctor - the long-running family SF drama's eight hundredth, another milestone to celebrate. Then, there'll be a new inhabitant in the TARDIS, a new friend for Clara to travel the universe with, in the shape of Peter Capaldi. It really doesn't get much better than this, frankly, so cherish these times, dear blog reader. It might not always be this good.

4. The Fall
For a BBC2 drama - especially one as dark as The Fall - to pull in a regular audience of over four million these days is virtually unthinkable, but that's exactly what happened with Allan Cubitt's caustic five-part Anglo-Irish thriller about a serial killer on the loose in Belfast and the police officer trailing him. It was so popular - BBC2's highest-rating drama for eight years, it was reported - that, like Broadchurch, the final episode (with its magnificently ambiguous climax) included a shocking twist; that they're making more of it. Didn't see that coming. Perhaps the greatest thing in The Fall's favour, even above the superb script and innovative direction, was that it reminded everybody (if any reminder was even needed) about just how stunning an actress Gillian Anderson is. Anderson's acerbic, intense, sexually promiscuous Stella Gibson was one of the telly performances of the year, almost matched by the former Calvin Klein model Jamie Dornan as the near-emotionless man she was hunting. The opening ten minutes or so of the second episode, in particular, was a textbook example of TV drama at its best: possibly the coldest, creepiest, most unnerving slice of telly we've witnessed in many years. In near total silence, the scene intercut between Dornan's chilling killer delicately painting the nails of his latest corpse and Anderson's cool detective, sweatily satisfying her libido on the gym-pumped torso of the young officer she'd previously pimped for herself at a murder scene. Two people getting exactly what they wanted, feeling momentarily satisfied, yet ultimately left hollow at the core by the sheer amorality of modern existence. The Fall was an object lesson in stealthy, slick tension, its understated moments the perfect counterpoint to the carefully rationed moments of genuine horror that cropped up with several of the murders. More? Yes please.

5. Spiral
The most cutting-edge thing to come out of France since a David Ginola through-ball, the fourth series of Engrenages brought Laure Berthaud and her murder squad boys into the murky worlds of terrorism and racial tension, issues which modern France is having to deal with just like everyone else. Having spent previous series investigating drug cartels and serial killers, this time Laure, Gilou and Tintin are called in when an extremely dead student is abandoned by his accomplices in a forest near Paris after being blown to bits by a homemade pipe bomb. Meanwhile Joséphine Karlsson is getting herself into dangerous waters defending illegal immigrants and Pierre Clément, surprisingly, finds himself representing a powerful crime boss. Judge Roban, on the other hand, returns to the Palais De Justice, finding himself sidelined and decides, as a consequence, to go on the warpath. As the story unfolds, over ten agonising episodes, to reveal a group of political extremists intent on waging a vicious war against the Parisian Gendarmerie and a dangerous arms trafficking operation, the police and the lawyers begin to turn on each other. Tintin is shot during a raid and, later in the series, suffers from PTSD. Roban releases a man accused of rape because the judge believes the man was the victim of a plot to falsely accuse him; which leads to one alleged victim of the rapist committing suicide. More than ever before, this series of Spiral questioned the motives and actions of just about everybody - does the end justify the means, as Laure and Gilou (and, especially, Joséphine) have always insisted? Is doing the right thing always really the right thing? A massive hit in its native France and with a cult following in the UK and across Europe, a fifth series is scheduled for 2014. if you're not watching this, dear blog reader, you should be.

6. Danny Baker's Great Album Showdown
Those troglodyte morons (yes, you David Dimbleby) who would do away with BBC4 on a point of misplaced principle please note, a good third of the best thirty programmes on British telly this year were broadcast by that very channel. And, importantly, most of them would really struggle to find a place in the schedules elsewhere should the unthinkable happen and BBC4 go to the wall. Case in point here, would any other channel give the time to Danny Baker - one of the great broadcasters of his, or any other, generation - to produce three hour-long discussion programmes on the subject of the LP? Would they shite as like? But, thankfully BBC4 is still with us and so we got Danny and his guests having a trio of civilised, but beautifully passionate, fireside chats about the golden age of the album. Jezza Clarkson was witty and gregarious and, obviously, awestruck to be in the same room as The Smiths' producer Stephen Street (whose precise little essay of why Ziggy Stardust is such a work of genius was worthy of a series all of its own). Grace Dent, Boy George and David Hepworth were on top form in the second episode and, in the third, lovely Martin Freeman managed to get a few words in edgeways past Mica Paris - a woman clearly in love with the sound of her own voice - and talk about his passion for Motown. It was every pub conversation that you've always wanted to be a part of if, like this blogger, you're an insufferable music snob of obscene proportions. And, through it all, there was Dan The Man, happily now recovered from his cancer scare of last year, sitting like a wise - but, madly enthusiastic - Buddha, throwing in atom-bombs of incisive, acidic pith from the sidelines. Everything about this joyful exercise was perfect. Well, except Dan maybe trying to convince us that Phil Collins's Face Value is any good. That would've stretched credulity even on Doctor Who.

7. Chivalry And Betrayal: The Hundred Years War
And, here's another example of why BBC4 needs to exist. A three-part series in which Doctor Janina Ramirez followed the momentous and nation-shaping war between England and France. Yeah, I can see that pulling in the crowds on primetime BBC1. The fact that it should is neither here nor there. Janina is an art historian, researcher and lecturer whose previous BBC4 series had included another acclaimed little gem, Illuminations: The Private Lives of Medieval Kings. But Chivalry And Betrayal was her masterpiece. The good doctor specialises in interpreting symbols and examining works of art, within their historical context and she had plenty of opportunity to here as she wove a beautifully nuanced tapestry which told the story of, as she notes at the beginning, 'the longest divorce in history.' As she said, in a blog entry, 'Making Chivalry And Betrayal has been a daunting, thrilling and exhausting experience. We all knew we were taking on a massive topic – those one hundred and fourteen years that saw England and France break apart from one another through a sequence of dramatic battles that would redefine these nations' histories. There was so much that drew me to this project, not least that very few people had produced television programmes on it before.' This was proper honest-to-God factual TV for grown-ups, history brought to life by a presenter with a fire in her belly and poetry on her lips; the episode about the effects of the Black Death on both countries was a particular thing of awful, terrible beauty, Janina pointing the viewer in the direction of Medieval graffiti written by monks who felt that God had forsaken them. This, dear blog reader, is why yer actual Keith Telly Topping pays his TV licence. (Well, that and the fact that he has to. It's The Law.)

8. An Adventure In Space And Time/The Culture Show: Me, You & Doctor Who
'CS Lewis meets HG Wells meets Father Christmas, that's The Doctor.' God, it was good to be alive and a Doctor Who fan in those magical couple of weeks in November 2013 when, it seemed, all you had to do was turn on the TV and you'd have someone celebrating the programme. Top of the list, aside from the anniversary episode itself of course, was Mark Gatiss's touching, lyrical, heartfelt biopic drama An Adventure In Space And Time about the creation and early years of the programme. The story of how a bunch of mavericks, untried newcomers and, in the words of one disgruntled (and probably racist) BBC technician, 'freaks', brought an unlikely format, created by committee, to the screens, overcame many initial difficulties and, yet within just a few weeks of its first episode going out, had a wholly unexpected phenomena on their hands has always been crying out for such a treatment as this. 'Ten million for your bug-eyed monsters. What do I know?' The one-off drama travelled back to 1963 to see how Doctor Who was first brought to life. Bill Hartnell felt trapped by a rather under-achieving career spent playing bullies, Sergeant Majors and villains. First time producer Verity Lambert, at twenty seven the youngest in the BBC's history to that point, was frustrated by the TV industry's glass ceiling. Both of them were to find unlikely hope and unexpected challenges in the form of a Saturday tea-time drama for all the family. Allied with a team of unusual but brilliant people, they went on to create the longest running science fiction series ever made. An adventure - in more senses than one - Mark's script was a joyous mixture of in-jokes, historical references, cheek, poignancy, emotion, humour and with a satisfying slice of artistic licence thrown in. But, it was all carried out with such a flourish that even the most stone-faced naysayer will, surely, have had their ice-cold hearts melted to slush by it. And, as brilliant as Jessica Raine was playing Lambert (and she was properly brilliant), if David Bradley isn't up for a BAFTA next year then, seriously, there is something very wrong with the whole TV honours system. Just one day later, the journalist and broadcaster Matthew Sweet, a long-time fan of Doctor Who, presented his own Culture Show special. In it, Matthew argued that you ignore Doctor Who at your peril. It may be a piece of hokey children's television but, he believes it's also one of the most important cultural artefacts of modern Britain. Put simply, Doctor Who matters. So, he got to use an episode of BBC3's flagship arts programme to explore - with wit, authority and a lot of affection - exactly why Doctor Who has become entrenched in British life, tracing fifty years of extraordinary social change and uncertainty that sent generations of children (and, more than a few adults) scuttling behind the sofa. Matthew's argument, that the show became and continues to be, a cultural force in its own right, influencing music, design and storytelling - whether it was Delia Derbyshire pioneering electronica, or giving the unknown Douglas Adams a crucial break was hard to fault. One of the most fascinating moments saw Matthew discussing, with Ken Livingstone and Tim Collins, the Oswald Mosley-style establishment characters that litter the Jon Pertwee years. But, perhaps the most persuasive aspects of this little gem was a very personal moment towards the start. Amid an excellent, passionate and forensic examination of the show and what it means to many different people, for one moment, sitting with his kids drawing pictures of Daleks and a TARDIS, Matthew made it about himself and not the subject. 'I should have given this up years ago, but I just can't, it won't let me' was the crux of what he was saying. It spoke, I think, for many of us.

9. Tales From The Royal Bedchamber/A Very British Murder With Lucy Worsley
BBC4 seem to have cornered the market in smart, gregarious, witty - and slightly minxy - women who make great telly. Like Janina Ramirez (and Helen Castor - see below), Doctor Lucy Worsley seems to crop up on the channel about once every six months or so with a new subject to lavish her attention upon. This year, we got two beauties from her. In Tales From The Royal Bedchamber, saucy Lucy got into bed with our past monarchs to reveal that our obsession with royal bedrooms, births and succession is nothing new. In fact, the rise and fall of their magnificent beds reflects the changing fortunes of the monarchy itself. It was charming, funny, layered with great moments and it was - by a distance - the second best programme that Lucy Worsley made for the BBC this year. Because, a few months later we got A Very British Murder. A playful, luridly told study of the British obsession with murder most 'orrible. In less hands it could have been as dry and dusty as a courtroom report. Instead, thanks to Lucy's deliciously vampish choice of handling the subject matter it, at times, bordered on pure camp (in the nicest possible way). Once again, as we've said so many times in this list (and, we'll say again before it's finished) without BBC4, this is the kind of programme that simply wouldn't get made. Remember that, Tony Hall, the next time you're looking at budgets.

10. Howzat! Kerry Packer's War
A two-part fact-based drama centred around the Australian media mogul Kerry Packer, who fought a cricket war by signing up fifty of the world's greatest players to form a breakaway tournament, World Series, in the 1970s. It was the end of cricket as we knew it. And, as consequence, that start of cricket as we know it. Howzat! ran the risk that all dramas based on cricket (or, indeed, sport in general) must face of entertaining in broad flourishing strokes whilst, in best Geoffrey Boycott tradition, trying to play a straight bat as it were, and get the little points right. We all remember the risible Bodyline mini-series from the 1980s, for example. Thankfully, this well-made Australian drama managed to avoid a lot of the more obvious pitfalls that most sporting stories fall into. It was well cast and very engaging in its portrayal of most of the people involved. Obviously, having been made by the Nine Network, the channel that the late Kerry Packer owned, we had a fair idea in advance exactly where its sympathies lay - and, there were a few slightly awkward caricatures of the then cricketing establishments of the ACB and the MCC on display. Nevertheless, they got most of the history right (although, I'm not sure Tony Greig ever actually had thing thrown at him when he went out to bat for Sussex). And, as a way of presenting a genuine revolution (in broadcasting as well as sport), Howzat! worked on just about every level.

11. The Sky At Night
It's been a year of change for The Sky At Night, one of the longest-running television programmes in the world. The death, at the end of 2012, of its creator and presenter for more than fifty years, Sir Patrick Moore, cast an initial shadow over the production. However, with a new presenting team, led by the excellent Chris Lintott and Lucie Green, and with regular contributions from the always entertaining John Culshaw, the programme continued, delighting its small but dedicated audience with a series of excellent monthly episodes through the year. Then came a bombshell. In September the BBC announced that the programme's future after December 2013 was 'under review' prompting speculation that the corporation could decide to cancel it. Cue uproar. An online petition asking for the show to continue was launched and gathered over thirty thousand signatures - including this bloggers just as a matter of pure disinterest. Those sort of campaigns seldom work or course, but this one, seemingly, did. In late October it was announced that The Sky At Night would continue in a new, regular, home on BBC4. Sometimes, it's worth shouting, loudly, at those who make decision. Now and again, they listen.

12. Pain, Pus & Poison: The Search for Modern Medicines
And, another one from BBC4 seemingly endless supply of utterly brilliant factual programming. Pain has a profound effect on our bodies, you might have noticed - when we are experiencing it, millions of nerve cells within our brains are screaming out and firing off messages in all directions, telling us, effectively, 'it sodding hurts, Do something about it.' For centuries the challenge has been to find something that will lessen or even switch off these sensations and bring us blessed relief. In this wonderfully wry and witty little three-parter, the excellent Doctor Michael Mosley discovers just what, exactly, pain is. Why we want to control it and how we, ultimately, did it when the discovery of morphine, the world's first pharmaceutical, at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century led to a two hundred-year journey of scientific breakthrough, discovery and self-experimentation. Subsequent episodes on infection and the early attempts to tackle it and the turning points when scientists went from finding antidotes to poisons to applying poisons as a cure celebrated the eccentrics and mavericks whose breakthroughs were to pave the way for some of the most striking treatments of modern medicine. It was properly entertaining stuff (especially the bit where Michael got stoned on sodium thiopental and tried, without success, to keep up a pre-arranged subterfuge, the so-called 'truth drug' effectively, stopping him from lying) whilst, simultaneously, satisfying both of the other Reithian columns. And, again, sorry to belabour the point but it bears repeating, just try to imagine where in the BBC's schedules such a format could fit without BBC4. Do we sense a trend emerging, here?

13. Only Connect
Television is the business of compromise, we know this to be true. It's also, these days, the business of business - a money-making machine which has little time for thought, for intelligence or for imagination. Who needs to think these days when you can have entertainment shovelled into you like stodge. Where you can watch alleged 'celebrities' running around the jungle in their smalls, bitching at each other and eating worms. That's entertainment, they reckon. So, it does the soul a bit of good, occasionally, to be reminded that some people in this modern world do, actually, have a brain and can use it. Saying Only Connect is a quiz show is a bit like describing The Eiffel Tower as 'a big pointy thing'. This is a format in which connections must be made between apparently unconnected things, where patience and lateral thinking are as vital as knowledge. True, some of the contestants appear to be the sort of people who'd get dizzy if they tried to walk in a straight line and, on average about once every two episodes there'll be at least one contestant who is so smug you loved to see a stray bit of scaffolding to fall on them, on camera, and crush their ego spineless. But, that's a minor consideration when set against the fact that it's presented by the Goddess that is Victoria Coren-Mitchell. That's all you need to know, really. Like Irene Adler said in Sherlock, 'smart is the new sexy.'

14. Horizon: The Secret Life Of The Cat
The fact that Britain is a nation of pussy lovers - steady - was ably demonstrated when a one-off Horizon documentary pulled in nearly five million viewers for BBC2 in the middle of summer. The programme sought to discover what your cat really gets up to beyond the cat flap. In this ground-breaking experiment, fifty cats in a Surrey village were tagged with GPS collars and fitted with tiny cameras meaning that their every movement was recorded, day and night, as they hunted in backyards and patrolled the garden fences and hedgerows. And, it was genuinely revealing. The cats were fitted with specially developed cat-cams, showing their unique view of the world. A subsequent follow-up episode, Little Cat Diaries, continued the story. The results revealed, for example, a tomcat that seems to have no owner, a hunter that prefers food it can catch and kill to anything it might be given by humans and a cat that has abandoned its home in favour of another set of owners. If your cat is sitting in the corner looking at you curiously, have a gander at this, dear blog reader and then think, nervously, 'they're watching us.'

15. Stargazing Live/Wonders Of Life/Science Britannica/The Science Of Doctor Who
2013, even more than previous years, was The Year Of The Foxy Cox. Professor Brian (no, the other one) was hardly ever off our screens and yet, it never felt like overkill. At the start of the year he was on his regular annual search of the night's sky with Dara O Briain in Stargazing Live which, predictably, drew enormous audiences and some spectacularly ignorant comments from a few fraudulent astrologers - much the same as last year. The third of Brian's Wonders trilogy saw him getting to work with Eric Idle whilst Science Britannica was a glorious pop-science deconstruction of the last two hundred years of human progress from the point of view of this odd little island in the mid-Atlantic that produced not only Isaac Newton, but also Kerry Katona and The Chuckle Brothers. Makes you think, does it not dear blog reader? The year ended for the former D:Ream pop star turned The People's Physicist in November with the BBC2 broadcast The Science of Doctor Who another part of the celebrations for the long-running family SF drama's fiftieth anniversary. Brian - another long-time fan of the show - tackled the possibilities of time travel, the existence of aliens and the mysteries of black holes in a lecture recorded at the Royal Institution Faraday Lecture Theatre. And he got to meet The Doctor as well. Already signed up for another series of Stargazing Live in January, Brian's next project is to be called Human Universe. Perhaps 2014 will, again, be another Year Of The Foxy Cox. I wouldn't bet against it.

16. Hebburn
The best new sitcom British TV has produced for at least five years, and starring a superb ensemble cast - Chris Ramsey, Kimberley Nixon, Vic Reeves, Gina McKee, Lisa McGrillis, Pat Dunn, Jason Cook, Neil Grainger, Graham Duff, plus two of yer actual Keith Telly Topping's close personal marras (not that he's bragging, of course), Steff Peddie and Alfie Joey - Hebburn is one of British TV's great hidden secrets. Although the secret is rapidly starting to get out. Of course, being a programme made in (and set in) 'The North' (you know, that place which starts at Watford and ends at Iceland, apparently) it has its loud and ignorant detractors among various knobends in the London-based media. Glakes, the lot of them. Then again, so did The Likely Lads when it started so, frankly that bodes well for the future. What Hebburn has going for it (aside from the magnificent cast) is Jason Cook's splendidly warm and affectionate celebration of a region that television far too often ignores. And, if it does feature, treats like something it would normally scrape off the sole of its shoe. Although, given the reaction of one local councillor who, reportedly, felt Hebburn was 'a waste of money' one speculates whether Jase wonders why he bothered. Political bell-ends who love getting their ugly mugs in the Shields Gazette aside - don't vote for them, dear blog reader, it only encourages them -  most of the locals love it and appreciate the way in which Hebburn depicts a world far removed from frappuccino-supping Gruniad-reading middle-class revolutionaries in Islington who would crap in their own pants and run an effing mile if they ever had to spend a day in the real world. And thank God for that. I'm told that the BBC has been delighted with the both the audience and their reaction to the show (particularly its very strong iPlayer following and AI scores). Hebburn is a reminder that not all television lacks heart. Hebburn, dear blog reader, it's 'a place on Earth.' Near Jarrow. Just off the A185.

17. The Village
Peter Moffat's evocative drama set in a Derbyshire village in the early years of the Twentieth Century, was one of 2013's most worthwhile - and necessary - moments. The first series of what Moffat hopes will become a forty two-hour drama project was broadcast in the spring and covered the years 1914 to 1920. A second series has been confirmed for 2014 which will continue the story into the 1920s. The Village tells the story of life in the eponymous settlement through the eyes of a central character, Bert Middleton. Bert has been portrayed as a boy by Bill Jones, as a teen by Alfie Stewart and, in superbly effective narrative flash-forward scenes, as an old man by David Ryall. John Simm played Bert's father John, an alcoholic Peak District farmer and Maxine Peake was Bert's mother, Grace. Peake is a particular favourite of the writer, who has called her 'the best actress of her generation.' Moffat has spoken of wanting to create 'a British Heimat', alluding to Edgar Reitz's epic German saga covering several generations of life in a small town. Unlike Downton Abbey, this version of history is a wholly working-class one, a story in which, as one reviewer noted, 'domestics are expected to face the walls when their master walks by.' Like I say, a necessary - and very welcome - antidote to the Lord Snooty school of period drama and, in its own mucky way, a thing of rare beauty. Hard work at times, but genuinely worth sticking with.

18. Medieval Lives: Birth, Marriage, Death
Helen Castor is, along with Doctor Janina and Doctor Lucy - another of BBC4's collection of tame historians, and a brilliant one at that. A renowned Medievalist, her previous work for the Beeb has included the acclaimed She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth. For a medieval women approaching the moment of labour and birth, there were no antiseptics to ward off infection or anaesthetics to deal with pain. It was just a case of try to get the sprog out in one piece and hope you don't die in the process. In Medieval Lives, Helen reveals how this was one of the most dangerous moments a woman would ever encounter, with some aristocratic and royal women giving birth as young as thirteen years of age. Birth took place in an all-female environment and the male world of medicine was little help to a woman in confinement. It was believed that the pains of labour were the penalty for Eve's original sin - so, to get through them, a pregnant woman needed the help of the saints and the blessing of God himself. Another fascinating, impressively nuanced addition to BBC4's huge arsenal of riches.

19. The Iraq War
Sometimes telly can end up not only surprising the viewer but, also, those taking part. British intelligence famously - and, as we now know, wrongly - believed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and they convinced some willing politicians of this. A process which led to one of the most disastrous conflicts in our history. It turns out that Iraq's own generals thought the same thing. On the eve of war in March 2003, Lieutenant General Ra'ad al-Hamdani of the Republican Guard feared that Hussein would try to gas the Anglo-American invaders and, as a consequence, end up poisoning his own troops by mistake. The General was worried enough to approach the dictator's son, Qusay. Hussein was able to offer reassurance but the fact that Iraq's own high command fell victim to the deception about Saddam's non-existent arsenal of death (or, should that be arsenal of dearth) was the most striking disclosure in the opening episode of Charlie Smith's acclaimed three-part series The Iraq War. Brook Lapping, the production company which made The Death of Yugoslavia, were behind this series and told their story with their traditional skill, care and rigour. As with all the best documentaries, there was no attempt to exaggerate: episode one covered the build-up to war and the programme-makers allowed the drama to speak for itself. They also showed that you can make sixty minutes of gripping telly about a subject which is exceptionally well known to the viewers. After umpteen official inquiries into Iraq, this nevertheless managed to break new ground – but not in the way that you might have expected. There were no revelations about the British or the Americans. This time, however, the men on the other side got to tell their - often remarkable, sometimes sad - stories. We met two of Saddam's generals, one intelligence chief and, most intriguingly of all, the dictator's last foreign minister. Remember when Colin Powell appeared before the Security Council to present the case for Iraq's possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction? With great melodrama, he played a tapped telephone call in which an anonymous Iraqi general supposedly ordered a subordinate to hide his chemical weapons. Who was the crackling voice that played to the entire world? It turns out that it was General Hamdani. The mild-mannered Iraqi, interviewed for the programme, said that he was 'surprised' the Americans had made such a fuss over this perfectly innocent conversation. After all, he was only telling the officer to look out for any 'old ammo left over from the Iran-Iraq war' over a decade earlier. The documentary went some way towards solving at least some of the final, complex, riddles of the Iraq story. One big mystery concerned why Britain and America were so certain that Saddam possessed his allegedly fearsome arsenal. The documentary showed that they thought they had an impeccable source: none other than Saddam's foreign minister, Naji Sabri. In 2002, French intelligence tried to secure his defection via an intermediary. The minister refused to switch sides, but he did let it slip that Saddam had chemical munitions and a nuclear weapons programme. 'Decision-makers believed that Saddam's foreign minister had confirmed that Iraq had WMD,' said the narrator. But did Sabri actually say that? He later denied ever having done so – and he may not have been in a position to know about WMDs anyway. One former CIA official believes that shadowy Washington forces 'doctored' the report ('sexed up', if you will) of the Sabri meeting because they quite fancied a dashing little foreign excursion to show everybody how hard they were. Ten years - and thousands of bodies - on, the Iraq affair still holds its mysteries. But this fine documentary marked another step towards finally solving them.

20. The Wipers Times
And, speaking of war ... When Captain Fred Roberts discovered a printing press in the ruins of Ypres in 1916, he decided to publish a satirical magazine which he called The Wipers Times - 'Wipers' being British army slang for the Belgian frontier town. Full of gallows humour, The Wipers Times was poignant, subversive and very very funny - a kind of Private Eye of its day but, in many ways, far more subversive. Produced literally under enemy fire and defying both authority and gas attacks, the magazine proved a huge hit with the troops on the Western front, if not with The brass back at HQ who considered it scandalously subversive and wanted it stopped, immediately. It was, above all, a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming adversity. In his spare time, incidentally, Roberts also managed to win the Military Cross for gallantry. Ian Hislop and Nick Newman's ninety minute comedy drama, based on real events, was a clever, witty little thing with some pointed observations on all manner of subjects. Starring Michael Palin, Ben Chaplin and Julian Rhind-Tutt, the piece beautifully captured both the horror and the ludicrousness of the First World War. A true gem.

21. The Returned
Les Revenants was a Telefantasy drama series created by Fabrice Gobert and shown on Canal+ in France in late 2012. Channel Four, having presumably noticed BBC4's success with European imports - The Killing, Borgen, The Bridge, Spiral et al - decided to take a punt on it and, in doing so, were rewarded with their biggest drama hit in years. In a small French mountain town, a number of dead people suddenly reappear, apparently alive and well. They include road accident victim teenager Camille, suicidal bridegroom Simon, Victor a small boy who was murdered by burglars and Serge, a serial killer. They try to resume their lives as a series strange phenomena occur in the town: among recurring power outages, the water level of the reservoir mysteriously lowers, revealing the presence of dead animals and a church steeple and strange marks appear on the bodies of both the living and the dead. It was chillingly played across eight episodes, beautifully acted by the cast - mostly unknown in the UK - and with an eerie, discordant, perfectly fitted soundtrack by the Scottish experimental indie band Mogwai. The series received positive critical acclaim on both sides of the channel. Le Monde said that the series marked a resurgence in the fantasy genre in France with the dead appearing out of nowhere, trying to regain their life where they left off. Libération spoke for many when it noted the series recalled the sinister, clingy atmosphere of Twin Peaks. Viewers, seemingly, agreed - it got a cult following in Britain whilst, in France, it was a proper mainstream crossover hit. A second series has been commissioned.

22. Luther
The third and final series of Neil Cross's Luther took the titular hero down some dark and troubled roads - including the wholly unexpected killing of a major character at the climax of episode three - before finishing with an, equally unexpected., happy ending. Well, as close as Luther was ever going to get to one of those anyway. As ever, Idris Elba was simply superb in the lead as the moody, angry, furiously decent John Luther, a lone (borderline) sane man in a world of sick killers who think nothing of hacking off their own fingers in a blender to avoid detection. Or, in the case of the final two-parter, a sickeningly brutal revenge scenario about the hunt for a vigilante killer, murdering those whom he believes have escaped justice and, therefore, lost their right to life. That was juxtaposed with Luther facing a similar judgemental demons of own until Alice Morgan returns to help him clear his name. Cross has confirmed that there will not be a fourth series, but has not ruled out the possibility of a feature film, something Idris is said to be keen on. Fans of the drama, and this blogger has been one of those since Day One, await developments with anticipation.

23. The Challenger
When the space shuttle Challenger blew up shortly after take-off in 1986, it was the most shocking event in the history of American spaceflight. The deaths of seven astronauts, including the first teacher in space Christa McAuliffe, were watched live on television by many millions of viewers both in the US and around the world. But what was more shocking was that the cause of the disaster might never be uncovered but for the persistence of one man. The Challenger was the true story of how Richard Feynman, one of America's most famous scientists (played, brilliant, by William Hurt), helped to discover the cause of a tragedy that stunned America. Feynman was one of the first great popularisers of science. He was a non-conformist, a musician (a bongo-player, admittedly, rather than a keyboardist like yer actual Brian Cox) and a Nobel Prize winner. In the opening scenes of The Challenger, viewers saw him addressing a lecture hall full of enraptured students, the atmosphere as frantic and charged as a Revival meeting. Spliced into these scenes was archive TV footage of the launch and explosive destruction of the NASA Shuttle. Soon after, despite his distaste for Washington politicking – 'They're a bunch of bureaucrats with pokers up their asses,' he remarks to his wife – Feynman accepted an appointment to The Rogers Commission, set up by Ronald Reagan to investigate the causes of the disaster. What followed was part political thriller – the commission's chairman, Bill Rogers, played with hulking menace by Brian Dennehy, seemed set on stonewalling anything which might harm NASA's reputation – and part scientific mystery. Feynman set himself the task of discovering which of the craft's two and half million parts was at fault whilst suffering his own personal life-changing news. Turning this cerebral sort of business into drama can be a tricky act to pull off but fortunately for the film-makers, Feynman's life was all about was making science accessible. The denouement of the drama was a brilliant piece of theatre at a press conference: Feynman immersing a crucial component of the shuttle, a rubber ring, in a glass of ice, cold enough to show how it would have malfunctioned on the freezing morning of the launch.

24. Utopia
The story of a small group of people who find themselves in possession of the manuscript sequel of a cult graphic novel called The Utopia Experiments which is rumoured to have predicted the worst disasters of the last century, Utopia was one of the year's most left-field drama surprises. The group are targeted by an organisation known as The Network, which they must avoid to survive. Using the manuscript, they must uncover the meaning hidden in its pages before the disasters depicted become reality. it was controversial as well, Ofcom received over forty complaints about violence, offensive language and child actors being involved in scenes of adult content. Thirty seven of the complaints related to a specific scene at the beginning of the third episode where a shooting takes place in a primary school. A spokesman for Channel Four responded that the broadcaster had 'thought very carefully about continuing with the planned broadcast of Utopia. The drama is in no way based on real events, and the scenes featuring violence are editorially justified within the context of the storyline. All material has been carefully considered in accordance with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code and we were satisfied that, appropriately scheduled in a late night slot at 10pm and preceded by clear on-air warnings about the graphic violence and very strong language, it could be broadcast as planned.' A superb young, and mostly unknown, cast - headed by Fiona O'Shaughnessy and Alexandra Roach - were added attractions.

25. The Last Leg
The TV comedy moment of the year - if not the century so far - came during an episode of Channel Four's excellent The Last Leg in which resident Aussie scum-baiter Adam Hills described the former UkiP MEP and notorious sexist plank Godfrey Bloom as a 'mathematically inept cocksplash.' Already a hero of this blogger, Adam suddenly got elevated. To God. The programme, initially commissioned in 2012 as part of Channel Four's coverage of the Paralympics and hosted by Hills, Josh Widdecombe and Alex Brooker, provoked a lengthy - and worthwhile - discussion in the media about whether disability and comedy could work together on TV. The Independent described it as 'a high risk venture' saying that Hills 'reminds us frequently that he has a prosthetic leg, giving him licence to crack jokes that most of us wouldn't dream of.' Described elsewhere as 'often tasteless, sometimes awkward, always funny,' Damon Rose for BBC News said that Hills' late night irreverent chat show 'has taken mainstream viewers to dark and delightfully surprising places that only disability humour can go. And it has given a sense of permission for regular viewers to talk openly about things they may previously have shied away from.' Hugely recommended.

26. Richard III: The King In The Car Park
In the year in which Channel Four finally cancelled their long-running archaeology series, Time Team, they landed themselves with an unexpected hit with this one-off documentary covering the fascinating story of the discovery in a Leicester car-park of a skeleton which may have been - and, indeed, was subsequently confirmed to be - the body of King Richard III. In 2009 Philippa Langley, a screenwriter and secretary of the Scottish Branch of the Richard III Society, having been inspired by previous research, launched a project with the working title Looking for Richard: In Search of a King, which she envisaged as 'a proposed landmark TV special' with the premise of a search for Richard's grave 'while at the same time telling his real story.' It turned into a magical hour of telly reminding us that history and archaeology can making for gripping storytelling if told with enthusiasm.

27. Death In Paradise
Sometimes television can surprise the viewer. And, sometimes, it doesn't need to. Nobody should expect The Wire or Waking The Dead-type grim and gritty malarkey from Death In Paradise; it is what it is – a sunny, frothy slice of pure escapism which should be welcomed in a TV detective world which had gone increasingly - if, often, impressively - noir. We need Death In Paradise just as the every chart featuring The Clash needed ABBA next door. A reminder that there are, always, two sides to life. The second series of the Ben Miller vehicle gave viewers, essentially, more of the same - beautiful locations, witty conceits and just, occasionally, a moment of proper telly magic (as in the episode - probably the series' best - where Neil Pearson turned up playing Richard Poole's old bullying colleague and nemesis from London). The series was constantly popular with viewers, if not all critics (the usual accusations of tweeness and labyrinthine plots cropped up more than once), but Death In Paradise always had a few tricks up its sleeve to bat away such rank and tragic short-sightedness. Sadly, Miller - the best single reason for watching the drama - has decided to leave during the forthcoming third series (obviously, spending six months a year in Guadeloupe was too much of a chore for the lad) and, the announcement that he is to be replaced by, of all people, Kris Marshall suggests that the programme may have a fight on its hands to maintain its standards and its audience.

28. Qi/Qi XL
Eleven years into its twenty six year mission to explore new frontiers in comedy and intelligence and still showing no signs of being anything less than a national treasure, Qi's strengths remain, comfortingly, consistent and well-established. It has what it has always possessed in abundance, a tremendously inclusive feeling which invites the audience to share in the knowledge and the jokes instead of erecting 'us and them' barriers as so many TV comedy formats do. Where Buzzcocks drags you, perhaps unwillingly, down the pub for a booze and a punch-up, Qi settles you down by the fire for a cup of tea and a natter. The odd guest doesn't work, for course, although in expanding its guest base away from purely British (and, occasional American) comedy talent to include the likes of Cal Wilson, Colin Lane and Trevor Noah has provided the show with a breath of fresh air in terms of breaking new acts to a wider audience. First timers this year - like Sara Pascoe, Graham Linehan and Josh Widdecombe - have also given the regulars more than a run for their money. But, ultimately, Qi remains warmly and touchingly familiar. Stephen's experiments may get more ambitious but the rest of it - including Alan Davies's occasionally annoying inability to know when to cut clowning around and be serious for a moment - is as comfortable a pair of old slippers. Long may it continue to keep the nation's feet warm from the winter chill. Just, don't invite Jack Whitehall back, please.

29. The Story Of The Jews
The BBC is extraordinarily fortunate to have contributing programmes to it a man who, quite simply, the world's most brilliantly watchable historian and broadcaster. This year, Simon Schama - creator of the peerless A History Of Britain - unleashed his grand opus. Writing in the Observer, Andrew Anthony called The Story of The Jews 'an astonishing achievement' and 'a TV landmark' and for once such descriptions were not mere hyperbole but were, actually, spot on. Simon creates his narratives, as he does with all of his programmes, both efficiently and evocatively, deftly picked out very personal episodic stories which illustrate his overarching thesis; in this case it was, essentially, about how Judaism managed to survive, time after time, against all the odds. By the end of this first episode, Simon had given the title of his programme an intriguing double meaning. Over its four remaining parts, The Story Of The Jews became not just a chronological history of a religion and an ethnicity but, also, a genuinely fascinating narrative of what unifies and fortifies the Jewish people. The story was as much an investigation into identity as it was the beginning of a specific history. Packed with evocative detail and rich in poetic language and occasional moments of empathic and righteous indignation at, for example, the horrors of Dachau and Auschwitz, The Story of The Jews was, at time, uncomfortable viewing. But, it was never less than fascinating. Read it, Dominic Sandbrook, and weep.

30. The Blacklist
The best new drama series to have emerged from US network television since Lost. The Blacklist won this blogger over about two minutes into the opening episode when James Spader - one of the great actors of his generation - knelt down, looked straight into the camera, effectively breaking the fourth wall, and smiled. Game over. I'm sticking with this, whatever happens. Another example of US network telly's fascination, post-9/11, with solving all the problems of an increasing complicated and scary world by blowing lots of shit up (see also, 24, Homeland et cetera) these are early days for The Blacklist - only ten episodes have been broadcast to date. But, all of the signs are that this one is going to be worth following. A fine cast (headed by Spader and Megan Boone), seem to have been given a nicely broad canvas to work with and, already, NBC has seen enough to not only commission the full first series, but a second one as well. So, as noted, early days, but the signs are good. And, that episode with Robert Sean Leonard as a subway bomber might just have been the best forty five minutes of telly all year.

Also mentioned in dispatches: Africa, Top Of The Pops 1978, Time Team, Ripper Street, Lewis, Spies of Warsaw, Strictly Come Dancing, Bones, House Of Cards, Call The Midwife, Top Gear, Mr Selfridge, The Great British Bake Off, The Culture Show, The Genius Of Invention, Would I Lie To You?, Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe, Penguins: Spy in the Huddle, Who Do You Think You Are?, Meet The Izzards, MasterChef/MasterChef: The Professionals, Game Of Thrones, Mayday, The Crash, Heritage! The Battle For Britain's Past, The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople, Shetland, Goodbye Television Centre, Playhouse Presents, Foyle's War, Wodehouse In Exile, Jonathan Creek, Hillsborough: Never Forgotten, Scott & Bailey, Have I Got News For You, Arne Dahl, Endeavour, The Ice Cream Girls, Bill Bailey's Jungle Hero, The Politician's Husband, Burton & Taylor, University Challenge, Dave Allen: God's Own Comedian, The Flying Archaeologist, The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher, Murder On The Home Front, CSI, Hannibal, David Bowie: Five Years, Otis Redding: Soul Ambassador, Mad Dogs, The White Queen, Rick Stein's India, Robson Green: How The North Was Built, Top Of The Lake, Breaking Bad, Hunt Versus Lauda: F1's Greatest Racing Rivals, Long Live Britain, Hebrides: Islands On The Edge, The Field of Blood, New Tricks, The Mill, What Remains, The Newsroom, Peaky Blinders, The Sarah Millican Television Programme, Orphan Black, Masters Of Sex, Stephen Fry: Out There, How The Brits Rocked America, Fox Wars, The Making of Tommy, Imagine: Hear My Train A Comin', Tutankhamun: The Mystery Of The Burnt Mummy, Strange Days: Cold War Britain, Storyville: The Spy Who Went Into The Cold, Last Tango In Halifax, Crackanory, Byzantium: A Tale Of Three Cities.

And so, we move to those that weren't, perhaps, any bloody good at all:-

1 The Wright Way
In a year in which awful sitcoms on British TV were not so much ten-a-penny as, if you will, the norm rather than the exception (Plebs, Chickens, Vicious, Pat And Cabbage, Trollied, The Wrong Mans to name but a few of the worst offenders) The Wright Way stood head and shoulders (and then another head) above all of its rivals in terms of sheer wretched awfulness. But, also, for the way in which its failure disappointed as many people as it, gloatingly, satisfied. Creator Ben Elton co-wrote two of the greatest, and most genuinely important, situation comedies British television has ever produced, The Young Ones and Blackadder. That fact alone should be enough to cut the chap a fair bit of slack when it comes to the rest of his career in writing things which try to make us laugh. But, both of those ground-breaking works were a long time ago and the majority of his creations since the 1980s have been ... how can we put this nicely? Horseshit, basically. That said, The Wright Way makes, for example, The Thin Blue Line look like Dad's Army and Blessed like Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? in comparison. Described by one reviewer as 'the worst sitcom ever' that, actually, gives The Wright Way a kind of back-handed notoriety which it scarcely deserves. But, God, it was bad. I mean, really, dreadfully, risibly bad. If one didn't know better one may almost have imagined that the whole thing was an exercise to demonstrate how not to write a sitcom - full of cardboard characters, clunky dialogue and characterisation and desperately out-of-date ideas on what is and isn't funny (knob gags, fer Christ's sake. It's 2013, Ben, not 1983). Worse, it felt at times like this was Ben Elton writing the sort of sitcom that The Young Ones had, in theory, come along to destroy. Like all those piss-poor Love Thy Neighbour-style mid-1970s ITV fiascoes in which crass and easy stereotypes provided cheap belly laughs. Except, here, they didn't. Not even close. Instead, they provided a soundtrack of tumbleweeds blowing down the road. Elton, of course, is not a popular person with a large chunk of the media - for political and other reasons, rather than anything he's done in the way of making TV shows. Hence, perhaps, a portion of the vitriol which landed on him and his show back in April and May. But, the fact that the Gruniad's reviewer (and, indeed, this blogger) hated the thing just as much as those in the Torygraph or the Daily Scum Mail must, surely, have given Ben a smidgen of a clue that this was, simply, a dog. The BBC's controller of comedy commissioning, Shane Allen, attempted to suggest that the 'instant crucifying' the programme - rightly - received on Twitter was responsible for its failure instead of just accepting that fact that people didn't like it. This blogger says the following as a big fan of Elton's work in the 1980s: Ben, mate, this was just garbage. I'm sure you didn't set out for it to be garbage, but that doesn't change the fact that it was. Please go away, recharge your batteries, rediscover what it is you do that's good and come back with something that isn't garbage. Thanks.

2. I Love My Country
The love, trust me dear blog reader, was entirely unrequited. Nobody seemed to have a good word to say about this banal piece of trite Saturday night froth. I Love My Country was the sort of format that ITV seem to specialise in and, now sadly, the BBC appears to be attempting to muscle in on their territory. It's also the sort of format which has viewers screaming at the screen 'Why? Why of the love of God, why?' Just remember, dear blog reader, someone, somewhere within the BBC commissioned this steaming pile of rancid diarrhoea. Is it too much to hope that it was the same chap, or lady-chap, that also gave the green light to The Wright Way and that they are currently clearing out their desk? Gabby Logan moved from sports presentation to light entertainment (because, my didn't that work out so well for Claire Balding when she tried the same thing a few months earlier?) to host this 'rowdy, light-hearted game show' (it says here) in which two panels of 'famous faces' (ie. some people who are not even remotely famous) compete to demonstrate their knowledge of all things British. It was, as you might imagine, utter and complete drivel. Team captains Frank Skinner (Frank, for Christ's sake, mate, what were you thinking?) and full-of-himself cockney geezer Micky Flanagan featured. Horrible in every way imaginable. And, thankfully, extremely cancelled.

3. Splash!
Tom Daley's Z-List Celebrity Drowning proved a baffling medium-sized ratings success for ITV through January 2013 despite its many, many critics. Of which this blogger counts himself first without equal. Because it was utter shite, basically. I resigned from the human race in protest but I don't think it did much good. Quite why the 'diving reality show' pulled in a regular five million sad, lonely and crushed victims of society each week, ranking it as the most-watched Saturday evening show during that period is an interesting question in and of itself. Britain, what the hell were you thinking? Come on, people, we're better than this. We produced Shakespeare, Stephenson, Brunel, The Beatles and Doctor Who. We invented television, the light bulb, the railways, the World Wide Web. And, Splash! Describing it as 'the most unedifying example of celebrity plummeting since Rod Hull,' Charlie Brooker was firmly on the side of those critics who savaged the series for its unadulterated atrociousness. The, alleged, 'celebrity' series was immediately given a renewal, another desperately sad indictment of the sludge which passes for 'entertainment' on ITV these days. Daley himself seems to be a nice personable lad but, seriously, he should've stuck to what he was good at instead of inflicting this horror upon us.

4. Backchat With Jack Whitehall And His Dad
In which odious, unfunny, full-of-his-own-importance lanky streak of piss, Jack Whitehall, and his - very posh - daddy (Michael, a booking agent of some power, apparently) present an 'hilarious' (it says here) chat show format. The joke being that Daddy Whitehall is an old buffer who doesn't know whom any of the rap artists or z-list reality TV type-people his son is interviewing are. Be still, my sides. Actually, it's probably just as well because neither do the majority of the audience, frankly. I could, honestly, spend hours listing all of the many reasons why this risible swamp of stinking shat is so unworthy of your time, dear blog reader but, to be honest, the fact that its got Jack Whitehall in it should be enough. This ludicrous exercise in self-aggrandisement from someone so utterly worthless as he is a bigger joke than anything in the actual programme its very self. Who, exactly, is watching this tripe? (I mean, not many people if the initial ratings figures are anything to go by, but still, the question remains). Who is it for? Why would anybody with a single ounce of self-respect in their body want to appear on it? Why, for that matter, would anybody with a single ounce of self-respect want to watch it? And, who commissioned it in the first place? This, tragically, seems to be an example of what happens when TV executives become convinced - and Christ only knows why they have in this case - that a particular 'talent' is hugely popular with the general public and, so, give them a blank cheque to do anything they want. Let's put this very simply, anybody who even considers devoting so much as a few minutes of their lives to viewing this spectacularly wretched waste-of-time should check in their intellect and their tolerance for prats at the door. In the Middle Ages, they had bear baiting, dear blog reader. Luckily, they also had a plague that'd come along once every decade or two and spare people the misery of their wretched existence. These days, we have Jack Whitehall and his dad on BBC3. And, the 'flu. Makes you long for the good old days, doesn't it?
5. Food Glorious Food
It must be said, there is always something truly delicious when watching Wee Shughie McFee, the sour-faced Scottish chef from Crossroads devise a TV format and then seeing it fall flat on its arse with a muffled crunch. It doesn't happen often, of course, but when it does, it's often art. And, when it does, it usually involves a fair degree of hubris and of narcissistic egos being toppled. It happened, very satisfyingly, with Red Or Black? and it happened again with Food Glorious Food. You can see Wee Shughie McFee, the sour-faced Scottish chef from Crossroads's thinking here. 'The Great British Bake-Off and MasterChef are really popular so, let's do a cookery show for ITV. How hard can it be?' Well, pretty hard as it turned out. The food competition searched the country looking for the best home cooked dish, hosted by a hopelessly out of her depth Carol Vorderman, whilst the judging panel consisted of Tom Parker Bowles (whom?), Anne Harrison (whom?) former MasterChef presenter (back when it was crap and nobody watched it) Loyd Grossman and poor old Stacie Stewart - a delight on MasterChef a couple of years ago but here, as much a fish out of water as a battered one being served with a plate of chips. The show received generally negative reviews from critics after its premiere, being described variously as 'twee, wholesome fare styled like a summer fete' and 'a proper TV turkey.' The two finalists got a post-show gig with Marks & Spencer, but with only a couple of million people watching the thing, whether we will be served any more of this tripe is, as yet, unknown. Wee Shughie McFee, the sour-faced Scottish chef from Crossroads's thoughts on the matter remain, similarly, unspoken.

6. Your Face Sounds Familiar
Alesha Dixon and Paddy McGuinness hosted this live entertainment show in which six desperate b-list celebrities transformed themselves into different music icons each week. And, in that one sentence, dear blog reader, you have a perfect example of everything that is wrong with the worst of British TV in the Twenty First Century. Actually, since those taking part included Bobby Davro and Cheryl Fergison, make that 'z-list' rather than b-list. Essentially, this was Pro-Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes, so it was unoriginal as well as appalling and hateful. Given that oafish plank McGuinness is about as funny as a nasty raw rash on ones bell-end and that odious greed-bucket, horrorshow (and drag) Dixon has all of the warmth, personality and broadcasting skills of a mug of cold sick, this had, from the beginning, all the making of a major hit for ITV with the sort of people who think Britain's Got Toilets isn't banal, exploitative freak show rubbish. Satisfyingly, however, it not only stank the gaff up but, also, flopped massively.

7. Kirstie's Fill Your House For Free
Kirstie Allsopp is a curious creation. And, this blogger says creation because, to be honest, I'm genuinely not sure if she was born or whether she was knocked up to order in a laboratory by Channel Four's tame scientists. Certainly, yer actual Keith Telly Topping has lived a full and varied life and, in all his fifty years on this planet he's never met a single person even remotely like Kirst. Her latest TV format featured the mumsy, bossy, shouty Tory house-hunter-turned-home-maker trying to prove that you, yes you dear blog reader - living on your broken council estate with your income support and your ASBO - can 'make a house a home without spending the big bucks.' Or, big pounds, since this is a British show and we don't have bucks over here. After watching this shallow and risible excessive in nauseating tweeness for an hour, the answer appears to be that, yes, you can, indeed, do exactly that. So long as you're happy living with a pile of old junk in your living room, that is. It really should be called Kirstie's Fill Your House With Crap, frankly. Kirstie excitedly informs us that we can use an old, stringless tennis racket as a mirror, fetch a radiator from a scrapyard (who, in the name of God throws away radiators? And, more importantly, who goes hunting around scrapyards looking for them?) then use it as your kitchen table. You can also nail together some crates left in a pub car-pack (that's Kirstie's alibi and she's sticking to it, m'lud) and it will 'make a lovely sofa.' Or, stick some rotten old newspapers on your lamp-shades. You get the general idea. Or, you could just, you know, buy a kitchen table or a mirror instead. Poundland do mirrors for a quid. Even if, for some bizarre reason, you did happen to find Kirstie's makeover tips tasteful - which they're not - then you're going to need all the luck in the world trying to mimic making them yourself. Like trying to mould a metal shopping trolley into a 'trendy chair' with your B&Q hacksaw, for instance. According to Kirstie, if you split a crate in half, it can make 'a lovely sofa.' The bit where you piece together the crates, add in the metal arms, do a bit of spot-welding and fix it all up were, tragically, left out of the programme. Which says it all really. Anyway, in the first episode, mumsy, bossy shouty Tory Kirstie helped Kent couple Liz and Stephen, sourcing and creating some sturdy and stylish pieces for their family home. Liz and Stephen were, of course, another example of the seemingly endless group of young professional couples from the Home Counties with 'that's not a real job'-type jobs, that Channel Four appear to have on stand-by for Kirstie's most famous show, Location, Location, Location.

8. Big School
Big School is a BBC situation comedy starring David Walliams, Catherine Tate, Steve Speirs, Frances de la Tour and Philip Glenister. All of which should have meant it was, at least, watchable - the fact that Walliams is massively over-rated (not least, by himself) notwithstanding. Sadly, it wasn't. The series follows Mr Church (played by Walliams like a leftover, and not particularly funny, character from Little Britain), a socially inept chemistry teacher at Greybridge Secondary School, near Watford, who is about to quit when he falls for new French teacher Miss Postern (Tate), who believes herself to be an inspirational teacher, in tune with youf culture and that. However she is also getting attention from uncouth and cocky sports teacher Mr Gunn (Glenister). Oh, the laughs just never started. The series was met with decidedly mixed feedback. The Daily Scum Mail commented: 'If we were expecting old-fashioned comedy, we're certainly getting it. The traditional approach brings benefits. There's no wobbly handheld camera work, no improvised dialogue, no barrage of foul language, no filthy single entendres. Instead, there's a brisk script with plenty of jokes.' So, this was a sitcom the Daily Scum Mail actually liked. Enough said, really. Actually, it was a pile of tired, banal clichéd rubbish. Much like the last three or four vehicles for Walliams, frankly. Despite distinctly average ratings, the series was recommissioned. No justice.

9. Doctor Who Live: The After Party
For Doctor Who fans, Saturday 23 November 2013 rapidly went from the sublime to the apocalypticly dreadful. While The Day Of The Doctor won stellar praise from pretty much everyone, BBC3's follow-up fiasco, rapidly spun into a black hole of nightmarish horror from which there was no escape (except via the remote control or smashing a brick through your telly). Zoe Ball managed to be as vacant as usual as she talked to a string of former Doctor Who companions who looked like they'd found themselves sentenced to a ten stretch in Hell. Her co-host, one Rick Edwards (no, me neither), appeared increasingly bemused by the whole thing and flitted about aimlessly, lingering around like a fart in a vacuum. Matt Smith was amusing in his interview with Ball and Steven Moffat was on epic spiky form, attacking Michael Grade for 'resting' the show back in 1985. That was quite good. But then, things started to go badly wrong. For some reason (to attract a younger audience, one imagines), the producers of this disaster had decided to shoehorn One Direction into the show, live via satellite link from Los Angeles. Ball introduced two One Directioners - a popular beat combo, apparently - Louis and Niall. The Moff appeared to visibly cringe as the boys appeared on screen, while Smudger looked like he was flicking a V-sign at them. One couldn't blame him. To make things worse, the sound on the link was about fifteen seconds out of sync, making any sort of relaxed and interactive conversation impossible. Alleged Doctor Who 'fans' Louis and Niall read their questions from a cue card like a five year old on his first day at primary school, including gems such as 'how epic does it feel to have such a big episode?' Pretty epic, Louis. On a scale of one-to-five in terms of 'epicness' with one being 'not very epic at all' and five being, like, 'rilly very epic, a lot', we at From The North reckon it was probably a six. Smudger, artfully, fielded the question, managing not to have a look of disdain on his boat at any point (Moffat, bless him, couldn't manage the same feat), after which Ball dribbled: 'It's incredible what we can do with television these days, but we can't get rid of a delay to LA.' At which point poor Moffat actually had his head in his hands. We were all right there with you, Steven. Trying to talk over a wall of delayed dialogue, Ball concluded: 'That went brilliantly.' This blogger was long gone by that point, of course. To watch Borgen, a programme made by grown-ups. And, whilst we're about it, a simple question. That Zoe Ball. What use is she, exactly? What, in short, is she for? From there, it could only go downhill (and, indeed, it did), with other low points including 'tributes' to Doctor Who from 'noted fans' Gary Lineker, Richard Madeley and the Strictly Come Dancing judges. The finale was an out-of-tune sing-along of 'Happy Birthday' from the studio guests. Christ, it was awful, dear blog reader, I mean rotten. Please, BBC, never, ever do that again.

10. Chickens
Does anyone else think that Simon Bird is a geet ladgeful plank who could really use a ruddy good slap in the mush? He thinks he's so great doesn't he? (I fully realise this blogger is falling into one of the oldest and least reliable of telly watching traps here by assuming that the characteristics displayed by a fictional construct are shared by the person wot plays them. One is sure, of course, that Mister Bird is, in real life, a very nice chap who is kind of his mother and likes cats and that and one would never dream in a million years of giving him a sharp backhander for offences caused. But, that, sadly, doesn't change how this blogger feels whenever he sees Simon's specky boat on my tellybox. Instead, I shall merely kick the couch instead. Here endeth the lesson.) The In-Betweeners was massively over-rated, Friday Night Dinners ditto but Chickens takes the bloody biscuit for its wilfully up-its-own-anus smug nastiness. The scenario: Three chaps who have stayed behind in a sleepy English village during the First World War earn themselves the reputation of being cowards among the local women. However, while one of them is keen to avoid the conflict, another is unable to fight because of his flat feet and the third is simply too dim witted to understand what's going on. That's it, that's the 'comedy' here. I'm not going to pretend that making jokes about war - even a war as horrific as that one - is morally repugnant, dear blog reader - Dad's Army and, more particular to this case, Blackadder Goes Forth both managed it extremely well. No, where Chickens fails isn't so much the situation as the alleged 'comedy' or, if this instance, a complete lack of it. I laughed but once. And that was with relief when it was over.

11. Britain's Brightest
Why Clare, why? You really didn't need to move from sports presenting into the murky world of light entertainment? And, if you did, then you needn't have done so for such a slight, flimsy, almost paper thin conceit such as this nonsense? It wasn't so much that Britain's Brightest was lousy or offensive like many of the programmes in this 2013 'worst of' list, just that it was so ... nothing. It was so instantly forgettable that I've virtually forgotten everything about it except for that vague, nagging feeling of dissatisfaction that a genuine broadcasting talent like Clare Balding was going to such a waste.

12. I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want)
Do you actually need a reason for the inclusion of this crass, dangerously popular Victorian freak show as an example of what is wrong with television in the Twenty First Century, dear blog reader? Okay, here goes. I'm genuinely not certain what is the most offensive thing about this format. Is it the fact that the audience - and it remains a huge one; at the time of writing the opening episode of the latest series attracted the single largest ratings figure for a British TV show in 2013, thirteen million - is supposed to be 'entertained' by the voyeuristic observation of a bunch of z-list non-entities sitting in the jungle having crawly things dumped on them ... for a laugh? Is it Ant and/or Dec's (elsewhere very effective,let is be said) cheeky-chappie doon the Bigg Market-style of presentation which, here, suggests that all this humiliating poking and prodding to get a reaction is merely a geet cush joke and that? Is it the sheer desperation of the said bunch of z-list non-entities themselves to look like they're not so desperate for their sniff of the crotch of fifteen minutes of exposure that they'll do anything they're ordered to? There's something deeply troubling about I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want), dear blog reader. Like a scab covering a weeping sore full of maggots, it sits atop ITV's evening schedules gloating and laughing its collective cock off at the fact that people will watch anything if they've got enough of a squirm threshold. Depressing as I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want)'s success is, it says something even more worrying about our society and the way in which celebrity culture has mutated our sense of decency and fair play. In previous years its been a troubling, if occasionally surprising, piece of tat. 2013 was the year it became both a phenomena and a problem.

13. Great Houses With Lord Snooty
Possibly the single most nastily pointless format to crawl out from under a stone. In this, the smug, odious Downton Abbey creator presented a disgusting two-part documentary exploring the history of some stately homes. Through the lives of those who owned them - that'd be the rich and fatuous - and their poor and exploited servants. Just so that all of you worthless plebs sitting at home in your council houses know your effing place and tug your forelock when required to by the likes of Lord Snooty and other Big Nobs. To sum up, then, it's a Lord Snooty programme about class. Wow, what are the chances of that, eh? Does this joker actually do anything else to justify his frigging existence or is it all 'rub-somebody's-nose-in-the-clarts' type conceits? Sorry, what a stupid question. Gertcha. Sick, dear blog readers. Rotten, odious, vile horrorshow (and drag).

14. Caroline Quentin's National Parks
In the latest of several utterly pointless vehicles for the otherwise seemingly unemployable waste-of-oxygen Caroline Quentin, the (not very good) actress presented an ITV documentary exploring 'the natural beauty of three of Britain's most popular national parks.' Why, no one knows. And, of course, it was diarrhoea just as everything else this woman touches these days is. It was wretched. It possibly didn't, quite, have the complete pointlessness of 2011's Caroline Quentin: A Passage Through India in which, they claimed, Quentin had 'harboured a desire to visit India since she completed a school project about the country as a child in the 1960s', but on a scale of one to ten in terms of pointlessness, it was still pushing a ten.

15. Dancing On The Edge
Over-hyped much? And, with so little reason, frankly? An 'explosive 1930s drama' following a jazz band in London at a time of huge social change from the usually reliable Stephen Poliakoff, Dancing On The Edge had a superb cast. It also had a trailer that was shown about every five seconds on the BBC for about six weeks before the first episode went out. To the point where most viewers were bloody sick of the sight of the damn thing before it had even started. And, when it finally did the general consensus was a resounding 'so what?'

Also rubbished in dispatches: Twatting About On Ice, Blandings, Take Me Out, Daybreak, Dallas, The Voice, Britain's Got Toilets, Vicious, Lightfields, The Intern, Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea, Plebs, The Job Lot, Frankie, all of ITV's football coverage, The Million Pound Drop Live, Undercover Boss, Count Arthur Strong, Trollied, Restoration Home, Double Your House For Half The Money, Family Tree, Whitechapel, The Teenage Exorcists, Pat And Cabbage, When Miranda Met Bruce, By Any Means, The Three Day Nanny, London Irish, Breathless, Truckers, When Gastric Bands Go Wrong, The Tunnel, Surprise Surprise, The Only Way Is Essex, Ambassadors, You, Me & Them, The Wrong Mans, That Puppet Game Show.

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