Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Keith Telly Topping Presents ... The From The North TV Awards (2016)

Welcome, dear blog reader, to the ninth annual From The North Awards for - in yer actual Keith Telly Topping's opinion - the best and worst TV shows broadcast in Britain during the year. In what is rapidly becoming an annual observation, you will probably notice there are about twice as many 'highs' listed here as there are 'lows'. This imbalance is not, necessarily, any reflection on the actual ratio of good-telly-to-bad during 2016. Rather it is because, generally, we tend to remember the good stuff long after we have attempted - but failed - to forget about the distressing, banal rubbish featuring James Corden and Jack Whitehall.
      One final observation; each year when this blogger posts these lists, he usually gets a handful of e-mails or Facebook comments from dear blog readers saying 'very good, Keith Telly Topping, but you missed off [insert own favourite here].' So, please note, since answering such comments is a bit of a pain in the scrotum, this blogger has not missed anything. These awards represent what yer actual Keith Telly Topping has been watching and enjoying (or disliking) during the last year. If there's something not mentioned, it's either because this blogger didn't see it or did but didn't consider it worthy of inclusion on any of the lists below. If you disagree, by all means start your own blog and do your own awards. Anyway, without further ado ...

Thirty Five Extra-Primo-Rad Highlights Of Television In 2016:-

1. The Night Manager
'Becoming a man is realising it's all rotten. Realising how to celebrate that rottenness. That's freedom.' The BBC's superb adaptation of John le Carré's 1993 post-Cold War espionage thriller received widespread acclaim, with the Sun describing it as 'one of the greatest TV series of all time.' Adam Sisman, le Carré's biographer, wrote in the Torygraph, 'It is more than twenty years since the novel was published and in that time two film companies have tried and failed to adapt it, concluding that it was impossible to compress into two hours. This six-hour television adaptation is long enough to give the novel its due. And, although Hugh Laurie may seem a surprising choice to play "the worst man in the world", he dominates the screen as a horribly convincing villain.' The Night Manager was, as the Gruniad said: 'As sexed up as television drama comes.' In Laurie and Tom Hiddleston as the drama's nominal hero, Jonathan Pine, it had bona fide international stars and in le Carré's source novel it had a pedigree of untouchable grandeur. The dramatic palette was sumptuous and, in its focus of international arms dealing, jaundiced and angry. Despite a superb ensemble cast - Olivia Colman, David Harewood, Tom Hollander, Elizabeth Debicki, Tobias Menzies, Neil Morrissey, Russell Tovey et al - it was Laurie's vulpine, sarcastically layered performance as Richard Roper that gave The Night Manager its magnetic power. The audience barely saw him for the first three quarters of the opening episode, a delayed gratification trick which worked magically when he did, finally, show up throwing in atom bombs of acid-wit from the sidelines.
    Hiddleston's performance, as the embodiment of the show's atmosphere of paralysed establishment glamour, was equally The Business. The Old Etonian pairing of Laurie and Hiddleston was a combination which was both brilliant and sexy, wringing the most out of David Farr's complex script and luxuriating in the high-definition locales of Switzerland, Morocco, Spain, Egypt, Turkey and London, all beautifully directed by Susanne Bier. One got the impression that just about everyone involved in project was - at least subconsciously - doing an audition for potential work on the Bond franchise at some stage in the future. A - deserved - winner of two EMMYs, The Night Manager was a perfect antidote to those uppity Middle Class hippy Communist bores at the Gruniad Morning Star and the Independent with their unhealthy arse-licking of each and every American flavour of the month DVD box-set. A necessary knee-to-the-groin of the notion that British television can't be classy, expensive and just a bit dangerous. Every time the Daily Scum Mail tutted about The Night Manager's twenty million knicker cost (it was a co-production with AMC), the Beeb could point to massive viewing figures and a six week period in February and March when every Sunday night was followed by a Monday morning full of the kind of watercooler discussions that many of us in the industry thought were a thing of the past. At least, if they didn't involve dancing or baking cakes. And the dialogue was stunning: 'I run a tight ship. If you step out of line I will make you howl for your mother!' Another series? God, Keith Telly Topping hopes not. Don't mess with near-perfection, it will only end in tears.
2. Sherlock
'I saw you die. Why aren't you dead?' 'Because it's not the fall that kills you, Sherlock. Of all people, you should know that. It's never the fall. It's the landing!' Twenty two hours into 2016 and we'd already had our New Year's Day shaken up and been smacked in the collective mush with a wet haddock by a one-off episode of Sherlock so clever and darkly layered that we'd seen a more than decent contender for the best TV episode of the year. The Abominable Bride would win the Primetime EMMY for Outstanding Television Movie; it pulled in a consolidated audience of over eleven-and-a-half million punters in the UK alone, was simultcast in cinemas in more than one hundred countries worldwide and provided The Special People with something new to sneer about and twist their faces like someone sucking on a lemon. Which, let's face it, is always a good laugh. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat's brilliantly realised 'alternative timeline' for Sherlock and John, relocated their modernist vision of Arthur Conan Doyle's world back into Victorian London (as, we ultimately discovered, a series of drug-induced hallucinations).
    It had something for everyone; a continuation of Sherlock's ongoing story-arc for the fans, a handsome period setting for Downton Abbey lovers and a dash of pseudo-psychoanalytical malarkey to satisfy the critics. Of course, some whingers hated it and told anyone that would listen (and, anyone that wouldn't) exactly how much they hated it. That took up most of 2 January. Fortunately, no one is particularly interested in what a handful of sour-faced malcontents on Facebook and Twitter think. Cumberbatch and Freeman were, of course, magnificent in subtle variants of the characters. There were Doyle-fanboy in-jokes aplenty (Mrs Hudson never saying anything and existing solely as a prop to progress the narrative) and some delicious pricking of the hides of sacred cows. It was funny, it was adventurous, it was political and every time you thought it might, just, be in danger of disappearing up its own bum, The Abominable Bride would pull out another dramatic trick to keep the whole thing just the right side of outrageous. And, what of the future? The fourth series is in the can and will be broadcast early in 2017. After that, who knows? There will be periodic screamed tabloid headlines and everything that Benny says in public will be picked apart and earnestly over-analysed for signs of contradiction. Until the fifth series eventually comes along and we can all get ourselves worked up into a frenzy again. 'Elementary, my dear Watson!'
3. Game Of Thrones
'Thousands of men don't need to die. Only one of us.' The sixth series of HBO's epic fantasy drama - with the sex and the violence, ooh, lovely - rapidly moved forward the numerous ongoing stories of Game Of Thrones' 'cast of many' and, after the slightly less-impressive than previous years fifth series, recovered its poise, its dramatic teeth and its sense of danger. Plus, it retained the one thing it had never lost (even if only slightly), the ability to throw in really good jokes at least five times per episode (usually after a particularly vicious beheading). Yes, possibly the Arya-in-Braavos strand meandered a bit (well, no, it meandered a lot, actually). Yes, removing Daenerys from Meereen - and, as a consequence, away from Tyrion and Varys - for half the series was jolly frustrating. Yes, Jon Snow's resurrection appeared to be rather cheaply earned, particularly after such a dramatic conclusion to the previous series. But, the highlights they did come up with - the blowing up of half of King's Landing with wildfire; The Hound cheerfully murdering his way through The Riverlands; the battle for Winterfell - were spectacular and brilliant and kept everyone hooked for ten weeks. Particularly the latter which took up the majority of the series' penultimate episode and ended with one of the most thoroughly deserved, and yet oddly unsatisfactory, deaths of a major villainous character in a TV series ever with Ramsey Bolton getting, quite literally, fed to the dogs.
    This blogger was, he must admit, something of a late convert to Game Of Thrones and found himself becoming, last Christmas, one of those awful people who gets into a series via a box-set of the first forty odd episodes picked up cheap on eBay four years after all of his friends. Yes, dear blog reader, in 2016 Keith Telly Topping became a Gruinad Morning Star-style 'isn't American TV like todally graayyyd?' bore for the second time (he was, admittedly, one of the originators of the species a decade-and-a-half ago, in a previous life, when he was writing books about Buffy The Vampire Slayer and The West Wing). The future of the series is, of course, the subject of regular - and hysterical - speculation on the Interweb. Two further series are planned. One, containing but seven episode, is currently in production and will, likely, be broadcast next summer. The producers believe that they have 'about fifteen hours' of story left to tell. Will this include Arya finally getting to see the rest of what's left of her family? Bran walking again? Cersei dying, horribly? Brienne and Jamie running off hand-in-gilded-steel-hand into the sunset? Daenerys and Yara nakedly lezzing things up? (The latter is unlikely but, let's face it, there isn't a text which wouldn't be improved by that.) Will it, in short, be an end that, actually, makes sense and satisfies everyone? No chance. But, millions will be there to watch it unfold. Like the man said: 'The things we do for love.'
4. The Hollow Crown
'Conscience is but a word that cowards use, devised at first to keep the strong in awe.' The Henry VI trilogy comprises what is generally considered by the cognoscenti to be the least-loved of Shakespeare's histories. In the theatre their contorted politics – featuring many characters named after counties – can feel like trying to run a marathon through mud in a really big maze. The second series of The Hollow Crown – following on from the four plays, culminating in Henry V, which the BBC adapted to great acclaim in 2012 - tidied the Henry VI plays into two films, followed by the epic Richard III. The result, was moreishly thrilling. It was, as the Gruniad's Mark Lawson opined, 'as good as TV Shakespeare can get.' Of course, the big selling point for the series - not least in terms of teenage Chinese girls - was the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the 'humpbacked spider.' His performance, of course, was breathtaking (more McKellan than Olivier). He needed to be in a cast which also included the likes of Sophie Okonedo (fantastically over-the-top as Queen Margaret), Hugh Bonneville, Tom Sturridge, Adrian Dunbar, Samuel West, Michael Gambon, Anton Lesser, Jason Watkins, Keeley Hawes, Philip Glenister, David Troughton, Sam Troughton, Ben Daniels, Judi Dench and Benny's Sherlock mucker, Andrew Scott.
    One particular sequence featuring Cumberbatch stood out. Tap, tap, went the ring on King Richard's finger on his chessboard, its paranoid drumming taking viewers to The Tower and to the merciless killings that Richard had ordered of his pre-teen nephews, the most dreadful of all the deaths across the plays. 'The muffled groans of child-murder were spliced with shots of the actor's face, which reformed itself from pointed intent to flabby stupefaction at his own degeneracy,' noted the Torygraph. 'Cumberbatch had never done bad better.' This was a Richard who knew he could never keep the prize he had spent his life working towards for long; a flawed psychopath who recognised the horror of his sins even as he was remorselessly committing them. When he died in the mud bellowing for a horse, he was the most self-loathing of men, as well as he was loathed by the forces of The Red Rose. The cycle of plays were produced by the same team which had made the first series and were directed by Dominic Cooke in some gorgeous locations - Dover Castle, Leeds Castle and Penshurst Place. Executive producer Pippa Harris stated, 'The critical and audience reaction to The Hollow Crown set the bar high for Shakespeare. By filming the Henry VI plays as well as Richard III, we will allow viewers to fully appreciate how such a monstrous tyrant could find his way to power, bringing even more weight and depth to this iconic character.'
5. Peaky Blinders
'How many sons have you cut, killed, murdered, butchered, both innocent and guilty to send them straight to hell?' It is 1924 and Tommy Shelby, recently married, is caught in a dangerous web of international intrigue as he battles with forces that threaten to split his family apart. The riveting, fast-paced tale of post-Great War Birmingham gangsters suffered, slightly, from the 'difficult third series' syndrome, taking a couple of episodes to set up a bunch of new characters before plunging the audience into the manic ultraviolence and intricate plotting of the second half of the series. The acting was as fantastic as you'd expect from a cast of this quality. Special mentions should be given to Paul Anderson's guilt-ridden Arthur, Helen McCrory's broken Polly, Finn Cole's terrifying Michael, Tom Hardy's violent and unpredictable Alfie, Paddy Considine's complex, conflicted Father John and, of course, Cillian Murphy, who was outstanding once again and dominated every scene he was in and most of those he wasn't, even if only by suggestion. The use of celebrated überfan, the late David Bowie's 'Lazarus' to accompany the scene in episode five of a beaten Tommy sliding in and out of consciousness, was stunning though, again, it's only what we've come to expect from a series with Nick Cave taking us into each episode.
    One thing that Peaky Blinders has always been very good at is its series finales. This year was no exception, as Tommy raced against time to save his kidnapped son, facing his tunnelling demons and revealing the entertaining truth about the great jewel robbery in the process. But the most powerful moment came at the end, as a physically and emotionally battered Shelby summoned his family and went full-on Michael Corleone on their sorry asses, dashing money across the table, reminding everyone that if they 'take the King's shilling' then they've agreed to kill, before dropping the bombshell that they are all about to be arrested. But, like Michael Caine in The Italian Job, he has a plan. 'I've learned something in the last few days. Those bastards are worse than us. Politicians, lords and ladies, they're all worse than us and they will never admit us to their palaces no matter how legitimate we become because of who we are and where we're from.' Finally, after all of his dreams of betterment, at his darkest moment Tommy Shelby became what he was always destined to be, a class warrior. Two further series have already been commissioned although, quite where creator Steven Knight can take the story from here is anyone's guess.
6. Only Connect/University Challenge
Whoever it was in the BBC2 scheduling department that decided to put the channel's two most cerebral and Reithian quiz programmes back-to-back really does deserve their Christmas bonus. The combination of the long-running University Challenge, in which those few students in the UK who aren't out drinking themselves to oblivion every night face questioning from the man who makes hardened politicians cry for their mummy, and the gloriously multi-levelled Only Connect, is enough to give the educationally challenged cephalic pain and a massive inferiority complex. But, for those who enjoy watching smart people in the act of being smart and who aren't terrified by the prospect of actually learning something, for an hour on Monday nights, they are given a necessary reminder that television which educates, informs and entertains all at the same time didn't end in the 1950s. Of course there are those who never got beyond GCSE Grade Five Woodwork who sneer that their licence fee is being used for something other than BBC3; critics accuse University Challenge of being 'elitist' and Only Connect of 'smugness'. Neither of which is remotely true and, even if they are, neither are the greatest crimes in a world in which intelligence often seems to be a dirty word for those who possess little or none. Paxman's occasional bursts of comedy irritation on the former and the divine Victoria Coren Mitchell's saucy bon mots on the latter have aided in both gaining a cult following but, at the end of the day, it's the contestants, the questions and those few - but delicious - moments when the viewer gets an answer right before the smart kids that make both compulsive and rewarding.
7. Line Of Duty
'I'll take your Human Rights Act and I'll raise you section four of the Protection From Harassment Act, 1997. Your offence under that act carries a maximum prison sentence of five years. I'll see you in court.' The third series of Jed Mercurio's police anti-corruption procedural had a big act to follow on from 2014's award-winning previous run. Joining series regulars Martin Compston, Vicky McClure, Adrian Dunbar, Craig Parkinson and, in later episodes quite literally from beyond the grave, Keeley Hawes, this time around was a guest cast which included the superb Daniel Mays, Polly Walker, Jonas Armstrong and Shaun Parkes. It was, according to the Daily Scum Express 'BBC2's most successful series in fifteen years' in terms of ratings and drew plaudits from critics at newspapers as diverse as the Standard ('one of the most authentic shows on the box') and the Gruniad ('one of the most interesting things about this show is the way it strives so hard to create an air of realism – the interrogations, the jargon, the integration of real-life events – only to undercut it all in the name of drama'). Plus, a wholly manufactured 'outrage' story from the Daily Scum Mail over a ten-second glimpse of a photo featuring Jimmy Savile. Which, within a fortnight, even the Scum Mail itself was backing away from whilst, at the same time, praising the series of its daring plotlines.
    Within the space of six episodes the series covered ground ranging from the death of Danny Waldron to Lindsay Denton's release from prison to uncovering historic child sex abuse and a police cover-up. 'In a week where the Hillsborough inquest raised, once more, the question of who polices the police, Line Of Duty's themes of corruption, Masonic links and widespread cover-ups have struck a chord with viewers,' the Scum Mail noted. 'The mood in Line Of Duty is relentlessly downbeat, the dialogue often sparse and blunt, while endemic drabness and bad haircuts seep into every scene. However, despite the endless grimness, this complex, claustrophobic series has become a classic.' Whilst Line Of Duty may not have the budget American dramas, the quality of script-writing, direction and acting is up there with the very best of them. The level of detail and authenticity - which has been praised by many serving police officers - goes to show that this isn't a run-of-the-mill procedural but something very different. Something which is worth the effort and putting up with the occasion leaps of logic. A fourth series is in production and will, this blogger predicts, attract a massive audience all over again.
8. Workers Or Shirkers? Ian Hislop's Victorian Britain
Often the closest thing this nation has to a moral compass on Have I Got News For You and the maker of superb - and, properly Reithian - BBC documentaries, the humourist, historian and Private Eye editor Ian Hislop's entertaining and provocative look at Victorian attitudes to the poor shed a sharp light on today's society. Controversial benefits cuts, anxieties about scroungers, sensational newspaper reports, arguments about who does and does not deserve welfare. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Hislop - shedding his trademark caustic demeanour for most of the hour - explored the views of five individuals whose Victorian attitudes remain incredibly resonant in the Twenty First Century as much as they were in the Nineteenth and Twentieth. Pioneer of the workhouse Edwin Chadwick feared that hand-outs would lead to scrounging and sought to make sure that workers were always better-off than the unemployed. That sounds fair enough - but was his solution simply too unfeeling? James Greenwood, Britain's first undercover reporter, made poverty a cause célèbre long before Dickens made interest in the subject fashionable - but, was and, indeed is, that kind of journalism voyeuristic? Helen Bosanquet, an early social worker, believed that poverty was caused by 'bad character', that some people were simply more deserving of help than others. Bosanquet came to blows with Beatrice Webb, who took a more economic view of the causes of poverty, leading her to argue for the foundations of the welfare state. Finally, even if we want to be generous, are there limits to how much we can afford? That dilemma faced Margaret Bondfield, Britain's first female cabinet minister who, despite her impeccable Socialist credentials, advocated controversial welfare cuts in the 1930s, a time of national austerity.
    Wrestling with these questions with his customary mix of light touch and big ideas, Ian had some revealing conversations with the properly hateful Iain Duncan Smith (at the time of the interview, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions), Deirdre Kelly (from Benefits Street), Owen Jones and Tristram Hunt MP. The programme got some unexpected front-page coverage when, during his interview with Duncan Smith, Ian's gentle - but perceptive - probing of a man whose attitude to those less fortunate than himself always appears callous and indifferent brought unexpected results. Recalling an encounter with a nineteen-year-old single mother who had already 'written off her life,' Duncan Smith was suddenly moved to tears. As the odious slapheed snivelled and blubbed, Hislop looked as surprised as the viewers – though, not terribly sympathetic. Between the recording of the interview and its broadcast, of course, Duncan Smith resigned from the government - allegedly in protest at welfare cuts although more realistically, over conflicting views with cabinet colleagues about the EU Referendum. What could have been a dry subject came engagingly to life. The graphics recalled Terry Gilliam's surreal cut-out animations for Monty Python's Flying Circus. Hislop gamely hopped between pubs and homeless shelters and rattled buckets for the cause. When he swept rubbish off the streets of London, a passing motorist shouted: 'About time you did some proper work!' Ultimately, the programme's central theme was that arguments about welfare are as old as welfare itself. Indeed, the terms of the debate have barely changed in two centuries. Head or heart? Hand-up or handout? The workhouses might now be heritage museums but the dilemmas remain. But, it took someone with Hislop's sense of natural justice to articulate the debate above bland rhetoric and make it real rather than theoretical.
9. The Fall
'You perform for me, your psychiatrist, even your family. [It's] all just one big performance as protection against the dreaded black hole of your heart.' Series three of The Fall concluded with a sickening thud as the serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) inflicted upon himself the horrible fate that he had previously reserved for his victims. Coolly informed by his nemesis, Stella Gibson (Gillan Anderson), that he was nothing more than an empty vessel disguised as a person, he took the observation to heart. With nauseating efficiency, The Belfast Strangler placed a plastic bag over his head, fashioned a noose from Doctor Larson's pilfered belt and, with barely a murmur, he was gone. It was a properly downbeat ending and those viewers holding out for a neat, or at least vaguely hopeful, resolution may have felt cheated. Certainly, after the episode, Twitter witnessed a good deal of wailing and kicking of TV sets. As Stella gazed at Spector's dead body - in much the same voyeuristic and disturbing way that he had once looked down on Sarah Kay's corpse after he'd strangled her - it was as if The Fall was revealing its circular nature. All along we had been watching a metaphysical examination of the nature of evil rather than tucking into a ratings-winning thriller. As Spector himself asked in that infamous camcorder scene from the second series, 'Why the fuck are you watching this? You sick shit, what the fuck is wrong with you?' In its own grim and terrible way, The Fall had made us all into Paul Spector's accomplices, just like poor deluded Katie Benedetto. After all he had done, it was of course unthinkable that Spector would ever find any form of redemption. But, creator Allan Cubitt was no less assiduous in denying the rest of his characters a happy ending either. Spector's children had lost a (genuinely loving) father while Katie would wear the emotional scars of her relationship with him for the rest of her life. Meanwhile the melancholic Stella ended up alone in her London kitchen, drinking wine, her expression blank and drained and her future in the force uncertain. In Cubitt's cruel and unusual universe nobody gets to walk into the sunset with a smile on their face.
    The Fall always functioned best as a slow-motion dance between killer and policewoman. As for the future, Spector is dead but Stella remains very much with us and Gillian has indicated that she is open to a fourth series ('I'm excited by the idea of potentially revisiting it in a few years, to see what transpires in Stella's life afterwards'). Cubitt, too, has said that he has 'ideas' for a new Fall series beyond Spector. Of course, the series has been controversial from the start, particularly the genuinely annoying whinging of that dreadful Radio Times woman. This year, Doon Mackichan described it as 'crime porn' (though conceding that it was 'beautifully shot'). Cubitt defended himself against such crass charges ('I don't know how you could possibly argue The Fall is misogynistic. The Fall sets out to critique these things. My mantra was always that we shouldn't sensationalise it, but we shouldn't sanitise it either') whilst noting that in three full series and seventeen episode, one female murder had been shown on-screen, as opposed to the deaths of about half-a-dozen men. And, of course, some tosser of no importance at the Gruniad felt it was time to make 2014's 'flavour of the week' into 2016's dead dog of a show ('once, The Fall was a sexy, unbearably tense thriller. Now, it's proof that everyone is stupid and nobody learns anything. It really stings when good TV goes bad'). Most other critics - the Mirra's, for instance - loved it and the drama's consolidated audience remained, broadly, at the same level as series two. Perhaps the most incisive critique of The Fall came from The Salon which described the series as 'subversively feminist' adding: 'What makes The Fall unique to crime dramas, where the murder victims are mostly women, is Stella's modus operandi: she never seeks male approval and behaves in ways the men around her seem to believe is only their domain, while calling them on their sexism.' It's also notable that, as this blogger wrote way back in series one: 'Does it "dehumanise" women by wallowing in its own alleged misogyny as some critics argue? This blogger's maleness works against him in attempting to answer that with anything approaching the balance such a question properly deserves although the fact that many of The Fall's most strident naysayers appear to be men (that dreadful Radio Times woman being an notable exception) and, its audience profile being sixty one per cent female according to a recent survey, merely demonstrates the complexity of the issues that The Fall deals with and the murky waters which it swims in.' If there is one thing that The Fall always proved it was that it is the job of drama producers and writers to give the viewers what they need to see, whether they want it - or, even, deserve it - or not.
10. Pompeii: New Secrets Revealed With Mary Beard/Mary Beard's Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limits
'The story of the Roman empire opens with a fairytale.' From The North favourite, the classicist, author and broadcaster Mary Beard produced two superb documentaries for the BBC this year to the delight of the millions of fans she acquired with her 2012 series Meet The Romans. With unparalleled access to Pompeii and featuring modern technology, New Secrets Revealed saw viewers guided through amazing slices of the ancient world. For the first time, CT scanning and x-ray equipment brought new light to the secrets of the victims of the 79AD eruption. Mary unpacked the human stories behind the tragic figures - the gladiators, slaves, businesswomen and children who died beneath the ashes of Vesuvius. She also went behind the scenes of The Great Pompeii Project, where restoration teams have gradually removed the layers of time and deterioration from the frescoes and mosaics of houses closed to the public for decades. And with the help of scanning technology, Pompeii was seen and explained like never before. It was film which was, like Mary's previous work, a celebratory and unique view of life in an extraordinary town.
    The four-part Empire Without Limits for BBC2 asked an obvious question: Just how could a mediocre city state in Central Italy come to dominate three quarters of the known world in less that two centuries? And, what held the empire together and then tore it apart? In the past, Beard has argued that modern histories of Rome are contextualised within the attitudes, world views and purposes of their authors and that her own work is no exception. 'The most subversive and impish of dons has returned to Rome,' noted the Gruniad's Chitra Ramaswamy. 'Watch her enter the gladiatorial ring of primetime telly and square up to epitaphs, launch herself at city walls and make the past as moreish as an episode of Game Of Thrones. This time Beard is rewriting Roman imperialism with a glint in her eye and a pair of silvery hi-tops on her feet. Ignore the macho and American-sounding title: Empire Without Limit is a thoughtful and resolutely British series that, like its predecessors, deserves to draw in viewers by the million.' 'Mary Beard has a great facility for bringing history to life through small details,' added the Torygraph. 'Her focus in this series may be shifting away from her usual stock in trade to look at the overall geopolitical, economic and cultural legacy of the Roman empire, but her method and success as a TV historian remain the same. Her unrelenting enthusiasm for her subject and ability to find the universal in the intimate moments of everyday life and death allow her to traverse the millennia with ease and give us in the Twenty First Century a tangible sense not only of how Romans lived, but how they thought and felt.' Mary's ability to transform her TV tutorials into entertainment and her sense of happy enjoyment carried both shows, so that we as an audience hear all the references to Carthage, Pompey The Great and Vercingetorix without the uncomfortable feeling of being a teenager stuck in a History O Level class and wondering what time the bell will go. She also has an uncanny knack for drawing parallels between ancient history and current headlines. A reference to genocide in Gaul was not glib: she calculated that Roman troops slaughtered up to a million Celts across modern-day France, a death toll to match the slaughter in, say, Rwanda during the Nineties. You don't need to be a history wonk like this blogger to appreciate Mary Beard's TV oeuvre, but a degree in humanity and empathy probably helps. Thankfully, it appears there are still enough people possessing both to ensure this brilliant woman a lengthy career.
11. Poldark/Victoria
The Sunday night 'ratings-war' between two costumes dramas both produced by different branches of ITV Studios occupied more tabloid column inches that such a thin and weak story deserved (Victoria 'won' during the eight-week head-to-head - usually by about a million punters per episode - although it was noticeable that Poldark's already perfectly decent audience shot-up once Victoria ended with four episodes of the BBC drama still to be broadcast). Poldark's second series, again drew praise for the Cornish locations though, this year, Aiden Turner not getting the top-half of his kit off sent Twitter bores into apoplexy and then there was the - wholly manufactured - 'Shock! Horror! Probe!' malarkey over the filming of the infamous 'Ross rapes Elizabeth (or does he?)' sequence in Winston Green's original source novel. With, inevitably, some people with an agenda smeared an inch thick all over their collective mush whinging, loudly, about it despite the scene being praised by Green's son who noted: 'There is no "shock rape" storyline in the novels. To say so is to misconstrue my father's text. The BBC has cut nothing and Mammoth Screen's portrayal of these scenes is entirely true to my father's writing.' Still, a day wouldn't be a day without a right-wing scum newspaper quoting someone finding fault with the Beeb.
    By contrast, the main controversy concerning ITV's Victoria was over whether Jenna Coleman was prettier than the woman she was playing. Because, as we all know, Twitter is The Sole Arbiter Of The Worth Of All Things, don't we? At least, according to the Gruniad Morning Star. And, once again, dear blog reader, let us simply stand up and salute the utter shite that some people chose to care about. Plus, one of the producers of The Crown (see below) thought that a sure-fire way to get more people watching his drama was to criticise the hard work of other TV industry professionals on Victoria. 'The scale and ambition of what we were doing is just so much greater,' Andrew Eaton claimed, in a style rather reminiscent of The School Snitch. 'There were certain things that we were very keen to avoid, the worst being "soapy" at all. I think there's a little bit more historical licence on Victoria, where they're sort of happy to do that, just to bring people in.' Because, of course, getting an audience to watch what you're making is a crime, isn't it? Hateful and agenda-soaked gobshittery of this kind aside, however, both Poldark and Victoria were exactly what you'd except from a pair of British Sunday night costume dramas - sumptuously shot and designed, beautifully acted and massively popular. Both have been, not unexpectedly, recommissioned for further series.
12. The Olympics/Paralympics/The Last Leg Live From Rio
The BBC's coverage of the Rio Olympics and Channel Four's similar televising of the Paralympics a few weeks later were never going to hit either the emotional or the ratings heights of London four years earlier (the fact that much of the action took place in the early hours of the morning, UK time, notwithstanding). But, both - despite the whinges of those bores who couldn't or wouldn't appreciate the success of the British team(s) due to political rhetoric or anti-sport dogma - justified the time and resources devoted to the event(s) by both channels. For everyone who stayed up late into the wee small hours to celebrate outstanding success in the velodrome, the pool or the stadium - and there were millions of them - there were the traditional rewards, the unlikely back-stories, the tears, the triumphs and the moments when someone's four years of hard work ended with a belly-flop, a false start or a really scary bike crash. Plus, there was laughing at the increasingly desperate tall-tales of Ryan Lochte, obviously. Clare Balding enhanced her reputation as a genuine National Treasure fronting both channels' schedules. Dan Walker brought humour, binmen and a hen party to BBC4's witty and off-beat coverage of all the sports BBC1 and BBC2 couldn't fit in (gosh, those Norwegian handball girls were well-fit), whilst we all gasped at the achievements of Sir Bradley (King of the Mods), Magic Mo, Big Usain, Jade Jones and those athletes from Fiji, Jordan, Kosovo, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Tajikistan, Côte D'Ivoire and Viet'nam winning their first ever gold medals.
   At the Paras, it was the same story only with even more extraordinary back-stories and the achievements of Jonnie Peacock, Sarah Storey, Alex Zanardi, Kadeena Cox, Liam Malone and that Azerbaijani wrestler who won his country's only gold and went effing off-it in celebration. The Paralympics were inspiring stuff and that was also well-reflected in C4's nightly The Last Leg Live From Rio with Adam Hills, Josh Widdecombe and Alex Brooker (and their guests), finding humour and magnificence in equal doses. It was, as some Gruniad-type person, said: 'Often tasteless, sometimes awkward, always funny.' As the BBC's website noted, The Last Leg continued to take mainstream viewers 'to dark and delightfully surprising places' which 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.' In that, not only did The Last Leg compliment Channel Four's coverage, it actually helped to justify it on a broader and entirely patronising-free level.
13. Have I Got News For You
In the year of Brexit, May replacing Cameron, Boris becoming Foreign Secretary, President Trump and, worst of all, Toblerone changing the size of their triangular chocolate we needed Have I Got News For You and its caustic and cynical view of the week's news more than ever before. On the first episode after Trump's election, for example, guest host Charlie Brooker summed it all up better than a thousand editorials: 'In the news this week ... ARRRGGGHHH!!!!' It's been said before but it probably bears repeating this year of all years; there really isn't too much wrong with a country's democratic credentials when it can produce a topical satire that takes the piss out of everyone - including, oftentimes, itself. So, Hislop acts as the voice of a vaguely disgusted grown-up watching petulant public displays of childish daftness and Paul Merton provides a surreal alternative which suggests that in a world which frequently seems insane the only thing you can really do to rise above the insanity is to celebrate it. Some guests work better than others, of course and some hosts do likewise. That's the nature of the beast. But, when it's on form, it's blistering and thought-provoking and hilarious all at the same time. When it's angry - as is was in the immediate aftermath of Brexit - it was worth a hundred episodes of Question Time and a million issues of the Gruniad. When it sees the world as a grotesque and dangerous place which can only be understood by laughing at the caprices of those in positions of authority who pretend they know what they're doing, it works best of all. Like the episode just before the EU Referendum when Hislop spent about five minutes neatly outlining the pros-and-cons of the issues involved. 'And, they're leaving the decision up to us?' asked Jason Manford, horrified. 'We know nothing, we can't even name a boat without cocking it up!' Have I Got News For You, dear blog reader. The programme that speaks for the genuinely bewildered in all of us.
14. The X-Files
'Scully, since we've been away, much of the "unexplained" has been explained. The "Death Valley Racetrack"? Turns out it was just ice formations, moving the rocks around as it melted. Humility prevents me from recounting how I once thought it had something to do with a series of mysterious sightings of a rock-like creature in Colorado which turned out to just be a publicity stunt by a local landscaping business. It's amazing, going through these archives with fresh eyes, how many of these cases, whether it's "The Amarillo Armadillo Man" or "The Hairy Whatsit of Walla-Walla" can be explained away as fraternity pranks, practical jokes or people making stuff up simply because they're bored and/or crazy. And, if that doesn't explain it, well then it was probably just ice.' 'Mulder, have you been taking your meds?!'
   The revival of one of the most popular and important cult dramas of the 1990s for a six episode mini-series was bookended by two episodes written by The X-Files creator, Chris Carter. Predictably, both - but, particularly the latter - were weighed down and all-but suffocated by all the things which used to irritate even the series' biggest fans back in the day (and, this blogger counts himself among that number); over-complex ongoing conspiracy-malarkey, more questions than answers and sudden changes of character motivation for no obvious reason. The fifth episode, Babylon (another Carter), was also problem-heavy with a potentially fascinating plot rather screwed up by aesthetics and far too much 'politics for the under-fives' in its terrorism subplot. Whether it was also Islamophobic - as has been claimed by some of the episode's harsher critics - this blogger will leave up to individual viewers' tastes. Personally, Keith Telly Topping was less offended by that than by the episode's internal logic having holes big enough to pilot of A Really Big Bloody Spaceship through. Thankfully, the three episodes in the middle of this potential shit sandwich - the none-Chris Carter ones - were all corkers and reminded everyone what was so great about The X Files in the first place and why it became the phenomena that it did. Basically, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, James Wong, Glen Morgan and Darin Morgan. The latter's episode, Mulder & Scully Meet The Were-Monster - with a brilliant guest appearance by Rhys Darby - recalled the writer's wonderful quartet of episodes during The X Files' first run (Humbug, Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, War Of The Coprophages and Jose Chung's From Outer Space) in its willingness to introduce humour and self-mockery into The X Files traditionally po-faced world. And, to treat Fox Mulder as a raving lunatic! Alex McCown of The AV Club website called the episode 'an instant classic' and concluded that it was 'a brilliant and empathetic justification of the series' return' and 'makes the case for why The X-Files is still worth having around.'
    FOX were, reportedly, delighted with the mini-series' ratings and are said to be keen for more. Previous notions of X-Files revivals - the very poor second film notwithstanding - have usually depended on the state of yer man Duchovny's career. When Californication was doing well, he wasn't interested in the slightest. When Aquarius appeared to be on the verge of cancellation, suddenly, he was. To be fair, at least David gave this series his full A-Game, unlike those later episodes of the original series when he was often phoning it in from a different time zone. From The North favourite Gillian, of course, was never-less-than superb, effortlessly finding room in her busy schedule to bring Dana Scully back to life with wit, charm and - in Darin Morgan's episode - a genuinely disturbing sexuality! So, The X-Files after more than a decade away from your tellybox returned and was much like it was the first time around - patchy, sometimes up-its-own-arse but, just occasionally (and, enough times to make it worthwhile) brilliant. 'We've been given another case, Mulder ... It has a monster in it!'
15. Qi/Qi XL
In the early months of 2016 it was announced that two long-running and popular BBC factual formats would be changing their hosts and, much evidence suggested, the main reason why many of those who watched the shows in question, did so. Jezza Clarkson, post-fracas, was leaving Top Gear and Stephen Fry was stepping down as host of Qi after thirteen years. Could either survive such a significant change of identity? Well, Top Gear struggled - see below - as many of us suspected it would. Qi, on the other hand, made a very headline-grabbing decision to replace Stephen with the excellent Sandi Toksvig. In doing so, Qi became the first quiz show on British TV to feature a woman as its regular 'face'. Whether, in 2016, that really was 'a story', per se is another matter but, thankfully, in choosing Sandi - sharped-witted and amusing-if-sometimes-caustic tongued - Qi's producers managed to give a format which seemed to be doing just fine, a kick up the arse no one knew it needed. All of which goes to prove that if it ain't broke, don't fix it ... Unless it involves Sandi Toksvig, obviously. It took about ten minutes of the first episode until we got the moment. Sandi noted that one possible origin of the word 'quiz' is that it was, allegedly, created by the Irish theatre proprietor Richard Daly as a bet to see if he could get a word he'd made up into popular usage. 'So, when the police say they're quizzing a suspect, that's wrong isn't it?' asked Alan Davies. No, Sandi pointed out, because that use of 'quiz' comes from 'inquisitive' and 'inquisition.' 'You've got it! You're in the right chair,' Alan said with a sly grin concerning Sandi's illustrious predecessor. 'I've got a cold feeling now!' The audience loved it.
    Later, Alan came up with a correct answer about the word 'Nazi' having been coined by German exiles as an insult and, therefore, no self-respecting member of The Third Reich would have actually described themselves as such. 'All this time, you've been intimidated,' suggested guest Cariad Lloyd to an Alan now free from Stephen's clearly repressive influence. 'After fourteen years, he finally understands the format!' added Phill Jupitas. By episode three, it was clear that the change had worked brilliantly and the Sandi's relationship with Alan was subtly different to that he enjoyed - if that's the right word - with Stephen. He'd started winning episodes and much of the 'playing the fool' aspects of his performances had gone; no longer was Alan Davies Qi's The Zeppo. And he looked every bit as surprised by this as everyone else. When he answered a question - again, correctly - about the difference in sound between hot and cold water being poured an audience member let out an 'ooh, get her!' type squeal. 'They've taken to mocking me,' Davies noted. 'Since Stephen left they've turned! They're saying "no one's taking the piss out of that idiot, it's down to us!"' As Jezza Clarkson noted when guesting on another episode, 'this show is changing.' Yes. Not for the worse either. And, thank God for that, we were all quite worried there for a while.
16. Damned
'What's the recommended alcohol allowance for a twelve-year-old?' Just as Alan Davies was reminding us how funny he can be when he puts his mind to it on the latest Qi, the year also saw a demonstration of what a good comedy actor he is too in Channel Four's Damned. Now, if only we could forget the manifest horror of his rotten dog rescue show on Channel Five. Created by Jo Brand and Morwenna Banks and starring both along with Davies, Kevin Eldon and Izy Suttie, Damned, like Brand's previous BBC4 comedy, Getting On, takes a very unpromising situation to build its comedy around being set in the office of a Children's Social Services department. Much of the humour - both gentle and broad - will find sympathetic nods from anyone who has worked in an office (the archetypes are mostly universal) and Damned drew inevitable comparison to things like The Office and The Thick Of It. But, as the Torygraph's review suggested: 'Damned's vérité style nailed the mundanity of office life neatly: the ever-changing door code, the broken lifts and loos, the impenetrable phone system, the whiffy communal fridge, the meetings where the main interest is whether there'll be biscuits. Cutaway shots of cuddly toys gathering dust on a desk or custard creams floating in Styrofoam cups added to the air of everyday melancholy.' Damned does have its serious moments and the writers were careful to strike the balance between humour and sobriety. 'It was difficult to mix it, but that's the piece we wanted to write,' Banks told the Gruniad. 'We knew there'd be moments when it would be a bit shocking, as well as moments when it would be funny.' In the first couple of episodes, for example, Brand's character (Rose) visits an old school friend struggling to look after her critically-ill husband and grandchildren while her daughter is in rehab. And Al (Davies) grows concerned about the parental capabilities of a couple with learning difficulties after he tries to convince them their baby is too young to eat chocolate ice-cream.
    Many of the cases depicted in Damned are toned down versions of real-life situations the writers came across in their research. 'We spoke to social workers and asked: "So, would this happen or would that happen?" and they would come up with five things that were way more extreme,' Banks noted. Brand says that she has long-hoped to make social workers 'seem like real people' and address the negative stereotypes of 'Middle-Class, tweedy women' and 'hippy do-gooders.' The Gruniad, typically, got a 'Damned gets a mixed reception' story out of trawling Twitter for comments on the series by real social workers (some very supportive, some humourlessly negative), the - anonymous - author of whom should, frankly, be sodding ashamed to draw their wages for producing such a slovenly and plagiarised piece of stenography masquerading as journalism. By and large, most of the reviews were positive, particularly one from the Independent. Surprisingly, the Sun liked it too. Intended as a mordantly wry and bittersweet look into an unglamorous world, rather than a thigh-slapping, three-gags-a-minute romp, on that score, Damned succeeds admirably.
17. The Joy Of Data
'Who knew data could seem so magical, so sexy?' wrote the Gruniad's reviewer in July after BBC4's broadcast of mathematician Doctor Hannah Fry's eminently watchable think-piece documentary. A witty and mind-expanding exploration of data, this flashily-designed high-tech manifesto revealed what data is and how it is captured, stored, shared and made sense of. Hannah shared with the audience the story of the engineers of the data age, people most of us have never heard of despite the fact that they brought about a technological and philosophical revolution. For Hannah, the joy of data is found in spotting patterns. She sees data as the essential bridge between two universes - the tangible, messy world that we see and the clean, ordered world of mathematics, where everything can be captured beautifully with equations. The film revealed the connection between Scrabble scores and online movie streaming, explains why a herd of dairy cows are wearing pedometers and uncovered the network map of Wikipedia. If you click on the first link on a random Wikipedia page and then keep on clicking the first link of every subsequent page to which you are taken, you will eventually end up at the Wikipedia entry on 'philosophy' (usually within a maximum of twenty three pages). Trust Hannah, dear blog reader, it's 'a known thing' and works on everything from fluff to One Direction.
    The film hailed the contribution of Claude Shannon, the electrical engineer who, in an attempt to solve the problem of noisy telephone lines, devised a way to digitise information. Shannon single-handedly launched 'the information age'. Meanwhile, Britain's National Physical Laboratory hosted a race between its young apprentices in order to demonstrate how and why data moves quickly around modern networks. It's all thanks to techniques first invented there in the 1960s by Donald Davies - packet-switching. But what of the future? Should we be worried by the pace of change and what our own data could be used for? Ultimately, Fry concluded, data has empowered us. We must have machines at our side if we are to find patterns in the modern-day data deluge. But, she added, regardless of AI and machine learning, it will always take us to find meaning in them. 'Fry made data seem like some magical and benign force wafting around all of us: magnetic, unthreatening, a bit sexy. Like Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock, essentially,' gushed the Gruniad. '"I haven't always loved data," she confessed, seated at a desk lit by an Anglepoise lamp, with a black background on to which lots of graphics spooled, Sherlockily. The Wikipedia pattern made Fry realise the two parallel universes – the tangible, messy one and the clean, ordered, mathematical one – are connected by a bridge. And that bridge is data.' 'Information, by reducing uncertainty, may lead to knowledge,' the Torygraph added. 'Knowledge may lead to truth, truth to wisdom. And we're knee-deep in abstracts again – but Fry's programme succeeded in capturing some of the astonishment that the great steps forward in data and statistics must have held for their discoverers.' On the other hand, 'One of the worst things, certainly, is a person so passionate about a subject that they can't understand why anyone else isn't,' sneered some worthless phlegm of no importance at the Scum Express. A perfect illustration, if one were needed, that there are some people who simply don't deserve the television we in the UK enjoy. They have no depth, no nuance, just a rippling surface of shallow beige. The future, sadly, is probably theirs, dear blog reader. All we can do is celebrate those pieces of the present which give lie to such views. We owe it to ourselves and to those who, one day, will have to live in a post-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) world. It's a terrifying prospect. But then, Donald Trump is the President now. Perhaps the future is already here.
18. Gaga For Dada: The Original Art Rebels
To mark the one hundredth anniversary of Dada and as part of the BBC4 Goes Conceptual season, Vic Reeves - who, because he was being slightly more serious here than usual, was using his real name, Jim Moir - took viewers on 'an irreverent trip into the world of the influential avant-garde art movement.' And, he did it brilliantly. Absurd, provocative and subversive, Dada began as a response to the horrific madness of World War I. But its radical way of looking at the world inspired generations of artists, writers and musicians, from Monty Python's Flying Circus to punk rock and David Bowie to Banksy. Along the way, Vic/Jim restaged an early Dada performance in Zurich's Cabaret Voltaire, where the movement began. Among those joining him in his playful celebration of the Dadaists and their impact on art, culture and society were the likes of Armando Iannucci, Terry Gilliam, designer Neville Brody and artists Michael Landy and Cornelia Parker. 'It is great casting, and a reminder of how arty the comedy of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer always was,' wrote Jonathan Jones in the Gruniad. 'The duo have long walked the line between funny-peculiar and funny-haha - the same line walked by Dadaists.'
    'I first came across Dada at art school in the early eighties,' Vic confessed. 'It was funnier and more anarchic than anything else I discovered. And it didn't always have to make sense. Out of all the "isms," movements and manifestos of the Twentieth Century, it was the Dadaists who proved the most important – giving birth, not only to a lot of modern art, but also shaping comedy, music and political protest.' 'Vic Reeves, is no Kenneth Clark. Not even a Melvyn Bragg, but if you recall the style of unhinged comedy he created with [Bob] Mortimer, he is something of a Dadaist himself and, thus, ideally qualified to take us gently by the hand and guide us through what is, obviously and quite deliberately, some crazy stuff,' the Independent noted. In one scene Vic met the current owner of Cabaret Voltaire. Vic said it rather reminded him of the pub in New Cross where he started out in comedy. The only difference was the Dadaists drank absinthe whilst Vic and his mates drank lager. Yet the similarities were striking - before recreating a Dada performance dressed as a bishop, Vic recalled doing an early performance called I, Kestrel in which he dropped potatoes out of a cardboard box. Very Dada. He also claimed that he was once in a band which had no name but 'whiffed of curry.' If that wasn't Dada, this blogger doesn't know what is. Slightly disjointed, perhaps intentionally, the programme remained true to the movement it celebrated. Like much of Vic's work, Gaga For Dada was something of an acquired taste which fluctuated between bizarre wackiness and more subtle humour that delivered moments of genuine insight. Plus lots of laughs. Vic Reeves's career in a nutshell.
19. Gotham
'Enjoy the trip. It's going to be a bumpy ride!' There were times towards the end of its second series - the overlong 'Jim Gordon goes rogue' subplot - in which FOX's drama appeared in danger of losing the plot completely. Most of the subtle character arcs which had been building throughout the first series and a half (featured in both 2014 and 2015's From The North awards) stumbled and almost fell flat on their collective face. Those twin curses of many dramas, sudden chances of character motivation and rather unwelcome returns of not-particularly-interesting characters we thought we'd seen the back of (Fish Mooney, chiefly) threatened to derail what had, up until that point, been looking like a modern American TV classic. As viewers found themselves abandoned in the labyrinthine darkness of Hugo Strange's Indian Hill basement, they could have been forgiven for considering Gotham a lost cause. Mercifully, a couple of great episodes at the end of the series managed to sort most of the mess out and series three, late in the year, has taken the drama to a new level entirely. Developed by Bruno Heller (the man behind them much-missed The Mentalist), Gotham is, of course, based on the early lives of characters appearing in DC Comics' Batman franchise, primarily James Gordon and Bruce Wayne. It is also used to tell the origin stories of The Penguin, The Riddler, Catwoman, The Joker, Poison Ivy, The Scarecrow, Two-Face and Mister Freeze among others.
    Thankfully, even at its worst, the drama is still blessed with dozens of great performances; Sean Pertwee's tough, assertive Alfred, Donald Logue's cynical, world-weary Harvey Bullock, Camren Bicondova's streetwise, smart-mouthed Selina, Robin Lord Taylor's deliciously mad-as-a-box-of-frogs Penguin and Cory Michael Smith's schizoid proto-Riddler being merely the most obvious. Ben MacKenzie is fine as Gordon and the young Bruce Wayne (played with innocence but a growing teenage faux-naïf hardness by David Mazouz) and his journey to a Dark Knight future is both intriguing and compelling. Throw in the likes of Michael Chiklis, Morena Baccarin and Erin Richards going so far over-the-top she's down the other side, splendid direction, jet black humour and someone working in the music department with an obsession for British punk, post-punk and indie and you've got a winner on all sorts of levels. There was some criticism from the feminist end of the series' fandom over the decision to recast Poison Ivy from a teenager into a grown up and very sexy woman (Maggie Geha) although, amazingly, it actually worked (throwing a completely unexpected curveball into the developing relationship between Bruce and Selina along the way). But, it was the arrival of Benedict Samuel as the third series' first major new villain, Mad Hatter, that really got things going again. Captain Barnes's gradual descent into blood-madness, Gordon's return to the Gotham PD and the sheer oddness of Penguin's elevation to Mayor and his deranged - and successful - plans to get rid of Nygma's new girlfriend (who, of course, looks exactly like the previous one - the one he, you know, murdered) all helped. We even got half-an-episode featuring a psychedelic acid-trip as Gordon, drugged by Jervis Tetch, goes deep into the depths of his psyche with Barbara as his lift-girl, at one point wearing an extremely inappropriate naughty nurses outfit. What one Earth goes on in that head of yours, Jim? And, there are continuing hints about a forthcoming introduction for what is supposed to be the major player behind this series' events, The Court Of Owls. Gotham, on its best days, is as good as anything produced by US network telly and a decent majority of what the cable companies make. And, even on its occasional bad days, it's still fascinating. Just keep Fish Mooney out of the way for a while and you'll be all right.
20. Would I Lie To You?
Sneered at by dreadful people that you've never heard of on websites who think Jack Whitehall is funny, Would I Lie To You? (the Call My Bluff for the Twenty First Century) continues to do what TV comedy - at its best - always used to do; make ordinary people laugh without having to justify the niche that it fits into. Would I Lie To You? isn't a 'BBC3 - for youfs only' conceit (like the awful Sweat The Small Stuff) or a late-night Beeb2 'only enter if you're a Middle-Class hippy and knit your own quiche'-style snoot-fest (like the wretched Insert Name Here). It's mainstream, unpretentious and BBC1 which - automatically - works against it when it comes to reviewers. Hardly any bother to cover it very often and, those that do, are usually sniffy and disinterested. But, some do get it. 'David Mitchell, Lee Mack, Rob Brydon, these are funny people,' noted What's On TV? 'But the secret ingredient behind this comedy panel show is its easiness - the way David and Lee interact with each other and with Rob, the way they make the guests feel totally at home, even if they're not regulars on the funny circuit - like Bake Off's Nadiya Hussain or BBC News veteran John Simpson.' To be scrupulously fair, the Gruniad's Sam Wollaston is also a fan, writing a terrific review of that memorable episode featuring Shaun Ryder which concluded: 'Would I Lie to You? is still one of the nicest, funniest things on the telly.' Especially when the former Happy Mondays and Black Grape singer got in a brilliant one-liner at the conclusion of Henning Wehn's (true) story about buying an empty box from Argos without realising it. Ryder suggested that as anyone who shops in Argos will know, their boxes tend to be surprisingly light even if you're buying, like, a wardrobe or something. 'Are you an Argos man, Shaun?' asked Brydon. 'I used to be, big time' he replied. 'What stopped you?' 'Fame'!
     Would I Lie To You? is, as both Wollaston and the What's On TV? chap note, often the discovery of unexpected comic talent during the appearances of non-comedians that make for the show's greatest moments. Or, other times it's just Bob Mortimer's latest glorious stream-of-consciousness wander down the bridal path of sanity. 'Someone like Bob will tell a truth, but obviously you do wonder "well, how much of that is the truth?"' Brydon told the Radio Times. 'It could be a little bit annoying if you had someone else on and you thought "hang on a minute, they made that bit up." But with Bob, it doesn't seem to matter.' The same is true of, for instance, Rhod Gilbert who can make even the most straightforward - and true - part of his life sounds like a lie or visa versa (giving away a car to pay for some tapas being one tale you could go either way on). The Daily Lies wrote glowingly of the episode featuring June Brown and Aisling Bea and the show is a regular Radio Times staple for those annoying top ten lists of 'things we never knew before.' The 'Richard Osman once buried a badger with the banker off Deal Or No Deal' one remains both funny and, if you tell someone who thinks that's a euphemism for something, really wrong on all sorts of levels.
21. The Durrells/Home Fires
2016, by some miracle, was the year that ITV rediscovered how to make traditional Sunday night dramas again. It's taken them a while but, they finally got there. The Durrells, based on Gerald Durrell's widely-read autobiographical books about his family's four years on Corfu in the late 1930s, was scripted by Simon Nye and featured Keeley Hawes, Milo Parker, Josh O'Connor, Daisy Waterstone and Callum Woodhouse. Reception was extremely positive, with the Torygraph's Gerard O'Donovan describing it as 'a series that's not only sun-drenched and liberating, but also catches its source material's high good humour without labouring it and weaves an authentic sense of the innocent exoticism of the original.' The Daily Scum Mail loved it. In a five star-review it focused on the cast's performance, saying Hawes was 'magnificent as the indomitable, gin-sozzled widow Louisa,' before commenting on the show's 'cascade of Carry On humour.' The public fell for it, too with the opening episode having a consolidated audience of over eight million punters. Citing the show as being 'ITV's best rating new drama of the year and its highest rating new show since September 2014,' ITV immediately - and deservedly - recommissioned The Durrells for a second series.
    Helped, no doubt, by having The Durrells as its lead-in show, Homes Fires also shared The Durrells sense of warm - if not, exactly, cosy - nostalgia. Having debuted the year before, April's second series about the life of Women's Institute members on the Home Front during the Second World War also pulled in very decent audience figures, five million plus. Set in a rural Cheshire community, the series was inspired by Jambusters by Julie Summers and focused on a largely female cast, including notable actresses like Francesca Annis, Samantha Bond, Claire Rushbrook, Fenella Woolgar and Leanne Best. There were some interesting deviations from the sort of storylines the audience probably expected, including dark hints of domestic violence and poverty. It got good critique too, which made it all the more surprising when, just days after the broadcast of the final episode, ITV announced it was cancelling Home Fires. A network spokesman weaselled that, despite the show's success, 'the ITV commissioning team continues to refresh the channel's drama portfolio, hence the decision not to commission a further series.' Exactly the sort of nonsense that they normally say when they've just cancelled something which failed to get any sort of fanbase at all. A campaign to resurrect the show was immediately launched. To date, it has thirty thousand signatures though, sadly, as with all Internet petitions, it hasn't a hope in Hell of being successful. As the drama's creator, Simon Block, seemed to acknowledge in an interview with Radio Times. The cancellation sparked the ire, not just of viewers but also the Scum Express's Clair Woodward who fumed: 'The cancellation of Home Fires goes a little deeper than a group of disgruntled fans: into the way dramas popular with a female – and also slightly older – audience are treated.' She's got a point.
22. MasterChef
As regular viewers of MasterChef - and regular readers of From The North - will be aware, the BBC's cult cookery show's qualities are many and varied. But, there is one outstanding reason for watching the thing besides drooling at the dishes being prepared. The positive delight that the programme's producers seem to take in including soundbites from those contestants who consider themselves to be the next Michael Roux (senior or junior) but who, despite their confidence in their own abilities, are about to have their boastfulness tested. Not only by John Tordoe and Gregg Wallace but, also, by the nation. This year one case in point was Chris, a supermarket store manager who appeared in an early episodes. 'I'll run through brick walls to win, I'm horrendously competitive,' Chris claimed adding that he was 'a terribly sore loser.' If that wasn't a Big Red Flag to the audience to stick around for some quality comedy then nothing was. We've discussed this aspect of MasterChef before, dear blog reader, but have you noticed that whilst it's likely many of the contestants display self-confidence bordering on 'everybody look at me, me, me, me,' during their on-camera interviews, it's rare that clips featuring any contestants who aren't about to crash and burn disastrously ever seem to get used? Chris, sadly, was also cursed with one thing that you really don't want to have if you've just bigged yourself up in front of four million punters on national telly - a very smug-looking face. Not his fault, obviously, one is sure that Chris is a very nice chap. But, with his smug-mug and his, freely-confessed, 'horrendous' competitiveness, you kind-of knew he was heading for an early exit.
    And, so it proved. His 'take on a Shepherd's Pie' didn't impress the judges - despite some rather awkward banter with Wallace about how his wife 'fancied' John but his mother preferred Gregg and, later, some rather unappealing 'look at us, we've finished early aren't we, like, dead cool?' malarkey with another of the contestants, Nick, who also left the competition at the end of that particular episode. 'Work smart, not hard, that's my mantra in life,' Chris said. Just a suggestion, mate, but you might want to save such sagacity until you'd actually produced something worth bragging about. 'I thought it had gone a bit better,' Chris noted after John and Gregg had - heavily - criticised his creamy sprouts and bacon for, you know, not being cooked properly. Forced to cook again in an invention test, Chris presented John and Gregg with marinated lamb rump in Moroccan spices and chilli. The lamb was overcooked, picked up by Gregg, and the use of chilli made it 'like Dante's Inferno,' according to Tordoe. 'It don't think it was at hot as John was saying,' Chris suggested which seemed an odd thing to claim when a very famous chef has just told you something you've made was too hot. 'Gutted,' Chris said when told he would be leaving the competition. 'I thought I had enough. But, obviously other people disagreed.' The other people being the judges. By that stage one felt rather sorry for the lad as his dreams of a culinary career and riches beyond the dreams of avarice fell to the floor and were shattering into a million fragments. When will MasterChef contestants learn? Do not big yourself up on camera, you're only asking for trouble. Just one of the many reasons why this maddeningly addictive format continues to pull in the viewers long after you'd've thought its 'use by' date had passed. After several weeks of twists and turns, mumsy Londoner Jane Devoshire won the 2016 competition. 'Jane has had one of the most incredible journeys on MasterChef that I've witnessed,' Gregg Wallace said at the climax. 'There's been no stopping her - she's made herself into the most amazing cook, one of the best champions I've ever seen.' As to what happened to supermarket manager Chris and all the others who lightened up the early rounds with their boasts, their disasters and their interviews to camera after it had all gone pear-shaped (or, gnocchi-shaped) we don't know; back to the day job(s), presumably. But at least, during their fifteen minutes in the kitchen, they entertained us royally. For that, we should all be jolly thankful.
23. War & Peace
'So, you're going to beat Napoleon are you? It's about time somebody did!' Andrew Davies's version of Tolstoy's epic was the second occasion that the BBC had adapted War & Peace (following 1972's twenty episode marathon starring Anthony Hopkins). Davies, somehow, manged to condense the action of the sprawling Franco-Russian war into six-and-a-half hours. The series received very positive reviews. The Torygraph said: 'This is the greatest TV costume drama of the past decade and has raised the bar in a genre for which we are already renowned all over the world' and pronounced it 'breathtaking' and 'a dazzling mazurka of roiling passions and misplaced affection.' The Week also considered it a decade-defining drama. The Daily Scum Mail, called it 'nothing less than a sweeping victory' and - shockingly - praised the Beeb for 'improving' the ending of Tolstoy's novel. 'Andrew Davies once said that the secret of bringing a classic to television was to turn up the humour and the sex,' said Andrew Bilton in The Times. 'Fortunately, Tolstoy applied the same principle to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Although, Tolstoy being Tolstoy, he also added the large dollops of philosophy that Davies seems to have left off his ingredients list.' Viv Groskop of the Gruniad wrote: 'It's tonally perfect, striking exactly the right balance between drama and wit, action and emotion, passion and humour.' 'The third episode was by far the most beautiful instalment and the most affecting chapter of War & Peace so far,' wrote Neela Debnath in the Scum Express whilst the staging of the ball towards the end of the third episode received particular attention, with the Digital Spy website describing it as 'the most spellbinding moment of television we'll see this year.'
     Of course, it was inevitable that someone would trawl Twitter and find people no one has heard of whining about aspects of it. As, indeed, the Mirra did. And, the Catholic Herald bizarrely described it as 'a disaster.' On your own there, guys. A cast that included Paul Dano, Lily James, Jack Lowden, James Norton, Jessie Buckley, Aisling Loftus, Tom Burke, Tuppence Middleton, Ade Edmondson, Rebecca Front, Greta Scacchi, Stephen Rea, Brian Cox, Kenneth Cranham, Ken Stott, Gillian Anderson and Jim Broadbent were well-served by Davies's cutely naturalistic dialogue and Tom Harper's gloriously cinemascope direction. St Petersburg's Winter Palace stole every scene it was glimpsed in, Harper seemingly, loving shadows and snow and filmed both beautifully. And, as the Torygraph noted, 'if he fell for the seduction of slo-mo in the fight scenes, well, who doesn't?' A huge ratings hit in the UK with average audiences in the seven to eight million range, War & Peace was also an international success story with much media focus on the fact that a British-American co-production was bought by the Russians, among many others. It's nice to know that, despite what you may have read to the contrary in many of the newspapers whose reviewers came in their own pants over War & Peace, there's still something that the BBC does better than most other broadcasters.
24. Hinterland
The second series of BBC4's 'Celtic noir' Y Gwyll was ever bit as grim and chilling as its predecessor. Boasting one of the best characterised male-female police duos ever created - Richrd Harrington's Tom Mathies and Mail Harries' Mared Rhys - Hinterland continued to play on its strengths, like the stunning North Wales countryside locations and the uniqueness of its bilingual nature. It's as if Hinterland does, literally find itself in a hinterland between two worlds - English-dominated Wales and yer actual Welsh-Wales. Having been originally broadcast in its Welsh version on S4C late in 2015, the latest batch of five - Anglicised - episodes were shown on BBC4 in April and May to broad acclaim. Mathias found that his world had been turned upside down after his wife, Meg, turned up in Aberystwyth and an investigation by the IPCC into his conduct was about to reach its conclusion. But when a bus driver was shot dead on an isolated mountainside, the investigation provided a welcome escape. The murder of a local dignitary and barrister led to the uncovering of a tragic story of love and loss, there were dodgy goings on at a rural school and - most memorably - the discovery of a burned body on the dunes with ties to an unsolved crime from a decade earlier. Parental relationships formed a strong theme throughout the series. Mathias, of course, had abandoned his wife and daughter following the death of their other child. Details of that tragedy remained shrouded in mystery, but it was clear that he held himself responsible. Mared was prompted to broach the subject of drugs with her daughter who revealed that she felt the stigma of friends over having a police officer for a mother. The Nordic influence of dramas like The Killing and The Bridge is very strong in Hinterland, especially in featuring a psychologically complex and damaged main protagonist. Mathias is a man whose personal life has collapsed in on itself and who is barely holding his professional life together by his fingertips. And, therein lies much of the reason for its appeal. A third series had already been filmed and the Welsh-language version is currently screening. It will transfer to BBC4 early in the new year.
25. Brian Pern: Forty Five Years Of Prog & Roll
'You look like a Bee Gee gone wrong!' After a year out of the public eye following his major heart attack, Brian is making a comeback and has, again, allowed award-winning filmmaker Rhys Thomas (OBE) access to his life. Not only is Brian appearing on Desert Island Discs and at the the Isle of Wight Festival, he has a new CD, a new look and a new wife who is half his age - Astrid (Suranne Jones). Taking her advice, Brian sacks his overly-picky manager John Farrow (Michael Kitchen) by fax and lets her take over the running of his affairs. She quickly says 'yes' to every offer going, including an appearance at a Thotch Convention Cruise with annoying fan club president, Perry. This was the third instalment of Simon Day's gloriously observant, if you will, rockumentary about the pretentious, Peter Gabriel-like Pern. As usual, Day's clever pastiche of both music and fly-on-the-wall documentaries was aided by loads of terrific performances and cameos from real-life wrinkly old rockers (including, for the third series running and, proving that he's a jolly good sport, Gabriel himself in an ending which parodied The Long Good Friday). Day, Kitchen, Jones, Nigel Havers, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, Denis Lawson, Simon Callow and a wonderfully Oasis'd-up Christopher Eccleston were on fine form and, as usual - because this is a BBC4 rockumentary - Rick Wakeman popped up at regular intervals saying 'I played piano on that!' A whole bunch of nostalgia figures joined in the fun (Brain's parents were played by Peter Bowles and Angela Thorne) and there was a terrific The Osbournes take-off in the shape of Brian's children, Tallow and Ripple.
    By and large, this time around, the reviews weren't all that special. Some tosser of no importance writing in the Gruniad, completely failed to get the point: 'Pern Skyped his beloved and found her having it off with Martin Kemp, formerly of Spandau Ballet and EastEnders, which, given how well-preserved and stirringly Terence Stamp-like Kemp looks these days, made a lot of sense. That scene, though, highlighted the problem with this satirical show. There were too many ligging thesps, Fast Show chums and old rockers doing their captivating turns. By contrast, Day's Pern was mostly reduced to the facial stasis and monosyllabery that is the fate of anyone who's ever had too much plastic surgery.' God save us all from Middle Class hippy Communists with access to a thesaurus. The Torygraph, too, was rather underwhelmed. Who cares? This was every bit as funny as the previous two series and, frankly, pissed all over ninety five per cent of the sitcoms currently stinking up British TV schedules. Where Brian goes next - if he, again, survives the wrath of Gabriel! - will be worth hanging around for.
26. David Attenborough: Zoo Quest In Colour
Thanks to a remarkable discovery in the BBC's Natural History Unit film vaults, the best of David Attenborough's early Zoo Quest adventures were seen as never before. And, with it, the remarkable story was told of how this pioneering television series was made. First broadcast in December 1954, Zoo Quest was one of the most popular television series of its time and launched the career of the young Attenborough as a wildlife presenter. It completely changed how viewers saw the world, revealing wildlife and tribal communities that had never been filmed before. Made over a decade before colour television arrived in the UK, Zoo Quest was thought to have been filmed in black and white, until the original film stock was examined. Using this extraordinary new-found colour film, together with new behind-the-scenes stories from Attenborough and his cameraman, Charles Lagus, this special showcased the best of three series Zoo Quest To West Africa, Zoo Quest To Guiana and Zoo Quest For A Dragon. At the time of the programme's inception in the 1950s, the BBC's film unit preferred thirty five millimetre film for use in their programmes. However, these cameras were big and unwieldy and Attenborough wished to use the more lightweight, handheld sixteen millimetre cameras for filming Zoo Quest abroad. The BBC relented, but only on the condition that colour film was used, as it gave the best picture quality. This film was then stored away and forgotten about, until 2015.
     The images were worth waiting decades to see. The colour was luminous and thrilling with what the Daily Scum Mail described as 'the dreamy glow of early Kodachrome.' It was like watching the home movies of a Fifties family who, instead of caravan holidays in Ilfracombe, spent their summers with obscure rainforest tribes, learning to use poison blowpipes and trap giant lizards. There were plenty of the trademark Life On Earth-style shots of insects in massive magnification and, it turned out, these were pioneered by Lagus, who used tin cans to turn his camera effectively into a microscope. Attenborough in the early days was just as interested in the rituals and tribal rites of his hosts as the animals. With his easy charm, he persuaded them to perform sacred dances never seen by Westerners and to let him record them. In a Borneo longhouse, he was given the most prestigious bed next to the bodies of two village elders who had recently died and were due to be buried the next day. The vintage footage was interleaved with anecdotes from Attenborough and Lagus, now both nonagenarians, of course. There were rueful acknowledgement by Attenborough of the BBC's bureaucracy even in those far-off days, as well as a genial amazement at the way these two broadcasting youngsters and their travelling companion - Jack Lester, the head of the Reptile House at London Zoo - were given the freedom to explore the natural world on three continents. 'That world no longer exists,' the Scum Mail's reviewer noted. 'Attenborough brought us the last glimpse of it. And by one of the happy accidents that have blessed his astonishing career, he did it in brilliant colour.'
27. Ripper Street
'There are no princesses and no monsters. Only humans, with their flesh and blood and their all-too-broken hearts.' Cancelled by the BBC at the end of its second series in 2013, the fact that Ripper Street's fourth series was broadcast in 2016 is, in and of itself, a story of triumph over adversity. After the cancellation, it was brought back from the dead by Amazon Prime. The streaming service now broadcasts it first, before flogging it back to the BBC. It's a strange arrangement but one that works. Series four opened in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) had given up his detective work and was living in Hampton-on-Sea with his saucy minx of a daughter, Matilda. He was, however, drawn back to Whitechapel after a visit from Deborah Goren, who urged him to investigate the murder of a rabbi at the apparent hand of his old friend Isaac Bloom, whom she believes to be innocent. Meanwhile, Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) was now the chief inspector of the Whitechapel peelers and still employed Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenburg), who had given up his drinking and gambling in order to save money to free Long Susan (MyAnna Buring), who was sentenced to hang for her naughty crimes. When his attempts to legally free her failed, he helped to fake her death, forcing her to give up their son to be raised by Drake and his wife, Rose. Throw in David Threlfall as a crooked Thames wharfinger and guest appearances by the likes of David Warner, Jonas Armstrong and Owen Teale, Ripper Street continued to hover in the cracks between often brilliant storytelling, occasional silly anachronisms and the odd moments when completely daft.
    Never popular with feminist critics who objected to a perceived two-dimensional portrayal of women as either repressed wives and mothers or prostitutes (see, for instance, Grace Dent's piss-taking, though not entirely inaccurate, assessment of the series back in 2013 in the Independent), Ripper Street is, undeniably, a sometimes awkward guilty pleasure for many viewers. Yet, some women reviewers love it; take Julia Raeside in the Gruniad who described the drama as 'ridiculously underrated' and added: 'The real strength of Ripper Street, aside from the delicate brilliance of its writing, lies in the sexy Mount Rushmore that is Macfadyen, Flynn and Rothenberg. When they scent blood or danger, or both, the three work in unison, hinging and moving as one, like conjoined triplets. It’s a rare chemistry and a triumph of casting, which has only cemented over the four series.' The series finale - with the death of a major character - reminded us that, when it got everything right, as it did more often than its detractors might have you believe, Ripper Street remained a thing of beauty. 'The show has thrived, with bigger budgets and the freedom to be gritty and unflinching in a way that wasn’t possible when it was being made by the Corporation,' noted the Torygraph. A fifth and final series arrived on Amazon in October and will be show on the BBC early in 2017.
28. The Secret Agent
A three-part espionage drama based on the 1907 novel by Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent starred Toby Jones, Vicky McClure, Stephen Graham, Tom Goodman-Hill and Ian Hart. It was the fourth BBC adaptation of the novel, having been previously made in 1967, 1972 and 1992 as well as forming the basis for Alfred Hitchcock's 1936 Sabotage. With its central themes of terrorism, anarchism, political cynicism and double-dealing, it fitted perfectly into a 2016 TV landscape of Homeland, The Night Manager and The Blacklist. Tony Marchant's script was broadly faithful to Conrad's original text (certainly more faithful than Hitchcock's version) and was nicely characterised, savvy, occasionally nihilistic but with a core humanity that managed to make even Conrad's most unsympathetic characters - and, that's most of them - into more than mere ciphers.
      Reviewing the opening episode, the Gruniad's, Stephen Moss began by observing the bravery of adapting a book 'which Roger Ebert called "perhaps the least filmable novel [Conrad] ever wrote."' In the novel, Moss continued, the first secretary makes 'a brilliant, witty, scathing case for attacking science - indeed, attacking time itself, since Greenwich marks the prime meridian - but on TV we have to be shown it. The mystery, the enigma, the idea that an attack on the very idea of time is all that will shock the English Middle Class is lost. That, in essence, is the problem here. Conrad's great, strange, tonally complex novel is reduced to a psychological thriller.' He called the ill-fated terrorist attack 'a blood-stained inanity of so fatuous a kind that it was impossible to fathom its origin by any reasonable or even unreasonable process of thought.' The Torygraph said: 'There is such a dearth of decent human beings in The Secret Agent that it makes for a deeply uncomfortable viewing. Set at the precise point where political idealism and terrorism intersect, it features such cynicism at its core that, even one hundred and nine years since it was published, it feels utterly contemporary.' Also described as 'one of the bleakest, murkiest and most disturbing dramas this year,' and 'a trawl through a dark night of the human soul that, despite being dressed up in Victorian garb, feels wholly relevant to right now.' The Secret Agent was, indeed, all of those things. It was also brilliant.
29. The Blacklist
'I was an assignment. I'm sure you were too.' It walks a dramatic tightrope on an almost yearly basis, does The Blacklist. It keeps getting itself stuck up dramatic cul-de-sacs and threatening to disappear, in a puff of anti-logic, up its own labyrinthine back-passage ... but it never quite does. Every time its get close to that, it will pull out a run of three or four quite astounding episodes that drag the viewers back from the brink of 'oh, this is getting silly, I'm gonna read some Dostoevsky instead, that's far less challenging.' The Pop Matters website is not alone in suggesting that The Blacklist is 'too clever for its own good' and that the writers 'continue to mistake ambiguity for complexity,' though a more charitable view is that of the Wall Street Journal which noted that The Blacklist's raison d'être is its tonal ambiguity and that can often be its salvation. It is aided, of course, by having James Spader as - still - it's main selling point. What the Denver Post's critic calls his 'effortlessly captivating' performance is what turns The Blacklist from mere generic spies-and-terrorists tosh into something altogether more complex and smart. It was hampered at the end of the third series early in the year by Megan Boone's pregnancy which led to - not one, but two - faintly ridiculous pseudo-aesthetic wanders down the backstreets of stretching credulity. Thankfully, with a baby incorporated into the series and Liz being, quite literally, resurrected (don't ask, trust me, we'll be here all day), the fourth series, which kicked off in September, found itself back on firmer ground. With a couple of terrific new villains and plenty of loose-ends which needed to be tied up that should keep the producers occupied for a couple of seasons at least. There's also a mooted spin-off - Redemption - in the pipeline which will feature Famke Janssen and should debut next year.
30. The Beginning & End Of The Universe
In which Professor Jim Al-Khalili took us back in time to tackle the greatest question in science: how did the universe begin? Uncovering the origins of the universe is regarded as humankind's greatest intellectual achievement. By recreating key experiments Jim unravelled the cosmic mystery of science's creation story before witnessing a moment, one millionth of a second, after the universe sprang into existence. The second part, by logical extension, carried us into the distant future to try to discover how the universe will ultimately end - with a bang or with a whimper? Jim revealed a universe far stranger than anyone imagined and, at the frontier of our understanding, encounters a mysterious and enigmatic force that promises to change physics forever. Through a series of critical observations and experiments that revolutionised our understanding of our world, Jim guided us through the greatest cosmic detective story of all. His story was rooted in the Twentieth Century, of the men and women instrumental in uncovering this cosmic mystery. It was a story of maverick triumph with huge leaps of imagination and serendipity. Of human strength and fallibility, determination in the face of adversity, belligerence in the face of evidence. But ultimately it was a tale of the triumph of the scientific method: of experimentation, prediction and observation.
     The Beginning &End Of The Universe was BBC4 doing what BBC4 does best, asking big questions on tiny budgets. A science documentary from Jim Al-Khalili is always a model of clarity. In the past few years programmes he has made for the BBC, such as Light & Dark, Order & Disorder, The Story Of Electricity and Everything & Nothing, have aimed to make viewers understand at least a little of the complex mysteries of physics and cosmology. In these latest two films Jim was at his best, weaving human stories of chance and brilliant scientific investigation into crystal-clear expositions of the new ideas that have transformed our understanding of space and time. And he did all that without any expensive graphics or special effects.
31. Wheeler Dealers
In a year in which British TV's most popular programme featuring middle-aged petrolheads cocking about in cars went var-nigh tits-up (see below) and two virtual copycat formats got all their gears stuck in reverse (also see below), reliable cult favourite Wheeler Dealers never faltered for a second. Hidden away for over a decade on a variety of obscure satellite and digital channels (Discovery, Discovery Turbo, Quest et cetera), Wheeler Dealers is fronted by cockney-geezer car dealer Mike Brewer and borderline-genius mechanic Edd China. The show's format is gloriously simple. The pair are on a, self-imposed, 'mission' to save old and repairable enthusiast vehicles, by repairing and/or otherwise improving a car to a particular - though variable - budget, then selling it to a new owner, hopefully for a profit. On paper, it sounds about as entertaining as an afternoon at the genital torturers but, somehow, it works as another example of 'enthusiast TV' (as much ala Time Team as Top Gear). It's hard not to laugh at the dreadful puns (when Mike managed to buy a second-hand Lamborghini, Edd's first comment on getting the car into his garage was the groan-inducing 'at last, a Bull in the China-shop!') just as it's difficult not a cringe ones way through Brewer's dodgy Arthur Daley-style patter as he's getting a reluctant owner to knock a couple of noughts off the asking price of their for-sale motor.
     The show was originally created with the DIY-er in mind. The costs - and thus any profit or loss for a given project - were assessed without consideration of the time and labour involved (the assumption being that a well-equipped enthusiast who vaguely knew what he was doing could complete all of the work himself) but if repairs required any professional help, like resprays, complicated electronics, or windscreen replacements, they were added to the final cost. Such noble aspirations quickly went out of the window after a couple of years once the production started getting ambitious and pulling in Porsches, Astons and Jags; the best episodes usually involve Mike finding some obscure rust-bucket in a barn in Poland for a knock-down price and then Edd performing near-miracles to make it look vaguely presentable before flogging it to some picky shill who thinks he's being pure dead clever by haggling to get a Monkey knocked off the (already inflated) asking price. 2016's thirteenth series - with updated titles and theme music, a sure sign of the show's increasing budget - relocated the action to America's West Coast (as some episodes of the twelfth series had previously). This, on the one hand, meant the show now featured lots of big, sexy muscle cars although what it gained in having a Ford Mustang just like the one in Bullitt in the workshop it rather lost in the discombobulation of Mike's test drives being on the Pacific Coast Highway in the blazing sunshine rather than through leafy greenbelt Hertfordshire in a mild spring drizzle. The very definition of British cult telly when it started - a programme with an audience of two men and their dog, but all three of them thought it was great - the viewership has grown over the years aided by the strip-scheduling of repeats, particularly on Discovery Turbo where six episodes a day is not uncommon. And, seen next to ostensibly similar US conceits (notably Fast N' Loud, to which it is often compared), Wheeler Dealers maintains a healthy self-deprecation and an occasional deliberate absurdity which is rather addictive. Just like Top Gear used to be, in fact. BBC take note; if you find a car format which works, do not, do not bugger it up by thinking you know better than the audience. As Mike says (in just about every episode): 'Do I want this car? What do you think?!'
32. The Crown
With a pre-series trailer that made the British Royal Family look like the Lannisters and some, entirely well-deserved, bad publicity generated by producer Andrew Eaton slagging off just about everyone else in the TV industry seemingly in the belief that criticising, for example, Victoria or the BBC in general, would get more people watching his drama, The Crown had more than a few telly watchers hoping it would flop big-style. But, it didn't and that was a good thing. The Netflix series, based in part on Peter Morgan's The Audience and starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith, laid most of the doubts to rest within its first episode. The Gruniad's Lucy Mangan wrote: 'Netflix can rest assured that its one hundred million pound gamble has paid off. This first series, about good old British phlegm from first to last, is the service's crowning achievement so far.' In the Torygraph, Ben Lawrence added: 'The Crown is a PR triumph for The Windsors, a compassionate piece of work that humanises them in a way that has never been seen before. It is a portrait of an extraordinary family, an intelligent comment on the effects of the constitution on their personal lives and a fascinating account of postwar Britain all rolled into one."' The drama, the Boston Globe noted: 'is thoroughly engaging, gorgeously shot, beautifully acted, rich in the historical events of postwar England and designed with a sharp eye to psychological nuance' whilst the New York Times added: 'This is a thoughtful series that lingers over death rather than using it for shock value; one that finds its story lines in small power struggles rather than gruesome palace coups.' Then again, the Americans always did seem rather more fascinated with British royalty than many of us in Britain ever have.
    Some were more critical towards the show. In Time magazine, Daniel D'Addario wrote that The Crown will be compared to Downton Abbey, 'but that late soap-opera was able to invent a historical or at least unexpected notes, Foy struggles mightily, but she's given little: Avoiding her children, her husband, and her subjects in favor [sic] of meetings at which she either acquiesces to her advisors or puts off acquiescing until fifteen minutes later, The Crown's Elizabeth is more than unknowable. She's a bore.' Verne Gay of Newsday said: 'Sumptuously produced but glacially told, The Crown is the TV equivalent of a long drive through the English countryside. The scenery keeps changing, but remains the same.' And, writing for the Scum Mail on Sunday, Hugo Vickers, a royal historian was of the opinion that 'while [The Crown] certainly holds the attention, it is marred by a series of sensationalist errors and some quite remarkable lapses into vulgarity.' The opening scene of the first episode is oddly shocking as viewers see George VI (Jared Harris), coughing up specks of blood into a lavatory bowl. From this unfurls the story of how the modern monarchy came into being and it is typical of Morgan's usual approach, using small details to build up a bigger picture. This is the House of Windsor under the microscope, analysed with forensic detail so that viewers acquires an acute psychological portrait of each character. There was a fear that, with an American audience in mind, The Crown would be an unduly reverential, unsubtle account of royal history, but it turned out to be a sophisticated drama made for - and by - grown-ups.
       Except for that horrible Copper's Nark of the producer who can't keep his worthless opinions to himself, of course.
33. What A Performance! Pioneers Of Popular Entertainment
'Nothing was funnier to the Victorians than people dying.' Whoever's idea it was at BBC4 to put together a series in which the comedian Frank Skinner and the music broadcaster and presenter Suzy Klein explored the history of British popular entertainment in the one hundred years before the arrival of television deserves a pay rise. From the music halls of the Victorian age to the variety theatres of the early Twentieth Century, Frank and Suzy - an amiable pair with a real sense of being happy to throw themselves, feet first, into the deep end - uncovered what kept our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents entertained through technological advances, two world wars and an 'American Invasion'. In each episode Frank and Suzy not only investigated the big acts from the era (a programme featuring Frank that didn't include him looking, again, at the career of his hero George Formby would be most peculiar) they become them - recreating a stage performance by one such act in each episode. They learned what it took to become a star in a world without TV, immersed themselves in the music and costumes of the era(s) and discovered how much public tastes have changed - or not - through a century of live entertainment.
    The duo worked hard, and with such enthusiasm, that glimmers of the real thing shone through. Suzy brought out the melodic beauty of Marie Lloyd's legendarily naughty music-hall songs, the grace and elegance of Loie Fuller's Serpentine dance and the gender-confusion of Vesta Tilley's stage act. Frank got to do decent impressions of Harry Lauder and Max Miller and, between them, the pair did a fantastic Wilson, Keppel and Betty-style sand dance (minus Betty, admittedly). Once again, if nothing else What A Performance! demonstrated why BBC4 is such an important part of the BBC's Reithian remit; why - in a year in which every right-wing scumbag with a sick agenda wanted to have a good kick at the corporation - it continues to retain the warm affection of the overwhelming majority of the British public. Because, the chances of ITV, or Channel Four, or Sky producing something as offbeat, as left-field, as this is virtually nil. More of this sort of malarkey, please, it's what this blogger pays his licence fee for.
34. All Aboard! The Country Bus
The BBC is reported to be lining-up a new series of so-called 'slow television' after nearly a million overnight punters tuned into a BBC4 documentary which featured nothing more than two hours of footage captured from the front of a bus travelling through the Yorkshire Dales. All Aboard! The Country Bus, which was broadcast in August, followed the number eight hundred and thirty Northern Dalesman along a forty-mile route around the picturesque national park and the villages and hamlets dotted along the B6255. In a real coup for BBC4, more people tuned into the digital channel during the period from 8pm to 10pm than watched Channel Five, which was broadcasting a documentary about Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, while Film 4, which showed the Hollywood blockbuster The Bourne Legacy, attracted less than half the audience of the bus journey. While many modern programmes are crammed with background music and flashy gimmicks, The Country Bus - part of the channel's BBC4 Goes Slow season - featured no commentary, with only the occasional on-screen caption explaining the history of landmarks that the bus passed (such as the Ribblehead Viaduct) or the importance of geological features. And, it was beautiful. Relaxing and the very definition of 'wallpaper telly' in the nicest possible sense, it drew many supportive comments to go along with a few annoyed ones from people with a seven-second attention span who wondered what the point of it all was. Dear God, even the Daily Scum Mail's hateful Jan Moir loved it: 'Nothing intrudes or spoils the magic of the thousand shades of green displayed by the glorious English countryside. There is no commentary, no annoying celebrity trying to impose their ghastly personality between you and the sheep, no voiceovers, no presenters, no shrill and panicky music, nothing to distract you from the stark beauty of the Dales.'
     'What lies between is some of the most beguiling countryside the nation has to offer. And without music, voiceover or any other embellishment, it's allowed to speak silently and gloriously for itself. Watch; record; revisit in the depths of winter,' added the Gruniad. Alternatively, Viv Hardwick, the TV critic for the Northern Echo - who, presumably, couldn't get a job at a real newspaper - said: 'There will always be a market for slow TV, but not in my house.' Ooo, Bad experience with an episode of Hope & Keen's Crazy Bus at an early age was it, Viv? Slow television, in fact, originated in Norway - so one can't even say 'only in Britain!' to describe All Aboard! The Country Bus's success. It has been pioneered by BBC4, however, with viewers finding solace in the calm of broadcasts such as a two-hour sleigh ride and a narrowboat journey along the Kennet and Avon Canal. Cassian Harrison, the editor of BBC4, said: 'I'm incredibly pleased with how popular slow television has become. We'd hoped our Country Bus trip would be the perfect coda to a sun-kissed bank holiday weekend, but we never expected it to be our most popular slow journey yet.' In a TV landscape increasing dominated by loudness - in every sense of the word - how refreshing it was to simply enjoy the quiet, if only for a couple of hours.
35. The Grand Tour
'I didn't think it was possible to shit yourself to death!' Could they make telly magic all over again? Of-bloody-course they could! The naysayers doubted, the doubters naysaid. It made no difference. The first episode of The Grand Tour was - rightly - given rave reviews by critics. The show, launched on the Amazon Prime streaming service in November. was the first to be fronted by Jezza Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May since they parted company with the BBC. You knew that, yes? Writing in the Evening Standard, Ben Travis described it as 'a stunningly beautiful show. If The Grand Tour is basically "Top Gear with a nitros boost of Amazon finances," the difference is immediately apparent,. Clarkson may not exactly be the punk outsider that he sees himself as for ditching broadcast TV in favour of the new frontier of Internet streaming, but he knows exactly what his fans want from him - and he delivers it in spades on his new home.' 'Filmic is the word that sprang to my mind when watching The Grand Tour,' wrote the BBC's Will Gompertz. 'The scale of the production, the quality of the cameras, the epic sweeping shots and the pastiches of old movies - it seemed the show was aimed at the big screen, not the telly. It opens with a scene so over-the-top and opulent you'd think that the Prince Regent was behind the camera. Think Mad Max meets Easy Rider as we see the three presenters drive across the Californian desert, making their way through a sea of cars all barrelling along to a massive stage that has risen from the sand like a pyramid.' Writing in the Gruniad Morning Star - always such a big fan of Clarkson in the past - Sam Wollaston said: 'More than format, more even than the amount of money you throw at something, what really gives a television show its personality is the personnel. You can pour something into a different container, but it still tastes the same. And, like it or not, this tastes of Clarkson, Hammond and May.' He added, rather sneeringly: 'Fans of old Top Gear are going to be happy.' And, indeed, they were; sections of the Gruniad's own readership proving that by giving the opening episode a positive reaction. 'With The Grand Tour, it's as if not one day has passed since Clarkson floored someone for failing to present him with a steak,' added Metro. 'It's just another luxurious, high-octane day at the office for the world's most Marmite Motor Musketeers and they're having fun. Clarkson and his chums have the kind of natural camaraderie that knocks down Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc's meagre presenting efforts like a feather. RIP Top Gear. Long live The Grand Tour!'
      'Will The Grand Tour ultimately be worth watching? Why wouldn't it?' wrote Forbes. 'It's got the talent - not only the three presenters but producer Andy Wilman - of Top Gear with even more resources to execute their often epic ideas. I expect that after a few episodes they'll stop trying quite so hard and settle back into their old groove.' The first episode saw the trio take their travelling studio tent to Dry Rabbit Lake in the Mojave Desert. Vehicles featured included hybrid hyper-cars such as the McLaren P1, the Porsche Spyder and the Ferrari LaFerrari. The Torygraph's Ed Power said: 'The Grand Tour isn't a shameless Top Gear rip-off. But under the hood the rival franchises have a great deal in common. The new series will certainly go some way towards obliterating memories of Top Gear's terrible Chris Evans-fronted relaunch. Petrolheads can rejoice. The BBC may wonder how Matt LeBlanc and whoever joins him next year can possibly compete.' The Sun - you know, the paper Clarkson writes for - gave The Grand Tour five stars. 'Being sacked from the BBC was the greatest thing that ever happened to Clarkson and co - and the world of cars on TV. This has guns, explosions, super yachts, madcap stunts, the British Institute of Car Chases, dramatic crashes, a sinking ship and Hamm­ond being dangled from a chopper. But the one thing that really matters is Clarkson being reunited with his two mates on screen.' The Digital Spy website said: 'It's precisely all the things we loved about their old show, but bigger, brighter and more blow-upier. And they've sort of somehow come up with the world's first scripted comedy factual show, and it works perfectly.' The website even did a list of seven moments when The Grand Tour appeared to be 'lording it' over the Beeb. Writing in the Daily Scum Mail - another newspaper that was always so friendly and generous towards Top Gear - James Shelley said: 'The Grand Tour had a new sense of excitement and knowledge about the cars but the same old warm friendship. It's a shame they had to leave the BBC but judging by episode one of The Grand Tour perhaps that was what they needed.' For once, this blogger has little to add. Except to quote, at length, the late Phil Lynott: 'Guess who just got back today, them wild-eyed boys that've been away, haven't changed or had much to say.' Rite. On. So, who was the biggest loser over that fracas? Not Jezza Clarkson, that's for sure.
Also mentioned in dispatches: Leningrad & The Orchestra That Defied Hitler, Waking The Himalayas, Deutschland Eighty Three, Endeavour, Silent Witness, Trust Me I'm A Doctor, Empire Of The Tsars: Romanov Russia With Lucy Worsley/Lucy Worsley's Reins Of Power: The Art Of Horse Dancing, Great Barrier Reef With David Attenborough/Attenborough & The Giant Dinosaur/Attenborough At Ninety, Death In Paradise, Britain's Bloody Crown, The Age Of Loneliness, NCIS, Spin, Tracy Ullman's Show, Stargazing Live, Derren Brown: Pushed To The Edge/Derren Brown: Miracle, Occupied, Shetland, Bloody Queens: Elizabeth & Mary, Music Moguls: Masters Of Pop, Deadline Gallipoli, Call The Midwife, The Jihadis Next Door, Manchester's Serial Killer, The Comic Strip Presents ... Red Top, The Story Of China, The Brain With David Eagleman, Stan Lee's Lucky Man, The Girl Who Forgave The Nazis, James May's Cars of The People/James May: The Reassembler, Murdoch Mysteries, The Real Marigold Hotel, The Mad World Of Donald Trump, Mystery Of The Lost Caravaggio, Holocaust Memorial Day, Vera, The Nightmare Worlds Of HG Wells, Suits, Back In Time For The Weekend, The Secret Life Of The Zoo, World War Three: Inside The War Room, Cats Versus Dogs, Greece With Simon ReeveHappy Valley, TrappedDecadence & Downfall, The People Versus OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, The Not So Secret Life Of A Manic Depressive: Ten Years On, Big Dreams Small Spaces, Best Walks With A View With Julia Bradbury, The Seventies, Parks & Recreation, The Renaissance Unchained, Churchill's Secret, Further Tales From Northumberland With Wor Geet Canny Robson Green/Wor Geet Canny Robson Green's Australian Adventure, Girls, The Last Seabird Summer, Grantchester, Raised By Wolves, The Return Of The Flying ScotsmanWinterwatch/Springwatch/AutumnwatchDunblane: Our Story, Digging For Britain, Art Of Scandinavia, Behind Closed Doors, Inside Obama's White House, Brendan O'Carroll: My Family At War, Follow The Money, Michael Jackson's Journey From Motown To Off The Wall, Tribes, Predators & Me, An Island Parish: Shetland, The Tube: Going Underground, The A Word, The Battle For Christianity, Employable Me, Blue Eyes, Boomers, Being The Brontës, The Great British Bake Off/Bake Off: Creme De La Creme, Billy Connolly Tracks Across America, Easter 1916: "The Enemy Files", Two Doors Down, Marcella, The Vikings Uncovered, Hidden Britain By Drone, 11.22.63, In The Wild With Gordon Buchanan, Europe: Us Or Them, The Tunnel: Sabotage, Scott & Bailey, BBC: The Secret Files 2, People's History Of Pop, Tom Jones's 1950s: The Decade That Made Me, Horizon: Should We Close Our Zoos?, The Hairy Bikers' Pubs That Built Britain/Old School With The Hairy Bikers/The Hairy Bikers: Chicken & Egg, Murder In Paradise, Aliens: The Big Think, Shakespeare Live!, The Mystery Of the Crossrail Skulls, Louis Theroux: Drinking To Oblivion/Louis Theroux: Savile, Flowers, The Secret, The People Next Door, Boomers, Paul Merton's Secret Stations, The Silk Road, Conspiracy Files: Who Shot own Flight MH17?, Grayson Perry: All Man, The Crazy World Of The Concept Album, Hillsborough, Billions, Mum, Nature's Epic Journey's, Jimmy Hill: A Man For All Seasons, Dan Cruickshank: At Home With The British, Going Forward, EMI: The Inside Story, Jutland: WWI's Greatest Sea Battle/Battle Of Jutland: The Navy's Bloodiest Day, Wallander, World Cup 1966: Alfie's Boys, Storm Troupers: The Fight To Forecast The Weather, Rovers, Last Whites Of The East End, Hidden Killers Of The Postwar Home, The Truth About Alcohol, The Disappearance, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Revolution & Romance: Musical Masters Of the Nineteenth Century, Versailles, The Big C & Me, UK's Best Part-Time Band, Genius By Stephen Hawking, City In The Sky, Escape To The Chateau, Reg, Agatha Raisin, Revolution & Romance With Suzy Klein, New Blood, Born On The Same Day, Guitar Star, Koko: The Gorilla Who Talks To People, The Challenge, MasterChef: The Professionals, Nietzsche: Genius Of The Modern World, Dicte: Crime Reporter, Messages Home: Lost Films Of The British Army, The Living & The Dead, Soundbreaking, All The Way, The Centenary Of The Somme/The Somme: The First Twenty Four Hours, China's Forgotten Emperor, Forces Of Nature With Brian Cox (No, The Other One), Britain's Lost Waterlands, Outlander, Exodus: Our Journey To Europe, Brief Encounters, Man Down, Shades Of Blue, The Investigator: A British Crime Story, The Out-Laws, Fake Or Fortune?, Someone Knows My Name, New Zealand: Earth's Mythical Islands, Horizon: Sport Doping - Winning At Any Cost, The Search Of The Lost Manuscript: Julian Of Norwich, Containment, Full Steam Ahead, Friday Night Dinners, Keith Richards: The Origin Of The Species/Keith Richards's Lost Weekend, The Marvellous World Of Roald Dahl, Arena: 1966 - Fifty Years Ago Today, The Somme 1916: Both Sides Of The Wire, Beck, Flying To The Ends Of The Earth, The Girl From Ipanema: Brazil, Bossa Nova & The Beach, Britain's Pompeii: A Village Lost In Time, A Granny's Guide To The Modern World, Suspects, The Eighties With Dominic Sandbrook, Mo Farah: Race Of His Life, The Mystery Of Van Gogh's Ear, Inside Cern, Inside The Factory, Secrets Of A Police Marksman, Fleabag, One Of Us, Rookies, The Chronicles Of Nadiya, The Watchman, Casualty, The Good Terrorist, Ellie Simmonds: Swimming With Dolphins, Home From Home, DCI Banks, Ellen, The Lost Sitcoms, The Night Of, Strictly Come Dancing, A Very British Deterrent, Cold Feet, Jimmy Carr & The Science Of Laughter, Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue, The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs, My Floating Home, Hooten & The Lady, Richard E Grant On Ealing Comedies, Who's Afraid Of Conceptual Art?, National Treasure, Bricks!, Great Continental Railway Journeys, Conviction: Murder At The Station, Paranoid, Red Dwarf, Walking Through Time, Eight Out Of Ten Cats Does Countdown, Autumn: Earth's Seasonal Secrets, Ambulance, Britain's Lost Masterpiece, Coast: The Great Guide, Britain's Star Men: Heroes Of Astronomy, The Level, Capability Brown's Unfinished Gardens, Westworld, A World Without Down's Syndrome?, The Apprentice, The Incredible Story Of Marie Antionette's Watch, Still Game, Boy George's 1970s: Save Me From Suburbia, Sir Chris Hoy: Two Hundred Miles Per Hour At Le Mans, The Victorian Slum, The Great Butterfly Adventure, Divorce, The Missing, Aberfan: The Young Wives Club/Aberfan: The Fight For Justice/Surviving Aberfan, The Story Of Skinhead, Britain's Ancient Tracks With Tony Robinson, Stand Up To Cancer, Wild West: America's Great Frontier, Paxman On Trump Versus Clinton: Divided America, Sleuths, Spies & Sorcerers: Andrew Marr's Paperback Heroes, Ordinary Lies, Who's Spending Britain's Billions, Class, Dark Angel, The School That Got Teens Reading, Virginia McKenna's Born Free, The Roundhouse: The People's Palace, The Young Pope, Imagine: The Seven Killings Of Marlon James, Humans, Books That Made Britain, The Moonstone, Me & My Mental Illness, Television's Opening Night: How The Box Was Born, China: Between Clouds & Dreams, Planet Earth II, The Welsh Italians, Black & British: A Forgotten History, Deep Water, My Mother & Other Strangers, NW, Timeshift: Penny Blacks & Twopenny Blues, Kids On The Edge, The Undiscovered Peter Cook, Britain At Low Tide, Frankie Boyle's US Erection Autopsy, Back In Time For Brixton, The Coronor, Who Do You Think You Are?, The Secret Life Of The Zoo.

Those That Weren't Any Bloody Good At All:-

1. Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands
In a year in which ITV produced more than their fair share of thoroughly rotten ratings fiascoes Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands won all the plaudits for being, by a distance, the biggest and most expensive. It was also the most unoriginal; quite obviously produced by people who'd watched one episode of Game Of Thrones, believed (wrongly, as it turned out) they understood why it has been so successful, and thought 'I'm havin' some of that!' Unfortunately, unlike Game Of Thrones, the script was slovenly and slow moving. The acting wasn't all that great either, certainly not enough to save a production which, if it were any more of a dog, it would have shed hairs all over the carpet. Most importantly, however, and the reason why Beowulf is head-and-shoulders above all of the other colossal flops to come out of ITV this year, was because it was the product of rather crass hubris all round. ​Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands ​was reported in most of the press before the series even began as being 'eyed as a long-running series' by ITV with cast-members allegedly signed up for five series.​ Although, of course, once the drama turned out to be the titanic critical and ratings disaster that it was, those contracts were quietly forgotten about in a big hurry and the series have shovelled, unceremoniously, into the cancellation gutter along with all the other turds. ​
      Da Vinci's Demons ​actor Kieran Bew played the title role with ​Downton Abbey​'s Ed Speleers as his rival, Slean. Speleers slurped that he was 'excited' to 'embark' upon what he imagined was going to be a long-term project. 'There was a time I didn't work for months so the fact that someone wants to offer me a five-year contract a lot of people would look at this as being tied down but I take it as a compliment,' he said. 'It's a massive role and I have never before had a chance to play a part like this ever - and there's always time to do a few things on the side.' Plenty of time as it turned out. Based on the classic Dark Ages Old English saga and also starring William Hurt and Joanne Whalley, ​Beowulf ​was described by co-creator Katie Newman as 'one of ITV's biggest ever shows and incredibly ambitious. I hope this goes on for years and years. This is just the beginning.' And, indeed, the end. Filmed in studios located at the former Dewhirst clothing factory in Blyth, Beowulf lost its coat, trousers and keks with truly risible ratings from the start and a general lack of interest by pretty much anyone. Launched in a blaze of publicity, sadly, its welcome cancellation - several weeks before the series had even finished - rather slipped by most of the tabloids unnoticed. Except for the Sun which crowed 'seventeen million pound fantasy programme given the boot after viewers slate the show.'
2. The Jump
For two years, Channel Four's witless reality series which follows various z-list celebrities as they try to master winter sports - for the sole purpose of getting themselves on television - had pootled along to no great interest from either the vast majority of viewers or, indeed, the vast majority of hospitals. All that changed when the third series began in January. It concluded six weeks later with the retired rugby union player Ben Cohen winning the series. Mainly because most of his opposition were, at that moment, in traction. The bloodbath kicked-off on 4 February when Tina Hobley was forced to withdraw from the competition after dislocating her elbow while training for a ski jump. Several months later, she was still whinging about how, since the injury, she has 'struggled' to 'drive, dress [and] wash my hair.' The actress claimed that her injuries had been 'worse than originally feared' and that she had sustained 'three major traumas.' Well, four, if you count being interviewed by Davina McCall from her hospital bedside. No one felt particularly sorry for Hobley since it was her own bloody stupid fault for signing up to such an insanely dangerous conceit in the first place. The same could be - and, indeed, was - said about Rebecca Adlington who was forced to withdraw from the competition the following day after dislocating her shoulder, the funniest thing involving Adlington since Mad Frankie Boyle told that joke about her in 2008. But, those two were just the start of the production team keeping Innsbruck General in a steady stream of patients.
     Former Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle suffered the most serious injuries, needing surgery on her spine after a horrible crash, whilst Made In Chelsea-type person Mark-Francis Vandelli fractured his ankle. To be fair, most people did feel quite sorry for Beth cos she's a nice girl and it was a nasty injury. Linford Christie pulled a hamstring, ex-EastEnders actor Joe Swash chipped a bone in his shoulder, Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding injured her ligaments as did Tom Parker and Heather Mills - who been brought in as a replacement for Adlington - hurt her knee and thumb. And, made a real meal out of it but still didn't get much sympathy because, frankly, no one likes her very much. On 13 February, Zara Holland (no, me neither) left the series after producers said that she was 'unable to cope with the competition.' Or the likely medical bills, one imagines. The Jump had already received almost blanket negative reviews from critics over the previous two series. Sally Newall of the Independent called it 'a bonkers, scary mash-up of Big Brother and Ski Sunday,' whilst a reviewer on the Digital Spy website called it 'more painful than a snowball in the mouth.' In a one-star review, the Torygraph said: 'We were promised celebrities risking life and limb on The Jump. What we actually got was publicity-seeking C-listers plopping off a ski jump so small that it could double as a speed bump or playground slide. It all put the anti-climactic icing on a deeply disappointing cake.' The Gloucestershire Echo's reviewer added: 'This is reality TV taken to its limits; manufactured, emotionless crap wheeled out through desperation. I'm usually all for that, providing it throws up entertainment which this, sadly, lacks from start to finish.' As the injuries mounted, the press claimed that 'several viewers' had 'demanded' the show be cancelled. And produced about four comments from Twitter as supporting evidence. The Sun reported that insurance costs for the injuries sustained by cast members 'could' total over thirty grand per episode. Interestingly vague word, 'could.' The same newspaper then claimed in March that Channel Four had 'axed' the show 'after ratings collapsed.' Actually, they didn't, the episode average of slightly above two million punters who, seemingly, enjoy watching z-listers in danger of hurting themselves really badly was, broadly, the same as those for the previous two series. Channel Four immediately said that this was 'categorically untrue' (from the Sun? Never?) and in July confirmed that the show would be renewed for a fourth series in 2017. Whether the next bunch of episodes will see The Jump's first on-screen death, two million ghouls will probably tune in to find out. The rest of us, hopefully, will find something more useful to do with our time. One thing is certain, however, there will never be any shortage of z-listers desperate to get themselves on telly. Even if it means, quite literally, breaking their own necks to do so.
3. It's Not Rocket Science
In which Rachel Riley, Ben Miller and Romesh Ranganathan - all very smart and witty individuals used to considerably better vehicles than this shite - got to supervise The Only Way Is Essex-type person Joey Essex trying to drive a car controlled by his thoughts and Adam Gemili attempt to outrun a Red Arrows jet. Why? I mean ... why? The Daily Scum Mail's odious and smug - but, like a broken clock, occasionally right - Christopher Stevens probably summed it up best when he described the format as, ITV's 'Top Gear for science' which had 'horribly backfired.' Nothing, Stevens noted, is more 'uncool' than a science TV show which tries to be all edgy and street to appeal to a young audience. 'It's the TV equivalent of a dad dancing to rap music at his fiftieth birthday party with a baseball cap on backwards. It's Not Rocket Science was as painful as a maths teacher who thinks he is "down with the kids." In fact, that maths teacher was one of the presenters: Romesh Ranganathan, who went back to the school where he used to work.' The cringiest moment, Stevens added, came when Doctor Kevin Fong 'swaggered onto the set in slow-motion, thumbs hooked over his jeans like Paul Hollywood on heat. "He's our gunslinger of science," gasped co-presenter Rachel Riley. Actually, in real life, he's an anaesthetist.'
      The worst aspect of all of this, however, the presence of Ben Miller. With his PhD in physics and the fact that he's one of the best comic talents this country has produced in years, this should have been the perfect opportunity for Ben to become the second coolest scientist on telly (let's face it, as good as he was in The Armstrong & Miller Show and Death In Paradise, he's still no Brian Cox). But, like Rachel and Romesh he just looked lost in a format that didn't know what it wanted to be or what it wished to achieve. Was it entertaining? No, not even remotely. Was it informative? Not really, the bits where viewers might, just, have learned something we smothered beneath so much hyperbole and shouting that you tended to lose the point. The Sun, predictably, hated it (telly flop for high flier Rachel Riley as ITV show It's Not Rocket Science stalls). So did the Scum Express: 'Somewhere, in the distant DNA of this show, some bright spark probably had an idea about making a popular, fun science show, in which people learned about stuff while being entertained. It seems that the learning went the way of the humans' tail and the dodo, leaving a show that's about ... what? We don't know.' So did the Lancashire Evening Post. 'What is the point of Rachel Riley,' their reviewer asked, angrily. Jeez, that's a bit harsh! 'Riley is intelligent, can tell a joke and host a TV show - which is at least three things Joey Essex cannot do. Her talents are being wasted on this show, and so is our time.' When the Lancashire Evening Post hasn't a good word got say about your show, you know you're in trouble. Predictably, the viewing public - who, despite their many faults in other areas, usually know when they're being sold a lemon - decided that it wasn't rocket science to give this fiasco a wide breath and, after six weeks of monumentally rotten ratings and poor feedback from what viewers it did get ITV appear to have shoved It's Not Rocket Science into a cupboard and hoped that everyone would simply forget about it. An alleged - though anonymous and, therefore, probably fictitious - 'source' allegedly told the Sun: 'It's Not Rocket Science was billed as "the Top Gear of science," but given its place on a primetime Saturday night slot, the ratings were seriously disappointing. ITV is now exploring other options which will take priority over another series.' So, that'll be a 'no', then?
4. A League Of Their Own
Believe it or not, this hateful and breathtakingly unfunny exercise in crass smugness and celebrity-by-non-entity is, supposedly, 'very popular.' I'm not entirely sure with whom since this blogger has never met a single person who's sat through an entire episode of it without wanting to smash their TV in. It's a sports-based lack-of-comedy panel show - 'They Think It's All Over without the jokes', if you will - hosted by that odious Corden individual and featuring the former cricketer Andrew Flintoff (nice lad, bit thick) and the former footballer Jamie Redknapp (nice lad, extremely thick) as team captains. Unfunny odious lanky streak of worthless rancid piss Jack Whitehall is a regular panellists which, despite the presence of that other ladgeful pillock Corden remains the one overriding reason why A League Of Their Own should be avoided by anybody with an ounce of dignity or self-respect in their bodies. Sky previously announced that they had signed a three-year deal with these people, which will see the show remain on-air until 2017 despite Corden's - frankly baffling - success in the US which most of us hoped would mean British TV might be spared his presence for a while. Variously described as 'A Question Of Sport for idiots,' 'the televisual equivalent of Nuts magazine,' 'dull, unimaginative and painfully protracted' and 'showing very few laughs and little charm' - and, those are some of nicer and more family-friendly bits of critique this blogger could find - A League Of Their Own is a perfect illustration of pretty much everything that is wrong with Britain in the Twenty First Century. On television and, indeed, in society as a whole. These glakes think they're so clever, so amusing, so rebellious. And they're not, they're just obnoxious and arrogant in equal measure. If you haven't got Sky, dear blog reader, think yourself jolly lucky.
5. Houdini & Doyle
A twenty four carat disaster of ghastly Hindenburg-style proportions, Houdini & Doyle was a British-Canadian-American drama co-production based on the real-life friendship of Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A ten-episode series was ordered by FOX in the United States and ITV in Britain although, in the case of the latter, only the first episode was actually shown there. Subsequent episodes were broadcast on ITV Encore - between regular repeats of Vera - and attracted a weekly average audience of between fifty and one hundred thousand. That's not a misprint. In America, viewership started at around the two-and-a-half million mark and lost a good half of those by the end of the series. Predictably, it was cancelled before all of the episodes had been shown amid - unconfirmed - allegations that some of the actors had been paid less than they were expecting. Maybe that was a comment on how the network regarded what they'd been given.
     Starring Michael Weston as Houdini and Stephen Mangan as Doyle, the drama was ... rotten, basically. Given the - decent - amount of money it had spent on it, somehow it still looked cheap, was poorly characterised and felt as if few involved in the production were doing it for anything other than the money (how ironic, if those stories of underpayment are true). 'It's as though Jonathan Creek fell over the Reichenbach Falls wrestling Mr Selfridge and this is what they found at the bottom,' sniffed the Gruniad, who also drew readers' attention to the discontinuity of ITV showing the series on a minority channel and then being surprised when no one watched it.
6. That Awful Myleene Klass Woman: Single Mums On Benefit
Not knowing what to do with That Awful Klass Woman since the - extremely amusing - failure of 2015's BBQ Champs - and, having not, seemingly, realised that this hateful, full-of-her-own-importance woman is now ratings toxic in exactly the way that Christine Bleakley is, ITV took the decision to stick That Awful Klass Woman in a 'concerned' investigative documentary. It was, predictably, woeful diarrhoea. Who would have predicted that? The Gruniad's description of Single Mums On Benefit as 'a bit of a mess' was, frankly, doing a major disservice to perfectly respectable messes. 'Here she is in a bikini,' they wrote. 'And here she is in another bikini. And another! Wet this time! Gratuitous? No! She’s being a single parent in a wet bikini, it's totally relevant and important to the story. Yes, Klass is a single parent herself, to two daughters, so she knows something about it. Not on benefits, obviously, she works hard, motivated by the fear of failing Ava and Hero. I'm not sure Klass's story is wholly representative of the two million single parents and the fact that she is famous, wealthy, able to afford nannies and well supported, might make her experience different from some.' No shit?
     The Daily Scum Mail - which had licked Myleene's arse good and proper that time she had a go at Ed Milimolimandi when he wanted to make her pay more taxes - found themselves very conflicted since here as she was being, broadly, sympathetic to people they clearly think of as scroungers; so, they found some specimens on Twitter who were - for once rightly - offended by the patronising tone of the programme. From those, they did a Myleene Klass is slammed for turning up to interview single mothers on benefits in a thirty one thousand pound jeep - wearing an eight thousand pound Rolex and a six hundred pound coat story. 'Slammed', incidentally, is tabloidese for 'criticised' only with less syllables. The Mirra also picked up on how 'patronising' the programme appeared, as did The Huffington Post. Tragically, no one pointed out the real disgrace about this wretched, worthless conceit. That Myleene Klass, millionaire, with her fur coat and her rolex and her Hyundi was, presumably, paid to present this nasty, sneering, arrogant piece of self-justification. What a dreadful, sorry world we live in, dear blog reader. The Pop Group were right, we are all prostitutes now.
7. Celebrity Juice
What A League of Their Own is to Sky 1, the disgraceful shower of rancid festering spew Celebrity Juice is to ITV2. Television - unoriginal television at that - for the hard of thinking. 'Entertainment' which celebrates stupidity, ego and self-publicising. If A League of Their Own is 'They Think It's All Over without the jokes (and with Jack Whitehall)' then Celebrity Juice is Shooting Stars without the jokes or the charm (and with Holly Willoughby. And gloriously thin-skinned scourge of the bullies, Fearne Cotton).' The really annoying thing about Celebrity Juice is that creator Leigh Francis is a genuine comedy talent, the brains behind one of the most clever comedy formats of the last decade, Bo' Selecta! Sadly, his Keith Lemon character is obnoxious and twatty and, ultimately, about as funny as a good, hard kick in the Jacob's Cream Crackers. And just as eye-watering. 'Lemon', and his two thick-as-two-short-planks blonde things mince through every episodes with a look on their smug faces like they're so brilliantly postmodern and ironic. And, of course, they're not, they're just loud and vulgar and very annoying indeed. A programme which 'celebrates' the worthless z-list celebrity culture of the Twenty First Century in all its horrific, 'look at me, ma, I'm on telly again!' garish self-importance, Celebrity Juice is vile, sick and wrong on just about every level. This blogger has been accused of being something of a philistine for not 'getting the joke' with regard to this desperate and pointless waste of time and energy. Maybe that's true. Or, maybe, just maybe, the joke is so thin and cheap that this blogger has 'got it' and not found it to be funny. And, when 'the joke' consists of 'Lemon' describing one of his colleagues as 'Willoughbooby', Keith Telly Topping thinks he's right and the roughly one million people who watch this crass exercise weekly are wrong. Here endeth the lecture.
8. Life Stripped Bare/Naked Attraction
One really does have to hand it to Channel Four, they're consistent at least. After all, why produce one series in which crass, attention-seeking exhibitionists get their kit off on TV to provide 'entertainment' to voyeurs when you can produce two. Life Stripped Bare came first, in July. The Torygraph described it as 'like the world's saddest game of Twister,' adding: 'The "life experiment" documentary asked us to consider what might happen when fresh-faced trendies were separated for three weeks from their iPads, Talking Heads vinyl and – did participants read the small print? – every item of clothing.' The slightly upsetting answer is that the newly nude volunteers invariably ended up squatting in their living rooms, trying not to be seen through the window by the bin-man. But who would want to sit through sixty minutes of hipsters huddled in their habitats? 'Hence Life Stripped Bare's Big Idea. The guinea pigs could chose one item from their stash of possessions on each of the twenty one days of the experiment – but only after an in-the-buff dash to a storage bin half-a-mile up the road. Cue: wobbly bums, wobbly steady-cams and wobbly driving as passers-by tried not to crash at the sight of a naked fashion blogger negotiating a zebra crossing. Tough on the subjects – traumatic for us at home.' So, dear blog reader, you're probably wondering what point, exactly, was Channel Four trying to make with this ... thing? What we learned, ultimately, was something we should've known already; that some people will do anything to get on television. 'As bras and knickers were heaped onto a figurative pyre, the viewer may have found themselves reflecting on the extremes people will go to for fifteen minute of quasi-fame. What, for instance, had prompted Mumford & Sons-fallen-on-hard times lookalikes Tom and Andrew (with nurse flatmate Georgia) to dispense with clothes, coffee maker, wallets et cetera? "It's the opportunity to do something crazy together," they ventured.' There are, it has to be said, easier - and much more dignified - ways of 'doing something crazy together', surely?
    Just two weeks later, the same channel produced Naked Attraction, a dating game show, presented by Anna Richardson. 'Is a nude dating show a public service?' wondered the Gruniad at a time when Channel Four was desperately trying to argue its public service broadcasting credentials in the wake of a threatened government sell-off. 'Viewers outraged over full-frontal nudity in a racy new Channel Four dating show' fumed the Daily Scum Mail, for whom the words 'naked' and 'Channel Four' must seem like manna from Heaven. 'How low can this channel go?' asked the Torygraph, not unreasonably. 'Ofcom won't investigate Naked Attraction despite two hundred and fifty complaints' whinged the Daily Scum Express. 'The most utterly stupid dating show on TV,' opined Buzzfeed (which, when you consider it has Take Me Out as competition really is saying something). 'Welcome to post-Brexit Britain,' the website's critic added. 'Why does the show exist? Well, according to [producers], "modern dating has become a complicated business."' So, the obvious way around this is to flash your naughty bits to the nation (or, to that portion of the nation watching Channel Four post-watershed, anyway). Put simply, you would have to be a brain-damaged moron or the victim of a cruel medical experiment and, in either case, someone without any dignity or self-worth to wish to appear on - or, indeed, watch - either of these formats. And, if you're one of the people who dreamed them up in the first place, they you should probably be horsewhipped - naked - through the streets until you promise never to do anything so demeaning and offensively sneering again. Yes, you found plenty of fodder for your cruel and shameful freak show(s) and even found a few hundred thousand glakes to watch both. One trusts your parents are all very proud of you.
9. The Getaway Car/Drive
Television is the business of compromise, we know this to be true. It's also a medium which joyfully eats itself in so much as it has always been capable of endlessly churning out copycat remakes of a successful format. In 2015 - before that fracas - when Top Gear was still the BBC's most profitable brand and one of its most watched programmes - both the Beeb and ITV decided they'd like a go creating car-based factual formats in the hope of attracting some of Top Gear's audience. Needless to say that, in common with many previous (and exceptionally cynical) examples of TV programmes who owed their existence to the previous success of other TV programmes, neither worked. If The Getaway Car, which began in January, had been any more of a disgraceful cash-in on Top Gear it would have included a Stig or two. Which, actually, it did. It also had Dermot O'Dreary as presenter who very quickly had a look on his face that screamed 'why the Hell did I leave The X Factor for this bollocks?' In each episode, five couples competed in three rounds of not-especially-interesting car-based malarkey and japes. In the final round, the last couple standing (or, you know, driving) tried to win as much money as possible by racing the eponymous Getaway Car against a Stig. Speaking on The ONE Show just before the series began, O'Dreary described The Getaway Car as 'Total Wipeout behind the wheel of a car meets Gogglebox.' All of which made the show sound about as entertaining as watching some cars crashing. And, that pretty much summed it up. The majority of the critics hated it. Matt Baylis in the Daily Scum Express said that 'the only viewers who could have stayed the course, I suspect, would have been TV critics or people forced to watch it while being interrogated in secret CIA prisons. The golden rule of a banana-throwing competition is that you don't give bananas as prizes and something similar applies to driving-themed game shows.' The Torygraph noted that 'the longer the show went on, the more its faults became apparent' and described it as 'slow, repetitive and unevenly paced' and feeling 'like an over-stretched segment on Top Gear, TFI Friday or a bushtucker trial.' Which, actually, made it sound far more interesting than it was. The Daily Scum Mail sneered 'The Getaway Car is the worst TV spin-off since Joey Tribbiani got his own series on the back of Friends.' Which, again, gives it more credit than it deserves. 'To bypass the problem that The Stig can't talk, the producers brought in motormouth Dermot O'Leary, a man who won't or can't shut up.' Fair point. 'The Getaway Car isn't the worst thing the BBC has produced,' opined the Mirra. 'But it is the most pointless.' Predictably, the ratings were awful and, in June, the Sun claimed that it had been 'axed' (although, sadly, not with an actual axe). An alleged 'insider' allegedly told the alleged newspaper: 'There were high hopes for The Getaway Car but it just didn't get the ratings and is deemed not good enough for Saturday nights.'
     However, people in the TV industry clearly never learn anything from previous fiascoes and, a couple of months later, ITV produced Drive. If The Getaway Car owed its existence to Top Gear, then Drive owed its existence to Top Gear and The Getaway Car. Yes, it really was that desperate. The main difference between the two shows were that The Getaway Car was presented by the annoying Dermot O'Dreary whilst Drive was presented by the annoying Vernon Kay. And, it featured z-list celebrities like Louis Walsh, Mariella Frostrup and Professor Green (no, me neither) rather than 'ordinary people' (if you could call those who volunteered to go on The Getaway Car 'ordinary', which is probably pushing the definition, somewhat). Celebrity motoring show Drive is 'cancelled by ITV after host Vernon Kay's sexting scandal turns viewers away' the Scum Mail alleged. 'Viewing figures have been appalling and Vernon hasn't done any favours for the show following his sex text shame. Unsurprisingly, ITV aren't bringing it back for a second run,' an alleged 'source' allegedly said. Though this blogger suspects that this viewer apathy had less to do with what Tess Daly's bloke had been doing with his phone and more to do with the fact that, nine times out of ten, the viewing public, bless 'em, know a puddle of piss when they see it. 'Any suggestion that Drive won't be returning for a second series is pure speculation and we will make a decision in due course,' said a spokeswoman for ITV. Time will tell. It usually does.
10. Alan Carr's Grease Night
'Car Crash TV', 'the worst bit of television I have ever seen', 'cringeworthy and awkward', 'toe-curlingly bad', 'Channel Four showed total contempt for TV audience', 'an absolute cringefest', 'a shambles'. These were just some of the descriptions of what Channel Four had announced as a 'live extravaganza hopelessly devoted to all things Grease and Fifties Americana'. A less kind description might have been 'a woefully chaotic and embarrassingly rotten example of a TV conceit seemingly dreamed up by someone on the back of a beer mat and then not improved upon during development, production or broadcast.' Alan Carr's journey back to 1950s America with Katherine Ryan, Grease Night was not well-received by viewers, critics or pretty much anyone with a brain in their head. Speaking in advance of the event, Carr said: 'I love Grease, so I cannot wait to step inside the 1950s for Prom Night Live. This must make me Northampton's answer to Vince Fontaine.' Right. Channel Four's entertainment commissioning editor Syeda Irtizaali added: 'Prom Night Live will celebrate the iconic music and fashion of the 1950s in a uniquely Channel Four event.' Whether Syeda Irtizaali was still Channel Four's entertainment commissioning editor the day after this ludicrous turkey was broadcast (and, if so, why) are another couple of questions entirely and, well worth asking at this juncture this blogger would venture to suggest. Carr himself is an inventive and occasionally brilliant comedian although he's had a rough year with his Channel Four talk show, Chatty Man having suffered a huge drop in ratings since it was switched from Friday to Thursday evenings which, in October, led to its cancellation after sixteen series. Sadly, sticking him with horribly contrived and brainless formats such as this does little for his career.
11. Are You Being Served?/Goodnight Sweetheart/Young Hyacinth
The BBC's Landmark Sitcom season was an odd conceit to begin with and ended up very much a mixed bag. At one end of the spectrum, there was the - broadly well-received - BBC4 Lost Sitcom remakes of episodes of Hancock's Half Hour, Steptoe & Son and Till Death Us Do Part, and the 'nowhere near as bad as it looked on paper' revival of Clement and La Frenais' Porridge which has, since, been rewarded with a full series commission. At the other extreme, there were this trio of appalling travesties. Young Hyacinth (a prequel of the wretched Keeping Up Appearances) and the revival of, the not event remotely lamented, Goodnight Sweetheart produced laughless variants on the original series' that they were based upon. The former included a decent cast - Kerry Howard, Mady Addy, Debra Stephenson - struggling with a thoroughly rotten script from one of the Roy Clarke twins (the one, seemingly, who writes all the twee nonsense like Last Of The Summer Wine rather than the author of Pulaski, Potter and Ain't Misbehavin). The latter took a potentially fascinating idea (trapped-in-the-past Gary Sparrow breaking Blinovitch's Limitation Effect as he witnesses his own birth) and shagged it up through Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran seemingly being unable to decide whether they wanted to write a comedy or Inception and ending up not so much falling between two stools as plummeting between them.
    And, then there was Derren Little's remake of Are You Being Served?, thirty minutes of television that was so bad, so horrifying, so woefully inept, that it was like watching not a car crash but rather a multiple motorway pile-up involving oil tankers, chemical lorries and coach parties full of pensioners and schoolchildren, with the burning and the screaming and the horrible death. God, it was bad. The Torygraph's Michael Hogan described it as a 'turgid, interminable half-hour' which 'made Mrs Brown's Boys look like PG Wodehouse. It wasn't so much that the humour was un-PC or especially offensive. It was just tired and limp, like an iceberg lettuce long past its sell-by date. There was a lazy reliance on lavatorial humour and casual misogyny.' The Digital Spy website's reviewer added: 'The experience is akin to watching a tribute band.' The Sun trawled Twitter for hostile reactions and, unsurprisingly, found plenty. So did the Mirra. And, for once, Twitter was right. Please, BBC, never, ever do this sort of thing again.
12. Davina McCall: Life At The Extreme
'Extraordinarily tame' according to the Torygraph, 'a broken fingernail' according to the Scum Mail (which also ran an article based on viewers 'ridiculing' the programme), Life At The Extreme was the latest witless format dreamed up for Davina McCall by ITV. Before the year was out, they would have produced another - equally worthless - example, This Time Next Year. But, Life At The Extreme was worse because, if only ITV had bothered to stick someone other than McCall in front of the camera, it might actually have been rather good. As the Independent noted: 'Less presenter, more animal action, please.' 'Something odd happens to celebrities when they take on endurance challenges,' noted Gabriel Tate. 'They get addicted. They just can't stop. Davina McCall ran, cycled and swam across the UK in 2014 for Sport Relief. Now, as if it wasn't enough to keep putting herself through the emotional wringer on the excellent but gruelling Long Lost Family, she's insisting on experiencing Life At The Extreme. ITV's latest stardust-sprinkled variation on the nature documentary sends its famous presenter to the hottest, coldest, deepest and wettest places on Earth to learn how the native wildlife (and, in some cases, people) cope in such environments.'
    Predictably, like most ITV travelogues of recent vintage, it ended up being far more about the celebrity themselves than it did about the places they were going to. The opportunity to realise their dreams on someone else's money - in a manner that Martin Clunes and Joanna Lumley have turned into a lucrative second career - and show everyone how drop dead fantastic they are (and, you're not) seems too good to pass up. Sometimes, these kind of formats end up reasonably watchable - again, Clunes and Lumley spring to mind. This one, wasn't. McCall's levels of insight didn't extend much beyond noting, whilst in Namibia, that 'wildebeest are amazing-looking' or that so many creatures are 'utterly genius at finding funny little ways [to survive].' Wow, did you come up with that yourself, Davina, or was it scripted for you? Davina chased a cheetah (and lost) in one episode. Davina braved a storm and hugged a monkey in Costa Rica in another. Davina also broke down in tears when the monkey hugged her. Survival or Planet Earth, it wasn't. Ultimately, the viewers whom the Scum Mail found on their Twitter trawl, were right. McCall herself is personable enough but, seriously, stick to what you're good at involving interviewing z-list celebrities who've just broken some bones on The Jump, love. You're not Attenborough (or even Kate Humble).
13. Morgana Robinson's The Agency
Let's face it, dear blog reader, you either like impressionists or you don't. This blogger doesn't. Never has, never will. He wasn't a big fan of Rory Bremner or John Culshaw and both of those are million times more interesting than Morgana Robinson. You can always tell when an impressionist is struggling with perfecting their take on someone whenever they begin their impressions with the words 'hello, I'm ...' or a variant. The fact that just about every one of Morgana Robinson's efforts starts that way, speaks volumes. Oddly, The Agency received some reasonable reviews - some silly clown at the Gruniad describing it as 'the laugh 2016 has been crying out for' - which could suggest that this blogger's prejudice against this particular comedy form is in danger of clouding his judgment. Or, maybe Keith Telly Topping is right and this risible pile of horse dung really is every bit as bad as this blogger believes it to be. One or the other. I'll leave it up to you, dear blog reader, to decide which camp you fall into. But, if it's the former then you need your head examined!
14. Birds Of A Feather
It wasn't in the slightest bit funny when it was - baffling - popular on the BBC in the 1980s. It was even less funny - if that were possible - when ITV, who seemingly couldn't think of any original comedy ideas to make, revived it in 2014. And, with each passing year it gets less and less funny. Birds Of A Feather is like a cancerous boil on the arse of British TV comedy, something that desperately needs to be surgically removed at the earliest opportunity before the patient dies. A recent article in the Sun suggested that Linda Robson and Pauline Quirke 'look acted out' after a 'full-on week' filming the Birds Of A Feather Christmas special in Malta. For which read 'Christ, is this hopeless turd still going?' As the Torygraph memorably noted a couple of years ago when the series first returned after more than a decade away: 'There are many TV shows we've loved and lost over the years, but Birds Of A Feather isn't one of them ... These days, we have interminable reality show The Only Way Is Essex to confirm all those stereotypes - and unfortunately that makes Sharon, Tracey and Dorien feel, at best, quaintly old-fashioned and, at worst, tired, dated and utterly unnecessary.' Yeah. What they said.
15. Jericho
Steve Thompson's Jericho was set in the fictional titular community, a shanty town in the Yorkshire Dales, which had sprung up around the construction of a railway viaduct in the 1870s. The series, effectively, re-imagined the story of the building of the real Ribblehead Viaduct. Thompson's a good writer (as his work on Sherlock and Doctor Who among others proves) and it had Jessica Raine as its lead and the beautiful Colne Valley locations on its plus side. Should've been good, then, right? On the minus side, it was dull. Not bad, necessarily, but turgidly, wantonly dreary. A bit like someone's half-forgotten memories of what classy dramas like When The Boat Comes In and The Onedin Line used to be like thirty years ago but with all of the warmth and humour sucked out of them. Given that, Jericho, predictably, failed to capture the public's imagination and fared very badly up against the BBC's Death In Paradise in the Thursday 9pm slot. The drama opened with fewer than three million viewers according to the overnights (which was not much improved on consolidated figures) and then, it steadily lost much of that audience as the run progressed.
     It wasn't long before it was confirmed that it had became one of the first victims of the incoming ITV Director of Programmes Kevin Lygo's Doctor Beeching-like reaping axe. Unlike the closed railway stations in the 1960s, however, there were few emotional protests concerning 'Britain's first Western.' The Sun described Jericho as 'ITV's flop period drama.' The Torygraph said it 'resembled a school dramatisation of a Catherine Cookson novel' and, later in the series, stuck in the knife in further, claiming 'not even Clarke Peters can redeem this.' In an interview in January, in fact, Peters - a terrific actor - suggested that 'interference' by ITV has stymied the drama's chances. Had Thompson been 'left to his own devices,' Peters claimed, then there would have been the 'most amazing piece of storytelling in Jericho that you'd ever seen.' But, he added, 'he [always] has to sit down and answer to somebody.' Before the series was even half-over, therefore, even a leading member of its own cast was publicly giving up on it. 'There were so many flickering candles and soft shadows in the final scene it made Wolf Hall look like a floodlit stadium,' whinged the Herald's reviewer. Hopefully - after two successive duds; this and last year's very poor Partners In Crime - Raine, one of this blogger's favourite actresses, will next be served by a project that actual utilises her acting talents rather than wastes them.
16. Doctor Thorne
You've really got to hand it to ITV, they have the almost unique ability to screw up even the most promising of material. They're really very good at it. Here we had a piece of handsome costume drama with a cast that included Tom Hollander, Rebecca Front and Ian McShane. That should've been, at the very worst, watchable, right? Err ... wrong, actually. The three-part adaptation of Anthony Trollope's 1858 novel, written by the terminally awful Lord Snooty, went down like a bag of really heavy diarrhoea in a swimming pool. Response from the critics was very mixed, muted and subdued. Even those who were predisposed to like aspects of the adaptation were not without complaints. The Torygraph - often among Lord Snooty's traditional ass-kissers - initially registered a largely positive assessment. By the end of the series, however, its review was much more critical. The Gruniad described it (not undeservedly) as 'a carnival of cleavage ... Here's your chance to get more scheming aunts, rich heiresses, downtrodden husbands and country estates peeling around the edges,' they added. 'They were all here. As was an awful lot of explanatory detail and very little action or depth of emotion.'
     Rather atypically of Lord Snooty's usual modus operendi, Doctor Thorne was lovely to look at but, shallow in terms of characterisation, contained lots of really good actors given much flowery and not-particularly realistic dialogue to spout. And, ultimately, the whole thing was about class, those who have it and those - crass social climbing vulgarians - who wish to acquire it, but never will because they are, as that old Frost Report sketch on class suggested, 'without breeding.' Yes, dear blog reader, thirty years into his career as an author and Julien Fellowes is still writing the same thing. Just like Benny Hill, in fact, only without somebody slapping a little bald man on the head. Which would, admittedly, have improved Doctor Throne greatly if the little bald man in question had been Lord Snooty. 'Verdict? Enjoyable enough, but too much exposition. Not enough emotion or comedy,' concluded the Gruniad. 'All the flaws of Downton without the breathing space of six series.' Keith Telly Topping's point, dear blog reader, in a nutshell.
17. Harry Hill's Tea-Time
Boy, was Harry Hill ever a chap whose schtick got really old really fast? In its day, TV Burp was a jolly good show but it was running on empty by the time it finished and, since then, everything Harry has touched in TV terms (most notably, 2015's spectacularly awful revival of Stars In Their Eyes) has been about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. And, so it was with Harry Hill's Tea Time, a supposedly 'hilarious' parody of the world of TV cookery programmes that actually wasn't hilarious at all or anything even remotely like it. Made for Sky (because, presumably, no proper broadcaster would touch it with a bargepole) and featuring as its first episode's guest Paul Hollywood, a man who appeared to have no understanding of that fact that he was part of the TV genre being parodied, pre-series trailers suggested something along the lines of TV Burp-lite. In the event, it wasn't even that good. The targets were obvious and Hill's stock comedy cliche - Hazza being so archly detached from the whole thing, the very aspect that made Stars In Their Eyes such a failure - were all present and correct. Anyone expecting a three course meal in comedy genius instead received much poorer fare; a rather tasteless, smug and full-of-itself ham and cheese sandwich. Heavy on both, but with no butter.
18. That Awful Keith Woman At Her Majesty's Service/That Awful Keith Woman's Hidden Villages
Oh, dear blog reader, if only wishing made it so. If only that awful Keith woman was to be banged up at Her Majesty's pleasure or hidden away in a village somewhere. What a much nicer world this would be. So, in what is fast becoming an annual tradition, please allow this blogger to describe - at length - just how much he loathes this noxious woman and the rotten pieces of phlegm she presents. In what is, probably, the most offensively shite TV conceit ever dreamed up, full-of-her-own-importance Keith swans around some Home Counties villages like she sodding owns the gaff. These stereotypical population centres - with their cosy cottages, thatched roofs and loud-voiced eccentrics - represent, That Awful Keith Woman claims, 'the true England.' Whatever the Hell that means. Actually, we all know exactly what that means; the dying representatives of some mythical 'Golden Age England' which probably never existed. As someone who grew up on a council estate in the North of England, please allow this blogger to note that there are many examples of 'the true England' and almost none of them are kind of places that someone like That Awful Keith Woman would be seen dead in.
      Also, allow this blogger another moment of utter revulsion at the sheer nastiness of ignorant smug conceits like this. Naff off back to the 1950s you offensive woman and take your loathsome Daily Scum Mail attitudes with you. This blogger hopes that whoever came up these exercises in twee 'Little Englander' UKiP-voting bollocks gets home tonight to find that travellers have moved in next door to them. Who have really mean dogs that bark all night.
Also no bloody good at all: My Mediterranean With Odious Greedbucket (& Drag) Adrian Chiles, Insert Name Here, Siblings, Saved, Mr Selfridge, Jamie & Jimmy's Friday Night Feast, Now You See It, How To Lose Wight Well, Crashing, Stella, Do Not Disturb, Keeping Up With The Khans, Royal Navy School, Masterpiece With Alan Titchmarsh, Sara Cox On Friendship, Vinyl, One Child, Ant and/or Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, David Bladdibub On The Silk Road, Fresh Meat, The Inspectors Are Coming, Who's The Boss?, The Prosecutors: Real Crime & Punishment, Inside Buckingham Palace, Eurovision: You Decide, Dogs Might Fly, Stewart Lee's Exceptionally Smug Comedy Vehicle, Bear Grylls: Mission Survive, Land Of Hope & Glory, Stag, The TV That Made Me, Famous, Rich & Homeless, You're Back In The Room, Coastal Walks With My Dog, Ross Kemp's Britain, Paul O'Grady: The Sally Army & Me, Plebs, Army Girls, Britain's Got Toilets, What British Muslims Really Think, Play To The Whistle, Peter Kay's Comedy Shuffle, Fierce, The Tiny Tots Talent Agency, Barging Around Britain With John Sergeant, Kirstie & Phil's Love It Or List It, Pestinfestation On Sunday, Upstart Crow, Very British Problems, The Windsors, Lose Weight For Love, Love Nina, Where Are They Now? The Reunions, Alan Partridge's Scissored Isle, The Musketeers, You Saw Them Here First, Soccer Aid, Paul O'Grady's One Hundred Years Of Movie Musicals, Taskmaster, The Dog Rescuers With Alan Davies, Bloody Coldplay At Glastonbury, Life Inside Jail: Hell On Earth, Mr Versus Mrs: Call The Mediator, The Women Who Kill Lions, Z-List Celebrity First Dates, The Job Interview, Child Genius, Ross Kemp: The Fight Against Isis, The Rack Pack, Eden, Don't Tell The Bride, Wasted, X: The Generation That Changed The World, Made In Chelsea: South Of France, Borderline, Phil Spenser's Stately Homes, Kate Humble: My Sheepdog & Me, One Punch Killers, Five Hundred Questions, Sarah Benny's Four Rooms, Debateable, The Circuit, Go For It, Jo Wicks: The Body Coach, The Coopers Versus The Rest, Z-List Celebs Go Dating, New York: America's Busiest City, Duck Quacks Don't Echo, Our Ex-Wife, Lady C & The Castle, Yes Chef, Stage School, Too Posh To Parent, Motherland, We Love Sitcom, Dom On The Spot, It Was Alright In The Seventies, Alex Jones: Fertility & Me, Get Shirty, Z-List Celebrity Island With Bear Grylls, Anne Robinson's Britain, Zapped, Yonderland, Crazyhead, Little British Isles With Alison Steadman, Z-List Celebrity Haunted Hotel Live, Z-List Celebrity Storage Hunters, Money For Nothing, Russell Howard & Mum: USA Road Trip, Nigel Farage Gets His Life Back, The Peter Kay Story, This Time Next Year, Buble At The BBC, Peter York's Hipster Handbook, Conspiracy Files: The Trump Dossier, Trollied, Walliams & Friend, Kids On The Edge.

Curiosities Of The Year:-

1. Top Gear
On 16 June 2015, when the BBC first made the announcement that Chris Evans would be the replacement for Jezza Clarkson on a retooled, post-fracas Top Gear, Keith Telly Topping's sometime writing partner Alfie Joey - a few months away from his own brush with telly greatness on Britain's Got Toilets - used Facebook to ask this blogger an interesting question. 'Chris Evans ... awaiting the Top Topps Telly verdict!' This blogger replied thusly: 'Roughly equivalent to the time when The Toon sold Daveeed Ginola and used the money to buy Des Hamilton.' Because, whilst Keith Telly Topping had - and still has - a high regard for Evans as a broadcaster, particularly of live television, I added that 'he's on an absolute hiding to nothing with this one.' With the benefit of hindsight, Evans's new version of Top Gear was always 'on a hiding to nothing' and anyone who didn't realise that was deluding themselves. It was David Moyes coming after Sir Alex Ferguson. Be Here, Now after (What's The Story) Morning Glory. The Godfather III after The Godfather II! Yet, Alf wasn't having it. 'I reckon he'll be different and good,' he predicted. Well ... half-right, anyway.
     All of that came flooding back to this blogger on the afternoon of Monday 4 July when Evans dramatically - though, not unexpectedly - quit Top Gear after just one series amid falling ratings, unrelenting newspaper criticism and an, alleged, breakdown of his relationship with co-host Matt LeBlanc. The BBC described rumours that LeBlanc had ever made an 'either he goes or I go' ultimatum as 'categorically untrue.' So, either the BBC were lying or the several newspapers which made this claim - the Sun, the Daily Scum Mail and the Gruinad Morning Star being three examples - were lying. Chose whom you believe on this matter with some consideration, dear blog reader. The only person on the planet, seemingly, more depressed than Evans on that rather rainy Monday would have been the former leader of UKiP. That must have been the ultimate pisser for Nigel Farage, he couldn't even make the 'top resignation story' on BBC News. In a tweet announcing his departure, Evans said: '[I] gave it my best shot but sometimes that's not enough.' The overnight audience for the show had more than halved since Evans took over in May with the closing episode of the series watched by an overnight of 1.9 million punters, down from 4.3 million overnighters for the opening episode. Obviously, those figures failed to take into account timeshifting and iPlayer usage with Top Gear having always been a programme which had a huge 'other-than-live' audience. But still, even the final and consolidated ratings figures were below what the BBC and Evans himself, had confidently expected. Before its relaunch, Evans told the Grunaid that he would be 'disappointed' if the show achieved fewer than five million viewers per episode. Presumably, he meant total viewers as opposed to those simply watching live but his failure to specify that in the interview meant that most national newspapers - who only ever quote overnights when running stories about ratings - were immediately given a big stick with which to beat Evans. Hard. When it was presented by Clarkson, Top Gear attracted up to eight million punters at its height – notably in the wake of co-presenter Richard Hammond's near-fatal crash in 2006 – and always reached more than two million punters on overnights, even in its early days when it was still building an audience. BBC management was, the Gruniad claimed, 'concerned' about the falling ratings for one of its most valuable brands, which was worth an estimated annual fifty to eighty million smackers in worldwide sales and merchandising before Clarkson, Hammond and James May left last year following 'that fracas.' The decision to leave was made by Evans, but one - anonymous and, therefore, probably fictitious - alleged 'television executive' allegedly told the Gruniad that Evans had 'jumped before he was pushed.' Evans struggled with a barrage of newspaper stories alleging poor behaviour.
     Evans has denied these claims and said that such reports were part of 'a witch-hunt' but eventually he buckled under the relentless onslaught of negative coverage. LeBlanc, who, in marked contrast to Evans, had been widely praised by both viewers and critics for his performance, was alleged to have told BBC executives during negotiations over his contract that the partnership was not working. One alleged 'source' allegedly said that LeBlanc allegedly 'disliked' his co-host's behaviour on set, though the BBC would not confirm this. Reports that LeBlanc had vowed to leave the show unless Evans was sacked emerged a couple of weeks earlier in the always reliable and accurate Sun, an almost-constant critic of Evans over the previous year. Describing Top Gear – which has been hit by a string of staff departures – as 'crisis-hit,' the newspaper (which, of course, yer man Clarkson is a regular columnist) reported that LeBlanc had 'grown increasingly frustrated with his co-star's rudeness and "frosty attitude" towards the team.' BBC News soon claimed that the remaining five presenters - LeBlanc, Rory Reid, Chris Harris, Sabine Schmitz and Eddie Jordan - would all return for the next series, which was due to begin filming in September. In a statement, the BBC's Mark Linsey pointed out that the show had been sold to one hundred and thirty territories worldwide and said: '[Chris] firmly believes that the right people remain, on both the production team and presenting team, to take the show forward and make it the hit we want it to be.' The appointment of Evans was controversial from the start after he had repeatedly denied that he'd been approached to host the show following Clarkson's departure. The then BBC2 controller Kim Shillinglaw said Evans's 'knowledge of and passion for cars are well-known, and combined with his sheer inventiveness and cheeky unpredictability, he is the perfect choice to take our much-loved show into the future.' But, Shillinglaw lost her job before the programme went on-air, the first of a string of senior departures to hit the show. Most notably, executive producer Lisa Clark left before Christmas, essentially leaving Evans in sole charge. The BBC made Clare Pizey responsible for the show in March, just two months before the first episode was broadcast to generally bad reviews. The Scum Mail was - as expected - scathing, describing the revamp as 'so bad you could practically hear the champagne corks popping at Amazon HQ.' The Times picked on the lack of rapport between Evans and LeBlanc: Other reviews were less harsh but, certainly, a decent-sized chunk of the existing audience had, clearly, made up their minds about Evans even before the first episode went out. In the event, the series started slowly with many viewers, this blogger included, surprised by just how little the format had changed. The old 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,' attitude appeared to be in place but, what the BBC had seemingly failed to take into consideration was much of the reason why Clarkson's Top Gear had been so vastly popular, not only in the UK but around the world, was precisely because of the interaction between Clarkson, Hammond and May and the exaggerated 'characters' the trio played on the show. Hated by Middle Class hippy Communist Gruniad Morning Star readers, Top Gear was, by contrast, loved by millions of 'ordinary people' who really rather enjoyed watching three forty-and-fifty-something overgrown schoolboys cocking about in very fast and very expensive cars. Keith Telly Topping thought that the opening episode of the new version was adequate. But, it wasn't anywhere near as different as he thought it was going to be. They even kept the 'some say' introductions for The Stig, one elements which this blogger thought would be the first thing to go. Evans 'is a terrific presenter of live TV,' this blogger wrote. 'But, I thought on the first episode, he came over as a bit over-ramped, hyperactive and quite needy. He'll need to tone that down. But, Joey was great!' The show did improve as the series went on and, by the end, despite the declining ratings, it was getting far more positive feedback than negative. The general consensus of those viewers that remained - and, more than a few critics also - seemed to be, 'it still looks beautiful, it's still exciting and quite funny, Matt LeBlanc is great, Sabine is great, the two guys that nobody had heard of beforehand (Rory and Chris) are really good, Eddie's ... mad as bloody toast but very watchable. If only they could do something about Chris Evans it might just work.' In the end, Chris Evans 'did something about Chris Evans' so next year we'll see if it will work. Evans hit back at tabloid - and broadsheet - claims of bullying and that he was 'out of control' as 'nonsensical, facile and fictitious.' And, for the most part, the BBC backed him publicly. But the show also suffered a PR disaster when LeBlanc was filmed in a car with rally driver Ken Block doing 'doughnuts' near to the Cenotaph war memorial in London. Evans - showing all the backbone of a wobbly jellyfish - apologised 'unreservedly' and the scenes were never transmitted despite LeBlanc reportedly being upset that he hadn't been supported more by both the BBC and Evans over what was, in essence, an entirely media-manufactured 'outrage' story.
        Top Gear remains one of the BBC's most important shows. It has brought millions of viewers to the BBC, many of whom aren't big users of other BBC services. And, internationally, it is worth tens of millions of pounds to the BBC (the average annual income Top Gear brings in is, effectively, around the same as the money which the BBC spends on local radio in its entirety, just for a bit of context). While there has been a significant fall in overnight and consolidated viewing figures, interest in and awareness of the programme remains high. But, crucially, it doesn't appear to have been able to recreate the relationship between the presenters that it enjoyed with Jezza, Hamster and Mister Slowly. The banter between the three was at least as - if not more - important to fans as the cars, and much of the audience feel that important element which made it more than a motoring show has been lost. Or, at least, has been transferred up the Amazon.
Other shows which this blogger thought did not deserve to be in either list but, rather, somewhere in-between: Dickensian, UndercoverGogglebox, Indian Summers, Secret Britain, Happyish, Making A Murderer, How To Stay Young, Camping, Murder, Normal For Norfolk, Michael McIntyre's Big Show, I Want My Wife Back, In The Club, The Rebel, Robot Wars, Our Girl, Hive Minds, Joanna Lumley's Japan, Dara O Briein's Go Eight Bit, Citizen Khan, Him, Close To The Enemy, Tutankhamun.

And, finally, The One From 2015 That Got Away.

Each year, dear blog reader, From The North's TV Awards are, you know, awarded during the first week of December or thereabouts. You might have noticed. That, in and of itself, inevitably leads each year to the odd programme broadcast during December slipping into the cracks. Last Christmas, it happened with ...

One of the great TV comedy moment of 2015 came in the - properly superb - We're Doomed: The Dad's Army Story, broadcast of 22 December and which continued the BBC's well-deserved reputation of celebrating British television's past as previously shown in biopics like The Road To Coronation Street, An Adventure In Space & Time, The Curse Of Steptoe, Most Sincerely et al. It came as Dick Croft and Jimmy Perry were discussing the potential casting of Captain Mainwaring with their boss, Michael Mills. Second choice, Jon Pertwee, will do it, Croft is told by his secretary (Thorley Walters had already turned the part down). 'Tell him what we're paying' Croft instructs her followed, a moment later with comic timing worthy of the show which they were creating itself, by: 'Jon Pertwee says "No!"'
Just think, dear blog reader, there's probably an alternate universe somewhere not too far away in which Mister Pertwee did take the role and Arthur Lowe is still best known for Corrie, but Pertwee's cousin, Bill - played beautifully in We're Doomed by Shane Ritchie - didn't get the part of Warden Hodges and, instead, became The Doctor two years later. 'Put that light out, you'll have the The Autons all over us, the ruddy 'ooligans!'
This blogger's favourite performance in We're Doomed, out of many good and more than a couple of great ones (Julian Sands' John Le Mesurier was damned-near perfect) was one of yer actual Keith Telly Topping's favourite actors, Michael Cochrane's Arnold Ridley. A beautifully sympathetic and nuanced take on a, by all accounts, genuinely sweet and lovely man who had all sorts of trials and tribulations in his life but suddenly, in his mid-seventies, found a fame that he'd never really sought. And, all in the same week in which Arnold's great-niece, Daisy, suddenly found herself catapulted into a similarly stratospheric 'rise from nowhere'. Albeit, at a much younger age, obviously.
Mind you, there was one moment in We're Doomed which rather rankled with the obsessive telly nerd part of this blogger's brain - which, let's face it, is most of it. It related to the long-haired beardy chap waiting to be auditioned along with Jimmy Perry for a part in "On The Pill". The man is, clearly, referred to by another character as 'Trevor Eve'. Now, presuming that he was supposed to be the Trevor Eve - Shoestring, Waking The Dead, Most Sincerely, Children Of A Lesser God et al - it's probably worth pointing out that in March 1967 when this scene was set, the Trevor Eve was still a fifteen year old schoolboy in Bromsgrove a full seven years away from his TV debut (in an episode of BBC2's Second House which broadcast selected scenes from Trev's theatre breakthrough role as Paul McCartney in Willy Russell's West End production of John, Paul, George, Ringo & Bert). That's if beardy hippy-bloke was supposed to be the Trevor Eve. If he was supposed to be another Trevor Eve, then it was less of a problem. Dig?
Then again, of course, it's always worth remembering the following caption ... Not just in relation to We're Doomed but, indeed, concerning all telly.

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