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The TV Column

Gerry Corner watches Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, All the Queen's Horses, Airline and The Street (in reverse order)

Published on July 22nd 2009.


The TV Column

IF you were looking to witness “an intimate portrait of the Royal Family at leisure”, as billed in All The Queen's Horses (ITV, Sunday), don't worry if you missed it. It wasn't.

The only words we heard Her Maj speak during this “exclusive insight into the Royal Windsor Horse Show” were something about the sun being in her eyes. Other than that, you would need to practise lip-reading to an advanced level to make anything of the Queen's frustratingly animated exchanges, glimpsed only at long distance.

God knows, I don't wish to sound like the Daily Mail... but why are we paying Jonathan Ross £6m a year if the best he can think to ask U2 is “what's the secret of your longevity”, like a cub reporter at a diamond wedding party?

We did see presenter Alan Titchmarsh interviewing the Duke of Edinburgh at some length, which was fine just so long as you take a keen interest in the Prince's carriage-driving career.

While Philip went casual, in open-necked shirt and pullover, the nation's favourite gardener was strictly collar and tie throughout the programme. Titch is clearly after a knighthood to go with the MBE, and he even took part in the horse show, compereing the night-time tattoo to which the Queen wore a shocking pink dress, and I'm not talking about the shade, here.

Titchmarsh's enthusiasm was almost infectious but couldn't hide the fact that 90 per cent of the programme involved horsey people talking about horsey things.

Someone needs to tell ITV that it only qualifies as “an exclusive insight” if any other channel could be remotely bothered to do it.

*****

FRIDAY Night With Jonathan Ross (BBC1, Friday) had mysteriously been cancelled and in its place was a repeat of a show from about 1984 featuring U2, and that long-forgotten Aussie drag act, Dame Edna Everage.

And then it turned out it wasn't a show from a quarter of a century ago, it just ought to have been. Barry Humphries as Dame Edna might still pull a crowd at the Margate Pavilion but he/she/it does not represent TV's cutting edge. Nor does having a 50-year-old guest on called The Edge, a nickname that seemed pretty cool back in the Live Aid days.

It wasn't really his or fellow guest Bono's fault that they were encouraged to drone on quite so much about I don't remember what. You can normally rely on Ross to ensure his guests don't get to say anything much at all, but in this, the penultimate show of the series, he was oddly reticent.

He abandoned any pretence of interviewing Dame Edna and, instead, was reduced to rocking back and forth on his chair and quietly guffawing for no apparent good reason.

God knows, I don't wish to sound like the Daily Mail reader who tuts at headlines about “ Cigar-chomping BBC fatcat Jonathan Ross” but why are we paying the man £6m a year if the best he can think to ask U2 is “what's the secret of your longevity”, like a cub reporter at a diamond wedding party?

There was one decent anecdote all night; Bono recalling how he squirmed out of an attempted embrace from President Bush on stage at a function in the US. As Bono took his seat, the then Senator Obama turned to him and said: “Nice hug-dodge.”

Otherwise, that's another 59 minutes 12 seconds I won't be getting back.

*****

THE festive season in the airport departure lounges of Luton and Belfast seemed to be bringing out the bully in everyone in Airline (ITV, Monday). Thick snow, grounded aircraft and a planeload of passengers going nowhere on the day before New Year's Eve made for a happy production team.

Plane crash television, indeed. Set a camera running behind an easyJet flight desk and sooner or later a frustrated traveller will provide the ranting swearfest that passes for family entertainment before the watershed.

“Ex-KEWWSSE ME!”, snarled one passenger from Northern Ireland, the politest bully you ever heard. “Are you calling me a liar . . . I'll give you permission to speak . . . you answer my question, THEN you can talk.”

The lesson was clear – harangue the

poor sod in the uniform loudly enough, abrasively enough, for long enough, and you'll get what you want. The raging Ulsterman got himself a free transfer, courtesy of easyJet, to the city of his choice, while the quietly resigned school teacher and the party of pupils who had waited 18 months for their skiing holiday were forced to go home.

No one came out with much credit: certainly not the passengers who considered a foot of snow on the runway to be “a poor excuse”; certainly not a TV company lacking the wit and will to make proper programmes.

*****

IN the first of a new series of The Street (Monday, BBC1) writer Jimmy McGovern gave us his version of Gary Cooper's greatest role.

High Noon is transplanted to the mean streets of Manchester with a villain named Miller, just like in the movie, and Bob Hoskins as the hero whose posse piss off at the first sign of trouble. Hoskins is no Cooper but as pub landlord Paddy Gargan he does have a lot to do with barrels, boom boom.

You have to wonder if Paddy is brave or witless when he bars the son of the local drug baron for smoking. Dad says he and lad will be back next day and if Hoskins doesn't serve them both “I'll break every fucking bone in your body”.

“We'll be in around 3.30,” he gnashes, which is not exactly high noon, more high tea, except this is not Earl Grey and cucumber sandwich country. The pub is grimly functional, the clientele solid working class. “Touch my dad,” counters Hoskins' son, “and I'll stab your lad.”

There's no middle class angst here. The only “angst” is the one in “gangster”. The central characters are not overly complicated – one the good guy, one the bad guy, both stubbornly sticking to their guns. Funnily enough, there are no guns, despite the modern drug dealer's preference for shooting first and taking your money later.

Paddy says he can't back down, it wouldn't be fair on Deano who he barred for the same offence. So after discovering that his regulars lack his courage, Dutch or otherwise, he takes his battering alone, mostly lying down and requiring the services of a skilled medical team.

In the penultimate scene Hoskins has his revenge, humiliating the local drug baron by calling his son a tart and giving him a drink with a couple of pink straws and a nice umbrella. I'm not sure what the message is here, but if it's that having the crap kicked out of you is but nought compared to being shown up in front of your peers, I may be forced to disagree.

There were one or two points in the plot where a plausibility gap appeared to open up, yet most such thoughts occurred after the event. Feelings, not facts, were paramount here and McGovern's strength was in showing emotions and principles and contradictions and all the things that make us human. Paddy won't take Miller's drug money for a smoking shelter but he'll take it all night across the bar.

The Liverpool writer is a natural dramatist: This episode ambles along for the first 10 minutes then all of a sudden moves through the gears, the pressure piled on as the balance of power switches between the two until the antagonist snaps.

Hoskins works well as the easygoing publican who really doesn't want to be beaten up but can't talk himself out of it. In one of the best scenes, he sheepishly tries to tell Deano he's not barred anymore (“I thought you'd be pleased”) so he can tell Miller's son the same. But Deano doesn't want to be unbarred if it means Paddy caving in to the local bully.

“Do you think that's wrong?” asks Paddy desperately. “No,” says Deano. “Do you think I should stand up to him?” “No.” “Would you stand up to him?” “No” “So why do you expect me to?” “I just do. Some people you expect things of. Some you don't.”

ITV's Manchester's drama department, which makes The Street, is closing so this series will be the last. Make the most.

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TV KellyJuly 20th 2009.

I was massively disappointed to see that this column was about television and not me, but I read it anyway. As my old dad used to say, don't start reading something unless you're committed to reading it to the very end, otherwise you might miss something good. Thankfully there were a few good bits in here before the end, although I can't remember what they were. This chap Corner should write about the television more often as he shows some promise. I'd certainly give him another go, especially as the disappointment factor should no longer apply, mucking up my reading experience with a filter of gloom.

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