BUSHELL ON THE BOX
NOV 18. MUCH modern TV seems to exist just to fill the space between the adverts. Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old was different. Lovingly assembled and stunningly effective, it was one of the finest single documentary films ever made. By bringing colour to old World War I footage, Jackson instantly made the hell of trench warfare more relevant to us. This was no longer distant history conveyed in grainy black and white. These brave young men could have been plucked off the street yesterday. Many were underage when they enlisted. One 17year-old was told by the recruiting officer: “You’re too young; you’d better go outside and have a birthday.”
The volunteers – “all lads together” – were given horse clipper haircuts and fed on “Lance Corporal bacon” – streaky, with one stripe. And after six weeks training they were sent to the front. Nothing could have prepared them for the devastation – stunted trees, shell holes, vast swathes of barbed wire, corpses, lice, rats, and the awful stench of decay. Green clouds of poison gas claimed many victims. “I never saw a slightly gassed man,” observed one. They lived in sodden trenches, suffered frostbite in winter and got gangrene often leading to amputations. And yet even in this living hell, they never stopped joking. When the Germans put up a sign saying “Gott mitt uns” – God is with us – the English stuck up a sign saying “We’ve got mittens too”. “The Cockney wit was prevalent,” one old soldier recalled. EastEnders should try it.
They brewed up with boiling water straight from their Vickers machine guns, smoked Woodbines, and ate bread and jam for breakfast. One loaf fed 16. Their memories of battle were heart-rending: “Machine gun bullets came at us like hailstones”... “mates going down to your left and right”... “walking over the dead bodies of our comrades... ” This was slaughter on an industrial scale. Yet the Germans they met were the same as them. Maybe not the Prussians who were “cruel bastards” but the Bavarians and Saxons were “good decent people”. Back home after the Armistice, the survivors found civilians weren’t the slightest bit interested in their experiences. One went back to work and the bloke behind the counter in the stores asked “Where have you been? On nights?”
RANDY females with absurdly swollen buttocks were out to get laid on Dynasties. “They will try and to mate with as many males as possible,” said David Attenborough. It could’ve been Geordie Shore, except these sex-starved sorts were chimpanzees. Attenborough, a man so old his first pet was a stegosaurus, was documenting chimp power struggles in Senegal. Unbeknown to them, they had names: alpha male David ruled the roost and rode his babes at will. He was resented by young rival Luther and revered by best mate KL – the Chris to his Kem. Luther went bananas over David getting all the crumpet – monkey see, monkey screw – and led an overnight attack on his leader. It was the show’s biggest event and the BBC cameras missed it. The brutal battle left David close to death, but he built up his strength on bushtucker – termites, leaves, fruit – then trekked miles to rejoin the group. He saw off Luther and built up new allies. He was the smartest political operator since Putin.
ANDREW Neil blasted BBC comedy, branding it “self satisfied, self adulatory propaganda”. What will he notice next, bears defecating in forests? Week in, week out The Mash Report hammers Brexit even though the writers have nothing new or relevant or heaven forbid funny to say. TV comics bash Trump ad nauseum, often deservedly, but never seem to notice President Drunker, sorry, Juncker... Isn’t he equally absurd? Aren’t Macron and Karadkar? Bold “satirist” Nish Kumar won’t tackle EU corruption, or its waste, bureaucracy and contempt for democracy... He won’t mock the Establishment’s shameless war of attrition to keep us in either. He backs it.
*ON ITV, Omid Djalili compared Brexit to a 100metre sprint where the British runner shoots himself in the foot. At least 52% of viewers see it more like 110m hurdling with us trying to remove the over-sized EU hurdles of ill-thought-out red tape and meddling. Who writes jokes for them?
HOT on TV: They Shall Not Grow Old... Informer... Sam Underhill... Narcos – Mexico (Netflix)... 100 Years Of The RAF... The Kominsky Method (Netflix)
ROT on TV: Omid Djalili – as funny as blood on a stool... For Facts Sake – very nearly the exact response of every insulted viewer... Make Me A Dealer – bring back Flog It!
WE Are Most Amused & Amazed was like turning on I’m A Celeb hoping to catch Fleur East in the shower only to find Anne Hegerty soaping up instead. Disappointing and traumatising. Still, if I had a hat I’d take it off to Prince Charles. His favourite comics are famously Spike Milligan and Jim Davidson, so he did well pretending to be tickled pink by Sandi Toksvig and Sooty. One’s a bizarre, barely intelligible glove puppet... the other is Soo’s mate.
*STRICTLY costs millions. Any chance a tiny fraction of that budget could be spent on developing an autocue font large enough for Claudia to read without squinting?
*RAY Romano has been threatened, beaten and shot on Get Shorty. Not everybody loves Raymond.
*THE Reluctant Landlord? Meet the reluctant viewer.
*THINGS we learned from Celebrity Hunted #1: when on the run don’t book into spas, you plums! Well done Johnny Mercer & AJ for stuffing the hunters.
*ALFIE Moon has won the lottery, he’s moved to Ireland, Spain, knocked up his wife’s cousin... exciting! But will they ever let him buy a new shirt?
SMALL joys of TV: The Kinks – Echoes Of A World (SkyArts). People Just Do Nothing. Bill Bailey. Ant Middleton. Our Classical Century. Tom Davis. Michael McIntyre’s “Send to all”. Carla Connor pronouncing Benedict as “Bend-a-dick” on Corrie.
RANDOM irritations: Endless adverts for stair-lifts, mobility scooters and funeral plans on daytime TV – the single biggest cause of depression for the over-50s. Xmas ads already! Charity telethons – wouldn’t you rather send money to keep them off air?
SEPARATED at birth: Wolves manager Nuno Espírito Santo and Mousa bin Suleiman on Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan? One with a history of terrifying violence, the other hasn’t even heard of the Subway Army.
CORRIE Maths: Rev Billy + David Platt’s beard = India’s cricket captain Virat Kohli.
WORLD War I’s Secret Shame covered the conflict’s “avalanche” of psychiatric casualties and the shameful way they were branded “cowards” and “malingerers” and then executed. 100 years on, we still have ex-soldiers on our streets and in our jails. 42 veterans killed themselves this year. We can help by supporting Care After Combat.
JAMES Braxton was admiring an old Echo radio on Celebrity Antiques Road Trip when he told Perri from Diversity: “Just feel that knob! That’s lovely! Isn’t it lovely and smooth?”
CLASSIC clanger. Cricket commentator Brian Johnston: “There’s Neil Harvey standing at leg slip with his legs wide apart, waiting for a tickle.”
NOV 11. THEY had “sensual eating” on Louis Theroux’s Altered States. There was massaging, grub stuffed into people’s gobs and that great ham in the middle – Louis himself, shirtless, blindfolded and afraid. He was in Portland, Oregon, looking at “polyamory”. Not, mercifully, a bunch of perverts obsessed with parrots. That would be madness – parrots can talk. And imagine the squawking. No, polyamorist relationships involve more than two people. Like married couple Jerry and Heidi, and her lover Joe who leaves wife Gretchen to romp with Heidi in the family home... with her kids there. Jerry is delighted about it... insisted Heidi. “There’s a term for this,” she assured Louis. “Compersion – being happy for someone else’s happiness.” I can think of other terms; the most pleasant being “greedy”, “selfish” and “biatch”.
You’ve never seen a glummer looking happy man than poor cuckolded Jerry whose self-worth is being slowly and relentlessly shredded away like a Banksy painting. His missus is openly cheating and keeping him on to foot the bills. Enjoy! No wonder he looked perpetually on the edge of tears. Pushed gently by Theroux, Heidi finally said “Jerry’s happiness is not my responsibility”. His unhappiness clearly was, though; and the loneliness. He needs to kick her straight out – Heidi-bye! – and kick Joe in the nuts.
Louis also met Bob, Nick and Amanda – the Rod, Jane and Freddie of this whacko West Coast scene. They’re a “thrupple”, kipping together under different blankets, with the blokes taking it in turns to pleasure Amanda. She and Nick were college sweethearts; then Bob had bobbed up. At first they’d tried threesomes but it didn’t work. “Bob lasts a really long time in bed and I don’t,” explained Nick. “So I’d have to go first or I’d fall asleep. Or go down and play video games. Or have lunch... ” Now they service her on a rota. Tsk. The world seems to be turning into the made-up readers’ letters in a 1980s soft porn mag (I’m told). On one hand, it’s an affront to traditional morality. On the other it suggests my chances of getting accidentally locked in a pub cellar with a pair of unfeasibly man-hungry barmaids has never been higher... Polyamorists see themselves as humanity’s future, but come across more like a cult building up to a terrible blood-soaked atrocity. Don’t get me started on Mattias, his pregnant girlfriend and her bit on the side, the eminently punch-able “Q”. Short perhaps for Quant. Or something similar.
*POLYAMORY is not to be confused with Balamory. That was quite different, though I wouldn’t put it past Miss Hoolie. And Edie did love to honk a horn...
LOVE Island killed off Big Brother, making the format look tired. But at the start the show gripped like Jason “Jungle Cat” Cowan in a mud wrestling bout. Big Bro had romance, rows and remarkable characters, although after series one – a genuine social experiment – producers relied increasingly on freaks and screwballs. For every lovable housemate – Brian Belo, Jon Tickle, Kate Lawler – there were nightmares you’d cross the Sahara to avoid. Sorry Nikki. To celebrate its demise, here are my Top 7 best-ever BB bookings: 1) Victor Ebuwa AKA The Plumber (“coz I lay pipe”). 2) Derek Laud 3) Jade Goody 4) Pete “W*nkers!” Bennett 5) Brian 6) Aisleyne 7) Charley Uchea (BB8) – also sexiest irritant. Biggest nightmares: 1) Nadia 2) Nikki 3) Shahbaz 4) Grace 5) Kinga. Undisputed Low: Kinga at it with her wine bottle. A genuinely shocking moment. Everyone knows it should be white wine with fish. Sweetest Romance: Paul and Helen (BB2). Greatest quote: “Where is East Angular, though? I thought that was abroad” – Jade. Top Babes: Melanie Hill, Imogen Thomas, Orlaith McAllister – short for “Orla my clothes fell off.”
*BB’s Most Memorable Moments: 1) Nasty Nick’s demise (BB1). 2) Fight Night (BB5) 3) Nikki’s diary room rants – who is she? (BB7) 4) Sandy’s great escape (BB3) 5) Michelle and Chicken Stu under the table (BB5). Lost too soon: Sallie AXL.
FIVE episodes in and it’s clear writer Chris Chibnall is a bigger threat to Dr Who than the Master ever was. His latest fiasco featured absurd baddie, the Pting – a cute but malignant, oddly-shaped being that eats everything... so part Pac-Man, part Gemma Collins. There was also a pregnant bloke. Yawn. Red Dwarf did that in 1988. What box-ticking delight will Dr Who Chibnall serve up next? Polyamorous Daleks? Cross-dressing Cybermen? Odds on it won’t be a decent plot. Still, I suppose ptings can only get better.
*DAFT Who monster Pting could eat anything, but the script was still too hard to swallow.
HOT on TV: WWI: The Last Tommies BBC4)... The Heist... Emily Meade, The Deuce season finale... Jack Ryan (AmPrime)... Liev Schrieber, Ray Donovan (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: I'll Get This – come doze with me... Dr Who – Dr How Much Worse Can It Get?... Eyal Booker, Celebs Go Dating – all of Harpo Marx’s hair, none of his talent.
ON The Apprentice, Team Typhoon’s airline ad used AC/DC’s Highway To Hell as a jingle... and yet they managed to beat Kurran’s clots who called themselves “Jet-Pop” – a better name than the alternative, Straw-pedo! – and had what looked like an exploding ‘O’ in their logo. D’oh! Up against “Captain” Kurran, Typhon could have called themselves Buddy Holly Airlines and used Another One Bites The Dust as a theme tune and still taxied comfortably to victory.
*THE size of Hayley’s horrible Mum on EastEnders! Even if Bev was in nick she would still technically be at large. How can they be related?
*THE Emmerdale edition of The Chase was as much fun as a blind date with Rhona “The Moaner” Goskirk. They’d have put more effort in if ITV had booked Lachlan as guest chaser.
*THE Little Drummer Girl is taking way too long to find its rhythm. Has the writer been sucking one of the Israelis’ drug-infused Jaffas?
*YOU liked my vintage goofs so much, here are two more. Harry Carpenter commenting on the Boat Race: “Ah, isn’t that nice? The wife of the Cambridge president is kissing the cox of the Oxford crew.” And Julian Wilson discussing jockeys with trainer Josh Gifford, “I suppose the best ride around the place is your daughter?”
SMALL joys of TV: Vincent D’Onofrio as Daredevil villain Wilson Fisk. Kiss Rocks Vegas. New Young Sheldon. Dalton Harris. X Factor sound cock-ups making last Saturday’s show sound like a Dalek take-over. Celebrity Hunted. Stag, Gold. New Outlander (AmPrime). Shirley Ballas telling Graeme Swann “Some of your bits thrilled me” – possibly a reference to his Halloween dance, but who knows?
RANDOM irritations: House Of Cards without Frank Underworld, there’s no show without Punch. Rick’s Walking Dead exit – the biggest let-down-out since Peter Barlow’s “drive-by shooting” involved him getting popped with a paint gun. The apparently endless Hayley and her bay-bee storyline on DeadEnders. Editions of The Chase where the players have the collective IQ of a plate of whelks.
FATHER & Secret Son: Gloin from The Hobbit and X Factor’s Danny Tetley? One a spirited dwarf determined to see the battle through to the end, and so’s the other one.
TV Maths. Graham Norton minus beard add specs = Dr Crippen.
NOV 4. WELCOME to my 600th column in Britain’s brightest Sunday newspaper. Bushell On The Box has proudly appeared in these pages without a break for more than eleven years. It’s been an ITV series, a weekly feature on The Big Breakfast, Nuts TV and various radio shows. Harry Hill says it also inspired his brilliant TV Burp, one of my favourite comedies. The toughest challenge is keeping it fresh. Great new shows help – you could have parked Gemma Collins in The Bodyguard’s plot-holes but the series still gripped the nation. EastEnders doesn’t. The BBC soap has a simple message - life sucks, men are bastards - which it repeats endlessly like a torture chamber loop-tape. If life were like EastEnders there'd be a gallows on every corner. Sure great actors, and Dean Gaffney, have passed through its doors but it's a joyless social worker’s vision of life; a libel on Londoners, loaded with disdain for how Cockneys really are. There’s no bulldog spirit here, and precious little humour. Even Coronation Street has seen its earthy warmth diluted by endless misery and issue-based plots.
TV has changed beyond recognition since this column began. Who’d have thought in 1987 that we’d end up watching shows on tablets, game consoles and even fridges? It's not all progress, though. This century, we've seen genuine stars replaced en masse by reality show “celebrities”. The public used to sit indoors and watch entertainers, now entertainers sit indoors and watch them...
We still produce terrific dramas but you're more likely to find them on subscription channels than on prime time... Most TV bosses are clueless. For years they told me talent shows were dead (until Simon Cowell remembered New Faces.) That Bradley Walsh would never get anywhere - how wrong was that? And variety shows were washed-up... but what is Strictly if not a variety show? It's a glamorous magic carpet ride away from life’s grim realities. PC culture is the biggest problem. It’s the enemy of entertainment. Bores and creeps have driven down-to-earth comedy out of prime-time. The BBC hasn’t replaced the Trotters or Eric & Ernie. They can’t. They don’t know where to look.
CHARLIE Ross is a bolshie, blonde actress with a memory like a bank vault who is destined to become The Little Drummer Girl. Lured to Greece with a theatre troupe, Charlie is intrigued by Becker, a mysterious sun-bather on Naxos beach. He’s strong, silent and soulful; a brooding hunk with unexplained scars. Becker surfs, reads political paperbacks and drinks wine at breakfast... no wonder her nipples are on constant alert. The two flirt around before he takes her for what she assumes will be a night-time knee-trembler at the Acropolis. But Becker isn’t after an al fresco fumble. He’s an Israeli intelligence officer out to recruit her for rumpled spy boss Marty Kurtz... The series, set in 79, began with a bomb exploding in the West Berlin home of an Israeli attaché. He survived; his eight-year-old didn't. The device was left by a flirty young Swede, posing as a friend of their au pair – actually a former member of Germany's Red Army Faction working for PLO master-terrorist Khalil. “If the enemy is using Westerners so must we,” canny Kurtz explains. While Charlie is drawn into his web, Kurtz uses a hitchhiker honey-trap to snare Khalil’s younger brother Salim. He wants Charlie to entrap Khalil, but will her leftwing sympathies sit awkwardly with the pro-Israel cause? That's the 64drachma question.
TV Maths. David Letterman + Tom Selleck’s ’tache = Marty Schulman, Little Drummer Girl.
COMICS used to finish their acts on the biggest laugh. Not Sara Pascoe. The fashionable comedienne ended her Stand Up Central slot with an extraordinary attack on the English. Bleeding heart pumping fit to burst, Pascoe ranted: “White English people throughout history have done the worst things to people of other nations.” Really? What, worse than the German Nazis or Stalin, Sara? Worse than the Nanking massacre, Pol Pot's mass murders and the Congo War atrocities? Clearly not. Pascoe’s self-loathing twaddle was neither true nor funny. She's queen of the snowflakes, a horse-faced figurehead for our diseased culture. Expect to see a lot more of her...
HOT on TV: The Little Drummer Girl... Robin Wright, House Of Cards (Netflix)... People Of Earth (Fox)... new Ray Donovan (SkyAt)... Condor (Universal).
ROT on TV: Sara Pascoe – laugh vacuum... Kurran Pooni, The Apprentice – but please keep him there for the interviews... For Facts Sake - Mrs. Brown’s bomb.
THE Reluctant Landlord is the first Romesh Ranganathan show I’ve almost enjoyed. Rom plays a curmudgeon whose endless whinging is inexplicably tolerated by his juicing nuisance wife. He inherits his Dad’s deadbeat pub, frequented by Phil Davis’ Dirty Harry, an aging bully pickled in prejudice. There’s no-one to like, Romesh acts as well as Susannah Constantine dances and the plot felt like it was scribbled on a fag-packet. It’s still more watchable than Rom's Albanian jaunt, though.
*ANOTHER rotten plot on Doctor Who. Nasty Yank (boo!) businessman (hiss!) builds hotel on landfill site full of chemicals that turn spiders into menacing giants. Nasty Yank (boo!) wants to shoot them (hiss!). Instead nice Doc and her team lure the spider massive into a sealed room where they all slowly starve to death (hurrah!). The End (if only!).
*ON Only Connect, Victoria Coren-Mitchell claimed to play chess naked. It must make it much easier to mate... I hear her king pawn opening is a thing of beauty.
*RAHUL Mandal won Bake Off. No surprises there. The Calcutta-born boffin may seem like a shy schoolboy trapped in an adult body but he’s had more Hollywood handshakes than a night at the Oscars. Rahul struggled in the final. When his storage jug smashed, he saw it as “a sign from God that I need to stop baking”. More likely divine punishment for drowning his doughnuts in butter cream.
SMALL joys of TV: Inside Number 9, live special. Would I Lie To You? Informer. Amy's lingerie poses, Celebs Go Dating. Hitler’s Holocaust Railways. Comedian Tom Ward on oral sex: “It’s not practical doing a 69, is it? It's like trying to eat your lunch when you’re on a bike ride.” (Stand Up Central).
RANDOM irritations: The Apu “controversy” on The Simpsons – how long has Willie got? Bruno Tonioli – enough already! The Mash Report, not so much satire as a tedious chattering class tantrum; it’s surely no coincidence that Nish is London slang for diddly-squat?
THE TOP five goofs this century: 1) Andy Jameson on swimmer Michael Klim: "A very, very big guy, especially when he's got his kit off. The length, it's frightening". 2) Nadiya Hussain on snake bread: "He's enormous! After doing him six times the trick is to keep him small to begin with." 3) James Parrack's swimming commentary: "Koch out in lane four, Koseki hanging on to it for grim death… and remember, it's only a semi". 4) Sam Faiers, ghost-hunting: "Something definitely poked me in the tunnels. It was lots of soldiers. I want it to happen again". 5) Nick Fellows on weightlifting: "Michael promises the fireworks will come out at the end of this Polish woman's snatch".
MY all-time favourites: 1) Ulrika Jonsson discussing snowfall: "I had a good eight inches last night!" 2) Jenson Button on driving in high winds: "It was like my helmet was being sucked off!" 3) Pat Glenn on female weightlifter Tatiana Gregoriava: "This is Gregoriava from Bulgaria. I saw her snatch this morning and it was amazing." 4) Jack Barnicle talking about motorbike tyres: "Colin had a hard on in practice earlier, and I bet he wished he had a hard on now." 5) Brian Moore on Dutch footballer Johan de Kock at Euro 96: "De Kock has come up for this one; this could cause a massive problem."
BOX-set TV culture began with HBO and expanded like Val Kilmer. In the process TV dramas have made Hollywood seem old-hat. Here are the hottest this century: The Sopranos – the Mafia crime saga kick-started US TV’s new golden age and is still top-dog. US gems: Game Of Thrones. The Shield. Fargo. House Of Cards (first two seasons). 24. Homeland. The Americans. The Wire. Vikings. The Deuce. Deadwood. Daredevil. Best of British: Life On Mars. Line Of Duty. Peaky Blinders. Killing Eve. Spooks. Broadchurch (first series). Luther. Dr Foster. Other: Romanzo Criminale. Faudo. Braquo. Spiral. The Killing.
TV women of the Century: 1) Evangeline Lily 2) Rachel Riley 3) Michelle Keegan 4) Halle Berry 5) January Jones.
Top Lookalikes? There have been so many - Jo Brand and John Sergeant, Corbyn and Albert Steptoe, Gail Platt and ET... But the one that tickled me most was Micky Flanagan and Billy The Fish...