Channel 4, Thursday, 9pm
Last Tango In Halifax
BBC1, Tuesday, 9pm
The Secret Of Crickley Hall
BBC1, Sunday, 9pm
I DON’T normally give house-room to property programmes, but three shows caught my eye last week, all with the buildings where we live playing prominent parts. Well, the buildings where some of us live, for only the 11th Duke of Marlborough bides in Blenheim Palace. Until recently his son didn’t – the Marquis of Blandford having been disinherited by the old man following his 20 years as a drug addict, convict and the tabloids’ favourite toff-in-disgrace – but there’s been a reconciliation, which was supposedly the point of The Aristocrats.
This doc promised an examination of the fractious relationship, which was easy enough from the perspective of history, so there were shots from the archive of Jamie Blandford chucking things at the paparazzi (this can’t have been loose change because posh people don’t carry money. Spent shotgun cartridges? Silver spoons?). But when Jamie as he is now went before the cameras – cleaned up but raddled by all his excesses, still not looking like he has a fixed abode, reminiscent of a Hawkwind roadie – he was evasive and kept saying we’d better speak to the old man. We did, but he wasn’t exactly gushing on the subject either.
That’s the thing about English aristos, I suppose: they’re not very Californian. The stiff upper lip means they don’t “do” feelings (pesky blighters). Known as Sunny, his dukeship was an army man – still is, really. His military training had been “absolutely brilliant”. Inspecting the estate, he said: “I’m very particular about seeing nice virgins on the road.” Virgins or verges, you could understand his reluctance to leave them in the care of his daft laddie. Jamie failed the exam for Sandhurst and maybe that’s where the problems began.
The programme struggled to make a drama of the truce. Father and son only shared the screen once – awkwardly, without making eye contact, using Jamie’s young son as a go-between. And even though this was enough for the voiceover to talk of “burgeoning closeness”, it meant there had to be lots of shots of the house to pad things out. This may have been the intention, of course: a big advert for a big hoose not built on feelings. It’s true that one of the dukes had his wife’s eyes ornately painted on to a ceiling, but she was the type to pack a pistol for dinner.
A historian wondered if Blenheim was simply too big. Seven out of 11 dukes suffered depression. Recently, health and safety issues have exacerbated the problems of unhealthy and unsafe sons, but at least the new multi-million-pound cludgies look lovely. They were opened by David Cameron, who didn’t want us to see him in the company of the aristocracy and so banned the cameras.
I wasn’t looking forward to Last Tango In Halifax. It’s a cliché for TV dramas or films to nick and amend famous titles, and the results are invariably disappointing (viz Once Upon A Time In The Midlands). But Sally Wainwright’s wrinklies’ romcom is a sweet thing. Sixty years previously, a budding schooldays romance fizzled out when, connivingly, a note wasn’t passed on. The protagonists’ marriages to others ended through death and deceit, and now social media has put them back in touch.
“Dear Celia, I’m planning a trip to Skipton next week, possibly Monday…” types Alan into his laptop, as if he’s still at his bureau with a pad of Basildon Bond. The drama benefits greatly from its West Yorkshire locations but the buildings don’t dominate; I just happen to like the dark satanic stonework. It benefits even more from the performances of Derek Jacobi (best known for In The Night Garden’s Igglepiggle – sorry, that’s just in our house; I mean I, Claudius) and Anne Reid.
She’s hilarious. “What do you suppose a crappuccino is these days?” she wonders. “Still, if you’re not taking risks you’re not living. That’s what our William says, and he never leaves his bedroom.” By the end of the first episode the codgers had decided to get married. With their highly dysfunctional clans now being forced together – Tony Gardner specialises in prats (see also Fresh Meat) – there’s obvious potential here, but for me Last Tango could have ended with that announcement.
Wainwright pens authentic dialogue sprinkled with salt, as her Scott & Bailey proves. Suranne Jones from that show turns up in The Secret Of Crickley Hall, adapted from the novel by James Herbert, which packs in every haunted hoose cliché but still manages to be daftly enjoyable. A missing-boy anniversary is approaching, so what does the family do? Escape to an old Second World War orphanage, of course, where the ghost of the owner – a reptilian Douglas Henshall – still lurks. «
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east