Lovers and legends know the score, finds Graeme Virtue
Show Me The Telly
STV, Monday-Friday, 4pm
BBC2, Thursday, 9pm
BBC4, Friday, 9pm
IN THE current hegemony of teatime TV quizzes, format is fetishised above all else. Scratch the surface of The Chase, Eggheads, Countdown or the nation’s current sweetheart Pointless and there’s an inflexible rule-set glinting menacingly beneath the badinage. Cold, unfeeling mechanics might be the real secret to manufacturing a hit rather than entertainment or chemistry. Just don’t tell Richard Bacon – his new daily quiz Show Me The Telly feels deliberately low-stakes and loosey-goosey, from its ingratiating title onwards. (The potential prize fund remains static at £3,000.)
Billed as “TV lovers” versus “TV legends”, Show Me The Telly is really just a gussied-up clips show. But there are worse things to be, and after its first week-long run, it feels like the spark of something is there. As BBC Radio Five Live’s resident bossyboots, Bacon is more than capable of wrangling both civilians and celebs. His Partridge-esque habit of interrupting and dismissing contributors have turned out to be surprisingly useful. When one contestant embarked on what seemed like a prepared lecture about the legacy of Thunderbirds, Bacon just laughed in his face and moved on.
Show Me The Telly’s trump card – over and above a final round that attempts to apply Sky+ operations like “pause” and “record” to a timed series of questions – is resident TV legends captain Chris Tarrant. You might think he’d be more comfortable in the host’s chair, but Tarrant cedes authority to Bacon while also drawing on his own store of TV lore. As afternoon timewasters go, Show Me The Telly feels like a useful corrective, where the focus is on personalities rather than keeping score. I would now also advise recruiting Michelle Collins for any pub quiz team: on this evidence, the woman is an absolute demon.
BBC2’s current Cold War season has blown hot and cold. Dominic Sandbrook’s three-part documentary series Strange Days felt like a series of vignettes presented in a rather jolly style rather than an attempt to contextualise and explain a shadowy socio-political narrative. The season’s big drama set piece was Legacy, a feature-length adaptation of Alan Judd’s novel about an ambitious MI6 newbie tasked with rekindling an Oxford University friendship with a Soviet recently returned to London.
Former Army man Thoroughgood (Charlie Cox) looked like a guy who had a few Fleming novels on his shelf, a man hungry to get on. His old pal Viktor Koslov (Andrew Scott) just looked hungry. This being a spy story, there was little solid ground to be found. Koslov’s apologetic revelation that Thoroughgood’s late father had been a traitor turned everything upside down; Thoroughgood’s relationship with an MI6 colleague’s wife, played by Romola Garai, also brought questions of truth and deception crashing home. In addition, there were some cool beige cars.
Legacy was directed by Pete Travis, whose most recent movie was an adaptation of the long-running Judge Dredd comic strip. Here, Travis turned his eye to another grim, violent, poorly-lit dystopia: Britain in 1974 at the height of the three-day week. Despite the bad lighting, Legacy looked distinctive and beautiful, but there was so much plot to motor through in such a short time that it couldn’t help but feel rushed. Were the Soviets complicit in fomenting industrial unrest in 1970s Britain? Never mind, here’s a motorcycle chase.
One performance lingered. Four years ago, Simon Russell Beale played George Smiley in Radio 4’s adaptations of John Le Carre’s stories. In Legacy, Beale brought something of his Smiley experience to his portrayal of MI6 major domo Hookey: unflappable, persuasive and convincing as he snapped the filters off a constant stream of cigarettes. In the end, you came away from Legacy wanting to see more of Hookey rather than the callow Thoroughgood.
It might feel like there’s a blues season every other month on BBC4 but Blues America, produced by rock photographer Mick Gold, dug deeper than most into its origins. Part one was illuminating, and a little depressing, in demonstrating how the blues were commercialised from the outset. Even in the earliest days of musical reproduction, the canniest operators realised there was money to be made and deals to be struck. Huey Morgan’s stern narration was mostly unobtrusive; Blind Lemon Jefferson’s quavering voice was spine-tingling. In part two this Friday, there’s a lot more Keith Richards, if that’s your kind of thing.