Aidan Smith's TV Week: Queen of the New Year, A Very British Scandal, Scot Squad, Around the World in 80 Days

I’m laughing along to Queen of the New Year at the fag-end of 2021 and thinking: “This could have been George Harrison if he’d quit the Beatles and joined the Rolling Stones - the world’s first rock supergroup.”

Hogmanay hoots with Robert Florence in Queen of the New Year
Hogmanay hoots with Robert Florence in Queen of the New Year

Never mind, we have Scotland’s first comedy supergroup - Greg Hemphill from Still Game and Robert Florence from Burnistoun. Also Jamie Quinn from Two Doors Down, plus Barbara Rafferty, John Gordon Sinclair, Clive Russell, a host of other weel-kent pawky wee fun-game nappers and not forgetting Kirsty Wark playing herself, swigging from a bottle of electric soup in a brown paper bag.

Am I getting carried away in my admiration for QotNY (BBC1)? Am I desperate for light relief after the year we’ve had, not much better than the previous one? Well, this sketch show amply provides.

Hemphill and Florence, the writers, know what we’re thinking as, battered and cynical and surviving, just about, we hurtle towards the second anniversary of life in the manky grip of Covid.

Scourge of the bams Chief Commissioner Miekelson

That wild swimmers are exhibitionists. That roofers - some anyway - are chancers. That competitive thrill-seeking roasters, right after the NC500, need to encounter a ned with a baseball bat demanding money for delineating the west coast equivalent: “Campsies, Glesca, Spar … ”

For what is that if not classic Scottish resourcefulness and innovation? In another skit, an ice-cream vendor halts a customer mid-order to prioritise a pandemic casualty on a stretcher passed through the serving window and his van becomes a temporary ambulance.

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Rafferty is rather less charitable as the mum of a squaddie seconded to Covid duties: “Whit corner o’ hell are they sending you to noo?” It’s destination Kirkcaldy, Tesco’s, where they’re run out of pasta.

And Quinn is the new police recruit who’s passed all the necessary exams via Zoom while stuck at home in lockdown. The workers have all the power now so the force must take him as they find him, which means no trousers, truncheon swinging in the breeze.

Never without her pearl necklace, Claire Foy in A Very British Scandal

Some skits last just four and a half seconds. Like the on-location movie where an actor quite clearly playing Batman is quizzed by a passer-by: “What are you filming, pal - Taggart?” I approve of comedians going to such lengths for laughs. QofNY could be Scotland’s answer to The Fast Show - The Shoatie Show.

Hemphill and Florence appear fleetingly, leaving the floor to Russell as a doolally grandad, Cop26 pronouncer and the civic leader unveiling a statue followed seconds later by the woke-decreed pulling-down ceremony. Rafferty reappears as a “pantomime-demic” dame, reduced to performing to “two men and a dug and the dug’s anxiety toy” and declaring: “I like my Covid like I like my men - 19.” And Sinclair is a hoot sending up Michael Angus from Scotland’s Home of the Year. John Gordon, by the way, turns 60 in a few weeks. Where did all the time go?

Sexual intercourse, according to Philip Larkin began in 1963 and London, which tends to get everything first, could justifiably claim to have been the the UK’s most over-stimulated erogenous zone, hosting the Lady Chatterley obscenity trial and then the Profumo affair. The metropolis was agog.

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And what was happening in douce old Edinburgh in the March of that year, when John Profumo lied to the House of Commons about his relationship with Christine Keeler? Oh, you know, just Argyll vs Argyll, the scandal which rocked the upper-classes and quite possibly threatened to send the Court of Session plummeting into the skanky subterranea below the Royal Mile.

Victorian adventurer David Tennant

Auld Reekie wasn’t so much agog as agob. A Very British Scandal (BBC1) begins with the appalled citizenry queueing up to spit on the car carrying Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, to the showdown with the husband who’s violently abused her and squandered her father’s wealth searching for sunken Spanish treasure but who seems to hold a trump card - a photograph of her performing fellatio on a mystery lover.

If this was Netflix with a bigger budget I can imagine an entire episode examining the seismic shock of the divorce case - and that sizzling new terminology - on Scotland’s capital, Morningside matrons and all. As it is the Beeb do a sterling job of portraying upper-class Britain, so posh and so ghastly, and Claire Foy does a terrific job as Margaret, the society beauty who brazenly announces: “I like sex and am extremely good at it.”

The Duchess is never without three rows of pearls and she wears them like ammo, to be fired as delicious put-downs at the Duke (Paul Bettany) who deserves every one and more. He’s a monster but her sexual appetite, in the eyes of the law and the country at large, is monstrous.

In Scot Squad (BBC1), Kirsty Wark’s swally is outdone by the Hogmanay concoction Bobby brings round for Officer Karen: “Vodka, Guinness, Irn-Bru, parts of the Clyde, glitter, vinegar, gin, ice poles, lager, Minstrels.” And Chief Commissioner Miekelson reveals that while Edinburgh was the original choice for Cop26, he proposed switching to Glasgow as the latter’s “dystopian hellscape” would prompt more planet-saving urgency.

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Back when the planet wasn’t in peril and before red zones, David Tennant is attempting to travel Around the World in 80 Days (BBC1) in a luscious version of the Jules Verne classic. His Phileas Fogg starts out dreich, a description he would know but others wouldn’t. He could be Ann Gloag challenging the likes of Elon Musk in the sub-orbital space race, which is another good gag from Queen of the New Year.

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