Aidan Smith's TV week: Scots are everywhere on TV, and even trying to make accountancy thrilling

Do you have a problem with Scottish accents? Or should that be: do you have a problem with Scottish accents ... pal?
Morven Christie with Peter Mullan and Prasanna Puwanarajah, stars of PaybackMorven Christie with Peter Mullan and Prasanna Puwanarajah, stars of Payback
Morven Christie with Peter Mullan and Prasanna Puwanarajah, stars of Payback

Morven Christie, star of the new ITV thriller Payback, admits she has to drop hers to get work and Peter Mullan from the same drama talks of “active discrimination”, at least for men, until the likes of Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle made it “sexy” to be Scottish.

Well, ah’m tellin’ yooz - sorry, didn’t mean to turn into Rab C. Nesbitt there - that the Scots brogue greatly enhances this week’s telly. There are dulcet tones and undulcet ones. Camp Caledonian voices and, yes, Sir Alex Ferguson as well.

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The Netflix documentary Beckham has Fergie as the standout contributor, which is generous of our football legend considering how the boy David’s poncing around as “the sixth Spice Girl” used to enrage him. Payback, meanwhile, wherein Christie talks in her native tongue, has Jed Mercurio as executive producer. For tense standoffs and gripping interrogations, this is usually a reliable indicator of quality, like a “By royal appointment … “ crest on oatcakes.

Sgt Barry McIntosh in SoldierSgt Barry McIntosh in Soldier
Sgt Barry McIntosh in Soldier

Usually, but not always. Bloodlands, for instance, undid solid work in the interview room by allowing James Nesbitt’s eyebrows to flare comically unchecked like those of a silent-movie ogre endlessly tying flibbertigibbets to railway tracks.

Christie’s Lexi Noble is no flibbertigibbet but she is an accountant, married to Jared, a financial advisor. What could possibly go wrong? Or rather, what could possibly go right? Sorry to all accountants and my IFA, still rocking a bountiful bouffant like it’s 1986 on a loop, but how are we going to be excited by this couple in prosperous and perjink Edinburgh? Well, the husband is soon bumped off. In a tree-lined avenue in broad daylight. He’d been working for a gangster, Cal Morris, played by Mullan, who as a consequence of the slaying is short of £2.5 million.

If I say that Mullan has a robotic voice you might think that AI could replicate his performances. No, they most definitely couldn’t. Another with mechanised delivery is William Hague who uttered the best line in Laura Kuenssberg’s recent dissection of Tory misrule, namely: “This is the end of normal.” Mullan’s is different - 60-a-day Capstan Full Strength different (though I don’t know if he’s ever smoked). More menacing, the voice to signify the end of everything. And of course it’s Scottish.

Somehow Morris’s money has gone astray between the Cayman Islands, Malta and Auld Reekie and he believes that despite her protestations the grieving Lexi must know something about it. So do the police who’re probing Jared’s business dealings. The show is a slow-burn. If you’re an Edinburgher, passing the time until Mullan’s next sinister intervention, you might find yourself playing a game of “Name that street”, even if - euphemism alert - the more atmospheric ones seem to be Glasgow. The moment towards the end of the first episode when it’s clear that Lexi’s home has been bugged livens things up.

Gary Lamont in Boiling PointGary Lamont in Boiling Point
Gary Lamont in Boiling Point

Careers advice at my school amounted to little more than a visit from a semi-retired major, waxed of moustache and brass of button, assuring his spotty audience: “The Army needs you.” And the message was rammed home in telly commercials where grunts celebrated on-manoeuvres triumphs with a meal of rabbit stew boiled in billy cans. Now, though, the documentary series Soldier (BBC1) almost portrays infantry recruitment as a talent contest, the training officers mulling over their choices like a macho Amanda Holden and a considerably more macho Louis Walsh.

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At the training centre at Catterick, North Yorkshire, Lieut Wahab, the platoon commander, takes the Simon Cowell role. He’s aided by Corp White whose key scene comes in the showers: “Pull your foreskin back and wash. When doing your a***, dig right in.” Then there’s Sgt McIntosh, the Scot, seven tours of duty, who sounds a bit like Gary Tank Commander.

Welcoming the newbies, he vows to be all over them “like a rrrrash”. Out on the obstacle course one of the intake’s four women is dangling from the monkey bars. “Like a wee orrrangutan,” he says. She’s the daughter of a soldier but generally this batch is leaving the officers unimpressed. “Doesn’t matter where they come from,” sighs one, “they’re all as s*** as each other.”

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This is standard talent contest stuff. Start out terrible. Embark on a “journey”. By the end, hopefully, flying without wings. Ah, but there must be some casualties along the way. Pvt Wilson, aged 22, can’t take any more of the discipline, the bawling out. “I’ve realised I’m not that mentally strong,” he says, wheeling his trolley-case behind him for the time-honoured exit.

Who to root for? Pvt Dryden, 21, needs a break after dashed dreams of becoming a professional footballer sent him into a succession of miserable warehousing jobs. But is the Army really for him? He’s a terrible shot and keeps failing locker-room inspections. There must be four-finger separation between clothes hangers and socks have to be rolled into smiley faces, only Dryden’s always turn out like “buttholes”.

Then there Pvt Stretton, at 17 the baby, who suffers a wobble. He hankers after the carefree life of a plumber, “fixing toilets and having a laugh”, rather than as an “angry, shouting, violent killing machine … I really don’t think that’s me”. But he works out you can cook a slice of pizza on the face of an iron - doesn’t the Army need that resourcefulness and ingenuity?

And after attaching a bayonet to his rifle, and at the third or fourth attempt, he’s able to locate his inner warrior to be able to charge and roar and plunge the blade into a sandbag several times. Still protesting his weakness, he tells Sgt McIntosh: “I’m just a skinny, fragile lad.” The reprimand comes back: “Stop being a fanny!” Surely sound advice for us all.

Right after Soldier, I come at Boiling Point (BBC1) with too much testosterone. And in this drama revolving round the kitchen of a high-end London restaurant, when Scottish front-of-house Dean claps his hands primly and quickly, imploring everyone to “smash it!”, I’m thinking: mate, you’ve never smashed anything in your life. Sign up for Catterick. Go on, I dare you.

Then I calm down. Yes, shouting and swearing at wannabe squaddies in need of toughening up when the country’s on a semi-war footing seems more legitimate than the expletives constantly flying around in Point North. And faffing over posh nosh seems frivolous in comparison.

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Eventually Boiling Point wins me round. I root for the chefs, stressed out and yet passionate about their work. including Johnny or “New Boy” as he’s called, way out of his depth and Googling how to make stuff but keen as, well, mustard. I come round to Dean, played by Castlemilk-born Gary Lamont, the maitre de with loads of esprit de corps. And when the epicly arrogant potential investors start being rude, I want their food to arrive at the table having been flavoured with … I’m sure can guess.



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