Aidan Smith's TV week: The Walk-In (ITV), Ralph & Katie (BBC1), Unbreakable (BBC1)

If you join The Walk-In late or don’t give it your fullest attention, you might think to yourself: “What a bunch of Gareths.”
Stephen Graham in The Walk-InStephen Graham in The Walk-In
Stephen Graham in The Walk-In

That’s Gareth as in The Office for here are some disaffected, disenfranchised males, stern-faced at a meeting of their sad little group, about to embark on a programme of physical fitness so they’ll be “ready for war” and sounding more than a bit ludicrous.

But that would be a dangerous thought, for these are members of National Action, the neo-Nazi terrorist organisation which openly celebrated the 2016 murder of MP Jo Cox and expressed support for her killer.

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Jeff Pope’s ITV drama doesn’t shrink from showing the absolute extremes of far-right nutterdom. If you miss the opening scene it’s no bad thing for you avoid a horrific assault on an Asian man in a mini-supermarket. As the victim is left for dead his attacker shrieks: “White power!”

Leon Harrop and Sarah Gordy in Ralph & Katie.Leon Harrop and Sarah Gordy in Ralph & Katie.
Leon Harrop and Sarah Gordy in Ralph & Katie.

When Cox is killed the cry is “Britain first!” Though The Walk-In observes her death from a respectful distance, TV is hardly holding back right now, what with This England re-telling the story of the government’s blundersome response to Covid-19. Incendiary moments in recent political history are deemed fair game and ripe for re-telling.

The five-parter tells the true story of the plot to murder another MP a year after Cox’s death and for the same reason: the politician’s support of immigration policies. Stephen Graham is Matthew Collins, a former National Front member who turned informant and is now a journalist for the anti-racist organisation Hope Not Hate. Explaining his volte-face prompts gasps from students at a lecture. “What makes the extreme far-right so popular?” he asks. “They tell you about a beautiful country from the past: no crime, no poverty, no black faces stealing our jobs, no immigrants milking our welfare system.”

For this supposed treachery, Collins has to watch his back. A black-clad Sieg Heiler in the road outside his house captured on CCTV late at night forces his family, not for the first time, to up sticks. But he’s committed to the cause. The far-right has been emboldened by Brexit and Collins, worried about National Action, needs to find another mole, a walk-in. He’s quietly heroic so - while this was never going to happen - still be glad, viewers, that Tom Cruise with his shiny hair, shiny teeth and incessant running gets nowhere near the role. Graham, currently in a wonderfully unshowy career mid-period, continues in that vein here.

The genius of The A Word, Peter Bowker’s drama about a boy on the autism spectrum growing up in the Lake District with his extended family, was that young Max, lost in the indie playlists on his headphones, was its quiet, calm constant while everyone flailed around with their bickering, pettiness, rivalries, neuroses, mid-life crises, affairs, you name it.

Charlie Mullins and Rara Leavesley in Unbreakable.Charlie Mullins and Rara Leavesley in Unbreakable.
Charlie Mullins and Rara Leavesley in Unbreakable.

One of the sweetest relationships, though, was that between Christopher Ecclestone’s Maurice and Ralph, the son of his music teacher-lover, with the former being the only partially-deranged Gore-Texed oracle of how to understand women. Now Ralph & Katie (BBC1) is the spin-off show as a just-married Down’s syndrome couple try to carve out a life for themselves beneath the same jagged peaks, with more of Bowker’s warm and gentle humour.

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Katie (Sarah Gordy) is Ralph’s first love but she was in a relationship before. He’s unnerved by this, saying: “I don’t have a past.” Maybe he’s missing Maurice’s wick-away wisdom but the latter has forsaken his beloved Lakes for Annapurna having “run out of people here to annoy,” explains Ralph’s mum.

Anyone concerned this show might miss Maurice, worry not. It has Brian (Craig Cash), the couple’s next-door neighbour, who sports one of those multi-pocketed gilets favoured by busybody retirees which shouldn’t be seen as evidence of a fuddyduddy outlook. “Solar power, Islam, Deliveroo - you can’t hold back the tide of progress, can you?” he declares over the garden fence.

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Much of the charm can be found in the faces of Gordy and Leon Harrop as Ralph. He’s a mix of old grump and twinkle-eyed kid, often within the same expression. Glowering sky, then a split-second later, bright sunshine. Just like the Lakes, in fact.

Who remembers Mr and Mrs? Some of you must because 11 million watched the Border TV-produced quiz at the outset of daytime telly when couples bravely exposed the strength of their matrimonial union to the searing questions of Derek Batey, of which a typical example was: “When it’s just the two of you having a meal at home do you always have serviettes, sometimes have serviettes or never have serviettes?”

When Batey died nine years ago his obituaries mentioned the occasion when a woman accidentally knocked off her wig. Commented the host, somewhat unchivalrously: “It was very funny. Standing up she looked like Ken Dodd. Sat down she was Kojak.” I missed that edition, but in Unbreakable (BBC1), a sort of Mr & Mrs update but with celebs, Charlie Mullins sports a barnet like Doddy, or maybe Rod Stewart. It must be real because, bungee-jumping 140 feet, it didn’t come unhinged.

Charlie who? He’s a “millionaire plumber,” apparently. Other contestants are equally obscure. Instead of Batey’s questions there are silly tasks. You wonder what Falklands vet Simon Weston is thinking when the show’s host shrieks: “This is the ultimate test of team-work!” No, that’s probably going to war in a godforsaken place few could have pinpointed on a map and trying not to get blown up.



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