The most rooms, the largest grounds, the wackiest topiary, the plummiest accents, the plumliness of the corduroys, the most inventive swearing, the most inventive wheezes to pay for roof repairs, the closest to the Queen, the rattliest skeleton in the closet, the biggest rumpy-pumpy scandal, the biggest Old Master hanging in the great hall, the tangiest gift-shop jam?
Crikey, this could go on and on like Noel Coward’s epic paean “The Stately Homes of England”, but thankfully there are only three parts to the ITV docusoap, which might be all I can take.
Though I’m not going to pretend I’m not amused by the poshos and their attempts to keep the wolf from their big, ornate, thudding, crest-heavy doors.
“I’m always full of ideas – some good, some just completely rubbish,” says Lord Gerald Fitzalan-Howard, who we see trying to smoke trout by funnelling a wood-burner into a shed before his sparkling wine is ready for taste-testing. Who better for this task than the Sitwells, owners of a 500-acre swathe of Derbyshire, which included, at one time, Britain’s most northerly vineyard?
I don’t think Alexandra likes it, although she doesn’t say as much, being far too well-bred. She’s the Sitwell – Edith was her great aunt – while husband Rick is the ex-chairman of some oikish football club or other. His shirts are loud and his glasses jazzy, doubtless in an effort to avoid being fingered for “the worst crime in life – to be boring”, but frankly I’m not sure he gets away with it.
Much more fun are Lord Ivar Mountbatten, the first member of the royal family in a same-sex marriage, and his Glasgow-born airline cabin-crew director husband James, who, faced with a £70,000 heating bill for their pile, host a £165-a-pop gourmet night for which they’ve hired Jean-Christophe Novelli.
There a delicious moment when his lordship, concentrating hard on not greeting the multi-Michelin star chef as Jean-Claude Van Damme, thinks the Frenchman is asking about acres when in fact it’s cars.
Then again, maybe Ivar has 100 cars as well. The fourth featured aristo is invited to the nosh-up. This is Princess Olga Romanoff, who’s on the hunt for a new man.
She likes “SAS types, trained killers with good bodies”, though all the previous ones have been “absolute s***s”. For a pre-dinner snackette Olga munches Hula Hoops with the Bollinger. I mean, we all do that, don’t we?
Lynda Myles, who as a student wrote to The Scotsman complaining about the Edinburgh Film Festival and later became its director, went on to produce movies including The Commitments, Alan Parker’s rollicking saga of an Irish soul band – and one of the standout performers among the cast of young unknowns was Angeline Ball.
Then 21 and a riot of blonde frizz, she pops up three decades later in Hidden Assets, the new BBC4 crime drama for Saturday nights. Ball is Det Sgt Emer Berry of the CAB – Ireland’s Criminal Assets Bureau – specialising in seizing ill gotten gains, beginning with a stash of diamonds.
You’ll remember the scene in The Commitments when a horse wanders into a lift. The sparklers are being unwittingly concealed by a lemur, in a drugs bust in Limerick led by Berry who, despite being an asthmatic smoker, is soon leaping between balconies in Antwerp.
A flat there owned by the drug-dealer was the last known address of a woman found face down in an overflowing bathtub and the pad had also been used by a suicide bomber who’s just blown up a fashion show. Thus a Belgian-Irish alliance must be formed by police departments working across international borders, without, of course, the help of Boris Johnson’s bonkers bridge linking Ireland to the UK mainland.
Berry teams up with the hunky Christian De Jong (Wouter Hendrickx). They’re both mavericks so they’ll either rub each other up the wrong way or end up in bed together, doing it the right way. Meanwhile, amid far-right antagonism towards immigrants, Antwerp throws up some intriguing backdrops.
The drama of the week, though, as it would be pretty much any week, is Ozark (Netflix). Now, I have a financial adviser who wears his hair long and likes Duran Duran. That may make him quite “out there” in his profession, but nothing like Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman), who long ago ditched pension plans for the likes of you and me to become a Missouri money-laundering kingpin.
Does the fourth and final season of this fantastic show begin at the end? Do Marty, wife Wendy (Laura Linney) and the two kids perish in their somersaulting car?
There are no more references to the crash in the first episode and when Marty and Wendy wipe blood off themselves, it’s the end to season three being replayed, and the end for diabolical attorney Helen.
It’s the scenes round the Byrde dinner scenes I love the most, such as when Wendy announces: “We’re going to be the most powerful family in the midwest.” Son Jonah protests: “But people will find out where the money’s come from.”
Wendy says: “You need to grow up. This is America and no one cares how you came by your fortune. And in two election cycles it will be just some myth … gossip … f*****g cocktail party.”