Another week, another channel re-brand. Say goodbye to UKTV People and hello to Blighty. Great excuse to throw a party! And nobody, but nobody, does channel launches quite like UKTV. The venue was Proud Camden, which used to be stables, located along Chalk Farm Road (a short walk from Camden) in north London. It’s completely bizarre to be indoors, but on cobbles (I almost felt sorry for the women wearing heels). The old stalls were used cleverly to reinforce the Blightly theme and showcase other re-brands; we took afternoon tea in one room, passed on the opportunity to get our tea leaves read in another, walked through the room promoting new UKTV propositions Yesterday (guess what that channel used to be called) and Eden and passed on the cheese room (after all the gorgeous hors d’oeuvres I’d scoffed, I couldn’t take the smell).
We were entertained by A Handbag Of Harmonies, a female choir from Chester who put their own unique spin on some Beatles classics before extending their repertoire to Britney Spears. David Abraham, the UKTV CEO followed and in a self-congratulatory speech, bullishly summarised the probable reasoning behind all the re-brands: "There are no prizes for obscurity," he said. Comedian Danny Wallace followed and had us all in stitches with a genius monologue extolling the virtues of the British: "We are Stephen Fry…but we are also Kerry Katona," he said. "We are Pat Butcher. We are Wun Tun. We are 20 B&H…" Unfortunately, I missed some of the other ‘we ares…’ as I was too busy laughing. The last bit of entertainment comprised some beautiful traditional Indian dancing and…fish and chips.
So – what’s it all about Alfie? Well, according to the press book: "Blighty revels in what makes the country brilliant". There will be BBC acquisitions (Who Do You Think You Are, Coast etc), but I’ll briefly outline three original commissions. First off, My Brilliant Britain. ‘The full English breakfast. Being beside the seaside. The good old B&B. Britain has more than its fair share of quirky charms, so Blighty has gathered a host of unconventional British celebrities, including Danny Wallace, Goldie and Alan Cumming, to consider the eccentricities that make Britain, well British. Where else, for example, could you find a museum dedicated to lawnmowers?’
Secondly, The People’s Pub (working title). ‘The British boozer is an institution…independent public houses are closing at a rate of five every day. We are in danger of losing part of our national heritage and letting the lifeblood of our communities drain away. In this exclusive series, five communities are being given the chance to fight back, to bring back their very own British boozer.’
Finally, Made In Britain. ‘If you were to throw out everything in your home that wasn’t made in Britain, what would be left? Dom Joly is to restock his home and his wardrobe with British-made goods, and he’ll have to travel all over the British isles to find them. Get ready for one remarkable road trip.’
So there you have it. I note the current debate posters have raised – does the word ‘Blighty’ denote England only (irrespective of the dictionary meaning)? A couple of non-English posters appear to think it does. Time will tell whether Blighty the digital channel turns out to be, as its strapline cries, ‘one nation under a channel’.
Watch the trailer for Blighty here
All this talk of Blighty neatly leads me from UKTV to UK TV. We may not have the enormous resources of American TV, but when we get it right, few can live with us. Yeah, OK, we’re the nation of The Jeremy Kyle Show and Trisha. We’re also the nation of Celebrity Wrestling, Babes In The Wood, The Girlie Show, Alastair Burnet’s Royal Interviews (oh, the horror!), The Gaby Roslin Show and Davina. But, in terms of televisual achievement, you won’t get much better than the following ten programmes. Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the TV waves!
Cathy Come Home - Made for the BBC’s The Wednesday Play in 1968, this is the shattering story of Cathy (Carol White) and Reg (Ray Brooks), a young couple with kids that get caught in a poverty trap and end up homeless. Directed by Ken Loach, its combination of drama and factual programme-making techniques reinforced the sombre message. It shocked the nation when it was originally transmitted and it still retains the power to profoundly affect anyone that views it today.
The Up Series - Granada’s landmark documentary series was inspired by the Jesuit saying: "Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man." The original Seven Up was broadcast on ITV in 1964 as a one-off World in Action special, featuring children who were selected from different backgrounds. Every seven years, Michael Apted has returned to film them and although they’ve all got compelling stories to tell and share, the one person who has touched the hearts of millions is Neil Hughes. A carefree child of seven, he was homeless and struggling mentally when the show revisited him for 21 and 28 Up. He is now a Lib Dem councillor.
Brideshead Revisited - Less a TV series, more a national event and treasure. Evelyn Waugh’s novel was majestically transformed into this classic, lavish 1981 presentation. It boasted an utterly faithful adaptation, a dream cast, memorable performances, sumptuous locations and the stately Castle Howard, ancestral home of the Marchmains both here and in that vastly inferior movie that came out recently. The story of one man’s association with an aristocratic family, it starred Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews (rightly lauded for his unforgettable performance as the tragic Lord Sebastian Flyte), Diana Quick, Sir John Gielgud, Claire Bloom and Laurence Olivier in an Emmy Award-winning performance.
The Naked Civil Servant - "When I was coming to America, I went to the American Embassy and the man asked me: ‘Are you a practicing homosexual?’ And I said I didn’t practice. I was already perfect." Wonderful 1975 drama about the life of the late Quentin Crisp. Defiant about his homosexuality at a time when it was illegal, John Hurt’s performance as the flamboyant and witty gay icon rightly brought him international acclaim. Look out for the sequel, which deals with the Englishman’s life in New York, soon.
Boys From The Blackstuff - Alan Bleasdale’s hugely acclaimed 1982 series depicts the abject misery and despair of long-term unemployment in Thatcher’s Britain. Set in Liverpool, we’re presented with profoundly moving human dramas of five working-class men struggling to survive on the dole. The story that everyone remembers is the most tragic one; that of Yosser Hughes (brilliantly played by Bernard Hughes) whose desperate "Gissa job" plea became a national catchphrase. The ‘black’ here doesn’t just apply to ‘the black stuff’ (the tarmac the men used to lay), it also sums up what little humour is on display. I haven’t seen it since the original airing but I’ll never forget one example of this black humour. One of the building projects the men were illegally working on (they were all signing-on so it was a cash-in-hand job) turned out to be a dole office. Essential viewing.
Doctor Who - Whenever I catch the classic series, I can’t believe my generation used to watch it from behind the sofa when we were kids. How funny is that? Anyway, the Doctor has come face to face with a number of exciting and evil monsters and aliens since 1963. Travelling through time and space, various actors have thrilled millions as the Time Lord over the years.
Life On Earth - This is the first natural history programme I ever saw in my life and, to this day, I remember how enthralled I was by it. A groundbreaking BBC series, it first aired in the UK in 1979. David Attenborough (we are not worthy!) travels the globe, tracing the story of the evolution of life on our planet.
Fawlty Towers – "Listen, don’t mention the war! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right. [returns to the Germans] So! It’s all forgotten now, and let’s hear no more about it. So, that’s two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering, and four Colditz salads." It’s been making the world laugh since 1975. Inspired by a hotel John Cleese once stayed in, incredibly, only twelve episodes were ever filmed. Twelve!
Upstairs Downstairs – Upstairs, the aristocratic but scandal-prone Bellamys; downstairs, their lively servants (including co-creator/producer Jean Marsh as Rose) managed by the unswervingly loyal butler Hudson (Gordon Jackson); together, TV magic. Beautifully written and acted, this Bafta and Emmy-award winner is one of our most successful shows, seen by over 1 billion people worldwide since its 1971 debut.
Blue Peter – Now in its 50th year, it’s the world’s longest running children’s TV series. The show that sent sales of sticky-back plastic soaring (probably) is struggling to retain its audience. Will the BBC do a Top Of The Pops and let it die in an ignominious manner? We celebrate fifty years of Blue Peter here.
Today I am mostly lovin’ - Come Dine With Me. It’s sooooo addictive (although I prefer the old format). Essentially, it’s all about finding the hostest with the mostest but my goodness, if this isn’t the bitchiest show on TV, I’d like to know what is. Totally loving Dave Lambert’s sarcastic commentary.
Today I am mostly hatin’ - I watched ITV1’s coverage of The BRITs and an evil part of me gloried in James Corden and Mathew Horne dying so horrifically on stage. James Corden may be a very nice man for all I know, but he increasingly comes across as a right self-satisfied, too eager to believe his own publicity, smug geezer. Nice to see him brought down to Earth with a bump (I still like Gavin and Stacey though).
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