SUSAN CALMAN’S GRAND WEEK BY THE SEA
MONDAY-FRIDAY, CHANNEL 5
I’ll be honest, if this hadn’t popped up on my reviewing schedule I would never in a million years have watched it. But watch it I did, and I can honestly say it put the biggest smile on my face.
It’s not just that it’s a charming mixture of nostalgia and eccentricity, or that Susan Calman’s enthusiasm is so infectious, or that the places and people have a delightful warmth and authenticity to them – it’s also that the timing couldn’t be more apposite.
After all, what better antidote to six-hour queues at Dover and cancelled flights than a bracing bucket-and-spader in Skegness or Scarborough? Seriously, why spend days waiting for a surly French border guard to come back from a threehour lunch when you can sample the delights of the British seaside?
We’re not talking the fashionable coves of Cornwall or Devon here, much favoured by the Boden-wearing, gelato-eating classes. We’re talking knotted handkerchiefs and traditional fish and chips.
Episode one takes us to Skegness where, in the shadow of the Jolly Fisherman, the resort’s famous mascot, Calman sets about embracing the entertainments on offer. Decked out in a garish holiday shirt and armed with a windbreak and a determined grin, she heads straight for the beach, that vast expanse of windswept sand washed by the North Sea. Simple pleasures.
From there it’s to Butlin’s, first opened in 1936 by Billy Butlin. A small town almost in its own right, the Skegness resort was the first of its kind, and the training ground for many of the light entertainment stars of the 50s and 60s, from Dave Allen to Des O’Connor.
It’s like a mini Las Vegas on a budget, with everything from arcades to live shows. Yes it’s cheesy, yes it’s cheap, but it’s also very cheerful, thanks in no small part to the famous Redcoats, as iconic now as ever.
And since no British seaside resort is complete without a magic act, Calman is joined by Debbie McGee for a spot of escapism – followed by a trip to the local seal sanctuary where the cuteness overload is almost too much to bear. Honestly, it’s the TV equivalent of a cup of strong sweet tea and a packet of Hobnobs.
The joy of this show, and the reason it works so well despite being – let’s face it – not exactly prestige, is that it is totally unpretentious. There is not a hint of snobbery about it, nor in Calman’s approach.
No snide asides, no sneering at the people, just a genuine appreciation of what these places (Scarborough, Weymouth, Tenby and the Isle of Wight are also on her itinerary) have to offer and their place in the cultural landscape of Britain.
It’s a wonderful romp through our seaside culture, as light and airy as a Mr Whippy ice cream but also curiously satisfying. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
THIS ROBOCOP COMEDY’S MALFUNCTIONING
THURSDAY, SKY COMEDY
I must confess that I was a little thrown by this show. The cast is absolutely cracking: Stephen Graham, who’s just brilliant in everything he does, as well as Daniel Mays and Anna Maxwell Martin (ditto).
But there’s something about this black comedy – now returned for a third series – that for me at least didn’t quite gel.
The premise is intriguing: Graham and Mays are crime fighting duo Carver and Major, top-notch investigators. Major is shot and killed in the line of duty – only to reappear a year later, resurrected by science and enhanced with AI.
Now he dresses like Neo in The Matrix and has a gadget behind his ear.
Unfortunately, the technology is still in the experimental phase, meaning that as well as being a cyborg, poor Major is also a bit of a loose cannon. Even worse, his wife is in love with his partner, and she’s used the insurance payout from his death to build an extension.
There’s lots of potential here for a Life On Mars/Ashes To Ashes style cult police drama, but it never takes off.
This is partly because it seems to be trying too hard to be crazy, but also because the characters are not much more than caricatures and the script is peppered with clichés that are meant to be tongue-in-cheek but which just fall flat.
Admittedly I only managed two episodes, but I wish they’d been better. Sadly, they were not.
MY KIND OF MAKOVER
If you enjoy home makeover shows (me), you’ll love Worst House On The Street (Tue, Ch4). Charismatic brother-and-sister property developers Stuart and Scarlette Douglas help a young couple to transform a drab terrace into an elegant first home.
It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s well-executed, the siblings are very engaging – and in a world where every penny counts, the budgets are refreshingly realistic.