CHRISTOPHER STEVENS on TV: At last, a royal knockout from the Beeb

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Huw done it! At last, it’s a right royal knockout from the Beeb

  • Latest Platinum Jubilee news as the Queen celebrates 70 years of service

Platinum Jubilee: Trooping The Colour

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The Midwich Cuckoos

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Send her victorious! Auntie Beeb behaved herself perfectly throughout Trooping The Colour (BBC1) and the Queen’s birthday flypast.

Once as reliably crisp and respectful as a guardsman’s salute, the BBC’s royal coverage has exhibited some alarming eccentricities in recent years.

Before the wedding of Meghan and Harry in 2018, a memo went out to staff, urging them to ‘button that stiff upper lip’ and adding: ‘We should feel like we’re the ones enjoying being at the party, rather than simply reporting.’

And at the Diamond Jubilee river pageant in 2012, the commentary was so sloppy nearly 5,000 viewers complained — among them actor Stephen Fry, who called it ‘mind-numbingly tedious’ and added that he ‘expected better of the Beeb’.

When Lord Stephen of Fry criticises the BBC, you know they’ve really got it wrong.

Kirsty Young held court on a floating platform in St James’s Park

This time we were in the safest of hands, with the return of Kirsty Young. The former Desert Island Discs host, who has been off our screens for four years with painful fibromyalgia, held court on a floating platform in St James’s Park.

She was joined by Sir Michael Palin and Dame Penelope Keith, in a red-white-and-blue trouser suit.

Palin twinkled. Dame Pen drew herself up and smiled frostily, like Margo ignoring one of husband Jerry’s jokes in The Good Life. Sir Michael’s twinkling was a little too much like lese-majesté, her demeanour suggested.

Then we went to the Beeb’s very safest pair of hands, Huw Edwards. Huw had all the facts ready and, throughout the military ceremony, did not falter once. He transitioned smoothly between commentary on the regal manoeuvres, ad libs and asides about faces in the crowd, historical details, and pre-recorded interviews with some of the men and women on parade.

His guest Katie Nicholl, a royal observer, remarked that a policeman had flashed his Union Jack socks at her that morning. ‘I hope you’re going to stop there,’ she told the copper.

Huw allowed himself a hint of a jest. A viewer had asked him to wear a Union Jack tie as a patriotic gesture when reading the Ten O’Clock News, he said. ‘I politely declined.’

Damp squib of the week: 

Tube worker Chris told Secrets Of The London Underground (Yesterday) of seeing a spectral figure late one night in London Bridge station. It turned out to be an engineer. He wasn’t even headless. Not so spooky… 

Alan Titchmarsh was in cheekier form, as he chatted to JJ Chalmers outside the Palace. The Queen’s appearance on the balcony was ‘the cherry on the cake,’ he said, and the swelling crowds were ‘almost as if you were going into Wembley on speed’.

But he’s Alan Titchmarsh, gardener by appointment, and he can get away with twinkles.

As if to prove it, he joined Dame Penelope on Kirsty’s sofa and reminisced about the first time he met Her Majesty, in 1985 at Chelsea Flower Show. ‘She said to me, ‘Aren’t your onions small?’ ‘

Penelope pulled her ‘Jerry-stop-that’ face again.

Jerry and Margo would love the village of Midwich, where neighbours still have net curtains, so they can peep out at the goings on. There’s even a police station. It’s manned day and night. That’s how old-fashioned Midwich is. It is, in short, exactly the sort of place you’d expect Keeley Hawes to live. She plays child psychologist Dr Zellaby in The Midwich Cuckoos (Sky Max), the seven-part drama based on John Wyndham’s 1957 sci-fi chiller.

But it’s a leaden plod, padded with scenes that attempt to build atmosphere and achieve only boredom.

A good film editor could have cut at least half an hour from the first episode. It’s so stilted that, when Keeley gets a call on her mobile, all the other actors stop talking and stare at her.

Strange lights in the sky left everyone in the village comatose. I know how they felt.

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