Monday, 26 January 2009

'Give Me Darts Or Give Me Death': Good Arrows

I always thought that buried deep inside ITV4, beneath the endless repeats of The Professionals and CCTV porn, was a decent channel trying to get out. If Good Arrows is a measure of their commissioning policy then I might just be proved right.

Irvine Welsh's directorial debut is a one-off satirical mockumentary set in Merthyr about a former Darts world champion and self-styled 'Beckham of Darts,' Andy 'The Arrows' Sampson.

After winning the title, Andy (Jonathan Owen) naive, ignorant, inarticulate but probably good-hearted, is tempted away from his manager and wife by the buxom 'Big Sheila' (Katy Brand). The story is told from the standpoint of Sebastian (Joe McKinney), a documentary maker who follows them around with a camera crew. Sampson has literally grown fat off his reputation and makes a living playing exhibition tournaments in empty working men's clubs while his spiteful, shell suited, racist wife spends money he doesn't have and goes off with other guys. Inevitably, disaster strikes and with echoes of real life former champion Andy Fordham, Sampson suffers a heart attack.

As the story unfolds however, it becomes less about the darts and more about social decay, drugs, exploitation and poverty. These are the sort of themes you'd associate with Welsh's work. Merthyr Tydfil provides an excellent backdrop for this and the film-makers do a reasonably good job of conveying the urban bleakness.

At first, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching That Peter Kay Thing. The characters have the same toe-curling ignorance that leaves you guffawing at their stupidity or watching them through a pillow depending on what you find funny. At other times you could be watching Shameless.

The performances of McKinney as the Louis Theroux wannabe Sebastian and Owen as Sampson are decent enough. Brian Hibbard's turn as Alwyn, the one-eyed stoner and Sampson's jilted ex-manager who deals in human effluence is superb.

It's Brand, however, who excels. She seems to revel in the role of the vile temptress 'Big Sheila'. This really is her vehicle and while not a great fan of her work she is clearly a very good comic actress who is capable of greatness.

While Good Arrows is perhaps a shade too derivative, the satirical dimension makes it a worthy piece, however at 90 minutes it doesn't have enough depth to justify its duration. Saying that, Welsh and co-writer Dean Cavanagh use the time to create an array of deliciously filthy characters and the dialogue measures up to the standard set by the writers. One word of warning though - the flashback to Sampson's world championship winning moment is atrocious, a measure no doubt of the film's meagre budget.

Good Arrows will be screened on Saturday 31st January at 11:00pm on ITV 4


Sunday, 25 January 2009

The TV List of Little or No Consequence #3

The world is your lobster...
31 Episode Names From The Sitcom 'Minder' That Spoofed Well-Known Movies

1. Gunfight at the O.K. Laundrette
2. Monday Night Fever
3. National Pelmet
4. The Beer Hunter
5. The Birdman of Wormwood Scrubs
6. Rocky Eight and a Half
7. Senior Citizen Caine
8. High Drains Pilferer
9. A Star is Gorn
10. Hypnotising Rita
11. From Fulham With Love
12. Minder on the Orient Express
13. An Officer and a Car Salesman
14. Day of Fines and Closures
15. Fiddler on the Hoof
16. The Wrong Goodbye
17. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Entrepreneur
18. Guess Who's Coming to Pinner?
19. The Last Temptation of Daley
20. The Greatest Show in Willesden
21. The Odds Couple
22. The Coach That Came in from the Cold
23. Uneasy Rider
24. Gone with the Winchester
25. A Taste of Money
26. A Fridge Too Far
27. One Flew over the Parents' Nest
28. All Quiet on the West End Front
29. On the Autofront
30. Bring Me the Head of Arthur Daley
31. The Long Good Thursday


Saturday, 24 January 2009

New Minder theme tune

There is a moderate amount of interest in Five's new series of Minder which starts next month. No doubt there will be a degree of speculation surrounding the theme tune.

For the uninitiated, or for the sake of indulgence delete where applicable, the following is a clip of the original theme lavishly reproduced by some geezer off Youtube (presumably its a geezer).

From the moment Five announced their intentions to bring this venerable broadcasting institution back to our screens, the question of what to do about the theme tune has been a vexed one, with us at least. They decided to commission an updated version performed by Attic Lights. Which we have embedded below.

As for the show itself, SPAOTT has yet to see it and will wait with trepidation as we see Shane Richie follow in the prodigiously gregarious footsteps of the legend that is George Cole. All we can say is, we hope they know what they're doing...

Minder starts on Wednesday 4th February at 9pm.


Monday, 19 January 2009

Tony Hart (1925 - 2009)

There was a time when presenters on children's television were all demonstrably adults. Nowadays, children are plucked straight from truanting down Shepherds Bush market, given an even worse haircut and some achingly trendy t-shirt, and stuck in front of TV cameras. The programmes they present treat children like idiots because the people who present them are idiots, and the overall effect is of one great morass.

It was not always thus, which brings us on to Tony Hart. In the glorious days before society in general and TV companies in particular decided to make a virtue of being stupid and useless, Tony Hart presented a series of long-running art shows for children on the BBC. In fact, his career spanned much further back than I thought it did, a testament to the fact that he never came across as being "that old bloke on the telly". Enthusiastic and encouraging without being patronising, adroit and authoritative without ever being patrician or preachy, Hart bestrode arts programming for children for thirty years.

Eventually, of course, he began to look like an anachronism as the schedules around him filled up with identikit presenters a quarter of his age, whose entire personality was contained within their wardrobe. His last programme - Hart Beat - was cancelled to make way for SMart, a programme with no ostensible differences in format to its forbear - and, indeed, that Hart himself contributed to in part until 2001 - other than the fact the presenters now boasted the combined artistic talent of a shoe. But this was the brave new world of the 1990s, where being more or less incapable of the thing you were supposed to be able to do was the new trend, and no-one noticed. Meanwhile, on ITV, Art Attack was breezy, colourful and full of invention, but it was never able to strike the same blend of enthusiasm and ability as any of Hart's groundbreaking shows.

Tony Hart made the news last autumn, revealing that after a series of strokes, he had lost the necessary control in his hands to draw any more. In an article in The Times, however, he refused to gripe on in oh-woe-is-me fashion, choosing to use the forum to get people excited and enthused about giving art a try. Such greatness of spirit was very much the mark of the man. Most children of my generation - and several before - grew up watching Tony Hart's programmes. Many of them owe people like him and his great contemporary, Rolf Harris, a huge debt of gratitude for opening doors to them. People like me, who still plug on with drawing despite the fact our short trousers barely fit any more, probably more so than anybody.

Thank you, Tony Hart.


Monday, 12 January 2009

David Vine (1936 - 2009)

Type the phrase 'Jack of all trades' into Google, and the chances are you'll see the name David Vine in your first page of results. If you don't, complain to Google.

David Vine's 34-year career with the BBC saw him take on a wide and diverse range of projects, most of them sport-orientated. He was the first person to present the Wimbledon tennis championships in colour in 1967, the front man for Ski Sunday between 1978 and 1996 and the man named 'The Voice of Snooker' by BBC viewers of the sport during a 22-year spell in front of the cameras that ended in 2000.

A friendly, jocular character, he was easily identifiable by his glasses and either a chunky tie and gaudy shirt or cosy jumper depending on which era you were watching him in. Composed, well-informed and seemingly unflappable, he was the perfect choice to front all manner of programmes from A Question of Sport (which he helped to launch in 1970) and It's A Knockout to Miss World and the Eurovision Song Contest (which he hosted only once in 1974 when Abba, of all people, won for Sweden).

But for me he will always be remembered as the face of Superstars, a show he was involved with on the BBC for twelve years from 1973. He managed to give the programme a real sense of purpose and authority, injecting enthusiasm into every show without appearing desperate to gain the audience's respect. Together with Ron Pickering, he guided us, the viewers, through every event ensuring we knew what was going on, who was doing well and who was struggling. He made the job of presenting Superstars and countless other programmes effortless - a real indication of just how good he was at his job.

Vine had to step down from his BBC duties in 2000 following a heart complaint but continued to act as consultant for the corporation thereafter. He was also on hand to provide a wonderful narrative on a BBC Superstars DVD that was launched to coincide with the revival of the programme in 2003.

His death from a heart attack yesterday at the age of 73 yesterday comes as incredibly sad news to the many millions of people that enjoyed hearing that wonderful West Country voice on their TVs. As the anchor man for so many programmes that were made better just by him being there, he'll be sorely missed.


Thursday, 8 January 2009

A triumph of beer over experience

Oz And James Drink To Britain

James May stands on the white cliffs of Dover to introduce the third series of what has become an annual booze-up starring himself and self confessed 'wine ponce' Oz Clarke. The past two series have been all about the wine. First they went to France, then to America. For this series however, the pair keep the home fires burning with a tour of Blighty and this time... its all about beer.

Television loves good partnerships and Clarke and May make a fine pair. They both have affable on screen personalities but their individual characteristics creates enough tension to provide just a frisson of tension without making the viewer think that they would rather be doing something else. Clarke's unbound puppy dog enthusiasm for the grape and the hop is complimented beautifully by May's delicious languidity.

Having made their introductions the pair set off in a green Rolls Royce Corniche convertible with a cheap caravan hooked on the back. They head for Yorkshire and there they discover the genesis of beer making while consuming volumous quantities of the local brew. Happily, the narrative does more than enough to stop the whole shebang from becoming a televised piss-up This is thanks to Clarke's instance on exploring the roots of the subject matter while celebrating each pint as though it were a rare vintage against May's insistence that its just beer. If you've watched previous series you'll get the idea of the philosophical divide twixt the two.

Clarke takes May to a barley field in Yorkshire to explain the basis of how the hardiness and versatility of that grain allowed us to make beer. He stands there grasping a single husk and posited the theory that people gathered, settled and built entire societies around barley fields for the single purpose of making and consuming beer. It is beer, he declared, that gave birth to civilisation. May stares at him with understated admiration and says "The was genuinely interesting... fancy a pint?"

Other excursions include a couple of trips to some Yorkshire breweries, one of which is run by an Italian and a Kiwi. There is also an unexpected trip to a vineyard by way as a revista to series past. I wasn't aware that they produced wine in Yorkshire but according to the governor of this vineyard, some variety of grape based falling down water has been in the county for thousands of years. Once it was decided that the plonk would go down well with a curry, they dropped off the Rolls and headed for Dewsbury Railway Station. In West Riding there's a train line with a pub at every station selling a wide variety of local ales. A train related pub crawl ensued which started as an attempt to discern the distinctive qualities of each particular ale and finished as a couple of bumbling middle aged men who had lost their tickets.

The first episode suffered with an introduction to the programme which was too lengthy. Naturally, there has to be a degree of contextualising before getting down to business. However, for a 30 minute programme, surly a simple "Hello its us again, we're off to explore beer in a big Rolls Royce" would have sufficed. It certainly worked for Paul Merton In India. However, such trifling matters aside it was a good watch.

Clarke's pursuit of knowledge made you feel as though you'd watched something improving. While May's unending thirst for unlikely similes and juvenile teasing of Clarke's extravagant bookishness gave the programme a lightness of touch. At no time did I feel as though I was learning anything. even if part of me suspected I was. They even managed to chuck in some sheep in a pub. Anyone fancy a pint?

Oz And James Drink To Britain is on BBC2 every Tuesday at 8pm. Episode 1 is still on the iPlayer.


Tuesday, 6 January 2009

What we watched over Christmas

Some might say the festive season just ended didn't throw up much in the way of televisual treats, but we beg to differ. There were plenty of programmes to please the eye, and to prove it, here's a selection of some of our favourites...

The Peter Serafinowicz Christmas Show
Sketch shows like these tend to divide public opinion in that oft-mentioned way that Marmite does, but we're big fans of Serra and his first series for the BBC in 2007 was on the whole excellent. This festive edition carried on where that series left off with one or two returning characters like Brian 'Bon-bon-bon-bonbon' Butterfield and some new but nonetheless brilliantly executed recurring themes like the ads for 'iToilet' and the 'Mactini'. Like all the best sketch shows, not everything hits the spot outright, but Serafinowicz has a pretty good average and is highly deserving of another series. Can't be long now, can it BBC?

Blackadder Rides Again
At long last, Rowan Atkinson finally agreed to be interviewed about the classic comedy programme he really made his own, and this documentary was all the better for it. UKTV Gold recently did a similar thing for the 25th anniversary of BlackAdder's first appearance on British telly, but this had an edge of credibility to it. Atkinson featured heavily (as well he should) along with the likes of John Lloyd, Ben Elton, Richard Curtis and all the cast, and the feeling you were left with was one of great effort they all put in to maximise the comedy in the show. Locations were visited, costumes were hauled out of the archives and behind the scenes footage was shown to complete a worthy celebration of one of Britain's best loved comedy series. Will it come back? Probably not, and nor should it. As was proved with Only Fools And Horses, some things are best ended while people still have respect for them.

Top Gear Vietnam Special
Messrs. Clarkson, May and Hammond gave us the latest in their international set-pieces, and though the programme had a strange atmosphere to it (largely due to their Asian surroundings), it didn't disappoint. Clarkson trying to ride a motorbike for the first time on severely pot-holed roads, May wearing a wok and a colander on his head as a makeshift crash helmet and Hammond phut-phut-phutting around with a large scale model of a Spanish galleon strapped to the back of his bike were just some of the things that amused throughout. It's just a shame the programme may be affected by budget restraints next year, thereby limiting the amount of times we might see this kind of thing. Let's hope it doesn't come to that, though.

Stanley Baxter: Now & Then
Once upon a time, Stanley Baxter was always on our screens, particularly around Christmas. His lavish shows would parody the great Hollywood movies in the most part and his impersonations of anyone from Greta Garbo to Jimmy Durante were every bit as good anything you'd see from Rory Bremner or Alistair McGowan today. It's somewhat ironic, then, that the expense of creating shows with such high production values proved to be his undoing in the end, but this programme rightly gave us all a chance to look again at those wonderful shows and to hear from the great man himself. Coming out of retirement for this one-off occasion, Baxter gave us an interesting insight into the way his LWT programmes were made and he even recorded some fresh material in the persona of Her Majesty The Queen. Quite impressive he was too, especially for a man aged 82. At a time of the year when everyone's thoughts turn to Morecambe and Wise, ITV should be proud of reminding us that Christmas was also once the terrain of people like Stanley Baxter who were equally as adept at making us laugh.

Shooting Stars: The Inside Story
Another retrospective took Vic and Bob's wonderfully silly panel game as its subject, and it too was celebrating an anniversary - 15 years since it was first broadcast. This documentary didn't take itself quite as seriously as those others we've mentioned, but it did at least give the likes of Paul Whitehouse, Lenny Henry and Johnny Vegas the chance to convey how much they enjoyed taking part in the programme. Not only that, but we also had ample opportunity to look once again at many of the best bits from the show's past including The Dove From Above, George Dawes on drums and Vic Reeves' jokes that always sent the tumbleweed rolling. Good fun and a great laugh throughout.

The Krypton Factor
Yes, the return of what's been billed as 'an old favourite' although we take issue with that a little bit. Though it undeniably had big audiences on ITV once upon a time, we don't remember this being a programme that people would watch avidly and talk about down the pub the next night. They probably watched it in large numbers because the alternative on the BBC was too poor to contemplate. Anyway, back on our screens it most certainly is and injected with 21st Century pizzazz too, but to our mind, that's part of its problem. For a start, the backdrop of the studio is now a ceiling-to-floor video wall displaying a psychedelic array of patterns and imagery that distract throughout, plus there's a new assault course which seems to be twice as complicated as the old one (like it needed to be...) New host Ben Shephard, it can be said, is distinctly lacking in sufficient personality to carry off the 'Gordon Burns' role, there's no sight of the studio audience like there used to be which gives the show a cold feel, and all in all this new Krypton Factor's seems a bit soulless, really. We could be wrong, but we don't think this will run much beyond a second series - or even this series perhaps.

Morecambe & Wise: The Show What Paul Merton Did
Finally, a fine tribute to the aforementioned Eric and Ern. There have been countless previous attempts to show the best bits of their work, to discuss the pros and cons of their routines and private lives, but this found just the right balance while bringing something new to the table. Hosted by Paul Merton, various guests were brought on to have a brief chat about 'Britain's Best Loved Comedy Duo' in-between various pieces of archive footage, but this is where the show excelled. Remarkably, someone had bothered to try and find some rarely seen material which made such a refreshing change as to set it apart from all previous efforts at this kind of programme. With Merton being an obvious fan too, it was a great way to reflect on the joy that Morecambe and Wise brought to many of our lives, and deserves almost as many re-runs as the original shows had themselves.


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