Larry David — the Gants Hill version
GR A NDMA’S HOUSE is, in the great BBC tradition, a sitcom about family life in the suburbs — but T e r r y a n d J u n e i t ain’t. As the continuity announcer might say, this programme contains strong language from the outset and explicit references to gay sex, drugs and, er, bridge rolls.
For those of you who missed the first series, it is a comedy in the Larry David tradition, set in Gants Hill, in which comedian Simon Amstell plays a version of himself and actors play a version of his family. The Amstell character is constantly in fear of embarrassment by his, frankly, very embarrassing family. His discomfort when he wakes up in bed with a 16-year-old boy who turns out to be the disturbed classmate of his cousin Adam, is excruciating, but also hilarious (if you happen to be a very broad-minded un-homophobic adult).
There is something very Jewishly authentic in the unabashed discussion of Simon’s (much regretted) night of passion with a schoolboy, particularly as it occurs in a family which seems much more preoccupied with the broiges between Simon’s mum and aunt (played respectively by Rebecca Front and Samantha Spiro) which has simmered for months over the catering for their father’s funeral.
And this being (a version of) the Jewish community, the rebellious, drugtaking boy who wakes up in Simon’s bed turns out to be Mark Grossman, whose grandma plays kalooki with Simon’s grandma.
As a viewer who has endured years of depressing domesticity masquerading as TV comedy, Grandma’s House is sharp, refreshing and yet comfortingly Jewish. Grandma, following the destruction of the armchair formerly occupied by the dear, departed Bernie, says: “There are worse things in life than a broken chair. Some people have no legs.” There is a lesson for all of us there.
Witness to Auschwitz examined the story of Denis Avey, a British prisoner of war, whose book, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, has caused huge controversy. There is no doubt that Avey was at the death camp. Indeed Ernst Lobethall, an inmate there, has testified that Avey saved his life by smuggling cigarettes to him which he was able to use as currency. However, the central claim of Avey’s book — that he swapped places with another inmate, Hans, so he could investigate conditions in Auschwitz — is hotly disputed.
Avey wrote that he entered the camp in disguise twice and his account of a night among the “stripeys”, as he called them, is harrowing. However, there are allegations of discrepancies between the book and Avey’s 2001 Imperial War Museum interview. There are also questions over why he kept his silence for more than 50 years. Even fellow POW Brian Bishop said that such a swap would have been “unfeasible”.
But Avey, a robust nonagenarian, appeared unaffected by the row. “I know what happened and that is all that matters to me,” he said.
His account was backed by historian Lyn Smith who conducted that first interview with Avey. She said it was unsurprising that in attempting to recall events for the first time in half a century he made a few factual errors. However historian Matthias Reiss was sceptical and passionate in his view that any flawed accounts of the Holocaust needed to be fully verified to avoid playing into the hands of the deniers.
We saw Avey talk to a group of pensioners, some of them Holocaust survivors, at a day-care centre in Manchester. One of them, Dorka Samson, clearly believed him. “God only bless him how he managed to do it,” she said.
Ultimately, whether his book is 100 per cent accurate or not, Avey came across as a brave and upright man who risked his life to save Jews and remained traumatised by the experience.
Suburban sitcom: Simon Amstell with his on-screen Jewish family