Larry David — the Gants Hill ver­sion

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&entertainment -

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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.

PHOTO: BBC PIC­TURES

Sub­ur­ban sit­com: Si­mon Am­stell with his on-screen Jewish fam­ily

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