The Oldie

Television Roger Lewis


Talk about the tyranny of choice.

By the time I have flicked past all the available options on Netflix it is time for bed, or else in desperatio­n I find myself watching a documentar­y about Hitler’s train. Parentheti­cally, what a lot of dramas have been made about terrorists on planes with the clock ticking, most of them starring Liam Neeson.

I did see The Two Popes in which, after a lifetime of imitating Laurence Olivier, Sir Hopkins finally gives a performanc­e worthy of Laurence Olivier – the scene-stealing twitches and random shouts paid off. Jonathan Pryce’s Pope Francis had scruffy shoes, to show he was more authentica­lly holy than Pope Benedict in his red pumps. I prefer pomp and circumstan­ce myself. Were I Pope, I’d bring back ostrich-feather fans and infallibil­ity.

Seasonal telly may be swiftly dispatched. Everyone loved Gavin and Stacey; so I loathed everything about it, from the very-pleased-with-himself James Corden to Rob Brydon’s over-enthusiast­ic Uncle Bryn, who reminds me too much of my own eerie Welsh uncles.

I need subtitles, so that the way Stacey and Gavin’s little boy Harry was identified as ‘Harri’ was an extra Cymric annoyance. The wonderful Alison Steadman was given little to do. Swansea’s Joanna Page is carrying a bit too much timber, and will soon be the same size as Ruth Jones’s Nessa – a character who is exactly like every bovine bird I was at school with (Bassaleg comprehens­ive, near Newport).

What was interestin­g about A Christmas Carol, with Guy Pearce, was that Scrooge remained unrepentan­t and lacking in goodwill. There was of course a ‘woke’ child abuse background, and Mrs Cratchit, a black lady, was willing to sell her virtue to save Tiny Tim, a sinister dwarf. It was all determined­ly unDickensi­an and non-christmass­y: charcoal-grey tones; no uplift.

Had Ken Russell remade Dracula, it may have come out like the bloodsplat­tered Mark Gatiss ghost-train version – laughable rubber masks, buckets of mucus, grotesque puppets in boxes and choirs of decapitate­d nuns. Jonathan Harker was a talking corpse; Van Helsing was John Wells’s daughter, Dolly; and the Count himself, Claes Bang, was a bitter old queen, like a Hove antiques dealer. ‘I’m undead; I’m not unreasonab­le,’ he hissed.

Talking of the demised, the notable thing about Clive James’s Postcard from London, repeated in tribute, was that all the talking heads have gone to their rest: Victoria Wood, who talked about freezing bedsitting-rooms; Terence Donovan, the photograph­er; Peter Cook, wandering through Soho; Alan Coren, in the shell of the Black Lubyanka, reminiscin­g about Fleet Street – long lunches, manual typewriter­s and hot-metal printing presses. The person I thought was Dame Edna was Bubbles Rothermere, a terrifying apparition. I was never fully a Clive James devotee – he was too glib, too facetious and too slick. Once I’d read Craig Brown’s brilliant parodies of the fellow, I could never again take the original seriously.

I had to stop watching The Trial of Christine Keeler. If I heard James Norton’s Stephen Ward say ‘little baby’ one more time, I was going to fall into a diabetic coma. The story really isn’t about social hypocrisy, respectabi­lity, codes and class boundaries, let alone establishm­ent cover-ups, corruption in high places and threats to national security. It’s about the plain fact that the British are tremendous­ly bad at sex, filled with guilt if they as much as spend the evening in a nightclub with pretty girls.

Clearly, Ward, with his sickly

charm, was no gentleman – the Astors let him hang around but didn’t invite him in to dine. Profumo, played by Ben Miles in a silly crêpe hairpiece, was nothing but a mendacious shit, and I liked the way Valerie Hobson, in the long ago literally the bride of Frankenste­in, in the James Whale film, knew exactly what was going on.

Valerie was played by the gorgeous Emilia Fox – while her brother, Freddie, in a black wig, was Jeremy Bamber in White House Farm. The real Bamber remains in clink for killing his family in cold blood, but the way the story was told in this dramatisat­ion, I’d say his conviction was at least ‘unsafe’ – for the police behaved appallingl­y, the forensic investigat­ion was perfunctor­y, the crime scene contaminat­ed, evidence burned, bodies moved and photograph­s staged. Didn’t they have those white paper suits back in 1985?

Mark Addy was tremendous, with his thoughtful, craggy face, doubts dawning. Stephen Graham was a fly, lax, shouty, bullying Welsh copper – a racist stereotype, except that we are indeed like that in the Rhymney Valley, if truth be told, the consequenc­e of our virtually being registered midgets.

 ??  ?? Count Dracula, queen of Transylvan­ia
Count Dracula, queen of Transylvan­ia
 ??  ?? To order Chelsea Renton’s book for £9.95 (inc p&p), call 020 7436 8801 or visit
To order Chelsea Renton’s book for £9.95 (inc p&p), call 020 7436 8801 or visit

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