channel 4

No Sense of an Ending

Warning: This piece contains spoilers for the 2014 series Amber, 2014 series The Missing and 2018 series Kiri.

There has been a trend in recent years for drama series to give is slightly more nuanced endings than we have sometimes expected. Perhaps all the questions haven’t been answered. Perhaps its unclear by the end, which characters have behaved in a honourable fashion. We’ve had heroes. We’ve had anti-heroes.

And then there are series where the story just isn’t neatly wrapped up. Sometimes that might because the way the show was produced meant it wasn’t possible (e.g. Lost – where writers needing to write 20 episodes a year neither kept track nor really cared if there wasn’t an ending that made sense), or because the writer wanted to leave things that way.

We know that real life doesn’t come neatly packaged up. A terrible murder is committed, but the police never catch the killer. Years after someone is convicted, evidence shows a wrongful conviction and someone is freed. (How many other wrongful convictions are there?)

A good example of this would be the RTÉ 4-part series Amber. I saw it when it was broadcast on BBC Four in the UK. It follows the story of a young teenager who has gone missing. We saw the story over an extended period of time, starting in the immediate hours and days, and then running into weeks and months after the disappearance. In the end, we never truly discovered what happened to the girl. And that’s probably realistic in many cases of disappearance. Did the person run away? Were they murdered? Who knows.

BBC One’s The Missing also entered similar territory, again leaving us with no satisfying conclusion after eight hours of television.

It’s certainly brave television making. Audiences tend to expect murder series to resolve the key plot points – who murdered who and why. Ideally they also want to see the murderer caught.

I want my television to make demands of me. I know that murderers aren’t all caught, and missing people aren’t always found. There are miscarriages of justice, and there are cases of poor policing.

But that doesn’t really excuse not providing an ending of any kind after I’ve made an investment in a series. Jack Thorne’s Kiri is a case in point. The series is about the disappearance and murder of a young girl. She’s a black child living with white foster parents, but has let the child visit her birth grandparents where the child is able to meet her birth father despite the social worker believing the parent and grandparent to be estranged.

When the child is reported missing and then is found dead, suspicion falls on the father, who has been found guilty of neglect and other drug offences. He runs away, but is persuaded to hand himself in, and due process is then followed.

The tale is tragic on many levels, since a “good” social worker loses her job, the father is revealed not to have been the murderer and true murderer – the foster father – is never caught by the police, his family covering up his heinous crime.

The whole piece is immaculately acted by a strong cast, and the direction gives a good sense of setting around Bristol. This is a classy piece of work. It also examines race, class, social workers and the police. And the story is pacily told. This might be four hours of drama, but it never sits still. The dialogue is authentic and its genuinely a lean piece.

And yet, it didn’t have an ending that could be called in any way satisfying. As the true details of events were slowly released to us as viewers, we obviously rooted for the police to capture the true murderer, and yet as the clock ticked on towards 10pm in the final episode, it was clear that this wasn’t going to happen.

OK. So the murderer gets off. What about the innocent father? Things aren’t looking good for him, despite evidence existing that showed that the foster mother lied to police to put the blame squarely on him. Well we never find out, because the last we see of him is showing up at court.

Is he found guilty? We don’t know.

Does the foster mother, who has had the truth heavily hinted at by her oddball son, leave her murderous husband? We don’t know.

Does the son who knows everything, tell anyone what he knows? We don’t know.

I think it was the fact that we weren’t told the outcome to the trial that really annoys me. Of course life isn’t neatly wrapped up. But there is a court case, and we surely deserve the right to learn what happened. If the series was true to form, the birth father would have been wrongly found guilty, but even that we viewers were denied.

This just left me generally nonplussed by the entire story. While this wasn’t a police procedural, and a series of pat solutions would have been wrong, I just feel that the story really had no ending at all.

Daytime TV Killed the British Bank Holiday

What do the following film genres mean to you?

  • War films
  • James Bond
  • Carry On films

To me they all scream Bank Holiday TV. You may have had plans to go out somewhere, but an annoying drizzle meant that you’d rather stay at home and see what’s on the box.

But in fact, that’d be wrong.

Maybe the Bank Holidays of yesteryear were like this, but these days you’d be hard pressed to differentiate a Bank Holiday’s output from any other Monday’s programming. No longer do we get much in the way of specials, one-offs or film premieres. There’s relatively little live sport left on free-to-air TV, and instead, the regular daytime schedule is extended into the Bank Holiday regardless.

Is the family at home? Or are you having a bit of a lie-in? No longer do you get to feast your eyes on anything different. It’s the regular diet of Jeremy Kyle, Homes Under the Hammer, Escape to the Country and Loose Women.

Indeed flicking through the dreary line-up during the recent May Day Bank Holiday, I had to sense-check that I hadn’t somehow taken a standard day off work by accident. It was wet outside, and if I wanted some actual entertainment, it’d be either be a DVD or Netflix.

But perhaps I was wrong? Was Bank Holiday TV that good in the past? I decided to find out by exploring previous listings.

I’ve taken a look at the TV on Spring Bank Holidays – the last Monday in May – over the last forty years by looking at the Radio Times every ten years from 1977 to date. (I didn’t have access to the TV Times, so ITV and Channel 4’s listings only start in 1997.)


I said above that the last Monday in May is the Bank Holiday, but in 1977 the Spring Bank Holiday was the following week because this was also the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebration weekend. The Radio Times featured an embroidered image of the Queen on the cover of their Souvenir Issue.

BBC One’s daytime schedule was sport focused. Following a Laurel and Hardy film, it was one-day England v Australia cricket and then Frank Bough presenting a Bank Holiday Grandstand that also featured Powerboat Racing (Murray Walker on commentary duties), Racing from Chepstow and Athletics from Leicester.

BBC Two opened at breakfast for some Open University programming, before closing down at 7.55am. It opened again briefly for Play School (Julie Stevens and Brian Cant), before closing down once more. It only reopened after lunch for the film Holiday in Mexico, before showing the end of the cricket.

The BBC One early evening started with Disney Time presented by Noel Edmonds, a showing of the film Scott of the Antarctic, The Music of Morecambe and Wise and a regular Starsky and Hutch. After the news, it was Silver Jubilee: Fires of Friendship, featuring live coverage of beacons being lit spreading out from Windsor up and down the country. Raymond Baxter presented it, and the Radio Times carried a handy map of all the bonfire sites. The evening ended with the film I Start Counting starring Jenny Agutter and Bryan Marshall.

BBC Two was also showing a patriotic film that evening with Laurence Olivier’s Henry V. That was followed by Neil Diamond, an episode of Women at War and a short play under the banner of Second City Firsts.


In 1987, Noel Edmonds was the Radio Times cover as host of the SOS Star Awards on Saturday evening. But we’re going to concentrate on Monday’s TV.

For BBC One, that meant a Monday edition of Grandstand featuring England v Pakistan one-day cricket, the golf PGA Championship and coverage of The Milk Race cycling (with Phil Liggett and Hugh Porter on commentary duties).

BBC Two’s daytime saw You and Me, followed by several hours of Pages from Ceefax, before a Walton’s TV-movie spin-off, and continued cricket coverage took over.

Later in the evening, BBC One had Wogan, Bob’s Full House, Ever Decreasing Circles and then the film Staying Alive. After the news, there was an all-star celebration of 100 years of Hollywood.

BBC Two gave over the entire evening to the opera Turandot, broadcast live from the Royal Opera House and simulcast on Radio 3. It ended the evening with highlights of some the day’s earlier sport.


In 1997, the cover featured Lenny Henry.

BBC One had Herbie Goes Bananas, followed by Disney’s Robin Hood. After a brief visit to Ramsey Street for Neighbours it was three hours of Spartacus.

Over on BBC Two there was Steve Rider presenting the PGA Championship from Wentworth for much of the day. But there was still time for Teletubbies, The Phil Silvers Show, and the film Rancho Notorious.

ITV was basically showing films all day. A fantasy film called Master of the World, starring Vincent Price and Charles Bronson (together at last?), Captain Ron with Kurt Russell, and then a true classic in Rio Bravo.

Channel 4 had a series of repeats including Bewitched and The Crystal Maze, before the film Challenge to Lassie and then Racing from Sandown Park. They did find space for Fifteen to One and Countdown.

Channel 5’s schedule looked more normal than most with regulars like Leeza, The Bold and the Beautiful, Family Affairs and Sunset Beach. But it did have the premiere of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III in the afternoon (Strong competition for that I’m sure).

Into the evening and BBC One had Red Nose Awards, Auntie’s TV Favourites, and Here and Now, with Sue Lawley interviewing The Spice Girls. A regular Eastenders was followed by Radio Times cover star Lenny’s Big Amazon Adventure and the start of a new series of Birds of a Feather. Following a later than usual news, it was the premiere of the film Staggered with Martin Clunes. Carry on Camping rounded off the evening.

BBC Two had Computers Don’t Bite with Carol Vorderman and Adrian Chiles, Mr Bell Goes to Westminster following Martin Bell taking on Neil Hamilton in Tatton, The Antiques Show with Francine Stock and Tales from the River Bank. The big film was Lorenzo’s Oil with Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon.

ITV had regular episodes of Wish You Were Here…? and Coronation Street. Then it had A Royal Gala for the Prince’s Trust, hosted by Sir David Frost and Joanna Lumley and featuring Gary Barlow and Jennifer Aniston.

Channel 4 was celebrating Sitcom Weekend all that evening, including Desmond’s, George and Mildred, Rising Damp, Father Ted, Cheers, and the film Up Pompeii.

Channel 5’s evening saw the premiere of, er, Revenge of the Nerds IV: Nerds in Love, and an episode Jack Docherty’s chat show.


In 2007, Daniel Craig (as James Bond) was the cover star, and the magazine included a free “Giant Springwatch Wallchart.” It also asked the question of the latest Doctor Who episode: “Is this the scariest episode ever?” (Talking about the episode Human Nature).

By now, the schedules were feeling a little less special. BBC One had a morning of Animal Park, Homes Under the Hammer, To Buy or Not to Buy, Cash in the Attic and Bargain Hunt. Not that different to 2017 in some respects. After lunch it was old episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo!, Keeping Up Appearances and Murder, She Wrote. Then we got films of The Parent Trap and Father of the Bride Part 2.

BBC Two began with blocks of CBeebies and CBBC programming before running the popular TV movie High School Musical. This was followed by the John Wayne film, The Comancheros, followed by regular episodes of Living in the Sun, Escape to the Country, Flog It!, Eggheads and Weakest Link.

ITV was also now running a nearly normal schedule of The Jeremy Kyle Show, two episodes of 60 Minute Makeover, Loose Women, half an Inspector Morse repeat (part one had been the previous Friday), and For the Rest of Your Life. At 4.00pm it ran the 1983 film, Agatha Christie’s Sparkling Cyanide.

Channel 4 broke up its regular morning block of sitcom repeats with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: the Movie, a Pirates of the Caribbean 3: T4 Movie Special and the film Alaska with Thora Birch and Charlton Heston. It ended the afternoon with Countdown, Deal or No Deal and The New Paul O’Grady Show.

Channel 5 was showing a standard set of The Wright Stuff, Trisha Goddard, House Doctor, House, and then the films/TV movies, The Madness Within and Perry Mason: The Cast of the Lost Love.

BBC One’s evening was basically a standard issue Monday evening with Celebrity Masterchef, an Open All Hours repeat, EastEnders, Panorama, New Tricks and Not Going Out.

BBC Two’s evening was also standard fare, with a new series of Springwatch, the third in a documentary series Power to the People and only The Pledge with Jack Nicholson being an unusual film addition. At midnight viewers could spend two hours with Springwatch Nightshift.

ITV’s evening was mostly identical to any other, with Emmerdale, Coronation Street, Airline, more Coronation Street, and then the film Ocean’s Eleven. The evening was rounded off with The Championship featuring play-off highlights.

Channel 4 at least had a film in early peak with the premiere of Star Trek: Nemesis before the documentary Brits Get Rich in China. Then it was ER, Sport’s Dirty Secrets and late night repeats of Sex and the City.

Channel 5 had Airplane! Before highlights of the cricket (long gone from free to air TV), Fifth Gear, Paul Merton in China, Prison Break and the film Anaconda.


Which all brings us right up to date, and I’m embedding some of my patented* (*they’re not patented) annotated Radio Times pages into this blog. This week’s edition has a The Beatles and Sgt Pepper because, er, there’s a re-issued CD boxset out?

(Click through if you can’t read what it says)

Radio Times 29 May 2017

This is near enough a completely usual Monday. All the daytime staples are there. The tiny amount of sport consists of highlights packages. The PGA golf, long a Bank Holiday tradition, now finishes on a Sunday like every other tournament, and is live on Sky, like every other tournament.

Only Channel 5 actually makes an effort, running a classic film in the afternoon (The Searchers), and launching their new mini-series sequel on The Kennedys.

The only way you’d know it was a Bank Holiday from these schedules would be to notice that the news is either shortened or completely missing from the schedules. Otherwise, it’s as you were.


The shift away from holiday programming to regular scheduling hasn’t been a fast one, but in recent years it feels like it has sped up.

In the 70s and 80s we didn’t really have daytime TV – indeed channels might actually shut down for a bit. But that left space for sport, for which there was no satellite competition. And the end of the football season meant that there was a range of sport available. There have always been films, but truth be told, they’ve not always been great. There have been some titles here that the best film critic would need to go away and look up.

Yet today, we’re almost at a point where the most you can expect is that the news might get shortened a little, BBC Two might run a film in place of Newsnight, and that’s about it. We don’t get special events, or one off specials any longer. Daytime and evening schedules run year around, and make little to no account for anything else. Certainly, if I’d been examining the May Bank Holiday, I’d have included the World Snooker Championships, long a staple of BBC TV over the period. But it feels like schedulers don’t really make the effort any longer.

Undoubtedly, Britain’s Got Talent and Springwatch are big draws for their respective channels, but there’s not even a non-soap drama to be found (unless you count Channel 4’s Loaded which is more drama-comedy).

It is true to say that we don’t get nearly as many repeats as we used to (a curious Guardian piece recently asked if the age of repeats was at an end. I would argue that this has long happened). Most drama on the main channels is first run in primetime. Even massive hits like Line of Duty or Poldark don’t get peaktime repeats.

And it’s also true that we have more access to entertainment. In the seventies, you’d have to wait until ITV showed Jaws before you got a chance to see it. Only with the rise of VHS, satellite TV, DVD, downloads and Netflix, did the audience gain control. However, ITV will still run one-off Maigrets, while the BBC and Channel 4 can have premieres of some of the films they’ve backed.

We’re said to be in a golden age of television; indeed “peak TV.” There’s so much good stuff, or “must-see TV” that we struggle to keep up. Are you watching the new seasons of House of Cards? Or The Leftovers? Or American Gods? Or Twin Peaks? Or The Americans? Or Doctor Who?

Season 7 of Game of Thrones is coming soon, perhaps you want to binge watch the previous six seasons? Or seven seasons of The Walking Dead?

Instead of moaning that ITV hasn’t bothered to change its Bank Holiday schedule from a normal one, perhaps I should understand that they know beyond their regular audience, anyone else watching TV will be doing so on their own terms. Watching iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, ITV Hub, Now TV or Walter Presents boxsets.

Bank Holiday TV is a thing of the past.

Getting Burnt

The whole fallout over the failure of the BBC and Love Productions to agree a deal over future series of The Great British Bake-Off is fascinating.

The series started as a run-of-the-mill weekday evening BBC2 cooking competition show, where it was essentially one of many. Yet it morphed into a beast that became the biggest show on British television in fairly short order, transitioning across to BBC1 and making stars of its presenters and competition winners alike. Along the way it gained a number of spin-off shows.

Love Productions owns and makes the show for the BBC. Since 2014 it has been 70% owned by Sky, and perhaps its other best known show has been Benefits Street on Channel 4. But a quick look at their website shows how important the “Great British” brand is. As well as the flagship, there have been a Sport Relief and “Creme de la Creme” versions this year. We’ve also had Junior Bake Off, and Bake Off Masterclasses, and there have been two Mary Berry series as well as a Paul Hollywood series. There was also a two part documentary for primetime BBC1 featuring Nadiya, the winner of last year’s show. Then there are the sewing and pottery sister shows as well.

Bake Off is clearly Love’s core brand, since it would seem that Benefits Street seems to have had its day. Of the 2016 series on their website at time of writing, 32 hours are “Great British…” related, and 8 hours are all its other programmes.

So this contract extension/negotiation was clearly going to be a big deal for Love, and from media reports, negotiations have been long with rumours first surfacing back in April that all was not right and the two parties weren’t seeing eye to eye.

On Monday, as news broke, The Guardian reported an internal Love Productions email that said “this has never been about who might write the biggest cheque but about where we can find the best home for Bake Off,” which is clearly a load of nonsense. It was always about the size of the cheque. Maybe they did turn down an ITV offer in favour of Channel 4, as is the rumour. And perhaps that was a good call, with Channel 4 perhaps better suited of the two commercial services that could seriously bid for it. (NB. This really wouldn’t have made sense for Sky to bid on. The audiences would be tiny, and it just doesn’t seem to fit in with any of their core channels.)

Then came the bombshell that the talent hadn’t been tied up – or even consulted – before the show was sold to C4! Mel and Sue promptly decided that they would be bowing out (neither is short of other work, and they’ve done seven series at this point). Has C4 essentially paid £25m a year for a large marquee in a field?

I think what’s clear is that C4 won’t get anything like the ratings that the BBC got. But there’s probably a commercial equation that means, subject to relatively good ratings, and perhaps becoming C4’s biggest show, there’s a net commercial win for the channel. But at what cost?

A few questions come to mind beyond the emotional ones of whether the show is just quintessentially “a BBC show.”

  • How was a deal done without the talent already signed up? Now that Mel and Sue have dropped out, this really gives the whip hand in negotiations to agents of Mary and Paul. C4 will now be desperate to secure them, but if the production fee has gone up several-fold as rumoured, then the talent will be looking for something similar. It’s also probably slightly awkward that they’ve publicly said they want to stay with the BBC.

    I would imagine that what really comes into play here is what else they get as part of the deal. That probably means both Paul and Mary getting their own cookery shows, and the opportunity to really cash in on associated book sales. Channel 4 probably also lets them do more overtly commercial deals with their own ranges of baking or cookware, as well as other endorsements. But this will almost certainly come at the cost of audience, and that also impacts on what they can achieve in the wider marketplace. It’s not as though neither of them has had cookery shows on the BBC after all – with bestselling spin-off books. I’m sure the BBC would be very happy to keep offering them cookery slots as well.

  • What does this mean for future indies working in formats with the BBC? It’s an interesting time at the moment with indies and the BBC. The new Charter agreement allows for the opening up of more shows to be made by independents. And the creation of BBC Studios allows BBC producers to pitch for shows on other channels. We’ve not really seen a format owned by third party switch networks in the UK unless the format was dropped by the original broadcaster. Channel 4 chose to stop making Big Brother for example. Probably the biggest recent example was The Voice which the BBC also decided not to get into a bidding war over. But that was a format that the BBC had been criticised for buying in the first place as it was something they could have developed. While the intellectual property of Bake Off resides with Love Productions, it’s fair to say that the BBC helped develop the brand.

    But my question is whether this means tighter contracts over what an indie can do with a format that airs on the BBC, particularly after it’s grown and nurtured? Do exclusivity clauses become more onerous? Or when a commissioner is faced with two options – one from BBC Studios and one from an indie, are they now more likely to go for the BBC Studios option? I think I’d be a little worried if I was an indie.

  • What will audiences do? It may well be the case that if you have a TV (or internet device) you have access to both BBC One and Channel 4, but the fact remains that the same show on different networks will achieve different audiences. And in this instance, it means a smaller audience for C4. Making lots of money is not necessarily seen as a good thing in UK culture, and the fact that this is front page news means audiences know full well that the show has changed channels to make the producers more cash. Does that therefore devalue the show in audiences’ eyes? Paul and Mary are probably in a tough position right now. Stay with the show, and they might look like they’re greedy.

I’m sure Channel 4 can make this work commercially – with premium spot-rates, sponsorship and product placement opportunities. However, if it becomes too overtly commercial that does cause issues with the audience. And they’re going to have to fork out for talent one way or another.

It wouldn’t take a great deal for the BBC to come up with another cookery related competition show that didn’t break anyone’s intellectual property rights. They already air Masterchef after all, and like many other reality formats, it’s notoriously hard to pin down what’s original in this format that hasn’t been done hundreds of times before. I’m not sure that this will be the route that’s followed. There won’t be a “The Grand Tour/Top Gear” re-imagining happening. But star talent is star talent, and at this moment, I suspect Paul and Mary can choose what projects they want.

Is the show right for Channel 4? Perhaps, but it’s hard to see this sitting cheek by jowl with Naked Attraction. Yes, Jamie’s at home there, but the channel is still edgier after 9pm, and it’s not completely clear to me that it’s actually the right fit for a channel who’s remit is to be “Innovative and distinctive,” and “Champion alternative points of view.” Over on Mediatel, Ray Snoddy notes the broader issues about what such “poaching” might mean for the future of Channel 4 itself. Is it a smart thing for one public sector broadcaster to outbid another to buy the show? This isn’t the same as F1 or horse racing.

Incidentally, I don’t actually watch Bake Off very often. But I completely understand the appeal of the programme, and this is a fascinating case study.


When I heard that Channel 4 had commissioned a new series where people attempt to go “on the run” and outwit a crack team of trained hunters, I knew I’d have to watch. I’ve always been a sucker for these shows. Although not all quite the same, this follows in the footsteps of programmes such as Treasure Hunt, The Interceptor (not the recent BBC1 series), Wanted (with Richard Littlejohn), Mantracker (can you escape a Canadian cowboy?), Born Survivor, and Lost (not that one but the Channel 4 gameshow in which sometimes incredibly annoying contestants had to race to get back to London from somewhere in the world).

What all these shows have is the randomness of going anywhere in an artificially constrained grid, and a level of artifice that television demands. The show has to be a format, and it has to come in on budget and with a set number of episodes.

I think the aims of Hunted are quite lofty – explaining the level to which we have become a surveillance state with CCTV, automatic number plate recognition, and just ourselves essentially agreeing to being tracked by our mobile phone operators or the operating systems themselves.

The difficulty is that in reality, only the state truly has access to this kind of data. Sure, some tabloid reporters hacked some mobile phones, and I’ve no doubt “social engineering” has been used to find out who a car numberplate is registered to or whatever, but we know that when a TV show tries to replicate things, they have to basically make things up.

In Hunted, 14 contestants are spread across six episodes, either individually or in pairs. They go on the run at an hour’s notice, although they’ve obviously applied to be on the show and presumably don’t have employers expecting them in work when they’re told the starting gun has been fired. Instantly then, they’re in a rush, packing rucksacks with belongings and grabbing the provisions that they think they’ll need. They’re each accompanied by a camera operator, although additional camera teams do seem to be around to shoot different angles. Their “grid” is limited to the British Isles.

But we know there must be compromises. Their phones are supposedly monitored – but that must mean that information is volunteered when they’re called. We know that the production company doesn’t have CCTV access, so in the first episode the CCTV was simply replicated by a camera crew who obviously knew the contestants’ whereabouts. (The programme’s website notes that this is what they’ve done). Presumably too, the production team feed the team of hunters the locations of vehicles for number plate tracking. The website explains that a second ex-policeman sits between the production team and the hunters deciding what information they would have available. So it’s all a fiction really.

The hunters themselves are all supposedly world class experts. They’re introduced to sound very important with lots of them tangentially involved in things like the 7/7 bombings or Al Qaeda. I don’t doubt that they do have those skills, but it always feels like we’re being oversold on them. They’re available to make a TV series rather than track terrorists after all. Then there are the pick-up teams driving around completely inconspicuous black SUVs. They always seem to be remarkably close by even though there aren’t all that many of them and the country is quite big. I strongly suspect that editing makes some supposed close calls look a lot closer than they might be.

Contestants seem to have agreed to having their computers, tablets and social media hacked. But they don’t seem to use two factor authentication on their accounts, and end up leaving obvious clues in their search histories. Incognito browsing anybody? And in the first episode, everyone seemed to decide that going “up north” was the best thing to do, often going to places that they know even though surely anyone could work out if you’ve lived somewhere in the past. (I’m not saying I wouldn’t have headed north myself, but I’m aware you can get lost in a city too.)

They also seem to have agreed to having homes “broken into,” although I did wonder if I spotted a night-for-day shot, and I assume that in reality back doors were left open and they might as well have switched on the lights and let the intruders not mess around pretending people were sleeping upstairs.

There’s lots of pacing around and gruff “police talk” in the “undisclosed location” where everything is being handled from. I assume that the “undisclosed location” is either an office for hire, or a TV studio dressed to look like an office. I strongly suspect that it’s not in Gherkin as all the exterior shots led us to believe.

I’m probably being a little unfair on the series, as it entertained me enough. The trouble is that many of us understand how television works and its constructed. Even if we’ve not worked in it ourselves, the veil has been lifted. And in something like this, we need a real understanding of how it was produced. You can’t just claim that you’re tapping a phone just because you’re making a so-called factual TV series.

I do however like the fact that the kind of surveillance we live under every day is getting a public airing. At the start, the chief hunter, Brett Lovegrove, former Head of Counter Terrorism for the City of London Police, explained why the information authorities collected was essential. While the first contestant, a doctor, explained that he was doing this because he hated the surveillance state so much.

I’ll stick with the series, although I could do with less of Emily who keeps undermining her team-mate by making phone calls home that instantly mean they have to go on the move again.

And finally, did C4’s deputy head of documentaries really get credited as a “Bourne Specialist”?

Not Watching Gogglebox

I’m couldn’t really tell you why the subhead of this week’s Other Side by Felipa Jodelka in the Guardian Guide annoyed me so much. Well I can. It’s the supposed phenomenom of Googlebox.

Within two years Gogglebox has become on those shows that everyone loves without exception.“*

Er. No.

As HTW Central noted on Twitter, it’d have 12 million viewers (as Bake Off gets for its final) if that were the case.

In fact, I believe that 4m is closer to the mark – undoubtedly excellent ratings for Channel 4.

Let me be very clear up front. I’ve never seen Gogglebox, and I have no intention of ever doing so.

I’ve no doubt that the programme is very well made, with smart casting, and is cleverly put together to engage a wide variety of viewers. But that’s not enough to make the programme appeal a single iota to me.

For the uninitiated Wikipedia describes the show as featuring, “Recurring couples, families and friends from around England sitting in their living rooms watching weekly British television shows.”

Essentially, the producers have “cast” people to appear on the show. I’m not sure whether anyone truly thinks that this is giving us anything insightful. Many business use small focus groups to discuss new products or ideas. But you don’t “cast” a focus group to entertain you. You put a group together to give you insight and inform your decisions.

So if I want to hear discussion about the prevailing medium of our time, then I need to know that I’m hearing something intelligent with people who know the medium, understand some of its history, and can put things into context. I want some insight, from someone who can tell me something I don’t know. I don’t need conversation that I could otherwise get on the top deck of a bus, or at the proverbial pub with a random stranger. This is also why I need named, specialist critics for films, books, music, radio, theatre and, of course, television. It’s why you know that if a film poster is using very obscure people or publications to sell their film, I’m already suspicious.

I particularly don’t need people “cast” for a television series to make us have some kind of visceral reaction towards them. Make no mistake, casting is a critical part of any “reality” show.

And then there’s the importance of the edit. Like most reality television, the hours of footage have to be carefully corralled together in an edit suite somewhere, where storylines are constructed and some kind of sense is supposedly made of raw footage. (Seriously: try watching UnREAL for an albeit fictional and ramped up to 11 view of a reality show.)

And if this all sounds snobbish, then it’s really not meant to. I enjoy television a lot, and I enjoy enlightening discussion about television a good deal too. For example, there was an excellent interview with Jed Mercurio on Radio 4’s Front Row the other night. Primarily it was about his version of Lady Chatterly’s Lover airing this weekend on BBC1, but he had some very interesting things to say about how US premium cable channels operate.

Look: I was someone who never missed Harry Hill’s TV Burp. But I very much knew what I was getting – a skilled comedian who understands how the TV industry works, putting a satirical spin on things.

Gogglebox, on the other hand, features well remunerated members of the public – carefully cast – who surely have to deliver the goods if they want to stay with the programme. I know I won’t like it. Similarly, I don’t need to watch The Only Way is Essex, or essentially anything on ITVBe, to know that they won’t be up my street.

Worryingly, Channel 4 looks like it’s getting overly reliant on the programme. When the Guardian piece mentioned six series in two years, I was quite shocked. I know that the show has shifted into peak, now dominating the channel’s Friday night schedule. But it’s true that around 26 episodes a year are now being churned out (over three years in fact). I’d guess that the programme is relatively cheap to produce, and my fear is that Channel 4 is getting overly addicted on it – if not to the extent that they did previously with Big Brother – then certainly at the expense of other light entertainment programmes. (I’ve written previously about how bad an idea it is to be bringing back TFI Friday. That too shows a lack of imagination on the part of schedulers.)

* At time of writing, I couldn’t find an online link to the article on The Guardian’s website.

Don’t Bring Back TFI Friday: And Why Are Today’s Most “Dangerous” Presenters All Working on Radio 2?

This isn’t a proper review of TFI Friday since I must admit that I dipped out a few times during near two hour run-time of last night’s show – and it over-ran massively last night, even becoming a joke in the show.

TFI Friday was a terrific programme of its time. Because Chris Evans first became a Virgin Radio presenter and then its owner, early during its run, there was a large crossover of staff who would work on the show. The TFI team ended up in the basement of One Golden Square. In the Virgin Radio sales team, it was a regular thing to take clients out to lunch then down to Riverside Studios in Hammersmith where the show was recorded. They’d get to be in the bar. I even got to stand it the bar myself for one episode when the entire staff of Golden Square decamped to watch an episode recorded. I had a jacket which had both TFI Friday and Virgin Radio logos stitched into it.

I liked and admired many of the people involved in TFI.

So I should be a massive fan. But… well… I was curious about Friday night’s show. And yet…

TFI Friday was a product of its time, just as The Tube and The Word were before it. They caught the zeitgeist of their moments. They were live… well until TFI was pre-recorded as live. And they spoke to their generation.

Yes, this one-off edition of TFI crammed in lots of clips from old episodes – although they played a clip of bowling balls hitting mirrored wardrobes a few too many times. But it was a little shambolic. It could be argued that this was what the show was like anyway, but I’m not sure that’s true. When you get into the run of a series, you make things tighter and perhaps are willing to jettison ideas that might have at first seemed good on paper, but turned out not to be so.

In this instance it felt like anything that was thought up made the cut. And that just made the show baggy. By the time Evans was playing a game with Lewis Hamilton about how long the show might be allowed to overrun, it just felt tired. It really didn’t help that Hamilton was the big guest since he’s really not the most animated of guests at the best of times. And if you’re going to get the audience to ask questions, then at least prep them in advance.

Incidentally, the audience in the bar was way more distracting than it ever used to be. They really needed some floor managers up there shutting them up. I’m sure that tickets were really hot to get, but if you’re going to be an audience member of a show, please shut up.

The ratings, of course, were great. 3.7m in the overnights, giving Channel 4 a rare slot win. But I would say that there were two contributory factors. First BBC1 and ITV weren’t really playing the game. Have I Got News For You ended its run last week, so BBC1 had a repeat of New Tricks. Meanwhile ITV wasn’t really bothering either, with a repeat of Doc Martin. Arguably only Channel 5 was in the mix with a Big Brother live eviction. But nobody cares about that programme any longer – particularly the non-“celebrity” editions.

And yes, I believe that the show did well in the younger demos that Channel 4 so prizes from a sales perspective. But this really counted as event television. Frankly, if you were at home on Friday night, you might as well see what it was all about.

My fear is now that Channel 4 will look at those numbers and commission a new series. But they shouldn’t, even with a new host. And here’s why.

In the ad-breaks, we repeatedly got to see ads for a new TFI Friday compilation album, packed full of 90s music (not live performances from the show, as far as I can see). I really hate to say this, but in 2015, this is dad rock in 2015.

The TFI brand is fairly meaningless to a 20 year old today – something that was pretty clear from the various kids/babies that appeared on the show reprising their appearances from years before. Even with a new host, it would be akin to the BBC bringing back Jukebox Jury or The Old Grey Whistle Test with Reggie Yates. The only people who’d relish that thought would be the people outside the target market.

Then there are the presenters. Now we have find generation of presenters, and Chris Evans is clearly one of them. The clips showed him to be massively confident when TFI was in its heydey, and he still is.

But why are all our biggest, and arguably most “dangerous” TV presenters on Radio 2? Evans; Graham Norton; Dermot O’Leary; Paul O’Grady. And then there are ex-hosts like Alan Carr and Jonathan Ross. Kudos to Radio 2, but that can’t be right?

Channel 4 absolutely should be making a new show like this. But it needs to speak to today’s audience. So it needs a presenter who’s not about to turn 50 (in any case, Evans is now doing Top Gear). Look again at Evans’ confidence in those shows, or further back, Jonathan Ross’s confidence when he launched The Last Resort. Even the Network 7 crew.

They need someone new bursting with that kind of energy.

Channel 4 needs to discover people like that. And ideally not just someone from the conveyor-belt of stand-ups who appear everywhere all the time (Live From The Apollo, HIGNFY, 8 Out of 10 Cats, Mock the Week, QI…).

Even the idea of “anointing” Nick Grimshaw as his successor doesn’t seem sensible. I thought Grimmy didn’t do himself too many favours on the night, and he now seems to be aligned with The X-Factor.

In short then, this was fine as a retrospective, although it was flabby.

But Channel 4 needs new blood in a new format.

Watching HD TV

At home, I have two ways to watch broadcast HD television. I can either watch via Freeview or Sky HD (Strictly speaking, my TV also has Freesat built in, but I’ve never enabled it).

In a Freeview world, should I chose to watch one of the biggest channels: BBC1, BBC2, ITV, C4 or C5 I can do one of two things:

– I can go to channels 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 for SD video
– Or if I care about HD, I can go to 101, 102, 103 or 104 (Channel 5 chose not to be in HD on Freeview for financial reasons)

It’s a pretty simple choice, and the numbers aren’t hard to remember. Freeview puts all its HD channels in one place. Additional HD channels are available between 105 and 111, with the HD versions of CBeebies and CBBC placed in amongst the children’s section in the 120s.

But I spend most of my time within the Sky world because it lets me record. And with Sky HD, it’s more complicated:

– For mostly SD channels, I go to 101, 102, 103, 104 or 105 for SD video. Except BBC2 is in HD.
– For HD channels, I go to 141, 102, 178, 227 or 171.

Huh? That’s not very intuitive. I have a big HD TV set (the average set sold these days is over 40″), so why doesn’t everything default to HD?

The main reason is cost.

All the major TV broadcasters have regional variants, and each one requires an additional broadcast stream. That means quite a lot of money spent on satellite feeds. Sky will happily serve audiences with the right version dependent on their subscribers’ postcodes, but the costs are not to be sniffed at. ITV has 23 different regions, with sub-opts within some larger regions sometimes offering localised news, but all offering localised advertising. BBC One, meanwhile, has 18 regions (all of which can be found from 950 onwards on Sky), and BBC Two has four – one for each nation. Both Channel Four and Channel 5 sell regional advertising and have several versions too.

Broadcasters have not yet paid for simulcasts of every one of those channels in HD. And because either localised news or advertising is deemed to be very important, the default versions of channels they supply – even to HD homes – is usually the SD version of the channel. That’s because they want to maximise local ad ratings. The HD versions will have London/national advertising. And for BBC One, there’s those awkward empty segments where the local news would be. The exception is BBC Two which only has four variants and carries some specific non-news nations programming. BBC2 HD England has been made available, with other nations currently getting SD – hence me getting BBC2 HD on 102. On the other hand, the other nations get BBC1 in HD whereas in England, we don’t.

Sky allows broadcasters to chose which version of their channels get highest billing. If you have a simple non-regionalised channel in both SD and HD, channels usually choose to place their HD version in the lower EPG slot in HD homes and the SD version in non-HD homes. They call this channel swapping.

The second reason for poor EPG positioning is a choice made by broadcasters.

EPG positions are paramount, and broadcasters hoard them carefully – the lower the numbers the better. The PSBs get 101 to 105 on Sky by right. Sky itself has the next batch, and it’s notable that most of the most watched channels appear at the top of EPGs in the lower positions. But broadcasters can shuffle their own decks, and that leads to some odd things.

ITV offers the following to HD homes on Sky:

– 103 ITV (SD)
– 118 ITV2 HD
– 119 ITV3 HD
– 120 ITV4 HD
– 123 ITV Encore HD
– 131 ITV+1 (SD)
– 178 ITV HD
– 179 ITV Be (SD)
– 180 ITV2+1 (SD)
– 193 ITV3+1 (SD)
– 206 ITV4+1 (SD)
– 207 ITV Be+1 (SD)
– 208 ITV Encore+1 (SD)
– 225 ITV2 (SD)

The ITV2-4 variants are Sky HD exclusive, and ITV Encore is available only to Sky subscribers in either SD or HD versions. And ITV Be doesn’t have an HD version on Sky, but does on Virgin Media!

This leads to the oddity that in Sky HD homes, ITV2, 3, and 4 are much more obvious in HD than the main channel. Indeed ITV+1 is considered more important than ITV HD judging by EPG positions. I assume careful analysis of BARB TV ratings has been used to make this decision, because it would imply that a show on ITV gets more share from a +1 channel than the HD version. If that’s not the case, then they should swap them.

Still, ITV is positively sensible compared with Channel 4’s line-up:

– 104 Channel 4 (SD)
– 135 Channel 4+1 (SD)
– 136 E4 HD
– 137 E4+1 (SD)
– 138 More 4 HD
– 139 More 4+1 (SD)
– 140 4seven (SD)
– 202 E4 (SD)
– 227 Channel 4 HD
– 231 More 4 (SD)
– 315 Film 4 HD
– 316 Film 4+1 (SD)
– 342 Film 4 (SD)
– 360 4 Music (SD)

Aside from the film and music channels, Channel 4 can reshuffle this deck to their liking pretty much. So why on earth is Channel 4 HD buried in an EPG position beyond 200? Are they really saying that E4+1 or More 4+1’s channel positions are more important? Do they offer greater share than Channel 4 HD? If not, then they should reshuffle their deck.

The question then is when are broadcasters going to upgrade their offerings?


According to recent Ofcom research, 70% of UK homes have an HD TV, yet only 45% have an HD service.

There are probably reasons for this. While it’s just about impossible to buy a non-HD TV today, there are older and cheaper models in the marketplace. Older sets and set-top boxes aren’t HD compatible, while Sky charges a premium for HD.

Looking at Sky’s 2014 Annual Report it would seem to infer (P138) that of their 10.7m homes, 5.2m have Sky+HD, or 49% of Sky’s customers.

You would imagine that with Sky’s next update, more of their customers will have HD than not. So broadcasters might want to showcase their HD offerings a little more visibly.

It’s a shame that there’s not a technically smarter solution – perhaps having a flag on the HD channel that points to SD programming at certain points to show the right programming.

And incidentally, if HD satellite capacity is expensive, how on earth is this going to work with 4K? Good luck getting your regional news in 4K via a broadcast platform any time soon!

In the meantime, it’s a bit like the old days of Ceefax: I have to keep a load of numbers in my head to watch the big channels in HD. That’s a poor solution.

[Updated following Chris’s comment below]

The Open Goes to Sky

As has been widely anticipated in the press, today saw news that Sky Sports has won a five-year contract beginning in 2017 to broadcast The Open golf tournament exclusively live. The BBC will have a two hour 8pm-10pm highlights package.

Sky is said to be paying twice as much as the BBC, and they will no doubt throw loads of resources at the coverage. Of course viewers will get advertising as well, but those who find Peter Alliss a little “long in the tooth” will be happy.

The downside is that one of the only remaining golf tournaments on free-to-air television is gone. All that is left is the final two days of The Masters (Sky having all four days after an F1-style sharing agreement was reached a couple of years ago).

From my perspective, I’m not too bothered about golf per se. I don’t play it. I’ll watch it if it’s on, but when The Open is played, I tend to prefer to be outside myself enjoying the summer rather than holed up in my living room with the curtains drawn to avoid sun causing glare on my TV.

But while this deal offers a nice cash injection to the R&A, it’s really short-term thinking to remove a sport from national coverage when it’s in decline.

With the greatest will in the world, two hours’ highlights on BBC2 when anyone who cares already knows the result, is of little relevance.

Since I last wrote about this subject, when rumours mounted that live coverage of The Open would be leaving free-to-air TV, Sport England has released the full results of the most recent sweep of its Active Sport survey with the full year results up to and including October 2014.

So I’ve updated the chart I published previously, which shows at least once a month participation in sport:

Specifically it shows that the percentage of the population who play golf has fallen from a high of 3.73% (2007/2008 – towards the end of Tiger Wood’s unparalleled reign over the sport), to just 2.57% in the latest sweep. To be clear, Sport England reports that this is a statistically significant decrease. Indeed that represents almost a third fall in people playing the game.

Hiding your sport behind closed doors wouldn’t seem to be the most sensible thing to do.

Notably at the weekend, Lee Westwood was reporting the impending deal as being “an absolute disgace.”

“I wouldn’t have got into golf if it wasn’t for watching Nick Faldo win the Open in 1987. I would watch every minute of the coverage, and you want today’s kids to have the same opportunity. The BBC is doing golf no favours at all by letting the Open go.”

I’ll remind you again that Lewis Hamilton beat the more deserving (IMHO) Rory McIlroy, almost certainly because the average man or woman in the street has perhaps caught a bit of F1 on television. Frankly, you’ll be doing well to see much of McIlroy.

Recently I heard Kevin Pietersen on the radio talking about the success of Australia’s Big Bash Twenty20 cricket tournament. He was enthused about how well the league is doing, and how the franchise system works.

I’d suggest that the reasons for it’s success are less to do with the franchise system (which works well for players getting big paydays of course), and more to do with the tournament being broadcast on the free-to-air Network 10 channel is Australia.

I would humbly suggest that the ECB could re-jig the domestic Twenty20 tournament as much as it liked, but unless there’s some way to watch games live on free-to-air TV, the long-term decline in cricket participation will also only continue. It’s down nearly 20% since the Sport England survey began in 2005/6 – and yes there is a small uptick this year, but it’s not statistically significant. Sky, remember, won exclusive rights to Test cricket in 2006. And highlights – particularly for something like Twenty20, are fairly worthless in the scheme of things.

Rugby Union is the next sport that should be taking some notice. The spread of availability of rugby seems a reasonable combination of free-to-air and pay TV. The Six Nations is free on the BBC, and the World Cup is free on ITV. ITV/ITV4 has highlights of the Aviva Premiership, while BT Sport has live coverage. BT Sport and Sky share rights to the inaugural European Rugby Champions’ Cup, and Sky shows England’s autumn internationals, with the BBC having other home nations coverage and highlights of the England games. Finally there is also BBC Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland coverage of the Pro12 (formerly Celtic league), often on the red button.

But rugby too has to be careful. The most recent Sport England Active People survey results show 0.59% of the population playing rugby at least once a month. That’s down from a high of 0.76%.

So it’ll be interesting to see what happens with the Six Nations contract next time around. Sky or BT may offer more money, but as a regulator, is it in your interests, to maximise your revenues today, or think about the future of your sport tomorrow? It feels more of today’s regulators are only considering the former.

And one further thought. Should sports who choose to remove free-to-air coverage of their events still be in receipt of grants from bodies like Sport England? According to their most recent accounts, they award close to £300m of lottery and exchequer money to support the take-up of sport by more people (which in turn improves the health of the population and lowers costs to the NHS).

Is your sport deserving of these funds if they’re making it harder for young people to watch top flight action?

What I Watched, Listened To and Read Over Christmas

You may or may not have enjoyed my Radio Times suggestions. I didn’t always follow them myself. But in the spirit of honesty, this is what I did watch over Christmas:

The final two episodes of Cabin Pressure were recorded back in February, but only reached the airwaves over Christmas with the story being essentially wrapped up. You did know that Benedict Cumberbatch was in a Radio 4 sitcom didn’t you?

Top Gear’s Christmas special is always a guilty pleasure. Despite now seeing the artifice of it, with the by-the-numbers nature of things, it still manages to entertain.

Better though was James May’s Toy Stories with Action Man. This time around it was a little more forced because as May rightly said at the start of the programme, there was very little that Action Man really did. He was most fun for me as a child, when paired with his armoured car (a much treasured present). This could spin him around at quite a speed. I once went to a toyshop in Barnet to get “Action Man’s” autograph…

It is with heavy heart that I have to admit the the first of the Miranda two-parter was quite the worst episode I’ve seen in this series. It improved in the second part on New Year’s Day, although it was a close run thing whether I’d even bother watching, so cringe-worthy was the first part. Wrap-up episodes are always dangerous, particularly when the series has been pretty free-wheeling up until then.

Another sitcom that did the same trick a little better was Not Going Out. I don’t know if another series has been commissioned, but they’ve certainly gone as far as they can with the story so far. This got a super-sized single episode rather than a two-parter. But it was also a bit baggy and could have been chopped down. Like Miranda, there were flashbacks, and a few guests reappeared – not least Tim Vine, who left a couple of series ago. My Sky+ also recorded at outtakes special which had the most awkward pieces to camera you can imagine linking bloopers. Save this for a DVD extra.

Charlie Brooker had two excellent programmes over the festive period. Black Mirror was actually a bit before Christmas, but I’ll mention it because it was a very joined up piece of work linking a portmanteau of stories together. And 2014 Wipe was a funny, scathing and smart as you’d want. With the seeming cancellation of 10 O’Clock Live, we don’t get as much Brooker as we used to. But there are more Wipes on the way.

Sky One brought us the first in what they undoubtedly hope will be an ongoing series based on the novels of M C Beaton (aka Marion Chesney) – Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death. This prolific writer (and she really is prolific) also brought us Hamish Macbeth, the TV adaptation of which I loved. Incidentally, did you know that Hamish Macbeth novels are still being published? Anyway, I was aware of the book series despite not having read any of them, so I gave this a go. I would characterise it as a more light-hearted Midsomer Murders. That’s not a series I’ve had any great truck with, and sadly I’m not sure I’ll be watching any more of these. I’m also not quite sure that this is right for Sky One. It’d sit perfectly on ITV, but it feels wrong up alongside endless Simpsons repeats and American imports. I still feel that Sky needs to work harder to define its channels better.

BBC Four seems to have created a new format with Al Murray’s Great British… Spy Movies. Previously we had War Films, and like that, this was filmed in some lovely London cinema with Matthew Sweet drowning in an armchair, and a couple of other guests. It’s simple, and they show lots of clips – the obvious ones, and the much less obvious ones. In any case, I could watch clips of Monica Vitti in Modesty Blaise as much as you like.

Seemingly one of Waterstones’ bestsellers over Christmas was Mystery in White by a certain J Jefferson Farjeon. I suspect that like many Waterstones customers, I picked this up because of the cover. It shows a train stuck in a snow drift, with the passengers heading away for Christmas. The book is part of selection of old British crime novels published by the British Library. These aren’t the classics that you already know about, and that are still in print, but less well-known titles that were big in their day. In this instance, our plucky characters set out away from the train to a country house they find in the blizzard. It’s totally deserted, yet the fire has been made and the kettle is on… All good fun, and not quite what you’re expecting.

Each year The Guardian’s superb Review section gives publishers a chance to highlight their favourite titles – those they brought out, and those that others had. These tend to be more obvious fare. But the most revealing question they’re asked is about books they believe deserved to have done better. These are often titles that they loved, but maybe didn’t even get any broadsheet reviews. I always make a note of some of these. Andrew Franklin of Profile Books highlighted Andrew Martin’s Belles and Whistles: Five Journeys Through Time On Britain’s Trains. But I’d already added that to my Christmas list! Although it concentrates on five specific lines/routes, it’s also a potted history of British railways. Martin is always good value, as readers of his Jim Stringer books will know. His is a personal view, and makes clear his view on lots of rail-related things.

Off the back of Martin’s book, I bought the DVD of The Flying Scotsman, a very early British talkie from 1930 (as opposed to the Graham Obree story with Jonny Lee Miller). Indeed, it’s so early that the first half of the film is actually silent with the usual intertitles. It seems that the recording kit must have only arrived deep into production. Now I wouldn’t say that this is a great unknown British film, but it’s fascinating for a number of reasons. First of all, much of it was filmed on my local railway line, the “Hertford loop”, where the borrowed the real train and shot the film on Sundays. Secondly, it stars a very young Ray Milland before he headed off to America. And third, the stuntwork is amazing. Basically Pauline Johnson really is climbing along the outside of a train in unbelievably inappropriate footwear. Unlike so many other productions, it’s really obvious that they filmed most of it in real trains rather than in the studio, and for that reason alone it’s breathtaking.

Just before Christmas I listened to the always excellent Bike Show podcast, featuring an end of year round-up of cycling books published this year. I’d read a couple of them, and a couple more were immediately added to my very long “must-read” list. But over Christmas, I read Ned Boulting’s entertaining 101 Damnations: Dispatches from the 101st Tour de France. Basically it’s the other bits of the Tour you didn’t already see on the very extensive TV coverage, alongside little bits of history that you may or may not know.

The Doctor Who Christmas special was very clever, and I enjoyed it a lot. That said, I think Steven Moffat has just about mined all our childhood fears completely at this stage, and we need to look elsewhere. Still – spoiler alert – we get more Clara which is a good thing.

Many radio programmes end up with year-end “best of” episodes that sometimes feel a bit lazy. More interestingly, Steve Hewlett’s Media Show tends to take a subject and have a round table discussion, with a little sprinkling of stardust. This time around, it was about chat shows, with Graham Norton among the guests. It’s a very good format, and it’s shame that they only think it’s something to wheel out at Christmas. I’d say doing four or five a year might refresh things a little.

I’ve never truly been able to understand Pier Paolo Passolini. He made some interesting films, but I’ve never been really taken with them. The stylising just never works for me, with seeming amateurs gurning at the camera. And I think it might have been his version of The Decameron that has always made me dismiss it. So Terry Jones’ Radio 3 versions – Decameron Nights: Ten Italian Delicacies Remixed from Boccacchio – was a breath of fresh air. Bawdy? Yes. Raunch? Certainly. Funny? Definitely. Some of these tales are familiar, others less so. And somehow they work so much better on the radio than on television.

Having re-watched both Interstellar and 2001 A Space Odyssey on the big screen before Christmas, I have just caught up with the excellent Second Run DVD of Ikarie XB-1, the 1963 Czech science fiction film. Set on a spaceship heading to Alpah Centauri, the film addresses issues related to time-dilation (as Interstellar did), as well as how a crew might cope over that period of time. It seems clear that Stanley Kubrick must have seen this film because elements are definitely borrowed by him. Certainly the effects aren’t great, but the ideas are fascinating. And the score by Zdeněk Liška is wonderful, and sadly unavailable. There’s a lovely scene where we get an imagined future disco, in which the dancing is more regency than anything. Truly worth seeking out. (As an aside, listening to Graham Norton on Radio 2, I learn that the Queen song 39, also addresses this idea).

Despite finding the woman fascinating, I couldn’t stick with Darcey Bussell’s Looking for Audrey Hepburn. I like Bussell, and I love her subject, but I’m a little fed up of presenters getting fancy cars to drive around Rome in (which we know are surrounded by crew SUVs). I’m not sure what that adds to things. And while Hepburn’s upbringing in Holland during the war was appalling, she wasn’t alone in that country suffering like that. In the end, she probably had it better than many others. That said, I will be happily going along to see the photo exhibition that the National Portrait Gallery is going to be holding later this year. Even today, the announcement of that allowed newspapers the opportunity to print her picture on the front page.

New Year is something I largely opt out. But I do enjoy two stalwarts. One is the obvious New Year’s Day Concert shown on BBC Two (and BBC Four) and also broadcast on Radio 3. The Blue Danube and Radetzky March are always highlights. The other is Le Grand Cabaret Du Monde with Patrick Sebastien from France 2, shown in the UK on TV5. I can’t remember quite how I stumbled across this show, but the 2015 broadcast marks its 31st year. Sebastien seems to be a French, well, I’d say think a younger Bruce Forsyth, but that wouldn’t be quite right. He opens the show surrounded by topless go-go dancers, which apparently is fine at 9pm in France. But the rest of the show is a cavalcade of magic, acrobatics, dance troupes and so on. It is truly international, and for the most part the performances are without dialogue, so don’t worry if your French isn’t up to much. In between acts it’s a bit of a chat show with a stream of French stars plugging their latest wares. And occasionally there will be repeats of performances from previous years (these are seamlessly added by virtue of the set remaining constant over the years). At midnight Sebastien leads the acts and the audience in a big song using the music of the Can-Can. Everyone in the studio kisses one another in that French way, and we then get a load more acts. Incidentally, the programme’s big spectacle might be New Year’s Eve, but it’s a Saturday night staple in France throughout the year. An entertaining alternative to the Hootenannay with the bonus that they celebrate New Year at 11pm.

One thing sadly missing was the programme last year called Moments in Time. The BBC for a number of years produced this news review programme that looked back on the year via some iconic photo journalism – not something you usually get a great deal of on television. We’d get the stories behind the stories and it was a wonderful programme. Then it disappeared until last year it reappeared as mentioned, using the fact that many of these images are now captured by non-professionals who just happen to be in the right place at the right time. Sadly, this year’s schedules reveal no 2014 edition. A pity.

Things still awaiting me on my Sky+: Professor Branestawm, the original Wallanders, and Mapp and Lucia. And I do want to hear all ten hours of Radio 4’s War and Peace. Just probably not in a single day.