SLOUCH POTATO 4: THE QUEST FOR PEACE

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Tom Pheby is back on the slouch...


DROSS ON THE BOX
There is just so many shows that fit the description of 'dross on the box', but one of the longest running is Most Haunted. It's been going for 13 years, it's a show that, like the apparitions the team hunt, refuses to die quietly.


This week the Most Haunted team headed off to the outskirts of Sheffield to Wentworth Woodhouse. Set in 259 acres, it's apparently two houses turned into one, part Baroque, part Palladian (whatever that is) dating from 1725 to 1750. Awaiting the eager ghost hunters was a singing, headless spook, who, it was claimed, was former owner Thomas Wentworth, the First Earl of Wentworth.

There followed stories of staff being grabbed by unseen hands, a wild dog who prowled around the grounds, whispering children, and headless Earl who it's said frequently appears on the staircase - not a wise choice if I'm completely honest, surely the stairs are a tiny bit dangerous if you're already minus a head - and sings in an operatic style - but out of what?

I tried to remain open minded as we were introduced to Scott, the head groundsman, who has worked at the house for 11 years. He immediately informs us that he hears strange voices whilst working in the garden and has even seen someone watching him.
"They were looking at me, as much as to say what are you doing?"
The answer was not a lot, he was propped up on a shovel. Scott goes on to declare that he's seen groups of people on the staircase and added,
"when you open a door to a room, it's like your walking into something"
Yeah Scott, it's a room, you steaming great pillock!

Excitable Yvette Fielding heads off to the cellar, and within seconds hears extra footsteps. The team stop and discuss which direction they came from. No one seemed sure. One of the team calls out...
"If there's anybody there, make yourself known. Come and sit next to me on the sofa"
How frightfully British, making sure that the ghosts are comfortable.

Yvette carries on nervously and then hears a sound, like a cupboard door opening on carpet, she then announces several times that she saw a shadow. All the team claimed to have either 'heard' children or felt a series of strange vibrations, but after 45 minutes we were no nearer to seeing the headless Earl, rabid dog or anything else for that matter. Yvette then went in search of the children, gingerly heading into rooms.
"Do you want to play a game? Would you like a little sweetie?"
The programme quickly descended into farce as the team alternated calling out "Hello" and occasionally saying "Thank you" to the unseen ghosts. Yvette finished by saying they were,
"Amazed at what we had seen ..."
And what had they seen? Nothing, nada.


GUILTY PLEASURES
Normally a dinner party for people that you know and genuinely like can be a bit of an ordeal, so why anyone would want to take part in Come Dine With Me is beyond me. The show borrows from the hideous "Big Brother" by assembling four or more total strangers for a week of feasts at their individual houses. It's as if the producers try to find the most combustible combination for the viewers pleasure. Outspoken sexists, bigots, ardent feminists, flamboyant exhibitionists, frumps, introverts and people only a bus ride from insanity, all share a table in an effort to win £1,000. Invariably the tension increases as the week goes on, to the point where one or more could get bludgeoned to death with a baguette.

Andy, a stoic Yorkshireman, hardworking estate agent and socially disabled individual, did his absolute best to disrespect all of his hosts, but thankfully got his comeuppance on the final night. For some obscure reason he decided to make a starter that appeared on the menu as Yorkshire pudding in gravy with salad.

What?
Who eats that?

Then if that wasn't enough to send you running for the taxi rank, the main dish was squirrel in ale pie! Unsurprisingly some of the guests looked a bit ill at the idea of eating such a delicacy. One of them piped up to ask if the squirrels were humanly killed. Andy revealed in a very matter of fact way that he didn't really know but assumed that...
"They catch 'em' in't traps and then shoot 'em in't head"
Very reassuring! Needless to say that the squirrel wasn't really well received and Andy came joint last. Trying to hide his obvious disappointment he said...
"I can't believe I came second t'last to someone who's snake pooped on't table."

Even that seemed a much more agreeable alternative to squirrel in ale pie.

DVD HEAVEN OR HELL
Amazon Prime, Netflix, Now TV, etc etc. On demand television is the format of the moment. But it's hardly anything new, I've long had an on demand service - it's called dipping into my DVD collection. And this week, after sitting through a show about canals (more on that later), I plumped for 2008's Frost/Nixon.


This is an absolute gem, it hardly set the tills on fire on its release but without question Frost/Nixon is an incredibly important historical film about the Nixon era and subsequent fall out from the Watergate burglary.
David Frost (Michael Sheen) who's stock is in decline, witnesses Richard Nixon's (Frank Langella) departure from the Whitehouse under a cloud of dishonour and deceit. Realising that the viewing figures had reached phenomenal proportions, he decides to arrange a series of interviews with the former President to talk about his childhood, foreign policy and more importantly his involvement in Watergate.

Firstly, let me say that this is not strictly a political movie, you won't be engulfed by a lot of meaningless political clap trap that leaves you floundering in the comfort of your armchair. It's more a battle between the two principal leads with both Nixon and Frost trying to restore a reputation at the others expense. Nixon's motivation is a fast buck and an easier ride than the American networks provided. As for playboy Frost, it allows him a chance at gaining credibility, something that had always seemed to allude him especially across the pond.

Sheen is astonishing as David Frost. He seems to have the ability to get into anyone's shoes and almost inhabit their souls, as he also did with his portrayal of Tony Blair and football manager Brian Clough. Not to be outdone, Langella puts in a fine shift as Tricky Dicky, a shady, troubled politician who is haunted by failure and his own failings. But the brilliance on display rests firmly at the feet of director Ron Howard, who delivers a robust version of Peter Morgan's own play.

Frost/Nixon has a rare intelligence and energy. It's superbly executed and performed, revealing the struggle to shine a light on the President's disregard for his own office, the law and the American people.

Total DVD heaven.


REWIND TV
The other day I stumbled across an episode of The Professionals starring Lewis Collins as Bodie and Martin Shaw as Doyle. From 1977-1983, for 57 episodes, it became the British equivalent of Starsky and Hutch. Jam packed with flares, big collars and the much loved Ford Capri Mark III. Bodie and Doyle worked for C15, a sort of secret police version of MI5 led by stony faced, ginger grump George Cowley, played by the excellent Gordon Jackson.

The Professionals had villains, terrorists, car chases, fights, explosions and gorgeous girls, which all makes sense when you realise that it's creator was Brian Clemens, who was one half of the driving forces behind 'The New Avengers' with Albert Fennell. Between them they managed to make shows that had a dynamic, almost American razzmatazz and bucked the trend of traditional, safe and predictable English fodder such as Z Cars and Dixon of Dock Green. They believed in good story telling but also in providing a visual drama that was as exciting as it was entertaining. Clemens was aware of the new trend of buddy TV shows that were taking off in the states and believed that he could bring that to the living rooms of England with similar results, so he began work on The Professionals.

Casting was easy for the role of Doyle, with Martin Shaw an obvious choice for Clemens but Brodie proved to be a little more difficult. Anthony Andrews screen tested for the role and although he had the look and presence required for the part, the chemistry between himself and Shaw was not apparent, so reluctantly Clemens had to look elsewhere. He was reminded that he cast Shaw in a New Avengers episode alongside another relatively unknown Liverpudlian actor called Lewis Collins. Clemens invited him along to screen test and the rest is history.


Collins bought a swagger and attitude to the part of Brodie, providing a complete contrast to Shaw's reliable and steady Doyle. Their tastes and fashion were as different as their methods and haircuts, Bodie was the macho hero with the Army look whilst his partner was the more courteous and almost righteous one with impractical flowing curls. This kind of opposites theme carried on in their characters backgrounds and outlines. Doyle was a former policeman, who happened to be a crack shot and martial arts expert, Bodie on the other hand was an ex-paratrooper, mercenary, SAS sergeant and pugilist. Last but certainly not least was Cowley, a former butler in a high profile period drama for London Weekend.

Although the Two leads have differing styles, they sometimes crossed over. Both were willing to break the rules or someone's fingers to get the right result, but at the heart of the series were key values, such as friendship and loyalty, to each other and towards their snarling boss George Cowley.

The best way to describe it is probably Bond meets the Sweeney. At the time it was fairly controversial in its tone with its "fight fire with fire" philosophy which drew criticism and a number of complaints. From a nostalgia point of view its worth a second look, and although its knocking on a bit the stories are generally solid and touch on all the nastiness that is still present in the world today.

Superbly acted, sometimes tongue in cheek, The Professionals is still a great way to spend 50 minutes of your day wishing you were the late Lewis Collins.


GREAT CANAL JOURNEYS
You can probably guess from the title alone that I may struggle to find anything positive in this one, but I owe it to myself to try.

Simply put, this show involves Timothy West and wife Prunella Scales boarding a boat to explore the picturesque Canal Du Midi in the South of France. Immediately there are two things that come to mind. Firstly, who watches this? (Well I know I am but I meant in general.) Secondly, why do Tim and Pru, two well respected, well paid actors, look like they've robbed a scarecrow?

Anyway, it all looks very ... nice. There are boats, bridges and I think I saw a dog at one point, but it didn't just stop there, no! Later Tim bought Pru a hat, a nice red one, then they went to a bookshop to buy a book. The tension was building and as if to illustrate the unscripted nature of 'Last of the Summer Barges'.

Tim then stops to take on-board two odd looking Frenchmen. I question if they were really French though. No stripy tops, no onions and no moustaches, I would have asked for identification myself, but once on-board the French impostors sat caressing a mutated banjo, as one revealed in subtitles "The trees sing to us". OK then.

As it turns out this is more than just a series of sedate trips, more than a seemingly pointless travelogue, it's a journey into the unknown. Tim revealed that Pru's health was deteriorating as a result of Alzheimer's. She was starting to forget things when she was in the kitchen. Their son comforted him by saying she's always been a bit like that, a bit of a 'flutter brain'. Tim smiled unconvincingly and looked like a man lost.
Sad as it is, Pru scales is a lucky lady, her devoted husband wants to make these trips before the pair are no longer able, he realises that time may not be on their side but wants to make the most of what they have left.
The show itself isn't a remarkable but one mans devotion to his wife truly is.

RADIO GA GA
Well if I struggled to find anything majorly entertaining on TV last week, it may have been worse on the radio. I tuned in to Radio 4 for Woman's Hour (not a regular thing for me) because my Sister in law, Lyndsay Carmichael, was going to talk about the merits of cosmetic surgery. However, before she came on listeners were treated to live glass blowing by Laura McKinley.
Yes, glass blowing! If ever radio failed to capture an activity, this was it. A bit like having a live firework display with someone commenting on the fabulous array of colours.
FUN AND FOLLY WITH PHIL AND HOLLY
Let's end on a laugh this week.

This Morning presenters Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby are well known for fits of giggles on live TV, and they've given us a wealth of great bloopers to choose from. In this classic Gino Di Campo cooks Italian sausage causing all sorts of merriment. I guarantee you'll laugh at this...



Script writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter

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