SLOUCH POTATO: 20/01/16 - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Tom Pheby is back on the slouch...

Dragons Den is the worst place to go if your sums don't stack up, if you've got an inferior product or you have a tendency to waffle on. I hadn't seen the programme for quite a while and was oblivious to the change in its lineup. As a result my immediate reaction was "Theo Paphitis has let himself go!" Then I was told that the doppelganger was, in fact, fashion retailer Touker Suleyman.

Separated at Birth? Suleyman and Paphitis.

In this programme we encountered a coffee scrub to improve your skin (hmm, OK), a camping stove that was able to recharge electrical devices (interesting) and an egg!

An egg? Yes an egg. Not even a chocolate one, and it didn't even have a toy inside.

My worst fear was realised. I've always thought the day would come when some pinstriped, bouffant haired, barrow boy would eventually amble in to the Den claiming to have reinvented the wheel and attempting to flog it to one of the five successful entrepreneurs without a hint of embarrassment.

In breezed Rob Shaw clutching a chicken. He had packaged pre-boiled, brightly painted eggs for his Cracking Egg Company in which he had invested £100,000 of his own money. An 'eggstraordinary' amount (sorry). Peter Jones asked why he would pay five times the normal amount for a "pimped convenience product". Rob 'chirped' up by claiming that pre-boiling, added value! But the Dragons weren't swayed and none of them shelled out (sorry again).

Of course there was always going to be blanket coverage of David Bowie's death, his life and his art. I expected the BBC to dip into its vast archives to bid a fond farewell to this musical chameleon and pop icon but it got off to a decidedly shaky start with the introduction of presenter Jeremy Vine. What was the BBC thinking? Vine may well be a fan of Bowie's but to most of us he's just the chap who presents Eggheads and makes you feel like the worlds about to implode with depressing armageddon-like reports on Panorama? Was Russell Brand otherwise engaged with a cocktail waitress? Was Jarvis Cocker mooning at a member of the Royal Family? Had whispering Bob Harris gone back to Age Concern? Jeremy Vine really wasn't the most obvious choice. He sounded like a stuffy, ill informed announcer from the Pathé News reels.
"He sang about love, god and spaceships"
I thought I could hear some dusty old BBC executive in the background, probably dressed like a general from the colonies, concurring with Jezza's statement with a hearty "Here, here!". Vine then followed that poetic statement with a pause as long as Tom Baker's Doctor Who scarf. Jezza stared at the camera and the camera stared right back at him for what felt like the length of a football season, finally he was rescued by the genuinely knowledgeable Lauren Laverne, who gave Bowie his deserved credit.

The BBC like to think that they are a progressive organisation and are on point with current social trends, but they continue to look stupid, especially here, on this of all days. Thankfully, throughout the week there were other programmes that were infinitely better and served to showcase Bowie's talents, but I expected better from the BBC.

There are probably very few out there who have never heard of Agatha Christie, or this particular story, and I, like I imagine many others were, was sceptical that anything new and fresh could manifest itself in this new three part adaptation. But that was before I discovered it had been adapted by Sarah Phelps, who has a habit of cranking up the suspense to the max and pumping up the tension until it reaches popping point.

The story, set just prior to the outbreak of World War II, revolves around ten people invited to Soldier Island by a mysterious and ingenious host. It had a stunning almost cinematic quality in the opening scenes, and a quick glance at the cast list was very reassuring. Reliable stock such as Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Aiden Turner, Toby Stephens and Sam Neill gave it serious credibility before we even saw the first dead body hit the ground.

Obviously due to the period it was set in, this was always going to be presented in the classic thriller mold of starched collars and thin moustaches (and that's just the women!). I sat there thinking that for once it would be rather nice to bring an Agatha Christie yarn up to date instead of parading a series of characters still promoting the virtues of the British Empire. But as the show went on I have to admit that perhaps the time-frame added to the piece and that Phelps was right all along.

Phelps conveyed the heavy burden of guilt on each of the characters, who had killed as either a matter of revenge, desire or even for gain, but she also added recurring apparitions and then threw in a chilling horror element which added extra spice.

The opening episode percolated along nicely with a suitcase of typical Christie red herrings associated with each of the multifaceted characters, incriminating them one by one and leaving us to apply our own conclusions. Straight from the off, I loved it!

Originally broadcast between Christmas and New Year, I finally caught up with And Then There Were None on the iPlayer this week, and if you've not watched yourself yet then make sure you catch it whilst you can.

Drew Pritchard's Salvage Hunters is by far the best programme of its type. If you've seen 'American Pickers' with Troy Tempest and Danny Devito's hairy half brother, you'll know that they often appear as awkward scroungers happy to force a deal and, to a degree, scam the seller. Pritchard, on the other hand, goes about his business with a quiet authority and remains chirpy, excitable, respectful and fair. Simply put, the US show lacks the charm, interest and authenticity of the UK version.

Pritchard travels around the country to find hidden treasures exploring the corners and crevices of shops, warehouses, sprawling mansions, cinemas and even breweries to unearth salvageable treasure. Another difference between this show and others is that money is always secondary to the passion displayed by the flat capped, balding antique hound. Drew often drools at the collections whether he buys or not, and his appreciation goes way beyond that of someone who merely makes a living by refurbishing and reselling antiques. In fact, everyone involved in his company shares his passion; from his wife Rebecca, to the team of restorers, T the driver and even the dog (Enzo) - who adds the 'Ah' factor.

Reality TV on the whole is a dungeon full of mediocre personalities, dreary encounters, desperate ego's and sterile pursuits but fortunately not on this occasion. Salvage Hunters, which you'll find on Quest, is always entertaining, highly enjoyable and makes you more than a tad envious of the 'Pritchard ' lifestyle - minus T's corny jokes and puns of course!

Keith Richards has lived long enough to have achieved legendary status, which is amazing considering he has consumed a lorry load of drugs and downed enough Jack Daniels to fill every bath tub in Birmingham five times over. He's the antidote to Mo Farah's Quorn commercials, the Rock Stars Rock Star and a medical miracle to boot, but lets not forget, amid all this flim flam, that he is essentially, a damn good guitarist and songwriter of the highest caliber.

Unlike fellow Stones collaborator Mick Jagger (or Sir Mick as he is now known), Richards shuns the trappings of a conservative establishment, preferring to bum about in the confines of a recording studio to cut a few tracks. He is simply a music man, it's etched into his bones, it's part of his DNA, and one suspects he'll turn up his toes playing a blues rift somewhere to no-one in particular.

Richards has a face that reflects his early, heavy lifestyle. His looks are that of a tightly wrung out dish cloth, has hair looks as if it has been subjected to large amounts of static, and he talks like he's just finished a heavy drinking session. But believe me when I tell you that this guy has plenty to say that is worth listening to. From his younger days and early influences whilst listening to the radio with his mother, to his fascination with emerging American music, especially the blues.

In this Netflix documentary, director Morgan Neville doesn't try to redefine or gloss over Richards persona or his flaws. Instead he picks up the story of a veteran musician who in his own words "didn't want to die young but didn't want to get old", and one who thought that when he reached his 30th birthday, it would all be over. That was until he reached the grand old age of 31.

Richard's enthusiasm for his craft remains as strong as it ever was, and you get the feeling that although he is grateful to have attained global success and recognition, he would swap it all for jamming daily with like minded individuals. With time to burn and without the burden of the Stones he would be free to indulge his musical appetite by experiencing fresh and radical new approaches, or perhaps he would simply amble off to the liquor store for a liquid snack.

Keith Richards is an institution, someone to be appreciated for not just what he has done but also for his musical knowledge. Unlike plastic pop princess Justin Bieber, who eggs his neighbours houses and has the odd fracas with the paparazzi to grab the odd headline, Richards is the real deal.

After the sad news of Alan Rickman's passing I reached straight to my DVD collection to appreciate many of his mesmorising performance. From Die Hard, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Galaxy Quest, Dogma, Love Actually, or any one of the 106 Harry Potter movies he made, no matter the film when Rickman was on screen all eyes were on him.

Given the circumstance, it's perhaps poignant that the first film I went for was 1990's Truly Madly Deeply. Written and directed by  Anthony Minghella, and co-starring Juliet Stevenson. Rickman went on to much bigger, lavishly financed productions, but this simple tale that explores love, loss and grief is memorable for a number of reasons.

Firstly Rickman plays the role of cellist Jamie with subtlety, humour and undeniable brilliance. Secondly, Juliet Stevenson delivers a gut wrenching performance as Nina that should have turned her into an international superstar, something that still irritates me today. Thirdly, this highly emotive, almost taboo subject is dealt with in an intelligent, delicate and interesting way, something that another similar themed movie released the same year never managed to achieve - that would be Ghost with Patrick Swayze.

Ghost tended to steer away from the deeper and darker elements of death and relied heavily on a distracting comic content, whereas Truly Madly Deeply explores death and its effects in greater detail, even though it is sometimes uncomfortable and difficult to watch.

Truly Madly Deeply is a fantastic film, one I can not recommend enough, and one that is a fitting tribute to Alan Rickman's talent.

Verdict : Heavenly performances from both Stevenson and Rickman.

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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