Belfast Telegraph

Back to past for the BBC... but it gets my vote

The programmes to watch and the ones you really want to miss

By Joe Nawaz

The pan-African leader Marcus Garvey once said: "A people without the knowledge of their past history and culture is like a tree without roots." He clearly didn't have these self-absorbed parts in mind when spouting such profundity.

The bloody tree branches here are so thick they block out the light, and the roots so deep they hog and clog all the fertile ground.

We can also be reasonably certain that the late Garvey wasn't familiar with BBC NI commissioning policy, but he might have approved of their their ever-expanding "Give My Head Past" portfolio of programmes.

The Will Of The People is cheerful 'n' cheap clip-based telly which takes a topiary trimmer to that big tree of local history.

Colin Murphy - on merciful secondment from The Blame Game - gamely gave the game away at the very top of the show. "If it's one word the BBC loves, it's 'archive'. If it's two words they like, it's 'free archive,'" he joshed.

"In the BBC vaults there's thousands of hours of footage of you, me, us." If it hadn't come from the affable Murphy (his former laidback Irish magician stage act), it might have sounded sinister.

What followed was footage with the loose theme of voting. But all potential stickiness of relaying the historical unpleasantness of all of that election stuff was skilfully averted by a quick quaint job over the cracks. Think Denis Nordern doing an "It'll Be All White On The Night" South African clip show.

So there was footage of politicians and people voting, with just the lightest seasoning of historical context - but nothing too spicy for the post-One Show demographic. The explanation of the dubious distribution of voting rights was explained away by a quirky archive graphic of houses and stick men.

It was a remarkably surgical job, draining away any of the sociopolitical toxicity of "the good ole days", aided by a charming gallery of side-burned eccentrics and bemused gummy pensioners. And there was none gummier than paper-seller Richard Quinn who won a grand for being the "Smile of Belfast". Let's just say he didn't much care if the wind changed. It is surprising how recently we've skilfully managed to media-package our past as sepia-tinted nostalgia or else romance-tainted struggle. No room for grey in our multi-beiged yesterdays. They're represented as something detached from our endless, garishly coloured, ahistorical "now". But enough puckish banter. At least we got to have a chuckle at how politicians have always been held in a special kind of bemused contempt. And did you see the young First Minister and Deputy First Minister in electoral action and marvel how the sinister prop from ventriloquist's dummy horror Dead Of Night and a big-eared out-of-work farm hand became co-kings of Stormont?

There was also some non-controversial antics at the election for lord mayor in the village of Eglish. "People need to have an election to keep their hand in. It's in the blood," said a charmingly quirky Eglish man. "In the past, people have voted 102%," he added, prouder than a gerrymandering peacock. Still, that's the will of the people for you. At least in Eglish. It seems that the past really isn't such a different UK region/statelet/occupied six counties.

No creature comforts in jungle despite Josie's tweeted bleating

With each passing minute (or "hour" in social media speak), the countdown to I'm A Celebrity... becomes tenser and more testy than my GCSE French vocab.

Whether "model" Josie Cunningham is too "controversial" for the jungle hung in the air all week like Mary Poppins caught in an updraft. Despite her tweeted bleats to the contrary, though, she seems to be staying at home for this one. On the basis of such deceptively inane facts are celebrity agents sacked. Even more exciting was a plaintive open letter from one broadcasting treasure to another. No less than wildlife champion Chris Packham wrote to Ant and Dec, begging them to reconsider putting this year's array of helpless dumb animals through such inhumane ordeals as the bush tucker trials. He called these brutal, so-called games screened for our viewing pleasure "silly and out of date. "I'm afraid you're reinforcing and exaggerating a terrible ignorance and intolerance of these remarkable animals," he added, with his trademark passion for those unable to speak for themselves. I mean, we know their agents and managers are just moments away in the studio, but they, like us, will only be able to look on helplessly as Mel Sykes is compelled to chow down on a severed monkey gland.

And who's going to intervene when Allo Allo's Vicki Michelle is forced to bite into an evilly inedible wriggling mealworm without any of her usual sauce? It's enough to make me sign up for the RSPCA.

No Sugar coating bored games on The Apprentice

Another unbelievably bad week on The Apprentice, with perhaps the most unlikeable batch of contestants outside a clone army of Katie Hopkins. This week it was board games, and a new low in televised entrepreneurship was reached with "Relationsip Guru", seemingly conceived by Dapper Laugh's halfwit drunk brother. It was so appallingly bad, it didn't even do misogyny right. Pub quiz king Daniel's "relationship" questions featuring such gems as "what does a woman like most?" The ludicrous choice of answers may as well have been "Sword, Fish, Trombones." But it was worth it - sort of - to see convicted thug James Hill nearly let his I'm-not-a-convicted-thug mask slip every time a "bird" spoke over him, or things didn't go as he wanted. "Bianca has given exclusivity to them! Crazy!" he grinned, with fists clenched, and eyes deader than boot cut jeans. Yes, "exclusivity" was The Apprentice overused word of the week, but its meaning, like the crazy-man rules of "Relationship Guru", seemed to elude everybody.

Switch on

Peaky Blinders has exceeded all expectation and overcome an array of dodgy brummie, cockney and Ulster accents to become the right-hand side of Sky Atlantic's Boardwalk Empire. It looked, sounded and almost smelled pungently authentic. Also a fitting period post-script to the moving centenary remembrances of the not-so-Great War.

Switch off

You gone done and blew it right at the death, didn't ya? I have few words left for the sorry jumble of rusted cyber-junk that was Death in Heaven, the conclusion to the new series of Doctor Who. Still, I suppose 11 out of 12 isn't too bad. And it least it distracted me this week from the rather-poor-taste-fest that is Life is Toff on BBC3. Oh wait, it didn't.

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