Why charming portrayal of battle of the sexes puts Kay in the driving seat
Every now and again a TV show comes along and quietly, slowly, charms the pants off you. With its absence of bells and whistles, Peter Kay's Car Share hasn't so much knocked my socks off as gradually rolled them from my lazy feet while I was pouring a glass of wine. It was only after three episodes I realised how much I'd laughed, how close I'd come to crying, and how I'd probably seen the best portrayal of the differences between men and women on television since Ricky Gervais' Extras.
Car Share is Kay's new BBC1 sitcom, based inside curmudgeonly John's claustrophobic Fiat, into which a new office rule has forced him to invite colleague Kayleigh (Sian Gibson). Visually, it's less stimulating than footage from a landfill CCTV, only taking occasional forays away from the pair to ponder the bland, characterless streets of suburban Bolton.
There's nothing special about John and Kayleigh, either. With no flamboyance, or flair, they sport standard office haircuts and uniforms. Their conversation is mostly what Kayleigh calls "chitty chat", focused around local gossip, plans for the Christmas do, and Kayleigh's family travails.
It's funny, in the same way that Kay's Phoenix Nights and The Services, with their ear for the nuances of very small talk in towns just outside Happeningville, were funny. But, as the series has gone on, it's also revealed a deep understanding of the gender divide, and produced one of the most sympathetic and touching depictions of an "ordinary" woman as you'll see in modern drama.
We learn a lot about Kayleigh in the first episode, because she never stops talking.
She chirps on about her family, her dinner, her disastrous dates. She sings along to every high-octane cheesy '80s pop anthem on radio station Forever FM, her tremulous trill filling John's beige interior like an excited chaffinch fluttering around his tiny personal space, refusing to fly through his lowered window. The little matter of her squirting her misplaced urine sample in his face and over his just-cleaned suit does nothing to bring them closer.
Yet it's clear by the time he drops her home that John's surprised himself by looking forward to seeing her again the next day. Not that he's the kind of man to say so.
And he'll still be very grumpy when she annoys him with her naivete about modern parlance (she's insistent that "dogging" means taking the dog for a walk), her lack of vision when it comes to blind dates, and her unapologetic nosiness about his private life.
I can see why Kayleigh would irritate a lot of men. Her voice has a gum-pricking, high-pitched timbre, which moves into dog whistle territory when she's (regularly) outraged, amazed, or delighted.
She cannot allow the indulgence of a moment's silence, which John, like so many small-talk averse men, is a master at creating.
Her quivering soprano, her head thrown back laughing, her frequent use of breathless exclamations and hyperbole in the face of undeserving humdrum information; she has all the characteristics drama usually uses as shorthand for an oblivious fluff-brained blonde.
But she is not that. Her attempt to goad deeper personal stories from John comes from kindness and genuine interest. She babbles in an attempt to build a friendship that goes beyond the formality of office acquaintanceship.
When she sings, she's joyful, transported into dreams in which she's onstage, being noticed, being applauded, being a loved and admired success.
There is real love in the creation of this ordinary, cherishable woman. And you can be sure that when John sees what the writers see in her, he'll wonder what he ever did without her.
Nigel's leaving do didn't last too long
A few years ago, a chap from Ballymena announced he was emigrating to New York. An extravagant leaving do in a local pub was organised.
The night was a poignant, memorable one, with many emotional goodbyes and the handing over of a generous leaving present from his friends and family. Some were still dabbing at a teary eye when, less than a week later, the same man was spotted in the local Spar. The new life? "It didn't work out," he explained dolefully.
I was reminded of this tale when Nigel Farage resigned and was reinstated as Ukip leader within three days this week. Can't think why.
Beeb's only duty is to licence payers
I am a huge fan of the BBC, both as a viewer and ex-employee, but, as the latter, I was often frustrated by how heavily production teams depended on newspapers to set the agenda.
I agree with Labour insider Tom Baldwin that its election focus came too often from erroneous broadsheet front page headlines obsessed with, for example, the possible influence of the SNP.
If it's true, as he claims, there were threats regarding the future of the licence fee by Tories seeking to influence its coverage, it's time the corporation really showed its mettle and proved its only duty is to its fee-paying audience.