Rejoice, sing hosannas and be prepared to squint through your fingers for fear of gut-churning violence on coming Tuesday nights. Utopia is back, and just as deliciously nasty, gripping and clever as ever.
For those who missed the first series, it's about a virus concocted by a shadowy government body that will "manage" the population explosion. Doesn't sound so bad in principle to an incurable misanthrope like me, but after watching, I doubt you'll be in the mood to have kids.
Remember last week I said that The Twelfth was singularly billed as the BBC's forthcoming ‘Highlights’ of the week? Well, thanks to the inexorable rules of cause and effect, dear reader, I sat down to consume the live coverage as it unfolded. Or rather ambled up Bedford Street in Belfast, under the soporific guidance of the big Orange eye in the sky, better known as Walter Love.
“Welcome to our traditional position,” he said, like it was love-making Wednesday at Buckingham Palace. And if we were getting a Walter's-eye view of proceedings, he appeared to be hovering somewhere above the Dublin Road, for anybody who cared to look up. It was Walter's job to emphasise the spectacle, the sound and the colour of the thing. But the visuals just kept letting him down. “The weather diminishes the colours ever so slightly,” you could hear the disappointment.
Fortunately, historian Jonathan Bardon, Waldorf to his Statler, seemed awestruck. “The rolling gate of girls... the silver and the pipe bands… the elegant scenes,” he drooled, an utter juxtapose to the scenes of local sorts bellowing, banging and swaggering below. But really, he was mistily reminiscing about his first July 12.
There was some welcome historical respite with scenes of marching in Belfast from 1922. This was Dr Bardon's chance to shine. “The reason they had armed protection on the route was that Belfast had just gone through one of its bloodiest periods in its recent history between 1920…” But before he could continue, a revivified and hugely excitable Walter cut “…look at the flat caps! And everybody wearing hats!!” He could scarcely contain his millinery zeal. Footage of the following year's march didn't stop him. “Look at what people are wearing! All with hats. And women wearing stoles. In July!” he marvelled.
The obsession with fashions of the 20s was echoed on the ground by roving Orange reporter Helen Mark. “They were all so smartly turned out, wearing hats,” agreed Helen. “And women with stoles on!” But when she wasn't sharing Walter’s hat obsession, Helen was there to bring a little international exoticism to proceedings.
Pete from Melbourne said the Irish had been very kind to him and Pete's wife said she was “enjoying our Irish holiday”. Thankfully the booming Lambeg covered up everybody's embarrassment and proceedings moved on.
Things were considerably more encouraging in the rural section of the show, where noted Orange enthusiast Ralph McLean was on hand to guide us through the Markethill event. Several things became apparent at once. The country brethren were better turned out. Gone was the Nike T-shirt and orange scrap of cloth look and in were immaculate suits, proper sashes with stuff hanging off them, and a degree of pomp that befitted proceedings. They also appeared to have nailed the family-friendly — and dare one say it — cross-community thing that Orangefest Belfast has never quite seemed to nail.
This was amply highlighted when Helen was getting some Canadian visitors to have a bit of an old go at a baton twirl, while a band with alarming-looking banners started hollering something that sounded vaguely scary in the background. Uber professional Helen quelled things by commending them on their “super accents” and coverage of the 12th maintained that weird veneer of non-context.
Conclusions from sitting through live coverage of the Glorious 12th? Orange culture is in rude health, if that can be measured by how much airtime it gets: isn't the notion of Walter Love ever saying “you join us from the usual position at the annual Easter Parade” as tellingly counter-intuitive as it is hilariously unlikely? And, as Dan Gordon said: “A lot of people joined the Orange Order for the right reasons.” Now you know, for some it wasn't about the hats.
Royal Marines Commando School was, to use a somewhat dubious aphorism, proper mental.
Unprecedented access was given to make this programme, which traced the progress of the greener-than-legumes recruits for her madge's elite armed forces. And rotten legumes were flung at them faster than they could say “what's French for I want my mummy?” by Corporal ‘Froggy’ Chaffour. Who earned his affectionate nickname based on his ethnicity. Which is French, if you were wondering. The whole thing was hilariously bonkers, from recruits having to wear suits and ties when off duty (which for some reason had me crying with laughter) to the military OCD obsession with cleanliness — which makes one wonder why more former squaddies don't go into the cleaning/catering professions. The biggest eye-opener — if you call it that, was the revelation where the phrase ‘going commando’ came from. “A Royal Marine does not sleep in his boxers,” croaked Corporal Froggy. “He does not sleep in his socks. He sleeps naked. If I catch any one of you in boxers, or in socks…” he left the threat hanging in a way that ensured there wasn't a covered crotch in the dorm.
As proper mental as it was, it was also oddly compelling.