Barry Manilow Night, Soccer Aid for UNICEF and Africa Rising: TV highlights this week
Barry Manilow Night (Saturday 10/06/23, BBC Two, from 8.25pm)
Words by Scheenagh Harrington
On June 17, Barry Alan Pincus will be blowing out 80 candles on his birthday cake. He is, of course, better known as legendary singer-songwriter Barry Manilow who, as a solo artist, has sold more than 85 million records worldwide, released 13 platinum and six multi-platinum albums and, over the course of his 59-year career, has worked with everyone from Bette Midler and Dick Clark to Dionne Warwick and Nancy Wilson.
He changed his name to Manilow, his mother’s maiden name, at his Bar Mitzvah, and his career in the music business began in 1964 when, aged 21, Barry composed an entire score for a musical adaptation of the melodrama The Drunkard. He was originally asked to arrange some songs by CBS director Bro Herrod; the Off Broadway musical subsequently enjoyed an eight-year run.
The Sixties also saw Barry work as a commercial jingle writer and singer for brands such as McDonald’s, Band-Aid and Pepsi, as well as working on music for TV projects. By the end of the decade, he and a group of other session musicians were given a recording contract under the band name Featherbed.
While they didn’t set the charts on fire, in 1971, everything changed when Bette Midler hired Barry as her pianist and later as producer on the albums The Divine Miss M and Bette Midler. They would work together until 1975.
However, in 1973, Barry released his debut, self-titled album, whose songs included a slower version of what was originally a hit for Donna Summer and would go on to become a Manilow classic: Could it Be Magic.
The year after, the singer hit the big time with the single Mandy from his second album, the imaginatively titled Barry Manilow II. It led to an unbroken string of hit singles and albums running through to the early 1980s.
Although music critics never really embraced Barry’s work with quite the same enthusiasm as his army of followers, he has become a global icon, feted by fans who did not desert him as he’d feared when he came out in April 2017, as well as a host of artists with whom he worked as a producer.
As recently as 2021, Barry was still wowing the crowds as a live performer with his The Hits Come Home residency in Las Vegas.
What better reason to celebrate his legacy than with an evening of programmes dedicated to him? It begins with a look back at some of Barry’s best archive performances for Auntie Beeb, with clips from Top of the Pops and Parkinson, as well as highlights of the star’s 1983 concert at Blenheim Palace.
The celebrations continue with One Night with Barry Manilow, his 2004 concert packed with evergreen hits such as I Write the Songs and Can’t Smile Without You, as well as contributions from fans, who explain why his music has retained its appeal across seven decades.
Following a break for Later… with Jools Holland, there’s a chance to see Barry Manilow at the NEC 1989 before the curtain comes down on an evening of toe-tapping music and dazzling dance with Barry Manilow at Proms in Hyde Park, a 2019 gig in which he was backed by the BBC Concert Orchestra.
Soccer Aid for UNICEF (Sunday 11/06/23, ITV1, 6.30pm)
Words by Richard Jones
With another football season done and dusted, it’s time for the celebrities and legends to dust off their boots again.
Originally the brainchild of Robbie Williams and Jonathan Wilkes in 2006, Soccer Aid has now raised more than £75million for the humanitarian children’s charity, including a record-breaking £15million as a result of last year’s match at West Ham United’s London Stadium.
This year, the event is returning to it’s original home, as Manchester’s Old Trafford hosts the star-studded football match for the first time since the 2020 behind-closed-doors edition.
Meanwhile, for the first time in the event’s history, one of the sides will be captained by a female player, as former Lioness legend Jill Scott leads out England as they take on Soccer Aid World XI, skippered by Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt.
Scott, who also won I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! last year, said: “The Euros, the Jungle and now Soccer Aid for UNICEF – it’s the holy trinity! I’ve won two of them, so just need Soccer Aid now to complete the treble.
“I think of all three, this might be the one I’m most nervous about, though – just look at the names involved!”
And she isn’t exaggerating about the quality of the two line-ups.
The England squad consists of Tom Hiddleston, Danny Dyer, Gary Neville, Gary Cahill, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Jack Wilshere, Jermain Defoe, Eni Aluko, Karen Carney, Scarlette Douglas, Alex Brooker, Chunkz, Tom Grennan, Mo Farah, Bugzy Malone, Joel Corry, Asa Butterfield, Liam Payne.
David James is the professional goalkeeper, with Paddy McGuinness as the celebrity stopper.
Meanwhile, in the hosts’ dugout, rapper Stormzy is joined by former Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp, Chelsea Women’s manager Emma Hayes, Line of Duty actress Vicky McCure and former England keeper David Seaman.
On the opposing side, are Wrexham’s former England goalkeeper Ben Foster, alongside Gabriel Batistuta, Nani, Maisie Adam, Kaylyn Kyle, Heather O’Reilly, Mo Gilligan, Lee Mack, Steven Bartlett, Kem Cetinay, Noah Beck, Roberto Carlos, Francesco Totti, Leon Edwards and Tommy Fury.
Incoming Chelsea manager Maurico Pochettino, McCure’s Line of Duty co-star Martin Compston and former Premier League striker Robbie Keane form the World XI management team.
Dermot O’Leary and Alex Scott will be fronting the action live as it happens, with Love Island voiceover Iain Stirling joining Sam Matterface in the commentary box.
Soccer Aid Extra Time (ITV4, 9.55pm) follows the ITV1 coverage, with Jermaine Jenas and Joelah Noble hosting more exclusive content, focusing on the drama, fallout, analysis and celebrations.
The World XI emerged victorious in last year’s match to lift the trophy for the fourth straight year.
The match finished 2-2, with Mark Wright and Grennan getting on the scoresheet for England, and Beck and Cetinay the goalscorers for the World XI.
In the penalty shootout, Grennan and Russell Howard missed for England, while the World XI scored all four of their attempts, with Mack scoring the winning spot kick to lift the trophy once again.
The ROW/World XI team also leads the head-to-head, with six wins to the England team’s five – but could 2023 be the year that Soccer Aid comes home?
Best Interests (Monday 12/06/23, BBC One, 9pm)
Words by Sarah Morgan
“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be the primary consideration.”
So states Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, something that is at the very core of a new four-part drama from Jack Thorne, the acclaimed writer who also counts such productions as Enola Homes, the This is England series, His Dark Materials and The Accident on his CV, as well as the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
At the centre of the story is Marnie, who has a life-threatening condition. While her doctors claim it would be best to allow her to die, her devoted family can’t agree. The conflict leads to a distressing court case, in which viewers get to witness every stage of the legal process during which the authorities try to work out what really is the best course of action for Marnie.
“Best Interests cases are both compelling and revealing,” claims Thorne. “Our country has a very troubled relationship with disability and these cases put a spotlight on that. But our drama is first and foremost a love story and it needs incredible actors to bring it to life. Sharon Horgan and Michael Sheen lead a company of ridiculous talents that pull you into the most interesting of places.
“As a parent of a three year old I’ve looked at the cases in the media about ‘best interests’ with some fascination and a little dread. When the worst happens, how do you keep your head when everything around you feels wrong? We are going to try and tell a nuanced story that talks about this issue from all sides.”
Horgan, who may surprise some viewers who are only aware of her comedy work, and Sheen play Marnie’s parents Nicci and Andrew, who find themselves fighting for Marnie’s future while also raising her sister, Katie.
“Best Interests broke me when I first read the script and then again after talking with Jack about it,” says Horgan. “Covid seems to have shone a closer light on the desperate inequalities that exist for our disabled community so this felt very timely. It’s a big subject but it’s in Jack Thorne and (director) Michael Keillor’s safe hands. I’m thrilled to be working on this story with a super talented cast.”
Sheen adds: “Jack Thorne is such an extraordinary writer and he has approached this incredibly important and urgent subject with humanity, honesty and humour. I feel very fortunate to be part of this production and to work with the brilliant Sharon Horgan and some of the most talented actors around.”
Noma Dumezweni, Chizzy Akudolu, Des McAleer, Gary Beadle and Lucian Msamati are among the impressive cast, but it’s Alison Oliver and Niamh Moriarty who will really tug on the heartstrings as Katie and Marnie respectively.
Get your hankies at the ready, because alongside pondering how you might act in such a situation, you’re bound to be moved by the family’s plight. Don’t miss the second episode when it airs on Tuesday.
Africa Rising with Afua Hirsch (Tuesday 13/06/23, BBC Two, 9pm)
Words by Rob Lavender
The continent of Africa is home to a younger and more culturally diverse population than anywhere else on the planet. Each country in Africa has its traditions, identities, cultures and histories, many more ancient and rich than our own.
It is the world’s second-largest and second-most populous continent, after all.
In this new three-part series, journalist and broadcaster Afua Hirsch hears about how young creatives in Africa are embracing the traditions of its countries in new and exciting ways, putting African nations on the cultural world map.
As vast and diverse as the region is, this series can only focus on a handful of countries – namely Morocco, South Africa and Nigeria. These are places whose identities are strong, and which also have large diaspora communities around the world.
The first episode concentrates on Morocco. Here, Hirsch explores how a younger generation of Moroccans are updating old traditions in surprising ways, with women often at the spearhead of the movement.
They include Amal Amhari, the queen of Tbourida. This is a form of horse display that dates back centuries, and has long been a male-dominated tradition – until Amal began making waves in the Tbourida world.
Elsewhere, photographer Hassan Hajjaj – known as the ‘Andy Warhol of Africa’ – playfully reframes modern-day Morocco through his lens; his work has also been used by musical performers including Billie Eilish, Cardi B and Riz Ahmed.
And Moroccan rap artist Sigou Marouane shows how he mixes hip hop with traditional sounds.
From Sigou’s studio, Hirsch heads east over the Atlas Mountains – the go-to destination for buying and selling Amazigh rugs – to meet a young entrepreneur who is on a mission to keep traditional rug-making techniques alive in a post-industrial world.
Then it’s on to the coastal city of Essaouira, which is known as the cultural home in Morocco of Gnawa – the musical legacy of enslaved people brought to the country some thousand years ago. There, she meets the Gnawa master Rabii Harnoune, who is shaking things up while keeping the old music alive and kicking.
Heading south, the journalist senses that change is in the air. Female artists are at the forefront of the debate around sex and gender: Majida Khattari, famous on the global art scene, plays with stereotypes of Moroccan women; while in Casablanca Hirsch meets groups of young women who are questioning the various structures underlying Moroccan society through their art.
They include artist, novelist and mechanical engineer Zainab Fasiki, who in 2019 gained international recognition for her graphic novel Hshouma, corps et sexualité au Maroc (loosely translated as: Shame, body and sexuality in Morocco). And then there is photographer Yasmine Hatimi, who finds a vulnerable side to Moroccan men in her shoots exploring themes of masculinity.
Finally there’s a revealing interview with the country’s latest superstar, singer-songwriter Rym Fikri, who wants to build confidence amongst other young female Moroccan artists.
Staged (Wednesday 14/06/23, BBC One, 10.40pm & 11pm)
Words by Scheenagh Harrington
In March 2020, the UK went into its first pandemic lockdown as the government tried to limit the spread of Covid-19. Everyone was impacted, from parents who suddenly had to learn how to homeschool their children to businesses scrambling to find a way to stay afloat.
It was a time of enormous stress and yet, for some creatives, it was a golden opportunity to do something completely different.
For podcast fans, it gave rise to the US celebrity interview show Smartless, while in the UK we were gifted this gem of a series, starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant (or perhaps that should be David Tennant and Michael Sheen…) as fictional versions of themselves.
The first run was filmed mostly using video conferencing software, proving ordinary mortals weren’t the only ones getting to grips with this sometimes infuriating new technology, and focused on fictionalised versions of the Celtic thesps.
Speaking about the series, Michael said: “We didn’t take ourselves too seriously, and we laughed at ourselves,” while David added: “People obviously recognised themselves in these characters and what they were going through.”
Season one followed Tennant and Sheen as they tried to rehearse a performance of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, while director Simon Evans did his best to keep the two stars on some sort of even keel.
It aired for the first time in June 2020 and UK critics fell over themselves to praise it, dubbing it “compelling ‘lockdown’ television”, a “welcome distraction” and “charming”.
A year later the second series hit screens, this time following the ‘real’ Michael and David as enjoyed the success of Staged, despite not being asked to feature in the US remake, being worked on by Simon.
It was liberally sprinkled with a galaxy of star guests, including Cate Blanchett, Simon Pegg, Ewan McGregor and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, but was met by a somewhat cooler reception.
The pressure may be on for this third season to deliver, but all indications are it’s going to hit the bullseye.
This time around, Simon is doing his best to persuade Michael and David to agree to a Christmas staged version of Six Characters in Search of an Author, and later A Christmas Carol. However, as the episodes unfold, it morphs into a metafictional behind-the-scenes documentary of the show entitled Backstaged.
The series kicks off with a double bill, and in the opener, David and Michael are keen to move on to new things after putting the ups and downs of lockdown firmly behind them. They’re not sure they want to work with each other, much less Simon, whose career has stalled.
So, when the latter proposes getting the gang back together, they’re having none of it – until Lucy teaches her brother four magic words that could well change the stubborn theps’s minds.
Next, Simon grapples with an impossible decision: will Michael or David play Scrooge, and how will he break the news? Meanwhile, David, who is stuck in Japan, needs someone to check out the London restaurant where he’s hoping to hold a surprise party for his wife Georgia on her birthday, which happens to be Christmas day.
Keep your eyes peeled for the usual array of famous faces popping up, including Olivia Colman and Neil Gaiman.
Who Do You Think You Are? (Thursday 15/06/23, BBC One, 9pm)
Words by Rob Lavender
Some guests on the long-running genealogy programme seem to already know they’re going to have fascinating family histories.
For others, however, it can be a complete surprise (no offence, Josh Widdecombe, but who knew you would be descended from Henry VIII? And then, of course, there’s Danny Dyer to consider).
Tonight’s subject falls firmly in the former camp: the adventurer Bear Grylls, who has served in the SAS reserves, climbed to the summit of Mount Everest, paraglided over the Himalayas and been the youngest-ever Chief Scout.
As a wilderness expert he has visited some of the most hostile environments on earth, emerging (largely) unscathed; and he explains here that he has always displayed a tendency to “follow the path less trodden”.
So it comes as little surprise to learn that his family tree is full of fascinating figures; it’s clearly in the genes.
This becomes apparent from the off, when Bear delves into his army-serving paternal grandfather Ted Grylls’ old trunk – which is rather intriguingly full of documents marked ‘Top Secret’.
Ted trained to be an army officer in the 1920s, so Bear heads to Sandhurst Military Academy where Ted studied and developed a fascination with all things mechanical – especially tanks.
With help from the team at the British Tank Museum, Bear learns how Ted became one of the British Army’s biggest experts in armoured vehicles and tank warfare.
As an adviser to both the British and Americans on how to win on the battlefield, he even contributed to the success of the D-Day landings.
But it was Ted’s later job leading the ultra-secret organisation “T-Force” that helps Bear really understand the pressures his grandfather faced, and reveals clues about his character. It might also explain some of those “Top Secret” files…
T-Force were charged with identifying, tracing and sometimes even kidnapping Germany’s best scientists for interrogation by the Allies after the War, so Ted had to stay in Europe long after the conflict was over, working on a morally complex mission, far from his family.
Bear also wants to find out more about the life of his beloved other grandad Neville, and his father – Bear’s great-grandfather – Lionel Ford.
Happily, Lionel is revealed to have been a loving family man, and a progressive school headmaster who set about modernising Harrow. Finally, following his family line back several centuries, Bear is delighted to discover some Scottish ancestry – which might excuse his professed penchant for a kilt.
The ties to Scotland transpire to be quite impressive: it seems his 10-times great-grandfather was the Duke of Argyll, a man whose religious beliefs and devotion to Scotland cost him his head.
And at his last destination, we learn that his mother’s hopes of a royal connection might actually come true: at the Argyll Mausoleum, Bear discovers that his 21-times great-grandfather is none other than a famous Scottish king.
The Queen of Oz (Friday 16/06/23, BBC One, 9.30pm)
Words by Scheenagh Harrington
If you were among the millions who tuned into this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, held in Liverpool, you’ll know the (real) highlight was seeing Catherine Tate on our screens again.
She was given the task of revealing the results from the UK jury and, to the delight of Doctor Who fans everywhere, crow-barred an enthusiastic “allons-y” into proceedings.
It was, it turns out, a reminder that one of the smartest women in entertainment was making her way back to our screens with this six-parter.
Catherine doesn’t just star as Princess Georgiana (known as Georgie to her friends), the ‘spare’ heir to the British throne whose party-girl lifestyle and constant public scandals threaten the monarchy’s future.
The entire project is based on one of Tate’s original ideas; she co-wrote it alongside fiance Jeff Gutheim, and is also among the executive producers, so Catherine’s dabs are all over it.
If it’s anything like her previous projects, Queen of Oz will be an absolute hoot.
As a teenager, Catherine knew she wanted to act, securing a place at the Central School of Speech and Drama on her fourth try, but ditched the Sylvia Young Theatre School after a week, saying “it was very competitive”.
She was a member of the National Youth Theatre, and in 1988 enjoyed a two-year stint with a touring production of Blood Wedding, featuring Daniel Craig and Jessica Hynes, before joining the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Catherine combined this in the 1990s with a smattering of TV work, and launched her stand-up career in 1996. By the turn of the new millennium, she was part of sketch shows including The Harry Hill Show and That Peter Kay Thing. Her successful one-woman Edinburgh show led to her being cast in 2002 comedy Wild West opposite Dawn French, and two years later, after encouragement from then-BBC controller of comedy Geoffrey Perkins, she co-wrote and starred in The Catherine Tate Show.
The flame-haired performer has barely looked back since and could quite happily have rested on her comedy laurels, basking in the armfuls of awards she received.
But she didn’t.
Instead, Catherine showed her range with appearances in ITV series Miss Marple and BBC period drama Bleak House, as well as returning to the stage for the original West End production of Some Girl(s). Arguably her biggest year was 2006, when she appeared in long-running sci-fi series Doctor Who as Donna Noble.
Her character, a thirtysomething London temp worker, went down a storm with fans of the franchise, while her on-screen chemistry with David Tennant made for some of the show’s most compelling and hilarious moments.
Catherine said at the time her casting was a risk for showrunner Russell T Davies, as she was, back then, “known by the vast majority of people for wearing wigs and comedy teeth”, before adding: “for one brief moment I was the most important woman in the whole of the universe.”
She’s returning as Donna later in the year. Before then, it will be interesting to see what Catherine does with her latest alter ego. The opening episode sounds promising, where a welcoming reception is Georgie’s first public appearance in Australia. Unfortunately, an offensive faux pas from the jetlagged new Queen makes the night go from bad to worse.
Perhaps she should take a leaf out of teenager Lauren’s book and not be “bovvered”.